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Category Archives: Snippets from books

“No one can garden alone.”

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On chance-mild days when an incandescent light falls on thin twigs, throwing their fine shadows across gravel walks, my garden seems more beautiful than ever.

Elizabeth Lawrence, Gardens in Winter

Readers of Lawrence’s books and garden columns came to know her gardening friends as if they were characters in a long-running radio drama.  Lawrence herself often said that she knew many gardens as well as she did her own.  Some from the past, she explained to readers of  The Little Bulbs, “still bloom in my mind.”  “Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one,” she explained.  “No one can garden alone.”

Bury Us Upside Down

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from the Introduction:

This experimental unit became the most innovative air operation of the war.  “Misty,” as it became known, on account of the call sign chosen by the first commander, borrowed many of its tactics from the slow FACs.  But other techniques had to be developed on the fly.  To see targets as small as a single truck camouflaged beneath trees, the Mistys flew low–often below the minimum allowed altitude of 4,500 feet.  Anytime they buzzed over something valuable to the North Vietnamese, they attracted walls of antiaircraft fire.  Every day was an asymmetric duel between men in the air and men on the ground.  They had different guns and different advantages, yet the fight was as personal as if they were facing each other with bayonets.

It was a hush-hush mission.  The mere formation of the fast FAC unit indicated how successful the North Vietnamese had been at defeating the slow FACs that were getting blown out of the sky.  All the air defenses were being sent down the Trail–including surface-to-air missiles–were working.  If the slow FACs couldn’t find the air defenses and help clear them out, that jeopardized all the other aerial missions near the Trail–including the B-52 bombing runs that were a key U.S. advantage.  The Air Force wasn’t about to telegraph that vulnerability to Hanoi.

. . . There are still more than eighteen hundred Americans [in 2006] who presumably died during the Vietnam War and remain unaccounted for. . . . In little-noticed press releases, the Department of Defense announces the return of remains from Vietnam every week or two, on average.  The announcements get little attention.  yet across America, families that have been lacerated with anguish live through an experience they came to believe would never happen: the return of their loved ones.  This is the tale of one missing man, the family who went on without him, and the extraordinary unit he served with when he disappeared.  There are many, many other stories like this one.

what imagery

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The next day was one of beaten silver, like the plate you could buy in the shops near the Rialto bridge — the shimmering silver of the water turning this way and that to catch the light and fracture it in a thousand different directions.  Above that the sleek zinc of a high layer of cloud and between the two, like a layer of decorative enamel, the buildings of the city — pink and gold and ochre and orange.

Snippets from books

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Real mothers wonder why experts who write for Parents and Good Housekeeping–and, dare I say it, the Burlington Free Press— seem to have their acts together all the time when they themselves can barely keep their heads above the stormy seas of parenthood.

Real mothers don’t just listen with humble embarrassment to the elderly lady who offers unsolicited advice in the checkout line when a child is throwing a tantrum.  We take the child, dump him in the lady’s cart, and say, “Great.  Maybe you can do a better job.”

Real mothers know that it’s okay to eat cold pizza for breakfast.

Real mothers admit it is easier to fail at this job than to succeed.

If parenting is the box of raisin bran, then real mothers know the ratio of flakes to fun is severely imbalanced.  For every moment that your child confides in you, or tells you he loves you, or does something unprompted to protect his brother that you happen to witness, there are many more moments of chaos, error, and self-doubt.

Real mothers may not speak the heresy, but they sometimes secretly wish they’d chosen something for breakfast other than this endless cereal.

Real mothers worry that other mothers will find that magic ring, whereas they’ll be looking and looking for ages.

Rest easy, real mothers.  The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means that you already are one.

snippets from books

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Something I like about old age is that you can so easily let your mind drift.  The present no longer contains much that demands concentrated thought: no more love affairs, no more work excitements or problems, no more (or very little) planning of entertainment or travel.  Day-to-day life is so much simpler and more repetitive than it used to be that you can allow your mind to wander.  The best times for it are in the morning, snug in bed putting off getting up, and in the event, idling one’s way towards sleep.  Sometimes I find myself telling a story which has grown out of some small incident–perhaps a man in the park that morning was humiliated by his lack of control over his dog, and a mini-drama weaves itself round him.  Or I have heard that a friend is ill, and spend a long time recalling her and her ways, imagining her feelings, foreseeing her future.  Often I choose a time or place and let myself loose in it: Venice on a September morning, perhaps, or Santa Fe full of flowering lilacs as it was when I once spent a week there.  One scene will lead to another, one event connect mysteriously with another of a different kind, and people I haven’t thought about for years will materialize.  And since the place where I spent my childhood has been restored to me . . . well, everyone knows that what comes back to the old most often is their distant past, and that is confirmed again and again in my own experience.  In the last two or three years I have learnt what a vast amount of my childhood is stuffed away below the level of consciousness, much of it probably never to emerge but a surprising amount of it ready to become available, and all of it there.  it has become obvious that what an old person is–provided he or she has not gone gaga–is not just the deteriorating body going through its necessarily simplified and sometimes boring occupations, but a mobile reservoir of experience.

The knowledge that this is so much, I suppose, be one of the chief triggers of autobiography.  ‘But if I turn it into a book,’ one feels, ‘there it will still be.’ Whether anyone will want to read it is up to them: at least it will be there for whoever does.  I have acted on this impulse twice before, once in relation to my experience of love (Instead of a Letter), and once in relation to my life in publishing (Stet), and both times there was a fair number of people who wanted to read the resulting book; so now, when what has bubbled up asking for the same kind of expression is the material at the bottom of the reservoir — the stuff which, on the whole, causes a person to be what he or she is — I dare to do it again.

Snippets from books

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It has been several years since I’ve read any of Lee Smith’s books; I have missed out – it has been my loss.  Her latest book of short stories, Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger is delightful.

The following is from the short story “The Happy Memories Club.”

I may be old, but I’m not dead.

Perhaps you are surprised to hear this.  You may be surprised to learn that people such as myself are still capable of original ideas, intelligent insights, and intense feelings.  Passionate love affairs, for example, are not uncommon here.  Pacemakers cannot regulate the strange unbridled yearnings of the heart.  You do not wish to know this, I imagine.  This knowledge is probably upsetting to you, as it is upsetting to my sons, who do not want to hear, for instance, about my relationship with Dr. Solomon Marx, the historian.  “Please, Mom,” my son Alex said, rolling his eyes.  “Come on, Mama,” my son Robert said.  “Can’t you maintain a little dignity here?  Dignity, said Robert, who runs a chain of miniature golf courses!  “I have had enough dignity to last me for the rest of my life, thank you,” I told Robert.

I’ve always done exactly what I was supposed to do–now I intend to do what I want.

“Besides, Dr.Solomon Marx is the joy of my life,” I told them all.  This remained true even when my second surgery was less than successful, obliging me to take to this chair.  It remained true until Solomon’s most recent stroke five weeks ago, which has paralyzed him below the waist and caused his thoughts to become disordered, so that he cannot always remember things, and he cannot always remember the words for things.  A survivor himself, Solomon is an expert on the Holocaust.  He has numbers tattooed on his arm.  He used to travel the world, speaking about the Holocaust.  Now he can’t remember the name of it.

“Well, I think it’s a blessing,” said one of the nurses — that young Miss Rogers.  “The Holocaust was just awful.”