Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

T for Trespass by Sue Grafton
-01- In my experience, the urge to rescue generates aggravation for the poor would-be heroine without any discernible effect on the person in need of help. You can’t save others from themselves because those who make a perpetual muddle of their lives don’t appreciate your interfering with the drama they’ve created. They want your poor-sweet-baby sympathy, but they don’t want to change. This is a truth I never seem to learn.
-02- It was odd to remember that I was enrolled here once upon a time. After three semesters, I realized I wasn’t cut out for academic studies even at the modest level of Everything 101. I should have known myself better. High school had been a torment. I was restless, easily distracted, more interested in smoking dope than learning. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with my life, but I sincerely hoped I wouldn’t have to go to school to do it. That ruled out medicine, dentistry, and the law, along with countless other professions that I didn’t find appealing in the least. I realized that without a college degree, most corporations wouldn’t have me as a president. Oh dang.
-03- I have a low tolerance for conflict. As an only child, I got along fine with myself very well, thanks. I was happy being in my room alone, when i could colour in my colouring book, using the crayons from the 64-shade box with the sharpener built right in. Many colouring books were dumb, but my aunt made a point of purchasing the better specimens. I could also play with my teddy bear, whose mouth would lever open if you pressed a button under its chin. I’d feed the bear hard candy and then turn him over and undo the zipper in his back. I’d remove the candy from the little metal box that passed for a tummy and eat it myself. The bear never complained. This is still my notion of a perfect relationship.
School was a source of great suffering to me, but once I learned to learn, I disappeared into books, where I was a happy visitor to all the worlds that sprang full-blown from the printed page. My parents died when I was five, and Aunt Gin, who took over the parenting, was as unsociable as I. She had a few friends, but I can’t say she was intimate with anyone. As a result, I grew up ill prepared for disagreements, differences of opinion, clashes of will, or the need for compromise. I can handle contention in my professional life, but if a personal relationship turns testy, I head for the door. It’s simply easier that way.
-04- The Victorian-style furniture had a vaguely depressing air about it, which suggested it was authentic.
-05- ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone,’ I said. ‘I did what I had to do. He didn’t have to attack me. He didn’t have to jam his fist through the glass. Those were his choices, I made mine. What’s the big deal? It’s not like he’s the first guy I ever killed.’
‘Well, that puts it in a fresh light.’

The Thirteenth Tale  by Diane Setterfield
-01- p29: But I had never read any Vida Winter. Why should I when there were so many dead writers I had still not discovered?
-02- p38: Standing there in my coat in the hallway I experienced for the first time the most profound oddity of the place. Miss Winter’s house was entirely silent.
-03- p38: The same silence swallowed our footfall and muffled the openingand closing of doors, as she showed me, one after another, the dining room, the drawing room, the music room.
-04- p39: I followed the housekeeper. We turned left and right, and right and left, went up and down stairs until I was thoroughly confused. I quickly lost all sense of how the convoluted interior of the house corresponded with its outer plainness. The house had been altered over time, I supposed, added to here and there; probably we were in some wing or extension invisible from the front. ‘You’ll get the hang of it,’ the housekeeper mouthed, seeing my face, and I understood her as if I were lipreading. Finally we turned from a half-landing and came to a halt. She unlocked a door that opened into a sitting room. There were three more doors leading off it. ‘Bathroom,’ she said, opening one of the doors, ‘bedroom,’ opening another, ‘and study.’ The rooms were as padded with cushions and curtains and hangings as the rest of the house.
-05- p39: ‘I’ll bring you soup and sandwiches straight away, shall I? You must be hungry after the train. You’ve things to make your tea and coffee just here.’ She opened a cupboard in the corner of the bedroom to reveal a kettle, the other paraphernalia for drinks making and even a tiny fridge. ‘ It will save you running up and down to the kitchen,’ she added, and threw in an abashed smile, by way of apology I thought for not wanting me in her kitchen.
-06- p54: In my study the velvet curtains were green, and a pale gold watermark satin covered the walls. Despite the woolly hush I was pleased with the room, for the overall effect was relieved by the broad wooden desk and the plain upright chair that stood under the window. I switched on the desk lamp and laid out the ream of paper I had brought with me, and my twelve pencils. There were brand new: unsharpened columns of red, just what I like to start a new project with. The last thing I took from my bag was my pencil sharpener. I screwed it like a vice to the edge of the desk and set the paper basket directly underneath.
-07- p55: The window was a large expanse of dark glass, in the centre of it, my ghost, darkly transparent, was staring in at me. Her world was not unlike my own: the pale outline of a desk the other side of the glass, and farther back a deeply buttoned armchair placed inside the circle of light cast by a standard lamp. But where my chair was red, hers was grey; and where my chair stood on an Indian rug, surrounded by light gold walls, her chair hovered spectrally in an undefined, endless plane of darkness in which vague forms, like waves, seemed to shift and breathe.
-08- pp322-3: Then the most unexpected thing happened. The doctor’s face changed. Yes, changed, before my very eyes. If was one of those moments when a face comes suddenly into new focus, when the features, all recognizably as they were before, are prone to a dizzying shift and present themselves in an unexpected new light. I would like to know what it is in a human mind that causes the faces of those we know to shift and dance about like that. I have ruled out optical effects, phenomena related to light and so on, and have arrived at the conclusion that the explanation is rooted in the psychology of the onlooker. Anyway, the sudden movement and rearrangement of his facial features caused me to stare at him for a few moments, which must have seemed very strange to him.
-09- p337: No; in order to free ourselves from the mundane it is essential that we delegate much of our interpretation of the world to that lower area of the mind that deals with the presumed, the assumed, the probable. Even though it sometimes leads us astray and causes us to misinterpret a flash of sunlight as a girl in a white dress, when these two things are as unlike as two things can be.
-10- p389: We all have our sorrows, and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the colour of grief is common to us all.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
001. An eyelash in the sky grows into a heron
002. Eelattu says that I can own my mind, if I choose. I said, “Even a slave?” Eelattu said, yes, if the mind is a strong place. So I created a mind like an island, like Weh, protected by deep blue sea.
003. If only, Shiroyama dreams, human beings were not masks behine masks behind masks. If only this world was a clean board of lines and interections. If only time was a sequence of considered moves and not a chaos of slippages and blunders.
004. We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love.
005. The easiest way to control others is to give them the illusion of free will.
006. Better to strive to coexist then strive to disprove.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
001. Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one  ca’n’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…’

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
01. Strange to say, I expected more inspiration from literature than from real, naked life. Jan Bronski, whom I had often enough seen kneading my mother’s flesh, was able to teach me next to nothing. Although I know that this tangle, consisting by turns of Mama and Jan or Matzerath and Mama, this [knot?] which sighed, exerted itself, moaned with fatigue, and at last fell stickily apart, meant love, Oskar was still unwilling to believe that love was love; love itself cast about for some other love, and yet time and time again he came back to tangled love, which he hated until the day when in love he practised it; then he was obliged to defend it in his own eyes at the only possible love.
-02- p441: …perhaps happiness exists only as an ersatz, perhaps all happiness is an ersatz for happiness.
-03- p450: My new clothes gave me a daemonic, intellectual look…

Tom Bedlam by George Hagen
001.”And if I can’t find my own path?”
“Then you will be a dunce, and join all the other dunces out there in the world. You will find your future limited to two professions: your father’s and the world of politics.”
002. …even from half a mile away, [Mrs Brasier] could be seen engaged in open warfare with her fireplace.

Doktor Faustus The Tragical History of Doktor Faustus from the 1604 Quarto by Christopher Marlowe
001. FAUSTUS. These metaphysics of magicians, And necromantic books are heavenly; Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters; Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires. O, what a world of profit and delight, Of power, of honour, of omnipotence, Is promis’d to the studious artizan!
002. FAUSTUS. …But ruminates on necromantic skill. Philosophy is odious and obscure; Both law and physic are for petty wits; Divinity is basest of the three, Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile: ‘Tis magic, magic, that hath ravish’d me.
003. FAUSTUS. Now that the gloomy shadow of the earth, Longing to view Orion’s drizzling look, Leaps from th’ antartic world unto the sky, And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath,

The Trial of True Love by William Nicholson
001. p146 ‘So this love you feel for Flora, it is not determined by her feelings for you. It is, in fact, an independent entitiy; independent of Flora, I mean. An entity constructed out of elements of yourself.’
I could not deny it. My love for Flora was part of me, not part of her. But had she not awoken it?
002. p149 ‘I believed, as you believe, that love can be given. Whereas, of course, it can only be taken.’
003. p156 Flora—the object of his obsession: ‘…It’s just so depressing, the way it always comes back to sex. Sex isn’t so important. It doesn’t take long and nobody has anything to say afterwards. Men who want sex are all the same, all as boring as each other. Why don’t you do what [my husband] does? Go to one of the clubs and have your sex and then come back to me and we can do something more interesting together.’ [They’re in Amsterdam.]
Bron—the protag: ‘Your husband goes to brothels?’
‘Everyone’s husbands go to brothels. It’s what men do.’
‘I don’t.’
‘You can’t afford it.’
‘Don’t you mind your husband having sex with other women?’
‘Not at all. It saves me having to do it.’
‘So you don’t like sex?’
She thought about that for a moment.
‘I don’t like what everyone makes of sex. They make it so important and it’s not so important.’
004. p162 Flora: ‘People never are grateful for being loved, only for loving.’

2015 Best European Fiction ‘True Milk’ by Aixa de la Cruz (translated by Thomas Bunstead) [from Best European Fiction 2015]
001. 1. The children of the 1990s are destined to revive conservatism. The eighteenth century is one of their passions, being that they’re the first generation in quite some time that’s prudish enough to be shocked by the feats of Lord Byron.
002. 7. The Romantics–impervious to a cliche, again exactly like the children of the 1990s–read horror stories by the fire in gothic houses at nightfall. On that symbolic evening, Villa Diodati’s retinue of adulterous literary types read to one another from a German collection of fantasy stories. Byron used the stories to challenge the others.
003. 9. Polidori’s fate was a tragic one. He lived in Byron’s shadow, and Byron mocked him, his love of medicine, and his love of poetry–and the fact that these were his only loves. He took revenge on Byron by writing a story called ‘The Vampire’.
004. 10. In ‘The Vampire’, Polidori revived the legend of the bloodsuckers, and the vampire takes the shape of an eccentric British aristocrat who goes around Europe corrupting upper-class women. It’s basically Byron in inverted commas. This was the only thing Polidori wrote that garnered any attention; it had an impact at the time because everything thought Byron must have had something to do with penning it.

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