What to call it - the spark of God? Survival instinct? The souped-up computer of an apex brain evolved from eons in the R&D of natural selection? You could practically see the neurons firing in the kid's skull. His body was all spring and torque, a bundle of fast-twitch muscles that exuded faint floral whiffs of ripe pear. So much perfection in such a compact little person - Billy had to tackle him from time to time, wrestle him squealing to the ground just to get that little rascal in his hands, just your basic adorable thirty-month-old with big blue eyes clear as chlorine pools and Huggies poking out of his stretchy-waist jeans. So is this what they mean by the sanctity of life? A soft groan escaped Billy when he thought about that, the war revealed in this fresh and gruesome light. Oh. Ugh. Divine spark, image of God, suffer the little children and all that - there's real power when words attach to actual things. Made him want to sit right down and weep, as powerful as that. He got it, yes he did, and when he came home for good he'd have to meditate on this, but for now it was best to compartmentalize, as they said, or even better not to mentalize at all.
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The strange, wonderful stories of Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain introduce us to the tremendously gifted Kirsten Menger-Anderson, a writer whose subject is nothing less than the diagnosis and cure of the human malady. We follow twelve generations of New York City's Steenwycks family through their forays into phrenology, mesmerism, radium therapy and similar misadventures, a historically rich narrative that Menger-Anderson delivers in striking, elegant prose and with a sure eye for detail. This is a remarkable debut by a writer to watch.
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Much of life, fatherhood included, is the story of knowledge acquired too late: if only I'd known then what I know now, how much smarter, abler, stronger, I would have been. But nothing really prepares you for kids, for the swells of emotion that roll through your chest like the rumble of boulders tumbling downhill, nor for the all-enveloping labor of it, the sheer mulish endurance you need for the six or seven hundred discrete tasks that have to be done each and every day. Such a small person! Not much bigger than a loaf of bread at first, yet it takes so much to keep the whole enterprise going. Logistics, skills, materiel; the only way we really learn is by figuring it out as we go along, and even then it changes on us every day, so we're always improvising, which is a fancy way of saying that we're doing things we technically don't know how to do.
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So what does it mean for a person to devote himself or herself to, as you put it, 'literary reading and thinking'? I would argue this is a person who's trying to see things for what they are. Who's interested in distinguishing the truth from the lies, the real from the fake, the solid from the cheap. Those are the people who want to think for themselves, and I really question whether we can make good lives for ourselves if we aren't doing our own thinking.
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Billy tries to imagine the vast systems that support these athletes. They are among the best-cared for creatures in the history of the planet, beneficiaries of the best nutrition, the latest technologies, the finest medical care, they live at the very pinnacle of American innovation and abundance, which inspires an extraordinary thought - send them to fight the war! Send them just as they are this moment, well rested, suited up, psyched for brutal combat, send the entire NFL! Attack with all our bears and raiders, our ferocious redskins, our jets, eagles, falcons, chiefs, patriots, cowboys - how could a bunch of skinny hajjis in man-skits and sandals stand a chance against these all-Americans? Resistance is futile, oh Arab foes. Surrender now and save yourself a world of hurt, for our mighty football players cannot be stopped, they are so huge, so strong, so fearsomely ripped that mere bombs and bullets bounce off their bones of steel. Submit, lest our awesome NFL show you straight to the flaming gates of hell!
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Where else but America could football flourish, America with its millions of fertile acres of corn, soy, and wheat, its lakes of dairy, its year-round gushers of fruits and vegetables, and such meats, that extraordinary pipline of beef, poultry, seafood, and pork, feedlot gorged, vitamin enriched, and hypodermically immunized, humming factories of high-velocity protein production, all of which culminate after several generations of epic nutrition in this strain of industrial-sized humans? Only America could produce such giants.
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At the door to the locker room Dime asks [Ennis] to autograph his ball. Ennis rears back. He's chuckling but his eyes are wary. 'Why you want that? I'm just an old equipment hand, nobody cares about my autograph.' 'As far as I'm concerned you run the team, ' Dime answers, so Ennis laughs and takes the Sharpie and signs his name to Dime's ball, and this will be the only autograph that Dime collects today.
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Not that she means anything by it, he knows. This is simply her lifelong habit of moderation at work, her need to tamp everything down to the routine, the modest, the tepid everyday. He understands the whole concept of boundaries, but there's a point where this mania for normalizing turns toxic.
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Why?' He kept asking in his sweetly belling voice, its tone as pure as marbles swirled around a crystal pail. Why him wun up the tree? Why him nest up theah? Why him gadder nuts? Why? Why? Why? And Billy answering every question to the best of his ability, as if anything less would disrespect the deep and maybe even divine force that drove his little nephew toward universal knowledge.
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You'd think family would be the one sure thing in life, the gimme? Points you got just for being born? So much thick, meaty stuff bound you to these people, so many interlocking spirals of history, genetics, common cause, and struggle that it should be the most basic of all drives, that you would strive to protect and love one another, yet this bond that should be the big no-brainer was in fact the hardest thing.
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Over the years I've come to realize that in a broad sense I'm interested in power and politics. I'm interested in how individuals try to eke out some wiggle room within these large institutions... how they eke out some measure of freedom and personal space and integrity... trying to negotiate their way toward some sort of, if not happiness, then at least accommodation or peace with themselves.
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It's an important thing and a necessary thing as a writer to always be reaching outside of yourself. They say write what you know. But what you know is rarely enough. You need to know more. But you've got to approach it with a lot of respect and humility. You owe it to the people and experience you're trying to understand. It's not a casual thing.
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I practiced law for five years and that gives you insight into a certain mind-set that maybe a lot of writers haven't had firsthand access to. There's an almost casual cruelty, a very low level of overall awareness, but sometimes there's also knowledge that real damage is being done-this attitude of 'Oh, what the hell, ' this kind of moral cognitive dissonance. These are people who have never missed a meal. It's an unknowingness, an unawareness... Many people were operating from a very narrow range of experience, and yet they had complete faith in it. Their way was the correct way, the only way. They had virtually no awareness of any other way of life except in terms of demonizing things... It's an extremely blindered experience of the world.
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