READING LIST: Identical Twins
Two siblings look alike.
One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons, -
A natural perspective, that is and is not!
[…] How have you made division of yourself?
An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin
Than these two creatures.
FROM THE VAULTS:
Intersex and transgender literature
Trumpet, Jackie Kay
When the love of your life dies, the problem is not that some part of you dies too, which it does, but that some part of you is still alive.
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan
Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.
Luna, Julie Anne Peters
Yeah, I loved her. I couldn’t help it. She was my brother.
Golden Boy, Abigail Tarttelin
Sometimes I still feel that there are two of me: one clean, flawless picture, the other imperfect and cracked; one boy, one girl; one voice that speaks aloud and one that whispers in my ear; one publicly known to have been troubled but be on the mend, the other who has privately lost something to do with innocence and gained something to do with knowledge and adulthood that can never be undone. I feel sometimes there are things that tear me in two directions, that there are two sets of thoughts that grow side by side. But then I realize that I am whole, whatever that means and does not mean; I am complete without the need for additions or alteration.
FROM THE VAULTS:
(A guest post by our resident Russia expert hardtobeagod.)
A School For Fools, Sasha Sokolov
The rhododendron, growing every minute somewhere in Alpine meadows, are far happier than we, for they know neither love, nor hate, nor the Perillo slipper system, and they don’t even die, since all nature, excepting man, is one undying, indestructible whole. If one tree somewhere in the forest perishes from old age, before dying, it gives the wind so many seeds, and so many new trees grow up around it on the land, near and far, that the wold tree, especially the rhododendron doesn’t mind dying. […] Only man minds and feels bitter, and burdened as he is with egotistical pity for himself.
Pushin House, Andrei Bitov
Unreality is a condition of life. Everything is shifted and exists a step away, with a purpose other than it was named for. On the level of reality, only God is alive. He is reality. All else is divided, multiplied, canceled out, factored-annihilated.
Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats - any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death - then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself.
The Gulag Archipelago, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
I am aware of myself. And, of course, the only things that are aware of themselves and conscious of their individuality are irritated eyes, cut fingers, sore teeth. A healthy eye, finger, tooth might as well not even be there. Isn’t it clear that individual consciousness is just sickness?
And Quiet Flows The Don, Mikhail Sholokhov
The grass grows over the graves, time overgrows the pain. The wind blew away the traces of those who had departed; time blows away the bloody pain and the memory of those who did not live to see their dear ones again—and will not live, for brief is human life, and not for long is any of us granted to tread the grass.
The Fierce and Beautiful World, Andrei Platonov
He walked around all the useless things in the courtyard and touched them with his hands; for some reason, he wished that these would remember him, and love him. But he didn’t believe they would. From childhood memories he knew how strange and sad it is after a long absence to see a familiar place again, for these unmoving objects have no memory and do not recognize the stirrings of a stranger’s heart.
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? After all, shadows are cast by objects and people. There is the shadow of my sword. But there are also shadows of trees and living creatures. Would you like to denude the earth of all the trees and all the living beings in order to satisfy your fantasy of rejoicing in the naked light?
Life and Fate, Vasily Grossmann
…neither fate, nor history, nor the anger of the State, nor the glory or infamy of battle has any power to affect those who call themselves human beings. No, whatever life holds in store —- hard-won glory, poverty and despair, or death in a labor camp —- they will live as human beings and die as human beings, the same as those who have already perished; and in this alone lies man’s eternal and bitter victory over all the grandiose and inhuman forces that ever have been or will be…
Envy, Yury Olesha
Human life is insignificant. What’s ominous is the movement of the spheres. When I settled here, a sun speck sat on the doorjamb at two in the afternoon. Thirty-six days passed. The speck jumped to the next room. The earth had completed another leg of its journey. The little sun speck, a child’s plaything, reminds us of eternity.
FROM THE VAULTS:
Botany and Zoology
The Signature Of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
It used to be that god was revealed in the wonders of nature; now God was being challenged by those same wonders. Scholars were now required to choose one side or the other.
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession, Susan Orlean
'You'll curse the insects,' he said at least, 'and you'll curse the natives… The sun will burn you by day and the cold will shrivel you by night. You'll be racked by fever and tormented by a hundred discomforts, but you'll go on. For when a man falls in love with orchids, he'll do anything to possess the one he wants. It's like chasing a green-eyed woman or taking cocaine… it's a sort of madness…'
Under The Sea-Wind, Rachel Carson
With the dusk a strange bird came to the island from its nesting grounds on the outer banks. Its wings were pure black, and from tip to tip their spread was more than the length of a man’s arm. It flew steadily and without haste across the sound, its progress as measured and as meaningful as that of the shadows which little by little were dulling the bright water path. The bird was called Rynchops, the black skimmer.
King Solomon’s Ring, Konrad Lorenz
Without supernatural assistance, our fellow creatures can tell us the most beautiful stories, and that means true stories, because the truth about nature is always far more beautiful even than what our great poets sing of it, and they are the only real magicians that exist.
The Peregrine, J.A. Baker
No pain, no death, is more terrible to a wild creature than its fear of man.
My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Malcolm Durrell
Among the myrtles the mantids moved, lightly, carefully, swaying slightly, the quintessence of evil. They were lank and green, with chinless faces and monstrous globular eyes, frosty gold, with an expression of intense, predatory madness in them. The crooked arms, with their fringes of sharp teeth, would be raised in mock supplication to the insect world, so humble, so fervent, trembling slightly when a butterfly flew too close.
Anonymous asked: "I saw your post where you reccomend dystopian fiction books (I think you named it 'From the vaults') and was wondering if you had done something like that for other genres? Because that would be great to read. :)"
Am I about to make your day.
FROM THE VAULTS:
Letters From Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien
I am more shaky than usual this year. The North Polar Bear’s fault! It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place, broke the moon into four - and the Man in it fell into my back garden. He ate quite a lot of my Christmas chocolates before he said he felt better, and climbed back to mend it and get the stars tidy.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Everyone knew [Father Christmas] because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world - the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But not that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also very solemn.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
"I don’t know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!"
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie
In conversation, points arise! If a human being converses much, it is impossible for him to avoid the truth!
Holidays On Ice, David Sedaris
But instead I am applying for a job as an elf. Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.
Let It Snow, John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
Maybe you’ve never fallen into a frozen stream. Here’s what happens.
1. It is cold. So cold that the Department of Temperature Acknowledgment and Regulation in you brain gets the readings and says, “I can’t deal with this. I’m out of here.” It puts up the OUT TO LUNCH sign and passes all responsibility to the…
2. Department of Pain and the Processing Thereof, which gets all this gobbledygook from the temperature department that it can’t understand. “This is so not our job,” it says. So it just starts hitting random buttons, filling you with strange and unpleasant sensations, and calls the…
3. Office of Confusion and Panic, where there is always someone ready to hop on the phone the moment it rings. This office is at least willing to take some action. The Office of Confusion and Panic loves hitting buttons.
FROM THE VAULTS:
Art and Artists
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.
Girl With A Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
He could taste the familiar tang of museum air - an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon - the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.
Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood
There were no men in this painting, but it was about men, the kind who caused women to fall. I did not ascribe any intentions to these men. They were like the weather, they didn’t have a mind. They merely drenched you or struck you like lightning and moved on, mindless as blizzards. Or they were like rocks, a line of sharp slippery rocks with jagged edges. You could walk with care along between the rocks, picking your steps, and if you slipped you’d fall and cut yourself, but it was no use blaming the rocks.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.
To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: “But this is what I see; this is what I see,” and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her.
Note: It seems that the internet police is cracking down on epub websites, so many of these links are to Amazon!
FROM THE VAULTS:
Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of VIolent Faith, Jon Krakauer
Although the far territory of the extreme can exert an intoxicating pull on susceptible individuals of all bents, extremism seems to be especially prevalent among those inclined by temperament or upbringing toward religious pursuits. Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a crucial component of spiritual devotion. And when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination, all bets are suddenly off.
Kraken, China Miéville
I know, I know,” Moore said. “Mad beliefs like that, eh? Must be some metaphor, right? Must mean something else?” Shook his head. “What an awfully arrogant thing. What if faiths are exactly what they are? And mean exactly what they say?”
"Stop trying to make sense of it and just listen," Dane said.
"And what," Moore said, "if a large part of the reason they’re so tenacious is that they’re perfectly accurate?”
Roughing It, Mark Twain
Wherever he found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
Silas could feel his homeland testing him, drawing violent memories from his redeemed soul. You have been reborn, he reminded himself. His service to God today had required the sin of murder, and it was a sacrifice Silas knew he would have to hold silently in his heart for all eternity.
Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk
Nobody wants to worship you if you have the same problems, the same bad breath and messy hair and hangnails, as a regular person. You have to be everything regular people aren’t. Where they fail, you have to go all the way. Be what people are too afraid to be. Become whom they admire. People shopping for a messiah want quality. Nobody is going to follow a loser. When it comes to choosing a savior, they won’t settle for just a human being.
FROM THE VAULTS:
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Leaning over the battlements and looking far down, I surveyed the grounds laid out like a map: the bright and velvet lawn closely girdling the grey base of the mansion; the field, wide as a park, dotted with its ancient timber; the wood, dun and sere, divided by a path visibly overgrown, greener with moss than the trees were with foliage; the church at the gates, the road, the tranquil hills, all reposing in the autumn day’s sun; the horizon bounded by a propitious sky, azure, marbled with pearly white.
A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood
But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until — later of sooner — perhaps — no, not perhaps — quite certainly: it will come.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving
It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
To his eyes all seemed beautiful, but to me a tinge of melancholy lay upon the countryside, which bore so clearly the mark of the waning year, Yellow leaves carpeted the lanes and fluttered down upon us as we passed, The rattle of our wheels died away as we drove through drifts of rotting vegetation—sad gifts, as it seemed to me, for Nature to throw before the carriage of the returning heir of the Baskervilles.
Poor Folk, Fyodor Dostoevsky
How I used to love the country in autumn! Then but a child, I was yet a sensitive being who loved autumn evenings better than autumn mornings. I remember how beside our house, at the foot of a hill, there lay a large pond, and how the pond—I can see it even now!—shone with a broad, level surface that was as clear as crystal.
FROM THE VAULTS:
Post-Soviet Russian Literature
A guest post by hardtobeagod.
Medea and Her Children, Lyudmila Ulitskaya
Medea did not believe in chance, and her life had been full of portentous meetings, strange coincidences, and surprises which came together in a quite incredible manner. Someone she had once met would return many years later and change the whole direction of her life; threads would be drawn tighter, joined together, would form stitches and make a pattern which became ever clearer as the years passed.
The Winter Queen, Boris Akunin
On Monday the fifteenth of May in the year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow’s Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitnesses to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency.
The Yellow Arrow, Victor Pelevin
I am closest of all to happiness—although I won’t attempt to define just what it is—when I turn away from the window and am aware, with the edge of my consciousness, that a moment ago I was not here, there was simply the world outside the window, and something beautiful and incomprehensible, something which there is absolutely no need to ‘comprehend,’ existed for a few seconds instead of the usual swarm of thoughts, of which one, like a locomotive, pulls all the others after it, absorbs them all and calls itself ‘I’.
Here Comes The Messiah, Dina Rubina
Then they went down to a local cafeteria - a large, quite comfortable room on the first floor, with paneling modestly bordered in formica - and each took a cup of coffee. What she really wanted was a beer, and maybe about 500 grams of cognac to boot, before whatever else lay in store for her today.’
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
There once lived a woman who hated her neighbor — a single mother with a small child. As the child grew and learned to crawl, the woman would sometimes leave a pot of boiling water in the corridor, or a container full of bleach, or she’d just spread out a whole box of needles right there in the hall. The poor mother didn’t suspect anything — her little girl hadn’t learned to walk yet, and she didn’t let her out in the corridor during the winter when the floor was cold. But the time was fast approaching when her daughter would be able to leave the room on her own. The mother would say to her neighbor, “Raya, sweetie, you dropped your needles again,” at which point Raya would blame her poor memory. “I’m always forgetting things,” she’d say.
The Slynx, Tatyana Tolstaya
You read, move your lips, figure out the words, and it’s like you’re in two places at the same time: you’re sitting or lying with your legs curled up, your hand groping in the bowl, but you can see different worlds, far-off worlds that maybe never existed but still seem real. You run or sail or race in a sleigh—you’re running away from someone, or you yourself have decided to attack—your heart thumps, life flies by, and it’s wondrous: you can live as many different lives as there are books to read.
Generations of Winter, Vasily Aksyonov
Just then Veronika, an attractive woman in a sealskin coat, darted out of the pharmacy, her blue eyes sparkling like signal lights on the yacht of an overthrown monarch.
N.B. Since it is difficult enough to find translations of more contemporary Russian literature, the links are not to epub files but to Amazon.