So much good in Manhattan Transfer, I’ll just stick with what stood out to me the most:
A nickel before midnight buys tomorrow . . . holdup headlines, a cup of coffee in the automat, a ride to Woodlawn, Fort Lee, Flatbush . . . A nickel in the slot buys chewing gum. Somebody Loves Me, Baby Divine, You’re in Kentucky Juss Shu’ As You’re Born . . . bruised notes of foxtrots go limping out of doors, blues, waltzes (We’d Danced the Whole Night Through) trail gyrating tinsel memories . . . On Sixth Avenue on Fourteenth there are still flyspecked stereopticons where for a nickel you can peep at yellowed yesterdays. Beside the peppering shooting gallery you stoop into the flicker A Hot Time, The Bachelor’s Surprise, The Stolen Garter . . . wastebasket of tornup daydreams . . . A nickel before midnight buys yesterday.
Take a break from this week’s fashionable outrage or regiurgitated opinions on gun control, and check out this portrait of early twentieth century New York City. Highly recommended, and I’d bet a toenail that Cormac McCarthy read Manhattan Transfer at some point in his life prior to writing Suttree.
I spent much of the book believing that Percival is a figment of Lancelot’s imagination. The brilliance of Lancelot‘s format is that by addressing the reader directly, we become Percival, the priest who hears his confession and his deranged ideas about ushering in a new order.
Good book. Highly recommended.
On to the quotes:
Next follows catastrophe of some sort. I can feel it in my bones. Perhaps it has already happened. Has it? Have you noticed anything unusual on the “outside”? I’ve noticed that the doctors and guards and attendants here who are supposed to be healthy — we’re the sick ones — seem depressed, anxious, gloomy, as if something awful had already happened.
Talk? Talk about what? Some years ago I discovered that I had nothing to say to anybody nor anybody to me, that is, anything worth listening to. There is nothing left to say. So I stopped talking. Until you showed up. … It’s strange, I have to tell you in order to know what I already know. I talk, you don’t. Perhaps you know even better than I that too much has been said already. Perhaps I talk to you because of your silence. Your silence is the only conversation I can listen to.
That was one of the pleasures of the sixties: it was so easy to do a little which seemed a lot. We basked in our own sense of virtue and in what we took to be their gratitude. Maybe that was why it didn’t last very long. Who can stand gratitude?
I’ve discovered that even in this madhouse if you tell someone something, face to face, with perfect seriousness, without emotion, gazing directly at him, he will believe you. One need only speak with authority.
I read The Moviegoer in 2011. This quote occurs to me from time to time, especially when I’m on Facebook. Could I adjust to life off-the-grid? I think so. A home, a typewriter, a bookshelf. What else do I need? The complexity of a human being. But some people are nothing more than a few emojis and an empty reaction to this month’s fashionable outrage.
For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead.
It happens when I speak to people. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death. There is little to do but groan and make an excuse and slip away as quickly as one can. At such times it seems that the conversation is spoken by automatons who have no choice in what they say. I hear myself or someone else saying things like: “In my opinion the Russian people are a great people, but–” or “Yes, what you say about the hypocrisy of the North is unquestionably true. However–” and I think to myself: this is death. Lately it is all I can do to carry on such everyday conversations, because my cheek has developed a tendency to twitch of its own accord.
Lately, I’ve been spending less time on social media and more time reading and writing. I know I’m missing bouts of fashionable outrage and status signaling, and you know what? I don’t care. You can have it, and you can keep it.
I have read Steven Pressfield’s magnificent The War of Art so many times that I can quote most of it offhand. As I finish City of Mirrors and prepare to start Swimming in Hong Kong, this particular quote kept popping up in my head. I hope you enjoy it, and do check out The War of Art. Mr. Pressfield also runs a blog, Writing Wednesdays. If nothing else, read Find What You Love and Let It Kill You and Collectively-Enforced Mediocrity. You’re welcome.
On to the quote:
In my little house I had no TV. I never read a newspaper or went to a movie. I just worked. One afternoon I was banging away in the little bedroom I had converted to an office, when I heard my neighbor’s radio playing outside. Someone in a loud voice was declaiming “…to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I came out. What’s going on? “Didn’t you hear? Nixon’s out; they got a new guy in there.”
I had missed Watergate completely.
How’s that for #amwriting?