Tuesday, November 21, 2006


This Crooked Timber thread reminded me that I've had the fraction of a post below saved as a draft for weeks. I'm now posting it as a down payment, and will answer the remaining questions piecemeal.

I've been tagged...

by Aeon Skoble and, effectively, Will Baude, too. I don't usually play these "meme" games (nor do I approve of the weird blogospheric alteration of what I considered the ugly and barely-tolerable-to-begin-with concept of "memes"), but this is about my great obsession (no, not coffee, the other one), and I've been unpacking book boxes lately, so why not?

But in matters bibliophilic I do everything to excess, so I won't feel bound to stick to one book per question. But in order to keep the numbers of books per answer to the single digits, I'll restrict myself to fiction.

1. One book that changed your life?

Doesn't every book?

But I'll go with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which for many years I confidently identified as my favorite novel. (Now I don't think I could single one out that way). It was my first post-college, just-for-pleasure literary novel, at a time when I was stuck in an Asimov-and-Heinlein rut, and it completely transformed my tastes. It made me hungry for more-- for The Satanic Verses, but also for (in the following year or so) Kundera, Pasternak, and Vargas Llosa, and (later) Eco, Marquez, and many more.

I fell out of love with it after The Moor's Last Sigh made me suddenly realize how much schtick there is in Rushdie, and how often characters are created, named, and put through suffering for the sake of the schtick. I suddenly wanted characters who were truer to themselves and less at the mercy of an author's comic sadism. Midnight's Children is a far better book than Sigh, but the latter soured me on the former (and on The Satanic Verses) by making me view its humor and linguistic cleverness in a different light. I've warmed back up to it since, but never quite with that same initial enthusiasm.

Note that this is, in a way, my serious answer to the question posed on that Crooked Timber thread about "an author you've given up on." I hope I haven't given up on new Rushdie novels forever. But I have yet to open or even purchase Fury or Shalimar the Clown and my copy of The Ground Beneath Her Feet has had a bookmark in about chapter 2 for many years now.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Well, I'm on my third generation of paperback volumes of Lord of the Rings because the first two fell apart. But that hardly seems to count. Ditto for pure genre fiction: Asimov, Heinlein, Le Guin, Lem, Jordan, Martin, and Stephenson have all had many rereadings. (And, don't start-- I don't mean "genre fiction" as an insult, and I recognize the many ways in which Heinlein, Lem, Le Guin, and Stephenson aren't captured by the phrase.) And Midnight's Children, Satanic Verses, and East, West, but I've already used Rushdie. So: David Lodge, Trading Places and Small World.

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

4. One book that made you laugh?

Christopher Buckley's too obvious, Douglas Adams way too obvious, The Princess Bride and Good Omens have been mentioned by other people already (but are both rollingly funny), and I've already used David Lodge. So: Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon, many times but including the dinner party and Capn'n Crunch. (Snow Crash is probably even funnier, pound for pound.)

5. One book that made you cry?

There's something embarrassing about any admission here, isn't there? One just has to make a choice of embarrassments. So I'll keep mine thematic. I shed a manly tear at the catastrophe at the end of Name of the Rose.

Oh, okay, one more that's less nerdy: A Prayer for Owen Meaney.

6. One book you wish had been written?

The temptation is strong to go look at my Sandman volumes for the section of Lucien's library that consists of books which were only written or completed in dreams. But I'll resist. I'll also resist the cop-out of books I wish had already been written because I'm impatient for their arrival (the next volume of Song of Fire and Ice, for example).

I wish Frank Herbert had written volume 6 of the Dune series. The boring butchery perpetrated on Dune by Herbert's son is not a substitute.

Also: Twilight, by Alan Moore.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

This isn't fiction, and it involves talking about non-book media, but: A Beautfiul Mind. Because then that godawful movie wouldn't have been made, and if it hadn't been made not only would I have been spared seeing Russell Crowe trying to act like a genius and not only would the world not have lost IQ points due to the misstatements about game theory, but also it couldn't have won all those Oscars and thereby stolent them from Fellowship of the Ring (which was, in the end, much more deserving than Return of the King).

Also: Dickens, Hard Times a book I loathe by an author I deeply dislike. I know it's given many others reading pleasure, but I'd indulge my selfish displeasure and wish it away if I could.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Two on my bedstand at the moment:
The Mendelbaum translation of The Divine Comedy; and Bilbo, Le Hobbit, to practice my French. When I was first tagged I was in the middle of The Fortess of Solitude, which was every bit as good as I'd been led to hope, and not quite like anything I'd ever read before.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Mortals, by Norman Rush. I loved Mating. Unfortunately I ran out and bought Mortals in hardcover as soon as it was published-- and somehow the times when I've been in the mood to read it I haven't been in the mood to deal with the big hardcover.

Saturday, by Ian McEwan, which is coming up very soon.

10. Now tag five people.

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