“I inadvertently became interested in tropical plants because that’s what the man at the Union Square Green Market sold me.
I used to believe that sentence, but now I know better. Now I know that it was meant to be.
Here’s how it happened.”
First lines of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire: A Novel by Margot Berwin
Out this month from Pantheon.
Longing for sunny days…
and a sea that floats calmly.
Until then, check out Lazy Eye
by Donna Daley-Clarke
a preview of things to come.
“Instead of cats and pilchards from flat 7b the hallway smells of the instant-headache perfume worn by women who get on number 38 buses at West End stops. I shut the street door behind me and take the stairs two at a time, slowing down when I get to the last four because a white girl is sitting on the floor, leaning her back against my bedsit door with a box of half-eaten pizza beside her.”
Random first lines from a random book plucked from the stack on my desk–a novel by Australian writer John Harwood called The Seance, published last month by HMH. This gothic thriller is set in Victorian England, and yes, contains a house, a mystery, and murder.
“If my sister Alma had lived, I should never have begun the seances. She died of scarlatina, soon after her second birthday, when I was five years old. I remember only fragments from the time before she died: Mama dancing Alma on her knee, and singing as she would never do again; reading my primer aloud to Mama while she rocked Alma’s cradle with her foot; walking beside Annie, our nurse, while she pushed the perambulator past the Foundling Hospital with me holding on to the frame. I remember coming home after one of those walks and being allowed to nurse Alma by the drawing-room fire, feeling the heat of the flames on my cheek as I held her. I remember, too–though perhaps I was only told of it–lying in a cot and shivering, looking up at a window which seemed very small and far away, and hearing the sound of weeping, muffled as if through thick cotton wool.”
–From The Seance, by John Harwood
By Eduardo Galeano
from The Book of Embraces
“The sun was gentle, the air clear, and the sky cloudless.
“Buried in the sand, the clay pot steamed. As they went from ocean to mouth, the shrimp passed through the hands of Fernando, master of ceremonies, who bathed them in a holy water of salt, onions, and garlic. There was good wine. Seated in a circle, we friends shared the wine and shrimp and the ocean that spread out free and luminous at our feet.
“As it took place, that happiness was already being remembered by our memory. It would never end, nor would we. For we are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass, which is something everyone knows, no matter how small his or her knowledge.”
In his new book, Haena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors, associate professor of Hawaiian studies at UH Manoa Carlos Andrade specifically examines each story, slice, and feature of this fertile land, identifying the origins of the place and its people until one feels apart of it as well. But more, this microcosm allows the unique relationships Hawaiians had with their environment across the island to be understood and envisioned anew.
Take a peek at these First Lines
“Ha’ena is a place well deserving of the title ‘aina momona–a fertile, rich, fruitful, sweet land of abundant springs and waters flowing from the mountains to the nearby sea. Numerous reefs, inhabited by he’e (octopus), ula (lobster), and schools of nenue (Kyphosus bigibbus), kala (unicorn fish), and manini (convict tang) fringe white sandy beaches. Aholehole (Kuhlia sandvicensis), ‘aweo-weo (species of Priacanthus), moi (threadfin), and puhi (eel) dwell in the shadowy caves beneath the sunlit reef flats. Sturdy trees, bamboo, and native shrubs rooth themselves in the coastal plain, spread into verdant valleys, and climb the pali (cliffs) into the clouds. … In a Hawaiian way of perceiving the world, Ha’ena is a place situated below the wind, close to the taproot of the earth, where the sun enters the sea at the Halele’a (House of Pleasure.)”
–Carlose Andrade, Haena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors
You can learn more by checking out Andrade’s book launch and reading this Thursday at Na Mea Hawaii (flyer below).
In Norfolk, about two and a half hours northeast of London by train, I spent more than a year huddled in a brick house and concrete university working on my writing. Also in Norfolk, among many other talented writers, lives the novelist Rose Tremain. Here’s a peek at her award-winning new novel The Road Home, just out in August:
“On the coach, Lev chose a seat near the back and he sat huddled against the window, staring out at the land he was leaving: at the fields of sunflowers scorched by the dry wind, at the pig farms, at the quarries and rivers and at the wild garlic growing green at the edge of the road.
“Lev wore a leather jacket and jeans and a leather cap pulled low over his eyes, and his handsome face was gray-toned from his smoking, and in his hands he clutched and old red cotton handkerchief and a dented pack of Russian cigarettes. He would soon be forty three.”
–From The Road Home by Rose Tremain
In a world where texting often replaces talking, emailing overtakes writing, and educating online instead of in-person is becoming the norm, words (especially written ones) are perhaps even more important than ever whilst also being largely undervalued as the English language is corrupted. (If I have to hear or read one more person say or write “I thought to myself”!)
Henry Hitchings, an author who was born the year I was, appears to agree, and has written The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English to encourage us to stop and think about the words we use. But he’s no grammar-disciplinarian–instead his book traces the history of English vocabulary and words’ witness to the past and social change to spin enchanting real-life stories of the people, places and things that shaped the words that fall from pen and tongue. (He also reminds us that English has co-opted words from more than 350 other languages – where does shampoo come from?).
The first chapter is Ensemble, and here’s a peek at the first lines:
Together, at the same time; the united performance of all voices
From the French, which derives from the late Latin insimul, comprising in, ‘in’, and simul, ‘at the same time’
‘All these trifling things…collectively form that pleasing je ne sais quoi, that ensemble‘ – Lord Chesterfield, 1748
On a smoky October morning in 1697, a Puritan magistrate called Samuel Sewall went to visit the Lieutenant Governor at Dorchester, which is now a suburb of Boston on the American east coast. Born in England, in a rural part of Hampshire, Sewall had arrived in American as an adolescent. He had studie at Harvard, had managed the Boston printing press, and in 1692 had been one of the nine judges appointed to hear the Salem witch trials. Not long before his trip to Dorchester he had publicly expressed shame over his role in the last of these, but that October morning this bulky, big-framed figure had more appetizing business on his mind.”
-Henry Hitchings, The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English
“A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath. Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not. Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be restored to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life. Therefore an enlightened government is careful about this, a good military leadership is alert to this. This is the way to secure a nation and keep the armed forces whole.”
–Master Sun, in The Art Of War by Sun Tzu