Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Book 'Em, Dano

The thoughtful and literate (un)relaxed dad tagged me for a book meme.

Total number of books?

Do people who own a lot of books know how many they have? Too many, not enough. Ok, I'll try. From counting one shelf with 40 books on it, I am estimating about 800. It's tricky, because some of the books are Chris's, but then we have a lot of books we've bought for one another, or together.

Last book read?

Absurdistan. My brother-in-law left it with me when he visited recently. I got really into it, then stalled out midway through and then loved it again by the end. The main character is a 300+ pound Russian Jew desperate to return to New York (and his Latina girlfriend), but thwarted by his father's murder of an Oklahoma businessman. He goes to Absurdistan to buy himself a Belgian passport, which is where all hell breaks loose. If you don't think I'm a good judge, check the reviews. Everyone freaking loved this book. Except - don't read it if you need things to be heading in some direction immediately.

Last book bought?

I have been trying to get books from the library. We are out of shelf space at home, so if I want to buy more books I may need to start shedding some old ones. That said, I made an exception for the my friend Jonathan's book The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse. I was going to buy it at his reading, but I got distracted talking to people afterwards. Plus, buying it on Amazon seems like it could help his stats somehow. I've written about Johnathan's book before, and I ate the book up one day at the beach this summer. Reading Pinball Theory, Absurdistan and Clown Girl all within close temporal proximity made for a sort of odd-plot trifecta, in a good way.

Five meaningful books?

Wow is this hard. What the hell does meaningful mean? While trying to decide what to write about, I walked around looking at some of my books. And I considered using the Cooks' Illustrated New Best Recipe cookbook as one of my five. It certainly is one of the books I consult most often. Eventually I decided that meaningful could be interpreted as books that stick with me years after I read them. It seems fair, since some books stay in your mind long after you read the last page. Sometimes you are left with mental images of the plot or characters, sometimes it is just a feeling that stays with you after you've put down the book. Here are some I can't shake, and wouldn't if I could.

I loved Truth & Beauty. I really enjoy Ann Patchett's writing (Bel Canto is one of my all-time favorite novels) and was very excited to read this book about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy. Grealy wrote the heart-wrenching Autobiography of a Face about her childhood battle with cancer. Friendships have been a large part of how I define myself. This book is about a friendship, and about devotion to a friend who can not save herself.

Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. I normally shy away from short story collections, because I am frustrated that the story ends just as I am getting into it. That said, a good short story can be fantastic, and Lahiri's are beautifully crafted and a joy to read, even when the story itself is about loss or isolation. I loved her book so much I was inspired to pick up other books of short stories, most notably Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. (Like most people who sucked down every word of her book of short stories, I was less enthralled by Lahiri's first novel, The Namesake.)

Wisława Szymborska's poetry collection Miracle Fair (translated by Joanna Trzeciak). This is one of those books that I buy for other people. I looked in vain for it the week before my sister's wedding, hoping to find a copy to give to her and her husband. Maybe for Chanukah. Szymborska won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1996, so it can't be just me that loves her work. Her writing is understated, ironic and often funny.

The Catcher in the Rye. I actually never read this in high school. I read it a few years ago in one of my "gee, seems like I should have read that" phases (see: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter). I am not sure I would have liked it as much if I'd read it as a teen ager, but in my 30s it read as an authentic depiction of a disaffected teen.

(When Chris gets one of these urges, he reads The Odyssey or parts of the bible. I pick a short novel about a pain-in the ass kid.)

Snow Falling On Cedars is one of those books I didn't want to read. It got very popular, and I recall seeing it for sale at the Starbucks near my office in Chicago. Once I got over my reticence, I was completely drawn in by the beauty of the language. (I am a sucker for beautiful language coupled with sad plots.) All these years later I still think of the courtroom scene.

As a bonus I offer a few books I love that don't rise to the level of the books I have just mentioned above.

  • The Last Word. I love obituaries, especially well written ones. The is book is a collection of NY Times obits. It made a great book to read in small chunks just before bed. One life a night. (the book is old enough that I can't find a link, but there are a number of books like this on the market.)
  • Middlesex. Loved, loved, loved.
  • I would have used To Kill a Mockingbird in my five, but that seems so obvious, what with every other child being named Scout, Harper or Atticus. Still, a beautifully written book that speaks to children and adults.
  • Motherless Brooklyn. Who wouldn't love a book about a detective with Tourette's?

It is obvious who I have to tag. Metrodad is the biggest reader I know in the blogging world. I am sure his answers will put mine to shame and I'm dying to see what he has to say.


  1. Yeah I often wonder if Metrodad would make a good librarian and then I suddenly worry that he would in some Hannibal Lecter sort of way.

    Snow falling on cedars. On my 'to read' list 8 years, now?

  2. I felt my pulse quicken just at the mention of some of these! I loved Interpreter of Maladies, even though, like you, I generally don't like short story collections (I also found The Namesake to be a letdown). Truth and Beauty and Bel Canto are also favorites. Ann Patchett has a new book out, by the way, but it seems to have been savaged by the critics. (Not that a negative review should necessarily be a deterrent!)

  3. Too funny. I was reading this post and thinking to myself, "wow. what a cool meme!" Then, I saw you tagged me for it. While I usually hate memes, I'll definitely get to this one.

    Meanwhile, I'm glad you stuck with Absurdistan. I wanted to give up halfway through also but I'm glad I finished it.

    I've always had this little nerd crush on Jhumpa Lahiri. I love short stories and I think she's a fantastic writer.

    Lastly, I JUST got my copy of Ann Patchett's new book, "Run," yesterday. Can't wait to start it soon.

  4. nonlinearpapa10/10/2007 10:00 AM

    I feel the need to state for the record that I prefer the Fagels translation.

    Carry on.