Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘quotes

Catalogued: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans

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 Evans, Danielle. 
 Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self / by Danielle Evans. 
- New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

“Usually, Eva thought of herself as a good person. She stayed up at night worrying about the human condition in vague and specific incarnations. She made herself available to the people whom she loved, and some whom she didn’t. She gave money to every other homeless person and stopped to let stray kids remind her how much Jesus and the Hare Krishnas loved her, more for the benefit of their souls than hers. Still, she wondered sometimes if it wasn’t all pretense—if, when she shut her eyes and wished restitution upon the whole wounded parade of humanity, she wasn’t really wishing away the world that created war and illness so that she might have a world in which there was room to feel sorry for herself. Every day she felt herself losing things it was unacceptable to mourn.”

A collection of beautiful (without being the slightest bit overwrought) stories.


Written by ENB

March 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Catalogued: The Summer Without Men >> Siri Hustvedt

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 Hustvedt, Siri. 
 The Summer Without Men / by Siri 
     Hustvedt. - New York: Picador, 2011

1. “In Athens, they formalized ostracism to rid themselves of those suspected of having accumulated too much power, from ostrakon, the word for ‘shard.’ They wrote down the names of the threats on broken pieces of crockery. Word Shards. The Pathan tribes in Pakistan exile renegade members, sending them into a dusty nowhere. The Apache ignore widows. They fear the paroxysms of giref and pretend those who suffer from them do not exist. Chimpanzees, lions, wolves all have forms of ostracism, forcing out one of their own, either too weak or too obstreperous to be tolerated by the group. Scientists describe this as an “innate and adapteive” method of social control. … The Amish call it Meidung. When a member breaks a law, he or she is shunned. All interactions cease, and the one they have turned against falls into destitution or worse.”

2. “It is impossible to divine a story while you are living it; it is shapeless; an inchoate procession of words and things, and let us be frank: We never recover what was. Most of it vanishes. … Time is not outside us, but inside. Only we live with past, present and future, and the present is too brief to experience anyway. It is retained afterward and then it is either codified or it slips into amnesia. Consciousness is the product of delay.”

3. “In his journals, Kierkegaard writes that dread is an attraction, and he is right. Dread is a lure, and I could feel it’s tug, but why? What had I actually seen or heard that created this mild but definite pull in me? Perception is never passive. We are not only receivers of the world; we also actively produce it. There is a hallucinatory quality to all perception, and illusions are easy to create.”

4. “The whole story is in my head, isn’t it? I am not so philosophically naive as to believe that one can establish some empirical reality of THE STORY.”

5. “We must all allow ourselves the fantasy of projection from time to time, a chance to clothe ourselves in the imaginary gowns and tails of what has never been and never will be. This gives some polish to our tarnished lives, and sometimes we may choose one dream over another, and in the choosing find some respite from ordinary sadness. After all, we, none of us, can ever untangle the knot of fictions that make up that wobbly thing we call a self.”

Written by ENB

September 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Catalogued: ‘Instead of a Letter’ // Diana Athill

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 Athill, Diana. 
 Instead of a Letter: A Memoir / by Diana 
     Athill. - London: W.W. Norton & Co, 1962

Instead of a Letter is the first book by British editor/publisher Diana Athill, who was born in 1917; edited the likes of V.S. Naipaul, John Updike and Jean Rhys; and and wrote several subsequent memoirs after this one. I’d read one of her previous memoirs—Stet, about her life in publishing—before this one, which dealt more with Athill’s childhood (growing up rich in the English countryside), her first love (who goes off to war, ignores her for two years and then writes to tell her he’s engaged to someone else; not a spoiler, b/c that’s on the book jacket) and her early years on her own.

Her prose is just gorgeous—also very precise and slightly formal, in the manner of, say, Virginia Woolf—and I think one of her special talents is putting into words ways of thinking that I’m sure many people share but couldn’t describe as well. Her other is for honesty: Athill never spares herself in describing things, you know? If anything, she’s harder on herself than you think maybe she should be (okay, so she wasn’t too jazzed about the War Effort; I’m sure not everyone else contributing was either, but Athill, in this memoir, seems to almost believe its a unique shortcoming in herself).

What I found most interesting about Athill’s descriptions of her flaws or proclivities, though, is that there’s really strong evidence to support an interpretation that Athill went through a long period of clinical depression, and suffered from ADHD. And when I say ‘there’s strong evidence to support,’ what I really mean is, reading it, I kept thinking HOLY FUCK Clearly This Woman Is Depressed and Has ADHD. I’ve read a lot about (and have firsthand experience with) both of these things, and many of her behaviors and actions and emotions, as she described them, could have been lifted directly from the DSM-IV. If this were a book written by someone weened in today’s climate—even if it were a novel, but especially as a memoir—depression and ADHD would be splashed prominently across the back cover, if not mentioned in a subhead. And there’s no way in hell our protagonist, or our author, wouldn’t have mentioned them in the course of describing their effects.

But Athill—writing in the early 1960s about events that took place in the 1940s and 1950s—doesn’t pathologize her condition once. The woman spent nearly 10-years in a funk in which her only solace was sex with random men (experiences which she initiates in order to feel something but quickly detaches from once the going gets good; “I would split in two on these occasions, one half going obediently and easily through the routine, the other watching with an ironic amusement”), reading and living vicariously through others—and yet it’s never called ‘depression.’ She’s a terribly disorganized procrastinator who has trouble completing tasks or working on anything that doesn’t ‘positively’ interest her at any given moment, all things she chalks up to her ‘lazy’ or ‘frivolous’ disposition. I don’t want to make any judgments here—there’s something a little to pat about making this some sort of referendum on Psychiatry in Our Time; but it is somewhat fascinating, in comparison.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a few quotes, so you can get a taste (because I really do recommend you pick up an Anthill book, whichever one). On her grandmother:

Intelligent herself, happy to send two of her girls to Oxford when it was still uncommon, and proud of any success her female grandchildren might achieve in unwomanly careers, she yet insisted that women’s minds were inferior to men’s. There was some kind of ambiguity at work here, for although masculine superiority was never questioned, the climate of my grandmother’s house was markedly feminine and her daughters’ husbands always seemed to be slightly on the fringe of it. On a subject suitable to men—war, politics, a question of local government, the appointment of a clergyman to a living—she would turn to a son-in-law in formal deference: ‘I have been wanting to ask you—ought I write to the bishop…?’ but if she intended to write to the bishop, that was what she would do, whatever the son-in-law said. It was not that the deference as false, but perhaps it was paid to a figure too masculine, too infallible to exist.

On college:

To me Oxford became a game at a time when play was life. The play young animals, their pouncing and stalking and wooly wrestling, is serious. It is learning, without which they would not survive as adults, and that kind of play among human beings is too often restricted by economic necessity to childhood … Oxford struck me as the perfect place for this kind of learning, or growing. Some of my friends became impatient of it, feeling it unreal, but I argued that if for three or four years you could have the advantages of being adult with none of the responsibilities, what more could you ask?

On a married man she had an affair with:

Felix enjoyed women so much that he could not help making them feel valuable, indded he would have considered it amateurish not to do so.

On traveling:

It is not only seeing landscapes and works of art hitherto unseen, different kinds of buildings, faces of a different cast and complexion, behaviour formed in different moulds, which makes traveling important. It is the different eyes with which the traveler, startled out of habit by changes, looks at these things.

On why people do bad things:

I have seen few evils, and few ills, which could not be traced to the individual’s monstrous misconceptions of his own value in relation to that of other individuals.


Written by ENB

August 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Catalogued: Letters to a Young Poet

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A quote plucked from my current reading material.

Perhaps the sexes are more closely related than one would think. Perhaps the great renewal of the world will consist of this, that man and woman, freed of all confused feelings and desires, shall no longer seek each other as opposites, but simply as members of a family and neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to simply, earnestly, patiently, and jointly bear the heavy responsibility of sexuality that has been entrusted to them. —Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, the 4th letter

Written by ENB

May 26, 2011 at 8:08 am

Catalogued: ‘Poets & Writers’ Profile of Siri Hustvedt

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A quote plucked from my current reading material.

Author Paul Auster on first meeting his wife, author Siri Hustvedt:

It was pretty sudden, I have to say … For the first few seconds, all I could see was her beauty, the radiance of her beauty, and quickly jumped to the conclusion that she was a model. Could a six-foot-tall blonde who looked like that not be a model? But, lo and behold, it turned out that she was a graduate student, and once we began to talk, I understood how ferociously intelligent she was. We went on talking after the reading, then at an after party, and after the party broke up we went out to a bar and continued talking for several more hours. I found her so brilliant, so wise, so alert, I was utterly smitten. My whole life changed in those hours, both our lives changed, and we’ve been together ever since.”

as quoted in the May/June 2011 issue of Poets & Writers

Auster and Hustvedt have been married 28 years. Her latest book, The Summer Without Men, is partly about (what else?) neuroscience.

Written by ENB

May 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Catalogued: Delivered from Distraction

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A quote plucked from my current reading material.

Valley Courier Office, Reading, Ohio

I have been drawn to literary people my entire life. My heroes during my adolescence were Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. I was an English major in college. I have always liked to write, and many of my closest friends are writers, editors, publishers, agents, columnists, or other kinds of workers in the word business. I have always been intrigued by a commonality I have noted in literary people. They tend to be highly creative, witty, ironic, a tad cynical, and a tad depressed. They tend to drink a lot of alcohol, or be in recovery from having done so. They tend to harbor great dreams, but over the years lose faith in their ability to fulfill those dreams. And yet they also tend to be tenacious, working hard even as they lose hope that their work will pay off.

[…] As a psychiatrist, I have come to think of the literary type in genetic terms. I believe they inherit the genes that predispose toward [reward deficiency syndrome], as well as the genes that predispose toward verbal dexterity, keen powers of observation, a highly developed sense of irony, and a touch of depression. Due to the RDS, they can’t find sufficient pleasure in ordinary life. So they resort to extraordinary means. For example, they write. They submit to that unforgiving discipline to try to improve upon life by creating order, even beauty, out of chaos. That is an extraordinary effort to find ordinary pleasure.

Edward M. Hallowell, Delivered from Distraction


Yes, I’m taking this idea directly from Conor F., because I like it so much. I never get around to “reviewing” books as a whole on here, though I always mean to. But I can handle posting quotes … We will go with “in my backpack,” rather than “on my bookshelf,” however, as a) I don’t have a bookshelf right now, and b) while Conor’s are quotes “plucked from [his] accumulated tomes,” the quotes I post will be from whatever book or magazine I am reading at the moment. And, yes, I carry a backpack with me to and from the office. Screw grown-up bags.

‘Civilization is coming to an end…’

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Via CCK, this Canonball post, “The Art of Writing While Female,” in which the author compiles her favorite snippets of Paris Review interviews with female writers. Here’s my favorite:

Dorothy Parker,  1956

INTERVIEWER: What kind of work did you do at Vogue?

PARKER: I wrote captions. “This little pink dress will win you a beau,” that sort of thing. Funny, they were plain women working at Vogue, not chic. They were decent, nice women—the nicest women I ever met—but they had no business on such a magazine. They wore funny little bonnets and in the pages of their magazine they virginized the models from tough babes into exquisite little loves. Now the editors are what they should be: all chic and worldly; most of the models are out of the mind of a Bram Stoker, and as for the caption writers—my old job—they’re recommending mink covers at seventy-five dollars apiece for the wooden ends of golf clubs “—for the friend who has everything.” Civilization is coming to an end, you understand.

Written by ENB

January 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm

For the cynics, the saviors and the self-absorbed

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The experience of reading these new volumes is akin to being taken into confidence by two writers who aren’t quite sure whether they like themselves very much, but are charmed and amused by the ways in which they don’t.

Interesting review of two new essay collections, Emily Gould’s And the Heart Says Whatever and Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number, from Boston Phoenix writer Sharon Steel. She suggests:

There’s only one thing more dangerous than being an ambitious, attractive twentysomething female stumbling through the publishing industry, attempting to secure quantifiable career success and, also, a fantastic boyfriend: the impulse to write about it. It’s understood yet unspoken that the publication of a memoir that generates some attention is likely to make a writer’s life, in a certain sense, unbearable; ultimately, though, her life will probably become worse in ways that are more interesting than it was before. Which is excellent fodder for a second book.

Um, writers … do you ever think maybe … and, shh!, look away if you’re not a writer, please, but … just occasionally, when you’re not busy being charmed by yourself or your friends or your political party or an exotic East Asian fishing village or something related to Marx, still— do you ever get the slightest suspicion that perhaps we, as a group, really are terrible people?

And yet!—… and yet, I suppose we have some qualities that redeem us. This, from Crawley, sounds commendable, and also (for creators of all kinds) like very sound advice:

I think of all the serious nonfiction about natural disasters or biographies of unsung artists being published. There’s a lot of 4 am why am I doing this again? That’s healthy in small doses. . . . Trust that you are not an asshole and you care about the big issues of the world. . . . and that if you’re lucky, you’ll actually get to them through the smaller ones.

“At this point in time, people’s real lives aren’t often trusted to be fascinating to others,” Steel editorializes. I think that is sometimes true & sometimes not. Regardless, I like Steels defense of the likes of Crosley and Gould, two current exemplars of this type who—no matter how you regard their literary merits or personal morals, individually—get a lot of projection heaped on them for representing this type so commendably. She concludes:

[…] if these two writers agree on anything, it’s this: it’s okay to be a woman who believes that she is the best subject matter for her work, and that her unreserved thoughts are interesting, valuable, strange, comical, and worth space on a shelf. It’s okay to be young and write as if you understand love and sadness, and to look back on stuff that just happened, instead of on properly faded memories. Because it leaves a reader free to try and see themselves, somewhere, in all that mess.

She has to go and end it on a rather corny note—”There’s something beautiful in being strong enough to say exactly what you wanted at the time, even if you’re led to believe no one is listening“—but I dig the drift.


Steel offers just about as good as any definition I’ve yet heard for Generation Y: … the one that hasn’t grown up cataloguing the glorious and terrible minutiae of their lives on the Internet, but has come into adulthood doing so.

Written by ENB

June 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Asides, The Best Things

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“Burroughs Has Gone Insane”

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Can’t help but love letters like this from Jack Kerouac, about his time visiting William S. Burroughs in Tangiers:

Dear Lucien & Cessa — Writing to you by candlelight from the mysterious Casbah — have a magnificent room overlooking the beach & the bay & the sea & can see Gibraltar — patio to sun on, room maid, $20 a month — feel great but Burroughs has gone insane e as, — he keeps saying he’s going to erupt into some unspeakable atrocity such as waving his dingdong at an Embassy part & such or slaughtering an Arab boy to see what his beautiful insides look like — Naturally I feel lonesome with this old familiar lunatic but lonesomer than ever with him as he’ll also mumble, or splurt, most of his conversation, in some kind of endless new British lord imitation, it all keeps pouring out of him in an absolutely brilliant horde of words & in fact his new book is best thing of its kind in the world (Genet, Celine, Miller, etc.) & we might call it WORD HOARD… More >>

Source: Columbia University’s new online exhibition, “Naked Lunch”: The First Fifty Years.

Written by ENB

March 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

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‘If obscure books start raining down …’

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I just got around to beginning reading the Winter 2008 volume of n+1, which I picked up circa last February, promptly placed on my bookshelf, and ignored (it was just post-Christmas! I had so many new books to read!). I came back to it this week, as some combination of hearing about Megan O’Rourke, reading about Bellevue in NYMag, again trying to write fiction, and watching Gossip Girl this week has inspired this resurged interest in Reviews! and Lit Journals! with me (I subscribed to both Paris Review and n+1 last week). Anyway, anyway, an interesting bit from the “intellectual situation” section of winter 2008 n+1:

Canons in daily life, however, just demarcate the books you can count on other people feeling comfortable about in conversation. And these books are often capable of substitution—you don’t have to have read a particular one, if you know the rough feeling. You have read Kerouac. Unless you haven’t; in which case you can substitute Bukowski, Tom Robbins, or even Sylvia Plath. If someone else wants to read the newly republished complete original scroll of On the Road in hardcover, that’s really their problem, and it doesn’t affect your ability to talk—you served your time, you’re available for conversation. You’ve read The Great Gatsby, if you went through high school English. And you probably read Beloved, if you went through college in the last twenty-five years. If you’re in a book group, you’ve read The Kite Runner; or The Tipping Point; or Fast Food Nation. The point is, all of informal reading life works by points of safety which exist because of canons. All of these canons are pretty clear, if rarely discussed: the teen angst, high school English, college English, and short-term educational bestseller canons. There’s a “major prize” canon, too: if it won a Nobel, a National Book Award, or a Pulitzer, you put it on a mental list of books you either will read or talk about meaning to, een if you still can’t pronounce the author’s name, a decade after the Nobel went to Wislawa Szymborska.

These canons are like sturdy umbrellas you can hide under if obscure books start raining down.

Written by ENB

November 23, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Posted in Asides, The Best Things

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