Highlights from The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Cover of The Sentence
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Highlights from this book

  • Sometimes I’d see a tiny restaurant I liked the look of so I’d get off at the next stop and go inside, order soup. I took a tour of world soups. Avgolemono. Sambar. Menudo. Egusi with fufu. Ajiaco. Borscht. Leberknödel suppe. Gazpacho. Tom yam. Solyanka. Nässelsoppa. Gumbo. Gamjaguk. Miso. Pho ga. Samgyetang. I kept a list in my diary, with the price of the soup next to each name. All were satisfyingly cheap and very filling.

  • Also, as I was finding, this dimming season sharpens one. The trees are bare. Spirits stir in the stripped branches. November supposedly renders thin the veil.

  • Actually, Penstemon is desperately romantic, deeply tied to her traditions, and I worry for her paper heart.

  • Alongside my bed there is always a Lazy Stack and a Hard Stack. I put Flora’s book onto the Hard Stack, which included Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, two works by Svetlana Alexievich, and other books on species loss, viruses, antibiotic resistance, and how to prepare dried food. These were books I would avoid reading until some wellspring of mental energy was uncapped. Still, I usually managed to read the books in my Hard Stack, eventually.

  • Once in a while I encounter that oblivion in the form of an unreal me. This unreal me is paralyzed by one bottomless thought: I didn’t choose this format. I didn’t choose to be organized into a Tookie. What, or who, made that happen? Why? What will happen if I do not accept this outrage? It isn’t easy to stay organized in this shape. I can feel what it would be like to stop making that effort. Without constant work the format called me would decay.

  • All over the world—in Greek villages, in the American Southwest, among the Tuareg—blueness repels evil. Blue glass bottles on windowsills keep devils out, and so on. Thus the front door, painted spirit blue, and the vibrant blue canopies above the windows.

  • ‘Riding a bus has really been useful to me in terms of sleep,’ said Louise. ‘You know how intolerable it is, how awful you feel, after a night or two of sitting up to sleep on a bus? Your feet prickle, yeah, and the back? Agony.’ ‘Everything hurts,’ said Pollux. ‘That’s what I think about when I really can’t sleep. How desperately I wanted to stretch out on the floor in the middle aisle. I would not have cared how gross it was. Nothing. I’d have done anything just to stretch out. After I think about how cramped and desperate I was back then, I usually fall asleep.’

  • The phone never stopped. The information in my head boiled over. Even though I wrote things down, my DO list kept accumulating. I began hearing the phones even after work, as I walked home, as I arrived home, all the time. Now, not only was I haunted at the bookstore, but the bookstore began to haunt me at home. Phones rang in my dreams. It was exhausting, but also there was something moving about this attention. Louise had been excited by the word ‘essential.’ As it turned out, books were important, like food, fuel, heat, garbage collection, snow shoveling, and booze. Phones ringing meant our readers had not deserted us and some far-off day they would walk into the bookstore again. Sometimes it was exhilarating to be needed. Sometimes I felt important.

  • People wandered about like toddlers, bending over to look at last year’s dried grass. They watched the sky and examined the tags of newly planted city trees. And the air—it was a clean cold food. Sunlight hit my shoulders at an angle, just that slight burn promising summer. The city closed off parkways so people had room to walk outside and the paths were always full of people dodging one another, stepping off curbs and stumbling into gutters.

  • Pollux was sitting at a little table next to the window. It was one of his workstations, which are scattered through the house and garage. He’d brought this table into our room when Hetta began to inhabit his office. It was the place he worked with the eagle feathers. They were beautiful mottled brown and white feathers, wing feathers, so they curved slightly. Pollux was straightening them out by stroking the spines on a hot lightbulb. He was wearing sunglasses against the glare. Over and over he drew the feather over the glass. This would only be normal in a Native person’s house. The feather gradually straightened. It took a long time. I watched him from under my pillows. The light lay on his hair, picking out silver, black, and white strands. The patience of him, the way he was devoted to that feather, worked on me. Again and again he warmed the feather, bent it the opposite direction, pulled it straight, warmed it again. He seemed the picture of human love. I knew the fan was for me. I knew the feathers actually were me—Tookie—straightened by warmth applied a thousand times.

  • Jeronimo Yanez shooting Philando Castile in one annihilating movement. Seven shots. We’ll never be clean again, I remember thinking at the time. None of us who let this happen. But what had I done since? A few things. Not effective things.

  • An elder announced that the jingle dress dance was meant to heal people and whoever needed healing could come forward. People moved in from every direction. They held one another up.

  • What flowed over me was not easy to feel and I resisted, but then a ripple of energy caught me up and spread, became wider, powerful, deep, musical, whole, universal: it was the drum. My hip pained me on the side where I came down hardest. I kept dancing. I saw spots and lights, nearly fainted, but still I danced, on and on.

  • ‘A hummingbird remembers every flower it has ever sipped from,’ said Asema. ‘I remember every beer I’ve ever drunk with you,’ Pollux said to me.

  • Pollux’s grandma had once told him dogs are so close with people that sometimes, when death shows up, the dog will step in and take the hit. Meaning, the dog would go off with death, taking their person’s place. I was pretty sure that Gary had done this for Roland and then visited the store to let me know.

  • ‘I really believe that to live inauthentically is to live in a sort of hell.’

  • You can’t get over things you do to other people as easily as you get over things they do to you.

  • Mine is the god of isolation, the god of the small voice, the god of the little spirit, of the earthworm and the friendly mouse, the hummingbird, the greenbottle fly and all things iridescent.

  • ‘You let the logs burn long enough so they made a space between them. You gotta keep the fire new. Every piece of wood needs a companion to keep it burning. Now push them together. Not too much. They also need that air. Get them close, but not on top of each other. Just a light connection all the way along. Now you’ll see a row of even flames.’

  • Books contain everything worth knowing except what ultimately matters. —Tookie