little sarah Big World

Category: Books

Death and the Short Story

Recently I saw 127 Hours, and it was amazing. It was one of the most exciting, interesting, inspiring, original movies I’ve seen in a long time. And I told people this. And they were unimpressed. Unmoved. Completely unmotivated to see the movie.

So, now that I’ve read this book–Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman–that was a fascinating, intelligent, creative, and telling exploration of humankind in life, as well as death, I just feel like I’m not going to be able to convince a single soul to read it. I just really don’t think so.

Anyways, selling points: I only knew to even look for this book because it was mentioned in a New York Times Magazine article. That’s a trusted source, right? (Plus props to me for “doing my homework” and following up on a thing). Also: short stories! So it makes for a good bus/subway/lunch-for-one read. Here’s a tasty preview:

“In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.” (from Sum)

“The Collectors construct lives of parametric experiments: men and women who adhere well but are shot past one another too briefly–brushing by in a library, passing on the step of a city bus, wondering just for a moment.” (from Adhesion)

“When we’re in a human body, we don’t care about universal collapse–instead, we care only about a meeting of the eyes, a glimpse of bare flesh, the caressing tones of a loved voice, joy, love, light, the orientation of a house plant, the shade of a paint stroke, the arrangement of hair.” (from Angst)

“They watch how each human driver aims for his own private piece of the city, isolated from neighbors by layers of glass and steel. Some of the humans reach out to make cell phone contact with a single friend out of the innumerable hordes. And gazing out over the steering wheel, each human feels the intensities of joy and grief as though his were the only real examples in the world.” (from Pantheon)

“In the afterlife, in the warm company of His accidental subjects, God now settles in comfortably, like a grandfather who looks down the long holiday table at his progeny, feeling proud, somehow responsible, and a little surprised.” (from Seed)

David Eagleman

“We are the moment of least facility for the atoms. And in this form, they find themselves longing to ascend mountains, wander the seas, and conquer the air, seeking to recapture the limitlessness they once knew.” (from Search)


Jeffrey Brown Breaks My Heart

…and still I keep reading his books. *Sigh*

Just finished this:

But you could read any of his stuff and have old relationship wounds split open again. He has a website, also.

Non-Fiction Lush

Never thought I’d get so into non-fiction (and I do think that it says something about this category that it has to be defined in terms of what it’s not…), but then this guy came along:

Malcolm Gladwell

I mean, look at how he writes: (from The Tipping Point)

“We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time.”

“Weisberg has a low, raspy voice, baked hard by half a century of nicotine, and she pauses between sentences to give herself the opportunity for a quick puff. Even when she’s not smoking, she pauses anyway, as if to keep in practice for those moments when she is.”

Awesome. Here’s some other stuff from that book:

“In a way, the desire to be of service and influence–whatever it is–can be taken too far. You can become nosy…You have to remember that it’s their decision. It’s their life.” (Mark Alpert)

“I even remember sitting upstairs in his sister’s bedroom…separating the seeds out of some pot on the cover of a Grateful Dead album…The draw for me was the badness of it, and the adult-ness, and the way it proved the idea that you could be more than one thing at once.” (From Gladwell’s smoking questionnaire)

Happiness Research (Part I)

from The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Karma Ura (Bhutan): “I have no such mountain to scale; basically, I find that living itself is a struggle, and if I’m satisfied, if I have done just that, lived well, in the evening I sigh and say, ‘It was okay.’ ”

“Travel, at its best, transforms us in ways that aren’t always apparent until we’re back home.”

“Floyd was a large man, in the horizontal sense…”

“It’s a rotary phone. I can’t remember the last time I used one. It feels so heavy and slow, like dialing upwind.”

Tim LeBon (Britain): “Part of positive psychology is about being positive, but sometimes laughter and clowns are not appropriate. Some people don’t want to be happy, and that’s okay. They want meaningful lives, and those are not always the same as happy lives.”

“Where did this come from? I can’t identify one moment nor any particular position I twisted my body into. It just snuck up on me. Maybe this is how enlightenment happens. Not with a thunderclap or a bolt of lightning but as a steady drip, drip, drip until one day you realize your bucket is full.”


…from the books I’m “supposed” to be reading (even if the person who assigned them is…well, me). This is what happens when you work in a library.

from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

“He thought of how long it had been since she looked into his eyes and smiled, or whipered his name on those rare occasions they still reached for each other’s bodies before sleeping.” (A Temporary Matter)

“I wondered if the reason he was always so smartly dressed was in preparation to endure with dignity whatever news assailed him, perhaps even to attend a funeral at a moment’s notice.” (When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine)

“I put the chocolate in my mouth, letting it soften until the last possible moment, and then as I chewed it slowly, I prayed that Mr. Pirzada’s family was safe and sound…That night when I went to the bathroom I only pretended to brush my teeth, for fear that I would rinse the prayer out as well. I wet the brush to prevent my parents from asking any questions, and fell asleep with sugar on my tongue.” (When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine)

“In truth, Sanjeev did not know what love was, only what he thought it was not.” (This Blessed House)

“At night we kissed, shy at first but quickly bold, and discovered pleasure and solace in each other’s arms.” (The Third and Final Continent)

From Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

“I began to feel revulsion too. Insane people: I had a good nose for them and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. I still don’t. I can’t come up with reassuring answers to the terrible questions they raise.”

“One of the great pleasures of mental health (whatever that is) is how much less time I have to spend thinking about myself.”

And another thing: Flowers. From my best friend.

Gold Stars

So…I have now officially read THREE non-fiction books in a row, which makes me feel…something. (Proud? Accomplished? Adventurous? Or just…bookish).

After this, I read

Doesn't it look nice, though?

…which really wasn’t that good. It was very much an exercise in determination, but DAMNIT, I finished it! I guess it’s good if you go into it not knowing anything about language. Like what grammar is, or why we name things. That sort of stuff.

Then I read

…which, again, had some interesting little tid-bits, but felt more like a published blog. Better than the David Crystal, though, definitely.

And, of course, I helped myself along by sneaking in some of these guys:

I love Craig Thompson

I liked them a lot

And now I’m on to biographies, starting with this guy:

Aron Ralston

“…LaĆ«ticia suggested that illness is a way the body closes in and shelter’s itself from chaos”

Hillevi: “You have so many layers, that you can peel away a few, and everyone’s impressed that you’re baring your soul, while to you it’s nothing, because you know you’ve twenty more layers to go…But we’re the ones that are most scared, and need the most love.”

(Both from Carnet du Voyage, by Craig Thompson)

What I’ve been reading lately

Lots of these guys:

In this order:

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino (from the writings of Henry David Thoreau)

Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown

Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (all librarians should read this, I think)

And lots of this guy:

Malcolm Gladwell

Namely this:

(But I love most anything he writes)


Craving Flesh

Just two this time, both of which speak to my recent experiences, surprisingly.

“And it’s not that I’m lying, not that the chicken roasting doesn’t smell like home, that the cat purring on the kitchen counter doesn’t sound like comfort, that my husband’s embrace doesn’t feel like love. It’s not that at all. It’s just that the world was feeling bigger to me, and here it begins to seem small, sometimes.”

“I speak in the sparkling voice I’ve found myself employing since I arrived in Argentina, the flirtatious, humorous tone of an American Dame. Traveling by myself is so far proving to be rather like playing dress-up. No one here knows anything about me, so I can be anyone I want.”

The Bell Jar

Just finished it.

And here are my most favorite quotes:

“Only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolley-bus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” (This is an apt description of how I felt the first month or so in Madrid)

“The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know that I had fallen and could fall no further.”

“There I went again, building up a glamorous picture of a man who would love me passionately the minute he met me, and all out of a few prosy nothings.”

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig-tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked…and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

(If I were still an English major, I’d write a paper comparing this book with On The Road, using the quote above and Kerouac’s famous bit about “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk,” etc. as a jumping off point. But I’m graduated now and don’t have to do shit like that anymore)

“At first I wondered why the room felt so safe. Then I realized it was because there were no windows.”

“A fresh fall of snow blanketed the asylum grounds – not a Christmas sprinkle, but a man-high January deluge, the sort that snuffs out schools and offices and churches, and leaves, for a day or more, a pure, blank sheet in place of memo pads, date books and calendars.”

The copy I borrowed came complete with notes in French


Thanks to Kevin for supporting my dystopia habit

“We stood still; for the first time did we know fear, and then pain. And we stood still that we might not spill this pain more precious than pleasure.”

“Yet as we stand at night in the great hall, removing our garments for sleep, we look upon our brothers and we wonder. The heads of our brothers are bowed. The eyes of our brothers are dull, and never do they look one another in the eyes. The shoulders of our brothers are hunched, and their muscles are drawn, as if their bodies were shrinking and wished to shrink out of sight. And a word steals into our mind, as we look upon our brothers, and that word is fear.”

“Yes, we do care. For the first time we do care about our body. For this wire is as a part of our body, as a vein torn from us, glowing with our blood. Are we proud of this thread of metal, or of our hands which made it, or is there a line to divide these two?”

“We knew it without words: this house was left from the Unmentionable Times. The trees had protected it from time and weather, and from men who have less pity than time and weather.”

“I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.”