Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 100 best last lines of novels

Berthe Morisot, La lecture

This, from the American Book Review, by way of the Utne Reader, (click through for the .pdf) is old, but I just found it. Of course, lists like this are all gimmicks, and you can think of five objections in 10 seconds to the basic concept of this one—beginning with the concept of Best. But it’s a reasonable list, I enjoyed it, and it at least has the merit of showing off some arresting writing that can remind you of something you should read or re-read. (Actually, any list that includes both The Invisible Man and Tristram Shandy is probably going to be OK with me.)

So, leaving aside Best as the cataloguers here mean it:

As far as American novels are concerned, the two best known last lines are almost certainly No. 3, from Gatsby (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”) and No. 5, from Huck Finn (“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.”)—probably in opposite order.

Forced to include the Brits (sigh), the best known of all 100 has to be No. 8, from Tale of Two Cities (“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.”)

And the most beloved must be No. 66, from Pooh Corner (“But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”), don’t you think?

On the personal side:

The one that helped send me as a young reader off in the most radically different direction: No. 9, from Heart of Darkness.

The one I was happiest to see because I didn’t expect it to make the list (about as unfashionable as possible right now): No. 54, from My Antonia.

A few special favorites delightedly discovered (rediscovered?) here: Nos. 2, 6, 7, 19, 21, 26, 95: from Invisible Man, The Sun Also Rises, 1984, Tristram Shandy, Cat’s Cradle, Catch-22, and Bang the Drum Slowly (pretty good advice: “From here on in I rag nobody.”).

Of course, an uncounted number of these last lines that I never got to because I never read the first ones. (And a few I never got to because I did.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


A few weeks ago, I took a length of coiled decorative evergreen roping out of the back of my car, tossed it onto a small patch of lawn near the driveway, and forgot about it. A few days before Christmas, I was called upon to produce same. Unfortunately, it had snowed, the driveway had been plowed, and the roping was now under a small glacier-like feature—two or three feet of dirty, compressed, frozen snow, hard as a Republican’s heart. A shovel didn’t make a dent. So I had an unanticipated, and I must say unappreciated, chance to put my seldom-used ice axe (an old Chouinard 70 cm.) to work. A little avalanche rescue practice right here at home. Found the victim, too, and dug him out in perfect condition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cold layers

With one or two exceptions, it’s been cold the last week or more, and windy with it, so wind chills in the morning have often been in the Fahrenheit teens and single digits. Not quite Iditarod cold (that’s not me above), but for both runs and walks I had to break out the winter stuff.

Shuffling’s really not that big a deal. Winter runners know that the trick is to be cold when you start so you'll be warm—but not too warm—in a mile. (Even so, we often come home unzipped and de-pantsed. How racey.)

Until fairly recently I went out in mostly cotton, which was fine since cotton doen’t kill if you can go home after an hour, take a shower, and change. The added benefit: cheap, cheap, cheap.

Now, though, I’ve upgraded to old, well-used “technical” stuff. In temps like the ones we’ve had lately, I’m fine with a GoLite DriMove baselayer on top,

covered by the favorite EMS Bergelene midweight that was a gift from H, and then one of two aging, ratty SportHill jackets, depending on whether wind protection or warmth is more important.

When I’m running, despite my lousy finger circulation, a simple pair of cotton gardening gloves does the trick unless it’s raining or below Farenheit zero. They get wet fast in near-freezing precip, but they block the wind very well. And: cheap, cheap, cheap.

On the bottom, until the temps go lower or the wind gets even stronger, I go with running shorts (sufficient by themselves down to about 40°F (4.5°C) under old, crotch-sprung SportHills similar to these, which I like because they have pockets (though these newer models unfortunately seem to be a bit baggier). When things head toward Fahrenheit zero, I change to these, which I originally bought for cross-country skiing and which are also my standard winter mountain wear. (Mine are old enough to have been called “Koch” pants, after our great cross-country ski champ of the 1970s, Bill Koch.) This stuff is so old that it has become cheap, cheap, cheap through prorating. Per run? A penny? Less?

The real problem for me is staying comfortable from the neck up. I have a thing about keeping my jaw and chin warm, so I often start with a Buff around my neck even in temps above freezing. In colder weather, I go to a heavier Turtle Fur neck gaiter, which I pull down over my head after I have my OR Peruvian hat on. It’s easier to get off that way, and keeps the earflaps more

effectively in play. Most days, a lot of this—sometimes all of it—quickly winds up in pockets or hands or tucked in waistbands or wound around my wrists. It’s my sissy layer.

A couple of weeks ago, with temps in the teens F., I tried replacing the EMS top with my new Patagonia R1 Hoody (mine’s light blue), which I bought on sale last year, but which was still a long way from cheap, cheap, cheap. Too warm.
But great for winter walking in this weather, about which more in some future post.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas pies

Well before Christmas, I brought a bag of heirloom apples home to eat. Life intervened, and they remained tucked cooly away gently softening. I rescued them on the 24th and used them for one of the two pies I baked for Christmas dinner. Hudson Golden Gems, Golden Russets, Ashmead’s Kernels, and Hubbardston Nonesuches. The apples had lost some of their natural tartness, but the pie was not bad at all.

I’m chuffed that I am beginning to create really good, light, flaky crust. I’ve learned that the amount of liquid required varies tremendously depending, I suppose, on the amount of moisture in the air. This time, I used twice the usual amount. Also, after deep study and experimentation, I’m finally developing a good edge-crimping technique. Brain surgery isn’t in it.

The other pie was mince, very much not a favorite of mine. The guest for whom it was created, though, called the best he’d ever had (thanks, Dad, sorry about the memory loss).

As my late mother-in-law used to say in joking self-deprecation, “Pin a rose on me.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Go for Baroque

This, from today’s New York Times, is very cool. I’ve always been repelled by that “Phantom of the Opera”-style organ music, played on those huge, bellowing, late-19th Century monstrosities. But great Baroque music played on a great Baroque organ...that’s something else altogether. Our local Episcopal church had a much smaller Baroque organ installed a few years back, and its crispness and precision are wonderful. The one in the Times article is in Rochester, NY, A’s home town, so there’s a decent chance I might someday get to hear it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I’m finally back on the roads after a commercial break sponsored by my left achilles. Very slow, very short, and begun with a careful warm-up walk of a quarter-mile or so, but back. And with my return to shuffling, I return also the the area of my life most affected by juju.

I’m a mostly rational person, but I operate as a runner within a cloud of dogmatic unreason. It’s never okay, for example, to cut a corner (speaking literally here) in a training run. Always square it off or run the longer way around rather than the shorter. On the other hand, it’s absolutely prohibited to do that little jog-in-place dance at corners waiting for traffic to pass or lights to change. Just stand there. Never use the stopwatch function of your wristwatch to time your aerobic runs. If you really have to know your splits and total, use the regular watch function and do the math in your head. Regardless of speed or oxygen requirements, sync inhaling with your left-foot strikes, never your right.

Along these lines, five miles is a meaningless distance. In my cosmology, four miles is the shortest distance that really counts. Six miles is the minimum distance that actually does you any good (this is personal voodoo, remember, not science). If I’ve been running a regular four mile loop, and want to increase the distance now and then, five miles would be the natural next step. But it’s existentially nonexistent. So I go to six.

This all may sound silly, but it’s nothing compared to my baseball fetishes. No, no, no! Don’t cross those bats!!

Stevie has his own take on this:

When you believe in things
That you don't understand,
Then you suffer.
Superstition ain't the way.
No, no, no

Clearly, this won’t be my last dinged tendon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hello, Central. Get me Google.

I signed up for Google Voice a month or so ago, but hadn’t used it until the other day. I gave out the number to someone I knew I was going to to be setting up schedules with, and I thought the value would be that her calls would ring through to my mobile and both my home/office phones, and we wouldn’t miss connections and have to be going back and forth.

It’s actually much better than that.

We did miss connections, because she called me twice today when I was away from home but couldn’t reach my mobile. And when I got home there were two emails in my box with quite accurate transcriptions of her voice messages (although the family name came out as “Hall Verizon”). There’s also an option to play the message itself. Superb. If you’re a texter (I’m not), it leaves messages there, too. And you have a Voice homepage where all messages appear (with aural option appended). You can instantly see who called, you can immediately see which messages are worth spending time on, and you can check them in any order. Wonderful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


This guy is really good.

This is really good on race in America.

And this is really good on journalism of a certain kind.

And this is about beer. (Well, it’s just a link. But it’s still about beer, so it’s really good.)

All in one day! Blogchamp. Really.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7

I haven’t exactly covered the waterfront, but the only notice of Pearl Harbor I’ve seen today is on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which is running Frank Capra’s seven sequential “Why We Fight” films, made in 1942-45. Frank propaganda in the best possible cause. To modern viewers they look yawningly like hundreds of war documentaries that followed, but they were in fact the first that used what became the now-familiar standard elements: actual footage, good editing, sharp cuts, dramatic voice-over, and music to shape emotion. They knocked people out when they arrived in wartime theaters.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A good morning

H called fairly early because sweet B was pointing at the laptop and saying, “M.” And she seemed quite happy when her M actually appeared on the other side of the iChat. Fortunately, I’m made of stern stuff and she cannot turn my head with calls for my presence, beautiful smiles, cheerful play, and general sweetness.

She went on to display newly-acquired language skills (among other things, she can make monkey noises, a key to popularity in this family). We won’t be seeing B, A, and H in person until next weekend, but this morning’s touch was a joy.

Afterwards, I geared up and headed out to test the strained left achilles with something beyond the standard morning stroll. A little walk to warm up, a gentle and gingerly eight-tenths of a mile, and things were feeling okay, which was not the case last week. It wasn’t the jungle sound of a cheerful small primate, but it was pretty good.

Friday, December 4, 2009


This is me with H, a long, long time ago, herringboning her back up a little hill we’d just skimmed down together. You can’t see it in this resolution, but she’s got her little tongue out, tasting snowflakes.

My father just found those very skis, in all their 70 cm. glory, tucked away in his garage, cleaned them up, and brought them down. This winter may be a bit early, but surely next year a somewhat less svelte me will be wandering around in the snow with sweet B on her new-old skis.

(I bought that supercool hat in Jackson Hole in the early ’80s. Still got it. Still wear it. Still, obviously, supercool.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tommy Henrich, RIP

Tommy Henrich (he told me he actually preferred to be called Tom) was the hard-hitting right fielder of the New York Yankees from the late 1930s through 1950 (with time out for Coast Guard service during the war). A pro’s pro, the left-handed Henrich was an excellent fielder with a terrific arm and great baseball sense. He was known as “Old Reliable” for the steadiness and coolness under pressure that made him a feared clutch hitter. Oddly, he’s most famous for striking out against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hugh Casey in the the fourth game of the 1941 World Series. With Brooklyn leading 4-3 with two outs in the ninth, Casey broke off a sharp curve that Henrich swung at and missed for strike three. But catcher Mickey Owen couldn’t handle the pitch either, and it rolled to the fence as Henrich ran to first, leading to a Yankee rally and victory.

Tom Henrich was also a fine, fine man. Here’s the final paragraph of the New York Times obit:

Henrich’s dedication on the field was matched by a reputation for strength of character. As [Yankees manager Casey] Stengel put it in a 1949 profile of Henrich in The New Yorker: “He’s a fine judge of a fly ball. He fields grounders like an infielder. He never makes a wrong throw, and if he comes back to the hotel at 3 in the morning when we’re on the road and says he’s been sitting up with a sick friend, he’s been sitting up with a sick friend.”