While James avoids lugubriousness, he does periodically remind us that he is in truly bad shape. In one of the later essays, he recalls a night at a hospital when the plastic bag taped to his leg to collect urine suddenly broke. He buzzed for the night nurse, who told the embarrassed James to stop apologizing. She then “set to mopping it up. She had a deformed body, with limbs all the wrong lengths. Life could never have been easy for her. But now she was making the end of life easier for me. It was a night to remember, and I haven’t forgotten it for a second. I can only hope that the sum total of my writings has been as useful to the world as her kindness, but I doubt that this is so.”
Gore Vidal famously said that he never missed a chance to have sex or appear on television. Me, I never miss a chance to eat in New Orleans. So when my literary agent proposed lunch there with the actor Wendell Pierce—best known for portraying Baltimore homicide detective Bunk Moreland in “The Wire” and trombonist Antoine Batiste in “Treme”—there was no way I was going to pass.
Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied, her joy rose.
What did the Inklings, as this group of friends called themselves, believe? How did their beliefs affect their writing and thinking? What did they hope to achieve with their novels, stories and nonfiction? These are the sort of questions that most interest the Zaleskis. Overall, they argue that the Inklings aimed at nothing less than “a revitalization of Christian intellectual and imaginative life.”
In a short section on the coke economy, Saviano points out why this illegal market generates so much violence. “If you had invested €1,000 in Apple stock in the beginning of 2012, you would have €1,670 in a year. Not bad. But if you had invested €1,000 in cocaine . . . after a year you would have €182,000.” This, of course, assumes that your investment made it safely from the jungle of Colombia to the streets of London but given that, in Britain, police pick up less than 20 per cent of the coke entering the country, it’s a risk worth taking.
No guns, no threat of violence. The dealer comes to you. Customer service is the No. 1 priority. It’s a diabolical scheme, but looked at from a pure business perspective, a brilliant one.
How did the “Xalisco Boys,” as Quinones calls them, pull it off? They only used people from back home that they could trust. They insisted that nobody involved in selling could use the drug — and in fact, there was a taboo back home against it. All the local dealers were salaried, so there was no incentive to cut the drug. They provided consistent quality, which earned customer loyalty. They would not use guns, and avoided violence to keep the cops from noticing. In fact, they had a rule against selling heroin to black customers, on the belief that blacks are likely to be violent in drug deals. They kept their client base restricted to whites. Maintaining these disciplines helped their business expand tremendously.
There’s a great passage in “Of a Fire on the Moon” in which Norman Mailer, in his grandly narcissistic third-person narrative voice, describes how he overcame his initial heartsick uncertainty as to whether he had any statement to offer the world on the death of Ernest Hemingway. “Of course,” Mailer writes of himself, “he finally gave a statement. His fury that the world was not run so well as he could run it encouraged him to speak. The world could always learn from what he had to say—his confidence was built on just so hard a diamond.” Reading these sentences now, I find myself superimposing them onto the indistinct image of a hoard of commenters and thinking of how the culture has come to accommodate, if not to cherish, so many millions of miniature Mailers, determined to set the world aright, or at least to teach it a thing or two about a thing or two. Should we read them? Maybe not. But that depends, I suppose, on what we mean by “read.”
It is impossible not to sympathize with someone who suffered as Nash did. Her description of waking up to find one of her eyeballs dangling by the side of her face, as if it were some soft, damp, alien object, is as horrific as anything I have ever read or hope to read. Her conduct might have been foolish and irresponsible, but nothing she did could possibly have deserved a minimal fraction of so awful a consequence. As for the perpetrator, no punishment could have been too condign to be just; and the severity of his punishment was limited only by our need to remain civilized ourselves.
But merely to sympathize with Nash would not be an adequate response to her story. It would amount to an evasion—intellectual, moral, and emotional. In the circumstances, it is comfortable to sympathize; it is uncomfortable to have to think and to judge.
Here, men on both sides developed extraordinarily creative ways of killing one another. They fired bursts of artillery at the tree tops so that splinters would tear through the people below. They learnt to play on the instincts of their enemies, placing landmines wherever they might seek shelter, such as in hollows or shell holes. Soldiers were often afraid to look about them, because they were too busy scanning the forest floor for trip wires. The Germans, in particular, developed a habit of placing explosive charges beneath American wounded or dead, knowing that as soon as a rescue team or burial party tried to move them, they, too, would be killed by the explosion.
A murit William Zinsser, unul dintre adevărații profesori ai scrisului jurnalistic. Am învățat mai multe despre scris din cartea lui decât în toată facultatea. De citit și recitit pentru orice jurnalist care își respectă meșteșugul.
Writing is related to character. If your values are sound, your writing will be sound. It all begins with intention. Figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, and work your way with humanity and integrity to the completed article.
Tim Parks, despre cum putem să citim mai bine, înarmați cu un creion în mână:
A pen is not a magic wand. The critical faculty is not conjured from nothing. But it was remarkable how many students improved their performance with this simple stratagem. There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue. Students would report that their reading slowed down when they had a pen in their hand, but at the same time the text became more dense, more interesting, if only because a certain pleasure could now be taken in their own response to the writing when they didn’t feel it was up to scratch, or worthy only of being scratched.
Același Tim Parks revine cu detalii despre întrebările pe care și le pune atunci când citește:
While this process of putting the characters in some relation to each other and the author in relation to the reader is going on, another crucial question is hammering away in my head. Is this a convincing vision of the world? Is it really such a disaster, Murakami, if four friends exclude you from their circle? Would they really have done that and would anyone have reacted as Tsukuru Tazaki did? Is it really true, Hemingway, that courage is so crucial and the world so indifferent? Does it make sense, Joyce, to be constantly using wit and aesthetic sensibility as a way of measuring people against each other? In short, are these real concerns, or have they just been brought together to “do literature”?