Book Meme: Blame It On the Bakerina

Ok I am taking a break from the Italy travel blogging to answer this Meme from my dear Bakerina who tagged me for it and since she loaned me the Polysyllabic Spree, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World, Videodrome, Existenz, and Spider Man 2 while she was away AND introduced me to Lush, which is my new favorite bath products company, well I owe her.

How many books do you own:
I've never counted, but I'm guessing that the short answer is too many. Not only are all the shelves in my apartment filled (and I've bought three bookselves since I moved here four years ago-and I need to buy more) I use my desk at work for storage of books and my mother's library in her house upstate has "my good books" and the "bad books" are in the garage. And of course I usually have about 250 books I should be reading, but well just can't for whatever reason-like Erasmus in Praise of Folly-I got to page like 20 and can't go any further-or that Derrida book on Writing and Difference five pages and I start losing my grip on what anything means. So I don't know how many books I own, I just know that I own more than I will probably read.

The Last Book I Bought:
Well that would be Italy: a Capricious Tour a fun little book filled with random facts and nice photographs of the country I just returned from with particularly emphasis on those wacky Romans whom I love so well. The book is actually to reinforce the good memories of Italy while helping to erase the bad memories of the trip. The last Serious Book I bought was probably Allen Mandelbaum's translation of the Aeneid, but that was for work (they will reimburst me) so I don't know if it counts, but I thought I had to throw it in in case I was losing my street cred. as a Serious Reader.

Five Books That Mean A Lot to Me:
This might be the most difficult question to answer since one of my students said to me, "Do you think this is a good paper?" But I shall try.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth This was the first book I read after my father died. It was, actually, a book from his library. I had taken dozens of books from his library (against my mother's objection, although later she said that I had been very smart to take what I did). The day of his funeral, my mother took me to a bookstore (Border's we had yet to have a Barnes and Nobles at the time) and bought a whole bunch of cheesy vampire novels in tribute to him. Pere Lapin loved things like Doc Savage and Vampirella. He would give me novels by Anne Rice and Brian Lumley when I was in high school and so I thought reading the Keep by F Paul Wilson and I Vampire (which is crap I don't care what the cover says) would be a fitting tribute. After, I went through his books and I found Portnoy's. I don't why I picked it, but I wish I had read it before my father died because when I was finished I thought "I get it, I finally understand my father's inner life." Which is both terrifying and relieving-someone else UNDERSTOOD, someone else knew what it was like. It was paradise. And the way that he wrote, he used the word cunt. A fucking literary novel using the word CUNT, it was epic. I was trying to write at the time, but everyone kept giving me these victorian classics you know Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations and I just couldn't write that way. When I read Portnoy's I thought "Good lord you can curse and break the rules and write graphically about sex and it's STILL LITERATURE. I love it."

I was young, ok. But really that book had a huge impact on me as a writer and as a person so top of the list.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
The summer between college and high school, my first boyfriend, the first love of my life, left me suddenly in the beginning of the summer. I had looked forward to a whole summer of rolling in the clover and splendor in the grass when suddenly "I don't know if I love you anymore." You loved me for three years, one of which I didn't even know who you were, you pined for me silently for three years , we date for eight months AND NOW YOU DON"T KNOW IF YOU LOVE ME ANYMORE. Jesus people is there any question why I teach logic and reason?

I digress.

For me, after a break up, reading is like listening to the radio for most people. You have to be very careful what you pick because suddenly it seems like everything, every light 80s song, is trying to get you to kill yourself. When you feel yourself getting weepy over Duran Duran, you know you are in trouble. Well, reading is the same for me and I discovered that the one writer I could read without fear of becoming suicidal was KV. The Sirens of Titan, featuring G-d the apathetic, was one of my favorites. That summer I read every book Kurt ever wrote. (That was true of that summer-KV has since published more books which I have not read), but the Sirens of Titan became my favorite for one line in particular. "There is no human being who is above he need for unconditional love." So KV saved my little broken heart in the Summer of 93.

Night by Elie Wiesel

After Eric left, I couldn't read. Let me say that again. I could not read. Nothing. Nada. Niente. Not the backs of cereal boxes, nothing. I can't tell you how difficult it is to be an English professor who can't read, but it's pretty bad. Eventually I was able to read the newspaper and from the newspaper I built my way to short stories and essays and around christmas I went to Barnes and Nobles and bought Night. I'm not sure why I picked this book, no one had really talked to me about it, but I could read it. Perhaps it was because it so captures the despair and rage I felt, perhaps because his bleak view was the antidote to all my friends telling me "It's going to be ok-time heals all wounds", perhaps it was because we both felt so betrayed by the universe. Who can say, but because of him, I learned to read again. I read two other of his novels and then moved on to Rick Moody (demonology) and have not had a problem since.

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grasse
John Irving openly admits that he based A Prayer for Owen Meany on the main character in this novel, which I read after I graduated from college on the train from London to Bath. ( can you understand that sentence? Neither can I.) Any novel that starts "Granted I am writing this from a mental institution" is going to have my undivided attention. How Grasse played with first person narrative (how do you decide what to believe) was fascinating to me, and first person narrative would become a specialty in grad school. Also that the main character is psychologically fully developed but trapped in the body of a five year old boy, well, for me writing about how people treated him and what it was like to develop mentally but not physically appealed to my personal situation.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Greeley, when she was still alive, was a thesis advisor to one of my friends. I met her briefly, but was too shy to actually say much. According to my friend, we were alike, uncomfortable about talking about disabilities in large groups of people, but often drawn to writing about it. Like me she often found that the most debilitating part of her health problems were how people treated her. I read her book and was thrilled to find that she actually wrote that having cancer was not that bad, it was being ugly and how people treated her AFTER she recovered that were truly horrifying. Her parents had fairly negative reactions to her diagnosis and reading about her experiences with chemo of course helped me to understand something about how my parents reacted to some of my treatments. But that she was able to write about it with such clarity-the painful and vivid detail was impressive. For the last five years, I have used chapters of her novel to teach my kids about disability and visible social stigma.

In retrospect it is slightly disturbing to me that two of the authors on this list have committed suicide. The theme of mental illness (Portnoy and Tin Drum) is also a little disturbing, but as my Israel (remember him?) used to say "What do I want with a normal woman? That's boring. Crazy is always more fun."

OK and now I have to tap a few people for the task of doing this meme. I fell suddenly like i am playing duck, duck, goose. I'm no good at selecting people, I would like to hear from some of my new links like Beastmomma and rabbitch, to get to know them better, and of course some of my old friends like blogmonkey (to encourage you to read), but really anyone who wants to play is invited to join and if you aren't a blogger feel free to use the comments box or I can give you a guest password.

Because if I get just one person to love a book, I'll have done my job.

Comments: Post a Comment

    This page is powered by 
Blogger. Isn't yours?