I was recently reading the great blog The Sheila Variations and discovered that Sheila (aka Special Ops aka Red) had tagged me for a set of questions for which she herself had been tagged. The questions are all about reading and if you want to get great perspectives on literature, history and film as well there really is no other blog quite like Sheila's (that's a compliment). As the lone film blogger tagged by Sheila it is my responsibility to make sure people don't think film geeks are also a bunch of illiterate yahoos. I'll give it my best shot:
Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?
Pretty much any new fiction. Wow that's a bad answer but it's the truth. When it comes to new books I'm an obsessive for non-fiction but when it comes to fiction I prefer older, more tried and true tomes. I'm not a "book of the month club" type person. I look at lists of the greatest books ever written and think, "There are so many that I want to read, I just don't have time for the latest climbers on the NYT Bestsellers List." But my answer here is already a cop-out as I'm not naming a title so let's name one.
Like most people reading this, I have friends and family who tell me I "have to read" a certain book. Fine. It's easy enough to respond, "Sure yeah I'll have to check that out. Oh my god what's that!" and then you turn and run and it never gets brought up again. But every now and then someone GIVES you a book - and you didn't even ask to borrow it. Now you feel obliged, even pressured. Well, about seven years ago by my best reckoning, a friend and co-worker brought in his copy of Infinite Jest, gave it to me and told me I had to read it. It's a highly praised book. It is also 173,894 pages long. Okay it's not that long but it could easily give the Random House Standard Library Dictionary a run for its money as far as weight goes. And in a pinch, it would not be a stretch to imagine it as a blunt murder weapon.
So anyway, how long ago did I say this was? Oh yeah, seven years. Still haven't read it. Don't plan to. Give me a book that's bigger than the Bible that I didn't even ask for and tell me I have to read it? Buddy, all you're doing is giving yourself a workout walking it over to me.
If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?
This isn't easy for me. Many of the most fascinating characters in literature history are also miserable people. I mean, does anyone really want to hang out with Holden Caufield? Okay, maybe early on he'd be some fun but then you'd start getting all the shit about the sister and the goddamn brass ring and blah, blah, blah until you call the loony patrol yourself. Great character but you take him out okay?
Number one for me would be Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five. I love Billy Pilgrim. If he can come unstuck in time then dammit he can come to life and have bourbon and steak with me. And this is going to make me seem extremely limited, but I'd also love to bring Kilgore Trout to life and hang out with both of them together. So for fairness, I'll make this four since those two both come from the mind of Vonnegut.
Next would be Mr. Emerson from A Room with a View. Why? He understands life and love and isn't afraid to say what is important. As he explains to Lucy, "Take an old man's word; there's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror - on the things that I might have avoided. " Then he tells her she loves George and to not let this part of her life go unresolved and if she does it will be a moment of muddle she will later regret: "Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal."
Finally I just have to meet that passing stranger, the one unjustly offended by the good citizens of Hadleyburg in Mark Twain's wonderful short story, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. He see self righteous piety and wants to expose it for the moral sham it is. He spends six months working out a plan. "He contrived many plans, and all of them were good, but none of them was quite sweeping enough; the poorest of them would hurt a great many individuals, but what he wanted was a plan which would comprehend the entire town, and not let so much as one person escape unhurt." Wow, what a bastard! I don't think I'd like him very much, but I've got to know what makes him tick.
And finally, an honorable mention goes to Humbert H. Humbert. I want to ask him about his middle name.
You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?
The World Set Free by H.G. Wells. I started to read this a few years ago after reading up on Leo Szilard, the great physicist who first envisioned the necessary mechanics for constructing an atomic bomb. The book was written in 1914 and uses atomic bombs as a plot device, though nothing like the actual bombs that would later be constructed. Wells didn't understand the fissionable process that Szilard grasped. Anyway, my reading was not completed. Dreadful prose. I've had more enjoyment reading printer manuals. So I'll complete this book when I finally want to be bored to death.
Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?
The Grapes of Wrath. I took AP English courses in high school and we studied and analyzed this one early on. I read some plot outlines and Cliff Notes and faked my way through class discussions. Later I found myself talking about it when it would come up as if I had read it, even though I never had.
As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?
I can't think of any. I've read excerpts from books and later convinced myself half-heartedly that I read them but I know I haven't. I read much of the New Yorker serialized version of Bonfire of the Vanities so I perceive that I have read it but I know I never did.
You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)
I'll say my VIP is a man who's into sports and action movies. I find it easier to believe some buffalo wing loving sports guy would not be a big reader and find books "boring." So I'd give him Heart of Darkness and tell him they made Apocalypse Now from it. It's an easy read and it would be fun for him to draw the parallels and differences between the two. Once done I'd ask him if Martin Sheen should have gone back and met Kurtz's wife and slowly make him aware that sometimes books can explore characters in fuller ways than a movie and that reading one and seeing the other can offer great insight into both. I'd keep him on books that had been made into movies for a while then gradually nudge him towards books that compare to nothing but themselves.
I have no idea but I keep thinking French. I'd like to read Voltaire uninterpreted, untranslated and unfiltered.A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread one a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?
I shall go with the easy choice here and then give a back up. Since I have to read it every year I do not want it to be cumbersome and arcane. I also don't want it to be an all-time favorite as I would fear that eventually a book I loved so dearly would become a chore. So I shall say A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I am not a Christmas lover and that story always makes me feel good about the holiday.
A back up would be The Crying of Lot 49. I read it piecemeal and (I hope I don't offend anyone greatly here) found it underwhelming. Perhaps I had heard too much about it before reading it. Regardless, it's short (around 150 pages) so for one afternoon each year I could read it and maybe over time appreciate it more and perhaps even grow to love it.
I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?
As stated in the introduction to this tag, I am not a book blogger but I have learned from reading the likes of Sheila and having the occasional book comment by someone like Bill that books are in no danger of going away. We fool ourselves sometimes into thinking we live in a Howard Bealesque nightmare of illiteracy and disrespect for the printed word but the Internet and all of its bloggers and commenters have reassured me that appreciation for the finer things in art (great film, great literature, great music, great painting) will never die... or even fade away.
That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.
My dream library exists in many different forms. I would not want it to be stodgy and stuffy but I would like it to be separate. I once watched in interview with David McCullough and he was talking about how he writes. He has a shed, not a cabin or large extension to his house, but a shed. It has a window on the side and his small table and typewriter face away from it. He goes to it and isolates himself and writes. That sounds perfect for me. I travel to Vermont twice a year and would love to eventually live there. I would have a nice, small cabin on a hill and behind it a small library. It would need to be larger than a shed but the point is it would be separate. It would require a physical effort to get up and go to it. Once there, the door is shut and all is quiet. And you can read.
Thanks to Sheila for picking me for this. I truly enjoyed it. As with all things like this I suppose I should now tag someone else but I am not a book blogger and so will simply say to anyone reading this if you want to do this on your blog as well please do. I know Larry Aydlette has discussed books from time to time on his page and I would be interested in his responses but won't do an official tag, just a "if you want to do this Larry I'd love to see what you write." Also, I know that Bill, a frequent commenter here is very well read (I gather at least from many past comments) and if he would like to do it as well I'll be happy to put it up, although I'd probably put it over at SynchFish and then direct people there to read it as I have many film posts to be published here and SynchFish has a more unfocused, free-for-all environment that might enjoy an uplift from some guest blogging.
And again, anyone who wants to do this - consider yourself tagged. As books are fond of saying - The End.