Thursday, June 02, 2005

Book Meme

Responding to Shepcat’s utterly flattering tag is irresistible, but I’m terrified I’ll disappoint. While I appreciate your logic, I must, in all humility, be honest and credit whatever literary ability I’ve developed to National Geographic ("member since 1993!") and a superbly written (and illustrated) series of graphic novels called ElfQuest, which I devoured at the unsuitable age of ten. (When they say graphic, they really mean it; but the language is poetic and steadily sophisticated, despite being in all-caps.) My good grammar is simply the result of good parenting. Sadly, I’m not picky about reading material; I read everything I can get my hands on. But then again, maybe it’s that wide range of influences that might someday make me a successful writer. And I rarely go in search of a good read, although I’m prone to single out Pulitzer winners, just because I like the motivational result: “This won a Pulitzer? I can do better than that.”

  1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned

An actual figure here would be misleading, because during my ten formative years in San Diego, I made darn good use of the exceptional County library system, especially the one on Coronado Island. Working my way through college wasn’t conducive to budgeting for a book habit, so I made due by carting home armloads of thrift store paperbacks, something I still do too often. A few of those original paperbacks I still have (I’m working on third copies of some), but most got weeded out during numerous relocations in the past five years.

Do jointly owned and inherited books count? And what about my graphic novels and college textbooks? And what about all the classics I intend to buy, the Shakespeare and Herodotus and Jane Austen? My current 340 square feet is not a lot of space to comfortably cohabitate with a private library, but if I were to pack up all the books that have stood by me, they might fit into three 27-inch T.V. boxes. That doesn’t seem like enough to me.

I’m betting that only the truly unenlightened can actually count the number of books they’ve owned in their lifetime.

2. What was the last book you bought?

I bought The Shipping News on Author E. Annie Proulx lives in Wyoming, but is not a native, and after Mom’s cousin Eileen reluctantly turned us on to her Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2, I had to see if another of her books contained the secret to her acclaim because folks, Bad Dirt is sort of a rotten collection of stories. I sincerely hope people who read it don’t take it as an authentic depiction of life in Wyoming, although she claims that, according to her extensive research, it is. I find myself wishing that Ms. Proulx would pack up her hard case self and her grimy literature and get out of my state. However, even though I’m offended, I have to admit that her repulsive, vivid style makes The Shipping News a decent read. I’m still puzzling about the Pulitzer.

3. Last Book I’ve read

Over a year behind on the mania, I choked down Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The dialogue and imagery reminded me of The Babysitters’ Club from the first sentence, but I’m no snob. It ought to make a good movie. And I like books that are sort of historical soup.

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me

For whatever reason; not necessarily that they’re ideal. This is purely subjective, right?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Never was a fairy tale more empowering, and never could it have been better timed. The guy at Aunt Ellen’s Water in I.B. was a recovering addict of some breed, and he had a knack for searching souls. He must have sensed my aimlessness and self doubt, because he took this unassuming quick read off a shelf and loaned it to me; I read it in a few hours and went back to buy it that night. The keynote speaker at my college graduation used it for her spiel, a coincidence I thought perfect. Part mystery, part manual, and part folksong, I start reading at whatever random, lovely page I open to at least once a month. Read it and see if you can pick out the gorgeous phrase (repeated twice, and highlighted in my oft-loaned copy, something I rarely do) that I’m considering having tattooed on my forehead.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I am a total sucker for this book, another one I got hold of probably too soon (eleven), even though I haven’t liked any of her subsequent novels (and I tried them all in hopes that it would recreate the thrill of reading this one for the first time). Oddly enough, my life grew to contain a conflict much like the stalwart heroine’s, which might explain its continued appeal for me (not to mention the fact that it’s a great piece of fiction). Richly descriptive, with utterly believable characters and emotions and a vast, consuming plot that’s to die for, this is one of the books I’ve owned in triplicate. I use parts of the tattered paperback covers for bookmarks. It’s one of my travel and necessary-distraction staples.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Time says this book is a “rare and spellbinding web of dreams.” I’ll buy that. I first encountered it in a stucco room in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico during the heat of August, in a pile of American literature Oscar’s endearing father brought me to while away the time until someone who spoke English showed up to translate for us (Oscar was at work). I snatched it up and inhaled it. I bawled openly twice, which caused poor Armando great alarm. It’s poetic, it’s extreme. It’s dark as blood and white as light. It’s almost the stark, vicious love story Lolita is, which brings me to

Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov. I second Shepcat’s praise, especially the notion that it isn’t fair that somebody whose native language wasn’t English should have the ability to manipulate it the way he did. It’s absolute magic, and something I aspire to as well. Poor raving Humbert! What a phenomenal fictional character. I saw the film, with Jeremy Irons as Humbert, in Pomona one night years ago with Larry and I simply had to read the book. I read it again whenever my writing plods or grows stale, and it never fails to be the necessary jolt.

And last but not least: Scarlett, the sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s singular Gone with the Wind, which Alexandra Ripley was commissioned to write by Mitchell’s nephews and boy, did she ever get some serious critical flak for doing so. I read the book, very open-mindedly, as a new and separate thing, and I love it. I think I’m on paperback number four. I love Scarlett’s drastic but believable emotional transformation, the vivid descriptions of environments and details, the tidbits of history and mythology woven in, and, perhaps best, the happy ending. And there’s some very lovely language, too, and a grand supporting cast. What more could you ask for in a book?

5. The Tag-Five-Others Challenge

I don’t think I know five people who blog (and read mine), let alone know what a blog is. But, to be game, I tag Lenny, who has been known to read a wide range of things, and JOB, who doesn’t have time to read but never fails to surprise me, and Libby, who, as a librarian, is surely pretty acquainted with books (although her current blog doesn’t necessarily lend itself to this kind of activity). I suggest Larry get busy and develop a blog for this express purpose, and continuing it would be at her discretion, because I know she doesn’t have time, either. And I’m going to ask Mom to do it, and I’ll post her results on here because there’s no way she could find the time to run a motel and blog, and WebTV doesn’t lend itself to this sort of thing, anyhow.

This has been fun; I knew it would be. But it also demonstrates my complete inability to be succinct. I hope you made it this far; I realize it got entirely out of hand. Words do that to me.


Blogger Shepcat said...

You didn't disappoint at all, A, and when I read your allusion to Herodotus early in the post, I just knew that The English Patient would be one of the books you named in #4. (Ondaatje is another one of those damn foreigners — he's Sri Lankan — whose command of English I envy. A poet who writes novels. He absolutely kills me.)

Also, I've got a copy of Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes in my library that I've never gotten around to reading. I'll try to work it into my queue sometime soon to confirm whether I need to come up there and help you boot her ass out of Wyoming.

June 4, 2005 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger A said...

Excellent, Shepcat, on all counts. Sri Lankan makes a ton of sense; Mom and I were trying to think he was Dutch with a name like that. Talk about reason to be offended.

I hope I'm not selling Ms. Proulx short; I try not to be the kind of person who gets offended about anything, and after all, the key word here is fiction. But there was something about it that just rubbed me wrong, especially when she tells interviewers she scours the countryside for believable characters. Those are NOT my family, friends and neighbors.

You'll have to share your opinion when you get 'er read and see if she did any better setting it somewhere else. Thanks for being potential backup, and thanks for the fun meme.

June 5, 2005 at 4:27 PM  

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