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Comforting Words
for those of us
Still Living

"Why do people write? It's because, if they are in the story, they can always meet those they want to see." — Asagiri Kafka

"The impossible is one thing when considered as a purely intellectual conceit. After all, it is not so large a problem when one can puzzle over an Escher print and then close the book. It is quite another thing when one faces a physical reality the mind and body cannot accept." — Mark Z. Danielewski

"I believe in discovering the love that exists and then trying to understand it. Not to invent a love and try to make it exist, but to find what does exist, and then to see what it is." — Jesse Ball

"We don't have to conquer our false self; we only have to observe it." — Wayne Teasdale

"The only number that would ever be enough is 0. Zero pounds, zero life, size zero, double-zero, zero point. Zero in tennis is love. I finally get it." — Laurie Halse Anderson

"A sin that can be judged is better than one that can't." — Iyowa

"They don’t remember the woman— they just remember the wreck. That’s how people are— they remember someone else’s misery to forget their own." — Billie Holiday

"I say, Billy, what’s the use in playing croquet when you’re doomed? He says, Frankie, what’s the use of not playing croquet when you’re doomed?" — Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes

by Frank McCourt

Dad says I’ll understand when I grow up. He tells me that all the time now and I want to be big like him so that I can understand everything. It must be lovely to wake up in the morning and understand everything. I wish I could be like all the big people in the church, standing and kneeling and praying and understanding everything.

well, i spent more time scouring a buggy pdf for quotes than i did actually reading the book (hyperbole). McCourt's prose is quite fun to read with all the accents and run-on sentences, and i like his sense of humour, too, but his descriptions of disgusting things don't offer the same enchantment that other books have. maybe that's because the subject material is so boring. forgive me that i'm not enthused by starving Irish childhoods: consumption, Catholicism, and all. that said, i did learn a lot about things that i never even dreamed of before. it was a nice window into a life completely unlike my own. for that, i'm grateful. i just wish they'd left out all the gross stuff in the last quarter. it seems men can't write memoirs without waxing poetic about their junk at least 5 times— probably more actually, but i can't be assed to count.

though fictional, Murakami's Coin Locker Babies really spoiled me on the "suffering bildungsroman" story. his style is too different to objectively compare his prose with McCourt's, but i can subjectively say i prefer Murakami. with him, the gross parts are masterfully written, and i was never once bored. the payoff at the end of the story is much better, too. when it comes to recommendations, i'd say Angela's Ashes is best for feeling stirring up pity for the poor, maybe a throwback to the reader's days in Catholic school. but if you want to read a good story, pick Coin Locker Babies.

The Last Interview

by Billie Holiday

I never once thought to "suicide" myself out of this world. I spent my life trying to find a way into this world. And sometimes the only way I really could was when heroin opened the door.

very glad that i took some notes as i read this collection of Billie Holiday interviews. there is so much spin surrounding her life. it's hard to know what to believe about Holiday unless you hear it from the woman herself, and even her supposed autobiography Lady Sings the Blues was not entirely factual. people have picked her story apart for decades, yet there always seems to be something missing, whether overlooked or outright misconstrued.

so it's... nice to hear Holiday's own words, speaking her feelings candidly. somehow, it resonates with me despite how long ago she lived and died, and how little i actually know about her. the titular last interview was especially moving. i feel like most of the notes i took were from that specific interview. the rest were about things i found superficial like music, celebrity, life as a jazz star... of course, those things were deeply important to Holiday. they were her life. and consequently, they were the only things interviewers ever asked her about.

maybe it's morbid, but as she lay on her deathbed giving one last interview, Holiday's convictions seemed more alive than ever. this passage in particular stuck out to me:

But when you’re poor and black, you’re born into a world that turns your heart into a tin can and anyone who is in the mood swings out and kicks you. You’re only a hunk, a black creature in a white world that thinks you’re just a skin without a soul. And when the "meaning" in you screams for you to make your stand, you make your stand straight and strong. Then the kicks come faster and harder and you’re booted out of shape. But you hold onto your stand, and sometimes it holds you high and sometimes it drags you low— but that’s the way it goes. You’re a nothing and a nobody if what you believe is only make-believe.

apparently there is a recent documentary exploring a biographer of hers who died before she ever finished the book. maybe i'll give it a gander sometime soon, if i can find it.


by Laurie Halse Anderson

There's no point in asking why, even though everybody will. I know why. The harder question is "why not?"

I can't believe she ran out of answers before I did.

the prose in Wintergirls is some of the best i have ever read. it was so intense, the imagery so vivid... i found myself completely drawn into the story. i can't tell if it was a short book or i just read it extremely quickly. either way, i was finished within 36 hours.

i kind of want to read it again. this time, i would pick it apart to understand the things that worked. what made the sensory details stand out so much? why did the story pack such a punch? in this book, Anderson's style so uniquely enchanted me. i want to write something so unforgiving.

as for the narrative itself, i really liked the nonlinear storytelling. because it explores grief, it makes a lot of sense to have so many flashbacks. i also really enjoyed how it meant the backstory was fed to us in piecemeal. that's probably what kept me so hooked: the insatiable desire to know more.

i don't really care for high school settings anymore, but it's Young Adult Literature after all. i'm glad that Lia detests school as much as i do, so i didn't have to read about it too much. the characters were all very interesting and i enjoyed their interactions, especially when they had the same goals but very different attitudes and approaches.

though i'm unsatisfied with the ending— it feels trite, and very very forced— i also know that it wouldn't ever be published otherwise. people seem to really detest sad endings in general. in the YA genre, it's practically taboo. at the end of the story, all problems must be on their way to hopeful resolution, familial relationships restored, and a will to live instilled in the protagonist... it's unrealistic. but it sells.

The Setting Sun

by Osamu Dazai

I felt there was something truly adorable in her which I could not possibly have imitated. ...

Such innocence really charms me, and I wondered if Mother might not be one of the last of that kind of lady.

my favourite part of this book is the narrator, Kazuko. i see a lot of myself in her, all naiivety and misery. no matter how hard she tries to lift the spirits of her loved ones, she fails, and time and again misfortune befalls them. unfortunately, i can't relate to her optimism very much... or at the very least i don't want to. and she gave up on love, which i could never!

moreover, i really enjoyed the interactions between Kazuko and her mother. their dialogue is so peculiar, and rarely ever do they say what they're really thinking. i wonder if people talk like that in real life, or if you can only find such things in novels. anyway, it was nice to see that although Kazuko so admired her, she despaired choosing her as a role model.

after that, my favourite parts were the excerpts from Naoji's journal. at times, his character reminds me a lot of Twelve. anyhow, here's a passage that i particularly enjoyed:

What is self-esteem? Self-esteem!

It is impossible for a human being— no, a man— to go on living without thinking "I am one of the elite," "I have my good points," etc.

I detest people, am detested by them.

Test of wits.

because i myself have come to these same conclusions, it's interesting to see it written out by someone else. i guess that is the joy of reading, isn't it? human connection... what a silly thing to say.

as for the writing itself, Dazai's prose is excellent as usual— poetic in all the right ways. especially the double entendre! i'm excited to read more from him, and Self Portraits is waiting patiently for me.