Most young dealers of the Silicon Chip Era regard a reference library as merely a waste of space. Old Timers on the West Coast seem to retain a fondness for reference books that goes beyond the practical. Everything there is to know about a given volume may be only a click away, but there are still a few of us who'd rather have the book than the click. A bookman's love of books is a love of books, not merely of the information in them.
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Obviously, where art has it over life is in the matter of editing. Life can be seen to suffer from a drastic lack of editing. It stops too quick, or else it goes on too long. Worse, its pacing is erratic. Some chapters are little more than a few sentences in length, while others stretch into volumes. Life, for all its raw talent, has little sense of structure. It creates amazing textures, but it can't be counted on for snappy beginnings or good endings either. Indeed, in many cases no ending is provided at all.
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But, if one cuts more deeply, the lonesome dove is Newt, a lonely teenager who is the unacknowledged son of Captain Call and a kindly whore named Maggie, who is now dead. So the central theme of the novel is not the stocking of Montana but unacknowledged paternity. All of the Hat Creek Outfit, including particularly Augustus McCrae, want Call to accept the boy as his son.
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One day Augustus asked Newt to ride along with him, much to Newt's surprise. In the morning they saw a grizzly, but the bear was far upwind and didn't scent them. It was a beautiful day-no clouds in the sky. Augustus rode with his big rifle propped across the saddle-he was in the highest of spirits. They rode ahead of the herd some fifteen miles or more, and yet when they stopped to look back they could still see the cattle, tiny black dots in the middle of the plain, with the southern horizon still far behind them.
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The thought cross his mind that he ought to have married her and not gone rambling. If he had, he wouldn't be in such a fix. But he felt little fear; just an overpowering fatigue. Life had slipped out of line. It was unfair, it was too bad, but he couldn't find the energy to fight it any longer.
The eastern sky was red as coals in a forge, lighting up the flats along the river. Dew had wet the million needles of the chaparral, and when the rim of the sun edged over the horizon the chaparral seemed to be spotted with diamonds. A bush in the backyard was filled with little rainbows as the sun touched the dew. It was tribute enough to sunup that it could make even chaparral bushes look beautiful, Augustus thought, and he watched the process happily, knowing it would only last a few minutes. The sun spread reddish-gold light through the shining bushes, among which a few goats wandered, bleating. Even when the sun rose above the low bluffs to the south, a layer of light lingered for a bit at the level of the chaparral, as if independent of its source. The the sun lifted clear, like an immense coin. The dew quickly died, and the light that filled the bushes like red dirt dispersed, leaving clear, slightly bluish air. It was good reading light by then, so Augustus applied himself for a few minutes to the Prophets. He was not overly religious, but he did consider himself a fair prophet and liked to study the styles of his predecessors. They were mostly too long-winded, in his view, and he made no effort to read them verse for verse-he just had a look here and there, while the biscuits were browning.
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For the past several centuries the bonding power of the family dinner table has been one of the few constants, and now it's binding no more. The potency of the media is now stronger than that of the family. The wonder is that families still exist at all, since the forces of modern life mainly all pull people away from a family centered way of life.
Working- and Middle-class families sat down at the dinner table every night - the shared meal was the touchstone of good manners. Indeed, that dinner table was the one time when we were all together, every day: parents, grandparents, children, siblings. Rudeness between siblings, or a failure to observe the etiquette of passing dishes to one another, accompanied by "please" and "thank you," was the training ground of behavior, the place where manners began.
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I remember that the single most vicious letter I ever read was the letter Hemingway wrote Scribners when they asked him to give a blurb for From Here to Eternity. It's there, in the Selected Letters for all to read, an example of a once great writer at his very worst. I doubt that he ever forgave Scribners for publishing James Jones in the first place. War, as Hemingway saw it, belonged to him.
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Call saw that everyone was looking at him, the hands and cowboys and townspeople alike. The anger had drained out of him, leaving him feeling tired. He didn't remember the fight, particularly, but people were looking at him as if they were stunned. He felt he should make some explanation, though it seemed to him a simple situation. "I hate a man that talks rude," he said. "I won't tolerate it.
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I make my share of mistakes, but one I never make is to underestimate the power of things. People imbued from childhood with the myth of the primacy of feeling seldom like to admit they really want things as much as they might want love, but my career has convinced me that plenty of them do. And some want things a lot worse than they want love.
You expect far too much of a first sentence. Think of it as analagous to a good country breakfast: what we want is something simple, but nourishing to the imagination. Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two.
Call listened with amusement--not that the incident hadn't been terrible. Being decapitated was a grisly fate, whether you were a Yankee or not. But then, amusing things happened in battle, as they did in the rest of life. Some of the funniest things he had ever witnessed had occurred during battles. He had always found it more satisfying to laugh on a battlefield than anywhere else, for if you lived to laugh on a battlefield, you could feel you had earned the laugh. But if you just laughed in a saloon, or at a social, the laugh didn't reach deep.
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