Monday, June 06, 2005

Words on a page

As both N = 1 and the Phantom Observer have hit me with this Book Tag thing - and I'm now considerably less stressed than on Friday - I suppose I really should say something. Number of books I own: Somewhere in the 100-200 range, and quite a few of those are textbooks. I try not to accumulate too many, because they only sit around getting dusty when I'm not regularly commuting long distances, and thus constantly in need of new reading material. Last book I bought: Well, technically (don't laugh), that would be The Theatermania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings, but the cheap used copy I ordered on Amazon Marketplace hasn't arrived yet. The most recent purchases I'm actually currently in possession of are The Princeton Review: Cracking the LSAT (2005 Edition), and The LSAT Advantage With Professor Dave. Applying to law schools next year, and all... Most oddball and esoteric book recently read: Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain, perhaps, which is interesting as the piece of imaginative medieval pseudohistory that did the most to keep alive the post-Roman Brythonic Arthurian mythos for the then-recently arrived Norman conquerors. Last book I actually finished: The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, which was more or less ruined by joylessly thorough thematic analysis by this guy, who was more than a bit obsessed with the phrase "culture of conformity." I appreciate appreciation of the Noir genre, but there are ways to examine fiction without clinically dissecting it so, or without taking such a knee-jerk anti-establishment position. Five books that mean a lot to me: There's a couple here that are similar works comprising a category. Why? Because I feel like it. You'll note that there's a lot of fiction here; I'd like to say I've read more of the great works of philosophy, political theory, economics, etc etc. But I have to be honest: I haven't. I read fast, but I have a tendency to be intellectually lazy with reading material in hard copy, and ignore a lot of things I know I shouldn't. No doubt this would be a very different list if I'd grown up without relying on the instant information-junkie fix of the Internet for secondary socio-historico-political analysis... Gotham Not necessarily the best or most thorough history of New York City ever, but certainly a satisfyingly heavy and comprehensive narrative-history primer. Need to be convinced that New York is the greatest city in the world? This'll do, despite only covering to 1898, and thus missing when things really started picking up. 1984 (No link needed, surely.) There are still those who long to control the boot stamping on a human face forever. Now, though, they're more than ever utterly convinced of their own righteousness in defending real tyrannies from imagined ones, rather than (at least!) those straightforward authoritarians who don't feel the need to make such justifications to their consciences. American Gods, Hogfather and Watership Down Three novels - coming from very different angles in the larger fantasy genre, from sincerity to satire - dissecting the power of myth, legend, and belief. How much power can a narrative have? Can reality be made to conform to established narratives? Does telling a story, by necessity, ensure that that story will be the filter through which all else is seen? (Many journalists seem to that it should.) Watership Down is a great example of the archetypal narrative the other two concern themselves with on a meta-level; it's all myth and metaphor in action, played out through a thoroughly naturalistic plot and setting. The warren of the snares remains a chilling and powerful piece of imagery. (As anthropomorphic anti-fascist allegories go, I believe it's undeservedly overshadowed by Animal Farm.) Master and Commander Really, this is a catchall for the entire Aubrey-Maturin series of Patrick O'Brian: stout, heroic, and joyously entertaining adventures in a near-perpetual extension of the Napoleonic naval campaigns, without descending too far into absurd pulpishness or self-conscious hist-fic shenanigans. If you enjoyed the movie, be aware that the series spans most of Jack Aubrey's illustrious career in the Royal Navy, of which only several episodes culled from two books are represented on-screen. The Shining and Salem's Lot Believe it or not, before Stephen King became a Big-Name Popular Author, and spent most of the 80s and early 90s high on his own inflated sense of talent (well, that and cocaine), he wrote some surprisingly effective horror. The Shining is a great companion piece to Stanley Kubrick's radically different-yet-equal adaptation, with some truly creepy atmospheric details that explain many of the more inexplicable scenes in the movie. Salem's Lot, conversely, was the best adaptation of the vampire mythos to Main Street USA until the advent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The obvious King stand-in professional writer-protagonists in both are more bearable than their counterparts in his later novels. At this point, I realize I'm supposed to tag five others. However, I think I'll take a page from M.K. Braaten and skip the continued-viral-propagation thing, for the sake of everyone's sanity. (If anyone wants to pretend I've tagged them, do feel free.)


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