I was powerfully struck by many things in M.K. Hobson’s The Hidden Goddess, but somehow this struck a deep chord. Emily’s talking to a magician who practices credomancy, whose power is all about the practitioner’s self-confidence and the way they’re viewed by others, and this magician tells her:
“I’m also a woman. Failure, struggle and doubt are my constant companions. They are not always pleasant, but they inoculate me against overconfidence. As such, I would not trade them for all the arrogant bravado in the world.”
It’s a nice bit of characterization, and it also speaks to something I feel, in my marrow, as truth. That idea of arrogant bravado–a thing I see as coming from a place of privilege, of developing from experience the expectation that one’s shiniest objects of desire will be dropped in their laps by the Universe–it’s the flip side of being trained to have low expectations.
Like most people, I’ve had my share of good and bad flips of the cosmic coin. The character in this novel who’s expressing this idea, on the other hand, is someone who, because of her ethnicity, gender and the society she lives in, has never had anything handed to her. Everything she is and everything she has she’s made herself, and she knows it could be yanked away by a wisp of bad luck, a mistake or even an accident of timing.
I understood her perfectly in that moment: in two lines, Hobson made her utterly real to me. It is very neatly done.
Here are a couple passages from American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood, by Howard Blum, that are witty and really capture character:
It was well known that the detective and Rogers detested each other with the long-standing ill will that only the self-absorbed can find the patience to sustain.
Billy despised anarchists. In his long career he had arrested murderers, thieves, swindlers and crooked politicians, but he had a singularly deep, visceral hatred for anarchists. He thought they “lived without any regard for a single decent thing in life.” “They exist in a state of free love, are notoriously unfaithful to their mates thus chosen, and are so crooked that even in this class of rogues, there does not seem to be any hint of honor. That is, their way of looking at the world directly challenged his orderly, patriotic, churchgoing, monogamous, achieving middle-class life. And that, he knew with unshakeable certainty, was an unforgivable crime.
I found the content of this book to be very absorbing and it is a fast read, the kind of history one just rips through. But Blum’s central conceit is to tie together three lives, those of Clarence Darrow, detective William J. Burns and filmmaker D.W. Griffith, and I don’t think that ever quite comes off. Darrow and Burns definitely intertwined, but they glanced off Griffith–he just happened to be around.
I am charmed by everything Eliot Fintushel does, and that includes his live performance of the entire Book of Revelation, but what I like about the opening of Breakfast with the Ones You Love is that it’s quirky and funny in its rhythms and yet dark–very dark–underneath.
If you want to be safe, a person like myself, you have to kill your face. Otherwise people get their hooks in you, which, who needs it? I already killed my face by the age of twelve. Problem is, my tits invaded. I tried not eating, which I hear stops tits in their tracks, but I couldn’t keep it up. In spite of everything, there is something in you that wants to keep you alive. It’s like a disease that you just can’t shake, no matter how hard you try. At least you can kill your face, see? Me, I can kill people too. I can kill them whenever I want to.
This fragment’s from Jo Walton’s Farthing.
All the same, there was enough of the Northerner left in him to distrust the Hampshire countryside that was doing its best to beguile him. The trees, so much more frequent and so much broader here than on his native moor, were in fullest leaf and cast a delightful shade. Beneath them spread as solid a carpet of bluebells as he had ever seen, sending their scent drifting into the car as he was driven on past them. The sun was shining from a deep blue sky, as it rarely shone on Lancashire, the fields were ploughed and planted, and the hay was already high, the grass was a verdant green, and the birds were singing. As if this wasn’t enough, every few miles the road wound its way through a little village with a church, a pub, a post office, thatched cottages, and just sufficient individuality to tell it from the last one.
What I like about it is that she uses the narrator’s point of view to inject a bit of attitude into the picture-postcard description. On the one hand it’s a lovely, bucolic bit of scenery, and on the other we see the way that gets up this character’s nose. It holds a mirror up to him, you might say, but in an interesting way.
I haven’t been posting many text fragments lately… becoming more of an e-books person has helped me to fall out of the habit of collecting them. But since I’m working on reading more I want to get back into this habit, and I also want to post some of the lovely bits and pieces I’ve collected but never posted. And one of my favorites–even though it’s very short–is this crisp, elegant, utterly perfect image from Samuel R. Delaney.
The moon, revealed once more, was a polished bone joint jammed on the sky.
–Samuel R. Delaney, THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION
What I admire about this is that it has the economy and precision of poetry–it needs nothing more than what it already has.