Sunday, September 25, 2016

Some books just aren't pub books

I showered, dined, had a diverting stroll through town [Spa, Belgium], and repaired to a convivial little bar on the Rue Royals for an evening with Martin Gilbert's grave and monumental history of the Second World War. It is not a pub book, I can tell you now. You read a little and before long you find yourself staring vacantly around you and longing for a conversation.
Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (New York: HarperCollins e-books) (orig. pub. 1993), ch. 6, p. 53.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A hazy understanding of college

The young adults from working-class and poor families shared their parents' hazy understanding of college. The youths had hope and ambition, but their knowledge of higher education systems and the pathways through which they might gain additional training and then transition into attractive jobs was imprecise at best.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 13

Monday, September 19, 2016

Just who or what settled coral islands first?

The often-repeated description of the stately palm and other noble tropical plants, then birds, and lastly man, taking possession of the coral islets as soon as formed, in the Pacific, is probably not quite correct; I fear it destroys the poetry of this story, that feather and dirt-feeding and parasitic insects and spiders should be the first inhabitants of newly formed oceanic land.
Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: John Murray, 1913 reprint ed., I, p. 9

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Judging books by their covers

"I am very much against rushing to judgment. Who am I to judge a book by its cover? You're an author, Dan, you should know what I'm talking about. How would you like it if everyone judged your books by their covers?"

"They do!"

"But don't you wish they didn't?"

I know there's got to be an answer to this, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it is.
Daniel Asa Rose, Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplantand Save His Life (New York: HarperCollins e-Books, 2009), loc. 629

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Darwin advises young naturalists to travel

[N]othing can be more improving to a young naturalist than a journey in distant countries. It both sharpens and partly allays that want and craving, which . . . A man experiences although every corporeal sense be fully satisfied. The excitement from the novelty of objects, and the chance of success, stimulate him to increased activity. Moreover, as a number of isolated facts soon become uninteresting, the habit of comparison leads to generalisation. On the other hand, as the traveler stays but a short time in each place, his descriptions must generally consist of mere sketches, instead of detailed observations. Hence arises, as I have found to m y cost, a constant tendency to fill up the wide gaps of knowledge by inaccurate and superficial hypotheses.

But I have too deeply enjoyed the voyage, not to recommend any naturalist, although he must not expect to be so fortunate in his companions as I have been, to take all chances, and to start, on travels by land if possible, if otherwise, on a long voyage.
Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: John Murray, 1913 reprint ed., ch. XXI, p. 536

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bryson loves landing in new cities

Is there anything, apart from a really good chocolate cream pie and receiving a large unexpected check in the mail, to beat finding yourself at large in a foreign city on a fair spring evening, loafing along unfamiliar streets in the long shadows of a lazy sunset, pausing to gaze in shop windows or at some church or lovely square or tranquil stretch of quayside, hesitating at street corners to decide whether that cheerful and homey restaurant you will remember fondly for years is likely to lie down this street or that one? I just love it. I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city.
Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (New York: HarperCollins e-books) (orig. pub. 1993), ch. 10, p. 96. (This particular city was Copenhagen. Later in the book, Bryson has arrivals in new cities that are less convivial, due to rotten weather, difficulty finding a hotel, boring streets, or other factors.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Compassion for former Red Guards

I arrive at the waltzing terrace. There they are, the former Red Guards, waltzing in trim little circles around the colored fountains, round and round. But tonight they're not frightening, these former cannibals and rapists and butchers; they're judge unfortunates, doing the best they can to salvage what's left of their lives. Wasn't that always what they were, unfortunate pawns of generals and tyrants? Given the right circumstances, couldn't we American student protesters of that era have been manipulated into becoming monsters ourselves? Seeing them tonight, I imagine they're dancing no it in celebration of their misdeeds but in shame for how they were duped into ruining so many lives. They're waltzing round and round to atone for their sins, the way dirty water can cleanse itself by recirculating.
Daniel Asa Rose, Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplantand Save His Life (New York: HarperCollins e-Books, 2009), loc. 4845. (The author knows nothing about the individuals he has seen dancing: he has just speculated that they are the generation that was young during the Cultural Revolution and so could have been Red Guards.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Learning an instrument: maddening, but worth it

There was a gap between what her ear heard and what her fingers could manage, and she found this maddening, but each week that gap seemed to narrow just a little. The sounds she made were on their way to beautiful. Her hands were learning to make a wooden body sing.
Carolina de Robertis, The Gods of Tango (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p. 119

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What do say to people in grief

People don't know what to say to others who are grieving. They fear upsetting them, they don't know how to behave. But as my family learned, people who are grieving are desperate for support, for connection. It's always better to reach out to someone and just say simply, "I'm sorry," to let them know you're thinking about them, to give them a hug, and feel assured that that alone is enough.
David Kushner, Alligator Candy: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), ch. 42.

Monday, September 12, 2016

They're all "the school"

In lumping into a single unit nurses in two different schools . . . , Wendy's mother demonstrates a common tendency among working-class and poor parents to merge authority figures into one indiscriminate group. Thus, classroom teachers, resource teachers, librarians, and principals are usually all referred to as "the school."
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch.10

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Apparently Darwin never went snorkeling

It is excusable to grow enthusiastic over the infinite numbers of organic beings with which the sea of the tropics, so prodigal of life, teems; yet I must confess I think those naturalists who have described, in well-known words, the submarine grottoes decked with a thousand beauties, have indulged in rather exuberant language.
Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: John Murray, 1913 reprint ed., ch. XX, p. 487

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A grey September day in England

The countryside would have been pretty if it hadn't been sulking under grey skies and moisture-laden air. The weather couldn't make up its mind so it stayed in limbo—one of those classic English days that just sits there and, imitating a lot of people, irritates you with its indecision and grey apathy.
Marie Browne, Narrow Margins (Mid-Glamorgan: Accent Press, 2009),  p.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

If I had the perfect study, then I'd be a writer

There was a small room at the top of the house, overlooking the garden, that Martin earmarked as a study. He felt it was the kind of room where he would be able to write something with strength and character, not the trite and formulaic Nina Riley but a text in which every page was a creative dialectic between passion and reason, a thing of life-changing artistry. Disappointingly, not only did this not happen but all the life he had sensed in the house disappeared after he purchased it.
Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2006), p. 53.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hard for working-class and poor parents to understand professionals' lingo

Incompletely or incorrectly understanding the terminology professionals favor was a common problem among parents in the working-class and poor families we observed. It is one of many elements that contribute to these parents' tendency to defer to, or at least silently accept, the pronouncements of professionals such as teachers and health-care providers.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch.10

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Presidential campaigns with torchlight parades and marching bands

How many of my readers remember the Presidential Campaign of 1876? I recall the torchlight processions of both political parties prior to the election; the bugle corps, fife and drum corps and bands of all kinds marching with and playing for hundreds of men some carrying banners with campaign slogans; all bearing torches or wearing caps holding torches, and draped in multi-colored capes. I would lie awake at night listening to bands playing with them.
Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist (orig. pub. 1934; reprinted in 2011 by, ch. 2. (Clarke turned nine in September 1876.)
It was a presidential election year, with the campaign of 1884 just approaching.

Back in those times all bands were in great demand for torchlight processions in Indianapolis, the same as in other cities, and as brother Ern had become a pretty good trombone player . . ., he began getting acquainted with the different musicians with an eye to business. One day he came home and told me he had an engagement for that night to play with Biessenhertz's Band in a Republican Club parade.

. . .

We made the first parade and were immediately engaged by the Democratic contingent for the following night, after which we seemed to alternate every successive night between the two political parties. This kept the band business might good up to election day, as almost every night there was a rally of some sort.
Id., ch. 11.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The short answer to why immigrants immigrate

With every immigrant she passed she longed to stop and stare into his or her face and ask with nothing but her gaze And you? What are you here for? Why did you come?, as though just looking at them might unlatch the trapdoors to their hidden stories. And the stories would be infinite, no two alike, burning with hope and loss and vigorous despair, told in more dialects than even God could possibly speak, and yet, she suddenly saw, it was possible that somewhere beneath the surface all their hidden stories held the same thread, a single hum of longing, I came to live. Surely this was true of all of them, including her.
Carolina de Robertis, The Gods of Tango (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p. 100

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What meat will eat people?

Of all the animals commonly eaten by humans, the pig is the only one that will return the favor.
Mark Essig, Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig (New York: Basic Books, 2015), Prologue