Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Trip Through My Bookshelf

I had some free time this week, so I signed up for myspace and facebook accounts. One of the things that amused me upon perusing others' profiles is the category "favorite books." Without casting too broad of a stereotype, I think it is fair to say that the typical social networker doesn't have a huge interest in reading. I've already written extensively in the past about the topic of literacy, or lack thereof, in our culture. However, in addition to all the valid (but perhaps tired) reasons why one should indulge in reading, another, more subtle reason occurred to me this week.

Having recently moved, I decided to literally dust off my book collection. As I carefully handled each title, I was transported to a specific time and place in my life. Songs are notoriously capable of doing this, but I think the medium of the book is even more capable of helping one to re-live past experience. While reading, a person is ideally immersed in another world, concurrent to the one they are already in. And unlike the brief experiences offered by a song, television show, or movie, one can exist in this alternative world for a relatively long period of time. And from my experience, immersion in multiple worlds, rather than resulting in some kind of fractured existence, somehow heightens sensitivity to all the simultaneous existences.

Picking a bookshelf at random, here are some of the books I encounter and what I was experiencing while reading them, along with a few notes about the book itself:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: Read this one while living in Hartford and working at 100X. I particularly remember sitting on the couch and reading it one Saturday. I couldn't believe the special guest character that showed up. It was almost like reading a Superman comic and Batman unexpectedly shows up, with the exception that Scott's guest star is completely unexpected.

The Book of Sports Lists : My friend Mike Westphal gave this to me in elementary school when I stayed overnight at his house and showed an unhealthy interest in it. I think he did it so I would play with him, knowing I didn't have to read the book in one night. I remember playing croquet at the time as well.

Mustang Man by Louis L'Amour: My Uncle Steve was also my godfather, so he always gave me more stuff than his other nephews. He gave me pack of six L'Amour westerns for Christmas in 7th grade. Louis L'Amour defined the second semester of my seventh grade year.

The Seven Per-Cent Solution: A non-Doyle Sherlock Holmes novel. No idea how I got it, but I remember having it for years without reading it. Probably got it at a rummage sale, as I frequented several during the summer months of my elementary school years and often picked up random books. I got around to reading it while staying home sick my freshman year in high school. I remember the Grass Roots' "Midnight Confessions" playing on the radio during a climactic scene. This book introduced me to Sigmund Freud, who teamed up with Holmes, and helped cure him of his cocaine addiction.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse: I read this during Christmas break my sophomore year of college (along with Moby Dick). I got it because Hesse also wrote Steppenwolf, and I liked "Born to be Wild." This is also a book Phil Jackson tried to get Kobe Bryant to read. I loved it when Siddhartha would say to people, "I can do three things. I can think, I can fast, and I can wait." I am pretty good at two out of the three, myself.

Vertical Limit, novel based on the movie: Despite the fact that I haven't read this book, it definitely evokes a Tuesday night class from my second semester of my fifth year of college. Possibly the class I blew off the most in my life, and my only "C" in college. However, I did have one accomplishment in that class. Every week the teacher would read for an awkward ten minutes from a classic novel, then tell everyone to write down what they thought the novel was. She never told us. At the end of the semester, she said she'd have a prize for the person who guessed the most. Of course, this contest was designed for me, so I dominated easily. On the two or so occasions I didn't know the novel, I amused myself my guessing Naked Lunch. So my prize for winning? The Vertical Limit novelization, of course. Still cracks me up. I'll never get rid of this book. Might even read it one day.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Read this one spring semester, sophomore year of college. I had to read it for a political science class. We had the choice of reading this, or Walden Two by B.F. Skinner. I read Huxley for class, but bought Skinner anyway and read it over the summer, most memorably at a Ted Nugent concert.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I never got around to reading this until a class in grad school. I was annoyed by how everyone in the class wanted to excuse the monster's murders, just because he had bad parenting. It killed a little girl, for goodness sake. I was most fascinated how Shelley used the envelope format to package, at one point, a story within a story within a story within a story. Only Henry James can touch that.

Color Purple by Alice Walker: Read this for fun my first year in Elizabethtown. I remember reading it one weekend at Freeman Lake Park. Overly sentimental book, but I dug it.

Divine Comedy by Dante: When I worked in radio, the guys on-air used to make fun of my high brow reading tastes. One day, a game I was supposed to broadcast was cancelled, and my boss asked me what I would do with my night off. I told him I was going to read Dante, and he was dumbfounded. He thought they were kidding when they talked about the stuff I read.

All right, I have another twenty titles on that particular shelf, and I'm growing weary, but I trust I've made my point. I pity those who rely on Spice Girls songs to invoke nostalgia.


Blogger Andrew Hoehler said...

Heh, just picked up a copy of Brave New World myself (along with 1984 and Catcher in the Rye). Hopefully, I can find some time to read it soon with school starting again.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Dean Koontz is the best author ever, but Michael Crichton is a close second.

Dracula is the best classic book ever. I've read it approximately once a year since I was 12.

3:24 PM  

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