The Book Meme

So Dr. Crazy mentioned this to me awhile back (and finally posted on it) and it was also seen over at Kermit's and Belle's. And since I'm not doing much this break (so far), I thought I'd chime in since being tagged is now pleasantly opt-in.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the deal seems to be to list five books you've read (or re-read) in the last year that have made a difference to you. I'm going to exclude things I've read for work, though there are some that are probably worth mentioning (maybe some other time). And I'll try and give some sense of why plus - stealing from the other Dr. C. - I'll try to give a good quote from the book itself. But I won't order them because, well, I don't feel like it.

Slam - Nick Hornby
I'm glad there are things you don't know and can't guess, weird things, things that have only happened to me in the whole history of the world, as far as I know...
I just finished reading this last night. And the thing that I think is important and worth considering is that Hornby writes male characters that are reasonably like the males you might know in real life. I've heard from a few female friends that they hate his characters because they're flawed and often stupid in crucial ways. That's how I feel about Bridget Jones. But you know what? Neither one needs to be a hero or an antihero. They manage to be fairly real. In this case, Hornby tackles a late teenaged boy, and while he struggles like most adult writers with the contradictions of writing a young protagonist, he never seems to falter.

And who wouldn't agree with that quote? Who doesn't still have a bit of that teenage need to be unique and mysterious?

The People of Paper - Salvador Plascena
He learned how to graft roses into carnation stalks, cultivating a flower of tight petals but no thorns. On graph paper he uncovered the saddest of all polygons - not the scalene triangle, as previously thought, but the love triangle.
So, I'm a sucker for magical realism and for tales that sound a bit like places I'm from. So let me first suggest that best magical realism isn't just sci-fi written in Spanish but that it carries a romance with it that only a few moments of sci-fi have ever truly achieved. This one has it all, really, and though I read it much earlier in the year, the feel of it more than the words have stuck with me.

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
Part of you thought: Please don't look at me. If you don't, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.
I don't remember why I picked this up, but the story is involving. It is also one of a few rare examples where a young protagonist truly worked for me because it seems to draw on the sorts of logics and impulses so many of us remember and carry over from childhood. It is alternatively heartbreaking and mending in good measure without ever feeling maudlin or saccharine.

Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell
Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?--for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simpel reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable....Money has become the grand test of virtue.
I read this long after I was back from Paris - in fact, I finished it two nights prior to this post. But the reason was that it was a book recommended by a friend or a guidebook or some such while I was in Paris this summer. The attraction, initially, was reading about an author who had a trip to Paris that was seen from the other side (and for the record, one which my last days in Paris could have resembled). But what become truly interesting by the end of it was the number of things his story spoke to in our modern sensibility. As a joke to myself, I began in one chapter about his work as a plongeur (a sort of dishwasher and kitchen whipping boy), by substituting "assistant professor" for "plongeur," and sadly it didn't seem so far off as one might hope. Facetious as it was, it spoke about the specter of poverty in Western society while also suggesting a sort of creep of poverty that means it has to be more real than fear.

A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
Isn't Hemingway's tragedy really that he romanced all the wrong things? I mean, sometimes it's like he wanted to mail a letter but went right past the post office. I read this in my first days in Paris, along with sundry guidebooks, an academic book, and a short volume of Tony Hoagland poems. And of all of it, with the exception of the academic epiphanies that came while I was there, it's this sentence that sticks out. Something about the power of memory, really, and about the loss of the self to things beautiful and beyond us. And I can't help thinking that maybe sometimes we all miss those moments and those realities even when they're right there in front of us.


2 Responses to “The Book Meme”
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kermitthefrog said...

Orwell: fun book. I taught it (at least the London half) to first-year comp students this past year, and they loooved it. They were fascinated by Orwell's decision to try out the tramp life for a while and then write about it journalistically.

December 30, 2007 at 5:14 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Sounds like a fun class; I've been thinking about putting an excerpt from the end into one of my final exam essays this next term.

Hope you had (or are having) great holidays.

December 31, 2007 at 4:42 PM