Alphabooks: X

X: X Marks the Spot

X marks the spot, though the spot is arbitrary: the prompt called for looking at one’s bookshelf and, starting at the upper left, counting to the 27th book. I’m pretty sure this is because Jamie was 27 when she wrote her original post and not for any other arcane numerological reasons. Being 27 myself, I followed suit on each of my bookcases.

27th on the small shelf27th in the cabinet, depending how you count27th on the "borrowed" shelf27th among the sci-fi/fantasy/teen books

This seems especially arbitrary because I need to reorganize my shelves.

If only the 27th book on at least one of my shelves were Munster’s Cosmographia Universalis, or something along the lines of the Musgrave Ritual!  Then there would be some point to marking the spot.

27th among Erstwhile School Books

Pearl Buck is all “do not hunt for the X to see what treasure is buried in the earth; the treasure IS the earth”

Review: Choke

This post might easily be titled “Reading Regret: Addendum,” because this book is so regrettable that I fully expect you to ask “Why, exactly, did you even read it?”

To be honest, I keep asking myself the same thing and coming up short.

Here’s why I started: I have watched Fight Club a few times with various groups of friends.  By the third viewing, I was less concerned with the plot and more interested in the philosophy behind the movie. Given that so many people watch it and discuss it, what are they most likely to take away from it? What sorts of ideas did the original book contain? Was it most concerned with making something meaningful of one’s life, or satisfied by fighting overweening consumerism with bloodsport, adrenaline, and mayhem? Was there anything true in the book, or was it all metaphysically suspect?

I decided to get it out of the library, found that it was already checked out, and elected to get another of Palahniuk’s novels instead of waiting for Fight Club.  Which was silly, because Choke sat on my shelf all summer, and autumn, and winter, and I finally cracked it last week.

So much for why I started. The very first words are “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother,” and I ignored them, which means any unwanted gunk in my brain is my own dang fault.

ChokeIt’s easy enough to read; swallow a couple chapters and you’ll probably be a little curious about what happens in the other 47, even if you choke occasionally on some nauseating detail or other.  Victor, the deadpan snarky narrator, goes back and forth between describing his messed-up childhood, his abhorrent job, off-putting sexual encounters (his own and other people’s, as he is part of a sex addicts anonymous program), the hours spent visiting his mother (afflicted with dementia, such that she forgets to eat) at St. Anthony’s nursing home, and the revolting way he goes about getting more money for said home’s fees: purposefully choking at restaurants so someone else can swoop in, be a hero, and thus feel responsible for him forever (which apparently extends to sending him money periodically.  I’m not sure what it says about me that I found that the least believable part of the book).

That summary makes it sound better than it is.  The non-linear narrative remains engaging enough to see one through, and just as one becomes thoroughly grossed out by one anecdote, Victor turns to describe something else.  Which is about all the positive spin I can put on it.  The most sympathetic character is a recovering masturbation addict who sublimates his compulsions into collecting rocks to assemble into some kind of erection edifice.  This book is Pandora’s box, except that instead of hope being shut inside at the end, you’re left with an ambiguous cessation of action.  It’s everything I disliked about Catcher in the Rye, but far more sordid and gruesome.  The congenital is not made congenial by making the pubic public; it’s just taking the dirt from its proper place in the garden and hurling it all over the coffee table, the kitchen, the bed.

Somehow, that approach feels significant; despite my disgust I wonder if it represents some aspect of reality, putting a finger to the pulse of what people believe in society today.  There’s the conversational prose stuffed with informative tidbits.  There’s a discussion about misogyny springing from misandry: how many times can everybody tell you that you’re the oppressive, prejudiced enemy before you give up and become the enemy[?] …I mean, in a world without God aren’t mothers the new god? The last sacred unassailable position. Isn’t motherhood the last perfect magical miracle?  There’s a despairing rejection of religion, a blasphemous treatment of the specifically Christian, and so much emphasis on the carnality of flesh, all the filth that issues from it, and all the disgusting ways it breaks down.

I read Choke trying to understand whatever people might believe this, people with abusive childhoods and compulsion-riddled adolescence. But mostly I came away wondering if I’ve actually met people as hopeless as this.  I came away full of pity for both Palahniuk and anyone bearing a passing resemblance to his creation, because this does not treat men like men: it treats them like animals, and then argues that this is preferable because knowledge brings pain.

There is no such thing as altruism here, no redemption, nothing noble or lovely or of good report.  There is nothing admirable, just lust and gluttony and reveling in the foulness of what is foul.

If you want to learn about the diseases killing you and everyone around you, read WebMD.  If you can’t think of the word you want but insist on trying the first that comes to mind, read a thesaurus.  If you want to ruminate about the possibility that nothing good can exist without the risk of something bad, read Brave New World.  If you want to contemplate “a life based on doing good stuff instead of just not doing bad stuff,” read “The Weight of Glory.”  If you want paradoxes, read Chesterton.  If you want to muse about a past that cannot be remade, read “The Road Not Taken” or The Great Gatsby or Brideshead Revisited or An Artist of the Floating World.

Basically: whatever it is you seek, find it anywhere but here.

Alphabooks: W is for Worst

W: Worst Bookish Habit

Photographing my bookshelves reminded me just how many books I have: between four and five hundred, perhaps half of them unread.  Dozens have been dragged back and forth between my parents’ home and my college, and then to my Ann Arbor apartment, and then to the house I live in now.  They’ll all be boxed up and moved again in a couple months.

So it’s a bad habit that I often neglect the books I own (“They’re mine!  I have all the time in the world to read them!”) in favor of library books (“Oooh!  I don’t have to buy this but I can absorb all its stories and characters and ideas before returning it!”), though perhaps that’s preferable to buying even more books and then being stymied by indecision whenever I regard my shelves.

But I have a worse habit yet, which is checking out about 3 dozen books and a dozen CDs from the library and then ignoring them, too.  They wait week after week on the bookshelf I purchased specifically for borrowed books.  Eventually, the library e-mails me a notice that someone else has requested this or that item and I can no longer renew it.  So then the book is in demand.  Then I start to read it.  Then I find that I have wasted the time I might have spent with it, and either keep it until it’s two weeks overdue, or return it unfinished and pine after it.

Dreadful business.

But I have a worse habit yet, which is clicking around on Archive of Our Own and reading fanfiction incessantly.  It’s like overeating because your body never tells you it’s full.  It’s like voluntary insomnia.  It’s like opium.  I click and click and am not satisfied with clicking until it’s 1 AM and I am going to regret getting up for work in the morning.  That’s the worst habit of all.

Do you have any bad book habits?

Alphabooks: V is for Very

V: Very Excited for This Release

Most of my favorite authors are dead and therefore I don’t suppose any new works of theirs to be forthcoming (though, of course, one never knows with these people).

Not being super-invested in the publishing world…I suppose there are only a few books I’m looking forward to. First, there are the coming Dresden Files books: Peace Talks, a few other case file books, and the apocalyptic trilogy of Hell’s Bells, Stars and Stones, and Empty Night (what will three books of apocalypse look like? A whole lot of me asking, “Harry, how are you NOT DEAD?” in all likelihood).

Second, there are the last two books of A Song of Ice and Fire: Winds of Winter and Dream of Spring. True, I haven’t even started the series yet. True, a lot of folks have concluded that it’s a lot of ick for no payoff. Buuut I’ll probably read them before too long, and then join Paul and Storm in singing this apostrophe to George R. R. Martin (skipping over the naughtier words):

Alphabooks: U is for Unapologetic

U: Unapologetic Fangirl For…

Yeah, okay, you all know the drill: I will happily fangirl over Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, Chesterton, Rowling, et alii, et nunc et semper et in sæcula sæculorum.

But they’re such towering figures, so well-loved and widely read, that it feels silly to, you know, take a stand about it. “I am strongly in favor of Jack and Tollers!” I am also in favor of hydration, beautiful vistas, Nutella, and soft kittens.  Who’s going to argue against that?

Cat with Nutella

Come fight me.

But there is a more obscure figure, a fellow still hanging about so close to the margins that he was not too busy to answer a question of mine on Reddit.  I will take any and all opportunities to love on Mark Forsyth: the Inky Fool, author of The Etymologicon, The Horologicon, The Elements of Eloquence, and The Unknown Unknown.

Not that I anticipate any fights here either.  Look at what he has to say about Shakespeare’s vocabulary.  And repetition.  And progressives.

This post feels like something of a cheat, because really there ought to be more delicious words within it.  But I am about to set out my owl jacket and go out to lunch.  Consult Inky!  He will teach you such beautiful things, words as carminative as wine.

Alphabooks: T is for Three

T: Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books

“All-time” is giving me pause.  It shouldn’t, really, but it makes me want to hop in a time machine and consult myself just prior to death so as to be sure I am being honest in my reporting.

That not being possible at present, here are my theories for Three Books Which Will Remain Among My Favorites No Matter What:

Harry Potter

I am calling the series one long book so as not to play favorites. This world, its characters, its laws and concepts and field for hypothetical questions: they’re so deep in my head that I don’t suppose they’ll ever come out.

Perelandra / Till We Have Faces

Here’s the battle royale: which Lewis book will remain deepest in my affections? The beautiful unfallen world of Venus and Ransom’s defense against the evil nihilists, or the apology Orual makes for her actions?

Just watch: it’ll turn out to be something completely different, like Voyage of the Dawn-Treader or The Four Loves.

Gaudy Night

I’m not sure that I get something new out of it every time I reread Gaudy Night…but it’s long enough and rich enough that I get a lot of good reminders, and excellent food for thought each time. There’s so much exploration of work, of vocation, of how marriage changes people, of the nature of scholarship, all traced through Harriet’s eyes and mind and desires. It puts a lot of flesh onto her and Peter alike, which is why it continues to delight me.

Alphabooks: S is for Series

S: Series You Started and Need to Finish

This apparently refers only to any series in which all the books are published – so Dresden Files or Game of Thrones are right out.

Three come to mind:

Howl’s Moving Castle series – Dianna Wynn Jones

I loved the first book, but haven’t read Castle in the Air or House of Many Ways yet.

Kairos series – Madeleine L’engle

Likewise, I loved A Wrinkle in Time, but never got around to A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, or Many Waters (much less the O’keefe series, or the Chronos books – a shame, because apparently A Ring of Endless Light wins my roommate’s vote for “best sequel ever”).

Discworld – Terry Pratchett

Okay, part of me is uncertain whether the 41 novels constitute “a finished series,” or if they’re even a series proper given all the different threads therein.  But I’ve only read The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, so I figure I should visit the rest sometime.

What series(es) do you need to finish?

Alphabooks: R is for Regret

R: Reading Regret

Sometimes you read a book before you’re quite old enough or knowledgeable enough to understand it. On one hand, you may reread it one day and say “Ohhhhh, THAT’S what’s going on” and all shall be illuminated. More likely, however, you will regard it with confusion, disdain, and mild hatred or apathy, and never ever read it again.

At least, that’s how I feel about some of the books I read in school.

It’s why I’m disinclined to ever pick up anything by Hemingway again. It’s why I resent Margaret Mitchell so much. It’s why (to steal a cliché from a completely different sphere) I’m glad I waited to read 1984: I probably would have appreciated it in college, but had I read it sooner, I might’ve said “Well, that was fine, I guess” and never understood all the terrifying implications of it.

The tricky thing is, reading is one of the ways in which people grow better at reading and understanding.  So while I’d get more out of, say, The Great Gatsby today, maybe it was still worth the effort put in during my freshman year at Westland.

What reading regrets, if any, do you have?