"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, September 04, 2006

What book has changed your life? -- All of them
Having been tagged by Dana over at the Galloping Beaver with the latest Blog meme on books, I've had to do some quick thinking to narrow down my answers to a short list of titles in response to the survey. I don't read a lot -- I read constantly. In bed, on the toilet, on the train, at the breakfast table, in bars and restaurants, park benches, even while walking sometimes -- I'm more likely to leave the house without my cell phone or wallet than I am to leave without a book. I'm sort of on hiatus as a book critic at the moment, but I still manage to read a book a week or more and usually have several on the go at once.

A book that changed my life
As the title of the post says, all of them have played their part to a greater or lesser extent -- you never step into the same river twice blah blah blah-- but if I have to pick just one it would probably be the late great Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Twenty years ago I wanted to be Thompson. I acted like him, tried to copy his style of writing, even spent time typing out pages from his books to get the rhythm of how he wrote (A trick I learned from him, having read that he used to type out pages from the Great Gatsby for the same reason.) He was the first to make me realize that journalism could be fun, funny and intellectually dangerous. This book is one of the reasons I do what I do for a living. And it is funny as hell.

A book I've read more than once
Almost all of them. I often go back and reread favorite books, especially those by favorite writers, sometimes for the story, sometimes just for the quality writing. When reading stuff for review, I find I often need to read something lighter or heavier (or more often better) to cleanse the mental palate. Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" never fails to entertain and provoke and I used to make a point of rereading it once a year in my teens and twenties. But more often now I go back to what I consider the classics: Papa's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", Kerouac's "On the Road", all Raymond Chandler and J. D. Salinger's books and I've worked my way through Lord of the Rings four or five time and Patrick O'Brian's entire 20 volume Aubery-Maturin series.

What book would you take to a desert island?
A survival manual might be good idea. Dana already stole my idea of the complete works of Shakespeare. Dafoe's "Robinson Crusoe" is temptingly ironical, but if it has to be fiction I'd take either "Ulysses" or "Gravity's Rainbow." Either James Joyce's or Homer's "Odyssey" would do me fine as I've read both, but never really fully deciphered the former and the latter is one of the all time great stories. The Thomas Pynchon is one I have started several times and always got distracted by some shiny object halfway through and put aside to finish later. Later has not yet arrived.

A book that made me laugh
Spider Robinson's first two collections of pun-filled sci-fi bar stories "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" and "Time Travellers Strictly Cash." While the series kind of went slowly downhill in later installments, I've read these two over and over again and still get dirty looks for sniggering to myself on the train. I've recently discovered the Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse, which have been making people laugh for about 70 years and with good reason. Also Penn Gillette's "Sock" and Jerome K. Jerome's ageless "Three Men in a Boat".

A book that made me cry
Big, tough, cynical, macho Hemmingway-reading newspapermen who've seen it all don't cry.
Dave Eggers "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" brought tears to my eyes several times. The novel (and movie of course) "Old Yeller" made me cry as a kid. And I'm not allowed to read "The Velveteen Rabbit" to my kids anymore or they will start calling me a crybaby. I can't get past about the second page before the waterworks start, by the end I'm usually sobbing to hard to be understood when trying to read it out loud. And if it doesn't do the same thing to you, you must be some kind of souless cyborg with an icemaker for a heart. Now let us never speak of this again.

A book I wish had been written
"Manifest Destiny this, you fascist Yankee scum!
The Liberation and Annexation of the USA and how we solved all their problems" by the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau

(some day, some day)

A book I wish had never been written
"Mein Kampf," "The Fountainhead" and anything published by Regnery.

Books I am currently reading
Paul Auster's "The Brooklyn Follies", Paul Krugman's "The Great Unravelling" and David Gilbert's "The Normals"

Books I've been meaning to read
"Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" has been sitting on my two foot stack of "books to be read soon" for about a year now, but I keep getting distracted by shiny objects like the latest Robert Parker Spenser novel or a suddenly discovered old copy of "Catcher in the Rye" in the same pile.

What turned me on to fiction
Like most kids, I had stuffed animals when I was little, but my favorite thing to sleep with, my verison of Linus' blanket was a well-chewed copy of my puppy book, the title of which I don't even remember. My mother still has it, but I think I may have chewed the cover and title page off. Other kids had soothers, I had this book. My parents read to me often and by the time I was in school, I was reading the Hardy Boys and Encylopedia Brown and comic books like an alcoholic locked inside a liquor store overnight. I'm surprised I don't have a permanent dent in my forehead from falling asleep with a book on my face.

Final thoughts
I love listening to music almost as much as reading and so the ipod that holds my entire music collection (I'm up past 7,000 tracks now, and most of my record collection is in storage in Canada and has yet to be downloaded to the archives) came as manna from heaven. I like vinyl and cassettes and was a slow convert to digital sound, but carrying around all the recordings I own in a box the size of a deck of cards and having access to just about anything else at the push of a button is pretty hard to beat. If Steve Jobs wants to lock in my vote for man of the millenium, he'll perfect an adaptation of the ipod for books. With solar batteries and access to the entire Library of Congress online with free downloads of stuff in the public domain. I love the feel of pages in my hands, the physical feel of a real book, but having my entire library stored in one book would be the best of all possible worlds.

I'll pass this poll/meme on to:
JJ at Unrepentant Old Hippie
MD at Man Descending
Scout at Harper Valley
Mudhooks at the Mudpuddle
and of course the host of Friday Archeology Blogging, Bazz at Oi Thump


Bazz said...

Tag received! I'll get to it in the next couple of days.

Scout said...

puff puff, pant, pant. ok, i just finished my assignment and tagged five. now where's my $5 million? WHAT! waddya mean there's no prize money?!?!?!?

Bazz said...

"Weeks!" I meant "weeks!" :) In any case, I have finally gotten around to answering the meme questions.