Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Burning the Days: My Notes and Kindle Highlights

2015 Reading List




My initial reaction reading Salter's masterful memoir was sadness.   Sadness for his family--for his wife and children who merit only a few scattered sentences and references throughout the tome.  

To me this is a shame.  

Salter displays such prowess in his powers of recollection--he doesn't just recall a lifetime of events, he captures the atmosphere, the heartache, the lust, the despair felt in those events...about everyone except his wives or children.  Now perhaps this is just a protective mechanism to shield his family from public scrutiny--but Salter hardly seems to be someone reticent to expose the inner drama of his life.  Anyway, my own desire for a man to prioritize his family is no reason to fault his story but I felt I should say this since this isn't a book review--it's my family blog.  

Ultimately Burning the Days is not a memoir about anyone but Salter and his own quest (or pursuit) of immortality.  One must credit Salter for his sincerity in laying bare his peccadillos, his valleys and his peaks but most of all for his outsized power in description--there's no author who does in better today.  My favorite part of this book, however, are his descriptions of favorite books and authors--I added about 10 new books to my Amazon wish list!

Here's Salter on happiness:

When was I happiest, the happiest in my life? Difficult to say. Skipping the obvious, perhaps setting off on a journey, or returning from one.

Times Links on Salter:
https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/09/07/reviews/salter-wellchosen.html
https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/09/07/reviews/970907.07hynest.html#1


You have 101 highlighted passages

In youth it feels one’s concerns are everyone’s. Later on it is clear that they are not. Finally they again become the same. We are all poor in the end. The lines have been spoken. The stage is empty and bare. Before that, however, is the performance. The curtain rises. Read more at location 90

am speaking offhandedly of a great span of time. This great-grandfather had been born in about 1850. I was taken, a small boy who knew nothing of him, to visit. I may eventually look with some wonder upon a grandchild born in the year 2000 or after. A hundred and fifty years. Worlds have disappeared Read more at location 135

Families of no importance—so much is lost, entire histories, there is no room for it all. There are only the generations surging forward like the tide, the years filled with sound and froth, then being washed over by the rest. That is the legacy of the cities. Read more at location 169

In my father’s papers when he died there was still the promissory note, almost the exact size of a check, that Lignante had signed. It was like the bundles of rubles I once saw in the bedroom trunk of a schoolmate, Azamat Guirey, whose mother was a Georgian princess and whose parents had fled Russia after the revolution. Despite all one knows, something clings to paper that once had value. Read more at location 257

She departed, that is, from this earth. I had never, till then, faced the paradox of a dream vivid to the point of ecstasy yet destined to vanish. Read more at location 340

did not invent any games for the poem or pose before the mirror as one of its figures; I only stored it close to my heart. In the end, I suppose, I found the poem to be untrue, that is, I never found an adversary to love as deeply as a comrade, but I kept a place open for one always. Read more at location 364

It was You Can’t Go Home Again, the last of a series of thick novels in which the barely disguised author, Thomas Wolfe, talented and misunderstood, stormed through life in search of glory, love, and fame. Read more at location 670

brilliantly of course our own; in one direction those of our parents and grandparents, in the other, children and grandchildren. In my own case much was lopped off. The past is haphazard. I think of the remark of the English cabinet member who was retiring to the seventeenth-century Cornwall farmhouse that had always been in his family. It is the men without roots, he said, who are the real poor of this century. Read more at location 698

There was the honor system, about which we heard from the very beginning, which belonged to the cadets rather than to the authorities and had as its most severe punishment “silencing.” Someone who was guilty of a violation and refused to resign could be silenced, never spoken to by his classmates except officially for the rest of his life. He was made to room by himself, and one of the few acknowledgments of his existence was at a dance—if he appeared everyone walked from the floor, leaving him, the girl, and the orchestra all alone. Even his pleasures were quarantined. Read more at location 747

Had Nash repented and borne the consequences, he might that year or the next have trotted onto the field to become famous, but there are men born to be impetuous, to live by a gesture and keep their pride. Read more at location 800

An officer, wrote Dumas, is like a father with greater responsibilities than an ordinary father. The food his men ate, he ate, and only when the last of them slept, exhausted, did he go to sleep himself. His privilege lay in being given these obligations and a harder duty than any of the rest.Read more at location 1046

The company commander was someone whom difficulties could not dishearten, privation could not crush. It was not his strength that was unbreakable but something deeper, his spirit. He must not only have his men obey, they must do it when they are absolutely worn out and quarreling among themselves, when they are at the end of their rope and another senseless order comes down from above. He could be severe but only when it was needed and then briefly. It had to be just, it had to wash things clean like a sudden, fierce storm. When he looked over his men he was conscious that a hundred and fifty families had placed a son in his care. Sometimes, unannounced, he went among these sons in the evening to talk or just sit and drink a beer, not in the role of superior but of an older, sympathetic comrade. He went among them as kings once went unknown among their subjects, to hear their real thoughts and to know them. Among his most important traits were decency and compassion. He was not unfeeling, not made of wood. Especially in time of grief, as a death in a soldier’s family at home, he brought this news himself—no one else should be expected to—and granted leave, if possible, even before it was asked for, in his own words expressing sympathy. Ties like this would never be broken. This was not the parade-ground captain, the mannequin promoted for a spotless record. It was not someone behind the lines, some careerist with ambitions. It was another breed, someone whose life was joined with that of his men, who had reached the peak of the human condition, admired, feared, and loved, someone hardened and uncomplaining upon whom the entire struggle somehow depended, someone almost fated to fall. I knew this hypothetical figure. I had seen him as a schoolboy, latent among the sixth formers, and at times had caught a glimpse of him at West Point. Stroke by stroke, the description of him was like a portrait emerging. Read more at location 1048

almost afraid to recognize the face. In it was no self-importance; that had been thrown away, we are beyond that, stripped of it. When I read that among the desired traits of the leader was a sense of humor that marked a balanced and indomitable outlook, when I realized that every quality was one in which I instinctively had faith, I felt an overwhelming happiness, like seeing a card you cannot believe you are lucky enough to have drawn, at this moment, in this game. I did not dare to believe it but I imagined, I thought, I somehow dreamed, the face was my own. Read more at location 1062

That was death: to leave behind a photograph, a twenty-year-old wife, the story of how it happened. What more is there to wish than to be remembered? To go on living in the narrative of others? More than anything I felt the desire to be rid of the undistinguished past, to belong to nothing and to no one beyond the war. At the same time I longed for the opposite, country, family, God, perhaps not in that order. In death I would have them or be done with the need; I would be at last the other I yearned to be. Read more at location 1090

There was also his affair on one side of the world or the other, among the palms of California or the forests of East Africa, with Beryl Markham—two ecstatic souls, somehow unjealous of each other.
Over the years St.-Exupéry managed to progress, for me, from being a mere figure of culture to one of enviable flesh and blood.  Read more at location 1231

“That was terrible. You rounded out twenty feet in the air. As far as I can make out, you’re going to kill us both.” I see him rising up. He climbs out of the cockpit and stands on the wing. “You take her up,” he says. This consent, the words of which I could not even imagine. Alone in the plane, I do what we had done each time, taxi to the end of the bare spot, turn, and almost mechanically advance the throttle. I felt at that moment—I will remember always—the thrill of the in-achievable. Reciting to myself, exuberant, immortal, I felt the plane leave the ground and cross the hayfields and farms, making a noise like a tremendous, bumbling fly. I was far out, beyond the reef, nervous but unfrightened, knowing nothing, certain of all, cloth helmet, childish face, sleeve wind-maddened as I held an ecstatic arm out in the slipstream, the exaltation, the godliness, at last!  Read more at location 1298

Among the great firsts: first solo, first breath of outside air, in here belongs first love affair. Read more at location 1332

had turned my back on three things, marriage, money, and the past, never really to face them wholeheartedly again. Read more at location 1369

She was, for a season, mine, and I was drunk with it. Read more at location 1373

Eventually you meet generals, walk beside them, talk, and slowly, as with beautiful women, manage to hold your eyes on them. Read more at location 1390

the disorder—the two WAVES, and the one I was with, though I never saw her again, who came from a world that coolly rebuked ours. Clean-limbed in blue and white, she seemed prepared to like someone I was not ready to be, and I remembered her long after and her town, Green River, Wisconsin. Read more at location 1639

It is in the blizzards of New England that I see her, the snow, the old houses hidden in it, warm window lights. I drive through her town in winter, oak woods, pale sky, a stone boathouse, memories. I think of her mother, her mother’s life, when she brought her children east to live, or was it that her mother stayed in California and sent them to an uncle and aunt in West Newton? No matter, there is the pond, gray and ice-coated, and the railroad bridge that she passed on walks, in her girlhood, in her youth and perfection long ago. Read more at location 1715

Of less interest also than one of my hutmates at Nielsen Field who every night showered, put on fresh khaki, and went off to an enormous dance hall in a once fashionable district, Santa Anna, returning the next morning soiled, unshaven, missing insignia, and smelling faintly of ammonia, which was the approximate odor of Filipino women. Read more at location 1728

The accidents. They were the stark trees in the forest that stood alone, at the foot of which nothing thereafter grew. The wreckage of the cities would be cleared away but never the oil slick on the sea that was all they found of Smart. For me, however, it was a siren song—the fierce metal planes with their weathered insignia, the great noise as they launched, the distant runways at Negros, Yontan, Cebu. The danger of it was a distinction which nothing else could afford. It would not happen to you, of course, it would never happen to you, and also, as has been pointed out, you could discover death as quickly by fleeing from it, be stung the soonest. Read more at location 1743

Sometimes, when visiting Los Angeles, in the vast, mild nights, I feel the flavor of it again—dancing under the palms, drinks on the lanai, boxing matches, idleness, summer clothes. Read more at location 1769

We shared a taste for books and sentimental lines. Leland shrugged at it. He didn’t have that particular weakness. He was rather like an English aristocrat, a man of decency, little sensitivity, and certain prejudices. The things he knew he knew very well, and they were social things: on which side the guest of honor sat at dinner, how to carve a roast, tie a dress tie, which shoes were best, which clubs. When Paula and I fell in love he overlooked it, for her happiness and to keep her, I suppose, and probably because he was sure of me. He himself was not the sort of man to be unfaithful or to find distraction in affairs, and besides there was little opportunity—he didn’t have a job in which he traveled much, and post life was intimate; anything seen was quickly known, especially if repeated. He was completely uxorious—his marriage was his life just as his uniform was, his golf shoes, his good name. The overwhelming attraction between his wife and friend would eventually die down, he had to believe that. Meanwhile we lived as three, or nearly, the house charged with a force I did my best to appear unaware of, and more than once he carried her upstairs as she waved wistfully to me over his shoulder. Read more at location 1817

Distances were greater then. Setting off for Sydney or New Caledonia meant being gone for a week. Flying hours were what was sought, either on routine flights or the long ones, when it came in large, sedentary servings. There were very few crashes. With native boys we walked at night in the knee-high surf of distant islands, the sea warm and pulling, hunting for lobsters, reaching down to grab them with gloved

hands. That is what one remembers, the rain, the solitude, the dampness, and of course the longing, stepping outside the ramshackle buildings late at night wondering what they were doing elsewhere, in Honolulu or at home. Read more at location 1873

On one of the trips I went to Los Angeles for the first time and in the late afternoon, driving along Sunset Boulevard, was passed by a convertible with the top down. There were three or four people in it and one of them—she turned and I saw her clearly—was a girl I had been infatuated with in high school. I was in uniform and called out and waved. I saw her wave back but then whoever was driving the car sped up and cut through the traffic. I couldn’t catch them. I watched her disappear down the silky road and vanish around a curve, it was near Bel Air. The world of schooldays and youthful dreams from which I had never really separated myself had suddenly passed me by and gone. I was in a new world, a more serious world, in which love was even stronger and more consuming. Read more at location 1921

He retired as a colonel and they went to live in the south of Spain. I had news of him only rarely. I imagined him as he had always been: a perfect companion on the links, drinker in the bar afterwards, the heels on his loafers a bit worn down. Like an unimaginative British officer in some remote town, but knowing exactly who was who and what their business was. Read more at location 1970

The fighter aces had names like Adolph and Sailor, Ginger and Don. They had five or more kills and appeared suddenly and unseen, in the first terrifying seconds letting loose a stream of fire. A kind of blood poured from the plane being hit—black smoke really, but it foretold everything. Pieces of metal were flying off, the whole carefully constructed machinery was coming apart miles above the earth, shedding wings, hurtling out of control. Read more at location 2077

War is so many things. It is an opportunity to see the upper world, great houses that have become hospitals or barracks, precious objects sold for nothing, families with ancient names at the mercy of quartermaster sergeants. In the familiar footage the guns jump backwards as they fire, the tanks roll past and forgotten men wave. It is all this and also the furnace of the individual in a way that a life of labor is not. Its demands are unending, its pleasures cruel. Goya knew them, and Thucydides, and Isaac Babel. One morning there is the wonderful smell of breakfast, and on the next the sudden arrest and hasty sentencing. The fate that seemed impossible, the justice Lorca knew. He could not cry out, I am a poet! They know he is an intellectual, or worse. They put him in a truck and he rides, with others and without a shred of hope, to an outlying district, where he is handed a shovel and told to dig. It is his grave he is digging, and in silence, the silence he will soon be part of, he begins, who was raised in this country, who became its very voice. Death laid eggs in the wound, he once wrote, at five in the afternoon. From far off the gangrene is coming, at five in the afternoon. His wounds were burning like suns, at five in the afternoon, and the crowd was breaking the windows … In his grip is the smooth wooden handle, and the first shovelful of earth is one of the most precious moments of his life, if only it could last. But in war nothing lasts and the poets are killed together with the farm boys, the flies feast on their faces. For us it was simple and always the same: Who was scheduled, what was the weather, what had the earlier missions seen? Read more at location 2110

By subsequent standards these were uncomplicated airplanes, but they could fly above forty-five thousand feet and, going straight down, flirt with the speed of sound. There was a second red needle on the airspeed indicator that moved to mark the limit beyond which you were not supposed to fly though we often did, the needles crossed by thirty or forty knots, usually at low altitude or in a dive, the ship bucking and trying to roll. “On the Mach”—the absolute limit and a favorite phrase. Read more at location 2147

There are certain indestructible people, stalwarts—leaders of squadrons and their best followers; mechanics numb-fingered in the cold; bleak colonels with eyes reddened by late hours—all having one thing in common: They are the dikes that stand against aimlessness and indifference, that hold back the sullen waters that would otherwise mingle and flood. Kasler was one of these. I flew on Colman’s wing and Kasler, in turn, flew on mine. Read more at location 2287

In Paris, a lifetime later, in a hotel room I watched as on screens everywhere he walked dreamily in space, the first American to do so. I was nervous and depressed. My chest ached. My hair had patches of gray. White was turning slowly, upside down, tethered to the spacecraft by a lazy cord. I was sick with envy—he was destroying hope. Whatever I might do, it would not be as overwhelming as this. I felt a kind of loneliness and terror. I wanted to be home, to see my children again before the end, and I was certain it was near the end; I felt suicidal, ready to burst into tears. He did this to me unknowingly, as a beautiful woman crossing the street crushes hearts beneath her heel. Read more at location 2565

In formation with Minish one day, coming back from a mission, I on his wing—without a word he pulled up and did an Immelmann, I as close as you can get, then another and another, then some loops and rolls, two or three away from me, all in hot silence, I had not budged a foot, the two of us together, not a word exchanged, like secret lovers in some apartment on a burning afternoon. Read more at location 2805

named a son for him: Shaw.  One afternoon long after, a writer at last, I sat reading a letter I had received. I am so attracted to you and your ways … Something drifted up from the sentence, a perfume, and in that moment for some reason I thought of him. This was what he knew, people attracted to him and his ways. Read more at location 3103

He wanted immortality, of course, “What else is there?” Life passes into pages if it passes into anything, and his had been written. He could give an overgenerous estimate of himself. Read more at location 3132

One remembers such things. “Those were his words,” the writer said long afterwards—it was Joseph Heller, the book was Something Happened. “He didn’t say it’s a good book. He said great. A masterpiece.

She loved Lucy Crown, it was almost her favorite book. That was a hard book to write, he recalled. Read more at location 3168

had a bottle of Haut Brion with me that I was carrying on the off chance we could have a glass of it in the hospital room. They once wet the lips of newborn kings of France with such wine. I was thinking of that, and the journey he was soon to take. Read more at location 3304
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He died afar, surrounded by women like a biblical king. He had come a long way, like Dickens or d’Annunzio, from his beginnings. He died with the best of everything, a cook, Hungarian vodka, a fine apartment on the main street over the Patek Philippe store, a housekeeper, a secretary, a nurse. There were books everywhere. Read more at location 3323
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My thoughts went back—1957, autumn. I had a wife and two small children. We lived in a cold house on the Hudson. Thinking every day of the life I had left, unable to stop recalling it or to believe in myself apart from it, I sat down and tried to write. It’s easy now to see how much I didn’t know—the making of notes, structure, selection, the most elementary aspects were a mystery to me. I had written one book, out of my own life, the book everyone can write, and beyond that lay desert. Read more at location 3341

have loved thee. I was as it were a child … The poets, writers, the sages and voices of their time, they are a chorus, the anthem they share is the same: the great and small are joined, the beautiful lives, the other dies, and all is foolish except honor, love, and what little is known by the heart. Read more at location 3352

In 1958 or so I came across Girodias’s edition of Pauline Réage’s famous apostasy, the first cool pages of which were like a forbidden door opening and the rest, as I read, unable to put it down, like the shimmering of a fever—not since reading Llewelyn Powys, paragraphs of whose Love and Death I could recite from memory at eighteen, had my legs given way like this. I am not sure it harmed me but it affected me deeply. Though I thought of it a good deal, I rarely spoke about it, and this preserved it for me until one night in the comfort of an editor’s apartment in New York a young woman, when the subject somehow came up, told how she and her friends at camp one summer had read The Story of O and talked about it incessantly. I felt disappointed. If schoolgirls could stroll through it like a book group, what was there to safekeep? Read more at location 3380

The proper order of things is that they be seen first from a distance, then up close. Paris, however, could not be seen that way. It was a city of intimacy, by which I mean privacy, filled with the detail of life, moody, and above bowing to any individual. Kerouac went there once, for two or three days, and left saying, “Paris rejected me. Read more at location 3412

Kant had four questions that he believed philosophy should answer: What can I know? What may I hope? What ought I to do? What is man? All of these Europe helped to clarify. It was the home of a veteran civilization. Its strengths are vertical, which is to say they are deep. Read more at location 3469

the writer,Top of ForBottom of Form James Kennaway, Read more at location 3504

the Abbotts. He was an old friend who had remarried, and his new wife, Sally, was young and like a sheaf of silver. Witty, taut, she was like a new child in school who had come from some unnamed but difficult elsewhere, someone who made friends and also enemies quickly and who cut a swath; Nate was her second husband. He had been a dashing Air Force colonel, a pilot in the war, and now was the European representative for a large company. Read more at location 3511

So it was like passing, that first time, over lost, sunken fleets. I had come into the city with our navigator, a stocky, powerful Hawaiian named Fred Hemmings. We behaved like sailors. We had nothing to do but find ways to be appealing. We jumped from place to place like fleas. Read more at location 3541

Under Milk Wood, roguish, prancing, with its blazing characters and lines. The words dizzied me, their grandeur, their wit. Read more at location 3556

The story, which was called “Goodbye, Bear,” had no barb. It was merely a history and would have been better as a poem; it had some aching lines. It also had a kind of lonely dignity, which produced an unexpected result, in the manner of the Chinese fable of the mandarin who for years stood along the river fishing with, instead of a hook, a straight pin. The word of this curious behavior spread until it finally reached the emperor himself, who came to see. What could anyone hope to catch with such a hook? the emperor asked the mandarin. For what was he fishing? The answer was serene. “For you, my emperor,” the mandarin said. The emperor, uncrowned then, was an actor just becoming known on the New York stage, Robert Redford. Somehow he had gotten hold of the script and we met for lunch, two naïfs in the sunlit city. Read more at location 3599

So easy, all of it, such play. To go into New York restaurants with him and his wife, in the beautiful filthy city, the autumn air in the streets outside, eyes turned to watch as we cross the room. The glory seems to be yours as well. There was a dreamlike quality also, perhaps because Redford seemed to be just passing through, not really involved. It was washing over him, like a casual love affair. Read more at location 3624

Lane Slate. He was irreverent and well-read, with a handsome face and a mouth that never opened in a smile, his teeth were so bad. When he laughed he would stuff his necktie in his mouth to conceal them. Read more at location 3656

liked the way he spoke, the speed of his conclusions, the breadth of his scorn, the exactness of his references. Also his aplomb. He had not been to college—he had read his way up and somehow knew everything. Though I could not quite picture it, he had been in the navy. He retained none of its lore except for a belief that one could always make out with girls who wore little gold crucifixes. Read more at location 3663

animated woman named Laura Betti. She was a singer and actress. Pasolini and Moravia had written lyrics for her songs and she performed all the Kurt Weill—Bertolt Brecht repertory in Italian. She talked constantly that night, a cigarette between her fingers. Her laugh was irresistible. Smoke poured from her mouth. She was blonde, a bit heavy, perhaps thirty years old, the sort of woman who proudly wore a latent sadness. Read more at location 3745

Women seemed drawn to Rome, perhaps because of its decadence and the famous avidity of the men. There were women in expensive clothes at the Hassler or Hôtel de Ville; women traveling with their husbands and without; young women who claimed to be actresses—who knows what became of them; pairs of women in restaurants reading the menu very carefully; women stripped of illusion but unable to say farewell; women who owned shops and went to Circeo in the summer; divorced women who had once had a life in Trastevere; English girls who said, Oh, not this week because they weren’t quite right—the doctor was sure it was nothing; girls who looked unbathed, filthy even, sitting in skimpy dresses in the restaurants, with young white teeth; principessas born in Vienna, living in the solitude of vast apartments; and aging fashion editors who seldom strayed far from the Hilton. Read more at location 3787

Amid this cast there were somber sights: the English prime minister’s daughter, who was an actress, walking unsteadily through the restaurant, bumping into tables. She had narrow lips and an actress’s always available smile. She was living with a black man on the Via del Corso in an apartment with high ceilings, no furniture, and the smell of incense. The front doors were lined with steel and had well-machined locks. Read more at location 3796

Churchill, her father, was still alive. Read more at location 3802

Gaby was her name—Gabrielle, I suppose. She was seductive and at the same time disdainful; life had taught her hard lessons, among them to think always of money and to hate men. Read more at location 3822

She rained images on me, some of them so intense they remain in my flesh like wounds. Read more at location 3854

In a hotel one evening I sat with Scott Fitzgerald’s onetime mistress, Sheilah Graham, and two magazine writers. Money was the sole topic, how much they earned, how much it cost to live. I tried to visualize the younger, unhardened woman Sheilah Graham had been, the unexpected gift for the broken writer. Love is your last chance. There is really nothing else on earth to keep you there. Nothing of that seemed to remain. Read more at location 3893

In the riches of that smile one would never be lonely or forgotten. Read more at location 3906

finally wrote, and thus I never lost the admiration I had for his energy and charm, a charm that was not learned but came from some deeper source, as well as his power to command. I could not imagine him being unable to reply to a question or think quickly. He had an instinct for the visceral; in his hands even familiar material could become interesting. Read more at location 4026

The previous night had been frenzy and excess, the morning freshness and reason. Read more at location 4034

When Sharon Tate, along with four others, was senselessly murdered in Los Angeles one night, there was, in addition to horror and disgust, the shame. America had slaughtered one of its innocents. It was incomprehensible, God would not permit it. Perhaps Polanski, who had been in Europe at the time, had overreached himself, achieved too great a happiness, and it had been taken from him. His child, unborn, had died, too—the karma his father had given him was not to be passed on. I felt the sorrow for him that one feels for kings. His powers defied simple grief. Read more at location 4040

Nina, my daughter, lived, but twelve years afterwards her older sister, Allan, died tragically. I have never been able to write the story. I reach a certain point and cannot go on. The death of kings can be recited, but not of one’s child. It was an electrical accident. It happened in the shower. I found her lying naked on the floor, the water running. I felt for her heartbeat and hurriedly carried her, legs across one arm, limp head along the other, outside. Thinking she had drowned, I gave her artificial respiration desperately, pressing down hard on her chest and then breathing into her mouth time after time. Nothing. I kept at it. An ambulance came. Someone pronounced her dead. I could not believe it. Read more at location 4143

Looking back, I suppose I have always rejected the idea of actor as hero, and no intimacy has changed this. Actors are idols. Heroes are those with something at stake. Nevertheless, filled with ambition, I was soon directing a film of my own. It was the one taken from the story of Irwin Shaw Read more at location 4189

was to learn many things about her: that she chewed wads of gum, had dirty hair, and, according to the costume woman, wore clothes that smelled. Also that she was frequently late, never apologized, and was short-tempered and mean. When she arrived in France to work, she brought an English boyfriend and his two small children along. She had told me she hated hotels, and in their room were soiled clothes piled in corners, paper bags of cookies, cornflakes, and containers of yoghurt. The boyfriend, a blond highwayman, was a vegetarian. He prescribed their food. “Meat,” he murmured in the restaurant, looking at a menu, “that’ll kill you.” In the morning sometimes they danced maniacally in the street, like two people who have just become rich or had an enormous piece of luck. Read more at location 4198

In the end the film we made, Three, was decorous and mildly attractive. It was popular at Cannes and had some flattering reviews in America.  There were opportunities to direct again, but I remembered, when we were close to finishing, lying on the stone beach at Nice late in the day in a pair of Battistoni shoes, utterly spent. I felt like an alcoholic, like Malcolm Lowry. I had forgotten it was Céline I liked, Cavafy. It seemed the morning after. The ball was over. I looked down and saw the white legs of my father. All of it had demanded more than I was willing again to give. Read more at location 4213

Thus began one of the truest friendships of my life. Harvard, ex—naval officer, former curator, writer, editor, his name was Robert Emmett Ginna, Read more at location 4235

There came to me something a nurse had once told me, that at Pearl Harbor casualties had been brought in wearing tuxedos, it was Saturday night on Oahu, it was Sunday. Read more at location 4930

the very end of 1969, A Sport and a Pastime having been published with sales of a few thousand copies, I received a fan letter, long, intelligent, and admiring with, although I was unaware of it until afterwards, the title of one of the writer’s own books woven secretly into a line. I would like to ply you with questions, it read. Sincerely, Robert Phelps. Read more at location 4935

Early on he pressed on me the single book he loved best, and a model, I think, by another unfulfilled critic, Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave, its dedication being from A never writer, as Connolly called himself. Phelps had read it, he said, twenty times. Read more at location 4974

The apartment was on Twelfth Street, off Fifth Avenue. It was on the fourth, the top, floor. The door had no buzzer; someone had to come down to let you in or fold the key in a piece of paper and drop it from the window. Up those stairs had come Marsha Nardi, who had been the mistress of William Carlos Williams and Robert Lowell—her letters were famous—throwing out her arms and reciting, as she climbed, a poem of Baudelaire’s. Up also had come Ned Rorem, an intimate friend he admired and envied; Philip Guston; Richard Howard; and Louise Bogan; as well as other writers and painters. Ned Rorem, he said, had once proposed to Gloria Vanderbilt. Her reply was worthy of a queen: “But you’ll have to fuck me, you know.” Phelps talked about a friend who had been in France just after the war and with chocolate and cigarettes, unobtainable luxuries, had gotten remarkable signed editions from Cocteau and Colette. “It wasn’t Ned Rorem?” I said. “Oh, God, no. He wasn’t in the war. He was busy changing lipstick,” Phelps said. Read more at location 4976

“Read these,” he directed me one day. It was in the cramped front room that served him as a study on the second floor of the building. The book he handed me was the collected stories of Isaac Babel. He had marked three, “Guy de Maupassant,” “Dante Street,” and “My First Goose.” I had never read Babel. His name was one of those vaguely floating around. The opening paragraph of “My First Goose” was stunning. I examined every word over and over. They were straightforward but at the same time unimaginable, and set a level which it seemed the rest of the story could not meet but astonishingly did. Read more at location 5006

Maugham was one. “Which book?” Phelps asked when I mentioned it. “The Summing Up.” “Of course. That’s his best. Read more at location 5012

Henry Green. I immediately read Loving. Read more at location 5017

Gertrude Stein said no life that is not written  about is truly lived, and there it is. Read more at location 5027

He wrote another book on Colette, Belles Saisons, in a form he liked, photographs with extended captions, which surpassed most longer works…opened it and began to read. I was so overwhelmed I kissed him. Read more at location 5111

There was a line of Jean Renoir’s that struck me: The only things that are important in life are those you remember. Read more at location 5138

The book was ultimately called Light Years. I remember his final comment when the editing had been completed—the manuscript had blue pencil, his, in one margin and red, the copy editor’s, in the other—“An absolutely marvelous book in every way,” he said, adding, Read more at location 5155

Such tremendous waves did not fall upon writers. On Victor Hugo, perhaps, or Neruda—I could think of no others—not poor Joyce, or Pushkin, or Dante, or Kawabata. Read more at location 5162

When was I happiest, the happiest in my life? Difficult to say. Skipping the obvious, perhaps setting off on a journey, or returning from one. Read more at location 5165

In my thirties, probably, and at scattered other times, among them the weightless days before a book was published and occasionally when writing it. It is only in books that one finds perfection, only in books that it cannot be spoiled. Art, in a sense, is life brought to a standstill, rescued from time. The secret of making it is simple: discard everything that is good enough. Read more at location 5166

The theater is unto itself, artificial and grand, trailing a magnificent pedigree like a fur coat behind it on the ground, extravagance, pretension, little biting lives. Tyranny abounds. Read more at location 5216

Dinners with Fox, beyond counting. He lived on the south side of the park in a luxurious building that had originally been painters’ studios. His apartment was lofty with a curved, white balcony above the main room and bookcases everywhere. He was the ultimate New Yorker. In the city he invariably wore a suit. He had worked first for Alfred Knopf, the legendary publisher, and was related by marriage to the Canfields and Burdens. His best friends, in all likelihood, were women, to whom he attached himself with little difficulty. Dinners with him at Caravelle, Remi, Petite Marmite, smoked salmon in slender coral sheets, lamb, expensive Pauillac. Dinners at a hotel in the country, a table in the bar. Winter night, black as ice. The warmth of the room, a fire burning. The Japanese woman hostess, the bartender in vest and white shirtsleeves. Mussels à la barque. Bacala. Women taking off their coats at the door and being shown with their escorts to tables. Read more at location 5267

Dinners in Europe. A small restaurant, perfect, well lit. The feeling of attentive service, fresh white cloth. The face before me, Buddha-like and wide, is an older woman’s. She is the widow Read more at location 5317

should take the time to write down twenty lines a day, shouldn’t I?” she asked. Yes, like putting pennies in a jar, it would add up, be valuable some day, perhaps salvage her life. Read more at location 5383


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