16 June 2005

Book meme.

I've been tagged by Victor for this thing, so here we go.

1. Total number of books I've owned.

Quite a lot, very few of which are still with me. I was the quintessential childhood bookworm—there are probably still people in San Jose's Almaden Valley, where I grew up, who remember me as the weird little kid who used to ride his skateboard around the neighborhood while reading, which was how I obeyed my stepfather's frequent demand that I go outside and get some damn exercise. (Peripheral vision is a marvelous thing.) Given how much I read then, it's kind of sad how little I read now; somewhere along the line, movies crept in and just kind of took over. Partially, I think, it's because cinema history seemed so much less daunting—if you're diligent, you can actually see pretty much every truly noteworthy film that's ever been made, whereas multiple lifetimes would be required to make even a small dent in the 80th percentile of world literature.

Anyway, most of my books were sold, five or ten at a time, during my infamous "lost years" (circa 1987–1991), when I was utterly incapable of holding a McJob for more than three weeks or so and would periodically need to scrounge up food money. I also got rid of a bunch when I moved permanently from California to New York in the mid-'90s, and then a bunch more just last year when I moved from Bushwick to a smaller apartment in Park Slope. Right now the total looks to be around 300 or so. But I'd guess I've owned closer to 3000.

2. Last book I bought.

Man, I'm glad I opted not to pick up Matt Matros' The Making of a Poker Player yesterday, when I was standing at the 7th Ave. B&N, slackjawed at the sight of an entire section—floor to ceiling, every shelf—devoted to poker books. That would have been embarrassing.

I don't keep receipts or anything, so I can't be sure, but I think my most recent purchase was Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which I grabbed from a street vendor near my apartment right before Cannes. I'd read it before—Tim Ereneta's copy, I believe, during the Seldom Dreaming shoot in the summer of '93—but the cover jumped out at me as I was walking home from the grocery store and I just thought "I should own this, plus it's been over ten years and I can bring it on the plane," which I did. $10 cheap for the first HarperPerennial edition (1994). Possibly the most entertaining work of deconstruction ever.

3. Last book I read.

Start to finish, I believe that would also be Understanding Comics. Most of the reading I've done lately has been in magazines and on the Internet. But I'm still slowly working my way through Daniel C. Dennett's Freedom Evolves, a fairly dense treatise on free will and determinism that's my bizarre notion of bedtime reading. (I can't fall asleep without reading for at least a few minutes unless I'm on the verge of passing out.)

4. Five books that mean a lot to me.

• The Phantom Tollbooth—Norton Juster

"There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always." Any pre-teen who reads that sentence and is capable of putting the book down needs to be sterilized immediately. I vividly remember reading this aloud to my uncle Casey as a boy. Though that wasn't as much fun as reading it aloud to Mary a few years ago.

• The Castle—Franz Kafka

Probably my favorite canonical novel, which is pretty remarkable given that it's unfinished and that I tend to be a stickler for gestalt. Kafka's prosaic absurdism resonates with me like nothing else, and for me this is both funnier and less self-consciously allegorical than The Trial.

• The Blind Watchmaker—Richard Dawkins

Reading this allowed me to stop pussyfooting around with agnosticism and take intellectual pride in my conviction that there is no organizing intelligence responsible for life, the universe and everything. (Still happy you picked me, Victor?) Most remarkable for his convincing if counterintuitive argument that any theory of life's origin that seems remotely plausible to the human mind is almost certainly incorrect (because of our inability to truly fathom the length of time involved).

• A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again—David Foster Wallace

It's tempting to go with Infinite Jest instead, if only because the Eschaton Debacle (pp. 321–342, plus assorted endnotes) is the single greatest literary passage I've ever read—a freakishly brilliant combination of geopolitics, philosophy and adolescent vaudeville. ("It's snowing on the goddamn map, not the territory, you dick!") But it's DFW's observational essays, particularly the titular one in this collection (the first of his books that I read), that have had the most profound (some would argue deleterious) influence on my own prose style.

• Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players—David Sklansky & Mason Malmuth

Because now I know for sure that I'll never have to work a real job again.

And I know I'm supposed to tag five other people now, but that's a little too chain-letter for my taste. It's easy enough to guess who I'd pick—I don't have that many friends who blog—so they can take up the baton or not, as they choose.

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