Since 2014, more or less, I've been including the second paragraph of the third chapter (C3P2's, for short) of books that I have read as part of my reviews here (If there are no chapters, I look for the second paragraph of the third sub-section within the text; if there are no sub-sections, as is sometimes the case for shorter pieces, I just take the third paragraph from the beginning.) I was originally inspired by H, and have carried on; it feels like a differently valid way of engaging with the literature that I am reading. Now that we are eleven and a half months through 2021, I thought I'd look back over the year so far and see which of the C3P2 extracts is most interesting.
Not all graphic novels or bandes dessinées are divided into chapters, but most of them are, and a lot of those that I read are in fact albums combining half a dozen monthly issues. So it's not too difficult to identify the C3P2 in most cases, and one can make adjustments of course; if there are no internal sub-sections, take the second frame of page 3, or whatever is most convenient. My top three for the year so far are:
3) Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, art by Hugo Martínez, written by Rebecca Hall
As will be discussed later on, non-fiction in general does better than fiction in terms of the C3P2. This isn't necessarily the case in comic form, but I love this streetscape by Hugo Martínez of early 18th-century New York, with the hidden legacy of slavery. You can get it here.
2) Coraline, art by Terry Dodson, written by Denis-Pierre Filippi (biggest frame of page 3)
The plot of this two-album series made no sense at all, but the art is gorgeous and this is a nice reaction frame from the second volume. You can get it here.
1) Old Friends, art by Roberta Ingranata, written by Jody Houser
In general fiction books don't provide good C3P2's, and Doctor Who books are no exception, but again comics are different and I love this character moment between the Thirteenth Doctor and the enigmatic Time Lord known as the Corsair. You can get it here.
Special mention 1: Brian Aldiss's chair
After the great writer Brian Aldiss died in 2017, his daughter Wendy photographed everything in his house as away of dealing with her own grief, and then published them. The third photograph in My Father's Things, very evocatively, is Brian Aldiss's favourite chair, now forever empty.
I'm lumping all fiction other than comics together, because although this constitutes by far the largest share of my reading, the C3P2's tend not to be as memorable. Though I am just waiting to read a book where we read something like:
"What are you doing, Jake?" Isabelle asked.
"Oh, I'm trying to come up with a good second paragraph for the third chapter of my book," Jake replied. "There's this guy who has nothing better to do than compare that sort of thing."
The C3P2 test is not passed well by many fiction books. By chapter 3, the plot is already getting under way, and most writers will have established some momentum. Often paragraphs reflect dialogue between characters, or inner musings, and become correspondingly more difficult to separate from the surrounding text. To pick on the worst example of the year so far, in Angel of Mercy, by Julianne Todd, Claire Bartlett and Iain McLaughlin, a spinoff novel featuring the minor Doctor Who character Erimem, the second paragraph of the third chapter is:
More positively, my top five fictional C3P2's for the year so far are:
5) 4.50 from Paddington, by Agatha Christie:
She looked defiantly at Miss Marple and Miss Marple looked back at her.
It's short but it's effective, like the scene between the Doctor and the Corsair. You can get it here.
4) Second paragraph of "A Bit of our Harlem", the third story from A Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, by Zora Neale Hurston:
The boy approached the table where the girl sat with the air of a homeless dog who hopes that he has found a friend.
A simple but vivid simile. You can get the book here.
3) Cloud on Silver aka Sweeny's Island, by John Christopher:
Smells came over the still waters of the harbour, unidentifiable, disturbing in a way that she was not sure if she liked or disliked. And distant cries, in a language she did not know. A large catamaran, with twin red sails, was cutting across the bows of a motor-launch which was chugging out on one revved-down engine. Across the harbour the town glittered white under blue skies lightly strewn with cirrus. She thought suddenly of London, and so of John. He would be leaving the office about this time, joining the crowd that surged towards Holborn Viaduct station. Or perhaps calling in at the Printer's Devil for a drink. She smiled; that was, on the whole, more likely. Standing with one elbow on the bar, a pint of light ale in front of him, talking boisterously, laughing from time to time that deep reverberating laugh which, she so well remembered, drew people's attention to him from the furthest corner of the most crowded bar. He would not think of her until later — in the compartment crowded with strangers, walking alone along the road from the station to the neat detached house with the garden he was so proud of, and the three boys he was so proud of, and the wife with whom he spent his evenings and week-ends bickering.
I didn't much care for the book as a whole (you can get it here), but I think this is an effective bit of characterisation and scene-setting.
2) Little Free Library, by Naomi Kritzer:
She could see the Little Free Library from her living room window, and watched the first day as some of the neighborhood kids stopped to peer in. When she checked that afternoon, she noticed that Ender’s Game, Dragonsinger, and Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine had all been taken. The next day, someone had left a copy of The Da Vinci Code, which made her grimace, but hey, there were people who adored that book, so why not. She put in her extra copy of Fellowship of the Ring along with two Terry Pratchett books.
I loved this story anyway, and this is a nice bit of scene-setting for the concept that books really are gateways to other worlds. You can get it here.
1) The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris:
Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself reclined on his bunk, perusing the Italian edition of Vogue. He held the loose pages in his right hand and put them beside him one by one with his left. Dr. Lecter has six fingers on his left hand.
Vivid, economical and memorable. You can get the book here.
Special mention 2: Welcome to Night Vale Scripts
It's very difficult to really identify a C3P2 in a script for a play or film. The exception is Welcome to Night Vale, which is (mostly) a monologue by a single narrator in a very weird town. I love the second paragraphs from both episode 3, Station Management, and episode 28, Summer Reading Program. The second paragraph of episode 3, Station Management, is:
The Night Vale Business Association is proud to announce the new Night Vale Stadium, next to the Night Vale Harbor and Waterfront Recreation Area. The stadium will be able to seat fifty thousand, but will be closed all nights of the year except November 10, for the annual Parade of the Mysterious Hooded Figures, in which all of our favorite ominous hooded figures — the one that lurks under the slide in the Night Vale Elementary playground, the ones that meet regularly in The Dog Park, and the one that will occasionally openly steal babies, and for a reason no one can understand, we all stand by and let him do it — all of them will be parading proudly through Night Vale Stadium. I tell you, with these new facilities, it promises to be quite a spectacle. And then it promises to be a vast, dark, and echoey space for the other meaningless 364 days of the year.
You can get it here, in Mostly Void, Partially Stars, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.
The second paragraph of Episode 28, Summer Reading Program, is:
Nevertheless, in a show of civic dedication, or mindless bloodlust – and they really are so similar – Night Vale's librarians have banded together in defiance of authority to reinstate Summer Reading. Colorful posters with appealing statements like, "Get Into A Good Book This Summer!" and "We Are Going To Force You Into A Good Book This Summer!" and "You Are Going To Get Inside This Book, And We Are Going To Close It On You And There Is Nothing You Can Do About It!" have appeared overnight around the library entrance and in local shops and businesses, all sporting the clever tagline, "Catch the flesh-eating reading bacteria!" The Sheriff's Secret Police have responded by interrogating the proprietors of businesses where the posters have appeared, and by removing and confiscating the posters themselves. Although, to be honest, listeners, the graphic design work is really cute. I mean, have you seen them? The little flesh-eating germ, with his sun hat and library book, using a screaming semi-skeletal human victim as a beach chair? Ah! Adorable.
It's collected in Great Glowing Coils of the Universe, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which you can get here.
Non-fiction, whether scholarly monographs or anguished autobiography, tends to produce much the best C3P2's. There are so many to choose from; but these are my four favourites of 2021 so far, three of them autobiographical, which I think is perhaps telling.
4) Statement and Correspondence Consequent on the Ill-Treatment of Lady de la Beche by Colonel Henry Wyndham, edited by Anne Auriol (second paragraph of the third letter of the collected correspondence, from Lady de la Beche to her legal adviser):
If General Wyndham would only be good enough to state what I have to hope from him, I should at once be enabled to arrange my plans for the ill-fated and unhappy future! Under existing circumstances, and remembering my unfortunate connexion of near sixteen years with him, which has entailed so much misery upon me and my poor mother and brother, and more especially at my time of life, I consider I am in every way entitled to a definitive settlement, whether it is yielded as a matter of right, or merely that which his own kindness of heart and feelings of honour may dictate to him to do.
An extraordinary cri du cœur from my distant relative Letitia de la Beche, who separated from her geologist husband after a brief marriage and then took up with a war hero, who after sixteen years dumped her for her cousin. Spectacularly, the online text has Letitia's own hand-written annotations. Even without that, this is a great paragraph.
3) The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence 1918-1923, by Charles Townshend:
Martial law was restricted to the south-west to keep Dublin open for those, in Sturgis's jokey phrase, 'as wants to negotiate'. A few on both sides seem to have wanted to. They found a new intermediary in Patrick Joseph Clune, Archbishop of Perth, a man with some experience of the war — he had been visiting his native Clare at the time of the Rineen ambush and the reprisals that followed it, and his nephew had died in Dublin Castle along with McKee and Clancy on Bloody Sunday. Shortly after the Kilmichael ambush he was enlisted by Joe Devlin as a go-between, and spent most of December moving between Dublin and London, talking to Griffith in prison, and twice to the Prime Minister, who certified him as 'thoroughly loyal'.1 He seems to have drafted agreed truce terms that included immunity for Collins and Mulcahy.
1 Lloyd George to Greenwood, 2 Dec. 1920. HLRO F/19/1/28.
One of those books where every paragraph tells its own story, but is also part of the bigger story, and makes you want to read more about how Ireland became independent. You can get it here. (I haven't yet blogged this one, but I finished it at the weekend.)
2) A Woman in Berlin:
Halsbrecherischer Treppenabstieg. Ich blieb einmal mit dem Absatz an einer Stufenkante hängen. Todesschreck, konnte mich eben noch am Geländer fangen. Weiter, mit weichen Knien. Ich suchte und tastete lange und herzklopfend in dem stockfinsteren Gang herum, bis ich die Hebel der Kellertür fand. A breakneck rush down the stairs. I was scared to death when my heel got caught on the edge of a step. I barely managed to grab hold of the railing in time. My knees went weak, but I went on, heart pounding, slowly groping my way through the pitch-dark passage. Finally I found the lever to the basement door.
This is an incredible narrative of life in Berlin as the Third Reich disintegrated, which you can get here. The English translation above doesn't quite get the staccato urgency of the German original – "Halsbrecherischer Treppenabstieg"; "Todesschreck"; "Weiter, mit weichen Knien" (and this is before the Russians have even arrived). It's an intense and evocative short piece which is true to the spirit of the book as a whole.
1) A Buzz in the Meadow, by Dave Goulson:
From a very young age I kept newts and common toads in tanks in my bedroom, and this went atypically well. The toads in particular made great pets, seemingly taking to captivity and providing great entertainment by hoovering up mealworms with their extending, sticky tongues. When I grew bored of them, or ran out of mealworms from the supply that I bred in a box under my bed, I could simply release the toads back into the garden. However, I longed to have some more exotic amphibians, and eventually I badgered my parents into buying me a pair of North American leopard frogs for Christmas: attractive, bright-green frogs with (as you might guess from the name) a profusion of black spots. I filled one of my glass fish tanks with piles of stones, peat, some plants and a small pond, to make an attractive home for them. It looked great and the frogs settled in well, but after just a few weeks their energetic hopping about caused one of the piles of stones to topple; I came home from school one day to find them both squashed.
This is a little short story of its own, my top C3P2 for the year (unless I read something better in the next couple of weeks). Poor frogs! You can get it here.
So I'm going to keep this up; it makes me happy, and does no harm.