The book tag

Morgspace tagged me for a book meme. I don’t usually do these blog memes, but Morgan knows me well enough to know I’m unlikely to resist a chance to jaw about books.

1. One book you have read more than once

I love rereading my favorite novels. As I read more and learn more about writing, I spot more ways that the authors have set their characters and plots up to bring about the satisfying denouement or the situation requiring the perfect one-liner, and I like that I can spot that now.
Some people find an appreciation of the nuts and bolts limits their suspension of disbelief – I find that only if the book has been badly written, when a particularly clunky piece of exposition or plot-hustling can wrench one out of the bookworld. Knowing more about the authorial toolbox enhances the pleasure of a well-written piece, for me at least.

The novel I keep rereading several times a year is Jane Austen’s gem Pride and Prejudice, the play I keep rereading is Shakespeare’s MacBeth, and the non-fiction is Carl Sagan’s paean to skepticism, The Demon-Haunted World.

2. One book you would want on a desert island
I’m torn between the eminent practicality of the SAS Survival Handbook, and something magnificently escapist to while away the waiting hours. It’s an awfully long time since my childhood bushwalking years, and while I’m reasonably confident of my wilderness skills a reference book of the basics would still be handy. However, a desert island – what am I going to need? Water supply, a knife to harvest fruits etc, a shelter from the sun, and a fishing net of some kind. Maybe I would really need a book to keep me sane after getting the necessaries out of the way and settling down for the wait for rescue.

If we’re going to go for fantasy, I’m going to get greedy and want an omnibus edition of the collected works of Ursula LeGuin (I’ve just picked up a secondhand omnibus of the first four Earthsea books for the tigling to read – she’s busy on something else at the moment, so I might grab the chance to reread them myself while I’m battling this headcold)

3. One book that made you laugh
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. Crivens! I love his entire ouevre, natch, and I particularly enjoy watching how an author who averages just over a book per year for 20 years develops his skills from facile parody to sublime satire over the years. I reread my Pratchetts often.

4. One book that made you cry
Only one? I finally this year got around to reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Her beautiful evocation of a young child learning just how awful the world can be behind the civilised facade, and who her father is besides just being Dad, and written for those of us who are aware of the US civil rights battles in a way that Scout and Atticus can’t know. Many tearing-up moments there. Amazing stuff, and why did she never write another novel?

5. One book you wish you had written
I, Claudius. The foundational conceit of the book is brilliant, and how he makes the characters even more poisonous and aggrandising than salacious Suetonius and priggish Tacitus do at their worst is fabulous.

6. One book you wish had never been written
Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970. The first best-selling prophecy book of modern times, and a touchstone for a whole raft of dispensationalist apocalyptic prophecy nuts to get all political on the rest of us. His so-called fulfilled prophecies are utter bunkum and so easily shown to be so, and yet it’s been so influential in the Religious Right. He’s also got a truly shocking tash.

7. One book you are currently reading
Just finished rereading Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsdawn. A bit of comfort reading while I’ve got the cold. It’s one of the later ones, long past her best, when she was getting a bit mechanical about filling in gaps in the Pernese timescale with yet another book just because she knew that Pern would always sell. Still, I really do love her dragons.

8. One book you have been meaning to read
Lolita, by VladimirNabakov. I’ve read a lot of people recently pointing out how perfectly Nabakov skewers the oversexualisation of young girls by showing both Humbert Humbert and Lolita to end up as hollow shells. I’m intrigued by the idea that it’s not just the perverted wankfest I’ve always heard implied, so I’m going to give it a go.

And on the 1st September, I’ll start reading Patrick White’s The Vivisector with the other members and lurkers at the Patrick White Reader’s Group Blog.

9. One Book That Changed Your Life
I wish I knew the name now, but I don’t. In Year 9 French, I had to do an assignment on a person from French history. I was away the day the assignment was given, and all the rest of the class took the obvious candidates. My teacher gave me Cardinal Richelieu, whom I had always assumed was entirely fictional. I borrowed three books on his life from the library and read them all.

It was a revelation: they all agreed on the basics of dates, places and major events, but the interpretation and tone of the books was so different! Yet they were all supposed to be history, based on fact – how could one write of Richelieu as a great reformer and another write of him as a reactionary whose restructuring of French legislature and taxation to bolster the monarchy led directly to the bloodbath of the Revolution? And why did none of them think the royalty and aristocrats written of by Dumas in his Musketeer books were romantically noble and wonderful at all? I never looked at my nana’s Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy books the same way again.

10. Now tag five people

Brooklynite: enough with the cute kid, dammit. Renovation can’t possibly be all that time-consuming either. Thesis to edit? – pishposh. Feed me book titles!
Matilda T. Zombie Queen: because she’s more up-to-date with SF than I am, and ghoulish too.
Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony
: Helen seems to read lots of things I don’t (yet) and that’s cool.
Don Quixote of Silent Speaking: he’s spending too much time out and about with that cameraphone, and some inside bookthinking time will do him good.
BiblioBillaBong‘s Ron: I should tag at least one actual book blogger, yes?

Categories: arts & entertainment


11 replies

  1. Yay! Need to check out the Patrick White blog…I haven’t read any Anne McCaffrey now for several years. I re-read the old, good stuff lots when I was younger, and the new books just don’t add anything, IMHO.Oh, and I didn’t realise that the SAS Survival Guide was actually a real book.

  2. Yeah, I couldn’t find one of the Pern books I really wanted (they’re in a box somewhere) so I settled for Dragonsdawn. It was OK.I just found the same meme on another blog, but Q5 was different and, I think, better: instead of “what book do you wish you had written?” it’s “what book do you wish had been written?” which is a better match for Q6.So Q5a: What book do you wish had been written?A bestselling (more than Dan Brown) book for men, bought and read by men, on how to dismantle the rape culture.

  3. I must hunt down Terry Pratchett, he sounds wonderful.The essential difference between our tastes as I see it is that I’m not a fantasy fan- mainly. Even my favourite books which are fantastic– Third policeman, Cold Comfort farm– are fantasies in mundane settings, minus dragons, minus medieval stuff. That’s how I’ve always been. then again, there always has to be an exception, and my favourite read EVAH is the Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake. Which is pure fantasy. (But reads kind of like Victoriana, except that at the end it emerges in the postwar world – fascinating.)At the rate I’m going, I’ll have my post ready by Christmas. Heat up the egg nog.

  4. Oh, and as for Lolita, I can’t imagine who could think it’s just a wankfest. Maybe disgruntled male readers? I hear many people pick it up expecting titillation and get very disappointed when they don’t get it.

  5. I was looking forward to your take on this – hoping to find a few more authors.I must try Terry Pratchett again – when I first discovered him (20 years ago?) I didn’t like him, but sounds like he’s got better and better.I agree with you about Anne McCaffery – I’ve given up on reading her new ones now (if she still writes them) but the early ones were great.

  6. Pratchett is wonderful, but I warn you that at first glance his books look like fantasy. But that’s just because they’ve got magic and warrior heroes and dwarves and trolls etc – doesn’t mean they’re not a sharp satire on our very own mundane world. If you liked Gormenghast you’ll manage, I think.I would recommend, for you, starting with either Weird Sisters, Mort or Guards!Guards!.

  7. Hi Jennifer – we crossposted!Pratchett’s first few novels were definite parodies of the high-fantasy genre rather than the general satire he’s writing now. I wasn’t that keen when a friend first pressed The Light Fantastic on me in the mid-80s, but I was hooked when I got onto some of the later books. In between I’d also read enough high-fantasy to get a bit eye-rolly myself, so then I liked his earlier parody ones more.Anyone in academia will see a lot of known personalities in the Wizards of Unseen University, Sam Vimes is the ultimate anti-hero policeman, and Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are the crones of the millennium. You should get to know these people.

  8. Aiyeee! I have been tagged. I shall try to be spontaneous in my responses and not overthink, otherwise I’ll never get it done. As for Pratchett, I can’t recommend him strongly enough. Hilarity, complexity, biting social commentary. He’s awesome.

  9. I’m working on it, by the way. The cute-kid-slash-high-horse posting has gotten away from me a little over the last couple of days, but I’ve got a biography-themed memepost half written.

  10. Excellent. I’m getting really good value from this meme, which has gone through Ozblogistan like Drano. I had to end up posting even though I was still reworking my answers.On the book that changed my life, I’d forgotten Many Paths, One Heaven by Nuri Mass, a basic comparative religion primer which I read at age 11, that got me questioning my unthinking CofE affiliation, thinking about the nature of the religious urge and ultimately led to my militant agnosticism (I don’t know whether a creator God exists and neither does anyone else).

  11. On the book that changed my life, I’d forgotten Many Paths, One Heaven by Nuri Mass, a basic comparative religion primer which I read at age 11, that got me questioning my unthinking CofE affiliation, thinking about the nature of the religious urge and ultimately led to my militant agnosticism (I don’t know whether a creator God exists and neither does anyone else).It was a toss-up for me whether the “changed my life” question or “you wish never had been written” was the hardest. The former because books change my life so continually, the latter on the “if I had one bullet” principle. I mean, let’s face it, I personally would benefit tremendously by picking one of the numerous self-help books my mother has used as an assault rifle over the years, but one wants to at least have the facade of trying to do something for the good of humanity in eliminating one work, yo know?

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