Sunday, June 19, 2005

Book Meme

The combination of a small craft advisory and the gentle urging, not "tagging," of Christina at Feisty Repartee makes me game for the book meme started by Guy at Snugg Harbor. I haven't given much thought to these particular questions before so it makes for a good challenge.
The four questions are:1. Total number of books I own.2. Last Book I bought.3. Last book I read.4. Five books of notable influence on me.
Before I launch into my answers, let me give some insight into my quirky book reading habits. First, I would describe them as "bi-polar." I might go a year without reading a single book, then I'll hear about an interesting read and that will set me off on a book reading frenzy. I'll burn up the Amazon 1-Click button for a month, sometimes ordering the same book twice in the maelstrom. I am the same way about crossword puzzles-I may do them everyday for a year and then stop completely for two years. I have the concentration span of a gnat unless something really engrosses me, in which case I can lock onto it like a laser.Second, 99 percent of my book reading takes place between the hours of midnight and 3:00 A.M., which is why my snooze button takes a pounding and I crawl into work and swill coffee until I am reasonably awake. I am now aware that I do this because this is the time I am having a few drinks. Sucking on a beer and sipping a fine whisky slows down my racing mind and allows me to concentrate. Many times the reading and the booze and the late hours put me to sleep in the chair. Many mornings I have trudged to bed after sunrise to get in a couple of hours of hard sleep before heading in.Third, I do not read serious fiction. I have never liked it nor have I ever developed a taste for it-probably because I don't read it. I'm sure there are millions of fantastic books of fiction and many talented writers. My feeling is I don't care to read something that has no basis in fact and was created out of whole cloth. Shit, anyone can make stuff up. I want to read something that I'm vaguely familiar with and get someone's unique perspective. I will read humor based fiction like the old Woody Allen books or John Stewart's stuff. I can't articulate the distinction rationally other than one makes me horselaugh and the other just takes itself too seriously especially when the author imagines that they have created a real live breathing human being from words on a page. I prefer memoirs, biographies, books about flyfishing adventures and "soft" psychology. My answers:
1. Total Number of Books I Own
A hell of a lot fewer than I did before we moved just over five years ago. Our former house had an upstairs room with wall to walll built-in bookshelves and it was packed with every book my wife and I had accumulated since high school. We boxed up and donated to charity over a thousand hardbacks and paperbacks instead of carting them across state. We kept a hundred or so and that's where the figure stands today, maybe actually fewer than a hundred. I tend to read something and hand it off to a friend and never see it again. No problem-my thought is to share the good stuff, be it music or literature.
2. Last Book I Bought
Last week I came across across a book review by a guy maned Matt Taibbi of the New York Press. He was reviewing the latest book by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. I know you're all familiar with Friedman-he is the self-acclaimed expert on the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, not that I've seen much results from his pontificating. He is also ubiquitous on these constant roundtable discussions where various "experts," (read journalists) hold forth on the topics of the day. The self-importance and self-rightousness of these groups (always a combination of four of the same 10 people) is palpable. If someone would recognize their prescience and put them in a position of ultimate power, the world would be a group-hugging utopia. They are usually as accurate in their predictions and observations as the local weatherman in Paducah. James Lileks pointed out recently that any applicant to journalism school who says they want to become a journalist because they want to "change the world," should be immediately "shitcanned." I agree. Journalists are supposed to report on the world, not be agents of change. That is as absurd, stupid and grossly arrogant as those lofty declarations spewed forth by those bikini clad bimbos at the Miss America Pageant claiming to want to end world hunger. End of rant-Back to Tom Friedman. He is especially irksome. His furrowed brow, serious demeanor and measured words convey the illusion of heft and substance. He is widely proclaimed to be the finest journalist in America usually by his friends whom he lauds on their book jackets. He is, in a word, insufferable. Read a year of his columns on the same subject and he's all over the park. The emporer has no clothes!Matt Taibbi wrote a scathing and "spot-on" take down of this clown's new book last week. It is so deliciously vicious and perfect that I enclose the link:

If I were Friedman, I'd never show my face in public again.

After reading that smackdown, I bought Taibbi's new book, Spanking the Donkey-Dispatches from the Dumb Season- his coverage of the latest presidential campaign. He skewers the candidates, the political parties and the buffoons that cover the campaign for the press. He is a died in the wool liberal but John Kerry's ineptitude gets the biggest panning. He takes Kerry's convention acceptance speech, removes everything that he characterizes as outright lies or complet bullshit and reduces it to it's two sentences of truth-"I was born in Colorado" and "We can do better." Highly recommended and quite humorous no matter your political stripe.

3. Last Book I Read
John D. Gartner's, The Hypomanic Edge-The Link Between (a little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America A great read about the lives of nine men,Christopher Columbus, JohnWinthrop, Roger Williams,WilliamPenn, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnegie, LewisSelznick, Louis B.Mayer and CraigVenter. The book celebrates the success of the hypomanic personality-one marked by an elevated mood state that may be, but is not necessarily, subject to depression. The irrational confidence, ambition, vision, and zeal of these individuals has had an enormously positive impact on this nation's rise to economic prosperity.

4. Five Books of Notable Influence on Me
  • On the Spine of Time by Harry Middleton. A book that is on the surface a recounting of a flyfishing trip throught the Smoky Mountains it is also a meditiation on changing seasons, and the passage of time juxtaposed against the permanence of the mountains and streams. This book reminds me of my initial attraction to fishing in cold mountains streams but it also is reminds me of Middleton's struggle with depression and the curative powers of nature.
  • Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart-Thirty Things You Need to Know Now by Gordon Livingston. Best advice-You are what you do! Intentions don't cut it, it's actions that mean everything. There are 29 more observations that are dead on. I shared this book with a great friend suffering through the slow death of a long and painful relationship. He took it's lessons to heart, moved on and I have never seen him happier. I re-read this book often and find something new everytime.
"My compulsive need to look for the edge and live on it has marked me in more ways than I would want to know or try to explain. Never mind the marks it has left on my skin, let me go straight to the bone," Crews writes in the introduction to this collection.

And, in each of the works, he is more than willing to open a few wounds. Crews is one of the greatest writers from the hardscrabble South. I cannot describe his style so I will include a paragraph from the intro to this great collection.

"I hooked up with a carny and worked for a while as a caller for the ten-in-one show. In the world of carnivals, the ten-in-one is the freak show. I was especially fond of the Fat Lady and her friends there under the tent. I think I know why, and I think I know when I started loving freaks. I had been able to rent a place to sleep from a freak man and his freak wife and I woke one morning looking at both of them where they stood at the other end of the trailer in the kitchen. They stood perfectly still in the dim, yellow light, their backs to each other. I could not see their faces, but I was close enough to hear them clearly when they spoke.
"What's for supper, darling?" he said.
"Franks and beans, with a nice little salad," she said.
And then they turned to each other under the yellow light. The lady had a beard not quite as thick as my own but about three inches long and very black. The man's face had a hairlip. His face was divided so that the top of his nose forked. His eyes were positioned almost on the sides of his head and in the middle was a third eye that was really not an eye at all but a false lid over an round indentation that saw nothing. It was enough though, to make me taste bile in my throat and cause a cold fear to start in my heart.
They kisssed. Their lips brushed briefly and I heard them mummur to each other and he was gone through the door. And I, lying at the back of the trailer, was never the same again.
I have never stopped remembering that as wondrous and special as those two people were, they were only talking about and looking forward to and needing precisely what all of the rest of us talk about and look forward to and need. He might have been any husband going to any job anywhere. He just happened to have that divided face. That is not a very startling revelation, I know, but it is one most of us resist because we have that word "normal" and we can say we are normal because a psychological, sexual, or spiritual abnormality can-with a little luck-be safely hidden from the rest of the world. But if you are less than three feet tall, you have to deal with that fact every second of every day of your life. And everyone witnessses your effort. You go into a bar and you can't get up onto a stool. You whistle down a taxi and you can't open the door. If you're a lady with a beard, every face you meet is a mirror to give you back the disgust and horror and unreasonableness of your predicament. No matter which corner you turn on which street in which city in the world, you can expect to meet the mirror. And I suppose I have not been able to forgive myself the grotesqueries and aberrations I am able to hide with such impunity in my own life."

Give Harry a read-he is a hidden gem of southern literature.

  • Into the Sound Country: A Carolinian's Coastal Plain by Bland Simpson. A beautifully written book about coastal North Carolina-it's history, it's traditions and it's beauties. Every time I read it it gives me a greater appreciation and enjoyment of this magical place of sounds and swamps, twisted trees and mosquitos, salt marshes and fish, and hurricanes and snowstorms. I never tire of this reading this book.
  • Naked-by David Sedaris. I have read this book at least 20 times and each time I ache from laughing so hard. Not only hilarious, but poignant and each vignette is perfectly crafted-not one word is wasted. It is brilliant writing from a tortured soul. It has had a profound impact at the way I look at things-we're all just quirky, defective creatures trying to do whatever it takes to get by. To see that exposed is funny as hell.

Thanks for the challenge on this cool, windy day!


Anonymous Christina said...

Oh very thorough and well done.

I think I'm going to have to find a copy of "Naked."

; )

10:59 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

You often go a year without reading?

Is that possible?

And "amen" on David Sedaris' "Naked". I adore him, and can recommend "Me Talk Pretty One Day" while you're at it.

1:24 AM  

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