Monday, June 06, 2005


Pronoia tagged me with a meme! I know I'm supposed to view this with mild nonchalant disdain, but I've never been tagged with a meme before, and it delights me. I was crestfallen -- though I bore it with stoic fortitude -- when nobody tagged me with the Fahrenheit 451 one.

Total Number of Books I Own

No idea. I know that when we moved back to Oregon from New Haven, thirteen years ago, we decided to sort through our books and get rid of all but the ones we positively couldn't do without. After an hour or two of diligent work, I came downstairs with a book.

"I can do without this," I said.

"That's mine!" said Martha, indignantly.

So much for getting rid of books. We mailed 72 cardboard boxes of them -- that's got to add up to a few thousand -- and I probably acquire books at a rate of 2 or 3 per week, so -- it's a lot of books.

The Last Book I Bought

I bought two at the same time: The American Crow and the Common Raven, by Lawrence Kilham. It was recommended to me some time ago by Dave Bonta and I just now sprung for it. It's perhaps the most beautiful paperback book I have ever seen: a jet black cover framing a wonderful black-and-white Audobon-style drawing of crows -- unpretentious but striking. Once I'd held it in my hands, I knew I had to buy it. The book is marvellous. The man just sat and watched crows for many months, and wrote about what he learned. That, to me, is the essence of Science. I love the discipline of experiment, but close observation is an even more fundamental discipline than that, and it is, I think, a rather neglected one.

The other was Tappan's Handbook of Massage. A classic I've been meaning to pick up forever. One of those texts that seems oddly familiar on a first reading, like Hamlet, because everyone quotes it

The Last Book I Read

Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal. When I reach the dull middle stage of learning a language -- when I basically have the grammar down, and I just have to learn thousands and thousands of words and idioms -- I like to proceed by reading translations of favorite kids' books. I already know the story, and they're not going to get all fancy and literary on me; and I know that any word or idiom they expect a sixth grader to know is one that I should get down cold. And it's fun. So I finished la Piedra Filosofal last week, and I'm into la Camara Secreta, now.

Five Books that Mean a lot to Me

Two of them, The Lord of the Rings and The Screwtape Letters, I've written about in other posts.

What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula. This is the book that turned me into a Buddhist.

The Poetry of William Blake. This is my old paperback Blake, which I bought in 1976, my sophomore year in college. It has my scribbled notes in Jerusalem and the Four Zoas, from my first encounter with those wells of madness. (Or founts of sanity. I've never been sure which they are.) Like most large paperbacks, its binding wasn't up to hard use, so it's now completely cocooned in strapping tape -- Urizen looms spectrally through the lines of encelluloided string in a very pleasing fashion. This book disappeared for a few months, and went to live in Tori's room. I lately learned that she read the whole thing, Jerusalem and Zoas and all, when she was sixteen. She probably has more Blake by heart than I do, now.

Why Blake? The transcendent joy, and the overwhelming cruelty of needless suffering, in this life. He experiences both intensely, and he never lets one experience disfigure or obscure the other.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. I guess partly because it gave me a much-needed dose of skepticism about political action, and partly because it gave me an also much-needed dose of skepticism about the project of forcibly remaking my character. (I don't know how much of the second lesson Tolstoy actually intended to teach.) And because I love the story.

And now I'm tagging -- PPB, with the injunction that she's not to omit the junk books; Dweezila, because she seems much too real and close to the bone to do memes like this; Tish, because I'm curious, and K, because I worry about his low-syllable count (is it just bad case of Haiku, or might he be coming down with Real Life?)

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