Books in General

I Don’t like Feeling Sorry for Myself

16 February 2019

I don’t like feeling sorry for myself. That’s not who I am. And most of the time I don’t feel that way. Instead, I am grateful for having at least found you. We could have flashed by one another like two pieces of cosmic dust.

God or the universe or whatever one chooses to label the great systems of balance and order does not recognize Earth-time. To the universe, four days is no different than four billion light years. I try to keep that in mind.

But, I am, after all, a man. And all the philosophic rationalizations I can conjure up do not keep me from wanting you, every day, every moment, the merciless wail of time, of time I can never spend with you, deep within my head.

I love you, profoundly and completely. And I always will.

The last cowboy,

― Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County


I Sometimes Have the Feeling You’ve Been Here a Long Time

15 February 2019

I sometimes have the feeling you’ve been here a long time, more than one lifetime, and that you’ve dwelt in private places none of the rest of us has even dreamed about.

― Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

And in That Moment

14 February 2019

And in that moment, everything I knew to be true about myself up until then was gone. I was acting like another woman, yet I was more myself than ever before.

― Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

The Heart Never Forgets

13 February 2019

The heart never forgets, never gives up, the territory marked off for those who came before.

― Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

Beneath the Streets of Paris, in Search of the Cataphiles

13 February 2019

From The Literary Hub:

The first person to photograph the underground of Paris was a gallant and theatrical man with a blaze of red hair, known as Nadar. Once described by Charles Baudelaire as “the most amazing example of vitality,” Nadar was among the most visible and electric personalities in mid 19th-century Paris. He was a showman, a dandy, a ringleader of the bohemian art world, but he was known especially as the city’s preeminent photographer.

Working out of a palatial studio in the center of the city, Nadar was a pioneer of the medium, as well as a great innovator. In 1861, Nadar invented a battery-operated light, one of the first artificial lights in the history of photography. To show off the power of his “magic lantern,” as he called it, he set out to take photographs in the darkest and most obscure spaces he could find: the sewers and catacombs beneath the city.

Over the course of several months, he took hundreds of photographs in subterranean darkness, each requiring an exposure of 18 minutes. The images were a revelation. Parisians had long known about the cat’s cradle of tunnels, crypts, and aqueducts beneath their streets, but they had always been abstract spaces, whispered about, but seldom seen. For the first time, Nadar brought the underworld into full view, opening Paris’s relationship to its subterranean landscape: a connection that, over time, grew stranger, more obsessive, and more intimate than that of perhaps any city in the world.

. . . .

The expedition, in theory, was tidy. We would descend into the catacombs just outside the southern frontier of the city, near Porte d’Orléans; if all went according to plan, we’d emerge from the sewers near Place de Clichy, beyond the northern border. As the crow flies, the route was about six miles, a stroll you could make between breakfast and lunch. But the subterranean route—as the worm inches, let’s say— would be winding and messy and roundabout, with lots of zigzagging and backtracking. We had prepared for a two- or three-day trek, with nights camping underground.

On a mild June evening, six of us sat on the southern boundary of the city, in a derelict train tunnel that was part of the petite ceinture, or the “little belt,” a long-abandoned train track that encircles Paris. We’d spent the day collecting last-minute supplies: now it was past nine, and the dots of light at either end of the tunnel were darkening. Everyone was quiet, our headlamp beams dancing anxiously over the floor. We took turns peering down into a dark, graffiti ringed hole jack-hammered out of the concrete wall, which would be our entrance into the catacombs. 

“Best to keep passports in a zipper pocket,” said Steve, thumbing the braces on his waders. “Just in case.” Every step of the trip, of course, would be illegal: if we got caught, having our IDs at the ready might be just enough to keep us out of Paris’s central lockup.

. . . .

Parisians say their city, with its galaxy of perforations, is like a great hunk of Swiss cheese, and nowhere is so holey as the catacombs. They are a vast, stony labyrinth, 200 miles of tunnels, mainly on the Left Bank of the Seine. Some of the tunnels are flooded, half-collapsed, riddled with sinkholes; others are adorned with neatly mortared brick, elegant archways, and ornate spiral staircases. The “catas,” as they are known to the familiar, are technically not catacombs, a word usually traced back to an amalgam of the Greek katá-(down) and Latin tumbae (tombs); they are quarries. All of the stately buildings along the Seine—Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Palais Royal—were erected of limestone blocks chopped from beneath the city. The oldest tunnels had been carved to construct the Roman city of Lutetia, traces of which could still be found in the city’s Latin Quarter. Over the centuries, as the city grew, stonecutters brought more limestone to the surface, and the underground warren expanded, fanning out beneath the city like the roots of a great tree.

. . . .

“Welcome,” he said, with a flourish, “to La Plage.”

We’d emerged in one of the main cataphile haunts, a cavernous chamber with sand-packed floors and high ceilings supported by thick limestone columns. Every surface—every inch of the wall, of the pillars, and much of the rocky ceiling—was covered in paintings. In the darkness, the paintings were subdued and shadowy, but under the beam of a flashlight, they blazed. The centerpiece was a replica of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa, with the curling wave of frothy blues and whites. Spread throughout the room were stone-cut tables, rough-hewn benches and chairs. At the center of the chamber was a giant sculpture of a man with arms raised to the ceiling, like a subterranean Atlas, holding up the city.

“This is like—” Benoit paused, apparently searching for a recognizable analogy “—the Times Square of the catacombs.” 

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Following are three Nadar photos of the catacombs plus one modern photo referenced in the OP. Following those photos are three Nadar photos of mid-19th century celebrities.

Sarah Bernhardt, c:1864


Alexander Dumas, 1855


Georges Sand, 1864

On the Most Basic Level

12 February 2019

On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I’m interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision. When I was writing Neuromancer, it was wonderful to be able to tie a lot of these interests into the computer metaphor. It wasn’t until I could finally afford a computer of my own that I found out there’s a drive mechanism inside — this little thing that spins around. I’d been expecting an exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I got was a little piece of a Victorian engine that made noises like a scratchy old record player. That noise took away some of the mystique for me; it made computers less sexy. My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.

~ William Gibson

The Silence of the Lame: Real Serial Killers Are Dumber Than Their Fictional Equivalents

12 February 2019

From Mystery Tribune:

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of serial killer literature. In the 1990s, such novels dominated the bestseller lists; you couldn’t walk into a bookstore without spying titles by Dean Koontz, Thomas Harris, Patricia Cornwell, and their contemporaries on the front shelves.

These novels featured familiar characters moving on well-worn tracks. Usually, a genius serial killer with a very unusual modus operandi killed a rapidly escalating number of victims. A detective (often tortured, thanks to a traumatic childhood, or a bad marriage, or a dead loved one…) hunted the killer using some unorthodox technique. As the killer rushed to complete some sort of “grand plan,” the detective closed in, with a cat-and-mouse climax taking place in some remote location (without the possibility of backup, at least until a properly deus ex machina moment).

The serial-killer subgenre isn’t dead; I recently finished reading Meg Gardiner’s “Unsub,” which I thought executed on the necessary tropes rather well. That being said, the fictional serial killer has become a somewhat passé creature, and many agents and publishers pass on manuscripts in which they lurk. Even Thomas Harris, the man who kicked off so many of the subgenre’s trends with his novels featuring elegant cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, has elected to focus on something completely different in his next book.

Interest in real-life serial killers, meanwhile, seems to be on something of an upswing. Netflix recently released “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” a four-episode review of Ted Bundy’s ignoble career as a serial killer (and, eventually, true-crime celebrity). It joins an upcoming feature film, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” in which Zac Efron plays Bundy.

Watching the Bundy documentary, I had a revelation. To boil it down to one sentence: Ted Bundy was a moron.

. . . .

[H]e was impulsive and sloppy, and his attempt to carry out his own defense at his trial was a spectacular mockery of competency. He might have been caught much more quickly if police departments across the country had shared databases, and had access to current technology; it’s impossible picturing him carrying out quite the same spree in the modern era.

Link to the rest at Mystery Tribune

The OP reminded PG of a lunch conversation he had with a fellow attorney many years ago.

PG was discussing a criminal client he had been assigned to defend (prior to public defenders in that part of the state) whose mishaps during the course of an attempted crime had been described in open court that morning (and were thus no longer covered by PG’s attorney-client confidentiality obligations).

In short, PG’s client and a criminal associate had been hired to burn down a house located in a rural area by the owner of the house so the owner could collect money from a homeowner’s insurance policy.

Per the earlier in-court testimony, the two defendants couldn’t set the house on fire. They tried various techniques, but the fire kept going out.

Finally, after a trip to a local gas station, PG’s client climbed up into the attic with a large can full of gasoline. He poured a little gas in a corner of the attic (it was unfinished with no floor), but the fire looked like it was going out. PG’s client then emptied the entire can of gasoline onto the small fire.

There were no more problems with the fire going out. A big fireball flared up and much of the attic started to burn.

PG’s client lost his footing as he leaped back and fell through the floor of the attic, landing on the next floor down, spraining an ankle and breaking his arm. With the help of the criminal associate, PG’s client limped out of the house and the two headed to the emergency room, smelling of smoke and gasoline.

Following a phone call from the hospital, the local sheriff’s department had little difficulty tracking down the two alleged perpetrators. One lesson from the morning’s hearing was that crime didn’t pay. Another was that treating criminals in the emergency room didn’t pay the doctor and hospital very well either.

PG’s lunch companion observed that it was fortunate that most local criminals were not very smart because most of the local deputies were not very smart either. It was a match that protected the local citizenry very well.

The Old Dreams

11 February 2019

The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out but I’m glad I had them.

― Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

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