Twelve Great Readings
From the Early
RALPHsFor the last fourteen or so years,
with each issue of this magazine,
we offer a reading or two
from the world of books out there or
from a recent volume we have reviewed.
Here are twelve that have come to be
our favorites over the years.People Who
TortureLandmark research in the field was done by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1960 designed an experiment to test the limits of obedience. He recruited students from the university to take part in a pilot study, and in individual sessions they were told that they were participating in an experiment that would measure the effects of punishment on learning. Each participant was then directed to inflict a series of electric shocks on a "learner," increasing the intensity of the shocks with each wrong answer given.
Although the learner appeared to be just another volunteer, he was actually a confederate of Milgram's and received no shock at all. The setup, however, was very realistic. The instrument panel of the shock generator, for example, engraved by precision industrial engravers and bore a label from the fictional Dyson Instrument Company, Waltham, Mass. Each subject was given a sample shock of forty-five volts from the generator prior to beginning the test, a shock accomplished by depressing the third switch on the machine.Frogs Legs and
BB GunsWe hitchhiked to the river and plunged in, wearing our cotton shorts and shirts that, like our flesh, hadn't seen a washing since June. Again, nobody expected us to drown, any more than they expected us to cut off our fingers with our pocket knives or shoot out our eyes with the BB gun. Somehow the safety of children, a subject of obsessive, passionate national concern today, simply didn't bother anyone I knew. Maybe this was good for us. Maybe it made us brave and carefree. Or maybe reckless and foolhardy. Or all of the above. At any rate, like most children we survived unscathed except for poison ivy and occasional bee stings when the wild grape was in bloom.
By the time we were bored with the river we were shriveled like peach pits and our teeth chattered. Somewhat cleaner than before, we hitchhiked back up to the Gap, then walked the steep mile up Bear's Den Hill, and on across the pasture's dusty cart track, arriving sweaty and dirty again in time to go for the evening's water.Go to the complete
BottleBecause this ancient pattern of breast-feeding is difficult to study in Western societies, we still are not sure of its effects on maternal health. There is some evidence that prolonged breast-feeding has protective value against breast cancer, especially among premenopausal women. Societies in which breast-feeding is widespread tend to have lower rates of breast cancer, and when infants are fed unilaterally, the suckled breast is significantly less likely to develop cancer. Breast-feeding is also thought to reduce ovarian and endometrial cancer. Since the choice of whether to bottle-feed or breast-feed may be associated with so many differences in diet and other practices, these findings are more suggestive than conclusive. But it still seems likely that future clinical studies will confirm some significant long-term differences in the health of breast-feeding and bottle-feeding women.The Case of
LisaA very worried father telephoned me to ask me if he could bring me his eight-year-old daughter, whom we shall call Lisa, because of her anorexia and rapid loss of weight. As always, I tried to elicit as much information as I could during the telephone call, such information, as we shall see, being indispensable for the formulation of hypotheses and hence of operative choices. It appeared that Lisa had lost a lot of weight the year before but had fully recovered in the summer holidays. However, soon after the beginning of the new school year (it was in November) she had had a relapse, this time very much more rapid and worrying. The whole thing, the father explained, seemed inexplicable because the girl went to a private school and had an excellent teacher who took a special interest in her.
Eat PeopleThe lots were made, and mark'd, and mix'd, and handed,
In silent horror, and their distribution
Lull'd even the savage hunger which demanded,
Like the Promethean vulture, this pollution;
None in particular had sought or plann'd it,
'T was nature gnaw'd them to this resolution,
By which none were permitted to be neuter
And the lot fell on Juan's luckless tutor.
He but requested to be bled to death:
The surgeon had his instruments, and bled
Pedrillo, and so gently ebb'd his breath,
You hardly could perceive when he was dead.
He died as born, a Catholic in faith,
Like most in the belief in which they 're bred,
And first a little crucifix he kiss'd,
And then held out his jugular and wrist.
The surgeon, as there was no other fee,
Had his first choice of morsels for his pains;
But being thirstiest at the moment, he
Preferr'd a draught from the fast-flowing veins:
Part was divided, part thrown in the sea,
And such things as the entrails and the brains
Regaled two sharks, who follow'd o'er the billow
The sailors ate the rest of poor Pedrillo.
The sailors ate him, all save three or four,
Who were not quite so fond of animal food;
To these was added Juan, who, before
Refusing his own spaniel, hardly could
Feel now his appetite increased much more;
'T was not to be expected that he should,
Even in extremity of their disaster,
Dine with them on his pastor and his master.Kicking
"Be my guest. What I'd like to see, though, is somebody from the New Jersey League Against Cruelty to Shooting Preserve Operators." While Duncan was explaining some of the cruelties inflicted on him by various types of shooters, Mr. Pritchert came over and watched me for a minute. "What are you doing to that duck?" he asked.
"I'm wetting it," I said.
"That's what he thinks," Duncan said. "He's been holding it under there for ten minutes, and it's no wetter now than when he started. The only thing he's wetting is the property. Why don't you pinch him?"
"Why are you wetting it?" Pritchert asked, more suspicious than ever.
"So I can kick it," I said, changing the duck to the other hand as my arm was about to drop off.
"Ha!'' said Pritchert triumphantly, and then he stopped and thought a minute and said, "Kick it?"
"That's right," I said. "I suppose that sounds kind of kooky to somebody who isn't a writer."
"Why in the world would you suppose a thing like that?" Duncan said, and Pritchert said, "Kicking a duck is cruelty, mister. I'm obliged to warn you. You kick that duck and we've got an airtight case against you."
"If he can't kick any better than he shoots," Duncan said, "you wouldn't have a snowball's case in hell."
"Chance in hell," I said. "Good Lord. Snowball's chance in hell. Case in hell doesn't make sense."
In DublinHow did he elucidate the mystery of an invisible person, his wife Marion (Molly) Bloom, denoted by a visible splendid sign, a lamp?
With indirect and direct verbal allusions or affirmations: with subdued affection and admiration: with description: with impediment: with suggestion.
Both then were silent?
Silent, each contemplating the other in both mirrors of the reciprocal flesh of theirhisnothis fellowfaces.
Were they indefinitely inactive?
At Stephen's suggestion, at Bloom's instigation both, first Stephen, then Bloom, in penumbra urinated, their sides contiguous, their organs of micturition reciprocally rendered invisible by manual circumposition, their gazes, first Bloom's, then Stephen's, elevated to the projected luminous and semiluminous shadow.
The trajectories of their, first sequent, then simultaneous, urinations were dissimilar: Bloom's longer, less irruent, in the incomplete form of the bifurcated penultimate alphabetical letter who in his ultimate year at High School (1880) had been capable of attaining the point of greatest altitude against the whole concurrent strength of the institution, 210 scholars: Stephen's higher, more sibilant, who in the ultimate hours of the previous day had augmented by diuretic consumption an insistent vesical pressure.
What different problems presented themselves to each concerning the invisible audible collateral organ of the other?
To Bloom: the problems of irritability, tumescence, rigidity, reactivity, dimension, sanitariness, pelosity. To Stephen: the problem of the sacerdotal integrity of Jesus circumcised (1st January, holiday of obligation to hear mass and abstain from unnecessary servile work) and the problem as to whether the divine prepuce, the carnal bridal ring of the holy Roman catholic apostolic church, conserved in Calcata, were deserving of simple hyperduly or of the fourth degree of latria accorded to the abscission of such divine excrescences as hair and toe-nails.
What celestial sign was by both simultaneously observed?
A star precipitated with great apparent velocity across the firmament from Vega in the Lyre above the zenith beyond the stargroup of the Tress of Berenice towards the zodiacal sign of Leo.Touring the
Bible BeltFor years she toured the Bible Belt in a Ford, haranguing the morons nightly, under canvas. It was a depressing life, and its usufructs were scarcely more than three meals a day. Often, indeed, there was too little money to buy them, and she had to depend upon the charity of the pious. She was attracted to Los Angeles, it appears, by the climate. The Bible Belt was sending a steady stream of its rheumatic mortgage sharks in that direction, and she simply followed. The result, as everyone knows, was a swift and roaring success. The town has more morons in it than the whole State of Mississippi, and thousands of them had nothing to do save gape at the movie dignitaries and go to revivals.
MotherHer eccentricities might have irked and embarrassed us when we grew older. We might have forgotten her birthday, and teased her to buy a car or to change her hair. We would have left her finally. We would have laughed together with bitterness and satisfaction at our strangely solitary childhood, in light of which our failings would seem inevitable, and all our attainments miraculous. Then we would telephone her out of guilt and nostalgia, and laugh bitterly afterward because she asked us nothing, and told us nothing, and fell silent from time to time, and was glad to get off the phone. We would take her to a restaurant and a movie on Thanksgiving and buy her best-sellers for Christmas. We would try to give her outings and make her find some interests, but she would soften and shrink in our hands, and become infirm. She would bear her infirmities with the same taut patience with which she bore our solicitude, and with which she had borne every other aspect of life, and her silence would make us more and more furious. Lucille and I would see each other often, and almost never talk of other things. Nothing would be more familiar to us than her silence, and her sad, abstracted calm.
Is It "Hanged"
Or Is It "Hung?"Around six-thirty one night early in April, Jessika, Sally's former colleague from Boom Chicago called to say that Angie Driscoll's boyfriend, Rick, had hung himself.
"You mean hanged," I told her. "Who?" "Angie, from Boom."
"Angie ... The black girl who looks sort of like Chaka Khan?" She told me, yes, the black girl from Boom. I went on to say that that was awful, sad and everything.
"Anyway," Jessika said, "there's a kind of a wake tonight." I wished Sally had picked up the phone. She'd know what to say. "And who was he exactly, this Rick?"
"He worked at Boom, too. The wake's just around the corner from you guys."
"Out here in the west [Amsterdam district]?"
"That's right. They live nearby. You went to a party at their place last summer. In the back yard."
"Is it there?"
"No, but it's nearby. I think it'd be good for Angie to have people around her."
"Does she even know who I am? I never worked at Boom."
"If you don't want to go, Sean, don't go."
"Does anybody want to go to a wake, Jess? Is it the sort of thing people enjoy?"
I got off the phone and told Sally that Angie Driscoll's boyfriend, Rick, had hung himself.
"Hanged," she said. "Who's Angie Driscoll?"
Go to the complete
Broken StringsIn trying to recapture the presence of my Mother I am pulling at broken strings. The years run back through the pattern of her confusions. Her flowers and songs, her unshaken fidelities, her attempts at order, her relapses into squalor, her near madness, her crying for light, her almost daily weeping for her dead child-daughter, her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man, her hysterical rages, her justice towards each of us children --- all these rode my Mother and sat on her shoulders like a roosting of ravens and doves. Equally I remember her occasional blooming, when she became secretly beautiful and alone. And those summer nights --- we boys in bed when the green of the yew trees filled the quiet kitchen, and she would change into her silk, put on her bits of jewellery, and sit down to play the piano.
She did not play well; her rough fingers stumbled, they trembled to find the notes --- yet she carried the music with little rushes of grace, half-faltering surges of feeling, that went rippling out through the kitchen windows like signals from a shuttered cage. Solitary, eyes closed, in her silks and secrets, tearing arpeggios from the yellow keys, yielding, through dusty but golden chords, to the peak of that private moment, it was clearly then, in the twilit tenderness she created, that the man should have returned to her.
I would lie awake in my still-light bedroom and hear the chime of the piano below: a ragged chord, a poignant pause, then a twinkling wagtail run. Brash yet melancholy, coarse yet wistful, it would rise in a jangling burst, then break and shiver as soft as water and lap round my listening head. She would play some waltzes, and of course "Killarney"; and sometimes I would hear her singing --- a cool lone voice, uncertainly rising, addressed to her own refection. They were sounds of peace, half-edged with sleep, yet disturbing, almost shamefully moving. I wanted to run to her then, and embrace her as she played. But somehow I never did.Go the complete
All-Talk RadioWomen! He loves the way they walk, the way they move, the way they sigh, they way they think, are, see, grow old, love, laugh, die. They are to be taken to the beach, buried in the sand, then pulled from their warm graves and plunged into colorful warm oceans --- nixies in the sweet soft waters of the sweet soft sea.
Ernest is a Don Juan in the best sense --- he loves women because they are there to be loved. I regret that I did not fit our car with microphone and cassette, for our conversations, suitably transcribed, would go down as the Boswell-Johnson dialogues of the 18th, or the Miller-Durrell exchanges of the 20th Century.Go the complete