in my craft of fiction class, we’re looking at sentences and paragraphs this week. These are some I’ve highlighted as favorites from contemporary fiction:
Thirty Girls by Susan Minot:
Jane was sufficiently bewildered by what kind of person she was, so it was always arresting when someone, particularly a stranger, summed her up.
Forgotten Country, Catherine Chung
My mother did not want to go to America: this much I knew. I knew it by the way she became distracted and impatient with my sister, by the way she stopped tucking us into bed at night. I knew it from watching her feet, which began to shuffle after my father announced the move, as though they threw down invisible roots that needed to be pulled out with each step
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt:
Mrs. Barbour was from a society family with an old Dutch name, so cool and blonde and monotone that sometimes she seemed partially drained of blood. She was a masterpiece of composure; nothing ever ruffled her or made her upset, and though she was not beautiful her calmness had the magnetic pull of beauty—a stillness so powerful that the molecules realigned themselves around her when she came into a room…
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones:
“Silver” is what I called girls who were natural beauties but who also smoothed on a layer of pretty from a jar. It wasn’t just how they looked, it was how they were. The name came from a song my mother sang sometimes when she was getting dressed to go out somewhere special. She sang along with Aretha Franklin at the end: “Sail on, silver girl… Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way.
Zazen, Vanessa Veselka
I tried to map the cultural trends leading up to it but as I did they grew, interconnecting and weaving backwards and sideways out to everything. Next to the megalithic institutionalized shredding of people’s humanity, marked by tombstone malls and scabby hills, the Styrofoam gullets and flag-waving god-chatterers casting their votes for eternal paternity on the lap rapists - next to all of that, the intimacy between a terrorist and his target was almost a beautiful thing but I still couldn’t solve that moment when they did it anyway so I grabbed more paper and widened my field of vision
Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush:
One thing she knew and Ned did not, was that there is no permanent friendship between men, among men. Something goes wrong, somebody marries the wrong person, somebody advances too fast, somebody converts, somebody refuses good advice or bad advice, it didn’t matter. It went up in a flash, it went up in a flash like magnesium paper set on fire in a magic show. She thought, It’s not always great with women, either, but it can be. Women can have friends, it’s more personal, she thought. Although in the great design of things, women were getting to be more like men. There were more tough cookies around, and liars.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Besides, humility had always seemed to him a specious thing, invented for the comfort of others; you were praised for humility by people because you did not make them feel any more lacking than they already did.
The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
People who are harder to love pose a challenge, and the challenge makes them easier to love. You’re driven to love them. People who want their love easy don’t really want love.
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night. I was small and really my doll knew more than I did.
Come Together, Fall Apart, by Cristina Henriquez
Her brand of meanness was of the temperate variety. She threw little punches but they were never the sort to leave bruises.
We The Animals, Justin Torres
This is your heritage,’ he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and projects in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about his own Paps, how he beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still steeping and snapping perfectly in time.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans
When people don’t hide things, it means they don’t care enough to be afraid of losing you.
Savages, Don Winslow
If you let people believe that you are weak, sooner or later you’re going to have to kill them.
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones.
The Lover, Marguerite Duras
Suddenly, all at once, she knows, knows that he doesn’t understand her, that he never will, that he lacks the power to understand such perverseness. And that he can never move fast enough to catch her. It’s up to her to know. And she does. Because of his ignorance she suddenly knows: she was attracted to him already on the ferry. She was attracted to him. It depended on her alone.
Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
We crawled through time like roaches through the linings of walls, the neglected spaces and hours, foolishly happy that we were still alive even as we did everything to die.”
May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes
We retreat back to the sofa and watch more television, and I find myself thinking that I now understand what the perfect use for TV is—it gives people who have nothing in common something they can do together and talk about: it gives us familiar territory. I have a new respect for what George used to do, how television binds us as Americans—we are what we watch.
A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward. Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future
The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else. “Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.” And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is.”
The Brutal Language of Love, Alicia Erian
Love was never easy, she knew. And if it was, it wasn’t love—friendship maybe, but not love. What she felt for Leonard was something limp and slack. It had no charge, no current running through it to hurt her if she wasn’t careful. The reality was, you only knew you were loved if you were left and returned to, if you were ignored and then craved. Occasionally you would be seen for slightly less than the sum of your parts, and that was love, too. Love announced itself with a sting, not a pat. If love was love, it was urgent and ripe and carried with it the faint odor of humiliation, so that there was always something to be made up for later, some apology in the works. Love was never clean, never quiet, never polite. Love rarely did what you asked it to, let alone what you dreamed it might do, and it most certainly did not know that your favorite color was blue.
Dare Me, Megan Abbott
I guess I’d been waiting forever, my palm raised. Waiting for someone to take my girl body and turn it out, steel me from the inside, make things matter for me, like never before.
Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
I’m sure we were all feeling blessed on this ferryboat among the humps of very green—in the sunlight almost coolly burning, like phosphorus—islands, and the water of inlets winking in the sincere light of day, under a sky as blue and brainless as the love of God, despite the smell, the slight, dreamy suffocation, of some kind of petroleum-based compound used to seal the deck’s seams.”
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Then the fight went out of control. It quivered their arms and legs and wrenched their faces into shapes of hatred, it urged them harder and deeper into each other’s weakest points, showing them cunning ways around each other’s strongholds and quick chances to switch tactics, feint, and strike again. In the space of a gasp for breath it sent their memories racing back over the years for old weapons to rip the scabs off old wounds; it went on and on.
Airships, Barry Hannah
Jane truly liked to talk to fat and old guys best of all. She didn’t ever converse much with young men. Her ideal of a conversation was when sex was nowhere near it at all.
Every time, I get down on myself. Every time I minimize the word document at 1am and think about all the things I have left to write. I toy with the music playlist, go to the bathroom, get another drink of water, distract myself. I get upset. I get frustrated. I think I couldn’t possibly do it, I think I need more time, I think I need tomorrow, I think I need to watch Broad City instead.
And then, after hours of this bullshit, I start to type. The second I start to type, I feel better. It’s the medicine I need. I feel like I can handle it. I feel as invincible as I can when I’m sober. And always, once I start typing, I start to get it done. Always.
Don’t think too much, man. Just fucking do.
The #2 lesson is that you are hardest on yourself, and the #3 lesson is that you don’t have to be as perfect as you think you should be.
aside from excerpts of The Odyssey i haven’t heard much less heard of any of these. Excited and I will keep this list in mind for the future when I eventually break out of my japanese literature shell.
oh boy oh boy oh boy do it
quick rundown: the good earth = family life in china pre-WWI, beautiful writing; shrouds of white earth = native american artist discussing art and hypocrisy and mutual masturbation; uses of enchantment = fairy tales as applied to child psychology; dubliners = okay tbh the first few stories and the last one are the best in this short story collection, read “the dead” first; unscientific america = discussing the fundamental disconnect/distrust between scientific community and general american public
and all the rest are compilations of folk tales and mythologies
I was tagged by cimithesophisticatedfuckpamyu
The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
The Odyssey, by Homer
Shrouds of White Earth, by Gerald Vizenor
The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim
Stories We Live By, compiled by Catherine Attla
Dubliners, by James Joyce
Edith Hamilton’s Mythology
The Punishment of the Stingy and Other Indian Stories, compiled by George Bird Grinnell
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths
Unscientific America, by Chris Mooney
how many fucking mythology books do i have??? never enough, that’s how many
so sorry for my delayed response to this email, i have been very swamped being a confused and frightened idiot who can’t do basic life tasks like respond to her emails
When you are 13 years old,
the heat will be turned up too high
and the stars will not be in your favor.
You will hide behind a bookcase
with your family and everything left behind.
You will pour an ocean into a diary.
When they find you, you will be nothing
but a spark above a burning bush,
still, tell them
Despite everything, I really believe people are good at heart.
When you are 14,
a voice will call you to greatness.
When the doubters call you crazy, do not listen.
They don’t know the sound
of their own God’s whisper. Use your armor,
use your sword, use your two good hands.
Do not let their doubting
drown out the sound of your own heartbeat.
You are the Maid of Untamed Patriotism.
Born to lead armies into victory and unite a nation
like a broken heart.
When you are 15, you will be punished
for learning too proudly. A man
will climb onto your school bus and insist
your sisters name you enemy.
When you do not hide,
he will point his gun at your temple
and fire three times. Three years later,
in an ocean of words, with no apologies,
you will stand before the leaders of the world
and tell them your country is burning.
When you are 16 years old,
you will invent science fiction.
The story of a man named Frankenstein
and his creation. Soon after you will learn
that little girls with big ideas are more terrifying
than monsters, but don’t worry.
You will be remembered long after
they have put down their torches.
When you are 17 years old,
you will strike out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
one right after the other.
Men will be afraid of the lightening
in your fingertips. A few days later
you will be fired from the major leagues
because “Girls are too delicate to play baseball”
You will turn 18 with a baby on your back
leading Lewis and Clark
across North America.
You will turn 18
and become queen of the Nile.
You will turn 18
and bring justice to journalism.
You are now 18, standing on the precipice,
trembling before your own greatness.
This is your call to leap.
There will always being those
who say you are too young and delicate
to make anything happen for yourself.
They don’t see the part of you that smolders.
Don’t let their doubting drown out the sound
of your own heartbeat.
You are the first drop of a hurricane.
Your bravery builds beyond you. You are needed
by all the little girls still living in secret,
writing oceans made of monsters and
throwing like lightening.
You don’t need to grow up to find greatness.
You are stronger than the world has ever believed you to be.
The world laid out before you to set on fire.
All you have to do