Thursday, December 3, 2015

Great readers are like the Mexican jumping bean

Great readers, such as I have always been, feel about books the way the Mexican jumping bean feels about the dried seed-vessel he rattles around in. He is so attached to this veritable coffin that when given a chance to escape from it via a tiny window pricked out by a needle, he will not take it (as I found out when I once performed this good office) but will poke his head out, glare at the world, duck back down inside and then with saliva or some other exudate seal up the opening forever. To great readers, one more book is one more brick to their ramparts.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Friday, October 16, 2015

She felt so famous . . .

"Ardyth Kennelly . . . recalls that her first printed writing was a poem in the Albany, Ore., Democrat-Herald to which her initials were signed. 'It came out on a hot Saturday afternoon,' says Miss Kennelly, 'and I felt so famous I could hardly stand to eat dinner that night. I read it over and over and couldn't see anything wrong with it.'"
     --Miss Jay Tower of the Literary Guild, quoted in the Albany Democrat-Herald, March 28, 1953 (when Ardyth's novel Good Morning, Young Lady was chosen by the Guild as its selection for May 1953)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The world and the weather as friends

There are steadfast friends, the same today and the same tomorrow, enduring, unchangeable. And there are the other kind—as good, maybe, in the long run, but hard to put up with. Mean and uppity, a chip on their shoulder, one day, and so good and friendly that butter wouldn't melt in their mouth, the next. Good friends, proved so, but difficult. The world and the weather belong to these.
     For instance, here was snow piled as high as houses, here was cold-hearted wind, an uppity moon, a sulky sun, for days, and weeks. Here was sickness smelling horribly, death, grief, despair, for what seemed too long to stand. And what happened? You know what happened as well as I do. All of a sudden the sky softened deliciously into baby blue and baby pink. The birds blew in tuneful and loud and settled down to stay, letting bygones be bygones. Branches of green reached down to pat the hatless head, shake the hand, grasses reared up with the flattery of a cat around the knee. The moon turned into a cooing pigeon, the sun to somebody that would give you his last sou, his bottom dollar, without a scratch of the pen and no security.
     — From The Peaceable Kingdom

Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's the features

If you look good without a speck of makeup or a spear of hair showing, wearing white that yellows your skin and teeth, and black that squashes you down like a heavy weight, why, you are it, the real McCoy. A woman lived in Greece like that one time by the name of Phryne. When Rosetta made her acquaintance long years after this in the pages of Galen, the weird old doctor who lived in the second century A.D., she thought of Sister Genevieve, because she was one person who could do what Phryne did at a party one time, lead off a game of Follow the Leader by washing her face in a bowl of water and coming up shining like a rose, a stunt not popular, of course, with the other hetaerae, whose painted faces after they were washed disgraced them. It’s the features.
     --From Variation West

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Superstition is built to last

“Someday,” the homeopath said softly, “this world will be burned to a crisp by some solar mishap and all that will be left will be cinder about the size to blow in somebody’s eye. And this is a terrible thing to say but it’s the truth—when that day comes, I’ll be glad. And why, sir? I’ll tell you. Because of unreasonable and groundless superstition. Because of just such irrational and unfounded beliefs as this one you bring up today as if it was something deserving of serious attention. And this is just one instance, mind you. How many more do you think there are? Sometime you’d ought to look in a microscope at a drop of pure clear well water and see the bacteria in it moving and spinning around, it’d scare you to death. That’s how superstition moves and spins through the clear air of the world, like bacteria and deadly germs. You can buy Rough on Rats and for all I know Rough on Tarantulas and Rough on Death Adders but what kind of poison can you buy for a pest that’s ten times worse than them and itch and cholera combined? Afflictions and sickness wear out, but superstition’s like tarpaulin, made to weather the storm. If anybody asks you what’s built to last, to outwear platina and the impious towers of loony kings, put a bug in their ear for me, will  you?—say: half-baked opinions, half-cocked prepossessions and godless proprieties founded on dread and incomprehension!”
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The first love in the world

There is an old Indian legend that says that in the beginning of the world men had four arms and four feet. They had such a high opinion of themselves they thought they were as good as the Great Spirit. This got the Great Spirit’s goat, naturally, so he took a knife and sliced them down the middle. Well, right away the two halves wanted to get together again, and their longing was the first love in the world. They dragged around till one day they met the Spirit of Fire and he asked what was the matter, for he saw they were down in the dumps. “We want you to sear us with flame,” they said, “melt us into one, for that is our only desire on earth.” So the Spirit of Fire took pity on them and did what they asked. And ever since, all the unconnected halves running around want to be seared with flame and melted together.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The novel writer

How a novel writer has got to be:
     insatiably curious about other people,
     how life is actually lived by other, unrelated, distinct persons
     inquisitive about customs, manners, morals
     must search, must possess, must note, must absorb, must master how things go on
     have the power to bring another social world into existence like it was really there
     devoted to "the sheer polyglossia" of the lexicon (ain't I though?)
     know how the different classes use language
     know something about the language of work & working
     know how language has changed and does change
     To a novelist that's also a poet, incoherence is an anguish of peculiar magnitude. "Make it cohere."

     --Notes from Ardyth Kennelly's commonplace book, from reading Helen Vendler's review of Elizabeth Bishop's Collected Prose in The New York Review of Books, Feb. 16, 1984.