The opening of Breakfast with the Ones You Love by Eliot Fintushel is a hard-working bit of prose: it establishes the narrator as young and female while also raising lots of curiosity. It’s a terrific hook for a terrific book.
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.
Punchy, mmm? Here’s the cover:
It’s the humor, the voice, and the way he reminds me of Doug Lain. Every spring, I made noises about getting my license, and I checked out the websites of local driving schools, which as a species embodied the most retrograde web design on the internet, real Galapagos stuff replete with frenetic logos and fonts they didn’t make any more, the HTML flourishes of the previous century. How could I give my money to a business with so incompetent a portal?
From part one of Occasional Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia, by Colson Whitehead
This is one of my favorite paragraphs: the build is inexorable, and the way the rhythm breaks from a one-two-three cadence into a very musical crescendo of imagery midway through really works for me.
The difference between a bad sushi joint and a good sushi joint is: at a good sushi joint the sweetness of the sushi doesn’t challenge the taste of the fish. The difference between a good sushi joint and a very good sushi joint is: at a very good sushi joint the sweetness of the sushi doesn’t challenge the taste of the fish, and the fish is very good. The difference between a very good sushi joint and a great sushi joint is: at a great sushi joint the sweetness of the sushi doesn’t challenge the taste of the fish, the fish is excellent, and, piece after piece — sushi should never be served more than one piece at a time; each piece should come freshly made directly from the chef’s hands to you — the meal unfolds in a concert of many varied tastes, some delicate and some strong, all in a sequence of subtle harmony and balance that leaves you exquisitely satisfied…
— If you Knew Sushi, by Nick Tosches (Vanity Fair, June 2007)
It is the word ‘pootling’ that makes this for me: I’ve been in this car, on this road, and that’s the verb that puts me there.
The drive didn’t take long but it was harrowing. Bunches of dead flowers were propped up at several turnins, marking the sites of fatal crashes. Merki took it slow, pootling along at forty, hitting fifty on straight stretches. A queue of cars lined up behind him, drivers who were familiar with the route forming an angry tailgated convoy, trying to embarrass him into hurrying along. He remained calm, checking them in the mirror, pulling over as much as he could to let them overtake, meeting their displays of aggression with a gentle raised hand and admonishments to ‘calm yourself down, pal.’
–THE LAST BREATH, by Denise Mina
Happy Fourth of July, ye who celebrate!
This is a bit of an infodump, but it’s also a good observation about human nature, wittily expressed. This is the ‘spoonful of sugar’ method of infodumping: you share the desired knowledge and make it fun by adding humor.
[Morrill] Goddard’s more daring assertions begin from the premise that it is hard to make people think. He agrees that the power of abstract thought is the highest human faculty, but he nevertheless sees a lot of flattery in the notion that man is a rational animal. In Goddard’s observation, people are far more interested in their sense perceptions and emotions than in their thoughts. He sees nothing particularly wrong or shameful in this, but puts it down to the fact that we have been sensing, feeling and emoting since we lived in caves, while we have only lately begun to cultivate our rational faculties, public education and mass literacy being last minute innovations in the life of man. Thus, while all mankind is capable of rational thought, most of us only use it with deliberate effort, after a good night’s sleep, and for remuneration. Even then, our efforts are often halfhearted and the results mixed.
Kenneth Whyte, THE UNCROWNED KING: THE SENSATIONAL RISE OF WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST