My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Book I: The Shimerdas

I

The engine was panting heavily after its long run1. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stood huddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes. I knew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about. The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There was an old man, tall and stooped2. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood holding oilcloth a bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother’s skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began to talk, shouting and exclaiming3. I pricked up my ears, for it was positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue4.

Another lantern came along5. A bantering voice called out:6 “Hello, are you Mr. Burden’s folks? If you are, it’s me you’re looking for. I’m Otto Fuchs. I’m Mr. Burden’s hired man, and I’m to drive you out. Hello, Jimmy, ain’t you scared to come so far west?”

I looked up with interest at the new face in the lantern light. He might have stepped out of the pages of “Jesse James.” He wore a sombrero hat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of his mustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns7. He looked lively and ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ran across one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl8. The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian’s. Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platform in his high-heeled boots9, looking for our trunks10, I saw that he was a rather slight man, quick and wiry11, and light on his feet. He told us we had a long night drive ahead of us, and had better be on the hike. He led us to a hitching-bar where two farm wagons were tied, and I saw the foreign family crowding into one of them. The other was for us. Jake got on the front seat with Otto Fuchs, and I rode on the straw in the bottom of the wagonbox, covered up with a buffalo hide. The immigrants rumbled off into the empty darkness, and we followed them.

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Preface from The Soloist by Steve Lopez

The Soloist by Steve Lopez

Preface

I’m on foot in downtown Los Angeles12, hustling back to the office with another deadline looming. That’s when I see him. He’s dressed in rags on a busy downtown street corner, playing Beethoven on a battered violin that looks like it’s been pulled from a Dumpster.

“That sounded pretty good,” I say when he finishes.

He jumps back three steps, eyeing me with suspicion. I see the name Stevie Wonder carved into the face of the violin, along with felt-pen doodles.

“Oh, thank you very much,” he says, obviously flattered2. “Are you serious?”

“I’m not a musician,” I answer. “But yes. It sounded good to me.”

He is black, just beyond fifty, with butterscotch eyes that warm to the compliment. He is standing next to a shopping cart heaped over with all his belongings, and yet despite grubby, soiled clothing, there’s a rumpled elegance about him.3He speaks with a slight regional accent I can’t place. Maybe he’s from the Midwest or up near the Great Lakes, and he seems to have been told to always stand up straight, enunciate, carry himself with pride and respect others.

“I’m trying to get back in shape,” he says. “But I’m going to get back in there, playing better. I just need to keep practicing.”

“So you like Stevie Wonder?” I ask.

“Oh, yes, certainly. ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life.’ ‘My Cherie Amour.’ I guess I shouldn’t have written his name on my violin, though.”

I write a column for the Los Angeles Times. The job is a little like fishing. You go out and drop a line, cast a net. I’m figuring this vagrant violinist is a column. Has to be.4

“I’m in a hurry at the moment,” I tell him, “but I’d like to come back and hear you play again.”

“Oh, all right,” he says, smiling appreciatively but with trepidation. He looks like a man who has learned to trust no one.

“Do you always play in this spot?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says pointing across the street with his bow to Pershing Square5, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. “I like to be near the Beethoven statue for inspiration.”

This guy could turn out to be a rare find in a city of undiscovered gems, fiddling away in the company of Beethoven.6 I would drop everything if I could, and spend a few hours pulling the story out of him, but that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got another column lined up and not much time to shape it. The deadlines come at you without mercy, even in your dreams.

“I’ll be back,” I say.

He nods indifferently.

Back at the office I seat out another column, scan the mail and clear the answering machine. I make a note on the yellow legal pad where I keep a list of possibilities.

Violin Man.

It’s got potential. Who knows where it will go?

Excerpt from Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

“Oh, it is not thus—not thus,” 7 interrupted the being. “Yet such must be the impression conveyed to you by what appears to be the purport of my actions. Yet 2I seek not a fellow feeling in my misery. No sympathy may I ever find3. When I first sought it, it was the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed4, that I wished to be participated. But now that virtue has become to me a shadow, and that happiness and affection are turned into bitter and loathing despair, in what should I seek for sympathy? I am content to suffer alone while my sufferings shall endure; when I die, I am well satisfied that abhorrence and opprobrium should load my memory5. Once6 my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But 7now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery,8 can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil9. Yet 10even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.”11

 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August is the Sun.12 Me and Mom and Dad2 are planets orbiting the Sun.3 The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun. The only celestial body that doesn’t orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that’s only because to her little doggy eyes, Augusts face doesn’t look very different from any other humans face. 4To Daisy, all our faces look a like, as flat and pale as the moon.

I’m used to the way this universe works. I’ve never minded it because it’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve always understood that August is special and has special needs. If I was playing too loudly and he was trying to take a nap, I knew I would have to play something else because he needed his rest after some procedure or other had left him weak and in pain. If I wanted Mom and Dad to watch me play soccer, I knew that nine out of ten times they’d miss it because they were busy shuttling August to speech therapy or physical therapy or a new specialist or a surgery.

Mom and Dad would always say I was the most understanding little girl in the world. I don’t know about that, just that I understood there was no point in complaining. I’ve seen August after his surgeries:5 his little face bandaged up and swollen, his tiny body full of IVs and tubes to keep him alive.6 After you’ve seen someone else going through that, it feels kind of crazy to complain over not getting the toy you had asked for, or your mom missing a school play. I knew this even when I was six years old. No one ever told it to me. I just knew it.7

Dune – Frank Herbert

‘Both open battle and secret,’ the Duke said. ‘There’ll be blood aplenty spilled before we’re through.’

‘ “And the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land,” ’ Hallack quoted.

The Duke sighed. ‘Hurry back, Gurney.’

‘Very good, m’Lord.’ The whipscar rippled to his grin. ‘ “Behold, as a wild ass in the desert, go I forth to my work.” ’

8 He turned, strode to the centre of the room, paused to relay his orders, hurried on through the men.

Leto shook his head at the retreating back. Hallack was a continual amazement 2  – a head full of songs, quotations, and flowery phrases 3…and the heart of an assassin when it came to dealing with the Harkonnens.

Presently, Leto took a leisurely diagonal course across the lift, acknowledging salutes with a casual hand wave. He recognised a propaganda corpsman, stopped to give him a message that could be relayed to the men through channels 4: those who had brought their women were safe and where they could be found. The others would wish to know that the population here appeared to boast more women than men.

The Duke slapped the propaganda man on the arm, 5 a signal that the message had top priority to be put out immediately, then continued across the room. He nodded to the men, smiled, traded pleasantries with a subaltern.

6 Command must always look confident, he thought. All that faith riding on your shoulders while you sit in the critical seat and never show it.

He breathed a sigh of relief when the lift swallowed him and he could turn and face the impersonal doors.

They have tried to take the life of my son!

The Maze Runner-James Dashner

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air. 7

Metal ground against metal; 2a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air.3 His back struck a hard metal wall; 4 he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness. 5

With another jolt,6the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.

Harsh sounds of chains and pulleys, like the workings of an ancient steel factory, echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls with a hollow, tinny whine.7 The lightless elevator swayed back and forth as it ascended, turning the boy’s stomach sour with nausea; a smell like burnt oil invaded his senses, making him feel worse. He wanted to cry, but8 no tears came; he could only sit there, alone, waiting. 9

My name is Thomas, he thought.

That… that was the only thing he could remember about his life.

He didn’t understand how this could be possible. His mind functioned without flaw, trying to calculate his surroundings and predicament. Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works. He pictured snow on trees, running down a leaf-strewn road, eating a hamburger, the moon casting a pale glow on a grassy meadow, swimming in a lake, a busy city square with hundreds of people bustling about their business.10

And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. 11 He didn’t even know his last name. 12 Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. 13 He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.

The room continued its ascent, swaying; Thomas grew immune to the ceaseless rattling of the chains that pulled him upward.14A long time passed. Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. 15 No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he’d been moving for roughly half an hour.

 

 

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I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it 16; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea cosy. I can’t say that I am really comfortable, and 2 there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And3 I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring. I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen house. Though even that isn’t a very good poem. I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn’t write any more of it. 

It is comforting to look away from the windows and towards the kitchen fire, near which my sister Rose is ironing though she obviously can’t see properly, and it will be a pity if she scorches her only nightgown. (I have two, but one is minus its behind.)4 Rose looks particularly fetching by firelight because she is a pinkish person; her skin has a pink glow and her hair is pinkish gold, very light and feathery. Although5 I am rather used to her I know she is a beauty. She is nearly twenty one and very bitter with life. I am seventeen, look younger, feel older. I am no beauty but have a neatish6 face. 

I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud. I must admit that our home is an unreasonable place to live in. Yet I love it.7Intentional fragment: This short sentence, although not an independent clause, creates emphasis by standing on its own. By disconnecting this phrase from the first independent clause, Casandra portrays the conviction of her love for her home despite its being unreasonable, and she makes the idea more important.

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The Living by Matt de la Pena

Shy went to knock on Supervisor Franco’s open door but froze when he saw someone was already in there – the older black dude with the funky gray hair who was always writing in his leather notebook. 8

Franco looked up at Shy, said: “May I help you?” 2

“It’s okay,” Shy said. I’ll just come back later.”

“Please. 3

You can wait outside. We will be done here momentarily.”

Shy stepped away from the door, leaned against the wall and let his warm eyelids slowly drop. As he listened to Franco’s heavy accent, he tried to imagine his nephew stuck inside the same quarantine room as his grandma. But he couldn’t. Miguel was too tough. Never even caught a cold. He remembered throwing around a football with the kid just a few hours before he left for his first voyage. In the alley behind their building. One of Shy’s longer tosses slipped right through Miguel’s little-kid hands, and the football smacked him in the face, split his lip. But Miguel didn’t go down. Just looked up at Shy as blood trickled down his chin, got all over his T-shirt. He forced himself to smile at Shy, laugh even – though his eyes were filling with tears, too.4

Shy felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes.

The man he’d just seen in Franco’s office was staring at him, holding his shoeshine kit. “How do you sleep standing up like that, young fella?”

“I was just closing my eyes,” Shy said, wiping a tiny bit of drool from the corner of his mouth.

The man grinned. “Franco’s on the phone now. Says he’ll have to check back with you later.”

Shy nodded.

Still no answers about the suit guy or their trashed room. Nothing to tell Rodney.

The man looked toward the window down the hall. “They’re worried about this storm rolling in. Supposed to hit sometime tonight.”5

“It’s an actual storm now?” Shy had yet to experience even a drop of rain in the time he’d spent out with the cruise ship. But he’d learned in training how badly storms affected the way passengers spent money.6

Which meant fewer tips. Less money to bring back home to his mom and sis.

A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter by Markus Zusak

His favorite fight, now that he looked back, was Fight Number Five against a tall, tough, rangy kid named Walter Kugler. They were fifteen.7 Walter had won all four of their previous encounters, but this time, Max could feel something different.2 There was new blood in him—the blood of victory—and it had the capability both to frighten and excite.3

As always, there was a tight circle crowded around them. There was grubby ground. There were smiles practically wrapped around the on looking faces. Money was clutched in filthy fingers, and the class were filled with such vitality that there was nothing else but this.

God, there was such joy and fear there, such brilliant commotion.

The two fighters were clenched with the intensity of the moment, their faces loaded up with expression,4 exaggerated with the stress of it.5 The wide-eyed concentration.6

After a minute or so of testing each other out, they began moving closer and taking more risks. It was a street fight after all, not an hour-long title fight. They didn’t have all day.

“Come on Max!” one of his friends was calling out.” There was no breath between any of the words. “Come on, Maxi Taxi, you’ve got him now, you’ve got him, Jew-Boy, you’ve got him!”7

A small kid with soft tufts of hair, a beaten nose, and swampy eyes, Max was a good head shorter than his opposition. His fighting style was utterly graceless, all bent over nudging forward, throwing fast punches at the face of Kugler. The other boy, clearly stronger and more skillful, remained upright, throwing jabs that constantly landed on Max’s cheeks and chin.

Max kept coming.8

“Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan

I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but 9 as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose.

When I found out that my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried. 2 What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappoint-ment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?

On Christmas Eve I saw that my mother had outdone herself in creating a strange menu. She was pulling black veins out of the backs of fleshy prawns. The kitchen was littered with appalling mounds of raw food: A slimy rock cod with bulging eyes that pleaded not to be thrown into a pan of hot oil. Tofu, which looked like stacked wedges of rubbery white sponges. A bowl soaking 3 dried fungus back to life. A plate of squid, their backs crisscrossed with knife markings so they resembled bicycle tires.

And then they arrived – 4 the minister’s family and all my relatives in a clamor of doorbells and rumpled Christmas packages. Robert grunted hello, and I pretended he was not worthy of existence. 5

Dinner threw me deeper into despair. My relatives licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table, dipping them into the dozen or so plates of food. 6 Robert and his family waited patiently for platters to be passed to them. My relatives murmured with pleasure when my mother brought out the whole steamed fish. Robert grimaced. Then my father poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. “Amy, your favorite,” he said, offering me the tender fish cheek. I wanted to disappear.

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