1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned
Hell if I know. Not very many anymore. Maybe a hundred? It used to be craploads (400ish), but I pared it down when I left academia. I’ve also been a big fan of the public library lately (the last 4-5 years) as I’ve tried to spend less (and I used to spend a LOT of money on books each month).
2. What was the last book you bought?
Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy boxed set. I’ve been reading a lot of YA fantasy-type fiction over the last year or so. I use The Boy as an excuse, saying I’m “pre-reading” stuff I hope he’ll read in a few years, but that’s really just an excuse to read the good YA stuff that’s come out since I was a “YA”.
3. Last Book I’ve Read
China Miéville’s “Perdido Street Station.” Holy Jesus H. Christ on a stick, that’s an awesome book! He’s the first person I’ve read who can convincingly combine SF, fantasy, and horror, add a (healthy) dash of Marxism, and cook it up into a book that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s also one of the best explorations of the grotesque (in the Bahktinian sense) I’ve ever read. I realize I’m late getting on his bandwagon, but better late than never.
4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me (in chronological order)
Oddly enough for a list by an English major, there are no books of “great literature” or philosophy here. Also odd for me, there are no Southern books here. I was quite surprised by that, given my interest in the South and Southern lit. These books aren’t books that I just enjoyed, but books that had some sort of profound impact on me, and, like those songs that are attached to important memories or powerful emotions, they’re not always “great” (like the insipid Amy Grant song that I associate with a high-school love obsession), though most of these books are at least “pretty-damned good” if not “great.”
- “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve re-read this book recently, and it didn’t have the same impact on me as it did when I was eight or nine (the first time I read it), but it’s still a bizarrely powerful and magical book. The imagery is just supremely fantastical. It was one of the first books I read where I can remember really SEEING such alien landscapes in my head, and that was a powerful experience. I can’t wait for The Boy to have his young mind blown by this book.
- “A Heart to the Hawks” by Don Moser. You probably haven’t heard about this book, as it’s no longer in print, and I don’t think Moser (who recently retired as the publisher or editor of Smithsonian magazine) wrote any others. This book was published in the late 60s, though it’s set in the late 40s, in the post-WWII boom. It’s a powerful coming-of-age tale, and a surprisingly radical and unflinching story about the environment and the encroachment of developers upon our remaining wild places. I think this book — more than ANYTHING else I’ve seen or read or heard — shaped my feelings about the environment and how we should preserve it. Everyone — especially boys on the verge of puberty (or deep in the throes of it!) — should read this book if you can find a copy of it. It’s a crime that it’s not currently in print.
- “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. My lifelong interest in Fantasy fiction and roleplaying games was sparked by my Mom making sure I was home in time one Sunday evening to watch the Rankin-Bass animated version of this book. I immediately went to the library to get the book the very next day. I read it straight through twice before returning it. A much better-written book than the Rings trilogy (which should have been tightened up into two books), it set me upon a path that I’ve really enjoyed and is in high gear right now with all the roleplaying I’ve been doing lately.
- “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon. Maybe the best first novel of my lifetime. A modern coming-of-age classic. Sure, he went on to win the Pulitzer with the rambling and magnificant “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and has written a number of fantastic short stories and other novels (including the YA novel “Summerland” which I really enjoyed), this first lusty sprawling novel really struck me at a time when I was going through a lot of similar things in my life.
- “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby. I was turned onto this book by my wife, who heard Hornby talking about it on NPR. Maybe the ultimate “Guy’s Book” (for a certain type of unfocussed, music-obsessed guy), I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Rob is a great example of a protagonist that you can’t really get behind, because he’s selfish and lazy and ambition-free — just like most of us, even those of us who pretend otherwise.
Some further observations about this list: No books from high school, only one book from college, no science fiction (though two fantasies), no Faulkner or Rick Bass (two of my favorite writers).
5. Tag Five People and Have Them Do This on Their Blog
Um. I don’t know that I know five people with a blog who haven’t already done this (I’m late to the party). Instead, being a former lit-snob, I’ll issue a different challenge: list your five favorite short stories and why. I’ll do that shortly myself.