Passages records the books I'm reading, the live music I'm hearing, and the movies I'm seeing. Every now and then I'll throw in a passage from a book I read a while back or a trailer from a old favorite movie. Occasionally, there is something that simply caught my eye. But most of it is what I'm reading and hearing and watching in real time.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Burmese Days

Then a single green pigeon fluttered down and perched on a lower branch. It did not know that it was being watched. It was a tender thing, smaller than a tame dove, with a jade-green back as smooth as velvet, and neck and breast of iridescent colors. Its legs were like the pink wax that dentists use.

The pigeon rocked itself backwards and forwards on the bough, swelling out its breast feathers and laying its coralline beak upon them. A pang went through Flory. Alone, alone, the bitterness of being alone! So often like this, in lonely places in the forest, he would come upon something -- bird, flower, tree -- beautiful beyond all words, if there had been a soul with whom to share it. Beauty is meaningless until it is shared. If he had one person, just one, to halve his loneliness! Suddenly the pigeon saw the man and dog below, sprang into the air and dashed away swift as a bullet, with a rattle of wings.

George Orwell, Burmese Days (1934)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dallas 1963

Thousands of people are jumping, screaming, waving. For more than a few, it feels cathartic, as if Dallas is letting something go. As the happy crowds push toward Jack and Jackie, the motorcade slows even more. Secret Service agents jump off the follow-up car and surround the presidential limousine to make sure the president and the First Lady are protected.

The procession is now slowly passing Nieman Marcus. Lady Bird spots a friend of hers who works at the store, and the two women wave gaily at each other. Looming above Nieman Marcus, on the opposite side of the street, is the Mercantile Building. Up on the seventh floor, in the offices of Hunt Oil, the seventy-four year old billionaire is somberly watching the procession from his window. He is flanked by two young secretaries. No one has to say a word. The huge roar from Dallas says it all.

Down on the street, a reporter from the Dallas Morning News nudges one of his colleagues and shouts:

"They've got this town wrapped around their little fingers."

Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, Dallas 1963

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Partners In Command

In his own mind,he was conquering evil, but he paid a dear price for victory. Already awkward in the presence of others, [Stonewall] Jackson's intensified internal focus seemed to heighten his eccentricities and distance him further from most people. He was at ease only with God, his wife, and a handful of friends. Ceaseless strife with sin had sucked the youth from him. To strangers, Thomas Jackson appeared much older than his thirty-seven years.

Joseph T. Glaatthaar, Partners in Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bring Up The Bodies

It may, even now, be necessary to impress on the boy's imagination the stages on the walk ahead: the walk from the room of confinement to the place of suffering: the wait, as the rope is uncoiled or the guiltless iron is set to heat. In that space, every thought that occupies the mind is taken out and replaced by blind terror. Time falsifies itself, moments becoming days.

Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Genius of the System

Warner's released White Heat in the summer of 1949, and neither the critics nor the public knew quite what to make of it. Without a stabilizing narrative force -- a love story, say, or a more appealing agent of law and order -- the viewer is necessarily drawn to the doomed and anarchic Cody. At the film's end, the nominal hero, Edmund O'Brien, pumps one bullet after another into Cody and mutters, "What's keeping him up?" The answer is obvious. It's what kept Robinson up at the end of Key Largo -- that odd logic of stardom and drama and Hollywood myth making, accumulated through decades of films and roles. It's what gave stars like Cagney and Robinson, Davis and Muni, Bogart and Flynn, the power to overcome conflict and loss and even death itself, and to be forever reborn and forever revitalized in another role, another life, another on-screen incarnation.

Thomas Schatz, The Genius of the System: Hollywood and Filmmaking in the Studio Era

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tom Jones

A single bad act no more constitutes a villain in life than a single bad part on the stage. The passions often force men upon parts without consulting their judgment. The man may condemn what he himself acts.

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Animal Farm

It was just after the sheep had returned, on a pleasant evening when the animals had finished work and were making their way back to the farm buildings, that the terrified neighing of a horse sounded from the yard. Startled, the animals stopped in their tracks. It was Clover's voice. She neighed again, and all the animals broke into a gallop and rushed into the yard. Then they saw what Clover had seen.

It was a pig walking on his hind legs.

George Orwell, Animal Farm

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Rules Of Life

My philosophy is simple. Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching and don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Satchel Paige, My Rules Of Life

Saturday, August 31, 2013

R.I.P., Seamus Heaney

History says, Don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

Seamus Heaney, The Cure At Troy

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Red Wind

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana's that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.

Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

Thursday, August 15, 2013

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Gloria said nothing, staring into the distance. Far down the shore on a point there were lights.

"That's Malibu," I said. "Where all the movie stars live."

"What are you going to do now?" she finally said.

"I don't know exactly. I thought I'd go see Mr Maxwell tomorrow. Maybe I could get him to do something. He certainly seemed interested."

"Always tomorrow," she said. "The big break is always tomorrow."

Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I'm Nobody

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson


There is now nothing inside the sanctuary. It is a vast, empty space that serves as a conduit for the presence of God, channeling his divine spirit from the heavens, flowing it out in concentric waves across the Temple's chambers, through the Court of Priests and the Court of Israelites, the Court of Women and the Court of Gentiles, over the Temple's porticoed walls down into the city of Jerusalem, across the Judean countryside to Samaria and Idumea, Peraea and Galilee, through the boundless empire of mighty Rome and on to the rest of the world, to all peoples and all nations, all of them -- Jew and gentile alike -- nourished and sustained by the spirit of the Lord of Creation, a spirit that has one sole source and no other: the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, tucked within the Temple, in the sacred city of Jerusalem.

Reza Asla, Zealot

Friday, July 26, 2013

Long Time, No See

It was you, but it was his knock, you see a knock can carry anyone's signature on a day like that. I could have sworn. You know what it is son -- memory is a stranger who comes to call less and less.


And sometimes he's not welcome, if you know what I mean.

Dermot Healy, Long Time, No See

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Devil's Dictionary

RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Sometimes it is foolish to articulate an ambition too early -- exposing it prematurely to the laughter and skepticism of the world can destroy it before it is even properly born. But sometimes the opposite occurs, and the very act of mentioning a thing makes it suddenly seem possible, even plausible. That was how it was that night.

Robert Harris, Imperium

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Son

"It ain't like our daddies grew up here, Pete. It ain't like people have lived here long. This is just the place they happened to stop."

"The fences got all of us," I said.

Phillipp Meyer, The Son

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Personal Memoirs

My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral.

Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs (1885)

Huckleberry Finn

Well, the king he talked him blind; so at last he gave in, and said all right, but he said it was blamed foolishness to stay, and that doctor hanging over them. But the king says:

"Cuss the doctor! What do we k'yer for him? Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?"

Monday, July 1, 2013


I don't remember either of my parents ever reading me a story -- perhaps that's why I've made up so many. They were good parents, but just not story readers. In 1936, when I was born, the Depression sat heavily on all but the most fortunate, a group that didn't include us. My McMurtry grandparents were both still alive, and my mother and father and I lived in their house, which made for frequent difficulties. Sometimes there was a cook and a resident cowboy -- where they bunked, I'm not sure. The fifty yards or so between the house and the barn boiled with poultry. My first enemies were hens, roosters, peacocks, turkeys. We ate lots of the hens, but our consumption of turkeys, peacocks, and roosters was, to my young mind, inexcusably low.

Larry McMurtry, Books

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Museum of the Confederacy

I must lay down my pen and go to shooting.

Milton Barnett, 18th Georgia Infantry

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Siege Of Krishnapur

A weird, melancholy cry started up now, echoing over the moonlit hedges and tamarinds and spreading like a widening ripple over the dark cantonment. Beside Fleury, the Magistrate said: "Listen to the jackals...The natives say that if you listen carefully you hear the leader calling 'Soopna men raja hola...' which means 'I am the king in the night'...and then the other jackals reply: 'Hooa! hooa! hooa!' 'You are! you are! you are!'" Fleury could make out nothing at first, but later, as he was falling asleep, it seemed to him that he could, after all, hear these very words.

J G Farrell, The Siege Of Krishnapur

Sunday, June 23, 2013


O Bomb O final Pied Piper
both sun and firefly behind your shock waltz
God abandoned mock-nude
beneath his thin false-tale'd apocalypse
He cannot bear thy flute's
happy-the-day profanations
He is spilled deaf into the Silencer's warty ear
His Kingdom an eternity of crude wax

Gregory Corso, Bomb

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Just Kids

The intense community of musicians staying at the Chelsea then would often find their way into Janis's suite with their acoustic guitars. I was privy to the process as they worked on songs for her new album. Janis was queen of the radiating wheel, sitting in her easy chair with a bottle of Southern Comfort, even in the afternoon. Michael Pollard was usually by her side. They were like adoring twins, punctuating each sentence with man. I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her "Me and Bobby McGee," Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Thursday, June 20, 2013

All The King's Men

“It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the night, said to me (to me who was what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be) "There is always something."

And I said, "Maybe not on the Judge."

And he said, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.”

Robert Penn Warren, All The King's Men

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Just Kids

One Indian summer day we dressed in our favorite things, me in my beatnik sandals and ragged scarves, and Robert with his love beads and sheepskin vest. We took the subway to West Fourth Street and spent the afternoon in Washington Square. We shared coffee from a thermos, watching the stream of tourists, stoners, and folksingers. Agitated revolutionaries distributed antiwar leaflets. Chess players drew a crowd of their own. Everyone coexisted within the continuous drone of verbal diatribes, bongos, and barking dogs.

We were walking toward the fountain, the epicenter of activity, when an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand.

"Oh, take their picture," said the woman to her bemused husband, "I think they're artists."

"Oh, go on," He shrugged. "they're just kids."

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Devil I Know

We had unleashed something dire upon the land. I had extravagant nightmares about subterranean activity - caverns being excavated beneath the castle. The expansion of Hell was underway in these dreams. The demons were at work, or at play, and it was happening beneath my sleeping body, or sleepless body, more often than not.

Claire Kilroy, The Devil I Know

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Captain Stormfield's Visit To Heaven

As many as sixty thousand people arrive here every single day that want to run straight to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and hug them and weep on them. Now mind you, sixty thousand a day is a pretty heavy contract for those old people. If they were a mind to allow it, they wouldn't ever have anything to do, year in and year out, but stand up and be hugged and wept on thirty-two hours in the twenty-four. They would be tired out and as wet as muskrats all the time. What would heaven be to them? It would be a mighty good place to get out of -- you know that yourself. Those are kind and gentle old Jews, but they ain't any fonder of kissing the emotional highlights of Brooklyn than you be.

Mark Twain, Captain Stormfield's Visit To Heaven

What I Saw Of Shiloh

This humble edifice, centrally situated in the heart of a solitude, and conveniently accessible to the supersylvan crow, had been christened Shiloh Chapel, whence the name of the battle. The fact of a Christian church -- assuming it to have been a Christian church -- giving name to a wholesale cutting of Christian throats by Christian hands need not be dwelt on here; the frequency of its recurrence in the history of our species has somewhat abated the moral interest that would otherwise attach to it.

Ambrose Bierce, What I Saw of Shiloh

Saturday, June 8, 2013

This Republic of Suffering


Last word of T. J. Spurr of Massachusetts, Army of the Potomac, quoted in This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Drew Gilpin Faust)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Red Badge of Courage

The rushing yellow of the developing day went on behind their backs. When the sunrays at last struck full and mellowingly upon the earth, the youth saw that the landscape was streaked with two long, thin, black columns which disappeared on the brow of the hill in front and rearward vanished on a wood. They were like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night.

Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

Friday, May 31, 2013

As I Lay Dying

It's a hard life on women, for a fact. Some women. I mind my mammy lived to be seventy and more. Worked every day, rain or shine; never a sick day since her last chap was born until one day she kind of looked around her and then she went and taken that lace-trimmed gown she had forty-five years and never wore out of the chest and put it on and laid down on the bed and pulled the covers up and shut her eyes. "You will all have to look out for your pa the best you can," she said, "I'm tired."

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Spinning Heart

There's a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge. It's flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, creak as I walk away. A flaking, creaking, spinning heart.

Donal Ryan, The Spinning Heart

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everything Satisfactory

"She told me she was twenty-six."

"She could have been," said Mimi. "I mean she could have been sixteen when I knew her. That would make me thirty. O.K. I'm thirty. But you know better if you stop to think."

John O'Hara, "Everything Satisfactory" from John O'Hara in Hollywood

Sunday, May 26, 2013

How Many Miles To Babylon?

Out beyond the trees the moon was shining. It had suddenly turned cold and the earth whirled gently, but not unkindly. Cautiously we moved towards the group around the fiddler, until suddenly we seemed to be sucked into the dance. I was enveloped by the smell of sweat and smoke and drink. Sweating hands brushed my hands, faces whirled and turned, and I too, not knowing what I was doing, or minding, and the earth moved with us all. The whole earth was dancing.

Jennifer Johnston, How Many Miles to Babylon