Somehow children arrive on the planet knowing how to suck on a breast, knowing how to crawl, and knowing how to laugh. They know how to laugh before they know how to talk, as if joy itself is a more important survival skill than language.

— Jennifer Finney Boylan, Stuck in the Middle with You

Ordinary life

There was no such thing as “ordinary life.” He had always liked the idea of the surrealists that our ability to experience the world as extraordinary was dulled by habituation. We grew used to the way things were, to the dailiness of life, and a sort of dust or film obscured our vision, and the true, miraculous nature of life on earth eluded us…People retreated behind their front doors into the hidden zone of their private, family worlds and when when outsiders asked how things were they answered, Oh, everything’s going along just fine, not much to report, situation normal. But everyone secretly knew that behind that door things were rarely humdrum. More typically, all hell was breaking loose, as people dealt with their angry fathers, drunken mothers, resentful siblings, mad aunts, lecherous uncles and crumbling grandparents. The family was not the firm foundation upon which society rested, but stood at the dark chaotic hear of everything that ailed us. It was not normal, but surreal; not humdrum, but filled with event; not ordinary, but bizarre.

— Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (103-104)

A double unbelonging

It was unsettling not to understand why the shape of life had changed. He often felt meaningless, even absurd. He was a Bombay boy who had made his life in London among the English, but often he felt cursed by a double unbelonging. The root of language, at least, remained, but he began to appreciate how deeply he felt the loss of the other roots, and how confused he felt about what he had become. In the age of migration the world’s millions of migrated selves faced colossal problems, problems of homelessness, hunger, unemployment, disease, persecution, alienation, fear. He was one of the luckier ones, but the great problem remained: that of authenticity…He needed to make an act of the Indian identity he had lost, or felt he was in danger of losing. The self was both its origins and its journey.

- Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (54)

American dream

Gwen found herself in possession, coolly palmed in her thoughts like a dollar coin, of the idea that she was about to bring another abandoned son into the world, the son of an abandoned son. The heir to a history of disappointment and betrayal, violence and loss. Centuries of loss, empires of disappointment. All the anger that Gwen had been feeling, not just today or over the past nine months but all her life — feeding on it like the sun, using it to power her engines, to fund her stake in the American dream — struck her for the first time as a liability. As purely tragic. There was no way to partake of it without handing it on down the generations.

— Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue (451)

On reading

You should never just read for “enjoyment.” Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick “hard books.” Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth, fool!

— John Waters, “Bookworm,” Role Models (118)

The perks of being rich

Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own; it’s the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it. Of course, you have to read the books, too. Nothing is more impotent than an unread library.

— John Waters, “Bookworm,” Role Models (118)

New Yorkers

In order to accept the dreary and oppressive conditions of life in Manhattan, or even Park Slope or Astoria — in a city where five million dollars is not enough to buy an apartment all that much bigger than the one you live in — you need to drink the Big Apple-flavored Kool-Aid. You must bow to that false idol that is the god of Gotham. As Born Agains evince a faith in Christ’s salvation that borders on delusional, so a not terribly successful screenwriter-cum-HR-generalist and a not terribly successful acress-cum-marketing-manager who pay two grand for six hundred square feet of squalid living space five elevatorless flights above the ground-level grime must rationalize this prohibitive expense by believing absolutely that New York is an Artist’s Paradise, and the rest of the nation so many benighted circles of Limbaughian hell.

— Greg Olear, Fathermucker (35)


The appeal of co-sleeping, to me, is right up there with castration. While there are undoubtedly moments of sweetness —parents and child lovingly nestled together, like so many puppies in a basket — the family bed is like Iraq: there’s no exit strategy. Once embedded between Mommy and Daddy, the kid remains there until the troops come home. She’s there until she starts dating.

— Greg Olear, Fathermucker (6-7)

Limitless love

I missed Gray. I missed his shoe collection in the closet. I missed watching him brush his hair, as if I was seeing something I shouldn’t. He said he felt effeminate styling his hair in front of me, pulling it back into a slick ponytail. I missed his body in the bed, the way he slept with one arm tossed across my back.

But when I lay in bed at night I saw the deep abscesses on the chests of sheep, dragging themselves to food and water across a rock-strewn lawn. The scared eyes of the feral cats underneath the sofa. I felt the warm bodies of the retrievers next to me, the kind of limitless love other people dreamed of and I had — all to myself.

— Megan Mayhew Bergman, “Every Vein a Tooth,” Birds of a Lesser Paradise (177)

Old Movies

I liked the starlets in old movies — their neatly nipped waists, thick lipstick, and cherry-pie sopranos. I liked the way they looked when they drank, their red nails on the crystal highball. In old movies, America was beautiful, women could still feign naivete, men worked one job their entire lives, and everyone could carry a tune. Who didn’t want to live in an old movie.

— Megan Mayhew Bergman, “Another Story She Won’t Believe,” Birds of a Lesser Paradise (105)