A book that changed your life:
I don’t think that any one book has -- but knowing books and spending time with writers through their books -- has definitely shaped my life.
There is one book that was especially important -- not because of what it said but because of what I decided while I was reading it -- before I read this book I thought that to "like" a book I had to swallow it whole and agree with everything in it -- this particular book (some obscure title of feminist deconstructive criticism) -- made me realize that I didn't have to agree with everything a book said to take some good away from it. As with people, there's good and bad in a single book -- light and shadow -- and you can love a book without agreeing with everything in it.
Before that revelation hit me I worshipped books too much. I wanted them to be more than what they were, instead of just accepting them for what they are. (It took me another ten years to realize the same thing about people. Once that clicked life changed for the better.)
And books are like people, aren't they? We encounter them for odd random reasons, but sometimes that encounter -- either then or later -- seems strangely fated, entirely significant, and very important.
A passage from a book that was particularly important to me was lobbed my way by my father, just at the time that I -- as a stormy, gripe-y adolescent who didn't have enough cash to put herself through the private college she'd been accepted to -- needed to read it:
All education must be self-education.
Let him realize the truth of this, and no school will be a danger to him. … The man who goes into a school to educate himself and not to be educated will get somewhere. He should start out a master, master of such that he has, however little that may be. By being master of such as he has in the beginning it is likely he may later be master, after years of study, of much.
He should not enter the school with any preconceived ideas about his destiny. In fact he should be open and free. His aim should be to search deeply and work hard and let the outcome be what it may.
The best art the world has ever had is but the impress left by men who have thought less of making great art than of living full and completely with all their faculties in the enjoyment of full play. From these the result is inevitable.
From The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
That one passage has shaped my life from then until now. (The rest of the book is pretty dang good too, but that one passage was just what I needed right then. Thank you, Mr. Henri. And thanks, Dad.)
A book you’ve read more than once:
Does it count if I’ve never finished it? Ulysses. I’ve tried and tried again to get through the battered copy that I inherited from my grandfather with the inscription in his handwriting that reads: “Received on the Island of Guadalcanal, July 13, 1943”.
Recently I had a frightening experience when I opened it again, fresh home from Dublin, read the first chapter and understood the whole thing.
I shut it again, quickly, in a state that felt a little like terror.
Strangely, the only other book I’ve read more than once – outside a bunch of pulp when I was a kid that I couldn’t get enough of – is the Odyssey. I could read that book over and over again for the way it's told, alone. It's so rich and humane. I only just now realized the connection between these two books that haunt me – they’re the same story. (Sort of.) A journey and a homecoming.
A book that made you laugh:
I read David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day on the Channel Tunnel between Paris and London on a very quiet train car and had to squelch my laughter repeatedly for fear of coming across as a gauche American. Still it got away from me, in big obnoxious bursts.
Later, on the flight home, the woman who sat next to me (Swiss, trés chic and trés feminine -- at first glance I made up my mind that she was a blonde airhead) looked longingly at the book I was reading (Minotaur, about Sir Arthur Evans) and said “That looks good. I wish I brought a book.” I handed her Me Talk Pretty and she was off. The whole flight home she was squelching herself too. (It also led to a conversation in which I learned that she was a physicist on her way to an annual conference. Very interesting person with a whole lot of interesting things to say. That’ll teach me.)
She hadn’t yet finished when we touched down so of course I told her to keep the book. Her gratitude was genuine – she so didn’t want to let go of that book until she had finished it.
A book that made you cry:
Tracks. Big blubbering gasping sobs – that came out of nowhere. If you’ve read the book you know when and why I cried. If you haven’t read the book, and are in the mood for a good cry – and an adventure story about a gal crossing the Australian Outback alone on camelback -- I highly recommend it.
A book that you wish had been written and a book you wish had never been written:
I can’t summon the passion needed to answer these two questions. I’m pretty content with what’s out there, and pretty confident that if it comes to mind, someone will have written something about it.
Books you’re currently reading:
Several stacked on the bedside table right now:
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Interaction of Color by Josef Albers
The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time by Edward Hall
Time and the Highland Maya by Barbara Tedlock
A book you’ve been meaning to read:
Ulysses. And Captive and Cousins – because I suspect it might lend some interesting insights in to the whole Maya captive thing, even though it’s about the Native Americans of North America. I’ve also been meaning to reading Gödel, Escher, Bach for something like 14 years. (It scares me a little.)
I tag litwit and anali (and opiliones [aka heatherlorin] and enyasi if they can squeeze it in). Lolabola, you game?