Monday, July 19, 2010

Re-Starting With Some Memes

Trying to do a few quickie exercise-type posts to get the blog running again. I had what seemed like a good idea for a post this morning but I have already forgotten what it was (Addendum--this 'good idea' actually came to me in a sleep dream, it was not a good idea, and it was based on wholly false premises). I haven't done a questionnaire for a while, so I thought I would look for one of those. My first researches didn't turn up anything good, but I did come upon a couple of picture memes I thought I would try. The first involved going to the 6th folder of photos on your computer, posting the 6th photo in that 6th folder, and explaining it on one's blog. Here is the result in my case: This is at the shopping mall in Concord, NH, sometime in March, 2008. My oldest son, who is now 8 and going into 3rd grade, would have been 5 and in Kindergarten at this time. He looks very little compared to what he is now. Going to the mall and playing on the various coin-operated rides they have there is something we have done numerous times, so I have no especial memory of this occasion.

The second photo meme involved publishing the 8th photo from the 8th folder. Here is the result of that:

This is a quite good picture, taken in the woods near the Brattleboro camp in April, 2008. By coincidence both pictures happen to be of the same son. This is like one of those old poems, which used to be produced in New England in great profusion, about "A Boy's Life" or some similar subject, come to life. He looks a little more like his present self in this photo than the earlier one, though it is only a month later.

Book questionnaires are pretty lame, but I'm not finding anything else much that I like either. I'll try to pick questions I haven't answered a million times before.

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why? Hardcover, especially from about the 1920-1960 era (I feel alienated from present intellectual life in pretty much all its forms), though it doesn't really matter, and there are certain paperbacks, usually giant ones (Clarissa!), I am fond of. I do like hardcovers for smaller books and plays, or collections of plays and poems if I can find them. It makes them feel more substantial.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it...The Dutch Bookshop. Because Dutch is a strange word, and I don't think anyone has any good sense of what true Dutchness really is, but again, the sound conveys substance somehow.

3. My favorite quote from a book is..."And was it his destined part/For only a moment, to be close to your heart?" from Pushkin, I believe, used as the epigram for Dostoevsky's "White Nights". It is actually kind of goofy, at least as translated, but it has lodged itself in my brain and often rears itself up at odd moments. I do not have a good memory for quotes, is the main issue here.

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be... Dorothy Parker is too obvious, but I would like to have lunch with her, or somebody like her. Samuel Johnson is also obvious, though nobody who isn't a 55 year old Republican seems to like him anymore. Fitzgerald maybe. The young Evelyn Waugh. Somebody who drank a lot. Thomas Malory would be certainly be a different candidate.

5. If I could go to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be...Something Greek, though not philosophy. Probably Homer or Thucydides. And in Greek too--what better opportunity or excuse to finally learn that tongue than stranded on a desert island? Shakespeare would be bearable. I can't think of any novel I could bear to read exclusively forever.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that...I have no imagination for gadgets. The internet, and its ability to instantly find what works/authors certain passages/quotations come from, as well as simply find copies of books I could not previously find, have solved the major needs I once had.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of...a used book barn that used to be in Bucks County, Pa, near the Peddler's Village shopping complex. I went looking for it recently but I couldn't find it. I suspect it isn't there anymore. I bought a box of green and mustard spined "World's Literary Treasures" there, among other things, which books carried a very pungent odor. They charged the 6% Pennsylvania sales tax though there was no cash register, and they recorded all their transactions on paper, which greatly annoyed my grandfather, who of course was certain there was no way the state was seeing any of that sales tax.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book, it would be...Prince Fabrizio in The Leopard. He was the finished product all around. The choices in this kind of question are between perfection of spontaneity/action and perfection of intellect/culture for the purpose at hand. My heart's desire obviously lies with the latter.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is...Of all time? I really don't know. True Classics really do become unassailable after a certain point because they become so embedded in the history of a people, language, etc. It's not an easy question. Still, I am prodded from time to time with an instinctive reflex
of feeling something might be overrated. One of my deep dark secrets is that I got this feeling in reading Huckleberry Finn, which nonetheless is not going anywhere as far as its classic status goes. I have similar feelings about the writings of David Foster Wallace, by whose genius even his own college professors were blown away, which is practically unheard of in modern humanities departments. But given his contemporaneity to me, his particular consciousness and understanding that are so captivating to the people who get it is probably still 20-30 years from becoming digested by the greater culture thoroughly enough to become comprehensible to the mind such as mine.

10. I hate it when a completely blind to its own deficiencies, betrays too much ignorance of the 2500+ years of literary history that preceded it, and is obstinately humorless where humor would be even occasionally acceptable or called for

11. What author do you own the most books by? I'm pretty sure it is Dickens, though it may be L Frank Baum. I have also accumulated a lot of Jane Austen books, a lot of singularly inferior minor editions of Shakespeare, and a frightening quantity of single Henry James novels (should have gone for the Library of America multipacks with him).

12. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old? Probably an Oz book. I'm not sure which one I liked the most at the time. I don't remember much about being ten years old.

13. What is the worst book you've read in the past year? Some book by Harold Bloom about appreciating literature, poetry, etc, and how essentially he is the only person left in America who properly understands this. I couldn't stomach it beyond 50 pages or so. I am depressed that such a person seems to be considered by so many people in our society to represent real literary culture. No wonder only pantywaists want anything to do with it.

14. What is the best book you've read in the past year? I haven't read anything all that great in the past year, to be honest. The House of the Seven Gables was better than I thought it was going to be, was quite good actually. Maybe that was it. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock was great fun--I considered at the time whether or not I could write something along similar lines--but was only 70 pages long. I wanted more. Of Human Bondage had some major flaws, but it had many merits too, and I enjoyed reading it a great deal, which must count for something. I also enjoyed Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, and it was also much better than I thought it would be, but then I am a junky for anything from Britain between the wars. Anybody who wasn't would probably find it tedious.

15. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be? I have no desire to do such a thing.

16. What book would you like to see made into a movie? Hajji Baba in London by James Morier. It could be awesome, but no modern Westerner I think would be able to pull off the spirit. I would hire one of the hot young Romanians--the most high-spirited of the bunch--to direct.

17. What is the most difficult book you've ever read? Einstein's Theory of Relativity? Maxwell's Electricity and Magnetism? As far as novels, the Beckett trilogy, Molloy, Malone Dies, & the aptly titled The Unnameable, I must confess, totally defeated me, though not enough that I don't want to give them another go someday.

18. Favorite short story? I think it is still "White Nights". "The Cask of Amontillado" is also an old favorite, because it is so ecstatically absurd.

19. Favorite work of non-fiction? The Decline of the West, Ezra Pound's literary essays, The Spectator, the various Samuel Johnson-related classics by and about him. Nietzsche's various works. I can't think of much else. C.S. Lewis's Allegory of Love? E.B. White's New Yorker essays? I'm thinking of things I have and I look back into from time to time after I've read them.

20. Who is your favorite writer? At the moment, Shakepeare and Thucydides, because they seem to offer the most consistently different and interesting possibilities, especially to a tired mind. I do not mistake them for my special friends though.

21. What fictional character are you secretly in love with? I did really have a big crush of Ursula Brangwen from The Rainbow. And of course Dora and Agnes from David Copperfield would make for kind of an ultimate Victorian England threesome. There's got to me more. How about Maggie Tulliver from the Mill on the Floss? The main problem there of course is that she is largely modeled on young George Eliot herself (who did not exactly develop into a hot babe, for such as may be tempted to ask 'what's wrong with that?').

22. What book have you read the most times in your life? I don't know. Probably something in childhood.

23. Who is the most overrated writer alive today? Besides Harold Bloom...I don't usually have particularly ferocious responses to individual writers but for some reason I have always viscerally detested Francine Prose.

24. What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult? I have a weakness for a certain kind of right wing you're-not-dreaming-this-society-really-is-a-disaster type books, but I'm not sure they really qualify as lowbrow. Really blatantly lowbrow books I can't get through. I don't read 'popular' fiction. Some people say one should, but what I have looked into doesn't really look that worthwhile. I read Joe Queenan's book about trash culture, going to Red Lobster and John Tesh and Barry Manilow concerts. That felt pretty lowbrow.

25. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer? Poor question. You might as well ask Smoking, Drinking, or Dancing (Milton would be Smoking, I think).

26. What book do you own the most copies of? I have a lot of Pride and Prejudices. I think that may be the winner. Huckleberry Finn and Gulliver's Travels are also represented numerous times.

27. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature? I don't have any idea who deserves to win it, but it seems like it's been a few years since a poet won. I have heard there are some great poets in Iran, and that seems to be kind of a hot country among the international intelligentsia right now, so it looks like a good match. Dark horse would be a poet from Brazil. That Murakami guy from Japan hasn't won it yet either, has he? He seems to be popular with all the right kind of people to make it happen.

28. What book would you least like to see made into a movie? No more F Scott Fitzgerald or Evelyn Waugh adaptations for a couple of generations at least. For whatever reason, what lives in the books dies on the screen with these guys.

29. Do you prefer the French or the Russians? The Russians are the best, but the French truly are the second best, and have maybe become a little underappreciated in recent years.

30. Roth or Updike? I don't know. I go back and forth. I do like both, but at the same time both are best in small doses, and I have no desire to read either's entire opus. Greatest hits will suffice.

31. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers? Sedaris does less than nothing for me.

32. Austen or Eliot? They are almost equivalently charming in their own manners.

33. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading? Germans! Non-Western greats. I can't read Latin. The Man Without Qualities. Gibbon. Deep dark secret #2. I never finished The Brothers Karamazov. It was certainly very great, but it was a school assignment that I started too late, got only to page 300 by class time, gave up, didn't participate even mentally in the classes, and the program moved on to something else. So that is still out there.
34. What is your favorite novel? All time I am not sure at the moment. Of the last five years, Tristram Shandy. It had the kind of spirit I have been seeking, and not too often finding, at this particular period of my life. Age 30-35: David Copperfield & A Dance to the Music of Time. Age 25-30: Tom Jones (?) I read a lot of the major English classics in this period, so it is surprising that nothing else is standing out. 20-25: Don Quixote & War & Peace. Age 15-20: Pickwick Papers & Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

35. Favorite Play? Another tough one. I am all over the place on plays. Shakespeare the obvious choice. Outside him, how about Our Town? I'm a sentimental guy at heart.

36. And...what are you reading right now? Cardinal Newman's Idea of the University. There are some nice defenses of liberal learning, and the idea of the community of learning--very St Johnsian--but his assertions of the ultimate primacy of Theological studies over the hard sciences in the university would be carved up and splattered like a pumpkin nowadays, to the accompaniment of much bemused laughter. I usually have a second, more recent, lighter, non-classic book going, but I don't have any such thing at the moment.

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