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ABF Friday plus a book meme

Last week we did opening and closing statements on albums.  Last summer we did great opening sentences in classic novels.  That post picked up 241 comments, still a record on Le Blog Bérubé.  Obviously, people are fond of this whole opening-and-closing thing.  I wonder why that is?

So today, we’ll do great closing sentences (and passages) in novels.  I’ve been fond of the final paragraph of On the Road ever since my father read it to me decades and decades ago; an otherwise uneven book, to be sure, but quite a lyrical flourish there at the end.  And, of course, just as we had to exclude the Beatles from consideration last week because they were just too damn good at the opening/closing thing, we have to eliminate James Joyce this week, otherwise the comments section will be stuffed chock full of Joyce, because the only thing better than the ending of “The Dead” is the ending of A Portrait, and the only thing better than the ending of A Portrait is the ending of Ulysses, and the only thing better than the ending of Ulysses is a way a lone a last a loved a long the / riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, lather, rinse, repeat.

Oh, and of course you can also consider long narrative poems with famously problematic or “false” endings, like The Faerie Queene and the mind-bending final two stanzas of the Mutabilitie Cantos.  Just saying.

(Also:  don’t miss Chris Clarke’s Top 25 Most Dangerous Fictional Unhinged Characters Who Are Dangerously Hurting America!  Arbitrary . . . and even more fun!)


And now for the deadly book meme!  I was double-tagged by this person and that person, so I am obligated by the Laws of the Internets to respond in good faith.  Very well, then.  Here goes.

One book that changed your life?

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury.  I first read it when I was 14 as part of my sophomore English project on Faulkner.  I tell you, back at Regis High School they made you do some real work.  Then I read it again at 19.  It messed me up bad both times, first because of Jason, then because of Quentin (though I managed to avoid throwing myself into the Hudson River after wandering around the Upper West Side all day).  These days, I’m all about Dilsey and Benjy.  And narrative theory.

One book you have read more than once?

No fair.  I’m a literature professor; I read everything more than once, even bus schedules.  But when I was a prepubescent thing I read Alice Through the Looking-Glass about twenty times, mostly for “Jabberwocky,” the Looking-Glass cake, and of course this inspired chapter.  Speaking of hallucinatory things, I’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow four times, twice while dissertatin’ (see “literature professor,” above).

One book you would want on a desert island?

I think the last time I did one of these things I said The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.  I’ll stick with that.

One book that made you laugh?

In small doses, because almost every page sent me into helpless gasping for oxygen.

One book that made you cry?

The Sound and the Fury. Almost every time, and I’ve now read it eight or nine times.

One book you wish had never been written?

Good one!  Well, Mein Kampf is up there.  Way up there, right along with The Fountainhead and The Turner Diaries.

One book you are currently reading?

Philip Roth, American Pastoral. Most enjoyable.  You know how everyone says that Roth has had a really remarkable run over the last fifteen years or so?  Everyone is right.

One book you have been meaning to read?

See “desert island,” above.

One book you wish you had written?

Hmmmm . . . maybe this one!


But the good news is that I did write it, and I just got a whole box of them shipped to my house, which must mean that it is now available to the general public!  That’s you!  If you click on the Amazon link you’ll find that Publisher’s Weekly wasn’t all that thrilled about it, largely because two of the book’s seven chapters actually describe what we actually do in my actual courses.  But more important, Amanda Marcotte liked it, largely because it actually describes what we actually do in my actual courses.  So there.  (Thanks, Amanda!)

So if you do have a chance to read it in the next couple of months or so, let me know what you think.  I’ll be here.

And I’ll take a short blogging break next week while I get ready for the fall semester, organize my dang office, and tie up some loose textual ends.  I’ll be back September 5 with a brand-new (and, if some people are to be believed, long-awaited) Theory Tuesday!

Posted by on 08/25 at 10:34 AM
  1. Well, someone’s got to suggest it--hard to beat (on) that last line of Gatsby, all the plosive “p"s and “b"s up against the hissing “s"s. It’s almost as good as the last line of “The Dead.”

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

    Posted by George  on  08/25  at  12:54 PM
  2. Closing lines has already been done, albeit without 200-some comments.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  08/25  at  01:00 PM
  3. NO FAIR!  George beat me to it.

    captcha “tried” as in I really tried to be first with the Gatsby thing.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  01:01 PM
  4. Your “level of meandering detail” is what we all love about you, Michael. But of course I’m sure you don’t take all that much stock in what Publisher’s Weekly has to say. Nor do I, for despite the lukewarm reception, I’ve just ordered a copy and it shall be on my doorstep by Tuesday. Maybe I’ll even write a review for this place once I’m through with it! (A little extra publicity never hurt anyone!)

    And I must admit I’m more than surprised you followed up on the meme! (Well, more surprised that you were actually ever at my blog.) But, see, in my proposed alternate universe in which I had written The Sound and the Fury, I would actually be your favorite writer and you would be the one prattling on in comments threads at my blog! I wonder if William Faulkner would have made a good blogger…

    Cheers on your pick of The Fountainhead. I took the easy route and picked something popular to hate, but Ayn Rand is probably far more deserving of my contempt. Not that I have anything against Libertarians or anything…

    Posted by Bryan  on  08/25  at  01:10 PM
  5. Just because George Bush recently read this, and I can’t help but wonder if he took it personally:

    It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy and I was still happy. For all to be complete, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  01:54 PM
  6. "The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”


    “What did it matter where you lay once you were dead?  In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill.  You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.  Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you.  You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.  Me, I was part of the nastiness now.”

    (also The Long Goodbye (paraphrasing, don’t have the book handy):  “I never saw any of them again, except the cops.  No one has yet invented a way to get rid of them.")

    I’m sure I could think of a whole bunch more if I had my books handy…

    Posted by Tom Hilton  on  08/25  at  01:58 PM
  7. Close:  “...a way to say goodbye to them.”

    Also:  Pop. 1280 has an awesome gut punch of a last line, but I can’t quote it from memory.

    Posted by Tom Hilton  on  08/25  at  02:05 PM
  8. But the horses didn’t want it — they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  02:08 PM
  9. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.

    The merciless Cormac McCarthy, from The Crossing.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  02:09 PM
  10. In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
    In the midst of his laughter and glee,
    He had softly and suddenly vanished away---
    For the Snark *was* a Boojum, you see.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  02:44 PM
  11. Best ending? One of my favorites is the non-ending in Pynchon’s greatest book: “Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.” (IMO, at least, his greatest book, and one of the most surprisingly feminist books I’ve ever read too, whether such feminism is accidental!)

    I’m returning to academia after 8 months of a university staff job, so I want to play the meme, too…

    One book that changed your life?

    Jaclyn Geller’s Here Comes the Bride, which, speaking of Ms. Marcotte, sort of is like the book she discusses today. It articulated a lot of indignation I was feeling about the lack of importance in our culture granted to female friendships; it also helped me reach a greater degree of comfort with--nay, it helped me to celebrate--a personal choice I had made not to get married.

    One book you have read more than once? I’m also a lit prof, so I’ll limit this answer to “the same book I quoted for the ending” question.

    One book that made you cry?

    Night. I just re-read this on the train the other day, and man, I was a mess on public transport.

    One book you wish had never been written? I agree...anything by Ayn Rand. Guh.

    One book you are currently reading?

    Just finished Running with Scissors. It too made me cry a little on public transportation. Now am re-reading the soon-to-be old edition of Eberly and Corbett’s The Elements of Reason.

    One book you have been meaning to read?
    The God of Small Things --got it as a gift, never started it. But now I must read stuff on my syllabus.

    One book you wish you had written?

    Anything Jonathan Goldberg wrote already. Or Jeffrey Masten, or Peter Stallybrass. Damn it.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  02:47 PM
  12. Okay, so here goes. From the obvious to the not so obvious:

    1. A little known book whose final, page-long chapter begins “The drama’s done. Why then here does any one step forth?” and ends “It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.” Effing hell those are two great paragraphs.

    2. Marquez’s closing sentence to One Hundred Years of Solitude still exerts a powerful hold.  I’d quote it in full but it is a long sentence (though nothing like the ones in The Autumn of the Patriarch).

    3. “As the crowd scattered into the shadows of the rapidly descending night, Lahbib heard someone singing. It was the Legend of Goumba, the old song of Maimouna, the blind woman.

    From one sun to another,
    The combat lasted,
    And fighting together, blood-covered,
    They transfixed their enemies.
    But happy is the man who does battle
    without hatred.

    Sembene Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood

    More to come surely.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  02:55 PM
  13. My favorite recent ending was the season closer for Comedy Central’s Venture Brothers season one.

    After the boys die in flames and Brock and Dad are standing there ... the last lines:

    Brock: “No”
    Dad:  “Alright get their clothes”.


    Posted by PenGun  on  08/25  at  02:58 PM
  14. The last two sentences, so a bit of a cheat, from _At Swim_

    <blockquote>Well known, alas, is the case of the poor German who was very fond of three, and who made each aspect of his life a thing of triads. He went hom one evening and drank three cups of tea with three lumps of sugar in each, cut his jugular with a razor three times and scrawled with a dying hand on a picture of his wife good-bye, good-bye, good-bye.

    Posted by Henry  on  08/25  at  03:13 PM
  15. Michael—Just ordered the new book, having just finished Life As We Know It, which I enjoyed immensely.

    Anyway, my nomination for best closing passage is Little, Big by John Crowley:

    Stories last longer; but only by becoming only stories.  It was anyway all a long time ago; the world, we know now, is as it is and not different; if there was ever a time when there were passages, doors, the borders open and many crossing, that time is not now.  The world is older than it was.  Even the weather isn’t as we remember it clearly once being; never lately does there come a summer day such as we remember, never clouds as white as that, never grass as odorous or shade as deep and full of promise as we remember they can be, as once upon a time they were.

    Posted by JD  on  08/25  at  03:14 PM
  16. Closing lines has already been done, albeit without 200-some comments.

    Oh, dammit, Rox, I’m sorry.  So it’s true!  It really has all been said before!

    Posted by Michael  on  08/25  at  03:25 PM
  17. I’ve always liked “Isn’t it pretty to think so.” (Sun also rises)

    Too hackneyed?  I was also struck by the end of Mr. Sammler’s Planet, but I can’t recall it word for word…

    yeah, and I’m just going to put it out there because I have low taste and no self-respect:

    “Well, I’m home.” (Lord of the rings)

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:01 PM
  18. "Yes”, I said, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

    From “The Sun Also Rises”.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:07 PM
  19. GAH!

    Synchronicty...well, nearly.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:12 PM
  20. "Then he turned and headed straight for home, but he took the long way, around the world.”

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:27 PM
  21. Beloved.

    (I won’t even mention how I was absurdly moved by the ending of The Notebook, after cringing through the whole dang novel.  I believe I was trapped on a desert island at the time and it was the only reading material available. If I mentioned it, I’d need a pseudonym.)

    I look forward to reading your book, Michael.

    Susan Warner

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:30 PM
  22. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:40 PM
  23. "I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refugue of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  04:48 PM
  24. I am probably exposing ignorance, but that’s the only way to cure it, so: why are so many people wishing Mein Kampf had never been written?  Not that I carry any torch for that damned little house-painter (or whatever WC’s phrase was), but really—who read Mein Kampf and was inspired to do, well, anything?  Historically, isn’t it rather a damp squib?

    If people are really saying they wish Hitler had never been, then that’s fine and I agree, but it seems like it dodges the question somewhat.

    Posted by Bill Hooker  on  08/25  at  04:59 PM
  25. I like Snowden’s death scene in Catch 22.

    Posted by saltydog  on  08/25  at  05:04 PM
  26. Last line: “Something further may follow of this masquerade.” (The Confidence-Man)

    Desert island book: Thomas’ Practical Boatbuilding.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  05:06 PM
  27. It’s not a novel, and I don’t have a copy, but the last line of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking killed me dead.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  05:15 PM
  28. The last page of John Crawford’s The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq rips the narrative in a completely unexpected direction. Maybe if one heeds the hints in the title one is prepared but for me the effect was Tralfalmadorian.

    If memory’s not totally corrupted that Tralfalmador book ends: Potweet??

    Posted by black dog barking  on  08/25  at  05:30 PM
  29. "A C O C K and a B U L L, said
    Yorick ---- And one of the best of its
    kind, I ever heard.”

    I’m not sure he knew this was going to be the last line but it seems appropriate all the same.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  05:31 PM
  30. One more...the last paragraph of Tess gets me every time:

    `Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in AEschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing. The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to the earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  05:34 PM
  31. Oh hell, I already did the book meme. My response to #7:

    7. Book I wish had never been written: I want to say The Bell Curve or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but...I tend to see books that I don’t like as symptoms of a particular social structural kink and so imagine if they weren’t written, something else equally baleful would have filled in that place. Like Lacan’s nasty quip on the 68 revolt: “As hysterics, you demand a new master. You will get it!"(too much Zizek anyone?).

    Best closing lines:

    Well, it’s a few stanzas from the end, but given that Troilus & Criseyde ends as often as Jackson’s Return of the King, I think I’m justified in using one of the first endings:

    And down from thennes faste he gan avyse
    This litel spot of erthe, that with the se
    Embraced is, and fully gan despise
    This wrecched world, and held al vanite
    To respect of the pleyn felicite
    That is in hevene above; and at the laste,
    Ther he was slayn, his lokyng down he caste.


    Other favorite ending, last line of the Aenied:

    vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras

    and with a moan his life fled, indignant to the Shades below

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  05:51 PM
  32. First, count me among those who have been patiently and impatiently awaiting the return of Theory Tuesday, especially the promised explication of Raymond Williams.  Any way you could throw in a comparative assessment of Williams’ “structures of feeling,” Gramsci’s “hegemony,” and Bourdieu’s “habitus”?

    Secondly, nothing is better than the ending of “The Dead.” But Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities comes close.  For those who are unfamiliar with the book (a situation that should be immediately corrected), it is framed through an ongoing urban discussion betwen Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.  It closes with the two of them examining an atlas that shows all imaginable cities:

    Already the Great Khan was leafing through his atlas, over the maps of the cities that menace in nightmares and maledictions: Enoch, Babylong, Yahooland, Butua, Brave New World.

    He said: “It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.”

    And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  05:56 PM
  33. Wait, wait, I want a do-over:

    <q>The false heir made a full confession and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. But now a complication came up. The Percy Driscoll estate was in such a crippled shape when its owner died that it could pay only sixty percent of its great indebtedness, and was settled at that rate. But the creditors came forward now, and complained that inasmuch as through an error for which they were in no way to blame the false heir was not inventoried at the time with the rest of the property, great wrong and loss had thereby been inflicted upon them. They rightly claimed that “Tom” was lawfully their property and had been so for eight years; that they had already lost sufficiently in being deprived of his services during that long period, and ought not to be required to add anything to that loss; that if he had been delivered up to them in the first place, they would have sold him and he could not have murdered Judge Driscoll; therefore it was not that he had really committed the murder, the guilt lay with the erroneous inventory. Everybody saw that there was reason in this. Everybody granted that if “Tom” were white and free it would be unquestionably right to punish him--it would be no loss to anybody; but to shut up a valuable slave for life-- that was quite another matter.

    As soon as the Governor understood the case, he pardoned Tom at once, and the creditors sold him down the river.
    Puddin’head Wilson

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  06:07 PM
  34. I am ashamed to say that I made it to well past the middle of middle age without having read A Tale of Two Cities.  But my youngest was assigned it as his summer reading and I decided to follow along.  Here we are at the end of summer and the end of the book, and there is no doubt whatever that Dickens is the all-time first-and-last sentence champ, starting with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...” and ending with the greatest ending ever ended:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  08:52 PM
  35. I will give Richard Brautigan credit for an imaginative “meta-ending” in A Confederate General in Big Sur. After providing the original and then second through fifth endings - he concludes with:

    186,000 Endings per Second
    Then there are more and more endings: the sixth, the 53rd, the 131st, the 9,435th ending, endings going faster and faster, more and more endings, faster and faster until this book is having 186,000 endings per second.

    ... and I can’t help but sneak in the opening to same:

    When I first heard about Big Sur I didn’t know that it was a member of the Confederate States of America.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  10:52 PM
  36. Props to saltydog (coincidentally, my favorite drink).  The closing lines of Catch-22:

    “Goodbye Yossarian” the chaplain called. “And good luck.  I’ll stay here and persevere, and we’ll meet again when the fighting stops.”
    “So long Chaplain.  Thanks, Danby.”
    “How do you feel Yossarian?”
    “Fine.  No, I’m very frightened”
    “That’s good,” said Major Danby “It proves you’re still alive.  It won’t be fun.”
    Yossarian started out. “Yes it will.”
    “I mean it Yossarian.  You’ll have to keep on your toes every minute of every day.  They’ll bend heaven and earth to catch you”
    “I’ll keep on my toes every minute.”
    “You’ll have to jump.”
    “I’ll jump.”
    “Jump!” Major Danby cried.
    Yossarian jumped.  Nately’s whore was hiding just outside the door.  The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  11:17 PM
  37. I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor: on middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonised by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.

    I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

    -- Wuthering Heights

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  11:39 PM
  38. I 2nd the nominations of Gatsby & The Lord of the Rings (that great tale of extreme post-traumatic alienation, a heart-rending theme that the ingenue cast by Jackson failed to render).

    The ending of David Antin’s hilarious and heartbreaking narrative poem “the structuralist” is as gorgeous as the rest of the poem (I can’t get the spacing right, but here goes, with apologies to Mr. Antin):

    so this extraordinary epic poem written in no
    known language by my structuralist friend never saw the light
    of day and the truth of the divinity of language and its
    universal constituents revealed through the speech of
    this man as evoked by the beauty and sympathy of that woman
    will probably remain obscure to us forever

    (Antin’s lines are phrasal, and longer than this comment box allows.  If short lines appear, they’re supposed to be attached to the lines above.  And:  the left margin of the original is not justified.)

    Posted by john  on  08/25  at  11:43 PM
  39. (Antin’s original also has spaces in the middle of the lines, to denote phrase breaks.  Antin improvises his poems at “readings” and then transcribes them for publication—his transcription method reads really well as speech and exemplifies his argument that people don’t speak in prose.)

    Posted by john  on  08/25  at  11:45 PM
  40. E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle. Yeah, sorry, Inferno isn’t a “novel.”

    Posted by  on  08/25  at  11:54 PM
  41. Inferno isn’t a “novel.”

    Oh crud. You’re right. Next time I read the assignment.

    Here’s one, just grabbed the first thing on the shelf next to me:

    “And vast infinities away, past the Gate of Deeper Slumber and the enchanted wood and the garden lands and the Cerenian Sea and the twilight reaches of Inquanok, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep strode brooding into the onyx castle atop unknown Kadath in the cold waste, and taunted insolently the mild gods of earth whom he had snatched abruptly from their scented revels in the marvellous sunset city.”

    Who among you does not love Lovecraft? I love not knowing whether I’m coming or going with this sentence (trust me: going), and I love “snatched abruptly,” because the languid snatching of Nyarlathotep (or Cthulhu for that matter) is something I will not endure.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  12:03 AM
  42. Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
    Missing me one place search another,
    I stop some where waiting for you

    (Hear hear for the Moby-Dick nomination too, #12.)

    Posted by john  on  08/26  at  02:56 AM
  43. He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

    Kind of a cheap choice, I know. And “word” about The Sound and the Fury. I didn’t manage to read it 20 times, due to my survival instinct… but it’s still my favourite English language novel.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  11:38 AM
  44. most of my favorites have done already showed up: sun also rises, mr. moby, and leaves of grass. may i, then, since i’ve been beaten to these three punches, bend the rules to add a scant handful of other modernist last lines, though they conclude non-narrative works?

    ‘shantih, shantih, shantih’

    the whole last page of ‘little gidding’

    ‘at evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
    ambiguous undulations as they sink
    downward to darkness on extended wings’

    ‘in ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds’

    and, maybe best of all (and thanks to janet for great discussions of this one):  ‘love ---- the pre-eminent litterateur’

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  01:24 PM
  45. Did my blurb make the cut?

    Posted by Rick Perlstein  on  08/26  at  02:11 PM
  46. oh, and what was i thinking not to have thought immediately of these (and they’re actually the last lines of novels!):

    It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was.


    What could be simpler? In rough translation: Once more with feeling.

    and (same author, not the very last line but the last before the italicized bit at the very end): “Does it have a happy ending?” Linda asked. “I want a happy ending. Make someone donate their organs, at least.”
    Someone donates their organs, all of them. You.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  02:27 PM
  47. "The extra three days were for leap years.”

    Posted by eb  on  08/26  at  02:30 PM
  48. Did my blurb make the cut?

    Your wonderful blurb certainly made the cut, Rick, and I thank you for it.  In fact, when I get around to updating the sidebar of this thing, you’ll be there (if that’s OK with you).

    Posted by Michael  on  08/26  at  03:25 PM
  49. It is to be feared that with the union, so far from brilliant, into which she was about to enter, these were not the last she was destined to shed.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  03:44 PM
  50. Took me a while to recall it, (there certainly is an asymmetry in this start/finish thing) but this John Gardner gem deserves a mention.

    “Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.”

    ... and the Brautigan above should be from Big Sur not in Big Sur <le sigh>

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  04:25 PM
  51. However passionate, sinning, and rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep serenely at us with their innocent eyes; they tell us not of eternal peace alone, of that great peace of ‘indifferent’ nature; tell us too of eternal reconciliation and of life without end.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  05:22 PM
  52. As long as you spell my name right (hint, hint, Delong and Chait).

    Last guy who solicited and didn’t use a blurb from me had a great line: said they wanted to make sure I’d be able to review it. Authors and editors: stick that trick in your quiver!

    Posted by Rick Perlstein  on  08/26  at  05:46 PM
  53. "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.”

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  07:21 PM
  54. Book that made me laugh:  Straight Man, by Richard Russo.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  09:05 PM
  55. And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquillity had been accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  09:21 PM
  56. FunkyBoss - I was more meaning the passage that ends with ‘ripeness was all’. But the rest of it is pretty good too.

    Posted by saltydog  on  08/26  at  11:35 PM
  57. Charlotte’s Web is the SECOND best opening-and-closing, after A Tale of Two Cities.  Jenny’s got the last sentence.  Now for the first:

    “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

    Posted by  on  08/26  at  11:45 PM
  58. "And only I am escaped alone to tell thee.” May not be the last line exactly.

    Lacan’s Ecrits should never have been written. Dumping on Hitler and Ayn Rand is weenie. Think big.

    Posted by  on  08/27  at  12:00 AM
  59. Karl (the GM): I thought poetry was ok, though I was operating under a strict definition of “long poem.” If, however, a “modern poetic sequence” can qualify as a long poem, I’d have to say

    But the snows & summer grieve and dream;//thése fierce & airy occupations, and love,/raved away so many of Henry’s years/it is a wonder that, with in each hand/one of his own mad books and all,/ancient fires for eyes, his head full/& his heart full, he’s making ready to move on

    does it for me every time.

    From an actual novel? “We see people like you all the time” from Elizabeth Costello is the best textual experience I’ve had in quite a while. (That’s a novel, right?)

    Posted by  on  08/27  at  12:29 AM
  60. I agree that Joyce wins in all categories, and the following is perhaps not in the same league.  But I love how it opens up and opens up, and then closes sharply on the final clause.

    Yes, it is the dawn that has come.  The tithoya wakes from sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying.  The sun tips with light the mountains of Angeli and East Griqualand.  The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also.  For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.  But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.

    Posted by  on  08/27  at  12:57 AM
  61. The closing sentence of Middlemarch is still a favorite:

    But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:  for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

    Posted by  on  08/27  at  04:08 AM
  62. "You know . . . sitting here like this . . . it’s hard to believe it’s more than a quarter of a cenutry since Lloyd and I played together.  Somehow . . . I don’t know . . . it seems like it all happened only yesterday.”

    -- “The Glory of Their Times,” neither fiction nor poetry.

    Posted by john  on  08/27  at  12:17 PM
  63. One more - from Jane Smiley’s The Greenlanders (an excellent but seemingly underappreciated book.)

    And then he saw what he was, an old man, ready to die, pressed against the Greenland earth, as small as an ash berry on the face of the mountain, and he did the only thing that men can do when they know themselves, which was to weep and weep and weep.

    Posted by  on  08/27  at  02:12 PM
  64. "She would have been a good woman if it had been someone there to shoot her every day of her life”.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  08/27  at  04:51 PM
  65. yeah for theory tuesday! double yeah! i been waitin and waitin since last summer.

    Posted by Split Foster  on  08/27  at  05:28 PM
  66. Maybe when you get back you could do a special Tribute to Leo Strauss version of this ABF, in which we readers choose our favorite sentences or paragraphs from the exact center of novels and/or works of philosophy.

    Posted by  on  08/27  at  05:58 PM
  67. We can forgive a great deal for this:

    Only suddenly, then, you are out of it--that film, that skin of life--as when you were a kid.  And you think: this must have been the way it was once in my life, though you didn’t know it then, and don’t even really remember it--a feeling of wind on your cheeks and your arms, of being released, of being the light-floater.  And since this is not how it has been for a long time, you want, this time, to make it last, this glistening one moment, this cool air, this new living, so that you can preserve a feeling of it, inasmuch as when it comes again it may just be too late.  You may just be too old. And in truth, of course, this may be the last time that you will ever feel this way again.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:17 AM
  68. John Emerson: indeed, and the very last line, too: “‘Shut up, Bobby Lee,’ the Misfit said. ‘It’s no real pleasure in life.’”

    Even though Joyce definitely wins, I think “O’Connor gets a special award for killer endings.

    This is really hard when I am away from all the books in my office. I’ve found that Google Books is stingy with excerpts. Thank goodness for Amazon’s Search Inside This Book.


    “‘I dont hate it,’ Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; ‘I dont hate it,’ he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!


    Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf:

    “So the Geat people, his hearth-companions,
    Sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low.
    They said that of all the kings upon the earth
    He was the man most gracious and fair-minded,
    Kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.”


    And to add a sentence fragment closing a good skiffy classic:

    “And, feeling better, fixed herself a cup of black, hot coffee.”

    That one only really works in context—it’s the ultimate surrender to a completely artificially stimulated false life at the end of Do Androids etc.—so maybe being dependent on context means it’s not a great closing line. But I like it.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:21 AM
  69. Ben Alpers- the best exact center of all time is found in The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker.  As I don’t have a copy at home you’ll have to discover it for yourself.

    Books that made me cry:  This is in interesting category.  For a book to make you cry, it has to bring the reader to identify with a character.  This requires at least some degree of idealization of the character - which requires sentimentality.  The line between affecting and ridiculous sentimentality is a very fine line, and one that moves over time.  As Oscar Wilde said, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

    But here are two books that are on the right side of the line for me:
    Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus- the death of Nepomuk.
    John Berger’s To the Wedding - the wedding ceremony.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:24 AM
  70. I missed the sub-section of the rule allowing long narrative poems, specifying that only those with famously problematic or “false” (not false) endings qualify.

    Withdraw Beowulf, then.

    What about the ending of Pound’s Cantos? Has anyone ever read them all the way to the end?


    I gotcher problematic ending right here: the literal translation of what’s left of the last clay tablet of one version of Gilgamesh:

    281 ............... were filled.

    282 .......... they will go with me.

    283 ...............................

    284 .................. joyfully.

    285 [Upon hearing] this word of his,

    286 Alone, the road(?) [he levelled].

    287 “Go, O Gish [I will go before thee(?)].

    288 May thy god(?) go .........

    289 May he show [thee the road !] .....

    290 Gish and [Enkidu]

    291 Knowingly ....................

    292 Between [them] ................

    Knowingly between them indeed, heh heh heh.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:44 AM
  71. "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
    --Gospel of John

    “There is much talk of a design in the arras. Some are certain they see it. Some see what they have been told to see. Some remember that they saw it once but have lost it. Some are strengthened by seeing a pattern wherein the oppressed and exploited of the earth are gradually emerging from their bondage. Some find strength in the conviction that there is nothing to see. Some”
    --The Eighth Day, Thornton Wilder

    Posted by Bro. Bartleby  on  08/28  at  01:10 AM
  72. Cheers to emd in #49 for contributing James’ The Bostonians.  Having been away from my computer all weekend, I made a mental note to add this very ending to my list. Glad to see it included here.

    Here are a few more.

    They looking back, all th’ eastern side beheld
    Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
    Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
    With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
    Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
    The world was all before them, where to choose
    Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
    They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,
    Through Eden took their solitary way.

    And this one

    And it is this which frightens me:
    Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?

    And on the subject of middles, any such list would have to include Strether’s great speech at the heart of James’s The Ambassadors.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  10:38 AM
  73. Oh, all right.  Any long narrative poem is fair game.

    Posted by Michael  on  08/28  at  11:33 AM
  74. "And then in my dream I looked down at myself, and saw in what rags I stood; and I am a child again, begging on the threshhold of eternity.”
    Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:16 PM
  75. I am haunted by waters.  - A River Runs Through It

    Maybe not the absolute best, but it has a kick that lingers.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:19 PM
  76. I’m going with Little Dorrit, especially the last sentence:

    “They all gave place when the signing was done, and Little Dorrit and her husband walked out of the church alone. They paused for a moment on the steps of the portico, looking at the fresh perspective of the street in the autumn morning sun’s bright rays, and then went down.

    Went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness. Went down to give a mother’s care, in the fulness of time, to Fanny’s neglected children no less than to their own, and to leave that lady going into Society for ever and a day. Went down to give a tender nurse and friend to Tip for some few years, who was never vexed by the great exactions he made of her in return for the riches he might have given her if he had ever had them, and who lovingly closed his eyes upon the Marshalsea and all its blighted fruits. They went quietly down into the roaring streets, inseparable and blessed; and as they passed along in sunshine and shade, the noisy and the eager, and the arrogant and the froward and the vain, fretted and chafed, and made their usual uproar.”

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:35 PM
  77. Any long narrative poem is fair game

    Then I stand by the Aenied.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  12:36 PM
  78. There is something both melancholic and yet hopeful about this one:

    “Riddley Walkers ben to show
    Riddley Walkers on the go
    Dont go Riddley Walkers track
    Drop Johns ryding on his back

    Still I wunt have no other track.”

    Or “Life, A User’s Manual”:

    “But the ironical thing, which could have been foreseen long ago, is that the piece othe dead man holds between his fingers is shaped like a W.”

    Posted by tom s.  on  08/28  at  01:08 PM
  79. "Suddenly he screamed, and it was as though this scream were being tossed from one tree to another, as its echoes returned, then, as though the trees themselves were crowding nearer, huddled together, closing over him, pitying…
    Somebody threw a dead dog after him down the ravine.”
    Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  01:09 PM
  80. John, care to explain post-traumatic alienation?

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  01:13 PM
  81. Any long narrative poem is fair game.

    In that case I think we ought to include John Shade’s abrupt end.

    A dark Vanessa with a crimson band
    Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand
    And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.
    And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
    A man, unheedful of the butterfly--
    Some neighbor’s gardener, I guess--goes by
    Trundling an empty barrow up the lane.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  02:26 PM
  82. . . . . and so there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it, and ain’t a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  02:43 PM
  83. Well, if poems count, I’ll cheat and use novellas.

    There shall no harm befall Daoud Shah till I come; for I would fain kill him quick and whole with the life sticking firm in his body. A pomegranate is sweetest when the cloves break away unwilling from the rind. Let it be in the daytime, that I may see his face, and my delight may be crowned.

    And when I have accomplished the matter and my Honour is made clean, I shall return thanks unto God, the Holder of the Scales of the Law, and I shall sleep. From the night, through the day, and into the night again I shall sleep; and no dream shall trouble me.

    And now, O my brother, the tale is all told.


    Yes, I’ll come down to dinner; but what shall I do when I see you in the light!

    Both Kipling.  The first from “The Brushwood Boy” and the second from “Dray Wara Yow Dee.”

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  03:20 PM
  84. Grackel, may I ask where you got your nom de guerre?  I have an idea, but not knowing your sensibilities, do not want to insult you with references to detective fiction.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  04:06 PM
  85. bmc90 (#80),

    post-traumatic alienation in LOTR:  I read the books in junior high and re-read them before the movies came out.  2nd time through I was struck by Frodo’s inability, at the end of the tale, to relate to anybody who hadn’t been through what he’d been through, and how on the anniversary of the loss of the ring he holed up completely in a private agony.  And I wondered whether LOTR might be in some ways a WW1 novel. 

    At the end of the story, Frodo is a wreck.  That’s why Sam’s last line is so good—he understood why Frodo was a wreck, but he himself wasn’t, and life goes on.

    Unfortunately, the movie didn’t convey Frodo’s wrecked-itude at all.  He merely suffered from a kinda sorta vague & wistful ennui.

    Posted by john  on  08/28  at  05:14 PM
  86. I watched the water for a while and then I pulled a strand of Bohemian glass imitation pearls out of my pocket and cut the knot at one end and slipped the pearls off one by one.

    When I had them all loose in my left hand I held them like that for a while and thought. There wasn’t really anything to think about. I was sure.

    “To the memory of Mr. Stan Phillips,” I said aloud. “Just another four-flusher.”

    I flipped her pearls out into the water one by one at the floating seagulls.

    They made little splashes and the seagulls rose off the water and swooped at the splashes.

    From “Red Wind,” possibly a novella, by Raymond Chandler. (The story also has a beginning that is widely quoted in writing classes.)

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  06:21 PM
  87. "If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”
    — Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  09:44 PM
  88. And after posting the previous entry, I remembered this one:

    “God’s mercy on you swine!” I shouted at two Marines coming out of the men’s room.

    They looked at me, but said nothing. By this time I was laughing crazily. But it made no difference. I was just another fucked-up cleric with a bad heart. Shit, they’ll love me down at the Brown Palace. I took another big hit off the amyl, and by the time I got to the bar my heart was full of joy. I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger ... a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.

    — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

    I love ellipses. I use ‘em all the time ... and I have the Good Doctor to thank for that. Selah.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  10:01 PM
  89. "Michael, are you crying?” Jane asked.
    He twisted his head and tried to smile at her.
    “No, I am not,” he said. “It is only my eyes.”
    She pushed him gently towards his bed, and as he got in she slipped the portrait of Mary Poppins into his hand—hurriedly, in case she should regret it.
    “You have it for tonight, darling,” whispered Jane, and she tucked him in just as Mary Poppins used to do . . . .

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  10:48 PM
  90. "That’ll do,” said Farmer Hoggett to his sheep-pig. “That’ll do.”


    Stuart rose from the ditch, climbed into his car, and started up the road that led toward the north. The sun was just coming up over the hills on his right. As he peered ahead into the great land that stretched before him, the way seemed long. But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.

    Posted by  on  08/28  at  11:01 PM
  91. Ok, since long narrative poetry is allowed:

    “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.”
    (the love that moves the sun and the other stars.) Dante, Paradiso, 33.145

    “But, in spite of these deficiences, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.” J. Austen, Emma (A book especially dear to me.)

    “The president cleared his throat again in the dead silence, and speaking in a clear, seamanlike voice that combined gravity, formality and cheerfulness, he said, ‘Captain Aubrey: it is no small pleasure to me to receive the commands of the court I have had the honour to preside at, that in delivering you your sword, I should congratulate you upon its being restored by both friend and foe alike; hoping ere long you will be called upon to draw it once more in the honourable defense of your country.’” P. O’Brian, Master and Commander.  It is a very satisfying ending because it really marks the *beginning* of the great tales of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. 

    Ditto about the end of LOTR and Charlotte’s Web.

    PS. Could you all please include the titles and authors in your posts?  I’m not sure about a few of these great endings and it is getting discouraging.

    Posted by  on  08/29  at  01:09 AM
  92. John, I thought you were saying something about one of the female charaters.  I think your interpretation has merit, especially given the author’s life and times.  He must have known many veterans of that war with extreme physical and psyhcological injuries.  So I get the theme that those who carry the burden of preserving society are damaged thereby.  Question is, why is Sam unwrecked.  He was in the same fox hole as Frodo, as it were - went through many of the same experiences.  Perhaps it is because if you have never carried the ring, you have never had to deal with the possibility that by using it, you could become the enemy.  Just like the rest of the west could easily have followed Germany’s lead into facism and genocide; it’s always frightening to realize how the anti-semitism in both countries leading up to the war took on similar tones.  In fighting WWI and II, the other western powers had to try not to become what they were fighting while still defeating it.  Wish it all did not resonate so much today.  Maybe we came too close and it’s too late.  The fate of Frodo not Sam.

    Posted by  on  08/29  at  11:52 AM
  93. My stock answer for the “book you wish had never been written” question is Plato’s Republic. Take that, almost all of western philosophy!

    Posted by Field Marshall Stack  on  08/29  at  02:28 PM
  94. bmc90,

    thanks—interesting thoughts.

    the reaction of individuals to trauma varies and nobody can know or predict exactly why.

    sorry about the misdirection of “ingenue”—obviously, the actor who played Frodo isn’t a young woman; i was thinking of the root sense of “ingenuous” and the connotation of “young, pretty, and inexperienced person”—to play a role the book describes as a middle-aged hobbit—at least 35 or 40 in human terms.  is there a male equivalent for “ingenue”?

    Posted by john  on  08/29  at  07:06 PM
  95. My stock answer for the “book you wish had never been written” question is Plato’s Republic. Take that, almost all of western philosophy!

    Good one, but Nietzsche and Heidegger tried this gambit, and look where it got them!

    Posted by Michael  on  08/29  at  08:09 PM
  96. It kept him before her therefore, taking in--or trying to--what she so wonderfully gave. He tried, too clearly, to please her--to meet her in her own way; but with the result only that, close to her, her face kept before him, his hands holding her shoulders, his whole act enclosing her, he presently echoed: “ ‘See’? I see nothing but YOU.” And the truth of it had with this force after a moment so strangely lighted his eyes that as for pity and dread of them she buried her own in his breast.

    Posted by  on  08/30  at  11:50 AM
  97. "Once, I had a dream of fame.
    Generally, even then, I was lonely.
    To the castle, a sign must have said.
    Somebody is living on this beach.” --David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

    Posted by  on  08/30  at  07:44 PM
  98. I read first LOTR in an edition which only included the first Appendix, so for me for a long time the last line was not “Well, I’m home” but the (to me) much more beautiful:

    ‘But Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Then she said farewell to Eldarion, and to her daughters, and to all whom she had loved; and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent.

    ‘There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.

    ‘Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old.’

    Posted by Alejandro  on  08/31  at  12:51 PM
  99. The Sound and the Fury is a must read for me too I cant keep a precise count of it but let me say each time I get a new book the Sound and the fury does what is know in the entertainment scene as curtain raising.

    Posted by Jordan  on  11/04  at  10:51 PM
  100. Excellent post - very interesting research mcts I will look more into this! keep it up. I found very good and ccent informative blog and have bookmarked your site for future reference. I really appreciate your way mcitp braindumps of presenting such an excellent suggestion. I want more and i will come back here to see more updates in future ccna questions as well.my best wishes for you always so keep it up.regards

    220-702 | 220-701 | 642-902 | 70-649

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  01:10 AM
  101. Its beint really a good opening where we can see more improvement and the book opening which is this person which is mentioned is taking up a good shape.In future this will going to get Automotive.

    Posted by Runa  on  02/27  at  02:34 PM





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