22 August 2006

Books

Lacking anything particularly interesting to post, I will fall back on that mainstay of blog content production, the meme -- this time with one that many people have been doing (and hey, if it's good enough for The Valve, it's good enough for me)...

One book that changed your life:
Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 3rd Edition, edited by Laurence Perrine. When I was ten or twelve years old, I asked a college professor I knew for his opinion of science fiction, and he said it wasn't literature. I then set out to find out what literature was, and another college professor gave me a copy of this book. After reading through it, I still didn't know what literature was or why science fiction wasn't it, but I had learned to look more closely at things I read than I ever had before. While now I find Perrine's approach sometimes simplistically traditional (the litcrit equivalent of trying to hammer a nail with a shotgun), nonetheless, it's still not a bad way to begin, and it opened up a realm of thinking for me that I'd never imagined existed. (And introduced me to some stories, poems, and plays that I continue to cherish.)

One book you have read more than once:
I don't tend to reread novels, unless I'm teaching them, and that generally has little to do with how much I love them (I really don't care much for The Great Gatsby, for instance, but have read it at least 10 times). Poetry I always read over and over again, often returning to writers as much for their rhythms as any particular poem -- I always try to keep a copy of some poems by Paul Celan around, also Olena Kalytiak Davis, Frank O'Hara, T.S. Eliot, Charles Simic, Robert Creeley (yes, aside from Celan I'm tremendously prejudiced in favor of 20th century American poetry; for some reason, those are the rhythms I like best). Nonfiction I seldom read straight through, but instead plunder, often repeatedly. Which I suppose means that I should choose a novel, since if I've read a novel that I have not taught multiple times, then it's likely to be a book that means a lot to me somehow. Thus, the answer is: The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner. I've taught As I Lay Dying, so have read that multiple times as well, and have reread many parts of Absalom, Absalom!, which I think is a more substantial and fascinating book, but The Sound and the Fury is the Faulkner novel that gives me the most pleasure, the only one I have, for no particular reason other than love, reread cover-to-cover three times.

One book you would want on a desert island:
If I were taking this question literally, the answer would be How to Achieve a Painless Suicide with Sand and Sun (Nick wants a book to help get off the island; I just want an excuse to die). But taking the question by the spirit that usually underlies it -- what, lacking all other stimulation for the foreseeable future, would you want to have around for a book, if you could have only one -- I'd go with one lots of people choose, a complete edition of Shakespeare, because Shakespeare's work contains just about everything I want from literature -- humor, tragedy, beautiful language, dirty jokes, action and adventure -- and there are some plays I haven't yet had a chance to read, others that I've performed in or taught, and so feel like friends.

One book that made you laugh:
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen. Also his Sick Puppy. Now that I think of it, I've read both of those books multiple times, and each time have laughed through the entire thing. Just seeing Hiaasen books on a shelf makes me smile. Time to read some more, in fact...

One book that made you cry:
I suppose this is as in, moved me to tears, not, "This is so badly written I can't bear it!" Lots of books make me cry, actually -- I'm a sap when it comes to stories, and even the cheesiest, stupidest, most manipulative and moronic books and movies have this potential for me -- but it's rare that it feels like a real emotion. It did happen just last week though, when in one day I devoured Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, Truth & Beauty. (The basic outlines of which can be seen in this New York Magazine article, pieces of which became part of Truth & Beauty, but the vividness of the friendship requires the whole book.)

One book you wish you had written:
This almost never happens, because even if I absolutely adore a book, I don't tend to think of it as something I would do. But it did happen with Michael Cunningham's The Hours, just about the only book I've ever felt a sense of deja vu with, so many of its sentences somehow familiar, its ambitions similar to ones I have for my own writing, etc. It was both an alienating and comforting experience. I don't have any illusions that I would have or could have written The Hours in the way Cunningham did, but noneless I feel a closeness to it that I've not felt with any other book.

One book you wish had never been written:
Many people are saying Mein Kampf, and that makes a certain kind of sense, though I don't think it the nonexistence of the book itself would have alterred the course of history much. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a good choice, though, again, had it not existed some other anti-Semitic propaganda would have probably taken its place. Maybe something like The Turner Diaries, but again, I think if we follow the road of looking for a book that led to a socio-political disaster of some sort, we end up with lots of forces other than a book influencing the situation, and so the eradication of a book doesn't eradicate the situation. Instead of looking for some one book that caused terrible things to happen, what about a book that was somehow embarrassing to an otherwise good writer? None come immediately to mind with a writer I particularly care about, but I'm probably forgetting something...

One book you are currently reading:
ONE?!?!? Okay, here's one: Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, as some background for reading Brian Evenson's new novel, The Open Curtain, which promises to be wonderful and harrowing.

One book you have been meaning to read:
My to-be-read piles are large -- a couple of them are three feet tall, in fact. I have great intentions of reading all sorts of things. The one I've been feeling the most guilt about not reading yet is Andrea Hairston's Mindscape, which someone thought I would very much like and so had the publisher specially send to me, and I still hope to get to it, but it's long, and I don't tend to read long novels anymore unless forced, because, well, the number of novels over 300 pages that I've found fully satisfying is probably below 10, and I get much angrier at unsatisfying long novels than unsatisfying short novels, because the long ones waste more of my time. But I do hope to get to Hairston's book, because she's an interesting writer, and Aqueduct is an interesting publisher.

These are only 9 questions, and so I'm going to add one to make it an even ten:

One book you would like to see made into a movie:
Most books I like I hope Hollywood never gets anywhere near, and most good books simply don't make particularly good movies, anyway. But I've long wanted somebody to make a thoughtful, arty movie from Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. In fact, I've long wanted to make the movie myself, but I know if I did it, it would appeal to about 2,000 people at most, and would not make any money, so that's just never going to happen. I expect the rights have already been bought, anyway, so even if I win the lottery, it's not likely I'll be able to make this movie. Nonetheless, I hope someone a bit odd does -- for instance, I would love to see a version of The Man in the High Castle directed by Wong Kar-Wai.

5 comments:

  1. Well I've encountered hardly any of these, so yet more for the TBR pile. I was particularly interested in the one that changed your life - a book on literary criticism that interested someone so young must be good.

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  2. Great list - thanks.

    I had high hopes for Mindscape but I was underwhelmed and put it down after a hundred or so pages. The Barrier concept is interesting but the writing is fairly mundane and the plot drags. One problem was large sections written in an African-American dialect. I've never liked that technique in writing, and it has become increasingly rare. I remember all too well when Iain M Banks did an extreme dialect in 'Feersume Endjinn', but Banks can probably afford it. I was surprised to see such an elementary issue in a first novel.

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  3. I don't know if the Perrine would ever interest any other kid, but I was a geeky kid on a mission, so it consumed my life. It's a standard introduction to literature anthology; the old editions are very traditional, somewhat watered down New Criticism, but a really excellent place to begin for people with analytical minds. I've become such an inveterate postmodernist that it's easy for me to see the limitations of such an approach now and forget that learning a basic approach to image, symbolism, character, theme, etc. provides a strong foundation for a more complex and nuanced approach that includes some of the cultural and historical lenses I also like to apply.

    The book I really want to know what you think of, though, Clare, is George Ilsley's Manbug. I don't know why, but after reading it there were a couple people I thought of, wondering, "Love it? Hate it? How would X react?" and you were one of my X's.

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  4. Thanks Matthew and thanks very much for thinking of me - have just ordered both of them now. Looking forward to joining in the discussion at Litblog about this one.

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  5. Thanks for sharing. I'll have to try out some of your 20th century poets.

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