Kiss the Book

The glorious and nefarious Jess has tagged me — I was going to say “fingered,” but my mind has been in the gutter these last weeks so I’ll guess maybe yours has been as well — to do that Book Meme blogger bit that’s been doing the rounds. And I am nothing if not obedient*, so here we go.

1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned:

This, in the business, is what is called “a dummo question.” Which is not to be confused with “a Dumbo question,” like if your nose stretched out like that, would you really stick it right next to someone else’s butt to hold on to them?, or a DUMBO question, like is that the Brooklyn Bridge up there? (no). Since I had 10 long and tedious hours to spend sitting around waiting for UPS to bring The Rig yesterday, though, I was able to do some rudimentary calculations and can report today that I have owned 6.022 x 1023 books, give or take a couple depending on whether you count Tunc and Nunquam as one volume as The Revolt of Aphrodite, or as two separate books the way they were published the first time. Stuff like that. Do we consider the new revised Gunslinger as distinct from the original? You have to think about these things.

2. Last Book I Bought:

We’re going to leave out the How-to-Use-Photoshop selections and the birthday Buffy book for Jess, here, and go with the last legit full-price purchase that wasn’t a Barnes & Noble cut-out. That was Middlemarch, by George Eliot. I don’t buy new books all that often since I’ve got a huge backlog and I’m in a couple of Kula ring amblin’ book circles.

3. Last Book I Read:

Atonement, by Ian McEwan. This was my second time at this book; I wasn’t in the mood for it the first time and was put off by the beginning. It’s a spectacular novel. Now reading: A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster.

4. Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:

Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion. I had a lively interest in New Journalism when I was younger and forming my tastes; Tom Wolfe’s eccentric books lit me up then the way This American Life hits people now. But Didion’s book of essays, read together in a huge gulp with her companionish book The White Album, meant so much to me on so many levels — and still does — that I can hardly imagine myself without it.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tokien. I read this in Junior High School, but did not finish it on the first try; my sails were luffed by my friend Jeremy, who was just ahead of me as we tore through Fellowship and beyond, when he casually asked me on the bus down to school one day if I’d gotten to the part where Gandalf came back yet. I hadn’t. Aaargh. I did finish it later and have read it many times — about a dozen — rarely to the end. This may be the first instance of my long-standing bad habit of not finishing books: I often read until I’m done with the story, and then carry on as far as momentum will go, which isn’t necessarily all the way to the last page. The silliest of these was a novel by, um, it might have been Richard Ford but I don’t think that’s right: I got within four pages of the end, and completely lost interest. Since I was reading a hardcover I didn’t want to lug it around and finish it on the train and then have nothing to read, so I put it down. And that was the end of that.

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon. Books are often important to me because of the perceptual doors they open; that they resemble doors in form and motion is a glorious bit of magic. Crying was the book I was looking for when I was searching for something different, something that acknowledged that the voices of the past might not address the strange clang of the world today. Pynchon is a difficult writer, but not in this novel — here, as in V., he is the master of his strange fabric, and when he shows off it’s because he can. I’ve had less success with his other books. My first tattoo was of a muted postal horn, the symbol of W.A.S.T.E. It’s the mark of a message that will be delivered because of the content of the message, not because of any address or outward semblances. How better to describe the self in a confused age?

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is far better known for The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and (belatedly) Fahrenheit 451 and such, but this dark book struck me deep. I was a small, restless, wistful teenager, livelier in mind than body, and Something Wicked was my first hint that genre fiction, which is often great stuff badly written, could taste this deep, sprawl so wide, and tremble with such vivid life. Bradbury is at his best when he does autumn; he’s a writer of passage, loss, change, and of murmurs at the edge of hearing (Stephen King shines in the same places).

This book made me want to run away and join the circus. Now, later in life, it’s no coincidence that I hang out with a lot of people who pretty much did join the carny. In some ways, I wish I had as well. But come-come-commala, perhaps I did, in my own way. I credit Ray Bradbury with two other things: the nutty reality that I still don’t drive (he never did, famously, despite all his loving prose spent on rockets), and my later love of Jorge Luis Borges. Bradbury was pretty much our first magical realist, though he’s discarded as being a science fiction writer (and therefore not “serious,” but don’t get me started on that).

We The Living, by Ayn Rand. The funny thing is, I don’t care much about Ayn Rand. I have successfully ignored Objectivism lo these many years and have no idea what it’s all about. I never read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, though I do mean to. I read WTL more or less at random in my early teens and I don’t remember that much about it. What I do remember, though, is falling in love with Rand’s semi-authobiographical heroine Kira Argounova. Never before or since has a woman in literature been so real to me, and never have I felt an emotion so large as the love that drives her and her foil, Andrei, through their political tale. I devoured this book. I dreamed of Kira and talked to Kira and absorbed her, page by page, word by word. In some ways I think I’ve been looking for her ever since.

5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog:

Here we go. Any takers?

Emdot
Harvey
Chico Bangs
Abbypants
Zeebah

*Actually, I am many things that have nothing to do with obedient. But this sounded like fun and Jess rocks, so there we are.

About Linus

The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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