Tuesday, April 20, 2010

John McPhee, again

Tonight I finished Silk Parachute, a just-published book of John McPhee's essays. They're pieces from here and there - some have the seeds of his book-length works, and some are one-offs. He talks about lacrosse, and the New Yorker's fact-checking team, and eating weird foods, and canoeing. All his essays make you glad to be alive.

And best of all, he ends with a short piece on New Jersey. When you come from a maligned state, you cannot imagine how wonderful it is to have a respected man of letters stick up for your homeland - and a man of letters who you kind of want to kidnap and make talk to you forever and ever, too.

Here's what he says: "I must go [to Alaska] from time to time to recover from the sheer physiographic intensity of living in New Jersey - must go, to be reminded that there is at least one other state that is physically as varied but is sensibly spread out."

Someone from Tennesse asked him why "a writer, who could live almost anywhere he wanted to, chooses to live in New Jersey."
Is he kidding?...When you cross New Jersey, you cover four events: the violent upheaval of two sets of mountains several hundred million years apart; and, long after all that, the creation of the Atlantic Ocean; and, more recently, the laying on of the Coastal Plain by the trowel of the mason. Do they know that in Tennessee? Tennessee is a one-event country: all you see there, east to west, are the Appalachians, slowly going away.

New Jersey has had the genius to build across its narrow center the most contentrated trasportation slot in the world...a tube, a conduit, which has acquired through time an ugliness sufficient to stop a Gorgon in her tracks. Through this supersluice continuously pass hundreds of thousands of people from Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Tennessee, holding their breath. They are shot like peas to New York. If New Jersey has a secret, that is it.
I love him.

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