Sunday, November 02, 2008

It's all about meme!

Via just about everyone comes a book meme!

What was the last book you bought?
That would be Peacock Pie, by Walter de la Mare; Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, by C S Lewis. (That last is an online purchase, so it's not coming for a few days).

Name a book you have read more than once
Lots: Lucky Jim, Pride and Prejudice, The Final Programme, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and others.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life?
No. I'm pretty sceptical about the ability of books to 'change' your life anyway, even more so than Tim - I tend to forget the details of what I read pretty quickly so that a day or two after I read a persuasive book, I'm unable to recall the arguments that persuaded me in the first place! I think generally the change happens the other way around - a person's outlook on life, or way of behaving, gradually changes as they get older, and a book, if it is persuasive enough, will help a person to articulate, describe, or understand these personal changes.

That being said, Pavlov's Cat lists several such books that have changed the way she saw life, and has good reasons for each of them.

How do you choose a book? eg by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?
By obsession. My current obsessions are C S Lewis, and previous ones have included S J Perelman and Brian Aldiss.

Sometimes the cover helps as well.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
Both. Which is to say neither. Why should I choose between the two? I like it when fictional characters argue with me as if they were presenting an essay they'd written, and I like it when non-fiction writers use fictional methods. Both types of writing have virtues; I love the flights of creative imagination in fiction; and in non-fiction, an original insight or a clever line of reasoning falls on my ear and my mind like a melody 'sweetly sung in tune.' Why distinguish between the two?

What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
Sometimes one of the things that makes writing beautiful is a gripping plot. That being said, if you just throw a couple of jokes in from time to time you've pretty much got me hooked.

Most loved/memorable character
No idea. Jack Gudgeon in Here's Luck is pretty entertaining.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
News from Nowhere, by William Morris; Peacock Pie, by Walter de la Mare; Tom Brown's Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes; and a copy of Andromeda Spaceways.

I'm touched that you even think that I have a nightstand. It's more of a stack, really...

What was the last book that you read?
That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis. Fabulous satire about a made-up bureaucratic/fascist organisation called NICE in the England of the 1950s. Things don't really get cracking until Merlin rises up out of his swampy grave and shows the bureaucrats what-for!

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?
Sure, and sometimes I start reading a book halfway in, too. You can do that sort of stuff with poetry and short stories. It's more difficult (though not impossible) with novels and long essays.



Caz said...

I bought Love in the Time of Cholera earlier this year. It sits with all of the other new, unread books that I own, awaiting the day that I have more leisure time.

Have you read it yet, if so, did it meet the hyped expectations?

TimT said...

Nope, but I *hear* it's a good book!

nailpolishblues said...

Caz, it beats the hell out of One Hundred Years of Solitude even if I didn't quite finish it. I think it's one of those things you have to read all at once or you'll never finish it.

Caz said...

Oh dear, I have to confess to also owning an unread copy of One Hundred Years ... bought several years ago.

Have glanced at the first few impenetrable pages a few times.

Has anyone attempted and succeeded at reading Gravity's Rainbow?

That's another critically acclaimed book that was (and will remain, due to lack of motivation) beyond my ken.

TimT said...

It's disturbing to find that even in translation, Marquez challenges the comprehension! It would be nice to think that a translation of unreadable or incomprehensible modern authors is possible. For instance, being able to actually understand T S Eliot's The Wasteland as a whole, rather than as a collection of disjointed voices muttering gloomily about various subjects. Then again, perhaps it's the translators duty to make them just as difficult in translation as they are in the original. (A kind of socialist approach to literature: 'Hey, if Spanish readers suffer, then the rest of you have to suffer as well!')

I think even T S Eliot found Joyce's Finnegan's Wake unrepeatable and unreadable. Maybe the approach is to just read those works, one word at a time. Ration yourself to one page a month.

I haven't read Gravity's Rainbow, the most famous of Pynchon's works, but have read his book Vinland. I think my eyes glazed over on page 30 or thereabouts, and hundreds of pages later, the book ended. It was a struggle. I'm still not sure what it was about.

nailpolishblues said...

I read One Hundred Years of Solitude under sufferance. It is one of many examples of why that English major was kicked in favour of International Relations.

I confess to never having heard of Gravity's Rainbow. I think I might avoid it now though.

Caz said...


That was the other one I was trying to remember.

Have read about Wake. That's as far as I will ever get. I feel no loss in my cultural education, no sense of exclusion from literature. Won't feel that my life has been ill-spent for having avoided Wake.

Same with Carey's un-punctuated Kelly novel. Read about it, that was enough.

I've always thought that Gravity's Rainbow is a wonderful book title. There should be prizes for book titles.

Proust, anyone done Proust?

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Love in the Time of Cholera yet. Did you get it in the Popular Penguin range for less than $10? I was looking at it and thinking "Now that's a good bargain"!

I had aspirations to also read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Mr Coffee once referred to it as "One Million Years of Solitude". I'm wondering if that's ominous.

I've recently finished off some of Walter Moers' books - I would just like to say that The City of Dreaming Books is a fun romp and if you think a book can't change your life you should read about Optimus Yarnspinner's adventures with books in Bookholm there! Quite the opposite idea!

- Maria

Steve said...

For what its worth: yes, I really like the idea of the Popular Penguin range at $10 a throw. I just finished "Breakfast at Tiffanys", and that Truman Capote could really write well. (He further confirms my getting-cranky-in-middle-age suspicion that nothing good has been written since about 1980.)

I thought the movie was pretty accurate to the tone of the novella, and it is impossible to read Holly Golightly's dialogue without hearing it in Audrey Hepburn's voice.

Caz said...

I have yet to buy any of the new Penguins, but no doubt will. Such excellent value. Such a temptation.

Have you read that other most famous Capote book Steve? I have frequently wondered if I should buy it, or whether it's tainted for me by too much "background" information, not to mention the film.

Has anyone read it? Would much appreciate opinions.

nailpolishblues said...

In Cold Blood? It's the only full length Capote I've read (his short stories are a bit bleurgh but then, I'm not a short story fan) and I would rave but I'll embarrass myself.

Caz said...

So you would recommend it Nails, I would not be disappointed?

Steve said...

No Caz, haven't read In Cold Blood, but now I am tempted. (By the way, the Wikipedia entry on Capote gives a good picture of what an oddball - and rather sad character in many ways - he was.)

The other Popular Penguin I have started now is Redmond O'Hanlon's Congo Journey. I am only into the first couple of chapters, but it is very well written, even if it suffers from the problem that it is meant to be non fiction, but his recall of conversations is so detailed that they must in fact be re-creations, and some invention must be involved.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed "In Cold Blood"!

I'm hoping they bring out some more Popular Penguins. I wouldn't mind some more good reading at $10 a pop.

Caz, there IS a prize for book titles - SORT OF. And I will unselfishly not keep it all to myself.

Allen and Unwin is offering a children's book prize to the person who can come up with the most creative name for a book title and also an idea for what said book will be about (implied that this is targeted at kids and possibly that A&U will hand your idea over to one of their authors, whether you win or not!).

Actually, we could come up with a competition right here on timT's blog. TimT, do you want to start a new blog topic for this:

1. What do you think is the best book title ever (already published)?

2. Create a cool book title and tell us what the book would be about!

- Maria

P.S. Um, unfortunately I haven't any prizes so I don't know if this will get off the ground.

TimT said...

I'd probably buy a book if it was called Blandering Blitherskytes and the Botherish Furred Glumbusteration of Og, but my reasons for buying books are usually entirely frivolous.

Caz said...

Stolen from The Age, Good Weekend mag (yesterday's edition), oddball book titles:

Fabulous small jews

Natural bust enlargement with total mind power

Bombproof your horse: teach your house to be confident, obedient, and safe no matter what you encounter

Knitting with dog hair

The stray shopping carts of eastern north America - a guide to field identification

Nuclear war: what's in it for you (why do you feel scared with 10,000 nuclear weapons protecting you?)

How to avoid huge ships

Fancy coffins to make yourself

How green were the Nazis? Nature, environment and nation in the third Reich.

Mitzi G Burger said...

Hi Tim and train of commentators, what a fascinating discussion! I would gladly become a 'sad' 'oddball' if it would generate something like Capote's In Cold Blood - what a brilliant book, it's all in the concealment of the narrator as for Joyce's "Wake", Dr Lexicon Harlot might pipe up as an absentee member of the Finnegans Wake Reading Group, a scone-eating collective devoted to the hilarities of the Wake, one wee joke at a time.

nailpolishblues said...

Caz, I recommend it. If I hadn't seen the movie first & didn't know the story I probably would have lost the thread of the narrative from all the times I just stopped and reread passages. So, yeah, I quite liked it. Which is absolutely no guarantee that you will :P

Anonymous said...

I started giggling when I saw Alexander McCall's Smith's title for his book - "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones".

Oh, wish I'd thought of it!

- Maria

TimT said...

I think I want to read that book.

No, wait. I know I want to read it.

Caz said...

Well, that's good enough for me, I'll add it to my next book shop shopping trip ... Capote, I mean.

Scone book - I'd rather eat it. Nothing beats a beautifully light scone. Hmmmm.

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