Read “Complicated Manners: Memories of Breece D’J Pancake” by Marion Field (in Oxford American). Excerpt:
The night before he died, Breece went to the movies with his girlfriend, Emily. They saw The Deer Hunter.
The next morning was Palm Sunday, and Emily went to church while Breece stayed home with a cold. He went later, to a 3 p.m. Mass, and stopped by Emily’s place to let her know he’d pick her up Monday morning so she could ride with him to an out-of-town job interview.
After Mass, he went home and drank a few beers.
Around 6 p.m., a neighbor’s girlfriend was startled by the dark shadow of a man she did not expect or recognize when she walked into her boyfriend’s home with a sack of groceries. She screamed and dropped the bag and Breece rose from a chair in the unlit kitchen. According to the complainant’s report to the sheriff’s office, “Mr. Pancake cornered her and explained that he had a drinking problem and had a tendency to wander around.”
In the half-hour between the moments the woman dropped her groceries and the police arrived, Breece’s landlady, Mrs. Meade, knocked on his door and told him that police were on their way to question him.
He called out from his room that he was sorry, and as the sirens neared, he walked outside with the only gun he hadn’t gifted off, a Savage Arms over/under shotgun, serial number B366615, sat down in a plastic folding chair beneath an apple tree, propped the gun on the ground with the muzzle in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston
It was eleven o’clock of a Spring night in Florida. It was Sunday. Any other night, Delia Jones would have been in bed for two hours by this time. But she was a wash-woman, and Monday morning meant a great deal to her. So she collected the soiled clothes on Saturday when she returned the clean things. Sunday night after church, she sorted them and put the white things to soak. It saved her almost a half day’s start. A great hamper in the bedroom held the clothes that she brought home. It was so much neater than a number of bundles lying around.
She squatted in the kitchen floor beside the great pile of clothes, sorting them into small heaps according to color, and humming a song in a mournful key, but wondering through it all where Sykes, her husband, had gone with her horse and buckboard.
Just then something long, round, limp and black fell upon her shoulders and slithered to the floor beside her. A great terror took hold of her. It softened her knees and dried her mouth so that it was a full minute before she could cry out or move. Then she saw that it was the big bull whip her husband liked to carry when he drove.
She lifted her eyes to the door and saw him standing there bent over with laughter at her fright. She screamed at him.
“Sykes, what you throw dat whip on me like dat? You know it would skeer me–looks just like a snake, an’ you knows how skeered Ah is of snakes.”
“Course Ah knowed it! That’s how come Ah done it.” He slapped his leg with his hand and almost rolled on the ground in his mirth. “If you such a big fool dat you got to have a fit over a earth worm or a string, Ah don’t keer how bad Ah skeer you.”
“You aint got no business doing it. Gawd knows it’s a sin. Some day Ah’m goin’ tuh drop dead from some of yo’ foolishness. ‘Nother thing, where you been wid mah rig? Ah feeds dat pony. He aint fuh you to be drivin’ wid no bull whip.”
“You sho is one aggravatin’ nigger woman!” he declared and stepped into the room. She resumed her work and did not answer him at once. “Ah done tole you time and again to keep them white folks’ clothes outa dis house.”
He picked up the whip and glared down at her. Delia went on with her work. She went out into the yard and returned with a galvanized tub and set it on the washbench. She saw that Sykes had kicked all of the clothes together again, and now stood in her way truculently, his whole manner hoping, praying, for an argument. But she walked calmly around him and commenced to re-sort the things.
“Next time, Ah’m gointer kick ‘em outdoors,” he threatened as he struck a match along the leg of his corduroy breeches.
Book shelves series #52, fifty-second Sunday of 2012: In which, in this penultimate chapter, we return to the site of entry #1.
The first entry in this project was my bedside nightstand. This is what it looked like back in January:
This is it this morning:
This is the major difference:
The Kindle Fire has changed my late night shuffling habits.
Here are the books that are in the nightstand:
I read the Aira novel but completely forgot about it, which I’m sure says more about me than it.
Have no idea why this is in there:
But it’s a fun book. With pictures! Sample:
Finally, Perec’s Life A User’s Manual—this is one of my reading goals for 2013. It seems like a good way to close out this penultimate post, as one of Perec’s essays inspired this project
“Every library answers a twofold need, which is often also a twofold obsession: that of conserving certain objects (books) and that of organizing them in certain ways”
—Georges Perec, from ”Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books” (1978)
Book shelves series #50, fiftieth Sunday of 2012
There are fifty-three Sundays in 2012. I ran out of book shelves last week.
Here are some shelves/books from my office (work).
One wall is floor-to ceiling shelves—the whole wall—but most of the space is filled with files, folders, and professional books.
I tried to picture some of my favorite stuff—dictionaries, guides, and anthologies that remain inspiring.
There is also a little corner where I keep stuff I read in my office—review copies or other books that I work with when I have a spare hour.
Here’s a shelf (double stacked, as you might be able to see) that gets constantly shifted around. There are a couple of books about usage here that I like to bring into the classroom.
Of course, the best usage guide is Strunk & White’s classic:
This illustrated copy was a gift from some dear friends.
Joseph T. Shipley’s The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots is a favorite.
Book shelves series #47, forty-seventh Sunday of 2012
So this is what happens—books pile up. Okay, maybe that sentence is missing a clear subject: I pile books up.
This stack mounded on my record player over the last week; I intended to shelve about half of these:
My shelving solution is woefully short-term (more double stocked shelves).
Anyway, this shelf is mostly other media, including DVDs, a few records, and playing cards.
Of note (perhaps) are the three illustrated volumes on the left that I’ve had forever.
The illustrated Kidnapped features art by N.C. Wyeth:
The illustrated Kipling was actually my father’s:
Have you read Adam Novy’s novel The Avian Gospels? It’s good stuff.
Like many bibliophiles, I’m a sucker for plain Penguins:
Book shelves series #45, forty-fifth Sunday of 2012
Yon shelf, murky, dim:
Homeboy on the end, once my parents’, tschotchke of time in ’80s South Africa, used to work as a bookend, now he just hangs out on this double-booked shelf.
Back layer, including a number of volumes (to be clear: Chabon, Martel, Diaz, Eugenides) I should just trade in.
(Also: I hate this project and wish I’d never started it).
Book shelves series #44, forty-fourth Sunday of 2012
Not a particularly beautiful shelf—it sits between a TV and a soundbar; houses an unused Wii, an analog clock, and a picture of my kids. The books camouflage cords and wires.
You can see the whole shelf in the top pic. The big pic on the right: a Kokeshi doll set on Henry Miller volume that was a gift from a friend years ago in high school.
To the left: Bukowski, Miller, Anaïs Nin. Then, a section of stuff you can’t really see, including an extremely tattered copy of A Passage to India.
Lower right: Mass-market paperbacks that were especially important to me over the years and as a result have managed to hang around—even in cases where they were replaced by handsomer volumes. Usually obscured by the clock. Includes stuff by Borges, Carson McCullers, Hemingway, Twain, Chopin, Richard Wright . . .
Book shelves series #42, forty-second Sunday of 2012
Couldn’t really get a good pic of the whole shelf, so in portions, starting with a spread of postmodernist favorites from years past. Julia Kristeva was a particular favorite of mine in grad school, but her Portable stands up well outside of, jeez, I dunno, theory and deconstruction and all that jazz; there are plenty of memoirish essays, including a wonderful piece on Paris ’68 and Tel Quel &c. Sam Kimball‘s book The Infanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture still maintains an important place in the way I approach analyzing any kind of storytelling. Love the cover of this first American edition of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, which I bought for a dollar years ago at a Friends of the Library sale:
I may or may not have obtained the The Viking Portable Nietzsche through nefarious means in my sixteenth year. In any case, it’s not really the best intro (I’m partial to The Gay Science), but it’s not bad. The Plato I’ve had forever. I never finished Bloom’s The Western Canon, although I’ve returned to it many times in the past five or six years, as I’ve opened up more to his ideas. I wrote about many of the books on this shelf, including a few by Simon Critchley.
The book I’d most recommend on this section of the shelf—indeed, the entire shelf—is Freud’s The Future of an Illusion:
The end of the shelf moves into more pop territory, including two good ones by AV Club head writer Nathan Rabin. You might also note Reality Hunger, a book that I am increasingly afraid to go back to, fearing that I probably agree more with Shields’s thesis, even if I didn’t particularly like his synthesis.
Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States is an overlooked gem that should have gotten more attention than Shields’s “manifesto.” He shares a bit of Georges Perec (whose writing helped spark this project of mine):
From my review:
Like most people who love to read, both academically and for pleasure, I like a good argument, and Wood’s aesthetic criticism is a marvelous platform for my ire, especially in a world that increasingly seems to not care about reading fiction. Wood is a gifted writer, even if his masterful skill at sublimating his personal opinion into a front of absolute authority is maddening. There’s actually probably more in his book that I agree with than not, but it’s those major sticking points on literary approaches that stick in my craw. It’s also those major sticking points that make the book an interesting read. I’d like to think that I’m not interested in merely having my opinions re-confirmed.
Book shelves series #41, forty-first Sunday of 2012
Lots of lovely books and mags with pictures.
Several years worth of subscription to The Believer, with an unsorted stack setting up front:
I suppose I could write a whole post about The Believer, which I think is an excellent mag but no longer subscribe to, but instead, here’s a cover from Charles Burns:
Charles Burns also shows up in this section, which includes stuff by R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Art Spiegelman, and more:
The wife got me a subscription to The Paris Review last year; then, some unsorted books, and then the Nausicaä collection (also courtesy the wife):
Nausicaä spread out on my couch. (My son and I ended up looking through them for an hour):
Book shelves series #40, fortieth Sunday of 2012
So we dip into the penultimate book shelf in this series, the one I shot last week in hazy hangover.
(This shelf is lower right; I’ll be working down to up and right to left).
Kids puzzles and a toy accordion block some books on folklore, history, and music.
As always, sorry for the glare, blur, and poor lighting. Blame my ancient iPhone 3gs .
A book my grandmother gave me a few years ago:
This is a wonderful old collection:
Pissing in the Snow: I’ve gone to that well more than once.
Kind of a motley crew here; the Barthes is misshelved but the lit crit shelves above are too full, so . . .
Musical bios. More of these are scattered around the house. I gave away a few recently.
Some of these books made it on to a list I wrote of seven great books about rock and roll.
Anthony Scaduto’s Dylan bio, which I, ahem, *borrowed* from my uncle years ago.
It made the rounds in high school but I managed to get it back somehow (but not its cover):
Book shelves series #39, thirty-ninth Sunday of 2012
Too many beers yesterday. Can’t write anything good.
Can’t even take a decent pic.
Ten of these shelves hold books; hence books shelves #40-49.
And then there’s another bookcase in this weird workshop space, so that’ll be #50.
And then I’ll revisit the thing that I keep review copies in. And then my nightstand, which was #1.
So that’ll be like, #s 51 and 52.
And since there are 53 Sundays in 2012 I’ll do some kind of summary post.
And then I’ll be done thank God.
Book shelves series #38, thirty-eighth Sunday of 2012
The final entry on this corner piece.
What have these volumes in common? They are all aesthetically pleasing.
They are all too tall to fit elsewhere comfortably.
Several issues of McSweeney’s, some art books, and some graphic novels:
I’ve already expressed my strong enthusiasm for Charles Burns’s X’ed Out. The Acme Library pictured is part of Chris Ware’s series, and is beautiful and claustrophobic.
McSweeney’s #28 comprises eight little hardbacked fables that arrange into two “puzzle” covers:
I’ve also written enthusiastically about Max Ernst’s surreal graphic novel, Une Semaine de Bonte:
America’s Great Adventure is this wonderful book that pairs American writing (poems, songs, excerpts from novels and journals) with American paintings to tell a version of American history:
It probably deserves its own review. Short review: It’s a wonderful book if you can find it.
Book shelves series #36, thirty-sixth Sunday of 2012
Continuing the corner book shelf in the family room.
The bookends are tschotskes from a ¥100 shop; we bought them years ago in Tokyo.
Not particularly fancy but they have a sentimental value. (The big guy is a tanuki, if you’re unfamiliar).
The tin on the far left is filled with miscellaneous papers, old stickers, other small bricabrac.
Only four books on this shelf—the more-or-less complete works of J.D. Salinger, in gloriously ratty mass paperback editions:
Not sure if these are my wife’s or mine—probably a mix of both. I stole most of these from my high school.
The Catcher in the Rye was as important to me as any other book, I suppose. I wrote about it here.
Nine Stories contains some of Salinger’s most disciplined stuff.
It took me years to finally find the discipline to read Seymour, which is probably the best thing he wrote.
Book shelves series #35, thirty-fifth Sunday of 2012
Corner case in the family room. Today’s shelf:
The depth makes getting the shadow off the shot almost impossible without using additional lighting.
Note the use of mortar and pestle as bookend, a genteel move that screams respectability.
Volumes on this shelf include:
As well as The Ivory Trail, inscribed by my the mother of one of best friends of early childhood (and attributed to him):
Book shelves series #34, thirty-fourth Sunday of 2012
A little end table next to the couch in our family room.
The books on top are little art books we keep out for the kids to look at, including People—
On the second shelf, along with a cooking magazine: The People Could Fly and Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons:
There are two drawers; one holds electronic manuals. The second holds McSweeney’s #33, the newspaper issue, which was pretty damn unwieldy:
A comic from the McSweeney’s by Michael Kupperman:
Book shelves series #33, thirty-third Sunday of 2012
This is the end cap shelf of the coffee table in our family room, which is really the room where the kids play.
Mostly old ratty Shakespeare paperbacks and other slim volumes. Some of the hundreds of CDs I have that I haven’t played in ages.
I reread Henry IV last year, using these editions; still one of my favorite plays.
Contains some of my favorite moments in literature (I especially love the part where Falstaff calls his soldiers his “rag of Muffins”):
Book shelves series #31, thirty-first Sunday of 2012
When I started this project I thought it would be a fun way to keep stock of the books that I have, and also a way to perhaps question why I hold on to the books that I hold on to.
I mean, why keep a book after you’ve read it?
Anyway, at times throughout this series I’ve gotten bored, or rushed; other times I’ve thought the idea was stupid, or narcissistic, or something even worse (although I don’t know what).
I like the shelves above the pedestrian, utilitarian jobber that I’ll feature this Sunday and the next: lots of aesthetically pleasing stuff there.
Not so this one, which holds photos and cookbooks and art books and old notebooks and sketchbooks and every kind of etcetera:
At least that’s what I thought until I started digging into the cramped top shelf, dutifully bound to this project.
I wound up really enjoying myself, pausing over volumes that I haven’t looked at in ages, like this beauty:
I’m not sure if the aesthetic joy of this postcard collection comes across in these lousy iPhone photo shots.
I got this on a trip to London when I was 11. It was just my mom and my brother and I. First we went to Singapore. We were coming back to the States for Christmas, and also to live, eventually. My brother broke his leg in Singapore jumping down some stairs and we didn’t realize it was broken until we got back to Florida.
I used to draw and paint all the time, especially as a kid. Mostly animals.
There are at least a dozen skinny books like this on the shelf:
I must have done hundreds of these as a kid:
The shelf is also full of old comic strip collections that you probably recognize, like these guys:
And this guy (and yes, I have the 7″ record from this collection)
I also spent half an hour revising Rublowsky’s 1965 volume Pop Art, which is kind of fascinating in its contemporary proximity to its subject.
The cover’s not interesting, but Ken Heyman’s photos are; they show the artists in process. This one is kinda famous:
And here’s Roy Lichtenstein: