Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Book Meme

I had no idea what a "meme" is, until I saw the word used on some other blogs presenting their own versions of the following questionnaire. I subsequently looked it up at Dictionary.com and understood how the word was being applied. Anyway, I saw this meme on Ann Powers' Eensy Weensy and also on David Barker's 33 1/3 (both worthwhile music blogs), and it made me want to play along. So here goes...

A BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens. For as long as I can remember, I've been a book collector; as a child, much as today, I owned more books than I had actually read. When my class was assigned to read GREAT EXPECTATIONS in my freshman high school year, I approached it as an obligatory duty; the last thing I expected was to fall in love with the characters, their plight, and the storytelling. We were told to read only chapter per day, and I had to fight the inclination to read ahead. Before I read this book, my own expectation was that I would become a commercial artist; after I read it, the seed was definitely planted that I should be a writer.

A BOOK I'VE READ MORE THAN ONCE: There have been several, but one that stands out for me is BULLET PARK by John Cheever, which I've read three times. I've read just about all of Cheever save for some short stories -- he's one of the great American magic realists, though he's not commonly thought of that way -- and, despite a jaggedly abrupt conclusion and closure, this one stands supreme for me: a haunting, melancholy novel about a man named Hammer and the arrival of a newcomer named Nailles. The chapter about the cafard and the search for a house with yellow windows is one for which I felt extraordinary empathy; I would love to have written this particularly, but writing such material surely had a certain price attached, and it's known that Cheever went through hell before receiving this vision.

A BOOK I WOULD TAKE WITH ME IF I WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND: Probably ULYSSES by James Joyce, if only for its variety. Every chapter is written in a different style, rooted in a different myth, and it is entertaining whether read simply or academically. Second choice: THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY by Robert Burton.

A BOOK THAT MADE ME LAUGH: THE HARD LIFE by Flann O'Brien. All of Flann O'Brien makes me laugh hysterically -- AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, THE THIRD POLICEMAN, THE DALKEY ARCHIVE, THE POOR MOUTH, even his Irish Post newspaper columns. But THE HARD LIFE (again, not his best-loved book) really got to me and was such an unalloyed delight that I've read it four times; that's more times than I've read any other novel, save the ones I've written. When you've read the book once, even the somber opening French epigraph becomes hilarious. Vladimir Nabokov's PALE FIRE and Raymond Queneau's WE ALWAYS TREAT WOMEN TOO WELL also come to mind, as do certain stories in FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS by John Collier.

A BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY: The last chapters of ULYSSES and Henry Green's BACK (an undersung book well worth your discovery) were so beautiful they not only made me cry, but made me re-read them immediately and many times thereafter. I was also deeply moved when I finished Thomas Mann's THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN and his JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS cycle, because I was sorry to have them end. As a boy, I cried when Gwen Stacy was killed by The Green Goblin in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121; that was when it first struck me that requited love was no guarantee of a happy ending.

A BOOK THAT I WISH HAD BEEN WRITTEN: Leaving aside the novels that I still hope to write (some of which have been rattling around in my head far too long), I wish that more of Alain Robbe-Grillet's work was available in English translation, particularly the subsequent volumes of his autobiography.

A BOOK I WISH HAD NEVER BEEN WRITTEN: I can think of a couple, but the one I'll mention is ANTHONY BURGESS, the recent biography of the British author by Roger Lewis. It's like reading the smug, snotty, self-serving hate tract of a disinherited relative.

A BOOK I'VE BEEN MEANING TO READ: Dozens, hundreds. If I have to pick one, I'll go with REPETITION by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It's on the shelf with all his others, which I've read, but I haven't been in the right mood to connect with this one yet. John Cale calls it his favorite novel, so I'm curious to see how I find it stacks up against the others.

I'M CURRENTLY READING: KINGDOM COME by J. G. Ballard, one of our best living writers and thinkers. (Didn't this book have an editor? A character named Tom Carradine becomes David Carradine for two pages.) A strong off-center premise, lots of exciting sociological insight, but ultimately I doubt it will shape up as one of his best. Suffers from Rod Serling Syndrome: all the characters speak in the same voice, from the same viewpoint. I've also recently read two books in Continuum's terrific "33 1/3" series of paperback essays about classic rock albums, the ones on Jimi Hendrix's ELECTRIC LADYLAND (by John Inglis) and Neil Young's HARVEST (by John Perry). I'm just starting into the one on David Bowie's LOW (by Hugo Wilcken). As ever, these books give one an excuse to delve into these albums on a deeper-than-usual listening level, which is a pleasure in itself.

A BOOK I WISH I'D WRITTEN: Vladimir Nabokov's INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. I know I should say LOLITA, because being its author would make me rich, but therein lies an aversion of commercial success I am struggling to overcome. Nabokov himself cited INVITATION as the personal work for which he felt the most admiration.

The idea of a meme is that I am now supposed to reach out and "tag" or "infect" another friendly blogger, inducing them to post a book meme of their own. My friends and fellow bloggers are all overworked, so I'd rather tag them with a relaxation meme... but if anyone out there cares to follow through of their own free will, consider yourself tagged.

In the meantime, maybe tomorrow I'll post my movie meme...

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