Friday, May 20, 2005

Book crazy!

The past few weeks have not left me very motivated to write here. I am not sure why. Perhaps my muse is vacationing on some tropical island or maybe I'm just too content. It's not that I don't think about things to write, it's just that I don't write them. I had, for example, absolutely intended to write about the UFO Festival I attended last week. I had meant to write a disgruntled post about the scheisters who call themselves BMG Music Service (I am still too bitter for that), and about my professional nemeses - the Logistics Department at work (why do I crave their approval, when they make me so mad???) Have I written about any of these things? No. But I'm not too worried about it. These things are cyclical. It is what it is.

One of the things that I have been motivated to do these past weeks is read. On average, I read about 3-4 novels a month. I read non-fiction too, but it usually takes me longer, because I tend to read it in little bits every few days and interspersed with bits of novels, poetry, magazine articles, etc. When I was in graduate school, I read a lot more. This was partly because I had to and partly because that was my existence back then. When you work, it's harder to get the world around you to stop, so you can kick back with a good book and read.

Still, looking back over the past few years, I still seem to find a decent amount of time to read. Since September 2000, I have been keeping a list in the back of my journal. Perusing over it, I am reminded of some of the really good books I've read in the past 5 years, so since I am not inspired to write, I will share some of the titles that I have been inspired to read over the past few years. Here are some that were particularly memorable:

1) Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a figure who has always fascinated me. I picked this up during a period when I was taking a class on World Religions and remember being very engrossed in it. One of the things I really like about the book is how much of the human side of His Holiness comes through.

2) George MacDonald, Lilith
Finding this book was a delightful surprise, especially since it was recommended to me by someone I didn't expect to have very sophisticated tastes in literature. At first, his style is a bit difficult to get into, but once I was in, it swept me away. The story is dense and allegorical - one of those things where I know I didn't get everything, but still really enjoyed it. I read somewhere once that Macdonald was a big influence of C.S. Lewis'. Having read both, I am not surprised. Lilith is definitely one of those novels I'd like to revisit. I have the feeling that it offers a little more each time one reads it.

3) John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
This is one of the funniest books I've ever read. It too was recommended to me by a friend who doesn't tend to be a big reader, but it's one of the best recommendations I've received in a long time. It's sad that Toole died before he could write more. Definitely another one I would like to read again. Sadly, I loaned my copy to someone and never got it back. The worst part is that I don't remember who it was!

4) Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman.
The story behind the creation of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). I know, linguistics. What could be more exciting? But, really, it is! One of the most prolific contributors to the dictionary was a murderer, who submitted his contributions from an asylum for the criminally insane. The book details not only the compilation of the dictionary, but the relationship that develops between an academic and a man who began contributing to his project after reading an ad seeking contributors to submit quotations illustrating the usage of words to be included in the dictionary. For anyone who loves language, Winchester's book really is a fascinating read.

5) Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Club Dumas.
You might remember the movie version of this featuring Johnny Depp. While there is something to be said for anything involving Johnny Depp, the book puts the movie to shame. It has everything a bibliophile could want - antique books, murder, mystery, exciting locations - in a page turner. In my mind, this book is a bit of a pre-cursor to The Da Vinci Code in the way it draws its inspiration from playing with the interpretation and representation of an already existing work. There are other similiarities too - art as the holder of secrets, an expert in his field galavanting around Europe to unlock its mysteries, etc. A really enjoyable read that I highly recommend.

6) Arthur Golden, Memoires of a Geisha.
I think I read this book in a weekend. My cat, Loki, was just a kitten at the time and he spent a good portion of the time, sitting on my shoulder and reading along. He was very engrossed. At one point he declared his true identity to be Katsu Yakimoto, famed Kabuki actor. I suspect this was just some kittenish silliness, but you never know. What I do know is that we enjoyed the book immensely - so much so that we also read Mineko Iwasaki's memoire Geisha, A Life when we (well really, I) ran across it at a discount book store some months later.

7) Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere.
I love this book. It is the book that made me fall in love with Neil Gaiman (or at least his writing). I've read it more than once and suspect it will be one of those books like Tolkien's that I'll read again and again every few years. The thing that makes me so fond of this book (beyond it being completely engrossing and weird) is that I never really became a fan of his Sandman series. It's not that I had anything against it, I just never bothered to read it. After discovering Neverwhere, however, Gaiman has become one of my favorite authories and I've read everything he's done since.

8) Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter.
I first read Hughes in college in a poetry class and really liked him. For years, I only knew him as a poet. Then, one day, I ran across this book and decided to give it a try. It is lovely.

And that brings me through my favorite books of 2001. Honorable mention goes to Lemony Snicket (read the books, don't let the movie taint you!). They may be for children, but they are clever and funny to read even as an adult. They fit in with my penchant for kid's fiction à la Harry Potter, Phillip Pullman, etc. As an aside before I go, that reminds me of a friend in Britain, who told me that Harry Potter was marketed with two covers there after it came out and became popular with children and adults alike - one with a kid-friendly cover and another with a more serious cover, so adults didn't have to be embarassed reading it in the tube.

So, this is all for tonight. I'll have to go through 2002-2005 another time.


Jen said...

Whoops! I frelled up the link I was trying to leave - so here is the post again, hopefully repaired:

Yay! I am glad you updated again. You know, I bet Tom Clancy isn't so cavalier with his reading public. hee hee.

When I first read your bit on George MacDonald, I confused him withGeorge MacDonald Fraser... and it was a little disconcerting to think how Flashman would be involved with the Lilith story. But I think it could be interesting. Anyway, I will have to check out this Lilith book.

And, um, I may have some news for you on the Confederacy of Dunces front...

Martina said...

Sorry I didn't respond before. As you know, I've been a little distracted this past week, but things are better now.

Yes, I know. I know Tom Clancy, and I, Sir, am no Tom Clancy (even if I do impersonate him at literary trade shows).

As I remember it, the Lilith book was interesting. I have a couple of copies of another MacDonald (George, not Ronald) book called Phantastes that I have yet to read, but I need to avail myself of my own copy of Lilith. The one I had was borrowed from a coworker when I worked at the paper.

Going through what I've read the past couple years was kinda fun. I will post the rest of the highlights sometime soon. Regarding the Confederacy front, I should have known. (Though I don't resent it with you like I do with Carlton.):-)

Anne said...

I loaned out my copy of Confederacy of Dunces and never got it back either! Now, I'll have to find someone to give it- lend it to me so I can re-read it.

Neil Gaiman is also on my short list of new (sci fi) to read- I only heard of him recently. I think I will kick him up closer to the top now.