Archives for posts with tag: Book excerpts

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EX-CAR (Excerpt)

Story by J. Robert Lennon

We got rid of our old car and immediately regretted our decision. It wasn’t that our new car was unsatisfactory; in fact it ran more smoothly and reliably than the old one ever had, even when it was new. But the old car had acquired a “personality” assembled from memories of our lives during the time we owned it, and we found that we missed it deeply…

A few months after selling the car, we saw it in the parking lot of a restaurant in a nearby town. Our initial reaction was to deny that it was our old car, as the restaurant was of a decidedly inferior quality and, obviously, a place our car would never go. But this car was dented in the same place as our ex-car, and two of the six letters of its chrome nameplate were broken off as they had been on ours, and so there could be no doubt.

 …we had to go into the restaurant and ask the new owner if we could buy it back. He thought it over while he chewed on a fish stick, then told us we could have it back for twice the price he bought it for.

 We gave the offer serious consideration, but ultimately decided to reject it. On the way across the parking lot I opened up the hatchback of our ex-car and stole the jack. I don’t know why I did this; it certainly wasn’t in the best interest of our ex-car; but I still have the jack and have not seen the old car again. 

Photo: Gordon Thomson, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“Ex-Car” by J. Robert Lennon is included in Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes by J. Robert Lennon. TIME OUT (London) called the collection “Unsettlingly brilliant.” Find the book at Amazon.com.

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THE SUMMER GAME (Excerpt)

by Roger Angell

Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our father’s youth, and even back in the country days there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped.

Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you I and have to do is succeed utterly — keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.

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Originally published in 1972, The Summer Game, a book of essays by Roger Angell is available at Amazon.com. The site describes the book this way: “The Summer Game, Roger Angell’s first book on the sport, changed baseball writing forever. Thoughtful, funny, appreciative of the elegance of the game and the passions invested by players and fans, it goes beyond the usual sports reporter’s beat to examine baseball’s complex place in our American psyche.”

PHOTO: Joe DiMaggio (New York Yankees) at bat, with Hank Erickson (Cincinnati Reds) catching (1936)

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“She’s afraid to tell me anything important, knowing I’ll only turn around and write about it. In my mind, I’m like a friendly junkman, building things from the little pieces of scrap I find here and there, but my family’s started to see things differently. Their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap I so casually pick up, and they’re sick of it. More and more often their stories begin with the line “You have to swear you’ll never repeat this.” I always promise, but it’s generally understood that my word means nothing.”  Excerpt from Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim by DAVID SEDARIS

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Published in 2004, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris includes 22 of the author’s autobiographical essays, many that originally appeared in the New Yorker, GQ, and Esquire.

Silver Birch Press will mail a free hardcover copy of the book (U.S. only due to postage rates) to the first person who leaves a comment about this post.

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MOTEL CHRONICLES (Excerpt)

by Sam Shepard

I remember trying to imitate Burt Lancaster’s smile after I saw him and Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz. For days, I practiced in the backyard. Weaving through the tomato plants. Sneering. Grinning that grin. Sliding my upper lip up over my teeth. After a few days of practice, I tried it out on the girls at school. They didn’t seem to notice. I broadened my interpretation until I started getting strange reactions from the other kids. They would look straight at my teeth and a fear would creep into their eyes. I’d forgotten how bad my teeth were. How one of the front ones was dead and brown and overlapped the broken one right next to it. I’d actually come to believe I was in possession of a full head of perfectly pearly Burt Lancaster-type of teeth. I didn’t want to scare anyone so I stopped grinning after that. I only did it in private…

Photo: Burt Lancaster as Joe Erin in Vera Cruz (1954)

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“But let me tell you my cat joke. It’s very short and simple. A hostess is giving a dinner party and she’s got a lovely five-pound T-bone steak sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen waiting to be cooked while she chats with the guests in the living room — has a few drinks and whatnot. But then she excuses herself to go into the kitchen to cook the steak-and it’s gone. And there’s the family cat, in the corner, sedately washing its face.”

“The cat got the steak,” Barney said.

“Did it? The guests are called in; they argue about it. The steak is gone, all five pounds of it; there sits the cat, looking well-fed and cheerful. ‘Weigh the cat,’ someone says. They’ve had a few drinks; it looks like a good idea. So they go into the bathroom and weigh the cat on the scales. It reads exactly five pounds. They all perceive this reading and a guest says, ‘okay, that’s it. There’s the steak.’

They’re satisfied that they know what happened, now; they’ve got empirical proof. Then a qualm comes to one of them and he says, puzzled, ‘But where’s the cat?”’

From The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich by PHILIP K. DICK

Photo: Philip K. Dick and feline friend.

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Some years back, I wrote a children’s novel that featured a girl named Anna, a dog named Otto, and lots of wordplay — as evidenced by the main characters’ names, spelled the same backward and forward. In the book, Anna, an amnesiac, sets out with Otto to learn her identity — and along the way meets a range of unusual characters and encounters a variety of wacky situations.

For a time, I shopped Anna & Otto to publishers in New York and received positive response (but no offers). One editor compared the novel’s emphasis on language to the wordplay found in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster — a book (shame on me) that I had never read.

That day, I visited my local Border’s (RIP) and purchased a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel first published in 1961. I went home and read the book in one giant gulp — a huge smile on my face the whole time.

Excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth: “In this box are all the words I know…Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is to use them well and in the right places.” 

The book’s jacket copy advises, “Readers of all ages will find much wit and wisdom in Norton Juster’s beguiling, offbeat fantasy about a boy named Milo…[who] meets some of the most logically illogical characters ever met on this side or that side of reality, including King Azaz the Unabridged, unhappy ruler of Dictionopolis.”

The New York Times gave The Phantom Tollbooth a rave, noting: “Most books advertised for ‘readers of all ages’ fail to keep their promise. But Norton Juster’s amazing fantasy has something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsy of The Wizard of Oz.” 

Now whenever I see a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth in one of my used-book haunts, I snap it up — and pass it  on to someone I know would love this marvel of a book. (I’ll admit that I don’t often find The Phantom Tollbooth at thrift stores — people hang onto their copies of this brilliant novel.) Highly recommended! A Must Read! 

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Illustration: The cover illustration is by Jules Feiffer, whose witty, spot-on drawings fill the 256-page book (Knopf hardcover edition). At left is Feiffer’s drawing of the Terrible Trivium, “…demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.” 

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The Life of Pi, Chapter 78 (Excerpt)

by Yann Martel

There were many skies.

The sky was invaded by great white clouds, flat on the bottom but round and billowy on top.

The sky was completely cloudless, of a blue quite shattering to the senses.

The sky was a heavy, suffocating blanket of grey cloud, but without promise of rain.

The sky was thinly overcast.

The sky was dappled with small, white, fleecy clouds.

The sky was streaked with high, thin clouds that looked like a cotton ball stretched apart.

The sky was a featureless milky haze.

The sky was a density of dark and blustery rain clouds that passed by without delivering rain.

The sky was painted with a small number of flat clouds that looked like sandbars.

The sky was a mere block to allow a visual effect on the horizon: sunlight flooding the ocean, the vertical edges between light and shadow perfectly distinct.

The sky was a distant black curtain of falling rain.

The sky was many clouds at many levels, some thick and opaque, others looking like smoke.

The sky was black and spitting rain on my smiling face.

The sky was nothing but falling water, a ceaseless deluge that wrinkled and bloated my skin and froze me stiff.

Photo: Talshadar, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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“We walked out on the veranda with our drinks and watched the afternoon traffic…I told her that Knut Hamsun had been the world’s greatest writer. She looked at me, astonished that I’d heard of him, then agreed. We kissed on the veranda, and I could smell the exhaust from the cars in the street below. Her body felt good against mine.” CHARLES BUKOWSKI, Women (Chapter 21)

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My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz.  You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond ‘Z’ and start poking around!”

From On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss

I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.” Theodore Geisel

Photo: Zen Sutherland