Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Ten Random Books Meme

I got this one from Dorr, and it's been a while since I did a meme, so instead of writing her the letter I should be writing her, I'm pulling books from shelves and writing this blog post. Oh well. ..

These are the rules:
1.) Go to your bookshelves…
2.) Close your eyes. If you’re feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or… basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself – where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc…..
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn’t matter if you’ve read them or not – be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to…

I cheated. We have so many books in this house that belong to Bob and that have no stories for me to tell about them that sometimes I had to go to the book next to the one where my fingers had randomly landed (or above or below on the shelf). However, I did close my eyes, and I did choose one book from ten different bookcases in the house. Here they are.

1. Ulysses by James Joyce
When I first embarked on this meme, I thought, "What a great idea! And I'll read or reread whatever I pull from the shelf sometime this year, since we're still in January, and I've got plenty of time to do that." Then I pulled this one from the shelf, a book that has intimidated me all my adult life. I changed my mind about reading all these books. However, I love the copy of this book we have, because this is what the inscription says,

"To a Wonderful Person -- Who Is Also My Husband. Ditto! -- Christmas 1952"

The handwriting is Bob's mother's. They were newlyweds, basically, in 1952, only having been married for a little over a year. It tells you quite a lot about them that she chose to give this to him as a gift, doesn't it? The inscription is sweet and also baffling. Perhaps that "Ditto!" is some reference to something in the book, which I wouldn't know, having never read it. If it isn't, though, what does it mean? It has to have been some private joke between the two of them.

2. Time and Again by Jack Finney
I must have been channeling Bob's mother (whom I never met. She died two years before I met Bob) while doing this, because this was one of her favorite books. I'd never heard of it until I met Bob, but when he told me that, I went out and bought it, just so I could try to get to know her a little. I didn't get around to reading it, though, until someone in the book discussion group I belonged to at the time chose it for us to read because it was one of her favorite books. It's now one of my favorite books. How could a book that involves time travel, a mystery, and New York City not be? I force it on everyone, especially those who are visiting NYC for the first time. It provides a great history of the city -- with photos and everything, and it's a wonderfully romantic tale. I passed that original copy I had on to my brother. This one is a first edition that Bob and I must have picked up at some used book store. (I so hope it was The Strand, because that would be so fitting, but I have a feeling it was at Powells when we went to Portland, OR a number of years ago).

3. The Penguin Complete Ghost Stories of M. R. James
I'd never read M. R. James when I happened to mention to a friend of mine at work one day that I loved ghost and horror stories. The next morning, I came into work to find a small stack of different collections from different ghost-story writers sitting on my chair (he used to work for Dover, so he has quite a nice collection of such things). One of them was M.R. James. To say I loved it would not be doing it justice. I had to have my own collection and sought this one out online.

4. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield
Ms. Musings introduced me to this one (the Persephone edition, which is published under her married name Dorothy Canfield Fisher). I love, love, love this book (if you haven't read it, really, you must) that is a fascinating and heartbreaking early 20th-century take on societally-inflicted-and-enforced male and female roles. Yet another book lent to me by a friend that I then decided I needed to own, so I again went in search of it online and found this edition published in 1996 by Academy Chicago Publishers. Ms. Musings and I got to know each other mostly through our mutual love of and obsession with reading. It turns out we also have lots of other things in common, but she is one of the few people I know in real life who I think truly has the same sort of relationship with books as I have.

5. The Barborous Coast by Ross Macdonald
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know all about my love affair with Ross Macdonald. Funny that my husband is one of the ones who introduced me to this object of my desires, isn't it? (The other was a former colleague.) This is one of those books Bob owned before I knew him that I happily inherited when we moved in together. I still haven't read all of Macdonald's books, but I've read and loved this one. That goes without saying, because I haven't read any Lew Archer mystery that I didn't love.

6. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
Bob used to teach this one when he was a boarding school teacher. When I was dating him, he used to quote stuff from it. I had read it a couple of years before that, pulling it from the shelves of the library where I worked (one of those rare books that I actually read after seeing the movie, which I loved). Because of the attention brought on it by the movie, it was one of those books that people wanted banned from libraries. I am a firm believer in reading banned books. It was a very powerful book for me. One of my atheist colleagues at the legal newspaper where I had worked before I worked at the library had informed me that of everything he'd ever read, this was the only thing that had ever made him question his status as a lapsed Catholic and an atheist. I've always been a "Lord I believe, help my unbelief" sort. I read this book and had to agree with my former colleague: if anything was going to "help my unbelief," it was books like this one. I still remember one of my library school professors (who was well-known for being one of the few conservatives in a very liberal program) talking about banning books and saying he saw no reason public libraries ought to have books like this one on their shelves. I raised my hand and said, "That book helped deepen my faith more than anything else I've ever read. I got it from my library. Would you have had me denied that experience?" He was left pretty much speechless.

7. The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll
This is the only version of Alice in Wonderland I've ever read, because it was the version my family had when I was a child (this one is not that, though. That was a hardcover with a blue dust jacket. This one is paperback and is, of course, another one inherited when I married Bob). I still remember flipping through it just to enjoy the pictures. We had oversized coloring books with these original drawings that we colored, and my mother laminated them and hung them in our bedrooms and in the kitchen. When I was old enough to read the book, I did. And did again. And did again. (But I didn't read all those annotations. I think I did that when I was about fourteen or so). I haven't read it as an adult. Funny I should pull this one from the shelf, because I recently downloaded a non-annotated eBook version of it. If I read that one, will I feel I'm missing out on something? I'll let you know when I do.

8. The Book of the Thousand and One Nights (Vol. III)
There are so many connections popping up in this list it's scary. This 4-volume set was bequeathed to me by the same friend who lent me the M.R. James collection. He bought a new version last year and passed this, published by Routledge and Keegan Paul, which he explained he read (for a very surreal experience) during the first Gulf War, onto me. I do want to read this, but a 4-volume set is awfully intimidating.

9. The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
I had a professor in college who told us he rarely stayed up all night reading books for work, but he had done so with this one, and the way he described it made it sound fascinating. I had no time in those days to read anything that wasn't assigned, but I made a mental note of this one, and once I'd graduated, got a copy. To tell you the truth, although I know I found it extremely interesting, I don't remember a thing about it.

10. If On a Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino
The inscription in this one says,

"Xmas '88. This book is especially for people who like stories and the adventure of reading. So I think my sweet friend Emily will love it as much as I have. -- C"

Christmas '88 was when my live-in boyfriend had decided to have an affair, and we were breaking up. I had just moved into a townhouse with three other women I didn't really know very well. I took this book on the plane with me as I flew down from Connecticut to North Carolina to spend Christmas with my family. I was mesmerized. I loved it! I've read it twice since then and have loved it even more both times. The funny thing is, my friend C. who bestowed it upon me, and who is still one of my dearest friends, was only just getting to know me at that time. It wasn't until 1989 that we really began to hang out with each other, and yet, he knew me well enough to choose such a perfect book. I guess that's what good friendships are all about, huh?

What a wonderful meme this is, like going to a party with nothing but great friends you haven't seen in years. I highly recommend doing it.


Anonymous said...

I like your selection, and your comments, Emily. And I entirely agree about The Homemaker. I think I've read it 3 or 4 times now, and it's incredibly strong.

I am honoured that you think we have the same relationship to books. My ambition is to have as many bookshelves as you and Bob do. (I don't aspire to avoiding alphabetical order, I know my limits.)

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I read and reviewed The Homemaker back in December and I loved, loved, loved it too. So many wonderful things about it.

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Musings -- you can come alphabetize my collection anytime you like!

Mr. Porch -- Thanks for stopping by. Now I will have to go read your review (and discover a new blog.)

Stefanie said...

What fun this was! And I love your comment to your library school professor! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

The Last temptation of christ is Kazantzakis, not kazantzakas. He's greek :P

Rebecca H. said...

There are a bunch of books I'd like to read there, including The Last Temptation of Christ and more Ross Macdonald. Once was probably enough with Ulysses, though :) (Watch, now someone will start a Ulysses group read that I'll be tempted to join.)

Emily Barton said...

Stef, one of my finer moments (usually, I'm thinking, in hindsight, "Wish I had told him..."). Thanks!

Nohatna, thanks for pointing out the typo. I am a terrible speller, but I most certainly know that the man who wrote "Zorba the Greek" is Greek.

Dorr, you are welcome to come down and borrow any you would like anytime. Please don't tell me if someone starts a Ulysses group.

Rebecca H. said...


Emily Barton said...

Dorr, You are very cruel. Right now, I am suspiciously eyeing and not yet taking the bait... (I love Virginia Woolf's take on it. Way to go, Virginia!).