Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Meme: The Books That Stay With You

I was leery of this one, but it's books, so I was reeled right on in by Anno's invitation. Plenty missing, I'm sure. Mea culpa to the reading gods that know better. These are the ones that stuck. Other than the first two, there is no particular order. Here goes:

01. Gravity's Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon): No surprise here: I've sung my praises on these walls countless times. Introduced to the mighty P by a seminal graduate student my junior year. This one blew my mind and, as these walls will attest, it has stayed blown. The Easter book. Perhaps my favorite reading of it was 31 years ago, while surveying land out in the west Texas hill country up north of Leakey.

02. Against the Day (Thomas Pynchon): This was the true sequel to GR, though we all waited through two other novels and 33 years to get there. As haunting and wonderfully sprawling as its mate, but with the added sensibility, I believe, brought by becoming a father late in his life. This and GR are, in a way, in their genius, one book.

03. Coming Through Slaughter (Michael Ondaatje): I discovered this beauty on a sale table in Waldenbooks at North Star Mall here in Tres Leches 34 years ago: had never heard of book or author. Probably a precursor to my eventual sojourn in New Orleans. Its spare, fractured hallucinatory prose is gorgeous. The tragic story of New Orleans jazzman Buddy Bolden, the legend behind them all.

04. Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood): I was very late to the Atwood party, though not without trying: she just never took through the years. About six years ago, the organization (Gemini Ink) I was working for here in TL was bringing her to town for a three day stint. I felt compelled to break through my Atwood block. This was the one that did it, with its crazed crazed crazed dystopian tale. Atwood's hip hop novel, if you will. It paved the way to my reading another half dozen of her books in a six week period.

05. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (Robert Olen Butler): This book of short stories probably broke open the writer in me: I was haunted by the voices in these stories, many of which were spoken across the south Louisiana landscape I was living in at the time. They literally lived inside me, whispering, for the six months before I finally wrote my very first short story back in 1992.

06. The Palm at the End of the Mind (Wallace Stevens): I was turned on to WS by the same grad student who sent Mr. Pynchon my way, showing me that there was, indeed, life beyond Mr. Eliot's wasteland and quartets. WS remains impenetrable in many ways, but that simply adds to the stickiness, right?

07. Reading Lacan (Jane Gallop): Speaking of impenetrability, here is an impenetrable book about one woman's own reading of an impenetrable author. It's clear my mind is perfectly willing to bathe in a milky steambath of incomprehension and ambiguity, because there's no way to say that I understand either JG or the seductive and elusive Monsieur Lacan himself. It's Mose Allison ("Your Mind is on Vacation") all the way.

08. Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry): I was in the Melrose Hotel in Dallas, weeping when you-know-who dies. (Okay, I admit it, I was reading on the terlet). I was late to this party, too: my parents read it to each other on a road trip through Big Bend and the Davis Mountains and I passed, after that first go-round of hymns of praise. I finally made it through the slow first 70 or so pages and never looked back. Small screen adaption: Tommy Lee as Call and Duvall as Gus - it didn't get any better, though Robert Urich as Jake was a travesty. Jake was a man for whom whores put out for free. Clearly, too much dinero was spent on TLJ and RD: the till was empty, when it came time to cast Jake. (Sam Elliott, if you're asking.)

09. The Oz Books (L. Frank Baum, and others): I think the collection was up to about 55 books when I read them all one summer at my grandparents' ranch, hauling them out from one of the glassed-in bookcases in the front hallway. Mr. Baby and I have read our way through most of the Baum ones, this childhood go round.

10. Collected Stories (Grace Paley): If bigamy were legal, and your second spouse had to be a narrative voice, then I would be married (also) to this book. I had long been in love with the narrative voice of Padgett Powell (see below): about five years ago, I learned (intuitively first and then firsthand from PP himself) that Grace Paley was Padgett before Padgett was - his fairy godmother. Grace's compassionate radicalism is embedded in the glorious rhythms and voices of her stories.

11. All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy): It must say something that this book tops the Books I Should Read In Life list that my son asked me for a couple of years ago. I love fiction that brings me right to the city where I live, and ATPH has an early scene right here in the Menger Hotel - with snow outside! Talk about a book that haunts and lives in your skin, though it took three tries for me to finally slip through the portal into its magic. Thank god that CM moved from Tennessee to El Paso and gave us the ultimate voice for this part of the world.

12. A Woman Named Drown / Edisto (Padgett Powell): I'm sorry; I couldn't separate them. For sheer droll joy and hilarity and crazed white boys and their color dementia and language as your love slave, it do not get any better than Mr. Powell. He is the master (though he is in a pedestal shoving match with Barry Hannah, for that honor). The liberating joy of Life After Faulkner.

13. Junkets on a Sad Planet (Tom Clark): The Life of Keats in narrative poems: the writing in this book is gorgeous and heartbreaking, written by a man who, though much longer-lived than Keats, has lived through his own relative and inexplicable obscurity. But what a gift he has given in these luminous poems.

14. The French Lieutenant's Woman (John Fowles): I was reading Fowles my senior year in college, when I should have been reading everything else, turned on to him by a friend. Fowles took me out of reading for class to reading for sheer pleasure. The first book I ever cast, as it was in pre-production for years. My choices for the Meryl Streep / Jeremy Irons final choices were Julie Christie and Alan Bates. Showing my age there.

15. Rimbaud in Abyssinia (Alain Borer; translated by Rosemary Waldrop): Probably the first book I throw into the Desert Island backpack (the Pynchon will already be in the first aid kit). Borer goes in search of the silent Rimbaud who disappeared with his passion and genius into Africa, never to write again, save for the sparest of letters home and an article or two. AB digs deep into this silence to assemble a sense of the man that is seamless with what he "left" behind. I mention Waldrop, because her translations of the Rimbaud poems (excerpts!) are by far the best I have read in English. Usually, when I read either prose or poetry in translation, I have the nagging sensation that something is just not right: Rosemary most assuredly got it right. A heartbreaker.

16. The Tennis Handsome (Barry Hannah): The demented genius of Southern fiction, and this is as wonderfully demented and surreal as it gets.

17. The Alexandria Quartet (Lawrence Durrell): I still taste and smell the limestone dust and citrus of these gorgeous, other-worldly novels.

18. The Tropic of Capricorn (Henry Miller): For my money, by far the better of the twinned books. HM came late to his genius and I came way late to him. I remember vividly (why, I do not know) reading a passage of Cancer in the upstairs stalls at the Landa Library manse here in Tres Leches, putting the book back on the shelf, and wondering what all the fuss was about. This was 1976. In 2001, I devoured all the Miller I could get my hands on, much of which is garbage. But, Capricorn is fucking (of course) awesome.

19. Faulkner: No one who graduates high school in Mississippi and then goes, like Quentin Compson, to Harvard, gets out alive. Take your pick: Light in August, A Fable, Absalom, Absalom, The Wild Palms (trip to SA in that one!), The Sound and the Fury. But, if you're gonna write yourself and you're not named Cormac McCarthy, you've got to get out from under that red rock...Otherwise, he'll scare the writer right out of you.

20. The Dream Songs (John Berryman): Next after Borer into the pack, I revel in this man's dementia - as do my students. How many high schoolers can say they partook of Henry in their impressionable years? High schoolers love to say that they're writing "random" stuff. "You want random?" I say. "Dream Song 4" blows their minds. As it still does mine.

21. Going After Cacciato (Tim O'Brien): The Vietnam War's A Farewell to Arms. Melts in your mouth: a lovely fairy tale.

22. Longing for Darkness (China Galland): China's hymn to the goddesses of the luminous dark, a song for Yemaya, and a song to my own search for the Black Madonna and Ms. Tina Karagulian.

23. Nothing Like the Sun (Anthony Burgess): Back in the 60s, Clapton Was God. In the late 70s, Burgess Was God for friend Steph and me. We read our way through all the AB on the shelves, which was plenty (the anti-Pynchon), and gloried in this beautiful pavane to the love lives of Will Shakespeare.

24. Bleak House (Charles Dickens): At age 53, this one finally opened the Dickens portal, utterly convincing me that high school was way too soon to foist (and waste) this god on readers. I lived Dickens for another six months after BH, and will no doubt go on further Dickens sabbaticals in the future.

Too soon to tell, but likely to make the list: Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.



Blogger anno said...

Oooohhhh, this looks like my wanna-read list. Or maybe it's my "feeling-guilty-because-I've-been-too-busy-reading-cookbooks-and-Calvin&Hobbes-to-read-these" list.

Except for Lonesome Dove, which belongs on my own already read and loved list; I liked the small-screen adaptation, too: sure would have preferred to see Sam Elliott as Jake, but Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, and Glenne Headly more than made up for that omission.

I am going to read GR, I really am. Just as soon as I finish Oscar Wao and my sisyphusian travails with Geometry. And Oryx and Crake, too. I've been an Atwood fan ever since The Handmaid's Tale; not sure why I've been so slow to get to this one.

Glad to see you changed your mind about playing along; I sure enjoyed your list.

7:01 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: It was actually a lot of fun to write and fun, too, to see what surprises my brain would serve up.

Nothing personal against Urich, but I felt like I needed a black censor bar over him, whenever he was on screen. Dennis Quaid would have worked for Jake, too, but he was too young. Newman would have worked as well, but who was going to string Newman up?

Good on ya for GR. Geometry will look ever so much clearer by comparison.

Surprisingly, Handmaid's Tale may be my second favorite Atwood. I was surprised by how much I liked it. O&C seems very different from all the other Atwoods I read.

8:46 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Guilt for reading Calvin and Hobbes? Nay, lass. Them shoulda been on the list. They're certainly on Mr. Baby's, and he has exquisite taste...

9:02 AM  
Blogger anno said...

It's good to know you are all Calvin & Hobbes fans there; maybe Artemis Fowl, too?

One thing about Urich as Jake: by the time he came to his well-deserved bad end, I didn't mind seeing him go. Losing Quaid or Elliott would have been a lot harder on the heart.

8:44 PM  
Blogger San said...

You're right. No surprise with the Pynchon. But with the Frank Baum, yes. Not that you chose him, but that there were that many Oz books. I must google about this.

The Palm at the End of the Mind. The Dream Songs. YES.

You've picked one of the only Atwoods I've never read. I would've picked Cat's Eye. Did you ever get around to that one?

"If bigamy were legal and your second spouse had to be a narrative voice..." Is that what they do in Utah?

9:45 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

My Dear Ms Anno: If we followed your Jake logic, then we should have had him also play you-know-who, so I would not have been weeping when the very first credits come up and I know where we're headed...

C&H for sure: we're hoping that Mr. Baby is the next Bill Watterson; he already shows strong comic strip propensities. We've not yet caught the Fowl bug.

11:27 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Ms San: I'm not sure what they do in Utah. They never let me in the archives!

As for the Oz franchise, I never explored beyond my grandmother's collection: I think it was around fifty...

Okay, I just googled the Oz books and good old Wikipedia reports 40 books through 1963. That's about as late as Nana would have been collecting them, so it must have been 40 that I read.

I'm sure there are plenty more poets I could/should have named, but I was thinking of breakthrough (Stevens) and blow you mind / mentor (Berryman, for sure).

Cat's Eye still remains on my "Busta Move" list for future reading. I know it's a favorite of many...

11:36 PM  
Blogger San said...

I'm going to be off to Chicago and a cottage near Lake Michigan in a few days. I anticipate long days of lying in the shade of the big hardwood trees, watching the sun on the lake, and yes, reading. I just realized I want to bring Alice Munro's View from Castle Rock. Because you mentioned A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, a book of stories I'm not familiar with. I realized I want to read short stories on Cherry Beach. And the Munro is on our shelf already. I will also carry Marilynne Robinson's Home, which is in progress. Last time I was beside that lake I read Running with Scissors. I want something very different this time around. I snagged a murder mystery from my mother when I was back home. It's set in Santa Fe and is written by a pre-med student at UNM, an older, returning student mind you. Sounds after my own heart. I actually bought it for my mom, who whips through books by the boxful. And she always lets me take books back.

5:24 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: I was happy to hear of your vacation when I read yesterday's marathon post. I love the idea of you off in an entirely different clime. These are Bennie's necks of the woods, yes? Ms Alice is perfect for just about any time, but assuredly fine for lolling about. Be well up there in the fine lake-world.

Of course, you know I'll be running your marathon, just not sure when I'll complete it. I loved all your snickety comments, whether done or not done. Some, like you, I hope never to bold...

5:38 PM  
Blogger San said...

Bennie is from another part of Michigan, Motown. Or, suburban Motown. Chi-town is where cuddin Paul lives. On the south side. It's his cottage near the lake, which is in the state of Michigan, in an itty bitty place named Lakeside. The nearest big city is New Buffalo, home of Oinks. You'd be in heaven there--it's an ice cream place whose company vehicle is a vintage ambulance, painted pink.

We've been going to the cottage, and to Chicago, every two years or so, for a long time. And Chi-town does toddle! I have great memories of there too. I could go on and on...probably will one of these days.

7:46 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: Have a wonderful time in and around it all. And by all means, have an Oinks for me. What is it about pigs and ice cream? In Moscow, Idaho, the ice cream h(e)aven was called Hog Heaven.

8:13 AM  
Blogger rwellsrwells said...

Sam Elliot would have been too old. Ulrich was completely wrong, he just didn't have the chops or the range to hold up against anyone else in the cast. Including Diane Lane, or even whoever it was that played Newt. Lonesome Dove is on my epics shelf along with Moby Dick, and all those Greeks and Hindus. It will be interesting to come back in a hundred or so and see how it holds up.

Honored to be on the blogroll. Muchas grats. You have been bookmarked right under the Scribe.

PS: wld you consider changing your comment set up so we could do name/url instead of just he google account?

11:28 PM  
Blogger rwellsrwells said...

Oh, I've just ordered Junkets on a Sad Planet, based on your recommendation.

11:32 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Richard: It's clear that your Lonesome chops are legit, but I still think Sam Elliot could have been the man. Remember now, the TV adaptation is 20 years old this year (unbelievable). IMDB tells me that SE would have been 45 at the time, which is actually younger than the characters TLJ and Duvall were playing; I always saw Jake as a little younger than they were, but not that much younger. We agree that Urich was an awful choice, though for me Ricky Schroder as Newt wasn't far behind. Friends tell me he redeemed himself when he hit the NYPD set: I never checked him out myself. All that being said, who's your Jake? (He was nowhere at the time, but the Viggo Mortenson we now know could have played the role.)

Glad to have you on the roll. I'm not the savviest of blogtechs, but let me see what I can find out about changing the comment set.

Junkets is heartbreaking and lush.

12:44 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Richard: I think this alternate comment setup will take care of things for you. Lemme know.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Richard Wells said...

testing testing

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Richard Wells said...

Even the Sam Eliot of 1989 looked much too savvy to be the callow Jake. I know, try acting...but those chiseled looks broadcast rectitude, even a sly sort of rectitude - a four square guy who wouldn't mind a little action on the side. Older than Newt, younger than Gus and Coll; a character actor with the character of Fredo Corleone, but not a nervous; this is why I'm not a casting director. btw, I liked young Newt - aw shucks, but growing into grit. Jake? Kevin Costner? 1989 wld have been the year of Field of Dreams. I think I might have something here.

8:57 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...


Dude, as my students would say, you are a professional. A very fine reading of Jake, certainly more finely tuned than mine - I like the Fredo Corleone comparison, which certainly takes Elliott off the board. Given your reading, I'd go with Dennis Quaid over Costner, though both would have to be about the age they are now to pull it off.

Clearly, the book got into your skin the same way it did mine. Same way it did Duvall's and TLJ, too, I imagine. I love the choreography of the scene when they walk into the bar in San Antonio: Call turning to face the room to cover Gus as soon as he sees what's about to go down between Gus and the surly barkeep.

Looks like we have the comments paraphernalia ironed out.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Richard Wells said...

OK, we'll go with Quaid, I think we can get him cheaper than Costner anyway.

Yeah, it got to me. Three readings, and at least another on the far horizon. the TV show as well. I like everything Gus does, but the bit of confused righteousness after Coll pistol whips the scout outside the saloon - I never could abide rudeness in a man - or whatever, was priceless.

9:09 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Richard: I'll get our lawyers right on it.

9:52 PM  

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