Book QA

I got this from Ted!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Strangely enough, I cringed from reading Harry Potter. Chalk it up to my contrarian nature. If there is a unanimous clarion call about anything, I usually get suspicious … and many times it is warranted. Tuesdays with Morrie is the most obvious and infuriating example. But I finally caved, and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a couple years after it came out) and immediately went out and bought the rest of the series, and read it all the way thru. Loved it.

Oh, and I still haven’t read any of Zadie Smith’s books, despite the universally awesome reviews. I have been told repeatedly by literally everyone on the planet that I HAVE to read them, and I suppose I will – but on my own good time, thankyouverymuch. Not because there was a 2 page spread in every newspaper from here to Timbuktu, featuring her gorgeous mug. I know I’m being unfair, but that’s the nature of the question, which uses the word “irrational”.

And weirdly (and this one gives me a shiver, at the thought of not reading it) – everyone and their mother, including Jesus Christ our Lord, begged me to read The Shipping News when it first came out. My mom and dad would barely ask me, “How are you?” on our weekly phone calls (I was living in Chicago at the time) – before demanding feverishly, “Have you read The Shipping News yet???” They were not the only ones. People who knew me seemed to have a vested interest in me reading that book. So I, contrarian, refused. It got to be almost comedic when Great Lost Love told me the book he had read on his vacation: The Shipping News. We were in a dingy hallway in the basement of some club, and he couldn’t stop talking about the book. “Have you read it?” I was already annoyed. “No,” I said, flatly. And by this point, we were, frankly, telepathic, so we said the following two sentences at the same time. I said, mockingly, “I know! I have to read it!!!” as he said, “You have to read it!!” That shut him up a bit, he got nervous, and then said awkwardly, “Well. You do. It really reminds me of you. But I won’t tell you why. I sat on the beach in Florida thru my whole vacation reading that book, thinking of you.” Well, now I’m REALLY not going to read it!! The saddest thing was – when everything fell apart between us – that was the first book I turned to. I needed to know … why did he think of me when he read it? Would it somehow illuminate why this had gone so spectacularly wrong? Of course it didn’t. And I cried the entire way thru the book. My copy still has crinkly pages (I am not exaggerating) from where my tears fell. It is now one of my favorite books ever written. A book that belongs to my HEART.

And I still don’t know why it reminded him of me. By the time I read it, it was too late to ask.

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?

There may be some problems with the following event, due to inviting three alpha males, but I will take my chances:

I would like to sit in a quiet pub with Nelson Denoon (from Mating: A Novel), Claude Collier (from Lives of the Saints (Voices of the South)) and Sydney Carton (from A Tale of Two Cities) and talk like maniacs – about history, sex, philosophy, politics … Nelson and Sydney, I believe, would be awesome in this regard. Claude Collier probably couldn’t care less – and would busy himself trying to feel me up under the table and feeding quarters into the jukebox. He would spill his drink in Carton’s lap and apologize profusely for the rest of the night. He would smoke 2 packs of cigarettes. Nelson and Sydney would busy themselves with conversation, and I would participate FULLY … yet still I would enjoy Claude trying to hold my hand under the table, or him nuzzling my neck as I make some important point about socialism to the other two.

And I would probably end up sleeping with all three.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): 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?

I’d pick up any book by Nicholas Sparks, read one paragraph, and immediately keel over. Dead.

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?

I was in an argument once, and yes, I was drunk, so? But I didn’t just “hint” that I had read Das Kapital, I stated it FIRMLY. And I totally won the argument. Yes, flying under false colors, but who cares when you need to WIN?

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?

For 20 years, I knew I had read Moby Dick because I remember it being assigned for summer reading before my sophomore years. But nothing stuck. I re-read it in 2003, had remembered almost none of it – and now it’s one of my favorite books of all time.

But that’s not really the question. I actually can’t think of a situation where I THOUGHT I had read a book when I actually hadn’t. I keep copious notes on what I read, you know.

ou’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)
The World According to Garp. No question.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

This is very hard. My first choice is Russian, for many reasons. Many of my favorite books are by Russian authors, but I can only read them in translation.

But second choice would have to be Arabic. I learned a little bit of Arabic for a play I was involved in – I played Gertrude Bell – I took some of my lines to my local deli in midtown – run by guys from Lebanon – they knew me, they knew how I liked my coffee, and they liked me. I showed them my lines in Arabic – and they taught it to me. I put them on tape. It was brilliant. Morning rush-hour, everyone jostling to get their breakfast sandwich – and I have Ahmed in the back corner, having him read me my script, in Arabic, into my tape recorder. I love those guys! It’s a very weird language, and has no relationship to anything even coming CLOSE to a “romance language” – and it’s like you have to develop another muscle to even speak it … but I loved it. There is great poetry in Arabic, and I would love to read many of their great works of literature in the original.

Third choice would be Farsi. I love Persian poetry dearly … but again, I know I’m not getting the full effect reading it in translation. I went to a Persian poetry reading once at the Bowery Poetry Club – one of my favorite nights I’ve ever had in this fair city – and all of these people were leaping up and declaiming their favorite poems – BY HEART – in Farsi, and the responses of the crowd, the unanimous applause – sometimes the entire crowd (I was the only non-Iranian there – a bunch of my Iranian friends brought me) would start to chant out the words together. It reminded me of Bloomsday celebrations I’ve gone to where readings from Ulysses are done – and the last “paragraph” of Molly’s monologue is known by heart by every Irishman/woman there – and they all start to shout it out, together.

A mischievious 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?

Probably Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley. I will never. EVER. get to the bottom of that book. God help me when I reach it in my daily book excerpt series. I don’t even know what to say about that book.

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)?

In the last week, I have finally (FINALLY) picked up Shirley Jacksons We Have Always Lived in the Castle – thanks, mainly, to Annie at Superfast Reader. I had heard much about this before – but the only Jackson I have read is the one we all have read “The Lottery” – and I am not kidding: within one paragraph of We Have Always Lived In the Castle I experienced something which is quite familiar to me when I start to read something absolutely awesome: I start to get nervous. I spoke out loud (and I was on the bus): “Oh God. This is so good.” It was Annie’s numerous mentions of this book (and Jackson) which made me pick it up.

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.

First of all: the bookshelves are in the walls themselves. That is very important. It is ALREADY a library – just from the structure of the room. Not one I have had to make myself. And there is more than enough space for all my books. I have room to spare. It’s not overly neat – I’m not into that – I like a bit of clutter: books piled up on tables, etc. It’s cozy. There is a fireplace. There is an enormous upholstered chair, cozy and huge, where I can curl up, my feet under me. There is a huge wooden table – NOT a desk – but a table like you would find in a French country-house – or in a monastery – plain and wide and long – where I can spread out all my books, if I’m working on something. Nothing to impede me, no barriers to where I can go. Long heavy velvet curtains on the window. NO television. And the main thing is: the shelves go to the ceiling – I need a stepladder to reach the top … and all of the shelves are dark wood, and are built into the walls. Books everywhere you look.

Consider yourselves tagged (but with absolutely no pressure):
Jonathan – maybe on one of your non-film blogs?? But again: no pressure.

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23 Responses to Book QA

  1. annie says:

    thanks for the tag!
    i hear you re: zadie smith… i resisted for ages but when i gave in i really enjoyed her.

  2. red says:

    Annie – I know!!! I have to stop being such a brat about her good press! I KNOW I will love her!

    And this post is my way of thanking you for Shirley Jackson. That first chapter of We Have Always Lived in the Castle has made me want to be a better writer. She is so so good.

  3. annie says:

    and yay for shirley jackson! i hope you keep reading her. hangsaman is my fave.

    and not sure what i will write for the library question… you described my dream room perfectly…

  4. red says:

    I look forward to hearing your answers!

  5. Campaspe says:

    Russian as the second language, no question. You are a woman of taste.

    I think our perfect libraries are the same place, and I have located it. It’s in Paris, just visible from the main children’s playground at the Parc Monceau. A huge Haussmann apartment building, and the first floor contains exactly what you describe. Go and take a look sometime.

    Come to find out, my husband had actually been there, as the aristocratic lady who owns the mansion was godmother to a longtime pal.

    Since you have read Das Kapital (ahem), perhaps we can start a revolution at some point and take it over.

  6. ted says:

    Thanks for playing! Fabulous answers, of course!

  7. red says:

    Campapse – I need pictures of the library you talk about! It sounds amazing!!!

    And please: I am READY for a revolution, Das Kapital or no … You and I could be the two-person Politburo!

  8. Thank you for the nod. My non-film blog is so utterly unfocused at this point I may as well do this on Cinema Styles. It would fit anyway as so many books on anyone’s list have been made into movies, but first I must get through a heavy workload today and tomorrow.

  9. Marisa says:

    Thanks for the tag! I look forward to doing this (I have to say my sentiments about the whole Harry Potter phenom are so dead on what you said – I was so resistant just beause everyone said I HAD to read them. Then I did and felt compelled to read them all as quickly as possible and just loved them).

    So I need an opinion from you and/or your bibliophile regulars:
    Which top 100 / must read / classics of all time type book list do YOU think is definitive and/or prefer?

    I read constantly like some sort of grazer on everything I get my hands on, but I’ve got a mind like a seive and forget the details of anything I haven’t read three times. In fact, I always feel as if I’m not well read. I was perusing some of the top 100 type lists and surprised to see just what a large portion of them I HAVE read. I simply haven’t re-read many of them and, therefore, retain only minimal snippets that allow me to make decent conversation at dinner parties (which is nice. But not really the point.) and maintain some level of cultural awareness.

    I want to re-read what I have read and fill in the gaps. And since I’m such an indiscriminate grazer, I thought a list would keep me focused.

    So… any recommendations?

  10. red says:

    Marisa – are you a Dickens fan? I recently have gone back, over the last couple years, and re-read many old favorites – and also read Bleak House (which was unbelievable – I had never read it!!) – I’m a big Dickens fan, and it’s been a lot of fun re-reading Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities … I want to re-read David Copperfield this year.

    I’ll give it a bit more thought and get back to you.

  11. JFH says:

    “Nelson and Sydney would busy themselves with conversation, and I would participate FULLY”

    I don’t know I’ve heard during intense discussions or arguments, Sydney can lose his head…

    (Ahh, the depths I go to make a lame joke)

  12. red says:

    Emily – hahahahaha that is awesome.

  13. red says:

    Oh, and Marisa – I did a quick check and I did do this random post a while ago called 10 Fiction Books I recommend or something like that …

    Here it is.

    My recommendations still stand!

  14. Marisa says:

    I’ve only read a little Dickens. Great Expectations, The Adventures of Oliver Twist and – because I realized I’d seen 20 bazillion adaptations – A Christmas Carol. Standards, I suppose. I should pick up Bleak House. And I’ve always intended to get around to David Copperfield.

    I realize the whole list thing seems trite, but I’m honestly so scattered. I keep thinking, “Oh! I’ve never gotten around to THIS! or THIS!” etc. Anyhow, I always see other bloggers making mention of lists and I’m always certain that I’m missing out on so many books… so a list seemed like a good place to start. Perhaps I need to scan all the suggested reading and then make my own list. :)

  15. red says:

    Marisa – I can get totally scattered myself, and overwhelmed by books. Where to begin??

    I try not to be too rigid – for example, I had a list of things I wanted to read in January – but then got sidetracked into the Zodiac killer, after I saw the film – and am now reading 2 books at the same time about the Zodiac killer. So that’s fine with me.

    But I have the same thing that you have – and I have found that lists (even if you deviate from them) really help. It helps me remember: Oh yeah, I want to re-read that!! It keeps it on my radar.

  16. Marisa says:

    A list particularly helps with re-reading for me. Just because I really need to digest a book at least twice and when selecting a book I get “oooh! Shiny!” syndrome and end up picking up some new bit of fluff I found on a friend’s bookshelf and deciding I’ll finish that before rereading a book that I know I want to get back to (because I have read it but I know I’ve lost so much of it). a list can help keep me more or less “on task”.

    I may just begin with your ten! I’m surprised to see I haven’t read any of them (although I have a vague memory of having picked up Harriet the Spy at some point and I have had several internal arguments with myself over Moby Dick). There are so many books and just not enough time. I have to say my job really gets in the way of my reading.

  17. Brendan says:

    I shrink from ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’. Then I thought I had to be wrong, so I tried to read it. Hated it.

  18. red says:

    Marisa – Ha, I feel totally the same way. I need more time for reading!!

    I can only deal with 1 or 2 massive books a year … I need to space them out (Just my preference) – so Bleak House was my big book for last year. And I’m gearing up to do War & Peace this year … not sure when, though – but I finally bumped it up on my list. Never read it, and really feel I MUST. So I’m looking forward to it tremendously.

  19. nightfly says:

    I had to do this! Great meme.

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