first&last

The first sentence is the most important sentence. The last sentence is important, too. Here are the first and last sentences of each book I read.

THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE (WILLIAM GIBSON AND BRUCE STERLING)

Composite image, optically encoded by escort-craft of the trans-Channel airship Lord Brunel: aerial view of suburban Cherbourge, October 14, 1905.

Dying to be born.
The light is strong,
The light is clear;
The Eye at last must see itself
Myself …
I see:
I see,
I see
I
!

SHADOW OF THE GIANT (ORSON SCOTT CARD)

Han Tzu waited until the armored car was completely out of sight before he ventured out into the bicycle-and-pedistrian-packed street.

Then she went home, leaving both her husbands behind, the one whose life had a monument and a book, and the one whose only monument was in her heart.

SHADOW PUPPETS (ORSON SCOTT CARD)

Bean kind of liked being tall, even though it was going to kill him.

In the aftermath of the war, while Indians, Thais, Burmese, Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians searched their onetime conquerors’ land for family members who had been carried off, Bean and Petra also searched as best they could by computer, hoping to find some record of what Volescu and Achilles had done with their lost children.

FEAR THE WORST (LINWOOD BARCLAY)

The morning of the day I lost her, my daughter asked me to scramble her some eggs.

I stayed and held Patty as she drew her last breaths while my other daughter flagged down the ambulance and the police.

TOO CLOSE TO HOME (ORSON SCOTT CARD)

Derek figured, when the time came, the crawlspace would be the best place to hide.

Together, we walked up to Agnes Stockwell’s door to tell her that she needn’t feel guilty any longer, that her son, Brett, did not kill himself, that he was an acclaimed and published author, that he did trying to save my wife’s life.

RABBIT IS RICH (JOHN UPDIKE)

Running out of gas, Rabbit Angstrom thinks as he stands behind the summer-dusty windows of the Springer Motors display room watching the traffic go by on Route 111, traffic somehow thin and scared compared to what it used to be.

Through all this she has pushed to be here, in his lap, his hands, a real presence hardly weighing anything but alive. Fortune’s hostage, heart’s desire, a grand-daughter. His. Another nail in his coffin. His.

BURNING CHROME — Johnny Mnemonic (WILLIAM GIBSON)

I put the shotgun in the Adidas bag and padded it out with four pairs of tennis socks, not my style at all, but that was what I was aiming for: If they think you’re crude, go technical; if they think you’re technical, go crude.

With Jones to help me figure it out, I’m getting to be the most technical boy in town.

SPOOK COUNTRY (WILLIAM GIBSON)

“Rausch,” said the voice in Hollis Henry’s cell. “Node,” it said.

She put the helmet on, turned it on, and looked up, to where Alberto’s giant cartoon rendition of the Mongolian Death Worm, its tail wound through the various windows of Bigend’s pyramidal aerie like an eel through the skull of a cow, tall and scarlet, in the night.

SHADOW OF THE HEGEMON (Orson Scott Card)

Nothing looked right in Armenia when Petra Arkanian returned home.

“I’ve got a better idea,” she answered. “You can have it all.”

ENDER’S SHADOW (Orson Scott Card)

Poke kept her eyes open all the time.

“Welcome home, little brother,” said Nokolai. “I told you they were nice.”

ENDER’S GAME (Orson Scott Card)

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

He looked a long time.

THE ACCIDENT (Linwood Barclay)

If I’d know this was our last morning, I’d have rolled over in bed and held her.

She kept watching for a good ten seconds after it disappeared, hoping, maybe, like her father, that it would come back, that we could change our minds.

BLUE NIGHTS (Joan Didion)

In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.

Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her.

A MIND TO MURDER (P.D. James)

Dr. Paul Steiner, consulting psychiatrist at the Steen Clinic, sat in the front ground floor consulting-room and listened to his patient’s highly rationalized explanation of the failure of his third marriage.

And a man was surely entitled to call his own publishers.

NEIGHBORS (THOMAS BERGER)

“It would have been nice,” said Earl Keese to himself as much as to the wife who sat across the coffee table from him, “to have asked them over for a drink.”

She said: “Earl, it could have happened to anybody.”

WRITING PLACES (WILLIAM ZINSSER)

Of all the places where I’ve done my writing, none was more unusual than the office that had a fire pole.

Whatever new technology may come along, writers will continue to write, going whereever their curiosities and affections beckon. That can make an interesting life.

INSANE CITY (DAVE BARRY)

Two days before his wedding, Seth was in a cab with his best man, Marty, who was advising him on responsiblities of the groom.

Finally there was nobody left awake but Seth and Cyndi, sitting close together on the sand, the two of them watching the full moon rise, big and bright, making the restless dark ocen shimmer and shine.

THE POSTMORTAL (DREW MAGARY)

There are wild postings with that statement all along First Avenue.

All that’s left now is then end, which is all any of us ever has. The WEPS battery is dying. I have a shot of SoFlo at the ready. There is no dread. There is only certainty.

WILLIAM GIBSON (NEUROMANCER)

The sky about the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn’t laughter. He never saw Molly again.

SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY (GARY SHTEYNGART)

Today I’ve made a major decision: I am never going to die.

For a while at least, no one said anything, and I was blessed with what I needed the most. Their silence, black and complete.

MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE (ROLAND LAZENBY)

The “god of basketball,” as he would be called by fans worldwide, was born with a bloody nose, in Brooklyn of all places, on the kind of chill February Sunday in 1963 that sent steam rising from the sidewalk sewer grates outside the ten-story Cumberland Hospital.

The answer is right there in front of him, in front of all of us. Something he can clearly see.

WILLIE NELSON: AN EPIC LIFE (JOE NICK PATOSKI)

The sea of humanity swells and roils all the way to the horizon, thousands of eyes fixed on him, thousands of hands clapping, a chorus of voices cheering and yelling, lips whistling, feet stomping, smiles everywhere, all because of him.

He had done what he’d set out to do. “I think I’ve about covered it,” he said with satisfaction. And he was on to the next.

LITTLE CHILDREN (TOM PERROTTA)

The young mothers were telling each other how tired they were.

She was here because he said he’d run away with her, and she believe him — believed, for a few brief, intensely sweet moments, that she was something special, one of the lucky ones, a character in a love story with a happy ending.

A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS (KHALED HOSSEINI)

Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.

Because, if it’s a girl, Laila has already named her.

ROOM (EMMA DONOGHUE)

Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.

I look back one more time. It’s like a crater, a hole where something happened. Then we go out the door.

THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET (DAVID MITCHELL)

“Miss Kawasemi?” Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. “Can you hear me?”

A well-waxed paper door slides open.

THE ASK (SAM LIPSYTE)

America, said Horace, the office temp, was a run-down and demented pimp.

Authorities welcomed and information that could lead to his capture.

PULPHEAD (JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN)

It is wrong to boast, but in the beginning, my plan was perfect.

I said I didn’t think so.

SAVE THE CAT! THE LAST BOOK ON SCREENWRITING THAT YOU’LL EVER NEED (BLAKE SNYDER)

Another book on screenwriting!?

So that when you write those two dazzling words, FADE IN:, the hundredth time, you’re as excited as you were when you wrote them the first.

MINDSCAN (ROBERT J. SAWYER)

There were perhaps a hundred people in the ballroom of Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and at least half of them had only a short time left to live.

But you know, I’m in contact with somebody else, and I think he knows even more abouty being human than I do. Let’s see what he has to say…

ROLLBACK (ROBERT J. SAWYER)

It had been a good life.

She sought an appropriate word, and, after a moment, smiling at her husband, she said, “Skytop.”

THE LEFTOVERS (TOM PERROTTA)

It was a good day for a parade, sunny and unseasonably warm, the sky a Sunday school cartoon of heaven.

“Look what I found,” she told him.

ROBOPOCALYPSE (DANIEL H. WILSON)

A noise-speckled security camera image of a dark room.

Carl wipes his forehead with one arm and says the words that will haunt both our species for years to come: “There was information in the earthquake. A whole hell of a lot of information.”

THE BARBARY COAST (HERBERT ASBURY)

The history of the Barbary Coast properly begins with the gold rush to California in 1849.

And that was the end of the Barbary Coast. Of its ancient glories nothing remains excepting a few battered facades, the tattered remains of signs, and the plastr nymphs and satyrs in the entrance lobby of the old Hippodrome, now befouled by dirt and penciled obscenities.

THE KITERUNNER (KHALED HOSSEINI)

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.

I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the Valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.

LONESOME DOVE (LARRY MCMURTY)

When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake — not a very big one.

“The woman,” Dillard whispered. “The woman. They say he missed that woman.”

THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (JOHN LE CARRE)

It was a perfectly ordinary Friday afternoon in tropical Panama until Andrew Osnard barged into Harry Pendel’s shop asking to be measured for a suit.

And certainly the place that he was headed for, nobody would ever again ask him to improve on life’s appearance, neither would they mistake his dreaming for their terrible reality.

SAVE THE CAT!: THE LAST BOOK ON SCREENWRITING THAT YOU’LL EVER NEED (BLAKE SNYDER)

We’ve all had this experience…

So that when you write those two dazzling words, FADE IN:, the hundredth time, you’re as excited as you were when you wrote them the first.

I AM LEGEND (RICHARD MATHESON)

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.

I am legend.

KILLING FLOOR (LEE CHILD)

I was arrested in Eno’s diner.

I had already committed it to memory

DIVERGENT (VERONICA ROTH)

There is one mirror in my house.

Now the corners of his mouth have disappeared into a frown. “No, we won’t.”

THE BOOK THIEF (MARKUS ZUSAK)

First up something white. Of the blinding kind.

All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book theif and I say it now to you. I am haunted by humans.

UNDER THE DOME (STEPHEN KING)

The two boys fishing near the Peace Bridge didn’t look up when the plane flew overhead, but Junior Rennie did.

Pity was not love, Barbie reflected … but if you were a child, giving clothes to someone who was naked had to be a step in the right direction.

THE BRIEF WONDEROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO (JUNOT DIAZ)

Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about — he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.

He wrote: So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!

FREEDOM (JONATHAN FRANZEN)

The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally — he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul Now — but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New Yor Times.

To this day, free access to the preserve is granted only to birds and to residents of Canterbridge Estates, through a gate whose lock combination is know to them, beneath a small ceramic sign with a picture of the pretty young dark-skinned girl after whom the preserve is named.

:07 SECONDS OR LESS (JACK MCCALLUM)

After studying the Phoenix Suns at close range all season, I offer this projection about them.

As for the empty space on the wall outside of the coaches office, once filled by the photo of Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, there is now a team shot of the Suns linking arms in their pregame ritual. It adorns the cover of this book.

CLOUD ATLAS (DAVID MITCHELL)

Beyond the Indian Hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trial of recent footsteps.

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?

GENERATION X (DOUGLAS COUPLAND)

Back in the late 1970s, when I was fifteen years old, I spent every penny I then had in the bank to fly across the continent in a 747 jet to Brandon, Manitoba, deep in the Canadian prairies, to witness a total eclipse of the sun.

I can’t remember whether I said thank you.

STARSHIP TROOPERS (ROBERT HEINLEIN)

I always get the shakes before a drop.

“To the everlasting glory of the Infantry–”

THE LIGHT FANTASTIC (TERRY PRATCHETT)

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.

Which soon became a glint among the stars, and disappeared.

THE COLOUR OF MAGIC (TERRY PRATCHETT)

Fire roared through the bifurcated city of Ankh-Morpork.

There didn’t seem to be any alternative.

EVERY STORY IS A GHOST STORY (D.T. MAX)

Every story has a beginning and this is David Wallace’s.

This was not an ending anyone would have wanted for him, but it was the one he had chosen.

THE GOOD SOLDIERS (DAVID FINKEL)

His soldiers weren’t yet calling him the Lost Kauz behind his back, not when this began.

But he had seen enough.

OUTLIERS (MALCOLM GLADWELL )

One warm, spring day in May of 2007, the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Vancouver Giants met for the Memorial Cup hockey championships in Vancouver, British Columbia.

These were history’s gifts to my family — and if the resources of that grocer, the fruits of those riots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life full of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill?

THE TETHERBALLS OF BOUGAINVILLE (MARK LEYNER)

My father is strapped to a gurney, about to die by lethal injection, when the phone rings.

ROLL CREDITS OVER BLOOPER OUTTAKES.

MASTERS OF ATLANTIS (CHARLES PORTIS)

Young Lamar Jimmerson went to France in 1917 with the American Expeditionary Forces, serving first with the Balloon Section, stumbling about in open fields holding one end of a long rope, and then later as a telephone switchboard operator at AEF headquarters in Chaumont.

Ed, who no longer missed the Red Room, said, “This is the best party I’ve ever been to!”

RELUCTANT SAINT: THE LIFE OF FRANCIS OF ASSISI (DONALD SPOTO)

In 1181, the harvest in southern Europe was exceptional — especially in Umbria, a fertile region in central Italy, roughly equidistant between Rome, to the south, and Florence, to the north.

Many birds, called larks, flew low above the roof of the house where he lay, wheeling in a circle and singing.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST (STIEG LARSSON)

Dr. Jonasson was woken by a nurse five minutes before the helicopter was expected to land

She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.

BATTLE ROYALE (KOUSHUN TAKAMI)

As the bus entered the prefectural capital of Takamatsu, garden suburbs transformed into city streets of multicolored neon, headlights of oncoming cars, and the checkered lights of office buildings.

Now, once again, “2 students remaining.” But of course they’re part of you now.

BIRD (BIRD (ANNE LAMOTT)

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.

You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS (GEORGE R.R. MARTIN)

He dranks his way across the narrow sea.

And in their hands, the daggars.

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (PHILIP K. DICK)

For a week Mr. R. Childan had been anxiously watching the mail.

She walked on without looking again at the Abendsen house and, as she walked, searching up and down the streets for a cab or a car, moving bright and living, to take her back to her hotel.

THE TENDER BAR (J.R. MOEHRINGER)

If a man can chart with any accuracy his evolution from small boy to barfly, mine began on a hot summer night in 1972.

For on beautiful moment — and who could ask anything more of life? — I needed and wanted for nothing.

FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID (PHILIP K. DICK)

On Tuesday, October 11, 1998, the Jason Taverner Show ran thirty seconds short.

And loved.

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (PHILIP K. DICK)

A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.

And, feeling better, fixed herself at last a cup of black, hot coffee.

FEED (M.T. ANDERSON)

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

I could see my face, crying, in her blank eye.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (BUZZ BISSINGER)

In the beginning, on a dog-day Monday in the middle of August when the West Texas heat congealed in the sky, there were only in the stirrings of dreams.

People everywhere, young and old, were already dreaming of heroes.

A FEAST FOR CROWS (GEORGE R. R. MARTIN)

“Dragons,” said Mollander.

I’m Pate,” the other said, “like the pig boy.”

A STORM OF SWORDS (GEORGE R. R. MARTIN)

The day was grey and bitter cold, and the dogs would not take the scent.

His feet left the ground, the rope cutting deep into the soft flesh beneath his chin. Up into the air he jerked, kicking and twisting, up and up and up.

A CLASH OF KINGS (GEORGE R. R. MARTIN)

The comet’s tail spread across the dawn, a red slash that bled above the crags of Dragonstone like a wound in the pink and purple sky.

The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.

A GAME OF THRONES (GEORGE R. R. MARTIN)

“We could start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”

The other two pulled away from her breasts and added their voices to the call, translucent wings unfolding and stirring the air, and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.

I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS (TOM WOLFE)

Alleghany County is perched so high up in the hills of western North Carolina that golfers intrepid enough to go up there to play golf call it mountain golf.

It obviously behooved Jojo Johanssen’s girlfriend to join in.

BREAKING DOWN THE HOUSE (BEN MEZRICH)

It was ten minutes past three in the morning, and Kevin Lewis looked like he was about to pass out.

Kevin smiled. “First there’s this test you’ve got to take…”

LUSH LIFE (RICHARD PRICE)

At ten in the morning, Eric Cash, thirty-five, stepped out of his Stanton Street walk-up, lit a cigarette, and headed off to work.

He decided to sit there and wait, do it face-to-face.

SNEAKER WARS (BARBARA SMIT)

Clutching a bulging duffel bag, a short young man walked confidently onto the Berlin Olympic training grounds.

Adi and Rudolf Dassler could never have begun to picture it all.

HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE (TO(YOUNG)

It was the afternoon of June 8, 1995, when I finally got the call.

When I last spoke to Alex he was writing a script for Jim Carrey.

TRUE GRIT (CHARLES PORTIS)

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.

This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross’s blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground.

THEN WE CAME TO THE END (JOSHUA FERRIS)

We were fractious and overpaid.

But for the moment, it was nice just to sit there together. We were the only two left. Just the two of us, you and me.

HOW I BECAME A FAMOUS NOVELIST (STEVE HELY)

You have to understand how bad things were for me back then.

I wish I’d written something that good.

THE LOOKING GLASS WAR (JOHN LECARRE)

Snow covered the airfield.

They had gone, leaving nothing behind but tyre tracks in the hardening mud, a twist of wire, and the sleepless tapping of the north wind.

WOBEGON BOY (GARRISON KEILLOR)

I am a cheerful man, even in the dark, and it’s all thanks to a good Lutheran mother.

“It’s as good as it can be,” I said. “It’s better than I had any reason to expect. The music is calling my dear. Would you care to dance?”

NOBODY’S PERFECT (BEST-SELLERS I) (ANTHONY LANE)

Gore Vidal once wrote a celebrated essay with a very plain title: “The Top Ten Best Sellers According to the Sunday New York Times as of January 7, 1973.”

And so I rose, put down my ten books, tacked on my caveat, engaged my allusive process, and quickly pounded to my own superb release.

FOUNDATION (ISAAC ASIMOV)

His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before.

“Let my successors solve those new problems, as I have solved the one of today.”

GONE BA(GONE (DENNIS LEHANE)

Each day in this country, twenty-three hundred children are reported missing.

She had never expected anything like this to happen in her life.

BONK (MARY ROACH)

Albert R. Shadle was the world’s foremost expert on the sexuality of small woodland creatures.

Study (study, the gains may seem small and occasionally silly, but the aggregation of all that has been learned, the lurching tango of academe and popular culture, has led us to a happier place. Hats and pants off to you all.

ADA, OR ARDOR (VLADIMIR NABOKOV)

“All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,” says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English (R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd.; 1880).

Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of pictorial detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; a pretty plaything stranded among the forget-me-nots of a brook; butterflies and butterfly orchids in the margin of the romance; a misty view descried from marble steps; a doe at gaze in the ancestral park; and much, much more.

THE PLEASURES AND SORROWS OF WORK (ALAIN DE BOTTON)

Imagine a journey across one of the great cities of the modern world.

Our work will at least have distracted us, it will have provided a perfect bubble in which to invest our hopes for perfection, it will have focused our immeasurable anxieties on a few relatively small-scale and achievable goals, it will have given us a sense of mastery, it will have made us respectably tired, it will have put food on the table. It will have kept us out of greater trouble.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (STIEG LARSSON)

She lay on her back fastened (leather straps to a narrow bed with a steel frame.

He put it on the floor, took out his mobile, and dialled the number for emergency services.

SHALLOW GRAVE IN TRINITY COUNTY (HARRY FARRELL)

It was six-thirty on the midsummer evening of Friday, July 15, 1955, when Georgia Abbott descended the stairs to the basement of her white stucco house in Alameda.

I refused to accept it.

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY (ERIK LARSON)

How easy it was to disappear.

The story, too, tends to illustrate the end of the century.

MERE ANARCHY (WOODY ALLEN)

Gasping for air, my life passing before my eyes in a series of wistful vignettes, I found myself suffocating some months ago under the tsunami of junk mail that cascades through the slot in my door each morning after kippers.

In case you’re wondering whre this little homicide tale goes, keep watching the back pages for news out of Albany, where the legislature will be taking up the bill that will lead to Pinchuck’s Law, which makes if a felony for any dentist to endanger the life of a patient (relentless conversation or (saying anything other than “Open wide” or “Please rinse” without a prior court order.

BLOOD IN THE CAGE (L. JON WERTHEIM)

“Fight!”

“Thanks for everything, man.”

ROAD WORK (MARK BOWDEN)

The tyrant must steal sleep.

Didn’t they know who Donald Hersing was?

DISQUIET, PLEASE! HUMOUR WRITING FROM THE NEW YORKER)

The trouble that broke up the Gordon Winships seemed to me, at first, as minor a problem as frost on a windowpane.

There was plenty to go around, some of it brown, some of it green, and some a color I’ve come to think of, almost dreamily, as enough.

WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES (DAVID SEDARIS)

My friend Patsy was telling me a story.

I’m simply afraid that on taking one between my fingers, I’ll somehow snap to and remember, with clarity, just how good a cigarette would taste right now

I AM AMERICA (AND SO CAN YOU) (STEPHEN COLBERT)

I am no fan of books.

And you can take that to the bank. I know I will. Amen.

THE OPPOSITE FIELD (JESSE KATZ)

I played my last little league game on May 12, 1975, a Monday.

I stayed there, scrunched at his side, for a long time, until I felt myself drifting off.

THE BIG SHORT (MICHAEL LEWIS)

Eisman entered finance about the time I exited it.

How long would it take before the people walking back and forth in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral figured out what had just happened to them?

A THOUSANDS ACRES (JANE SMILEY)

At sixty miles per hour, you could pass our farm in a minute, on Country Road 686, which ran due north into the T intersection at Cabot Street Road.

I hadn’t even felt the heaviness of until then, and it was the burden of having to wait and see what was going to happen.

TWILIGHT OF THE SUPERHEROES (DEBORAH EISENBERG)

The grandchildren approach.

From farther than the moon she sees the children of some distant planet study pictures in their text: there’s Rose and Issac at their kitchen table, Nathaniel out on Mr. Matsumoto’s terrace, Lucien alone in the dim gallery — and then the children turn the page.

JOHN ADAMS (DAVID MCCULLOUGH)

In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north.

It could have been his epitaph.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (STIEG LARSSON)

The trial was irretrievably over; everything that could be said had been said, but he had never doubted that he would lose.

She tossed Elvis into a dumpster.

THE NIGHT GARDENER (GEORGE PELECANOS)

The crime scene was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C.

It was said by some of the police on the scene that God was crying for the girl in the garden. To others, it was only rain.

FREEDOM LAND (RICHARD PRICE)

“You know, life, life and death, you hear the kids; life and death are so, flippant to them. Death is no big thing. Death is, life.”

“But it’s late,” he added, making a great effort to maintain a gentle tone. “So I want you to go on home…”

HONOR THEY FATHER (GAY TALESE)

Knowing that it was possible to see too much, most doormen in New York have developed an extraordinary sense of selective vision: they know what to see and what to ignore, when to be curious and when to be indolent; they are most often standing indoors, unaware, when there are accidents or arguments in front of their buildings; and they are usually in the street seeking taxicabs when burglars are escaping through the lobby.

He heard Ernest Newman asking to speak to Walter Phillips, the Assistant United States Attorney; and when Phillips came to the phone, Bill heard Newman say, in a very official manner, “Salvatore Bonanno has surrendered.”

ABOUT ALICE (CALVIN TRILLIN)

There was one condolence letter that made me laugh.

I try to think of it in those terms, too. Some days I can and some days I can’t.

NEVER LET ME GO (KAZUO ISHIGURO)

My name is Kathy H.

I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

REGARDS (JOHN GREGORY DUNNE)

There was never and doubt that the Studio would hold it first preview of Dr. Dolittle in Minneapolis.

But that is the writer’s life. You write. You finish. You start over again.

MONSTER (JOHN GREGORY DUNNE)

I first met John Foreman in my sophmore year at Princeton, at a cocktail party my brother gave in New York.

When the revenue from the film rentals, video, cable, mainstream television, and all the ancillary markets is computed, Up Close & Personal will have made Disney a small profit.

LAST BREATH (PETER STARK)

When your Jeep spins lazily off the mountain road and slams backward into a snowbank, you don’t worry immediately about the cold.

And the other question is: how far?

CLOCKERS (RICHARD PRICE)

Strike spotted her: baby fat, baby face, Shanelle or Shanette, fourteen years old maybe, standing there with that queasy smile, trying to work up the nerve.

“He was a nice guy, right?” Rocco declared in a conversational tone, his eyes casually scanning the crowd. “Who the hell would want to shoot him?”

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (SARA GRUEN)

I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.

For this old man, this is home.

THEY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE (GAY TALESE)

She was completely nude, lying on her stomach in the desert sand, her legs spread wide, her long hair flowing in the wind, her head tilted back with her eyes closed.

They were unabashed voyeurs looking at him; and Talese looked back.

HOMICIDE (DAVID SIMON)

Pulling one hand from the warmth of a pocket, Jay Landsman squats down to grab the dead man’s chin, pushing the head to one side until the wound becomes visible as a small, ovate hole, oozing red and white.

They sleep until dark.

METAMORPHOSIS (FRANZ KAFKA)

When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from troubled dreams, he found that he had been transformed — in his bed — into a kind of giant bug.

And when, at the end of the journey, their daughter stood and stretched her young body before them, it came almost as a confirmation of their hopes and dreams.

THE RUINS (SCOTT SMITH)

They met Mathias on a day trip to Cozumel.

They were already too far up the hill, calling Pablo’s name.

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (JOHN LE CARRE)

The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”

As he fell, Leamas saw a small car smashed between great lorries, and the children waving cheerfully through the window.

THE NIGHT OF THE GUN (DAVID CARR)

The voice came from a long distance off, like a far-flung radio signal, all crackle and mystery with just an occasional word coming through.

I thanked him and went on my way.

THE LIARS’ CLUB (JONATHAN FRANZEN)

My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark.

Still, the image pleases me enough: to slip from the body’s tight container and into some luminous womb, gliding there without effort till the distant shapes frow brighter and more familiar, till all you beloveds hover before you, their lit arms held out in welcome.

THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY (MICHAEL CHABON)

In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.

When Rosa and Joe picked it up they saw that Sammy had taken a pen and, bearing down, crossed out the name of the never-more-than-theoretical family that was printed above the address, and in its place written, sealed in a neat black rectangle, knotted (the stout cord of an ampersand, the words KAVALIER & CLAY.

THE CORRECTIONS (JONATHAN FRANZEN)

The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through.

She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life.

UP IN HONEY’S ROOM (ELMORE LEONARD)

Honey phoned her sister-in-law Muriel, still living in Harlan County, Kentucky, to tell her she’d left Walter Schoen, calling him Valter, and was on her way to being Honey Deal again.

“You gonna tell her about Honey walking around in her high heels, naked?”

WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN (JOYCE CAROL OATES)

Her name was Connie.

“My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him — so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.

NORMAN ROCKWELL: A LIFE (LAURA CLARIDGE)

Norman Rockwell was not sadistic.

Both women would have smiled at their husband’s typical tactfulness, and at the way that the artist once again seemed to have it all.

A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I’LL NEVER DO AGAIN (DAVID FOSTER WALLACE)

Right now it’s Saturday 18 March, and I’m sitting in the extremely full coffee shop of the Fort Lauderdale Airport, killing the four hours between when I had to be off the cruise ship and when my flight to Chicago leaves by trying to summon up a kind of hypnotic sensous collage of all the stuff I’ve seen and heard and done as a result of the journalistic assignment just ended.

And even though the tranced stasis caused me to miss the final night’s climactic P.T.S. and the Farewell Midnight Buffet and then Saturday’s docking and a chance to have my After photo taken with Captain G. Panagiotakis, subsequent reentry into the adult demands of landlocked real-world life wasn’t nearly as bad as a week of Absolutely Nothing had led me to fear.

THE INFORMATION (MARTIN AMIS)

Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing.

And then there is the information, which is nothing, and comes at night.

FARGO ROCK CITY (CHUCK KLOSTERMAN)

You know, I’ve never had long hair.

I absolutely could not relate to Motley Crue. And that’s whey I will always love them.

HIGH FIDELITY (NICK HORN)

My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:

Tonight, for the first time ever, I can sort of see how it’s done.

A PAINTED HOUSE (JOHN GRISHAM)

The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day.

Her eyes closed, and a grin was slowly forming at the corners of her mouth.

BILLY BATHGATE (E.L. DOCTOROW)

He had to have planned it because when we drove onto the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was becasue there was no moon, nor no electric light either in the shack where the dockmaster should have been sitting, nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in all that darkness.

There was some confusion after that, of course, we had to go out and buy bottles and diapers, he didn’t come with any instructions, and my mother was a little slow remembering some of the things that had to be done when he cried and waved his arms about, but we adjusted to him soon enough and what I think of now is how we used to like to back to the East Bronx with him and walk him in his carriage on a sunny day along Bathgate Avenue, with all the peddlers calling out their prices and the stalls stacked with pyramids of oranges and grapes and peaches and melons, and the fresh bread in the windows of the bakeries with the electric fans in their transoms sending hot bread smells into the air, and the dairy with its tubs of butter and wood packs of farmer’s cheese, and the butcher wearing his thick sweater under his apron walking out of his ice room with a stack of chops on oiled paper, and the florist on the corner wetting down the vases of clustered cut flowers, and the children running past, and the gabbling old women carrying their shopping bags of greens and chickens, and the teenage girls holding whitte dresses on hangers to their shoulders, and the truckmen in their undershirts unloading their produce, and the horns honking and all the life of the city turning out to greet us just as in the old days of our happiness, before my fatehr fled, when the family used to go walking in this market, this bazaar of life, Bathgate, in the age of Dutch Schultz.

THE OLD HOUSE AT HOME (JOSEPH MITCHELL)

McSorley’s occupies the ground floor of a red-brick tenement at 15 Seventh Street, just off Cooper Square, where the Bowery ends.

“God be wit’ yez,” Kelly says as they go out the door.

THE HOT KID (ELMORE LEONARD)

Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and killing at Deering’s drugstore.

But the piece, “The Death of Jack Belmont” would need dramatic effects, a certain tone and a strong sense of place. Maybe call it “Death of an Oklahoma Oil Lease.” That wasn’t bad.

PISTOL: THE LIFE OF PETE MARAVICH (MARK KRIEGEL)

Press Maravich, then fourteen years old, can be seen in the 1929 Condor, yearbook of the Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, school district.

“Joy,” says the crazy dude. “It was pure joy.”

DISNEYWAR (JAMES B. STEWART)

On Monday morning, September 24, 1984, Michael Eisner woke up feeling a little nervous.

“I intend to create content forever,” Eisner tells me. “Or at least for as long as I can.”

SAMARITAN (RICHARD PRICE)

Entering Paulus Hook High School for only the second time since graduation twenty-five years earlier, Ray approached the security desk, a rickety card table set up beneath a blue-and-gold Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah banner, which still hung from the ceiling in the darkly varnished lobby four days into the New Year.

And Ray was happy.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE (GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ)

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out (the wind and exiled from the memory or men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

SEX, DRUGS AND COCOA PUFFS (CHUCK KLOSTERMAN)

No woman will ever satisfy me.

I’m hoping all those nuns were right: I’m angling for purgatory, and I’m angling hard.

MARK TWAIN: A LIFE (RON POWERS)

The prairie in its loneliness and peace: that was what came back to him toward the end of his life, after he had pulled the rug out from under all the literary nabobs, and fired off all his nubs and snappers, and sashayed through all the nations, and collected all his ceremonial gowns and degrees, and tweaked all the grinning presidents, and schmoozed all the newspaper reporters, and stuck it to all his enemies, and shocked all the librarians, and cried out all his midnight blasphemies, and buried most of his family.

He dozed into the early afternoon; awoke; took the hand of Clara beside him; faded some more; managed to say, “Good-by,” and then murmured something that might have been, “If we meet–” and then the faded again, and kept on fading, until there was nothing left of him to hold back the Great Dark descending on the world, except his words.

PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK (ANNIE DILLARD)

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.

And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says “Glory,” and my right foot says “Amen”: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.

U AND I (NICHOLSON BAKER)

On August 6, 1989, a Sunday, I lay back as usual with my feet in a reclining aluminum deck chair padded with blood-dotted pillows in my father-in-law’s study in Berkelty (we were house-sitting) and arranged my keyboard, resting on an abridged dictionary, on my lap.

And that’s all the imaginary friendship I need.

PUDD’NHEAD WILSON (MARK TWAIN)

The scene of this chronicle is the town of Dawson’s Landing, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi, half a day’s journey, per steamboat, below St. Louis.

As soon as the Governor understood the case, he pardoned Tom at once, and the creditors sold him down the river.

THE NARNIAN (ALAN JACOBS)

When Clive Staples Lewis was four year old, in 1902 or 1903, he quite suddenly announced to his mother, father, and older brother that from that day forth he would no longer be known as Clive, but rather as “Jacksie.”

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

LAKE WOBEGON SUMMER 1956 (GARRISON KEILLOR)

Saturday night, June 1956, now the sun going down at 7:50 P.M. and the sprinkler swishing in the front yard or our big green house on Green Street, big drops whapping the begonias and lilacs in front of the screened porch where Daddy and I lie reading.

Jesus told him to take it wasy and to come away from the window and get back to the singing and hallelujahs and the no-tears policy.

THE MAYTREES (ANNIE DILLARD)

It began when Lou Bigelow and To(Maytree first met.

Would he remember, at least at first, to watch for its own blue seas’ palming the earth?

A MATTER OF STYLE (MATTHEW CLARK)

Good writers need to be good editors of their own work, and one way to develop editorial skills is to practise editing whatever you happen to read.

If you are one of those — writers, editors, and readers — who like to know what lies behind the mystery, I hope you have enjoyed this book.

TISHOMINGO BLUES (ELMORE LEONARD)

Dennis Lenahan the high diver would tell people that if you put a fifty-cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that’s what the tank looked like from the top of that eighty-foot steel ladder.

Dennis said,”Let me think about it,” and paused and asked Robert, “You know anybody in Orlando?”

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (MARK HADDON)

It was 7 minutes after midnight.

And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.

THE KEEPERS OF TRUTH (MICHAEL COLLINS)

I call this one “Ode to a Trainee Manager.”

And just maybe it was enough for me. I hadn’t fully decided yet.

HOW TO WRITE (RICHARD RHODES)

If you want to write, you can.

Endings can also be beginnings. If you want to write, you can.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID (BILL BRYSON)

In the late 1950s, the Royal Canadian Air Force produced a booklet on isometrics, a form of exercise that enjoyed a short but devoted vogue with my father.

We won’t see its like again, I’m afraid.

SKINNY LEGS AND ALL (TOM ROBBINS)

It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey.

“Looky what I found for you lying in the rubble on the edge of Pales Plaza. It’s a spoon! A little ol’ spoon! Exactly like the one we lost in that cave that day! I mean exactly!”

THE BEST AMERICAN SPORTS WRITING 2008 GLENN STOUTT)

A Death in The Baseball Family

At first Tino Sanchez figured he had no choice but to quit baseball cold.

It will have to be enough to understand that such a notion is easy to forget, until a good man’s dying forces the world to pay attention at last.

SPUNK & BITE (ARTHUR PLOTNIK)

Sometimes when I’m digging for the right word, I long for a terrier-like acuity, a canine’s gifts applied to language.

Spunky.

LABRAVA (ELMORE LEONARD)

“He’s been taking pictures three years, look at the work,” Maurice said.

Then gave them a nice smile: maybe a little weary but still a nice one. Why not?

UNTO THE SONS (GAY TALESE)

The beach in winter was dank and desolate, and the island dampened (the frigid spray of the ocean waves pounding relentlessly against the beachfront bulkheads, and the seaweed-covered beams beneath the white houses on the dunes creaked as quietly as the crabs crawling nearby.

When Joseph next spoke, he did so in English, although his son found him no less bewildering than before, even as Joseph repeated: “Those who love you, make you cry…”

READING LIKE A WRITER (FRANCINE PROSE)

Can creative writing be taught?

If we wanted to grow roses, we would want to visit rose gardens and try to see them the way that a rose gardner would.

BE COOL (ELMORE LEONARD)

They sat at one of the sidewalk tables at Swingers, on the side of the coffee shop along Beverly Boulevard: Chili Palmer with the Cobb salad and iced tea, Tommy Athens the grilled pesto chicken and a bottle of Evian.

“Instead of us ****** up the story, let Scooter do it.

RISK (DAN GARDNER)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew a thing or two about fear.

Or we can simply spend an afternoon reading the monuments to our good fortune erected in every Victorian cemetery.

TRUE STORY (MICHAEL FINKEL)

This is a true story.

He won’t be pleased, he said, unless everything in this book is absolutely, unassailably true.

GAME OF KINGS (MICHAEL WEINREB)

On a drab September afternoon in Brooklyn, on the fourth floor of a sprawling red-brick school building set tight against the elevated subway line, the best fifteen-year-old chess player in the United States struts into a classroom and falls into a litany of complaint.

“Hey,” he said. “You guys want to go meet the president again?”

BLACK HAWK DOWN (MARK BOWDEN)

At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary.

They sang “God Bless America.”

THE GANG THAT COULDN’T WRITE STRAIGHT (MARC WEINGARTEN)

“Maybe we should just blow up the New Yorker building.”

And then Clay Felker, who had cowed politicians and made society matrons blush, openly wept.

A READER’S MANIFESTO (B.R. MYERS)

Nothing gives me the feeling of having been born several decades too late quite like the modern “literary” bestseller.

Well, taste and sensibility may not make a professional critic — I have an idea what counts for more in that line of work — but they are all that we readers need to distinguish good books from bad ones. And don’t let anyone tell you different.

EXPERIENCE (MARTIN AMIS)

We sat in high-bourgeois splendour, my father and I, in the house outside Barnet, having a pre-lunch drink and talking about his first published story, ‘The Sacred Rhino of Uganda’ (1932: he was ten).

My daughter, revolving on her axis for the first time in her life, and turning away from me. I hate it when they turn away.

LOLITA (VLADIMIR NABOKOV)

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, Lolita.

LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS (HEATHER O’NEILL)

Right before my twelfth birthday, my dad, Jules, and I moved into a two-room apartment in a building that we called the Ostrich Hotel.

Her green winter jacket smelled like rain.

AVA’S MAN (RICK BRAGG)

Ava met him at a box-lunch auction outside Gadsen, Alabama, when whe was barely fifteen, when a skinny boy in freshly washed overalls stepped from the crowd of bidders, pointed to her and said, “I got one dollar, (God.”

I bet he would give me some candy, and sing me a song.

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING (JOAN DIDION)

Those were the first words I wrote after it happened.

No eye is on the sparrow but he did tell me that.

BECOMING A WRITER (DOROTHEA BRANDE)

So, having made my apologies, and stated my belief, I am going, from now on, to address myself solely to those who hope to write.

Now read all the technical books on the writing of fiction that you can find. You are at last in a position to have them do you some good.

THE MEANING OF EVERYTING: THE STORY OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY (SIMON WINCHESTER)

The English language — so vast, so sprawling, so wonderfully unwiedly, so subtle, and now in its never-ending fullness fo undeniably magnificent — is in its essence a language of invasion.

The work that he had made, the magisterial creation of all his distinguished forefathers that he was now so proud to offer, was, as near as could be made, the perfect dictionary, and so it would ever remain.

PONTOON (GARRISON KEILLOR)

Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.

Night fell and Wisconsin passed in the dark, Chicago a distant glow in the sky, and the white stripes raced by, and the radio played one great song after another.

THE KNOWN WORLD (EDWARD P. JONES)

The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins.

Celeste was never to close down her days, even after Moses had died, without thinking aloud at least once to everyone and yet to no one in particular, “I wonder if Moses done ate yet.”

SCHULZ AND PEANUTS: A BIOGRAPHY (DAVID MICHAELIS)

The Great Troop Train, a quarter-mile of olive green carriages, rolled out of the depot and into the storm.

In the moment of ceasing to be a cartoonist, he ceased to be.

LITERARY JOURNALISM)

The Mountains of Pi (Richard Preston

Gregory Volfovich Chudnovsky recently built a supercomputer in his apartment from mail-order parts.

“Thanks for asking,” m zero remarks, on the screen.

THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER (GAY TALESE)

Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts of the world, the imperfections in people and places.

“The test of leadership,” Reston concluded, “is whether it leaves behind a situation which common sense and hard work can deal with successfully. Reverence for the symbol and fearlessness of revision — all that we have and mean to defend — all that and Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, and her children, and their children, who will learn the art in their time.”

THE ROAD (CORMAC MCCARTHY)

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.

In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

A WRITER’S LIFE (GAY TALESE)

I am not now, nor have I ever been, fond of the game of soccer.

As President Jiang walked toward Lui Ying and placed a ribboned medallion on her shoulders, he smiled and told her, “Don’t worry, there will be another day, and you will have another opportunity.”

THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION (MICHAEL CHABON)

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.

The land that he and she were promised was bounded only by the fringes of their wedding canopy, by the dog-eared corners of their cards of membership in an international fraternity whose members carry their patrimony in a tote bag, their world on the tip of their tongue. “Brennan,” Landsman says. “I have a story for you.”

OPEN (JOHN FEINSTEIN)

As soon as he saw the policeman standing in the middle of the road, waving him to stop, Scott McCarron knew he had made a mistake.

In a few minutes, Bethpage would be in his rearview mirror. For now.

THE NEW NEW THING (MICHAEL LEWIS)

The original plan, which Lord knows didn’t mean very much when that plan had been made by Jim Clark, was that we would test the boat quickly in the North Sea and then sail it across the Atlantic Ocean.

Hazel continued, “I remember him telling me when he came back from the Navy, ‘Mama, I’m going to show Plainview.'”

PALIMPSEST (GORE VIDAL)

In June of the year 1957, my half sister, Nina (known henceforward as Nini) Gore Auchincloss, married Newton Steers in St. John’s Church, “the church of the presidents,” in Washington, D.C.

Finally, I seem to have written, for the first and last time, not the ghost story that I feared but a love story, as circular in shape as desire (and its pursuit), ending with us whole at last in the shade or a copper beech. Meanwhile…

3 NIGHTS IN AUGUST (BUZZ BISSINGER)

With the series against the Cubs set to begin tonight in a matter of hours, Tony La Russa is doing what he has done since he first became a major-league manager at the uncertain age of thirty-four.

They will allow themselves the pleasure, for at least as long as it takes to strip off the uniform to grab the shower to change into the street clothes to go to the airport to fly on the charter to sleep in the hotel room to arrive at the ballpark to start another one beginning tomorrow, still what it is despite so many efforts to make it feel like something else, still a part of us even when we say never again, what La Russa believes it to be and will always believe it to be because a quarter century in the foxhole of the dugout, if it has taught him anything, has taught him this.

Beautiful. Just beautiful baseball.

ON BEAUTY (ZADIE SMITH)

One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father.

Though her hands were imprecise blurs, paint heaped on paint and roiled with the brush, the rest of her skin had been expertly rendered in all its variety — chalky whites and lively pinks, the underlying blue of her veins and the ever present human hint of yellow, intimation of what is to come.

LUCKY (ALICE SEBOLD)

This is what I remember. My lips were cut. I bit down on them when he grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth.

But it is later now, and I live in a world where the two truths coexist; where both hell and hope lie in the palm of my hand.

STEP ACROSS THIS LINE (SALMAN RUSHDIE)

Out of Kansas

I wrote my first short story in Bombay at the age of ten.

We are the humbugs now.

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Testimony Begins in Santa Claus Slayings (Leonora Bohen LaPeter

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Pause. Tap. Tap. Tap. Ashley Lewis hit the counter of the oak witness box with his index finger, mimicking what he heard through a crack in the bathroom window the night of Dec. 4, 1997, as he got ready for bed.

“This is a nightmare from which the Danielses will never awake, but it’s not your nightmare,” he said. “Your job is to take the evidence and come up with the truth.”

RANDOM HOUSE (ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC)

Jessica lived on Tremont Avenue, on one of the poorer blocks in a very poor section of the Bronx.

To himself, he said, “Listen, you light as a feather to me.”

SOMEBODY TOLD ME (RICK BRAGG)

Tried (deadly tornado, an anchor of faith holds

This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven.

Then, Hannah’s coffin was moved slowly back down the aisle to the hearse. The organist played “Jesus Loves Me.”

JOE DIMAGGIO: THE HERO’S LIFE (RICHARD BEN CRAMER)

Joe DiMaggio sat on the tar of the playground, with his back against the wall on the Powell Street side, his legs cocked in front of him like a couple of pickets.

All the nurse would remember was the weight of the gold, the edges worn smooth, and on the face, the soft sparkle of diamonds.

ON SPORTS (GEORGE PLIMPTON)

The Boston Celtics

I have had an ongoing love affair with the Boston Celtics ever since I played briefly with them in one of my participatory journalistic stints back in 1969.

Perhaps he dreams of hitting golf balls to the horizon.

THE GLASS CASTLE (JEANNETTE WALLS)

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster.

A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.

WRITING TOOLS (ROY PETER CLARK)

Americans do not write for many reasons.

And it will build your critical vocabulary for talking about your craft, a language about language that will lead you to the next level.

THE BLIND SIDE (MICHAEL LEWIS)

From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than to five.

“You tell Michael Oher I’ll be waiting for him,” he said, and walked into the locker room.

WRITING FOR STORY (JON FRANKLIN)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and dozens of others whose flames burn only slightly less luminously in the history of literature had on thing in common: They learned their craft by writing short stories.

“He had thought it was art that was innocent, but it wasn’t art that innocent. It was he.

A WRITER’S COACH (JACK HART)

Novices sometimes imagine writing as dark magic, something known only to some mystical inner circle.

Mastery is not some closely guarded mystery, but the step-by-step conquest of craft.

BAIT AND SWITCH (BARBARA EHRENREICH)

Because I’ve written a lot about poverty, I’m used to hearing from people in scary circumstances.

What they need, too, is not a “winning attitude” but a deeper and more ancient quality, one that I never once heard mentioned in my search, and that is courgage:the courage to come together and work for change, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

REPORTING (DAVID REMNICK)

The Wilderness Campaign: Al Gore

“Hey, Dwayne?…Dwayne?”

“It makes me wonder how you ever got elected to Congress in the first place,” I said. Gore didn’t deny it. “Sometimes I wonder that myself,” he said.

FACTS & ARGUMENTS: SELECTED ESSAYS FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Knowing and Needing the Enemy (David Martin

I have seen the life-prolonging effects of ill will.

If nobody hates you, you must be doing something wrong.

THE BEST AMERICAN MAGAZINE WRITING OF 2002)

Gone (Tom Junod

The first American they met when they came out of the jungle? That’s easy. It was a shrink.

“Well, I’ll be darned,” is all Steve Derry has to say before he sets his prey in the cold, clear water.

FIERCE PAJAMAS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF HUMOR WRITING FROM THE NEW YORKER)

Thank You for Stopping (Jack Handey

Thank you for stopping. You have obviously found me unconcious (the side of the road, or at a party, or possibly propped up against a wall someplace, and you have wisely reached into my pocket and found this medical history.

Thank you again for stopping. Now, please, stand back and give me some air.

IRONS IN THE FIRE (JOHN MCPHEE)

In Princeton, New Jersey, where I live, I was having lunch not long ago with a friend just home from Nevada.

Tomorrow, beside the corrals the powder will be a foot deep as cattle walk the fence line looking for their calves.

THE IMPOSSIBLE H.L. MENCKEN (H.L. MENCKEN)

Twenty-Five Years

It would be natural, I suppose, to say that the day when the Evening Sun was hatched seems only yesterday, but if I were on oath it would certainly be perjury, or something else of like wickedness and the same name.

Here, as in so many other fields, capitalism shames the mountebanks who deride it.

MONEYBALL (MICHAEL LEWIS)

The first thing they always did was run you.

And those players who had been on the receiving end of the idea were now busy returning the favour.

A CIVIL ACTION (JONATHAN HARR)

The lawyer Jan Schlichtmann was awakened (the telephone at eight-thirty on a Saturday morning in mid-July.

But then this thought turned on itself, and he began swimming slowly back.

ON WRITING (STEPHEN KING)

I was stunned (Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars’ Club.

Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.

NEWJACK (TED CONOVER)

Six-twenty A.M. and the sun rises over a dark place.

I only wondered how bad things would have to get before he could see it burning down with himself inside.

LIFE STORIES: PROFILES FROM THE NEW YORKER)

Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale (Kenneth Tynam

July 14, 1977: There is a dinner party tonight at the Beverly Hills home of Irving Lazar, doyen of agents and agent of doyens.

Long — or, at least, as long as the air at the summit continues to nourish and elate him — may he stay there.

MY DETACHMENT (TRACY KIDDER)

I am the author of Ivory Fields, a novel.

I got down on one knee, stuck my hand under the table, and was groping for the cushion, when I heard Pancho say, musingly to himself, “Same old lieutenant.”

THE BULLFIGHTER CHECKS HER MAKEUP (SUSAN ORLEAN)

A Gentle Reign

Kwabena Oppong, who it the king and supreme ruler of the African Ashanti tribespeople living in the United States of America, has a throne in his living room.

“I’m going to open a wholesale beer-and-soda shop in the Bronx. All the Africans love to party, and they can buy all their beer and soda from me,” he said. “Maybe I’ll call it the King’s Place.”

THE DEVIL PROBLEM AND OTHER TRUE STORIES (DAVID REMNICK)

I’m Back

Nearly all the old American basketball arenas have been abandoned or razed, victims of the corporate demand for more “luxury suites,” more room to hawk the beer and the cheese dogs and the “regulation” Nerf balls.

This time, he shared the ball with Pippen, and the two of them destroyed New York. Jordan is right. He’s back.

THE NEW NEW JOURNALISM (ROBERT S. BOYNTON)

Ted Conover

The first time Ted Conover was asked if he was a tramp he wasn’t sure how to respond.

Using Newjack as their guide, a group of Sing Sing inmates hatched an ingenious (though unsucessful) escape plan in which they would pose as guards.

THE GAY TALESE READER (GAY TALESE)

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold

Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something.

Just before the light turned green, Sinatra turned toward her, looked directly into her eyes, waiting for the reaction he knew would come. It came, and he smiled. She smiled, and he was gone.

BACKSTORY: INSIDE THE BUSINESS OF NEWS (KEN AULETTA)

The Howell Doctrine

A man who takes the subway wearing the white panama hat of a plantation owner is either blithely arrogant or irrepressibly self-confident, and in the nine months that Howell Raines has been the executive editor of the Times both qualities have been imputed to him.

“The caricature of me that I see in some of these accounts is completely unrecognizable to me. And therefore not particularly disturbing. I know who I am and I know where I will come out.”

THE REAL THING: TRUTH AND POWER AT THE COCA-COLA COMPANY (CONSTANCE L. HAYS)

On a bright fall morning in 1994, Doug Ivestor, the recently anointed president of the Coca-Cola Company, was driving himself to Rome, Georgia, spinning north along the interstate, the steel-and-glass towers of Atlanta receding behind him as the landscape became an uneven blanket of pines.

They knew the formula. They had done it before. They would just have to do it again.

THE JOLLITY BUILDING (A.J. LIEBLING)

In the Jollity Building, which stands six stories high and covers half of a Broadway block in the high Forties, the term “promoter” means a man who mulcts another man of a dollar, or any fraction or multiple thereof.

“He was a nice kid,” Goldman said to me, “but he never trained right. He relied on his ticker to get him by. He had plenty of moxie, but it is just like I am always saying to my kids. If the flesh is weak, the spirit don’t mean a thing.”

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (ANTHONY BOURDAIN)

My first indication that food was something other than a substance one stuffed in one’s face when hungry — like filling up at a gas station — came after fourth grade elementary school.

It’s been an adventure. we took some casualties over the years. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

NEVER DRANK THE KOOL-AID (TOURE)

Trainspotting

Cope is a heavyset, twenty-eight-year-old Bronx-born Puerto Rican father of two who is nearing the end of an illustrious fifteen-year career as a graffiti writer.

Later that morning the pain will be discovered and washed off, so Cope pulls out a camera and records their night’s work for posterity.

UP IN THE OLD HOTEL (JOSEPH MITCHELL)

Professor Seagull

Joe Gould is a blithe and emaciated little man who has been a notable in the cafeterias, diners, barrooms, and dumps of Greenwich Village for a quarter of a century.

IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY (BILL BRYSON)

Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister was.

You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that is really all I’m saying.

WITHOUT FEATHERS (WOODY ALLEN)

A brief, yet helpful guide to civil disobedience

In perpetrating a revolution, there are two requirements: someone or something to revolt against and someone to actually show up and do the revolting.

Miscellaneous method of Civil Disobedience: Pretending to be an artichoke but punching people as they pass.

LIAR’S POKER (MICHAEL LEWIS)

It was sometime early in 1986, the first year of the decline of my firm, Salomon Brothers.

It was refreshing to hear a case for unpredictability in this age of careful career planning. It would be nice if it were true.

FOLLOW THE STORY (JAMES STEWART)

We seem to be living in an age of know-it-alls: talk show hosts, expert witnesses, pundits, gurus on every conceivable subject.

You will then be able to experience within yourself the greatest reward that writing, or surely any endeavor can offer, for through yourk work, you will have helped create a better world.

DAVE BARRY TURNS 50 (DAVE BARRY)

I am NOT going to whine.

And the grandchild will say: “My name isn’t Johnny.” And we’ll say: “Well, then, get off my knee.”

THE SOUND ON THE PAGE (BEN YAGODA)

We can turn to etymology to understand the origin of the meaning of style — but only at the risk of being seriously misled.

In the quiet, you can listen to your sound in various manifestations; then you can start to shape it and develop it. That project can last as long as you keep writing, and it never gets old.

JUST ENOUGH LIEBLING (A.J. LIEBLING)

The World of Sport

A police reporter sees more than he can set down; a feature writer sets down more than he possibly can have seen.

So I lost my first newspaper job.

WHY I HATE CANADIANS (WILL FERGUSON)

It begins on an airplane, high above the Pacific.

Canada. My homeland. It was good to be back.

ARC OF JUSTICE: A SAGA OF RACE, CIVIC RIGHTS, AND MURDER IN THE JAZZ AGE (KEVIN BOYLE)

The streets of Detroit shimmered with heat.

THE RIGHT STUFF (TOM WOLFE)

Within five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, three of the others had called her on the telephone to ask her if she had heard that something had happened out there.

But at least he would be remembered. It would have been still more impossible for his confreres to realize that the day might come when Americans would hear their names and say, “Oh yes — now, which one was he?”

THE JOY OF WRITING (PIERRE BERTON)

It is nine-thirty of a weekday morning and I am galloping through my breakfast, flirting with indigestion because I cannot wait to get to my typewriter and start writing.

I’ve already been awake awhile, but I’m still in bed, working out the next chapter of my newest offering and looking forward to a whole grapefruit and a couple of coddled eggs on Balabrese toast. That too is one of the joys of writing.

THIS BOY’S LIFE (TOBIAS WOLFF)

Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide.

Our voices were strong. It was a good night to sing and we sang for all we were worth, as if we’d been saved.

THE BEST OF LEACOCK (STEPHEN LEACOCK)

Roughing It in the Bush

The season is now opening when all those who have a manly streak in them live to get out into the bush and ‘rough it’ for a week or two of hunting or fishing.

If any moose comes to our lodge, we’ll shoot him, or tell the butler to. But if not —well, we’ve got along without for ten years. I don’t suppose we shall worry.

A GOOD LIFE (BEN BRADLEE)

It was a balmy fall day — October 2, 1940.

That’s when a newspaperman can get on with the job he was born to do. Not many of us were lucky enough to get that exhilarating opportunity. Again and again and again.

THE BEST AMERICAN SPORTS WRITING OF THE CENTURY )

The Silent Season of a Hero (Gay Talese

It was not quite spring, the silent season before the search for salmon, and the old fishermen of San Francisco were either painting their boats or repairing their nets along the pier or sitting in the sun talking quietly among themselves, watching the tourists come and go, and smiling, now, as a pretty girl paused to take their picture.

Then DiMaggio said to one of them, not in anger or in sadness, but merely as a simply stated fact, “here was a time when you couldn’t get me out of there.”

The Power and the Glory (Paul Solotaroff

Half the world was in mortal terror of him.

In this second stone age, the America of Schwarzkopt and Schwarzenegger, someone needs to tell them that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes, bigger is deader.

HERE AT THE NEW YORKER (BRENDAN GILL)

Happy writers have histories shorter even than happy families.

FREAKANOMICS (STEVEN D. LEVITT AND STEPHEN J. DUBNER)

Anyone living in the United States in the early 1990s and paying even a whisper of attention to the nightly news or a daily paper could be forgiven for having been scared out of his skin.

The white child also made it to Harvard. But soon after, things went badly for him. His name is Ted Kaczynski.

BLINK (MALCOLM GLADWELL)

In September of 1983, an art dealer (the name of Gianfranco Becchina approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

When the screen created a pure Blink moment, a small miracle happened, the kind of small miracle that is always possilbe when we take charge of the first two seconds: they saw her for who she truly is.

THE WHITE ALBUM (JOAN DIDION)

Many Mansions

One hears every possible reason for not living in the house except the one that counts: it is the kind of house that has a wet bar in the living room. It is the kind of house that has a refreshment center. It is the kind of house in which one does not live, but there in no way to say this without getting into touchy and evanscent and finally inadmissible questions of taste, and ultimately of class. I have seldom seen a house so evocative of the unspeakable.

NEWSPAPER DAYS (H.L. MENCKEN)

My father died on Friday, January 13, 1899, and was buried on the ensuing Sunday. On the Monday evening immediately following, having shaved with care and put on my best suit of clothes, I presented myself in the city-room of the old Baltimore Morning Herald, and applied to Max Ways, the city editor, for a job on his staff.

THE PERFECT MILE (NEAL BASCOMB)

On July 16, 1952, at Motspur Park in South London, two men were running around a black cinder track in singlets and shorts.

Sport, like all life, is about taking your chances.

DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM (DAVID SEDARIS)

Us and Them

When my family first moved to North Carolina, we lived in a rented house three blocks from the school where I would begin third grade.

This teenage girl, her hair a beautiful mane, sipping Pepsi through a straw, one picture after another, on and on until the news, and whatever came on after the news.

MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS (TRACY KIDDER)

Six years after the fact, Dr. Paul Edward Farmer reminded me, ‘We met because of a beheading, of all things.’

For myself, right now, I like the sound, like so many hearts beating through a single stethoscope.

SAM (TOM HALLMAN, JR.)

A movie flickers on the screen set up in front of the chalkboard, but almost none of the twenty-eight eight-graders pay attention.

He looked up. He felt the heat on his face. He knew he was blushing. She was still smiling. And he smiled too.

THE ART AND CRAFT OF FEATURE WRITING (WILLIAM E. BLUNDEL)

Bereft of new ideas, a reporter spies his boss approaching with glittering eye.

Style can’t grow where fear taints the ground.

CANDY FREAK (STEVE ALMOND)

The answer is that we don’t choose our freaks, they choose us.

He spent the remainder of my visit gazing plaintively into my face, repeating a single, solemn incantation: I want jelly beans. There is hope for him yet.

ANOTHER BULL**** NIGHT IN SUCK CITY (NICK FLYNN)

Please, she whispers, how may I help you?

He walks me to my car, points to the tree beside it — that tree too — he’s leaning into my window now, if I were to pull away I would drag him with me — eventhough it’s not in front of my door. I was feeling generous.

EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES (LYNNE TRUSS)

Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t.

Doesn’t it feel good to know this, though? It does. It really does.

15. THE KNOW-IT-ALL (A.J. JACOBS)

I know the name of Turkey’s leading avant-garde publication.

And I know that I’ve got my life back and that in a few moments, I’m going to have a lovely dinner with my wife.

14. E.B. WHITE: WRITINGS FROM THE NEW YORKER, 1927-1976 (E.B. WHITE )

Life

At eight of a hot morning, the cicada speaks his first piece.

Life, he says, reminisicing. Life.

13. AMONG SCHOOLCHILDREN (TRACY KIDDER)

She was thirty-four. She wore a white skirt and yellow sweater and a thin gold necklace, which she held in her fingers, as if holding her own reins, while waiting for children to answer.

There were many problems that she hadn’t solved. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. She hadn’t given up. She had run out of time.

12. THE SOUL OF A NEW MACHINE (TRACY KIDDER)

For a time after the first pieces of Routh 495 were laid down across central Masachusetts, in the middle of the 1960s, the main hazard to drivers was a deer.

It was a different game now. Clearly, the machine no longer belonged to its makers.

11. HOLIDAYS IN HELL (P.J. O’ROURKE)

I’ve been working as a foreign correspondent for the past four years, although “working” isn’t the right word and ‘foreign correspondent’ is too dignified a title.

Trouble doesn’t come from white capitalist pigs, it comes from the heart.

10. BARNEY’S VERSION (MORDECAI RICHLER)

Terry’s the spur. The splinter under my fingernail.

But, oh God, it’s too late for Barney. He’s beyond understanding now. Damn damn damn.

9. A BEND IN THE RIVER (V.S. NAIPAUL)

The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.

The searchlight, while it was on, had shown thousands, white in the white light.

8. TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE (NORMAN MAILER)

At dawn, if it was low tide on the flats, I would awaken to the chatter of gulls.

What the devil, he had been ready to die for her, not I.

7. THE WRITER AND THE WORLD: ESSAYS (V.S. NAIPAUL)

In the Middle of the Journey

Coming from a small island — Trinidad is no bigger than Gao — I had always been fascinated (size. To see the wide river, the high mountain, to take the twenty-four hour train journey: these were some of the delights the outside world offered.

Perhaps it is this, this vastness which no one can ever get to know: India as an ache, for which one has a great tenderness, but from which at length one always wishes to separate oneself.

6. FAIR PLAY AND DAYLIGHT: (THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ESSAYS)

Susan Riley: Dark Towers

Unlike other injustices, the crimes committed (architecture tend to be irreversible.

But the damage has been done, the crime committed. Most of us will spend our lifetimes living with the consequences.

Dave Brown: The Phoney Newpaper War

The wars between the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Journal lasted 95 years. For most of those years it was a fixed fight.

The journal sank not because of collusion, but from a lack of it.

5. THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG (NORMAN MAILER)

Brenda was six when she fell out of the apple tree.

Then she would say to herself, ‘If they want to shoot me, I have the same kind of guts Gary has. Let them come.’

4. HELTER SKELTER (VINCENT BUGLIOSI)

It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.

After sentencing, I didn’t anticipate ever seeing Charles Manson again. But I’d see him twice more, the last time under very peculiar circumstances.

3. IN COLD BLOOD (TRUMAN CAPOTE)

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.”

Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.

2. THE TIPPING POINT (MALCOLM GLADWELL)

For Hush Puppies — the classic American brushed-suede shoes with the lightweight crepe sole — the Tipping Point came somewhere between late 1994 and 1995.

Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push — in just the right place — it can be tipped.

1. ON WRITING WELL (WILLIAM ZINSSER)

A school in Connecticut once held “a day devoted to the arts,” and I was asked if I would come and talk about writing as a vocation.

Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.