Monday, September 11, 2006

BOOKS: Memememememememe

Okay, I'm really back now. Seriously. For realsies this time. And nothing makes up for two weeks of blogging inertia like the black hole of distilled me-ness that is a meme. Melissa tagged me with this one, so you have her to thank.

1. A book that changed your life.
Have mercy. What a question. Every book I've ever read has changed my life, I hope, or else why do I keep reading?

2. A book you've read more than once.
If I like a book, I read it over and over, so really the answer to this question is massive. But if I had to name the book I've re-read the most, it'd be F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night. Fitzgerald gets a bad rap these days -- primarily, in my opinion, because too many of us were forced to read The Great Gatsby in high school, when we were too young to get it -- but his ability to create an almost painful level of pathos around characters who are almost completely unlikeable is uncanny. Tender Is the Night is a messy, imperfect story, but I find it extremely compelling.

3. A book you'd want on a desert island.
At one point, I would've probably said the Bible. If you had only one book to read, possibly forever, it seems like a logical choice, right? Lots of stories, thousands of characters, heavy on the subtext, which means it should bear re-reading well. And yet I know for a fact that the Bible is not the desert-island book for me.

A few years ago,
Rusty and I went to Cuba for two weeks, and I brought what I thought were more than enough books for the trip, with the thought in the back of my head that I could always buy more if I ran out. Au contraire, mon frere. No American tourists = very few English-language books in the bookstores. Fortunately, though, I always pack a Bible in my bag for just such emergencies. Admittedly, I'd never had to resort to this contingency in the past, but now my theory about the Good Book being a good desert-island read would finally be put to the test. It failed. I don't know about the rest of you, but for me, religious texts and all-you-can-drink mojitos from the cabana bar don't mix.

I'm thinking now that The Complete Calvin and Hobbes may be a better choice for me.

4. A book that made you giddy.
I don't know if any book has ever made me giddy, exactly. I suspect that Tom Robbins would like to make me giddy, but he annoys me too much to be successful. I don't know. Do books make you giddy? Am I missing out on something here?

5. A book you wish had been written.
I wish Jane Austen had taken her daily multivitamin so that she could've lived thirty years longer and written twenty or so more novels. She was just hitting her stride with Emma and Mansfield Park. Imagine how amazing her later novels would have been. It almost makes me want to cry. Speaking of which...

6. A book that wracked you with sobs.
Oh, lordy. I've written a whole post on this very subject. James Agee's Pulitzer-winning novel A Death in the Family is definitely the front runner in this category, but there are many, many titles in the running. It's funny, I rarely ever cry in the course of my day-to-day life. I guess I have books to thank for providing a vent for my repressed Canadian soul.

7. A book you wish had never been written.
Now this is an interesting question. I mean there are lots of crap books out there that I wish I'd never read (The Nanny Diaries, are your ears burning?), but other people seemed to like them so I don't want to take that away from them. And wishing away a book completely, so that nobody ever gets to read it... that's kind of a Big Brother-ish scenario that requires careful thought. I don't know that I want to take on the role of public censor, but I'll tell one book that tests my open-mindedness: Juliette by the Marquis de Sade. I picked up this book a few years ago, thinking it would just be a naughty read, and it utterly horrified me. It's an unspeakably vile book. I made it about a third of the way through, increasingly repulsed by each section. Wondering just how much worse it was going to get, I flipped ahead and skimmed through the remainder of the book, and it actually made me nauseous. So I put it away and didn't think about it.

We recently had a yard sale, however, during which I sold a lot of the books I'd boxed up last year, and I was forced to think hard about what I wanted to do with Juliette. When I thought about putting this book out for sale, my first reaction was a knee-jerk desire to keep this book away from people. When I wondered what else to do with it, I found myself considering throwing it in the garbage. As a staunch opponent of banning and destroying books, I was horrified at myself. So I ended up reluctantly putting the book out for sale -- high up on a shelf where children wouldn't accidentally see it -- with the rationale that free speech means trusting that people will hear or read ideas and make their own good judgments about them. Allowing Juliette to leave my hands and go out into the world was a trust exercise: it meant I had to believe in the goodness of my fellow humans to read this repugnant text -- as I did -- and be appropriately repulsed by it. Don't you disappoint me, humanity.

8. A book you are currently reading.
Oho, wouldn't you like to know? I don't kiss and tell 'til the kissin' is done.

9. A book you've been meaning to read.
Dude, where do I start? With the stacks of about thirty or so books sitting on my shelf? Before my visit to my sister, I would've mentioned Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, Russell Banks's The Darling, and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. But DoppelSis loaded me up with a chunk of books to add to the TBR pile, starting with Jane Urquhart's Away, which I've promised to read and send back to her if it ends up being good. Oy.

10. Tag 10.
I don't have so many friends that I can afford to lose them with this tagging business. Consider yourself tagged if you're so inclined, and be sure to let me know if you take the challenge.


Doppelsis said...

About time!!!!

I have reread The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields and The Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast numerous times. I actually get excited when I finish a book knowing that in a year or two I get to rediscover it all over again. So many books, so little time.

Thank you for not stabbing me in the heart by not including The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom in your list of crap books. I liked it, you hated it.

Anonymous said...

You are so right about high school ruining The Great Gatsby. I can't remember when I first read it, but it was in high school, and I was definitely way too young for it. I think I read it three or four times before I started to get even half of what was going on in the story. Fortunately, I fell in love with the way Fitzgerald writes, even if I didn't understand what he was writing about. I haven't read Tender is the Night yet, but coincidentally, its the very next book in my 'to read' pile, and I'm really looking forward to getting to it.

landismom said...

Welcome back! You were missed.

Did someone actually buy Juliette, or did you end up tossing it after all?

Anonymous said...

This is sad, but the first and only book that made me cry was Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And I was not a teenager when I read it. Oh Carmen, how I feel thee.

And I would say that one feels giddy when reading a book when two people who obviously are meant to be together are on the cusp of together-forever-ness...I get giddy then. Again, that's me reading YA lit, rather than anything grownup. Since grownups getting together lacks that...innocence? Hope? Baggage?

Em said...

Kids novels tended to make me cry more than any books I read later in life. Grades 3-5 were the worst years, in which Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia and Susan Beth Pfeffer's Nobody's Daughter came close upon each other's heels and I spent a good couple of weeks sobbing over my homework.
Might pick up the meme in order to have something, anything, to post on my dusty and abandoned blog.

Anonymous said...

I just read "The Year of Magical Thinking" and totally loved it. I am currently living in a small city in Thailand, and the choices at the local English-language library are limited. This book looked like an allright bet against all of the dusty books about financial planning in the 70s, etc. But it turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read.

And I told my mom about it, who said she'd been to a reading, and well, here's the story:

"I have been meaning to read that book as well. When I first read ABOUT it I thought I did not want to - I have never been a fan of her fiction - but she spoke at UNC and I automatically go hear any famous author who speaks at UNC. She read from the book for close to an hour and I was spellbound - especially the part about when her husband actually died - how one second life was so ordinary and the next second it changed for ever, but what she remebers are the details of the ordinariness. After she finished reading there was a question/asnwer period. Most were OK, but one guy huffed and puffed his angry way down the aisle and said something to the effect of 'why did you not bother to prepare something to say. All you did was read - I can read so why didn't you tell me something different' She very calmly replied "Because it was a 'reading'" and went on to the next question."

And that kind of made me like Ms. DIdion even more.

Anonymous said...

I have never read Marquis de Sade, but I remember wanting to scrub my brain after reading and cringing through "American Psycho".

Anonymous said...

New here, by way of Robin's blog.

Nice list... SO completely different from mine, which I will post later on.



Anonymous said...

Harriet The Spy is one of your favorite books?!?!?

Wonderful! My older sister gave that book to me when I was around 10 or something (I'm 42), and I can't wait for my daughter to read it when she is able (she is seven now).


Anonymous said...


Nichole said...

I'm so inclined!

Anonymous said...

Stephen Fry's books make me giddy -- all that kind-hearted wit! Similarly, some of Hugh Laurie's riffs in The Gun Seller made me giddy.

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