Saturday, September 22, 2007

The book meme: from victorian lit to gay cowboys

I got tagged by Goldfish for the Booky Meme, and since I love books, I will definitely want to do this one.

Total number of books owned

This has gone down since I no longer keep extra ones stored in different countries. I am pretty sure is under 3000 now. I hope? Obviously this isn’t just the books that I have read but also books that I bought just IN CASE I am snow bound for 2 months, the books for that academic paper I was going to write but forgot, and the books I did read, and never wrote that paper on (There was a great literary paper I was going to do on Edwardian Crime Fiction where the ‘criminal’ always turns out to be the person who drops their H’s when they speak: Dorothy Sayers’ writing was prominent as one novel determined who the killer is by how the different characters play cricket). And of course the books I ‘should’ own, along with the books that it would simply be a shame not to own.

Last Book Bought

The last book I bought was a manga called Call Me Princess; it is an old school romantic shojo manga that would be read by 13 year old girls. I got it because it I had a used book credit and it was the only decent manga there. I did look at many other sections and was tempted to the by the book Spontaneous Healing so that I might hit the vast number of people who recommend this book to me. I assume they think that while saying, “If you really believe in Jesus, you will be healed” might offend me; telling me to read a book that says that if my cancer/CFS/Lymes/other illnesses aren’t cured is it because I am not ‘optimistic’ or ‘centered’ enough isn’t insulting.

“Oh, you look very ill, have you read Spontaneous Healing?”


Last Book Read

The last book I read was Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, a young adult novel about a 15 year old anorexic American named Daisy stuck while visiting relatives in the UK country side. She is at a farm without adults during the onset of an under-detailed war and occupation. Through the four children it shows the different ways people cope in war and traumatic situations as while Daisy’s anorexia changes because she needs to take care of a younger child, one of the older boys becomes an obsessive self-harmer. What I like about the book is it never actually uses the words (anorexia or self harm) but it is reflected in all the statements, like when Daisy falls in love: “....I was starving, starving, starving for Edmond. And what a coincidence, that was the feeling I loved best in the world.” And who would think to talk about self harming behaviors in the backdrop of a vague war setting in the UK?

Five Book that Mean a Lot to Me

The Diving-Bell & the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

I always considered this one of the great works of writing. This is true memoirs of a man with ALIS (Locked in Syndrome); a man who went from editor of one of the most popular magazines in France to a completely paralyzed state. He was only able to move one eyelid, and thus dictated the book, one letter at a time. I considered him the equivilant of Borges on the human conditions; as where Borges makes metaphors, Bauby illustrates the feelings of one man in real but for most unimaginable conditions.

Now I consider Bauby to be my goal marker, “If Bauby can get it across in just three pages, then I can write about it.” He challenges me to write well about subjects which are simply never written about. Here is one of his short essays:

My Lucky Day

This morning, with the first light barely bathing Room 119, evil spirits descend on my world. For half an hour the alarm on the machine that regulates my feeding tube has been beeping out into the void. I cannot imagine anything so inane or nerve wracking as this piercing beep beep pecking away at my brain. To make matters worse, my sweat has unglued the tape that keeps my right eyelid closed, and the stuck-together lashes are tickling my pupil unbearably. To crown it all, the end of urinary catheter has become detached and I am drenched. Awaiting rescue, I hum an old song by Henri Salvador: ‘Don’t you fret, baby, it’ll be all right.’ And here comes the nurse. Automatically she turns on the TV. A commercial, with a personal computer spelling out the question: ‘Were you born lucky?’

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Back when I was into making lists, there was a list of books I would read every year (the suggestion for the list came from Borges). The Little Prince was on the list. I cannot remember the number of copies I have given away of this book; I have the first edition in both French and English, along with a multitude of paperback copies. It certainly teaches a person a lot about bureaucracy, love, selfishness, selflessness and appearances and is still under 100 pages. I find that each year, I have become a different character, sometimes the prince, sometimes the downed pilot, the fox, the lamplighter, even the vain, proud, naïve yet fragile and lonely rose. The book The Little Prince is very much like a sheep in a box (read the book to figure that one out); it is everything you might need or want it to be.

The Book about Books: The Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson

I recommend anything Holbrook Jackson has written because this is a man who really loves books. And this is his magnum opus: a book which must have taken years if not decades of mind boggling research. It is a book dedicated to the love and lovers of books all done in sections and subtopics that appear so unbelievable that you might find a book like this in heaven. If you want to read about people historically who have eaten books, it’s in here, along with those who like to touch books, who get locked in cupboards with books, debates on old books versus new books, long ones versus short ones. On where one should read a book, and where one should find it. Chapters entitled: Do Bibliomaniacs Read Their books? And How Books have made and Changed Character. If you love books, then find this book, because you are probably in it.

The Collected Ghost Stories of Mrs. J.H. Riddell

Considered as good a writer as J. S. LeFanu, over time J. H. Riddell has been largely forgotten though collectors pay hundreds to thousands for copies of her books (I know, I have about 20). She is a writer extraordinaire overlooked because she was female. She was one of the first professional female writers who supported not only her own family but also her in-laws on her writing (which was more popular than her male contemporaries but paid 1/4th the rate).

Though written in the Victoria period, the work is easily read today and invokes not just a period but an atmosphere (which is where ghost stories do their best work). She is not life changing but reading her gives me that tingle of pleasure one gets when you realize you are reading something that is perhaps the best of it’s type, and that what you experience is something you may never get to experience again. Her writing is a rare vintage port or fine crisp champagne by the riverside.

Queer Pulp by Susan Stryker

This is downright fun, covering all the pulps from the golden age of paperbacks as they delved into the world of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (with a bit of incest and polygamy thrown in). Full of covers and titles like Lavender Love Rumble (a woman in love with a lesbian stripper), Hot Pants Homo, Gay Gay a Go-Go and The Constant Urge. Not only a great book to leave lying around the next time your relatives from the bible belt states come a visiting, it actually describes each book, and the context of the period. For example, over a dozen actual lesbians wrote almost 100 novels between 1950 and 1965 and this book can help you find the real titles from the titillation ones. This has everything from the fictional transsexual spin-offs from Christine Jorgensen’s appearance to gay love cowboy books (doesn’t everyone need to own at least one?).

Seriously, could you really not want to read a book called “The Odd Kind: Unveils the sleek and expensive world of lesbians who model fashions in public and perform age old rituals in private!” Wait, tell me more about these age old rituals? I can’t find them in the Lesbian Sex Guide!

I tag Cooper (cause he’s a writer), Kathz (cause she reads odd and old books), Zephyr (because I can’t WAIT to see what she posts), Daniel (I think you did this a while ago, but do it again, it's good for you,, and Artistic Soul (a.k.a...well, we all have our secrets). I recommend anyone else I haven’t tagged to please take part – never enough readers, never enough books!


Penny L. Richards said...

"doesn’t everyone need to own at least one?"

I do! Title is "Sorority Sin," it's from the 60s and (I know this sounds too good to be true) I bought it for a quarter, one summer during college, at a junk shop in a barn near the Maine/New Hampshire border. The cover is priceless.

The Goldfish said...

Three cheers for the Little Prince!
I have certainly given more copies of the Little Prince as gifts to people than probably all other books put together. Two copies so far this year. Some of De Saint-Exupery's other stuff (some because I haven't read it all) is pretty special too.

Sober @ Sundown said...

Wow, 3000 books is amazing!

Your book discussions/posts are exiting. It makes me want to read stuff that I would never think of reading.

Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

I love it when you write about books.
I definitely want to get the one about queer pulp. What a research reference!

KateJ said...

There's only one book on your list that I've read (the Little Prince, of course...)
I don't know how many books we've got in the house, maybe not quite 3000! But I do go to the library every week too, and get through 3 or so books each week. I tend not to actually buy books unless I've already read them and know that I'm going to want to read them again. I reckon I've been a major factor in keeping our village library from closure.