First Sentences

“When he was old and allowed himself a reverie, he remembered the soil and the way it felt as it caressed his feet.” Jonathan Alter, His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life.

“They were firing from the bell-tower with machine-gun bursts or careful rifle shots, according to our movements.” Leonardo Sciascia, Antimony.

“On January 16, 1934, a Nazi customs official arrived at the door of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Cell Physiology with a stack of papers.” Sam Apple, Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection.

“This was the day that Daniel vaulted the wall.” Louis de Bernières, The Dust That Falls from Dreams.

“The hillside on which the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were about to make such a grisly fool of Lieutenant Colonel William J. Fetterman was dun-colored and bare, with no cover save for broken rocks that looked as if they had been thrown down by a short-tempered God.” Sally Jenkins, The Real All Americans: The Team that Changed a Game, a People, a Nation.

“Gramercy Park is the most wistful and the gentlest of the New York squares, and the Players Club is one of the handsomest buildings in it.” David Stacton, The Judges of the Secret Court: A Novel about John Wilkes Booth.

“’Remember the year 1763,’ the celebrated stage actor David Garrick told James Boswell.” Colin G. Calloway, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. (History group.)

“Bill Rankin sat motionless before his typewriter, grimly seeking a lead for the interview he was about to write.” Earl Derr Biggers, Behind That Curtain.

“More than a decade later, racial antagonism still burned in Jones County, a south Mississippi setting with a complex history.” Curtis Wilkie, When Evil Lived in Laurel: The “White Knights” and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer.

“For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet.” Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn.

“Law is the intersection of language and power.” Fred R. Shapiro, The Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations.

“I am lucky: I know what people say about me.” Lauren Belfer, City of Light.

“Why should we begin with biblical, Greek, and Roman wives?” Marilyn Yalom, A History of the Wife.

“The two suspects sat on mismatched furniture in the white and almost featureless lounge, waiting for something to happen.” Alex Pavesi, The Eighth Detective.


I watched a few minutes of a TV travel show about the Alps. It showed street performers in a touristy town. There was yodeling. That evening while getting ready for bed, an NPR segment featured yodeling. I had heard yodeling twice in a day when I had not heard that art form for a long time. I used to hear it more because a lot of country singers once yodeled, and I thought that even my favorite of the singing cowboys, Roy Rogers, occasionally yodeled. The next day I went to YouTube and was pleased to find that some of my memories were still correct and that Roy Rogers did indeed yodel. (It does not seem right just to call him Rogers, but it would be ok to just say Roy.) That, as is my wont with YouTube, led me to other clips, and I heard more yodelers. I realized that during each of these yodeling encounters, I smiled while listening to the minute or two of the distinctive vocalizations. A whole hour of yodeling might be bad for mental health, but a few minutes can make you feel more lighthearted. Perhaps in these troubled times we all ought to take a break each day to listen to some yodeling.

I dreamt I was in a land where there was too much coffee. It was a fantasy.

Jonathan Alter reports in His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life (2020) that after Jimmy Carter said that he would tell no lies as president, a reporter asked his mother Lillian Carter whether the Carters ever lied. Miss Lillian said that the family had told white lies. When asked for an example of a white lie, she said, “Remember how when you walked in here, I told you how sweet and pretty you were?”

Old joke: She said that she wanted to confess the sin of vanity because she always thought about how beautiful she was when she looked in the mirror. The priest replied, “My child that is not a sin. That is a mistake.”

“How hollow and insincere it sounds when someone says, ‘I am determined to be perfectly straightforward with you.’ The thing needs no prologue; it will declare itself.” Marcus Aurelius.

I was at first surprised that the Wisconsin Congressman on Fox News was not wearing a U.S. flag pin. Instead, on his lapel was a Green Bay Packers symbol. You might not think that he has his priorities right, but for a Wisconsin politician he does.

A reminder to everybody: This year I continue to be awards-eligible.

New York City pedestrians violate the traffic laws less than they did a generation ago. I was used to walkers coming to an intersection with the light against them and looking for a break in traffic in order to scamper across before they got the green. Now if people can’t cross when they get to the corner, they look not at the traffic but down and read, scroll, or text on their smartphones. They don’t look for an opening in the cars and trucks and often don’t even notice that the light has changed.