Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Books Are People Too

I have been tagged to indulge in talking about books by Ms. Winters, and I'm more than happy to comply. There's probably nothing else I like talking more about...except maybe Angelina in certain fits of neurosis.

1. How many books have I ever owned? The verb tense is throwing me off, but currently I own, with Moltmannian, around 800 books. I checked because I have OCD. Thanks a lot for setting off this bout of compulsive behavior, Victoria. I didn't know whether reference books and primary lit in other languages count, so give or take. I have a friend who just had his books assessed by a moving company and they say he has around 1200 lbs. of books - so now he's shooting for a literal ton of books. Craaaazy.

2. What was the last book I bought? I actually bought 4 books together last time, due to some graduation lovin', and they were Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, a copy of The Nibelungenlied, The Saga of the Volsungs, and Thoreau's Walden and Civil Disobedience in one volume (one of these things is not like the other). My first love was literature and all things mythological, so though I really should be reading things like Dale Martin's The Corinthian Body I find myself straying back to my old flame.

3. What was the last book I read? I am currently reading Beowulf, but I just finished (for a book club) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I am usually a snob about contemporary literature but I loved this book. It's written as a notebook of an autistic 15 yr. old, and I like it so much I'm going to quote some here:

"In the bus on the way to school next morning we passed 4 red cars in a row, which meant that it was a Good Day, so I decided not to be sad about Wellington.
Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 read cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day . . . . He said that I was clearly a logical person, so he was surprised that I should think like this because it wasn't very logical.
I said that I liked things to be in a nice order. And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical. Especially if those things were numbers or an argument. But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order. And that was why I had Good Days and Black Days. And I said that some people who worked in an office came out of their house in the morning and saw that the sun was shining and it made them feel happy, or they saw that is was raining and it made them feel sad, but the only difference was the weather and if they worked in an office the weather didn't have anything to do with whether they had a good day or a bad day. . .
Mr. Jeavons said that I was a very clever boy."

There are many things in this book that leave me questioning my own existential assumptions.

4. What are 5 books that mean a lot to me? This is near impossible, but I'll try to include different categories.
1) Daniel Boyarin's A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. It's not the entirety of the book that means so much to me but the foundational ideas Boyarin presents that sent fireworks off in my head. His understanding of language as political, allegoresis as searching for univocity (White, Male, non-Jew), set off my methodology for my thesis on Markan masculinity. Boyarin has consistently showed me new ways to think - something I treasure. Paul Ricoeur has, of course, given me the larger framework, but Boyarin is dear to me as the one who took me down a different path.

2) George Eliot's Middlemarch. I have read and reread this book. I have gotten picked-up with this book playing a role when I was toting it around Hong Kong: a guy on the bus said to me, "How did you decide to be an English major?" Me: "How did you know I was an English Major?" "Nobody else would read Middlemarch for fun." Virginia Woolf called it "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." I just love Dorothea. And I love Eliot's deft and insanely intelligent and well-informed writing (she did translate D. F. Strauss' Life of Jesus and L. Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity).

3) Speaking of Woolf, A Room of One's Own belongs here, simply because it was one of my first forays into feminism but I must tie it with Olive Schreiner's From Man to Man. It is out of print now - and picked apart (rightly so) by current South African feminists but its haunting and poetic narrative still lingers in my soul, it feels.

4) Another tie (I know, I'm cheating) would be perhaps two sides of the same coin: Henri Nouwen's Compassion and Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God. I cannot imagine my Christianity now without having had these open my eyes. Incidentally, I had the chance to have lunch with Moltmann (because of Moltmannian) and a bunch of seminarians. He doesn't disappoint.

5) Lastly, I will reveal myself to be a Tolkien geek and list The Lord of the Rings. I read it every year, usually without The Hobbit and with The Silmarillion (after reading the appendices, I just need more to prolong the narrative or I will be too sad). I started reading because of Eowyn, actually. You might say I have an Eowyn-Dorothea-Angelina-Martha Stewart complex. Scary.

Ah, books. They are people to me - people I talk to and listen to all the time. Moltmannian says they are my drug of choice, because sometimes I cease to talk to him for days while reading. I say, What's wrong with that?

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