Sunday, June 19, 2005

Reading about reading

OK, it's book meme time. I figured it would get around to me sooner or later, like the flu--and, sure enough, it has.

The gracious and sagacious Dymphna of Gates of Vienna has passed me the baton, and who am I to say no? In writing of her own book-reading habits, she has managed to describe my relationship to books with an exactness and wit that leaves me wondering what more I could ever add. But add I must.

My own book habit has been a lifelong one. In childhood, my happiest day was library day--I'd always get the limit of six, and finish them within a day or two, and then read them all over again, savoring the great pleasure. My mother considered this a trial and a shame, although she was the one who took me to the library, and she spent many hours forcing me to go outside and "get some fresh air." In adulthood, I'd often stay up all night to finish a book, a guilty pleasure that left me puffy-eyed and groggy the next day. And I have spent so much money in bookstores that I have finally had to limit myself to libraries and used books online, with only the occasional bookstore splurge. Cookbooks used to be my weakness, especially ones with pictures, especially of Mediterranean food on sunny Mediterranean isles.

The Questions:

Total Number Of Books Owned Ever: This is an absurdity. Do you ask someone how many cookies she's eaten in her lifetime? It's like guessing how many M&Ms are in the enormous jar, or how many pounds the prize squash at the fair weighs. The real answer is: I haven't a clue. My pretend answer is: 10,000.

Last Book Bought: The Last Lion by William Manchester (Churchill biography, two volumes, hardcover, used)

Last Book I Read: Radical Son by David Horowitz (library, presently overdue--I rack up quite a few library fines, too).

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me Oh, this is the hard, hard part.

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read it in childhood in a somewhat abridged version. I read it in my teens in the real version. I read it in adulthood. It burned its way into my brain. I loved Jane: loved her voice, her courage, her fears, her hopes, the intimacy she achieved with the reader. She was real to me. I read up on the Brontes and their amazingly creative and sad lives. I even forgave the movie (Orson Welles, John Fontaine) the liberties it took with the text, usually an unpardonable crime for me. This book still resonates in mysterious ways in my life.

2. The Last Lion by William Manchester.

The aforementioned two-volume Churchill biography, all 1729 pages of it. Churchill was one of the giants of our--or any--age, a figure not only of historical importance but also of protean talents, and an absolutely fascinating human being as well. As if that weren't enough, these books are written in such a lively style that the reader feels the author's zest for his subject fairly bursting off the pages. When I learned that Manchester was too ill to write the long-awaited third volume, and that it would never appear, I experienced a profound sense of loss.

3. Eleni by Nicholas Gage

A true story that will rip your heart out. A step-by-step depiction of the process by which movements beginning in idealistic fanaticism can end up destroying themselves and nearly everything in their paths, and an emotionally shattering but unforgettable story of the power of maternal love. After I read it, I was disoriented and upset for days. One suggestion: if you read it, do what I wish I'd done and write down a family tree of all the characters, so you can keep them straight.

4. Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

Levi is simply astounding. This book reads as though a Holocaust victim in the throes of the most horrific experiences possible on this earth were at the same time a dispassionate scientist cooly analyzing the situation, and later writing about it in remarkably lucid and insightful prose. It is in my opinon the finest work ever written on the subject.

5. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter

I cannot understand why this novella (or long short story, as Porter preferred to call it) is not on everyone's list. The overused word "masterpiece" is appropriate. I have read this story time and again and each time it strikes me differently, but always with great depth and power. The setting is World War I and the great influenza epidemic, but that doesn't even begin to describe it. I suspected from the start that, although this is fiction, it is based on Porter's own experience, and it turned out this is so. Just read it; every word is poetry.

Now that I have listed five books, I realize that all but one of them, Jane Eyre, are about war. Strange.

Five Books You've Given to Someone

1. Crossword puzzle books

2. April 1865: the Month that Saved America by Jay Winik

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

4. Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature by Andy Goldsworthy

5. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Well, now comes the time to tap five successors to carry the book meme torch. I have no idea who likes to do this sort of thing, nor do I have a clue who has already done this particular one (except, of course, for Dymphna). So if it amuses any of the following bloggers to carry it on, and you haven't already done so, please feel free: Pancho, Clive, Mary, Callimachus, and ShrinkWrapped.


At 5:52 PM, June 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another."
- Winston Churchill

At 8:15 PM, June 19, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

You have a great list. Mine tends to be more narrow, but on any given day it could change!

At 1:53 PM, June 20, 2005, Blogger karrde said...

I remember Jane Eyre also. My mother loved it, and I enjoyed the book (and movie).

I haven't read it repetitively, though.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice did catch me that way, which kind of surprised me.

I tend towards stories of adventure, dragon-slaying, military life, leadership, and young men coming of age.

I haven't read much non-fiction recently. Maybe I should check out Radical Son.

At 5:35 PM, June 20, 2005, Blogger knox said...

Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are both faves of mine.

At 7:22 PM, June 20, 2005, Blogger junebee said...

Here is an excellent narrative about growing up as a voracious reader in Communist China:
It makes me fee fortunate to be a
book lover in America.

At 9:52 PM, June 20, 2005, Blogger demulcents said...

I just finished "The First Man of Rome" by Colleen McCulough. It is long, about 900 pages, but reads fast. It is a historical novel of Rome. I could care less about ancient Rome, but this book is so good, I now care about it, and have gotten a nice perspective on leadership in a country. Unfortunately, this is the first of five novels tracing Rome's transition from a Republic to an Empire, but I will get to them all eventually, I presume, they are just too juicy to leave alone.

At 10:00 PM, June 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I discovered Primo Levi (his work, I mean) in Italian in Torino, his city, some 22 years ago and was overwhelmed. He was virtually unknown at the time as far as I can tell. I couldn't believe it, since his was such a powerful work. I imagine you know he ended up committing suicide. Very sad. Glad to know he has touched others. It's inevitable that his writing will eventually be what everyone reads to know "what it was like."

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