Gene Wilder famously asked for one key change to the script of Willy Wonka:
“When I make my first entrance. I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.”
When asked why he wanted the change, Wilder replied, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
I came across this line by J.D. Salinger and thought it was a line from a poem:
She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.
It’s not a line from a poem. It’s from a short story, “A Girl I Knew.” The story is about a girl a young man knew. The girl later became a Nazi victim. The man returns to her apartment after the war, and realizes everything has change.
Somehow, I don’t care what the story is about. The line is enough.
Here are other beautiful lines to ponder.
John Ashbury’s essay, “The Heavy Bear: On Delmore Schwartz,” explores Delmore Schwartz’s life and poems and mentions his most famous short story (read above, oddly, by Lou Reed), “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” Ashbury writes of the story, here “the poet himself moves backward in time, dreaming he is in a movie theatre watching a silent film of his parents’ courtship at Coney Island years before. At a crucial moment, “I stood up in the theatre and shouted: ‘Don’t do it. It’s not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous.’ ”
A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors, edited by Annie Liontas and Jeff Parker, is a collection of essays by writers reflecting on the influence of their mentors (or lack of mentor). Most of the relationships were born in university classrooms, but despite this similarity, the experiences explored in Manner of Being are as varied as the collection of writers from which they’re drawn. The book delivers many lessons–in writing, teaching, life–and the lessons aren’t always delivered by writers (a nanny here, a bookstore owner there). There are some heavy hitters, though. Of the seventy essays, some of the writers represented are Pam Houston, Philip Levine, Mary Gaitskill, Gore Vidal, John Irving, Gordon Lish, Mary Jo Salter. There are also lesser known writers who have wonderfully told tales of their apprenticeships.
Click here for an example essay originally published in The New Yorker: George Saunders on Tobias Wolff.
By William Logan
How should I now recall
the icy lace of the pane
like a sheet of cellophane,
or the skies of alcohol
poured over the saltbox town?
On that stony New England tableau,
the halo of falling snow
glared like a waxy crown.
Through blue frozen lots
my giant parents strolled,
wrapped tight against the cold
like woolen Argonauts,
searching for that tall
perfection of Scotch pine
from the hundreds laid in line
like the dead at Guadalcanal.
The clapboard village aglow
that starry stark December
I barely now remember,
or the brutish ache of snow
burning my face like quicklime.
Yet one thing was still missing.
I saw my parents kissing,
perhaps for the last time.
from Poetry (June 2012).
In The New York Times, Alexandra Alternov writes about a new breed of poet: Tyler Knott Gregson, a web poet whose found success with his viral verse: “Seven years ago, Mr. Gregson, 34, was scraping by as a freelance copywriter, churning out descriptions of exercise equipment, hair products and medical imaging devices. Now, thanks to his 560,000 Instagram and Tumblr followers, he has become the literary equivalent of a unicorn: a best-selling celebrity poet.” Check out the unheard-of-before success of his first book of poetry, Chasers of Light, here.
“Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it ? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we loved ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”
Franz Kafka in a letter to Oskar Pollak