Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beautiful Endings

I haven't read a lot of short stories or novels but I've managed to read a few and I'm often struck by how many of those I've read have such beautiful endings and how much I love them for their shear beauty alone.  (Yes, my favorite remains Ernest Hemingway, who may be master of the dying fade - could you end your novel better than "Yes," I said, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" or "After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain." or "He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest."?  But this isn't a post about Hemingway.)

The 'net is full of posts listing the top 10 or 20 or 30 final lines of literature.  I could argue against a few of them but what's the point?  You have your favorites; I have mine.  Let us live together in beautiful story ending peace.

But I bring this up because as part of a free trial of audible books, I downloaded and listened to Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It.  While there are many beautiful passages that caught my ear - as well as a nice aside about the use of the word "beautiful" and how the father uses the word to describe the younger brother - I started thinking about beautiful endings to stories and novels that I love most.  I have room for only a few so let me start with what's probably the indisputable loveliest ending to a short story:
Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.
The Dead
James Joyce
Here's another:
Oh, what can you do with a man like that? What can you do? How can you dissuade his eyes in a crowd from seeking out the cheek with acne, the infirm hand; how can you teach him to respond to the inestimable greatness of the race, the harsh surface beauty of life; how can you put his finger for him on the obdurate truths before which fear and horror are powerless? The sea that morning was iridescent and dark. My wife and my sister were swimming — Diana and Helen — and I saw their uncovered heads, black and gold in the dark water. I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea.
Goodbye, My Brother
John Cheever
Beautiful, agree?  I thought you would.

But let me get back to the reason for this post in the first place.  Though this isn't an ending, this is a lovely passage from A River Runs Through It and it really hit close to home for me  - never mind why.  It's part of a sermon given by the Presbyterian minister father of the narrator of the story and it's the key to the entire story:
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.
A River Runs Through It

Norman Maclean
Which performs the duel duties of not only being beautiful but pretty much sums up our Christian belief.

But, no, what caught my ear was this: 
Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
I am haunted by waters.
A River Runs Through It
Norman Maclean
Beautiful, no?  And, c'mon, isn't that enough?  Beauty for the sake of beauty?

Oh, my brothers and sisters, how could you disagree?

(I don't think there's a coincidence that two passages I find beautiful have to do with brothers, or, at least, family members.  Tolstoy was right:  all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.  So it's no wonder that our most powerful stories have to do with our most powerful relationships: those relationships we have with our families.)  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Something Positive About the Christian Faith in Mainstream Media

In my view, seldom links to anything positive about Christians so I'm thankful they made exception with this story about about how the Christian faith of Stephen Colbert and Vice-President Joseph Biden helped them through terrible personal tragedies.

The story has additional interesting links about Colbert's faith but my favorite is this Catholic throwdown between Colbert and rocker Jack White  (Caution, my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, the two use naughty language in a way that may not be comfortable to your ears.):

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hey, Look, I'm Posting This From my Kindle

Not that I'll make it a habit - I'm not terribly fond of the virtual keyboard. But it's good to know I can do it should I choose to do so.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year

Another day, another month, another year, and another attempt to dust this blog off and resurrect it again.  Yeah, yeah, I've said that before, but this time, well, I won't say I mean it because I've meant it all those other times before.  Let's just say here's another renewed commitment to tend this blog and let it go at that.  Let's see where the new year takes us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Defender of the Innocent: The Casebook of Martin Ehfrengraf - Book Review

I wanted to like this one - it's no secret I'm a fan of Lawrence Block and since I knew everyone would be reading his A Walk Among the Tombstones in anticipation of the movie (you've read the book, haven't you?  And seen the excellent move?  No?  Take my advice:  treat yourself to both.), I wanted to try something of his I hadn't read.  I was familiar with this character and may have even read an Ehfrengraf story or two in the dim past so I thought, why not?  Block hasn't let me down yet.

And he hasn't let me down with this book, either, I guess.  It's just not my thing.  Ehfrengraf is a defense attorney who, well, like the title says, defends the innocent.  Even if they're guilty.  And he'll stop at nothing to prove their innocence.  Which is the hook - how will Ehfrengraf be able to prove his client's innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence?  He's no Perry Mason and his methods are unconventional to say the least but after a story or two, you get what this is all about.  While he may come across as dapper and charming, he's a sociopath and I have no desire to read about sociopaths.

Block is skillful as always, keeping the action offstage but telling the stories in a way to keep you interested and so I admired that.  But I have to admit, I found myself trudging to the end and if it weren't for my goal to give the entire book a chance, I wouldn't have given the entire book a chance.  Block is a great writer.  This isn't a great book.

(I bought the Kindle version - I'm not sure there's a print edition - and I'm not sure if I'm pleased with the experience.  It's there on my Kindle if I want to re-read it again but I won't so now what do I do with it?)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tatiana: Book Review

Tatiana is the latest in the Arkady Renko series written by Martin Cruz Smith.  (I mentioned briefly here the last book I'd read in the series.  To see all of my reviews on this series, click here.  Yeah, I like 'em.)  I liked this one as well as any in the series - no, it can't compare to the first but then none of them can - and you wouldn't do badly if you decided to dip in at this point.  As with all series, the asides and digressions will catch you up on who's who and what's happening but if you've been following the series, you may find these explanations tedious.  I did but then I always find these sections of a series book to be tedious.

Yep, there's a good mystery to be solved at the core and you'll probably figure it out before Renko does but go along for the ride anyway if you want to see the corruption of modern-day Russia and learn something along the way about Kaliningrad and chess and code-breaking and even high-class racing bicycles.  Smith's (Cruz Smith's? - I never know where to look for his books, under the C's or the S's) writing is smooth and swift and the story carries you along to a, well, not very spine-tingling climax but then you really didn't another shoot out did you?  No complaints:  the loose ends are tied up and all the characters accounted for and the pieces left in place for the next Arkady Renko adventure.

I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Books I've Read

According to this blog, it's been well over a year since I've read a book but that presumes a truth to the philosophical question:  if a book review is unposted, does that mean a book hasn't been read?

Ha!  I've read books.  I just haven't posted about them.  Here's a list, in no particular order, of what I've read in the last 16 months or so:

Stephen Hunter's latest Sniper's Honor.  Bob Lee Swagger learns about a Russian, female sniper from World War II which, of course, has modern day repercussions.  Plenty of shooting and sniper lore and a harrowing, surrealistic battle scene between Nazi tanks and Commie tanks.  You haven't read anything like this before.
Lawrence Block's The Thief Who Counted The Spoons.  Delightful, but then the whole series is which meant I had to re-read the other 10 Bernie Rhodenbarr novels in the series to confirm it. and that lead me to re-read A Ticket to the Boneyard, which is anticipation of the upcoming movie of his book, A Walk Among the Tombstones which should be pretty good.  I mean, it's Liam Neeson against the bad guys.  What more could you want?
For some reason I turned back to Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park.  I've blogged here about the rest of the series but you don't really know how good the first was until you go back there and see for yourself what Smith managed to do.  As good as the series is, the first is the best.  
I don't know why I read Robert Harris' The Ghost.  I've like his other stuff:  FatherlandEnigma, and Pompeii, all of which I must've read before this blog since I don't see where I posted my thoughts on these before.  But I'd blogged about the movie, which I liked, despite many reasons not to, and I read the Kindle version which means I must've gotten a deal on it.  Whatever.  I enjoyed it.  I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at ghost-writing and the publishing world.  Nice twist at the end, too.
Both volumes of Hemingway's Complete Letters.  (Link goes only to the first volume but you can get to the second volume from there.)  Sorry.  For aficionados only.  

So by my count that's 17 books or a little over a book a month.  Not much of a pace but it'll do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Holy, moly, it's been a lifetime since I've updated here.  Blake was good enough to challenge me for the funny stuff last month and though I'm loathe to disappoint him, looking back over these posts I see there's a disappointing amount of funny and an overwhelming amount of banality.  Sorry, friend Blake.  Let me try to do better.

I started this blog for a reason - I just can't remember what it was.  Oh, right.  Here's the reason.  And here's the first post, six long years ago.  And here's a secret:  I'd actually started this blog way before that first post.  For some reason, I'd deleted the first version and so the first posts are now down the memory hole.

I've title this post "Blogging" and tagged it that way as well, but I see I've used that tag 82 times - 83, now - and I seem to blog a dismayingly amount about not blogging.  Which I'm doing now.  But with Twitter and Facebook, has blogging become obsolete?

Could be.  Those social media platforms offer a lot and I've found myself over there to be far more active than I have been over here.  Why?  I can't rightly say.  Both platforms offer an immediacy, and an audience, that I don't get over here on Blogger but this blog is where I started and I really should either stoke the fires over here or give it up altogether.

Which is all to say, I really need to get back to blogging.  Some things just won't work on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I went out to get chocolate malts for everyone and I noticed the Blockbuster next to our local Braums was closed and for good.  I know, I know, the Blockbuster closings happened long ago but the boarded up windows brought the sense of finality home.  And I was struck, too, that this was the end of something more than just an obsolete method of entertainment delivery.  No longer would there be those thrilling days of when you having two little girls race excitedly among the aisle looking for the one - okay, two, all right, three - VHS tapes, and later, DVDs - that would mark the beginning of a long weekend or the threat of a snowstorm or any other reason that would find us in that store.  We'd stopped going there a long time ago and we weren't the only ones who'd stopped going and after a lot of not going the reason for the demise of Blockbuster becomes pretty clear.  And those little girls are grown up now and we get our videos on demand through our cable service so there's a lot that's long, long gone.

And then The Byrds' Turn Turn Turn pops up on Pandora on the way out of the parking lot and pretty much sums up this entire post.  That season is gone.  Time for new seasons.