Gandhi was such an important figure to the pacifists of the '30s, and he was such an extraordinary embodiment of nonviolence, that I thought it was necessary to have him in there. When he would say something about the war, it was to some extent news - and he was sure to have a response that was different from that of other world leaders.
Gandhi was important for another reason as well: his country was suffering under the British Empire, and yet he was leading a very singular kind of resistance to it. At the time he was speaking about the violence in Europe, his followers were in jail as prisoners of the British government.
From my music training, I knew that, some Spanish rhythms apart, 5/4 is a time signature used only in the modern era. Holst's Mars from the Planets is 5/4. But if you speak lines of poetry in that pattern you just end up hitting the off-beats. It's only when you add a rest - a sixth beat - that it sounds as it surely should sound.
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The equivocations, the confusions, the contradictions. There's no way we can live through or comprehend something so big that happened so long ago. We've lost true history. But if we are willing to tolerate the contradictions, and if we suffer through events rather than ticking them off, we may at least get closer to understanding what happened than if we grip the handrail of a carefully polished and reassuringly heroic narrative.
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One day the English language is going to perish. The easy spokenness of it will perish and go black and crumbly - maybe - and it will become a language like Latin that learned people learn. And scholars will write studies of Larry Sanders and Friends and Will and Grace and Ellen and Designing Women and Mary Tyler Moore, and everyone will see that the sitcom is the great American art form. American poetry will perish with the language; the sitcoms, on the other hand, are new to human evolution and therefore will be less perishable.
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It's time for bed. And here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to get in bed, and I don't have anyone to sleep with now, so what I do is I sleep with my books. And I know that's kind of weird and solitary and pathetic. But if you think about it, it's very cozy. Over a period of four, five, six, seven, nine, twenty nights of sleeping, you've taken all these books to bed with you, and you fall asleep, and the books are there. Some of the books are thick, and some are thin, some of the books are in hardcover and some in paperback. Sometimes they get rolled up with the pillows and the blankets. And I never make the bed. So it's like a stew of books. The bed is the liquid medium. It's a Campbell's Chunky Soup of books. The bed you eat with a fork.
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Friends, both the imaginary ones you build for yourself out of phrases taken from a living writer, or real ones from college, and relatives, despite all the waste of ceremony and fakery and the fact that out of an hour of conversation you may have only five minutes in which the old entente reappears, are the only real means for foreign ideas to enter your brain.
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Will you dance for me? Let your breasts roam for a moment - I need to see how they dance.' 'Okay.' She danced, and as she danced, she tried to think of the most delicious salads she could imagine - with artichokes and sundried tomato and blue cheese dressing, and beets, lots of beets.
I hadn't played any music since freshman year of college, more than thirty years ago, so I had to relearn everything. I started writing songs. Some were dance and trance songs (I listen to them a lot while I'm writing), and some were love songs, because that after all is what music is about - dancing and trancing and love and love's setbacks.
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Churchill was a brilliant and inspiring rhetorician, but one of the first things he did as the head of the British nation was to put German Jews in jail. Tens of thousands of Jews - who had just been fortunate enough to get out from under Hitler only a few years before - spent the entire war in jail.
What's somewhat puzzling is that Churchill himself knew what the reaction would be to any sort of aerial attack on cities, because in 1938 he said that in a future war British cities would be attacked by bombing, and that the response would be that all men would want to join the fight because they would be so incensed by this cowardly manner of attack. Which is a very natural response: when something drops on you from the air and blows up a bunch of buildings and kills people in their sleep, the reaction is going to be rage, confusion, and a search for something to destroy in retaliation.
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So what rhyming poems do is they take all these nearby sound curves and remind you that they first existed that way in your brain. Before they meant something specific, they had a shape and a way of being said. And now, yes, gloom and broom are floating fifty miles away from each other in you mind because they refer to different notions, but they're cheek-by-jowl as far as your tongue is concerned. And that's what a poem does. Poems match sounds up the way you matched them when you were a tiny kid, using that detachable front phoneme.
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A problem that I have with everything fictional is that writers are always having to come up with sudden artillery explosions in the middle of whatever is going on. The characters are having interesting, subtle interactions, or jealousies, or whatever it is, and suddenly some gigantic angry eruption has to happen, a giant gasp where everyone has to scramble around. That's the point where I'm turned off. I want the dynamic range to be a little smaller. I don't like the big false bangs.
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Some TV shows are like really good novels in that there are enough episodes that you start to have your own feelings about how the characters should act. When the scriptwriters go slightly wrong, when they make the character make a left turn that he or she wouldn't do, you know enough about the characters to say, "No, that's not what she would do there. That's wrong." You can actually argue with a TV show in a way that you can't do as much with movie - you inhabit a TV show in the way you inhabit a novel.
I certainly felt I had an idea of World War II, and it's probably the idea that many people share: there was this insane aggressor, and there was really only one way to proceed in resisting him. What I didn't realize is that there were many voices belonging to reasonable, interesting, complicated people who had a different way of interpreting the possible responses to the Hitlerian menace.
There's something paralyzing about being a writer that you have to escape. I don't want to think of myself as a guy who's written a bunch of books. The 26 letters distance us from our own hesitations and they make us sound as if we know what we're doing. We know grammar, we know prose, but actually we're all just struggling in the dark, really.
When the excessively shy force themselves to be forward, they are frequently surprisingly unsubtle and overdirect and even rude: they have entered an extreme region beyond their normal personality, an area of social crime where gradations don't count; unavailable to them are the instincts and taboos that booming extroverts, who know the territory of self-advancement far better, can rely on.
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Writing has to do with truth-telling. When you're writing, let's say, an essay for a magazine, you try to tell the truth at every moment. You do your best to quote people accurately and get everything right. Writing a novel is a break from that: freedom. When you're writing a novel, you are in charge; you can beef things up.
I wrote about World War II because I didn't understand it. I think that's the reason that historians are drawn to any subject - there's something about it that doesn't make sense. I wanted to work my way through what happened slowly, and look at everything in the order in which it took place.
Perforation! Shout it out! The deliberate punctuated weakening of paper and cardboard so that it will tear along an intended path, leaving a row of fine-haired pills or tuftlets on each new edge! It is a staggering conception, showing an age-transforming feel for the unique properties of pulped wood fiber.
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I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night? The out-of-tuneness of the triad is part of its beauty.
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