Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Books Are The Carriers Of Civilization" --Thoreau

This book meme (dude, I never wanted to be this "up" on computer lingo) has been circulating around the internets for a while now. Lulu tagged me about a week ago and I realized if I didn't do it tonight it wouldn't get done, as I'm busy with drinking for the rest of the week -- tomorrow I'm doing some recon to find an appropriate location for our soon-to-be-held Drinking Liberally meetings, Thursday is Cogan's Thursday, and Friday I'm headed down to the Outer Banks for a family reunion of sorts.

Anyway, books. I absolutely adore books. I don't just love reading them, I also like having them. And alphabetizing them. And organizing them. And admiring how nicely I've alphabetized and organized them. But mostly I love books for the ideas we find inside them and the beauty with which those ideas are so often expressed.

I am a book evangelist (I stole this metaphor from
WonderTurtle). Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am constantly recommending books -- and not just any old books I like, but books that fit the person. I think that's why this topic has had such staying power. The book-loving crowd holds that you can tell a lot about a person from the books that person likes. Plus we really really really like talking about books.

You'll see.

A Book That Has Changed Your Life: Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham

I doubt my parents meant to turn me into a hippie by reading me this book, but the fact that I requested it every damn night should have clued them in to the idea that something was going terribly terribly wrong.

In Be Nice to Spiders, Billy decides to leave his pet spider Helen at the zoo because his new apartment does not allow pets. Helen moves happily from cage to cage, spinning webs and catching the flies that bother the animals and just generally making life better for everyone. UNTIL the stupid zookeeper decides to clean the zoo in preparation for the Mayor's visit and orders all the spiderwebs knocked down. Then the flies return, the animals are pissed, and all hell breaks loose. It doesn't take long for the zookeeper to realize that he's fucked up the natural order of things (the whole zoo thing aside) and to allow Helen to resume her web-spinning and fly-catching.

I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but I think this was the first it really occurred to me that even our smallest actions could have far-reaching consequences and that our lives were somehow connected to the lives of so many other beings. And to this day, I'm unable to kill a spider or destroy a spiderweb.

Additionally, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, which I read in college, had a profound influence on the way I think about and teach history.

A Book That You Have Read More Than Once: The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway

I''ve read a lot of books more than once. I've even read a lot of Hemingway's books more than once. But I don't think I've read any book as many times as I've read The Nick Adams stories.

I fucking love Hemingway, which I guess is weird because, well, for starters I'm a girl. And Hemingway's got issues with women. Plus, he writes primarily about war and fishing. Not only have I never been to war, I don't even believe in it. And while I enjoy fishing, it's not really something I do. So what gives with me and Papa Hemingway?

It's the nature, stupid. Behold:

"This is the way forests were in the olden days. This is about the last good country there is left. Nobody gets in here ever."

"I love the olden days. But I wouldn't want it all this solemn."

"It wasn't all solemn. But the hemlock forests were."

"It''s wonderful walking. I thought behind our house was wonderful. But this is better. Nickie, do you believe in God? You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

"I don't know."

"All right. You don't have to say it. But you don't mind if I say my prayers at night?"

"No. I'll remind you if you forget."

(okay, now here comes the really good part)

"Thank you. Because this kind of woods makes me feel awfully religious."

"That's why they build cathedrals to be like this."

Need I say more?

A Book That Makes You Laugh: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

I love love LOVE Lamb. I mean, obviously this book is fucking funny. And I'm talking laugh out loud funny, not just a chuckle here and there.

"I could kick that punk's ass," the angel said, jumping on the bed, shaking a fist at the television screen.

"Raziel," I said, "you are an angel of the Lord, he is a professional wrestler, I think it's understood that you could kick his punk ass."

Oh, and when it's not hilarious, this book is actually pretty spiritual and deep. But
I've covered this before.

A Book That Makes You Cry: The Brothers K by David James Duncan

My love of David James Duncan is well documented, but I read this book for the first time this summer. And it made me weep. In fact, I just opened it to pull out a passage and I had to close it before I started crying.

It's a book about the Chance family, whose paterfamilias is a struggling professional baseball player and whose materfamilias is a bitchy Christian fundamentalist. This is primarily a book about a family that manages to love one another despite serious philosophical differences and the lengths to which we'll go for those we love. It's also a book about the beauty of baseball and the power of spirituality. It made me cry not because it was particularly sad, but because it is just so goddamn moving.

A Book You Wish You Had Written: The Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson

Only Jefferson could get away with editing the Bible down to just the parts he likes. In: the life and teachings of Jesus. Out: all that stupid shit about miracles like the immaculate conception and the resurrection. Which leaves us with what we all like about Jesus: love, kindness, and compassion.

A Book You Wish Had Never Been Written: I got nothin'.

Honestly, I thought and thought about this one. There are a lot of books I think are complete crap that I wish people wouldn't read, but far be it for me to limit the free expression of ideas. I can't think of a single book that's so bad it should never have been written, or that's so damaging its message can't be counteracted by another book.

A Book You Are Currently Reading:

Teachers Have It Easy by Moulthrop, Calegari, & Eggers

Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Postman& Weingartner

What Learning Leaves (Poems) by Taylor Mali

River Teeth by David James Duncan

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (although I've pretty much given up on this one)

A Book You Have Been Meaning To Read:

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

Field of Schemes by Joanna Cagan & Neil deMause

The 9/11 Commission Report

Now I'm supposed to tag five people, only I don't think I know five people who blog and haven't done this yet. There's Uncle J Bird, who teaches English and would probably enjoy this, and my brother Brian, who doesn't usually talk about books but might enjoy mixing it up.


lulu said...

I thought I was the only girl who loved Hemingway. I knew I liked you for a reason! And Lamb. Chris Moore is a genius! Nice list, thanks for playing!

Melissa said...

Though I no longer blog, I will think about this topic and post my response here in the comments. Because I'm pretty sure if I still did blog, you would have tagged me. Right?


Damn skippy.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Oh, I read "Be Nice to Spiders" over and over and over when I was a kid! I think it really influenced who I am, too.

I looked through a kiddie lit section the other day and saw quite few titles from the 60s that were still around. Who knew?

BTW, Megan, have you read John Irving's latest? I'm kinda over him, but the book was on sale, and now I'm about a fifth of the way in and just bored to tears. Does it get better?

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

Done and DONE. Don't everyone rush over all at once now.

Phil said...

I love books too. I fantasize about the huge library I'm gonna have one day.

Grant Miller said...

I'd be interested in reading that "Teachers Have It Easy" book.

Megan said...

Lu: Hemingway. . .is there something wrong with us?

Melissa: Of course. I would have tagged Vikki too except she thinks tagging is "so 2005." :)

Vikki: No. From what I've heard, it does not get better. Put it down and read something else. Try Lamb. I bet you'll like it.

Brian: Cool. I'll check. ..

Phil: Me too. I recently asked a friend if it was REALLY dorky to dream of one day having a little table for my dictionary like they have in bookstores and libraries. You know, so you can just leave it open to a page and wander by casually to look up a word? Answer: yes.

Grant: Go right ahead. It's actually pretty good. As a sportsfan you might like Field of Schemes too, about how stadiums financed by the public are a complete scam.

Phil said...

I love those Dictionary tables. And thanks, you added like four books to my list of books I've been meaning to read.

Also, how are you able to comment at Chris's blog? I am unable to do to his settings and my being in Beta.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Megan, thanks for the release from Irving-land. I am a compulsive book finisher. I will finish a book no matter how fucking miserable I am reading it. I also must watch not only the movie but also every "extra" on every DVD I rent.

I think it's because I come from the "if you took it, you have to finish it" school of midwestern dinner table theory.

And hey, Megan, if you want to be "2005," you go right ahead and be "2005." In fact, I have some Juicy sweatpants and an Ugg handbag I can loan you while you do it.

Megan & Grant: If you like baseball, you must read "The Physics of Baseball" by Robert Adair. It's much more fun than it sounds. And you will stun and amaze your friends with your awesome knowledge of exactly how a knuckleball works.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Oh, and on your advice Megan, I will acquire "Lamb" and move it to the very top of my 15-or-so-book reading pile next to my bed.

Coaster Punchman said...

Cool, I will have to check some of these out.

Maritza said...

My daughter's AP History teacher uses the Zinn books as his main textbook. He no longer teaches at the high school level so my daughter offered to help him write "Tolstoy for Tots". I'll send you a copy.

Great list, I need new books.