Monday, August 21, 2006

One Book

Meme started by whiskyprajer. Found via the 2blowhards.

One book that changed my life: Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke. (A title I now find ironic since Clarke is a known pedophile.) This was the novel that introduced to me the magic that written, long-form fiction can do. I already liked stories, and even enjoyed some novels up to that point, but when I read this for an 8th grade class, it just blew me away. Up till then, like the majority of students, the forced reading of the "classics" had made me wonder what all the fuss was about. Who'd want to read this dull, moldy stuff on purpose? This one opened the door for me.

One book I've read more than once: The only one I ever have is The Stand, by Stephen King, but that's because the one released later was the "complete" version. (The restored sections weren't all that. I think the "original cut" is superior.) I don't read books twice because my recall is such that I can't enjoy a book the second time as I remember nearly everything about the story. I even get the odd sensation of an echo in my head as my recall "reads ahead," anticipating the good parts. (Oh, wait. I did reread Bach's Illusions in my late 20s, because I had initially read it when I was a teen and loved it. Since it was so short, I wanted to see if it held up. Verdict: It didn't. Bach's stuff is oddly self-centered, even when he sticks to seagulls, which a teenager wouldn't have noticed, of course.)

One book I'd want on a desert island: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. I consider this the Great American Novel. I'm waiting to age sufficiently before I re-read it due to the reason I gave above. I can't hardly wait. Some fellow Christians would be shocked that I didn't say "the Bible." But, y'know, I've read it, got the t-shirt ... besides the vast majority of the point of the bible is how to behave towards others, and if you were stranded alone, most of it would be moot. (Soccer balls expect to be kicked around, btw.)

One book that made me laugh: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Laugh? Thought I'd die! If you're not chuckling by the end of this, I'm sorry. I'm gonna cheat and name two others: Douglas Adam's "Hitchhiker" series, a hands-down classic; and Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job, the most recent stellar snort-fest I've encountered.

One book that made me cry: The Elephant Man and other reminiscences, by Frederick Treves. I read this as a younger man, about a year after the movie came out. I no longer have the emotional stamina to read anything this sad, so I'm fortunate I read it when I did. Had I picked it up now, I'd set it down about the second time it made me well up. This one will break your heart. However, it appears to be out of print, so check your local library.

One book I wish had never been written: this one. This bastard is also on my "time machine list," usually comprised of two columns: those you'd go back to meet, and those you'd go back to snuff in the cradle. Guess which one he's on (and I would do it with a red rag, just for the irony).

One book I wish had been written: "How to Play in the Minefield of Corporate Politics without Losing Your Mind or Morals," by Billi Lee. She has written a book, but it does not contain all the wisdom she conveys in her seminar on the same topic, which she calls "Success Savvy." It really is best delivered live or via video, but it would be nice to have it in book form for the ages.

One book I'm currently reading: Laurel Canyon, by Michael Walker (non fiction), about origin of "the California sound." The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Carole King and many other big players all lived in Laurel Canyon and together at one point, and they formed a body of music that everyone's familiar with. This is the behind-the-scenes story. I just abandoned The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards (fiction). The story was kinda good (I skipped through it to the end), but it was a tad overwritten, with too many descriptions of snow, buildings, roads, etc. (I've cheated again and gave two because I always have a fiction book going, and I don't let that fact get in the way of reading some non-fiction, so when I have a non-fiction book, I usually tag team.)

One book I've been meaning to read: I would like to say The Remembrance of Things Past, but I wasn't impressed by what I saw in my two false starts thus far, so believe it or not, it's the original Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have a quasi-goal of getting back to all the original iconic character novels, like Frankenstein, Dracula, Invisible man, and so on. I've found that all of the novels (that I've read thus far) that created an iconic character who spans cultures are truly timeless and gained their status for a good reason. Tarzan is one of the few I have left.

And everyone has seemed to add one last "One book" topic of their own invention, so here's mine:

One book they shouldn't force kids to read in high school: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Yes, it is good book, and it's a great achievement considering the age of the author and the age she lived in, but I think you can only appreciate this book if you have some age on you (which is very odd considering a teenager wrote it) and were a Lit. major in college. I don't know of a single high school student who hasn't loathed this book when forced to read it, including me. I've only revised my opinion due to readings of passages when my wife read it recently.


Sya said...

Doh! I've been meaning to read Infinite Jest but have not gotten to it yet. I've also been meaning to read Frankenstein too and to finish Dracula (I stopped in the middle because I was too freaked out to continue).

As for Wuthering Heights--I probably would have appreciated it more if all the other required reading in high school lit weren't overwrought, angsty, and downright depressing as well. English teachers should realize that giving teenagers a bunch of depressing fiction to read isn't such a hot idea.

Yahmdallah said...

I couldn't agree more about the depressing stuff. It just dawned on me that perhaps the whole goth thing can be blamed on high school reading assignments.

And guess what parents have to contend with these days? There's this thing called the "Newbery Medal" that selects books FOR CHILDREN that typically center around trauma and all the bad things that can happen in life, with a big dose of identity politics, and such lovely topics as euthanasia, child abuse, and so on. It's almost a good thing that someone is identifying these little pieces of waste, but the bad news is teachers tend to think the medal is a good thing, so they invariably have one or two on the reading list every year. I now ask the teachers to supply me with the reading list so I can hunt those down and preview them just so my wife and I can broach the terrible topics with our kids first.

Here's info on that egregious Newbery (which I call the Dingleberry) Medal:

And isn't it odd that Dracula is still creepy? The pleasant surprise about Frankenstein is how philosophical it is. When the monster finally speaks, it's quite moving.

Sya said...

Which Newbery Medal books are you talking about? I've read a number of the Winners and Honor books (from the 80s and before) when I was around 9 to 12 without any prompting from teachers or parents. In fact, I distinctly remember holing up in my room devouring Gary Paulsen while my mom complained that I needed to go outside and play once in a while. Other favorite authors were Susan Cooper and Robin McKinley. And "The Westing Game" by Raskin was just plain awesome.

The most recent Newbery Honor book I've looked at was "Princess Academy" by Shannon Hale. I've sort of skimmed through it, but I'd imagine it would have really appealed to my younger self.

yahmdallah said...

Sorry about the tardiness of my response.

New cold, work work, etc.

Anyway, I happened upon an article a while ago, maybe on, but maybe elsewhere, I don't recall now, but it talked about how a lot of the Newbery Medal winners were on topics a lot of parents would object to discovering in a "kid's novel": abuse (physical, sexual), euthanasia, the nastier side of race relations, death and so on. The limited bit of research I did on the books bore that out.

As with all fiction, I don't object to such topics per se, but I do object to a body that's anointed itself a qualified selector of children's fiction, and then seemingly picks those where the topics are pointedly controversial. I want some uplifting stuff too. If you only read about sour things, you tend to think all things are sour. I want balance, and I don't think that award even tries for that.

And I don't mind controversial subjects, per se, either. But, like most parents, I want to be in on those times when something like that is being broached.

Here's a couple "for instances":

1) Though my elder daughter is aware of the concept of sexual abuse via "don't talk to strangers" rules, I don't want her to explore via fiction a graphic description of the same.

2) I don't want her to feel bad about being white. A lot of fiction that deals with race takes the perspective: "White people should feel perpetually guilty for what they did to [me/my people/those people/etc.]." While she needs to learn history regarding those kinds of things, I don't want her carrying guilt around about something she didn't do. I feel any race or culture carrying around guilt about something their ancestors did or did not do is counterproductive and leads to needless anger. I think it's best to acknowledge the past with the intent of striving to insure it doesn't happen again. (As much as is possible, of course. We seem to be reliving the Nixon years here in America, which just astounds me.)