Books


Philip Roth, in his introduction to Saul Bellow’s Herzog:

The character of Moses Herzog, that labyrinth of contradiction and self-division—the wild man and the earnest person with a “Biblical sense of personal experience” and an innocence as phenomenal as his sophistication, intense yet passive, reflective yet impulsive, sane yet insane, emotional, complicated, an expert on pain vibrant with feeling and yet disarmingly simple, a clown in his vengeance and rage, a fool in whom hatred breeds comedy, a sage and knowing scholar in a treacherous world, yet still adrift in the great pool of childhood love, trust, and excitement in things (and hopelessly attached to this condition), an aging lover of enormous vanity and narcissism with a lovingly harsh attitude toward himself, whirling in the wash cycle of a rather generous self-awareness while at the same time aesthetically attracted to anyone vivid, overpoweringly drawn to bullies and bosses, to theatrical know-it-alls, lured by their seeming certainty and by the raw authority of their unambiguity, feeding on their intensity until he’s all but crushed by it—this Herzog is Bellow’s grandest creation, American literature’s Leopold Bloom, except with a difference: in Ulysses, the encyclopedic mind of the author is transmuted into the linguistic flesh of the novel, and Joyce never cedes to Bloom his own great erudition, intellect, and breadth of rhetoric, whereas in Herzog Bellow endows his hero with all of that, not only with a state of mind and a cast of mind but with a mind that is a mind.

Try saying all 244 words five times fast.


Viet Thanh Nguyen on page 267 of The Sympathizer:

You know how to tell if someone’s really dead? Press your finger on his eyeball. If he’s alive, he’ll move. If he’s dead, he won’t.

When I was an EMT, a paramedic told me of another way to tell if someone’s playing dead: rub the knuckles of your first two fingers hard against their chest. No one can pretend after that.


How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto was a frustrating book to read. Not because it wasn’t good—it was very good—but because, like How to Do Nothing and The Wander Society, and even Walden and Thoreau’s Journal, it shows me a world I wish I could be a part of but can’t quite attain. Like many, I need a job to earn money; I need money to pay off my debts and my bills; I need to pay these off so I can… live? Like I wrote about last month, one of my big goals this year is to pay off my debt. Once I do, I’ll have an extra $1,000 or so a month that doesn’t have a job in my budget. I hate that this extra money makes me happy, but it does. I wish I could spend my days listening to the sounds of nature and daydreaming, but I’m not quite there yet. I don’t know if I ever will or if I even want to, but I love reading books that show me that it’s a possibility, that maybe just thinking about this escape is enough to get me through the day.

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