ElevensYesterday morning after jogging around Washington Square Park, I spotted a dime and a penny side by side on the sidewalk, and scooped them up and dropped them in my pocket and forgot about them. Then this morning, just as I finished my jog near where, two years ago today, Susana and I first saw the wide fire-rimmed gash in the north tower of the World Trade Center, I noticed another dime and penny on the ground. Eleven cents, which I dropped into the pocket with the others. "Eleven," said Susana. "September Eleven." Odd. That particular combination of coins two days in a row. She asked to see, and I pulled the four coins out of my pocket and gave her one set -- I guess we wanted to make this event have some meaning. As we continued walking, it occurred to me to check the dates on the coins. This you're not going to believe, but it's true. My penny was 1973. The dime was 2001. The years of the two most dramatic September 11's in our lifetime.
For my record of that Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, see Attack on New York: Day 1, The First Impact, the first entry of a five-day journal.
How happy the assassins! Looming anniversary of an international tragedyAs we prepared ourselves here to face yet another anniversary -- the 30th -- of a terrible, murderous political act that took thousands of lives and changed at least one country's destiny, my partner and I went over to the Brecht Forum to view Patricio Guzmán's tremendous film, "The Battle of Chile." We hadn't seen it for decades, and now that we've lived through many more crimes against humanity, maybe we have learned enough to be able to understand it. The attempted Chilean revolution, aborted suddenly in a US-sponsored coup on September 11, 1973, was a more complex affair than anyone could have comprehended while it was going on. I didn't get to Chile until five months after the calamity -- the Armed Forces attack on the presidential palace, the overthrow of a long democratic tradition, the first phase of murders and disappearances of anyone who questioned the military's right to rule. I went with nine other people as a member and organizer of "The Chicago Commission of Inquiry into the Status of Human Rights in Chile." Frank Teruggi, whose son (also named Frank) was one of those killed, was part of our group. We found out a lot, but the crime of murder of democracy -- abetted by Nixon and Kissinger -- is only part of the story. The other part is what preceded it, the daily, desperate struggle of working people to make Chile a more just society, and that is what one sees in the film. And that has been what has permitted Chilean democracy to re-emerge, albeit tentatively, decades later. Meanwhile, I recommend to you (if you don't already know it) Greg Palast's website. He is doing good work on Latin America.
Why read?asks Laura Miller in yesterday's The New York Times Book Review. She means "Great Books" as distinct from, say, instructional manuals on how to cook a meal, or improve our communications, or renew our faith and so on, that people read for more or less practical reasons. Her answer is that "Solitary pleasure is finally the only real reason for reading..."
No, that's not quite right. Crossword puzzles, computer games and pornography are for solitary pleasure. If I read mainly for pleasure, I wouldn't finish half the things I start. Martin Amis, for example, who is clever but often downright unpleasant. Or Gore Vidal's Creation, which (as I've already said) I found tedious as fiction though full of odd tidbits of historical lore. I think I read mostly out of curiosity. I'm not seeking pleasure so much as clues to what is going on: in literature, in politics, in physics and anything else.
And like anybody who is trying to write fiction, I read other people's stories to find out how they do it, what works and what doesn't. And sometimes I make a startling discovery. For example, now I know why Dave Eggers is so highly regarded! (I hadn't understood why, after reading earlier stories of his.) "The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water" is wonderfully told. It is not just a story but an appreciation of life, of the sensual experience of light, touch, cold, heat, clouds, sex, and the uncaring motion of the waves. It's in Zoetrope All Story 7, 2 (Summer 2003).