Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

“…- a real decision makes one humble, one knows it is at the mercy of more things than can be named-…”

“People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of their perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.”

“Then all of the others closed in on this newcomer and they looked like a peacock garden and sounded like a barnyard.”

“…as outrageous and unsettling in any other city as a mermaid on a mountaintop.”

“‘Why are they- shameful?’ I asked him.

‘Because there is no affection in them, and no joy. It’s like putting an electric plug in a dead socket. Touch, but no contact. All touch, but no contact and no light.'”

“I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea.”

“‘Looked out’ means only that the room had two windows, against which the courtyard malevolently pressed, encroaching day by day, as though it had confused itself with a jungle.”

“And at moments like this I felt like we were merely enduring and committing the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder.”

“I loved her as much as ever and I still did not know how much that was.”

“It’s the boat that when you miss it, you know it’s a boat, but when it comes in, it’s a ship.”


Best Mansfield Park Quotes

“The young people were pleased with each other from the first. On each side there was much to attract, and their acquaintance soon promised as early an intimacy as good manners would warrant.”

“Fanny…  was trying, by everything in the power of her modest, gentle nature, to repulse Mr. Crawford, and avoid both his looks and inquiries; and he, unrepulsable, was persisting in both.

July 29th, 1982

I kept a journal- Hilroy exercise books- in the eighties. I still have them.

The first page of the first journal shows me what prompted me to write that summer. The very first entry is some overheard dialogue, but then it gets more personal.

That summer, my ex-sister-in-law (not ex at the time) was in a car accident. Journal entries for July 29th include:


Summer is not for car accidents.

It’s for cut-off shorts.

Reading Lord of the Rings


Pregnancy is the only happy reason I can think of for going to a hospital.

Spadina-Queen bus- Sometimes fashion just looks like someone worked too hard at getting dressed in the morning.

Talking to people about the accident becomes more upsetting each time I talk about it… its impact only increases.


The above entry reminds me of how I walked in and out of bookstores one afternoon after the accident, looking for comfort. I ended up at a friend’s office, and burst into tears.







Wayson Choy. All That Matters.

Writer Wayson Choy died yesterday.

I met Wayson at Humber College in the 1980’s. He’d been brought into our department to assist as a “Master Teacher”. I wasn’t sure what that was, but I definitely was not one. He actually ended up helping a lot, even as I found my own voice as teacher.

Years later, his writing career took off (already noteworthy by having a short story published in the Best American Short Stories annual in the early 1960’s), with publishing his story and novel “The Jade Peony” to acclaim, its sequel “All That Matters”, and “his memoir “Paper Shadows”. (This is not a complete list, nor is it chronological).

Our paths crossed at Humber once more. In 2003, I took a play I wrote to the Humber School for Writers, and advanced it under his tutelage (refined further with Edward Albee one year later).

And one more. This academic year, I had Wayson speak to my grade nine class as they read the story “The Jade Peony”. He was definitely failing but his humour and insight still shone through.

Rest In Peace, my friend. You and your work mattered a great deal.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Just finished the Pulitzer Prize winner. So glad a colleague bought it for me as a gift.

What a stylist Greer is. Some bon mots:


.. at nearly fifty he is like those bronze statues in public parks that, despite one lucky knee rubbed raw by schoolchildren, discolor beautifully until they match the trees.

In a world where most people read one book a year, there is a lot of money hoping that this is the book…

Texting and email saved him from phones forever.

…. an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books.

Some kid who couldn’t even name the Beatles?

…. the lines on his face like origami that has been unfolded and smoothed down with your hand….

…. pink to his middle, gray to his scalp, like those old double erasers for pencil and ink.

No one could rival Arthur Less for his ability to exit a room while remaining inside it.

… scrambled from the sixties onto the mountaintop of the seventies, that era of quick love and quaaludes (is there any more perfect spelling than with that lazy superfluous vowel?)

… while the five finalists were chosen by en elderly committee, the final jury is made up of twelve high school students.

‘When I was young, all I wanted to read were pretentious little books. Camus and Tournier and Calvino. If it had a plot, I hated it.’

Less is not known as a teacher, in the same way Melville was not known as a customs inspector.

The city of youth, the country of age.

Less kisses her on each cheek, but she leans in for a third. Two in Italy. Four in Northern France. Three in Germany? He will never get this right.

… we each got to make one rule about the road trip. Mine was that we could only sleep in places with a neon sign. His was that wherever we went, we had to eat the special. If they didn’t have a special, we had to find another place.

Where is his editor when he needs her? His editrix, as he used to call her.

… he is who she has.

He looks up at a closed-circuit television to follow the fleeting romances between flights and gates…

Boredom is the only real tragedy for a writer; everything else is material.

For a fifty-year-old man, the boredom of lying convalescent in bed is rivaled only by sitting in church.

For a seven-year-old boy, the boredom of sitting in church is rivaled only by sitting in an airport lounge.










Bon Mots from David Cale

A sampling from David Cale, monologist, from his collected Shows (2016):

When I die they’ll find intuition at the wheel.

Care and all its relatives seemed to fall out of me.

We were married in a registrar’s office by a man whose accent was so thick that to this day I’m not completely clear what I was agreeing to.

It was so quiet in the open. You could almost hear your moods change.

I felt like someone who’s used to swimming in pools in people’s back gardens, who’s suddenly been dropped in the ocean.

I don’t want to play a game I have no interest in winning.

It’s funny how things that are said at pivotal points in your life are forever imprinted.

Sexually speaking I’d say Keith was like a really good waiter at a pretty good restaurant. Very good service, but ultimately disappointing food.

Sometimes the pleasure was so intense she felt like hailing a taxi.

Sometimes the sex was so intense that the only words to say to him that matched the intensity were the words. ‘ I love you’. But she couldn’t tell him that.

“Oy, it’s brutal out there in the sexual jungle. Not that I’ve been to the sexual jungle, but I’ve flown over it a couple of times, on my way to somewhere else.”

“Oh, longing,” I says, “I used to spend about six months of the year there. I spent so much time there that I ran for office. I became the Mayor of Longing.”

The Turn of the Screw

Decided to spend October rereading Henry James’s masterful novella. Its sense of dread, suspense and just plain scariness is singular. I’m not surprised it’s been adapted as an opera (not seen) and the movie The Innocents (I own a copy- Criterion, of course.)

I’m reading with the perspective that the demonic possession is in the governess, not the children. Both perspectives work.

I should be done by Hallowe’en.

Testing The Current

I read William Macpherson’s Testing The Current when it came out in the eighties. A believable sustained coming-of-age novel from the point of view of a small boy.

A couple of well-observed gems, thus far:

“One day his mother came home with straws that were pleated like an accordion so they bent easily. Tommy liked those straws, but his mother saved them for when he was sick; he couldn’t use them at other times.”

“[His father’s dress shirt] was as stiff as a board there was so much starch in it, and the front was pique. That’s what they called it. It looked uncomfortable but very fancy.”

“Though [his mother’s] dress was black, it seemed to pick up the light from the lamps in the room and give off a soft shine of its own. His mother said it didn’t shine; it had a sheen, and there is a difference.”