Friday, September 08, 2006

On Books or Be Careful What You Ask For

The former Defense Language Institute in San Francisco where I started reading in earnest.



“It’s not what you’re like, it’s who you like”

I need to do this High Fidelity style because I know that as soon as I hit the publish button I will remember sixteen other things that I liked better. It is like the scene in the book when Rob is making a Top 10 all time favorite song list for his interview with the rock critic and he keeps calling her back to change his mind and freaking out after he hangs up. The theme is for JuChe Child.

“Ain't Talkin” - A book that changed my life

The toughest question right off the bat. As Chou En-lai said when asked about the historical effect of the French Revolution, "Too soon to tell." I’ll come back to this one later.

“Highway 61 Revisited”- A book I've read more than once

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

In my teens I read perhaps too much science fiction and fantasy at the expense of missing some of the classics. I read Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber (five novels in two volumes) so many times because I wanted to be a Prince of Amber. Alas, t’was not to be. I was a bit more into science fiction than fantasy and I read more of Robert Heinlein than anyone else. I enjoyed his Future History stories about Lazarus Long but it was the novels I returned to the most. I loved the power in the succinctness of Double Star and the revolutionary setting of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I slowly weaned my self off of most SF and past pulps in favor of noir. This led me, eventually, to James Crumley and the tales of C.W. Shugrue and Milo Milodragovitch. El Duderino summed up Last Good Kiss nicely but forgot to mention it has one of the best opening lines ever.


“Shelter from the Storm” - A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust


In order to stave off insanity while attempting to survive as a one book Prospero I would like to bring along Shakespeare’s Complete Works. So instead of striking up a conversation with a volleyball I could build a replica of the Globe out of driftwood and palm fronds and eventually memorize all the roles from the plays and stage productions for myself and the local fauna. I guess that really might not keep from me from madness. On second thought a one volume collection seemed clichéd so I eventually jettisoned it in favor of another obligatory desert island book, Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time for the purists). I have started Swann’s Way at least half a dozen times never advancing too many pages past the madeleine scene. Ideally, if that word can be used for a desert island scenario, it would be in the Pléiade edition with a French dictionary and grammar text thrown in.

“It Takes a Lot to Laugh…” - A book that made me laugh -

Slouching Towards Kalamazoo by Peter DeVries

First impulse was to throw in Wodehouse, any of the Jeeves and Wooster tales. I also thought about Bill Bryson as he can be laugh out loud funny. Love Me by Garrison Keillor is my favorite of his and is delightfully non-Wobegone. But in the end I thought DeVries had more to offer, is often overlooked, and most of his farces are set in suburban Connecticut, so he’s got that going for him. The New Yorker did a piece on him sometime in the last couple of years that is a good introduction. Slouching is a coming of age tale about a precocious underachiever with a bent for the literary growing up in a small town. Hilarity ensues.

“…It Takes a Train to Cry” - A book that made me cry -

Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson


As a sentimental Irish drunk it doesn’t take much to choke me up, the last ten minutes of Rudy or the La Marseillaise scene from Casablanca will do it, but as for actual sobbing if not a train, a couple of dogs and a ‘bridge’ could do the trick. The first book that crushed me was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.This is the book that would wake me up in the middle of the night fearful of my previously unthought-of mortality. The protagonist was named Billy too. The most recent book that choked me up was The Teammates by David Halberstam, about the twilight days of Ted Williams and his three closest friends. Terabithia caught me by surprise and I hated her for a while but eventually understood it. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry was another moving experience for me but I was prepared for it thanks to Paterson.

“When I Paint My Masterpiece” - A book I wish I had written -

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux


I wanted this to be a travel book a travel writer would be my dream job. Bruce Chatwin is a close runner up but a little too flaky and too unreliable a narrator to know where he actually went. Redmond O’ Hanlon takes too many chances. The tough choice was narrowing down which Theroux to choose; I took his first an account of traveling across Europe and Asia by train but easily could have chosen another. I guess what I am really saying is not that I want to have written this book as much am I am saying I wanted to be Paul Theroux.

“Too Much of Nothing “- A book I wish had never been written -

Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard


Another tough category as I don’t hold too many grudges againste books that I have been defeated by and I can’t recall any hideous books from school although Two Years Before the Mast caused some tension between my father and I when he made it required reading one summer for reasons I forget. I avoided that book for years as a result and found out years later he was right. I enjoyed Hubbard as a writer of science fiction and Battlefield Earth is one the best pure SF romps ever (haven’t seen the film but I can imagine what Travolta did to it). While I am not apt to dis on others choice of religion, the absence of Dianetics in the very least would have saved us from the antics of Tom Cruise. Maybe. Anyway, it was a toss up between this or Atlas Shrugged but I thought that was at least a good story even if politically abhorrent. Teenagers need things like Ayn Rand, Bukowski, and The Bell Jar so they can be under the impression, at least temporarily, that they have discovered something profound. I hope this doesn’t put me on some Scientologist enemies list and I guess now I will never be invited into the secret Cruise compound in Telluride.

“I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” - A book I've been meaning to read -

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I could write a few pages here on stuff I want to read or just keep it simple. I have wanted to read A.S. Byatt’s Possession for years but feel I have to read the Eliot first to have the proper background…. Runner Up: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. This always makes a lot of lists for funniest or best campus novel and I keep meaning to pick it up but…


“Tangled Up in Blue “- I'm currently reading –

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon


Fewer than seventy pages to go and I can’t recommend this book enough and look forward to rereading it closely again to pick up the details I glossed over the first time around. Wish there was a reader’s guide like the one for Ulysses that I inherited from a former Trustifarian roommate. I wonder where that went. Next up, Fathers & Sons by Ivan Turgenev, and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 25 Stories by Haruki Murakami.

“Tell Me” - My favorite reading -

Thom Jones


Throw in Tim O’Brien and P.J. O’Rourke to round out the top three. This is a very tough call again and I am leaving off a Nobel Laureate and some notable others to avoid name dropping. Too late, you say? Bah.

“Things Have Changed”- A book that changed my life

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov


It didn’t really make it easier answering this one last but it bought me some time. The Boy Scout Manual changed my life but the plot sucks. Recently I would say it is Murakami who has allowed me to get excited again about contemporary fiction but I could not pin it down to one novel or point out the changes it has wrought. Something to do with karma and self-improvement. But it was Lolita that blew me away with language (picnic, lightning). I am not 100% convinced this is my final answer but it will suffice for now. Thanks to Scruffy for giving me something to chew on that was not work related. Have a good weekend!

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

6 comments:

scruffylooking said...

Fine job. You were WAY more thoughtful about this than I was.
I went for the quick answers and then kept going, Doh! after reading everyone else's responses.

Did you read TJ at the Creekside Review's response? He brought up Delilo and I felt bad for leaving him out. Man, I love books.

Dexter said...

There were a lot of writers I feel that I left out but was trying just to think about the individual novels so that is why primarily short story writers were omitted (Kafka, Hemingway, Flannery)...I thought about Underworld but couldn't really fit it anywhere. Lists are fun but more telling by what is left off and why. Douglas Adams slipped my mind too and i am sure there are more...

Anonymous said...

i wonder.....

as for Underworld, if you really want it in there, add the question - what's yr fave baseball book?

Anonymous said...

Did you begin your serious reading at DLI due to the fact that you were too young for the bars of SF?

Dexter said...

Baseball book.... Kinsella has several besides Shoeless Joe aka Field of Dreams... Most recent fave was Waiting for Teddy Williams by Frank Mosher...coming of age in New England, sox, great cast...

Dexter said...

No we still managed to hit several bars around town and even managed to weasel a tab at our local, The Black Fox, a dark den of sketchy characters run by Korean woman who was sympathetic to our efforts to learn the language and our steady GI paychecks. It was the exposure to my classmates and the city that expanded my reading list beyond mostly genre fiction.