Saturday, June 24, 2006

Quoting a Classic

While we’re on the topic of dead authors, here are some of my favorite quotes from John Steinbeck in East Of Eden:

She must have had a pelvic arch of a whalebone, for she had big children one after the other.

When angered she had a terrible eye which could blanch the skin off a bad child.

He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day.

“There’s a capacity for appetite,” Samuel said, “that a whole heaven and earth of cake can’t satisfy.”

The thoughts came timidly up to the surface like children who do not know whether they will be received.

Most children abhor difference. They want to look, talk, dress, and act exactly like all of the others. If the style of dress is an absurdity, it is pain and sorrow to a child not to wear that absurdity. If necklaces of pork chops were accepted, it would be a sad child who could not wear pork chops.

No one ever had enough [love]. The stone orchard celebrates too little, not too much.

If chickens had government and church and history, they would take a distant and distasteful view of human joy. Let any … hopeful thing happen to a man, and some chicken goes howling to the block.

An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie.

People are interested only in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar.

It’s the lie I’m thinking of. It might infect everything. If they ever found out you’d lied to them about this, the true thing would suffer. They wouldn’t believe anything then.

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too – in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well – or ill?

In our time, when a man dies – if he has had wealth and influence and power and all the vestments that arouse envy, and after the living take stock of the dead man’s property and his eminence and works and monuments – the question is still there: Was his life good or was it evil?

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly re-spawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.


Erica said...
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Erica said...

Love your quote, "Where are your books? come there are no **** books in your house?" Yeah, you'd be chasing after me! :)

rhon said...

I took on the challenge of reading a couple of the books mentioned in the NYT's "What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?" After reading Beloved by Toni Morrison I took on Don DeLillo's Underworld. Unfortunately, I can't invest in an 800 page novel right now but I am very taken with his writing.

I don't like baseball and DeLillo's opening is a 50 page detailed description of the famous 1951 World Series game and the "shot heard around the world." Nothing could be more boring for me.

But DeLillo makes it sound like a medieval opera. Insurmountable odds, warriors, bloood, sweat, faith and passion. It's very masculine and very beatiful. This is a living author but I hope you share my appreciation of these quotes.

Peanut vendor's coming through again, a coin-catching wiz about eighteen, black and rangy. People know him from games past and innings gone and they quicken up and dig for change. They're calling out for peanuts, hey, here, bag, and tossing coins with thumb flicks and discus arcs and the vendor's hands seem to inhale the flying metal. He is magnet-skinned, circus-catching dimes on the wing and then sailing peanut bags into people's chests.

The catcher works up out of his squat, dirt impacted in the creases that run across the back of his ruddled neck. He lifts his mask so he can spit. He is padded and bumpered, lips rough and scored and sunflaked. This is the freest thing he does, spitting in public. His saliva bunches and wobbles when it hits the dirt, going sandy brown.

The difference comes when the ball is hit. Then nothing is the same. The men are moving, coming out of their crouches, and everything submits to the pebble-skip of the ball, to rotations and backspins and airstreams. There are drag coefficients. There are trailing vortices. There are things that apply unrepeatably, muscle memory and pumping blood and jots of dust, the narrative that lives in the spaces of the official play-by-play.

In the stands Bill Waterson takes off his jacket and dangles it lengthwise by the collar. It is rippled and mauled and seems to strike him as a living body he might want to lecture sternly. After a pause he folds it over twice and drops it on his seat.

Erin said...

I love baseball. And I enjoyed the quote, Rhon. Gonna have to check out that book...

I also learned I really like Stephen King's style when I read an anthology of short suspense stories. King's short story, "Quitter's, Inc." was brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat for most of it. Haven't ventured into his horror stories though, I'm not big on super scary, super bloody, super freaky.