Sunday, August 20, 2006

Book Meme

I've never participated in one of those "memes" that bloggers do, where they answer a series of questions and then pass them on to their cohorts. They have the same feel as junk mail, and, besides, nobody has ever emailed me and asked me before. But, when you're "tagged" by someone as charismatic as Three O'Clock in the Morning, and the topic is something as compelling as books, well, I think I should play along, so here goes . . .

1. One book that changed your life.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
. I was a junior at an all-male Catholic School in St. Louis, and Doc Noonan assigned this book. I was a fantastically conservative, duty-bound young man, and the character of Orr came along at the right time to free up my thinking process and see multiple opportunities where only conformity appeared before. It was a subversive thing to do, teaching that book to a classroom full of eager-to-fit-in kids without any real knowledge of the world. Wherever you are, Doc Noonan, thank you.

2. One book you have read more than once.

In a house jammed full of books I want to read, it's hard to justify reading the same book twice. I've read Catch-22 more than once, and HuckleBerry Finn, but I think I'll put Hamlet into this slot. Once you get swept into the flow and language of Shakespeare, you can see why his plays are the gold standard. The central character is so complex and ambiguous - you can find anything in this play. A true understanding of this play will vaccinate any thinking person from absolutism.

3. One book you would want on a desert island.

Tough one. Of course, the Bible is a safe response, or some other repository of cultural wisdom, and the Complete Works of Shakespeare would be a good follow-up to my prior pick, but the truth is that I would most want a great big blank book, and a nice fountain pen with lots of ink. Writing and drawing help me think, and a few years on a desert island would be a great opportunity to get some stuff figured out . . .

4. One book that made you laugh.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. Definitely in my top ten books I've ever read, Owen Meany is full of sophomoric humor, true pathos, and inspirational beauty. If you've read it, you probably agree - and if you haven't, go do so.

5. One book that made you cry. Yikes. I don't cry while reading all that much, but reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the kids years and years ago left me choking back sobs. Reading books to my kids may have been the best time investment I ever made, and I'm a sucker for a good dog story.

6. One book you wish you had written.
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Why?
The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn't it pretty to think so?”
Coolest line ever written. Period.

7. One book you wish had never been written. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. This book is the La Brea Tar Pit of the intellect. Like the thousands of animals who wandered into the tar pits and became mired in the stickiness till they died, half-clever intellects come upon this monument to selfishness and get stuck by its clingy message of "rugged individualism". Stronger minds step back from the black ugliness of it, but mediocre minds are comforted by the warm ooze of believing that they are somehow inherently superior to the feeble masses, and they live the rest of their lives as libertarians.

On the other hand, the book kept me out of Opus Dei, but that's another story . . .

8. One book you are currently reading. Freddie and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin. My favorite living author gets comedic and playful, and the word-play is spectacular. So far, I'm greatly enjoying it.

9. One book you have been meaning to read. Black Lamb and Grey Falcom, by Rebecca West. I've started this book a couple times, but, at 1181 pages, I haven't made it through very much of it. It's about a pre-WWII journey through Yugoslavia, and it is a fascinating combination of history and travel-writing. Well-written and insightful.

10. Tag five people. Brian Stayton, Dolphin, Sunshine Burn, Travelingal (use the comments section) and Todd Elkins. (Update: Has Hip Suburban White Guy been tagged yet? If not, consider yourself tagged, XO.)


Anonymous travelingal said...

OMG Dan,

Today, I am ...
Feeling more than slightly guilty for not being on Troost helping you prepare flower beds ..
Inhaling the smells of a crock pot with a roast, potatoes, cabbage and carrots going for dinner with my daughter and family..
Enjoying this spectacular day with the wind blowing through my windows after so many hot, miserable days..
Thinking...why did he tag me for this????

I'm going to give some real thought to this one..may take me a few days but I'll be back..
But, in the meantime, the one book that changed my life was definitely the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act..

Will be back

8/20/2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger Brian Stayton said...

Dude, I don't know why you tagged me out of all of your friends and commentaries.

My favorite book, which I've re-read at least 5 times but not in the last 5 years or more, is "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." I think the author is Robert Pirsig, but i could be completely off base there. It opened up the possibility to me that there are alternative ways of thinking and alternative ways that history could have developed. I was assigned that book in a class at KU, and like you, really credit and denigrate the teacher, Rita Napier, for doing that to me.

Right now, the book I'm working on is "Life After Divorce." Frankly, I'm struggling with certain aspects of my life and am working on getting a handle of where I find myself now.

8/20/2006 6:22 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

I'm with Travelingal on this one.

Not the "guilty for not being on Troost part". You can plant yer twolips right... Sorry. Bad old joke.

No I meant the part about accepting the tag, but needing to take some time to think about it.

For as long as I can remember, I've always been reading something. Generally one at a time and slowly. I don't like to multitask my reading and I don't like to rush. So I'm really going to have to think about this.

Just that first question alone is positively pregnant with ponderment.

Has my life ever changed, or has it always been like this? If it did change, what was it like before and how did it change? That's some soul searching shit.

I can easily pick out events that changed my life. The birth of my daughter, young Galadriel Tanqueray Onassis, for instance.

But a single book? That's a heavy karmic burden to lay at some unsuspecting author's feet.

Let me think about it.

Keep checking my blog, it will be there (God, I'm such a blatant hit-whore).

8/20/2006 7:01 PM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Great list Dan, thanks for playing along. On #5, I was originally thinking along the same lines, though the book I was considering was Old Yeller

Oh, and nice irony on #7.

8/21/2006 11:00 AM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

1. One book that changed your life.
As I stated before, it would have to be the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, for this book (actually a congressional law) was the foundation for my lifetime career as a drug company regulatory director. Originally written in 1906 (amended several times) I was always amazed at the wisdom of the authors of 100 years ago. It has impacted every person in this country since that time and undoubtedly always will.
2. One book you have read more than once. I have one daughter and two grandaughters and I can assure you I have read The Cat in the Hat hundreds of
3. One book you would want on a desert island. There is no doubt this would be the Bible.
4 One book that made you laugh.
Open House by Elizabeth Berg. It's about a woman whose husband has dumped her and how she goes about reconstructing her life and how she makes ends meet by taking in borders. This may not be a laugh a minute, as it has many serious and touching moments, but the author has a strong wit and the ability to put you in the shoes of the new divorcee (well for a woman anyhow).
5. One book that made you cry.
That would be Sophie's Choice by William Styron. I broke totally down as Sophie recalled the day she had to decide which of her two children she would give up to certain death at the hands of a sadistic Nazis, the most painful choice any human could make. The movie was excellent, but the book is one of the best books I have ever read.
6. One book you wish you had written. Oh gosh, I guess that would be the Captains and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell. The real reason I would like to have been the author is I would like to have the knowledge and the insight that Taylor Caldwell must have had when she wrote this book.
7. One book you wish had never been written. I honestly can't nail this one down.
8. One book you are currently reading. I'm reading two of them. One is Godless by Ann Coulter. She's got a wicked tongue but it's a good read (I know most of the audience is currently vomiting as they read The other is a Christian's Secret to a Happy Life.
9. One book you have been meaning to read. So many, but just last night while lying awake in the wee hours I listened to Vali Nasr describe his book - The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future. I was really intrigued with this look inside the Islamic religion and came to the conclusion we haven't seen anything yet in the Middle East. It's going to be a lot worse before it gets better. There is no longer any doubt in my mind Iraq is already in a civil war, but worse yet, the impact of this secular division in the mideast is going to affect us in ways we haven't even imagined yet. As my Norwegian ancestors would say, Oofta.

So there you have it.

8/21/2006 11:36 AM  
Blogger dolphin said...


8/22/2006 7:53 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Couldn't agree more on #7. I've always suspected that otherwise sensible people feel compelled to endorse the big baggy monster as a way of justifying having plowed all the way through.

I'm also currently ready Freddy and Frederika, but finding that the wordplay isn't enough to offset the serial implausibilities in the plot. I know, I know... it's a comedy. I'm as willing to suspend disbelief as the next guy, but that escape from police custody was just plain lazy writing.

By the way, you never followed up on going to see Helprin at Rainy Day Books last month. I had the chance to speak to Helprin while he was in town and was curious about your impression.

8/26/2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8/26/2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Alright. It's done. Finally!

8/27/2006 10:25 PM  
Anonymous SunshineBurn said...

How did I not notice that you tagged me for this? Oops!

9/22/2006 3:58 PM  

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