Excerpt from “Hole in My Life” by Jack Gantos

July 15: Today I took a photograph of Hamilton sitting at the wheel with the sun setting1 behind him. He frowned. “Now take a picture of me,” I said, and handed him the camera.

He flipped the camera over, unsnapped the back, pulled out the film, and tossed it over his shoulder into the ocean. “If I find any more film on board it will join that roll,” he said.

“It’s just a photo,” I replied.

“It’s evidence,” he snapped back. This is the first evidence I have had that he even thinks we could be caught.

“Let me see your wallet,” he said.

I gave it to him.

He threw away all my identification except for my fake Florida license. “Might come in handy,” he said.

 

July 16: Dead clam today. Hot.2  The sails hanging limply3  from the gaffs like sleeping bats. At one point I dove overboard and swam around the boat as if it were at anchor. Hamilton threw an empty bottle overboard and we bobbed along next to it for hours. By the end of the day we may have covered a mile. No more. Feel like a sitting duck. Said so to Hamilton. He drifted into a story about his biggest concern on the ocean being pirates, not police. Told me about friends in the business4 who were boarded by pirates who tied them to the masts, and then took their stash. Somehow I find this absurd and can’t stop thinking of Captain Hook and his crew of pirates in Peter Pan. Wish Hamilton would swallow a clock so5  I could hear him creeping.6  He stalks me like a mumbling crocodile.

excerpt from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love7, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others2, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love; and such a man is Claudio. I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and fife, and now he had rather hear the tabor and pipe3. I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armor, and now will he lie ten nights awake, carving the fashion of a new doublet4. He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography. His words are a very fantastical banquet: just so many strange dishes5. May I be so converted and see with these eyes6? I cannot tell; I think not7. I will not be sworn but love may transform me into an oyster; but I’ll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster of me8, he shall never make me such a fool. One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well9. But 10 till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace11. Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise, or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her; fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what color it please God12. Ha13! The Prince and Monsieur14 Love! I will hide me 15 in the harbor.

Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

But 16 at that moment I glanced around at the crowd that had followed me. It 2 was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; 3 I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, 4 the white man 5 with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — 6 seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. 7 He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. 8 I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Then at last, when he could stand it no longer, he would peel back a tiny bit of the paper wrapping at one corner to expose a tiny bit of chocolate, and then he would take a tiny nibble –9 just enough to allow the lovely sweet taste to spread out slowly over his tongue. The next day, he would take another tiny nibble, and so on, and so on. And in this way, Charlie would make his sixpenny bar of birthday chocolate last him for more than a month. But I 2 haven’t yet told you about the one awful thing that tortured little Charlie, the lover of chocolate, 3 more than anything else. This thing, for him, was far, far worse than seeing slabs of chocolate in the shop windows or watching other children munching bars of creamy chocolate right in front of him. It was the most terrible torturing thing you could imagine, and it was this: 4 In the town itself, actually within sight of the house in which Charlie lived, there was an ENORMOUS CHOCOLATE FACTORY! Just imagine that! And it wasn’t simply an ordinary enormous chocolate factory, either. It was the largest and most famous in the whole world! It was WONKA’S FACTORY, owned by a man called Mr Willy Wonka, the greatest inventor and maker of chocolates that there has ever been. And what a tremendous, marvelous place it was! It had huge iron gates leading into it, and a high wall surrounding it, and smoke belching from its chimneys, and strange whizzing sounds coming 5 from deep inside it. And outside the walls, for half a mile around in every direction, the air was scented with the heavy rich smell of melting chocolate! Twice a day, on his way to and from school, little Charlie Bucket had to walk right past the gates of the factory. And every time he went by, he would begin to walk very, very slowly, and he would hold his nose high in the air and take long deep sniffs of the gorgeous chocolatey smell all around him. 6 Oh, how he loved that smell! And oh, how he wished he could go inside the factory and see what it was like!

 

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Book I: The Shimerdas

I

The engine was panting heavily after its long run7. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stood huddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes. I knew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about. The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There was an old man, tall and stooped2. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood holding oilcloth a bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother’s skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began to talk, shouting and exclaiming3. I pricked up my ears, for it was positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue4.

Another lantern came along5. A bantering voice called out:6 “Hello, are you Mr. Burden’s folks? If you are, it’s me you’re looking for. I’m Otto Fuchs. I’m Mr. Burden’s hired man, and I’m to drive you out. Hello, Jimmy, ain’t you scared to come so far west?”

I looked up with interest at the new face in the lantern light. He might have stepped out of the pages of “Jesse James.” He wore a sombrero hat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of his mustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns7. He looked lively and ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ran across one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl8. The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian’s. Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platform in his high-heeled boots9, looking for our trunks10, I saw that he was a rather slight man, quick and wiry11, and light on his feet. He told us we had a long night drive ahead of us, and had better be on the hike. He led us to a hitching-bar where two farm wagons were tied, and I saw the foreign family crowding into one of them. The other was for us. Jake got on the front seat with Otto Fuchs, and I rode on the straw in the bottom of the wagonbox, covered up with a buffalo hide. The immigrants rumbled off into the empty darkness, and we followed them.

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Preface from The Soloist by Steve Lopez

The Soloist by Steve Lopez

Preface

I’m on foot in downtown Los Angeles12, hustling back to the office with another deadline looming. That’s when I see him. He’s dressed in rags on a busy downtown street corner, playing Beethoven on a battered violin that looks like it’s been pulled from a Dumpster.

“That sounded pretty good,” I say when he finishes.

He jumps back three steps, eyeing me with suspicion. I see the name Stevie Wonder carved into the face of the violin, along with felt-pen doodles.

“Oh, thank you very much,” he says, obviously flattered2. “Are you serious?”

“I’m not a musician,” I answer. “But yes. It sounded good to me.”

He is black, just beyond fifty, with butterscotch eyes that warm to the compliment. He is standing next to a shopping cart heaped over with all his belongings, and yet despite grubby, soiled clothing, there’s a rumpled elegance about him.3He speaks with a slight regional accent I can’t place. Maybe he’s from the Midwest or up near the Great Lakes, and he seems to have been told to always stand up straight, enunciate, carry himself with pride and respect others.

“I’m trying to get back in shape,” he says. “But I’m going to get back in there, playing better. I just need to keep practicing.”

“So you like Stevie Wonder?” I ask.

“Oh, yes, certainly. ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life.’ ‘My Cherie Amour.’ I guess I shouldn’t have written his name on my violin, though.”

I write a column for the Los Angeles Times. The job is a little like fishing. You go out and drop a line, cast a net. I’m figuring this vagrant violinist is a column. Has to be.4

“I’m in a hurry at the moment,” I tell him, “but I’d like to come back and hear you play again.”

“Oh, all right,” he says, smiling appreciatively but with trepidation. He looks like a man who has learned to trust no one.

“Do you always play in this spot?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says pointing across the street with his bow to Pershing Square5, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. “I like to be near the Beethoven statue for inspiration.”

This guy could turn out to be a rare find in a city of undiscovered gems, fiddling away in the company of Beethoven.6 I would drop everything if I could, and spend a few hours pulling the story out of him, but that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got another column lined up and not much time to shape it. The deadlines come at you without mercy, even in your dreams.

“I’ll be back,” I say.

He nods indifferently.

Back at the office I seat out another column, scan the mail and clear the answering machine. I make a note on the yellow legal pad where I keep a list of possibilities.

Violin Man.

It’s got potential. Who knows where it will go?

Excerpt from Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

“Oh, it is not thus—not thus,” 7 interrupted the being. “Yet such must be the impression conveyed to you by what appears to be the purport of my actions. Yet 2I seek not a fellow feeling in my misery. No sympathy may I ever find3. When I first sought it, it was the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed4, that I wished to be participated. But now that virtue has become to me a shadow, and that happiness and affection are turned into bitter and loathing despair, in what should I seek for sympathy? I am content to suffer alone while my sufferings shall endure; when I die, I am well satisfied that abhorrence and opprobrium should load my memory5. Once6 my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But 7now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery,8 can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil9. Yet 10even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.”11

 

“Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan

I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but 12 as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose.

When I found out that my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried. 2 What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappoint-ment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?

On Christmas Eve I saw that my mother had outdone herself in creating a strange menu. She was pulling black veins out of the backs of fleshy prawns. The kitchen was littered with appalling mounds of raw food: A slimy rock cod with bulging eyes that pleaded not to be thrown into a pan of hot oil. Tofu, which looked like stacked wedges of rubbery white sponges. A bowl soaking 3 dried fungus back to life. A plate of squid, their backs crisscrossed with knife markings so they resembled bicycle tires.

And then they arrived – 4 the minister’s family and all my relatives in a clamor of doorbells and rumpled Christmas packages. Robert grunted hello, and I pretended he was not worthy of existence. 5

Dinner threw me deeper into despair. My relatives licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table, dipping them into the dozen or so plates of food. 6 Robert and his family waited patiently for platters to be passed to them. My relatives murmured with pleasure when my mother brought out the whole steamed fish. Robert grimaced. Then my father poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. “Amy, your favorite,” he said, offering me the tender fish cheek. I wanted to disappear.

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The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

When[1] Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor[2] a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it[3]. Even the grass was not green, for[4] the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but[5] the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When[6] Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober grey;[7] they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were grey also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled, now. When Dorothy, [8]who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, [9]from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

[1] Adverbial clause, suggests that Dorothy’s thoughts will follow. It also makes the following descriptions less boring by having a different start and a compound sentence. If you took away the “when” and just made it a sentence, it would set the tone as being short and simple sentences one after the other, and how quite trite that would sound.

[2] “Nor” is a FANBOY, but here it’s just a negative substitute for “or,” and has the effect of suggesting the scene had no good qualities.

[3] Absolute phrase, further detailing the condition of the soil, “cracks running…” Gives a clearer image of the soil as dry and suggests poor land to farm on, and evokes the question as to why people live there.

[4] Coordinating conjunction/FANBOY to connect the two clauses. The second is closely connected to the first and so, it flows better to have them joined by a comma and “for.”

[5] “But” used because two clauses contrast. The beginning suggests positive/hope but the second, longer clause has more negatives to overcome that hope, which gives the feeling that this place really kills everything.

[6] The “when” suggests dependency, and combined with the period separating it into its own sentence it serves to assert the main subject and provide one sentence to be contrasted by the rest of the paragraph.

[7] Semi-colon used because both independent clauses closely related, in fact the clauses are repetitive. It serves to create strong imagery of fading colors.

[8] Appositive, describing Dorothy as an orphan, which helps explain why she is living with her Aunt and Uncle.

[9] Not quite an absolute because no noun-adj. combination, but does focus in on noun details to show what the uncle looked like. The image is kind of strange, and suggests he is an old man and kind of a wilderness man.

Don’t move to Canada. Stay and fight. by Michael Krikorian

No one’s moving anywhere. My friends Dahlia and Chris aren’t going to Mexico, and 7 Alexis is not going to Copenhagen. My gal Nancy’s not permanently packing up and moving to Umbria, and Duke is not moving to Thailand with his cousin Jake.

And2 you?  You aren’t going wherever the heck you say you are moving to now that Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States of America.

What we all do is this:3 We stay and fight.First, we wait and see. Even Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”

But4 if we don’t like what happens, we fight it. We5 take to the streets and rekindle memories of the anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights marches. We don’t run and hice.6 We don’t abandon America.

I feel, strangely, not what I thought I would “the morning after.” I’m more patriotic than I was yesterday. More in love with my country than I have since, I guess, Sept. 11, 2001.

As my old friend Aqeela Sherrills, a longtime Watts gang interventionist and community activist said in a Facebook post Wednesday: “There’s a gift in every tragedy…   A Trump victory is an opportunity, if your like me, I do my best work under pressure. Don’t go to Canada or where ever you thinking, The U.S. is ours! and no President, Senate, Congress or White House will tell me otherwise!… lets go to work!”

The country our parents,7 uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents fought for is sliding around a hairpin turn, but it hasn’t crashed.

Yesterday, a guy I know from the streets showed me a knife he had in his waistband. A killing knife.8 It made me think of “Saving Private Ryan”and a brutal, achingly sad scene:  room-to-room fighting, a German soldier slowly pushing a killing knife into the chest of an American soldier.

What happened Tuesday doesn’t compare to those days. Everyone walking around like it’s the end of civilization now that Trump is in? It’s not. We’ve been through far worse. A perceived threat is not as bad as a punch in the face.

I was on a text thread Tuesday night that included several millennials. It started with how wonderful the election was going turn out: the first woman president, the rejection of hateful talk.

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