Excerpts and Quotes From Books

Started in Summer 1997

The following are excerpts from a few of the books I love and which I would like to recommend. Of course, there are so many more books I've found worth reading. Unfortunately, most of the books I love very much won't ever get reflected here, because of my very limited time for extra work such as maintaining my home page(s).

Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
Eugen Herigel: Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschießens
Douglas Coupland: Microserfs

Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat

It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk and left the quiet earth alone with the stars. It seemed as if, in the silence and the hush, while we her children slept, they were talking with her, their sister - conversing of mighty mysteries in voices too vast and deep for childish human ears to catch the sound.

They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We are as children whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god they have been taught to worship but know not; and, standing where the echoing dome spans the long vista of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some awful vision hovering there.

And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the night. In its great presence, our small sorrows creep away, ashamed. The day has been so full of fret and care, and our hearts have been so full of evil and of bitter thoughts, and the world has seemed so hard and wrong to us. Then Night, like some great loving mother, gently lays her hand upon our fevered head, and turns our little tear-stained face up to hers, and smiles, and, though she does not speak, we know what she would say, and lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the pain is gone.

Sometimes our pain is very deep and real, and we stand before her very silent, because there is no language for our pain, only a moan. Night's heart is full of pity for us: she cannot ease our aching; she takes our hand in hers, and the little world grows very small and very far beneath us, and, borne on her dark wings, we pass for a moment into a mightier Presence than her own, and in the wondrous light of that great Presence, all human life lies like a book before us, and we know that Pain and Sorrow are but the angels of God.

Only those who have worn the crown of suffering can look upon that wondrous light; and they, when they return, may not speak of it, or tell the mystery they know.

George said he had often longed to take to punting for a change. Punting is not as easy at it looks. As in rowing, you soon learn how to get along and handle the craft, but it takes long practice before you can do this with dignity and without getting the water all up your sleeve.

One young man I knew had a very sad accident happen to him the first time he went punting. He had been getting on so well that he had grown quite cheeky over the business, and was walking up and down with the punt, working his pole with a careless grace that was quite fascinating to watch. Up he would march to the head of the punt, plant his pole, and then run along right to the other end, just like an old punter. Oh! it was grand.

And it would have gone on being grand if he had not unfortunately, while looking round to enjoy the scenery, taken just one step more than there was necessity for, and walked off the punt altogether. The pole was firmly fixed in the mud, and he was left clinging to it while the punt drifted away. It was an undignified position for him. A rude boy on the bank immediately yelled out to a lagging chum to "hurry up and see a real monkey on a stick".

I could not go to his assistance, because, as ill-luck would have it, we had not taken the proper precaution to bring out a spare pole with us. I could only sit and look at him. His expression as the pole slowly sank with him I shall never forget; there was so much thought in it.

I watched him gently let down into the water, and saw him scramble out, sad and wet. I could not help laughing, he looked such a ridiculous figure. I continued to chuckle to myself about it for some time, and then it was suddenly forced upon me that really I had got very little to laugh at when I came to think of it. Here was I, alone on a punt, without a pole, drifting helplessly down midstream - possibly towards a weir.

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farrady's Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days.

Eugen Herigel: Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschießens

Aber damit es dahin komme, daß Können also "geistig" werde, ist, wie in der Kunst des Bogenschießens, eine Konzentration aller körperlichen und seelischen Kräfte erforderlich, auf die, um es an neuen Beispielen zu zeigen, unter keinen Umständen verzichtet werden kann.

Ein Tuschmaler nimmt vor seinen Schülern Platz. Er prüft die Pinsel und legt sie bedächtig bereit, reibt sorgsam Tusche, rückt die lange schmale Papierbahn, die vor ihm auf der Matte liegt, zurecht, um dann endlich, nach längerem Verweilen in tiefer Konzentration, in der er wie unberührbar erscheint, aus raschen, unbedingt treffsicheren Strichen ein Bild entstehen zu lassen, das keiner Korrektur mehr fähig und bedürftig, den Schülern als Vorlage dient. Ein Blumenmeister beginnt den Unterricht damit, daß er den Bast, der Blumen und Blütenzweige bündelt, behutsam löst und sorgfältig aufgerollt beiseite legt. Er mustert sodann die einzelnen Zweige, wählt in wiederholter Prüfung die besten aus, gibt ihnen durch achtsames Zurechtbiegen die Form, der sie je nach ihrer Rolle entsprechen müssen, und stellt sie endlich in einer ausgesuchten Vase zusammen. Das vollendete Gebilde sieht so aus, als hätte der Meister erraten, was die Natur in dunkeln Träumen ahnt.


Weshalb aber läßt der Lehrer die nun einmal unvermeidlichen, aber doch durchaus untergeordneten Vorarbeiten nicht etwa durch einen erfahrenen Schßler erledigen? Beflügelt es denn seine künstlerische Schau- und Gestaltungskraft, wenn er die Tusche selbst reibt, wenn er den Bast, anstatt ihn hastig aufzuschneiden und achtlos wegzuwerfen, so umständlich löst? Und was bewegt ihn dazu, in jeder Unterrichtsstunde mit derselben unerbittlichen Eindringlichkeit diesen Vorgang ohne jeden Abstrich geradezu pedantisch zu wiederholen und von den Schülern nachahmen zu lassen? Er hält deshalb an dem überlieferten Brauche fest, weil die Vorbereitungen zum Werk zugleich, wie er aus Erfahrung weiß, die Bedeutung haben, ihn auf sein künstlerisches Schaffen einzustellen. Er verdankt der besinnlichen Ruhe, in der er sie ausführt, jene entscheidende Lockerung und Ausgewogenheit aller seiner Kräfte, jene Sammlung und Geistesgegenwart, ohne welche kein rechtes Werk gelingt. Absichtslos in sein Tun versunken, wird er dem Augenblick entgegengeführt, in dem sich das Werk, das ihm in ideellen Linien vorschwebt, wie von selbst vollbringt. Wie beim Bogenschießen die Schritte und Stellungen, haben hier in abgewandelter Form andere Vorspiele denselben Sinn. Und nur da, wo dies nicht angeht, beim kultischen Tänzer etwa und dem Schauspieler, wird die Sammlung und Versenkung auf die Zeit vor ihrem Auftreten verlegt.

Kindly and quickly typed in by my wife Biggi

"You must hold the drawn bowstring, like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn't think: I will no let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing. Completely unself-consciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things, were it not equally true that the things are playing with the child?
"Do you know why you can not wait for the shot and why you get out of breath before it has come? The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfillment, but brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way - like the hand of a child."

"For ultimately, I draw the bow and loose the shot in order to hit the target. The drawing is thus a means to an end, and I cannot lose sight of this connection. The child knows nothing of this, but for me the two things cannot be disconnected."

"The right art, is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen."

"So I must become purposeless...on purpose?"

Stolen from Kyudo: Japanese Archery (this is the direct link to the page containing the excerpt).

Douglas Coupland: Microserfs

While taking Misty on a walk with Mom through the Stanford Arboretum, Mom was telling me about this conversation she heard between two people with Alzheimer's down at the seniors home where she volunteers:
A: How you doin'?
B: Pretty good. You?
A: How you doin'?
B: I'm okay.
A: So you're doing okay?
B: How you doin'?
I laughed, and she asked me why, and I said, "It reminds me of America Online chat rooms!" She demanded an example, so I gave her one:
A: Hey there.
B: Hi A.
A: Hi B.
C: Hi
B: Look, C's here.
A: Hi, C!
C: A + B = A + B
A: Gotta go
B: Bye, A
C: Bye, A
B: Poo
C: Poo poo

..., and it really seemed like one of those foreign movies that you rent and return half-wound because they're too contrived to be believed, and then real-life happens, and you wonder if the Europeans understood everything all along.

Gabriel Zachmann
Last modified: Thu Aug 17 10:26:04 MDT 2006