Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Book Meme


I was afraid this was going to happen. I tried to hide. But, of course, there is no hiding on the blogs, and it was bound to happen sooner or later. The dreaded "That Book Meme" has been passed on to me, by Eric Gordy of
East Ethnia. So, here are my answers:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?


When I first saw this question a few weeks back, I misunderstood it, just like many other people appear to do all over the blogs. I have read "Fahrenheit 451" when I was a kid (and saw the movie, too), then again recently as a part of the "Wake County Reads" action, when everyone in the county was supposed to read it and then attend a public discussion about it. I went to Quail Ridge Bookstore because the moderator there was John Kessell who was great - of course: he is a great teacher and a great sci-fi writer. Anyway, since my memory of the book is fresh, my quick knee-jerk response was "Of course there is one book that does not get burned - The Firefighter's Manual - that's what I will be!". Wrong.

I am supposed to memorize one book and teach it to a kid once I get old, so the lore of the human civilization gets passed on, through generations of oral tradition. Well, people aro und the blogs are memorizing "Ulllyses", or "Hamlet", or some such Great Book. And I agree that Great Books should be secured first. I already know the first sentence of Bulgakov's "Master and Margerita", so I have a head-start, but that book should be me morized in the original - by a Russian.

But how about something more practical, some good non-fiction that describes the current understanding of the world well? I was toying with the idea of memorizing "Origin of Species". A great and important book, bu t it is more than 150 years out of date right now. It would be more useful to memorize the best current "Evolution" textbook, perhaps Matt Ridley's.

Then it struck me: imagine many generations pass by and everyone learns a book and teaches to the next ge neration and so on for a few hundred years. What are the people going to think why are they doing it? What if the political situation changes dramatically, yet everyone keeps memorizing books out of sheer tradition? Writing them down becomes a taboo because it is against religion? What they need to know is why they started memorizing them in the first place, so they can know when it is OK to stop. What they need, in essence, is their Creation story. So, I will memorize "Fahrenheit 451".

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Not really. I like many, emphatise with some, some even make me cry. Anne Frank had a strange effect on a young teen, but she is not fictional. OK, for the sake of answering the question: Doctor Legsandbrains from "Only Who Can Make a Tree?" from "Book of Phillip Jose Farmer" (1971 collection of his stories). She said: "Apart from being a complete failure, the experiment was a great success".

The last book you bought is?

I bought "Hand to Mouth" by Paul Auster for my wife - she loves him and this is one of the rare Auster books she has not read yet. A couple of days before that, I bought myself two (simultaneously): "The Good Father" by Mark O'Connell, and "The sex lives of teenagers" by Lynn Ponton, as a result of listening to an NPR show on which they both were guests, then writing a post here about it (Teen Sex, Hooking Up, Femiphobia) and having a back-and-forth with O'Connell in the comments section. Of course, apart from theoretical interest, my kids are going to get to their teen years soon, so I better be prepared!

What are you currently reading?

I am ashamed to say, I STILL have not finished Jared Diamond's "Collapse". I just had no time for reading lately. So far, I like "Collapse" a lot and I just got to the contentious chapter on Greenland Norse. And then, there is a large stack of "to read immediatelly" books waiting for me, some of which I have started so, officially, I am "currently reading" many of them. I'll try to catch up during the summer. I always read more in summer as there is nothing else to do at the pool while the kids are swimming, and just sitting outside on the porch with a book and a Coke is a pleasant idea.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

Aaarrrggghhhh! Just five? Let me try to see if I can to reduce it to five. Political books I've been reading lately are unneccesary for the situation in which I am the King and the garbage collector all in one.

First, for practical reasons, I will need a good survival manual. Something that describes, for that geographical region, which plants are edible and which are poisonous; how to catch fish without professional gear; how to catch a wild bird/turtle/frog/rodent (are there sheep on the island?); how to start a fire; how to make rope out of natural materials and tie good knots; how to fell a tree safely; how to make efficient stone tools; Morse Code and how to do the smoke signals; how to build a boat, etc. I am now trying to remember if "Robinson Crusoe" actually has all that information contained in it....

Second, I need to take big important books that I will never read unless I find myself on a desert i sland. I was thinking to pick the Bible, as I would never read it otherwise, but then, I would probably never read it even on the island. I tried a Children's version when I was a kid and got bored once I got into the New Testament. Why would I feel otherwise today? I would probably be even more bothered by its internal incosistencies and mysoginy, not to mention constantly keeping in mind how much evil was done with this book as an excuse. It is not big and heavy enough to serve as a weapon, or a weight, and not enough paper for a decent fire. So, it would have to be Stephen Jay Gould's "Structure of Evolutionary Theory". I have read it, slowly and carefully, when it first came out. When I was done, I said to myself: "I need to read this again one day - perhaps when I get stranded on a deserted island!". And once done, it is heavy enough to be used as a weapon, or a weight, or as fuel for a big bonfire. "The Lord of the Rings" was a runner-up in this category.

Third, I guess I should take something with sentimental value. Here, I choose "The Mysterious Garden" (Tajanstveni Vrt) by Jirzi Trnka. Good luck finding that one on Amazon! But I have my copy and I guard it ferociously. It would be one of the items I would quickly grab to save if the house cathes on fire! It is a beautiful children's book about seven little boys, a mean tom-cat, a well-educated whale, a literate fly and seven circus elephants. Illustrations are enchanting. I have read it a million times, and I can read it another million times.

Fourth and fifth, there are a couple of loooong sci-fi series that I promised to myself I will read one day when I am bed-ridden for many weeks: Frank Herbert's "The Dune" and Asimov's "Foundation", each with at least a dozen volumes - and I have not read a single one so far.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

OK, I cannot see 90% of the blogs from this computer so I cannot check who has already done it (except from memory), so, if tomorrow, I discover I made a mistake I will edit this. So, here are my victims:
Majikthise because I like how she thinks.
Lance Mannion because he loves Sherlock Holmes, but I want to know more.
Archy. His blog states that "John J. McKay is a grumpy, aging liberal who lives in a small house with his wife, two cats, and a couple thousand books." I want to see which of those couple of thousand boo ks he likes the best.

I will update with the links to their responses.

[In reserve, if some of the above have already done it: Pseudonymous UNC Student because I expect to be enlightened about some books I have never heard of.]

Update:

So far, Majikthise and Lance Mannion responded and, of course, they did not dissapoint. Those were marvellous responses!

Update 2:
Archy, after a valiant fight against the Blogger dragon, managed to post his responses in six installments:
http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2005/04/dreaded-book-meme-part-1-coturnix-at.html
http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2005/04/dreaded-book-meme-part-2-yee-haw-its.html
http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2005/04/dreaded-book-meme-part-3-last-book-you.html
http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2005/04/dreaded-book-meme-part-4-what-are-you.html
http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2005/04/dreaded-book-meme-part-5-five-books.html
http://johnmckay.blogspot.com/2005/04/dreaded-book-meme-part-6-who-are-you.html
Thank you! And I think that the Pseudonymous UNC Student is going to post shortly...

Update 3:
Pseudonymous UNC Student came through as well. Interesting choices. Very interesting choices...

BTW, has anyone tried to draw a geneological three of this meme, and trace it both back to its origins (so we can all go there and scream) and forward along many branches and see how many people have done this so far, how good people are at actually doing it once tagged, what books keep coming back again and again, and what great other books show up that we should all know about?p

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