Why reading John Fante is a great exercise in mindfulness

December 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

John Fante is one of my favorite writers. I found out about him through Charles Bukowski who mentioned him in one of his books. Fante was one of Bukowski’s greatest inspirations – and Bukowski later wrote an introduction for Ask The Dust, Fante’s most famous work.

I don’t really know what attracts me in John Fante‘s writing, what’s so great about him, but maybe that’s a good thing. As Nassim Taleb says about friends:

“If you find any reason why you and someone are friends, you are not friends.”
– Nicholas Nassim Taleb, The Bed Of Procrustes

Maybe that’s a rule that can be applied to books, art, sports, music, film, … as well.

All of Fante’s books I read, I got through in a day or two and you could probably finish all of his works in a week. His books are never about too much and that might be his greatest strength as he’s one of these writers who has the ability to observe, to see a lot in a little and transform an – at first sight – rather commonplace situation into a remarkable thing; which is a welcome contrast to the high speed, high sensation world of information-overload we live in.

Michael Foley articulated it really well in The Age Of Absurdity:

“Literary reading revitalizes personal experience by revealing that what appeared so drab and dreary was in fact mysterious and extraordinary – and it provides new experience by communicating life in a way that feels as though it had actually been lived. And not only does it renew past experience, its urgent command to pay attention, like the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, makes the present incomparably richer.”

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes out of Fante’s The Bandini Quartet:
 

ASK THE DUST

“You are nobody, and I might have been somebody, and the road to each of us is love.”

“We talked, she and I. She asked about my work and it was a pretence, she was not interested in my work. And when I answered it was a pretence. I was not interested in my work either. There was only one thing that interested us, and she knew it, for I had made it plain by my coming.”

“I understood it. She did not hate Arturo Bandini, not really. She hated the fact that he did not meet her standard.”

 

WAIT UNTIL SPRING BANDINI

“If God is everywhere, why do I have to go to Church on Sunday? Why can’t I go down to the Imperial Poolhall? Isn’t God down there too?”

“If there is work there is warmth, that when a man has freedom of movement it is enough, for then his blood is hot too.”

 

DREAMS FROM BUNKER HILL

“I went to the library and found again the books that had changed my life: Sherwood Anderson, Jack London, Knut Hamsun, Dostoevsky, D’Annunzio, Pirandello, Flaubert, de Maupassant. The welcome they gave me was much warmer than the cold curiosity of old friends I met in the town.”

 

THE ROAD TO LOS ANGELES

“I started writing. But in a few minutes I was disgusted. I changed clothes and packed a suitcase. I needed a change in background. A great writer needed variation. When I finished packing I sat down and wrote a farewell note to my mother.

Dear Woman Who Gave Me Life:

The callous vexations and perturbations of this night have subsequently resolved
themselves to a state which precipitates me, Arturo Bandini, into a
brobdingnagian and gargantuan decision. I inform you of this in no uncertain
terms. Ergo, I now leave you and your ever charming daughter (my beloved sister
Mona) and seek the fabulous usufructs of my incipient career in profound
solitude. Which is to say, tonight I depart for the metropolis to the east — our
own Los Angeles, the city of angels. I entrust you to the benign generosity of your brother, Frank Scarpi, who is, as the phrase has it, a good family man
(sic!). I am penniless but I urge you in no uncertain terms to cease your
cerebral anxiety about my destiny, for truly it lies in the palm of the immortal gods. I have made the lamentable discovery over a period of years that living
with you and Mona is deleterious to the high and magnanimous purpose of Art, and I repeat to you in no uncertain terms that I am an artist, a creator beyond question. And, per se, the fumbling fulminations of cerebration and intellect find little fruition in the debauched, distorted hegemony that we poor mortals, for lack of a better and more concise terminology, call home. In no uncertain
terms I give you my love and blessing, and I swear to my sincerity, when I say
in no uncertain terms that I not only forgive you for what has ruefully
transpired this night, but for all other nights. Ergo, I assume in no uncertain terms that you will reciprocate in kindred fashion. May I say in conclusion that I have much to thank you for, O woman who breathed the breath of life into my
brain of destiny? Aye, it is, it is.

Signed.

Arturo Gabriel Bandini.

Suitcase in hand, I walked down to the depot. There was a ten-minute wait for
the midnight train for Los Angeles. I sat down and began to think about the new novel.”

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