Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A book meme-thingy

Meowkaat has tagged me on this meme, and I'm perfectly happy to comply. It gives me a prompt, pushes me out of the I-have-absolutely-nothing-to-say-and-no-time-to-say-it-in mindset, even if the second part of that description is too true.

1. One book that changed your life- hardest question first.
Except, for me, this is the easiest question: The first one I read, whatever it was, because it lit the path for all the others. But my first “book” probably wasn’t a book. I could read when I was two, said my grandmother; all I can add is that I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t. I have two theories about that: it was a skill left over from a previous life OR I was so bored in my playpen, where Grammie penned me up until I was more than two because she feared I’d get hurt, that I broke the code on the cereal boxes she put in my playpen to entertain me. I like the second theory best.

For a more specific answer, however, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I first read it in 1980. ((Not as) Faraway Daughter was an infant; that's how I know the date.) At that time, I was an unfocused reader. I read, just as Meowkaat described, whatever was handy, and that wasn’t usually anything approaching brain food. (My mother-in-law, for instance, had an impressive library of Harlequins – paper bags full – so I too got my fill of that genre.) FLW had been a big bestseller in the then not-so-distant past (which in retrospect amazes me; I can’t imagine an America that literate…), and I thought I’d give it a try. Be warned: John Fowles knows words not in your bookshelf’s dictionary. He knows a lot of them.

So I struggled through this book with the honkin’ big words and (to me, then) abstract themes and plotting about as far from Harlequin as books get, and I hated it. Hated it. Hated it.

Fast forward, 1995: my last semester of undergraduate work. I took a course called “The British Novel.” On the list? The despised FLW. I dreaded and dreaded it, but the day came when the novel must be cracked.

Two pages in, I recognized that it was brilliant.

The book didn’t change me, but it proved to me that I had changed. And that’s just as good.

2. One Book That You've Read More Than Once.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison, the best book of the 20th century. If I get two choices – and who says I don’t…who’s Hall Monitor here, anyway? – I’d add The Scarlet Letter, the best book of the 19th century. There’s far more going on in that little adultery book than the Letter A. And no Demi Moore in sight.

3. One Book That You'd Want On A Desert Island.
I'm practical. My complete works of Shakespeare would keep me busy a while, and it’s all there: “comedy,” history, tragedy. Plus it’s annotated, so I’d be able to follow the obsolete words and customs even though I (presumably) wouldn’t have internet access. Before I finish, I hope to be rescued. And if not, it’s always best to give Shakespeare a second read.

4. One Book That Made You Laugh.
They aren’t really funny books, but I enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, starring Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey often makes me laugh. Garrison Keillor’s books make me laugh, too, although I’d rather hear him read them to me.

(Scary – my first thought was something I read decades ago: Joan Rivers’ Having a Baby Can Be a Scream. But it’s not my answer.)

5. One Book That Made You Cry.
Bel Canto. That’s one.
Othello. That’s one.
Whichever of the Little House books that featured Mary's going blind. That’s one.

6. One Book That You Wish You Had Written.
The one I’ve been trying to write my whole life. I suspect if I ever do, I’ll be the Grandma Moses of the literary set.

7. One Book You Wish Had Never Been Written.
George W. Bush’s playbook.

8. One Book That You Are Reading Right Now.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but since it’s my “car” book and I only read it when I go out to eat alone, I’m not getting very far. And it’s quite a hefty tome.

9. One Book That You Have Been Meaning To Read.
Cued up and ready to go, but unread: Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight. Looks like I’m leaning toward memoir. And yes, once again that’s more than one. I’m an English major, not a math major. Or a control freak. Oh, and What’s the Matter with Kansas? I have the books. That’s not the problem…

10. Tag five others that you would like to do this meme. You and you and you and you and you. You know who you are. Feel free to post here in the comments if you don’t have a blog, Alanna.

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