Alphabooks: Z is for Zzz-snatcher

Z: Zzz-Snatcher

I hate to end this series of prompt posts on a weak note.  Perhaps I’ll come up with something splendid and impressive on the morrow, like a new letter beginning a secret word which is relevant to more interesting books that I haven’t talked about yet.

But for today, the question is “What book is so good that you didn’t go to sleep until you’d finished it?”

The thing is, I am rather good at staying awake most of the time, which is to say that lately it’s taken more effort to go to bed than to stay up past 1 or 2 AM.

So the last books I stayed up to finish, more because I was determined to finish reading them than because they were so gripping, were BJ Novak’s One More Thing and CS Lewis’s Spirits in Bondage.  Both are interesting enough; Spirits in Bondage was Jack’s first published book and represents his pre-conversion regard for Nature, red in tooth and claw.  One More Thing is also a first book, though Novak has years of writing for television under his belt.  The “stories and other stories” vary in length and in theme, though they all have something of the same tone: light-hearted, verbally playful, taking things to their logical conclusion, and touched with the same edge of despair that ended up taking Douglas Adams off my “favorite authors everrr!” list.

Taken together, these books could also have been Zzz-snatchers in another sense: they could fill one’s head with the unsettling threat of quiet doubts.  Maybe.  I didn’t quite ruminate on them long enough to let the doubts creep in, though.

What book or books have snatched your sleep?

Alphabooks: Y is for Your

Y: Your Latest Book Purchase

Since leaving college, there’s been less call for me to buy books: they aren’t needed for a class, I can typically borrow them from the library, and if it’s something I really love, I probably already own it.

This sums it up neatly.

This sums it up neatly.

But there are occasions when I can’t resist.  The last few things I’ve bought include:

Lingua Latina per se illustrata. Pars I: Familia Romana, Lingua LatinaGrammatica Latina. This was actually for an immersive Latin class I took last Labor Day weekend.  Instead of translating English to Latin and vice versa, it presents a number of pictures, graphs, and simple sentences to build one’s understanding entirely in Latin.

Hyperbole and a HalfHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. I love me some Allie Brosh, especially ~secret things~ that weren’t shared on her website. A lot of it is visible there, but hey, nice to not rely on an internet connection to look at it if I don’t want to. The book is of course hilarious, and (near the end) a bit deeper of an examination of human nature than I had expected.

The Blood of the Lamb: a novel. I totally bought this with one-click Blood of the Lambby mistake, and then didn’t cancel it. It looks interesting enough, though.

What book(s) have you bought lately?

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.