After I was done shouting at him to get off my lawn, I looked at what he had tagged me with: a meme about books. Hmmmm. Never let it be said a meme dies in the hooves of a little stuffed bull, I always say. So without a lot of fanfare but with some careful thought that I know I'll second-guess ten minutes after I post this, here I go memeing merrily away:
1. One book that changed your life
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: my first tentative expedition into the grown-up section of the Liverpool Public Library (back when it was a dark, mazey, underground); the first book I devoured like yummy, yummy salty potatoes, craved more immediately, and was overwhelmed to find there were several other Holmes books for me to dive into: enough to last a lifetime, or at least a glorious summer vacation. Really, how can you resist a book with the single best cliffhanger chapter-ending in the English language: "Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: 'Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!'" Aside from Encyclopedia Brown, The Hound of the Baskervilles was my first foray into the world of detective fiction, from which I've been happy never to escape. More important, it began my life-long love of London and all things British. The edition pictured here is one volume of an inexpensive mass-market paperback boxed set I received as a Christmas present one year: each volume contained an introduction by an author I would later explore; some of them obsessively. The introductions by Ellery Queen and P. G. Wodehouse led me to life-long love of both of their work. When all about me is chaos and sadness, a Sherlock Holmes adventure is the perfect panacea.
2. One book you have read more than once
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: again a single book (The Hobbit) led me to crave more, more, more instantly, and I got it after a hurried trip to the now-defunct Economy Bookstore in downtown Syracuse, in another boxed set (with the psychedelic covers shown here). When I was much younger I would read The Fellowship of the Ring slowly and carefully to absorb all the rich hobbity goodness, but I would whip through The Two Towers and The Return of the King faster, skimming past the history and the battle sequences just to find out what Frodo and Sam were up to. I've read it about once a year, every year, since then. I love the movies and actually think some of Peter Jackson's changes for the screen were for the better, at least for a motion picture. But the books themselves reward repeated reading, and I'll get to them again later this year, I'm sure.
3. One book you would want on a desert island
I actually wouldn't turn down a one-volume of Sherlock Holmes or The Lord of the Rings, but to keep a variety goin' here, I'd be happy to pack Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, a book with a sense of place so strong I wouldn't miss my home because I will have brought it with me in his sparkling, magical celebration of the wonder of New York that exists just out of the corner of your eye on a cold frosty quiet Manhattan morning.
Either that or a book on how to build a boat.
4. One book that made you laugh
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving reduced me to fits of rolling-on-the-floor giggles when I first read it. Not for children (probably not even for little stuffed bulls), but when Sorrow the dog falls out of the closet I was gasping for breath out of overexcited hilarity. I'm afraid to pick the book up again for fear I won't find it a tenth as funny this time around. P'raps my memories of it are better than the actual book.
5. One book that made you cry
I'm a weepy soul. Books can make me cry. Movies can make me cry. Even Christmastime phone company commercials can make me cry. But what comes to mind when you ask me to fill in this category is not a sad book about death, even animal death (Old Pig, Faithful Elephants), but instead a book that brings tears of joy and wonder to my cynical little button eyes, a glorious and golden description of the wonder of the world seen only by a few for a very short time. And it's in a children's book: P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins Comes Back. In the chapter called "The New One," Mrs. Banks has a new baby, Annabel. Annabel is visited by the Starling as she lies in her crib. All babies, it seems, can speak to the wind and the trees and the sun and the animalsbut they forget how after their first birthday.
Inside her flannel petticoat Annabel was kicking furiously ."How could I forget?"Another thing babies can remember, but only for one week after they are born, is where they come from:
"Because they all do!" jeered the Starling harshly. "Every silly human except" he nodded his head at Mary Poppins"her! She's Different, she's the Oddity, she's the Misfit"
"I am earth and air and fire and water," she said softly. "I come from the Dark where all things have their beginning."If the only exposure you've ever had to Mary Poppins is the movie, please read the books. They're filled with a sharp wit, a poignant tenderness, and a fiery grace that Julie Andrews can't even hint at.
"Ah, such dark!" said the Starling softly, bending his head to his breast.
"It was dark in the egg, too," the Fledgling cheeped.
"I come from the sea and its tides," Annabel went on,. "I come from the sky and its stars, I come from the sun and its brightness"
"Ah, so bright!" said the Starling, nodding.
"And I come from the forests of earth."
As if in a dream, Mary Poppins rocked the cradleto-and-from, to-and-fro with a steady swinging movement.
6. One book you wish had been written
P. G. Wodehouse's final book, published in rough unfinished form as Sunset at Blandings, is a wonderful look at how Wodehouse worked: elegant and precise planning and many, many ruthless rewrites sharpened his plotting and prose into his masterpieces of musical comedy on the page. But he never finished this novel, and though he gave us over one hundred of 'em, I love his books so much I want just one more. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I believe that Wodehouse was the single most brilliant writer of the twentieth-century. (Terry Pratchett often shows signs of being his heir in terms of turning a clever and pointed phrase.) As it stands, Sunset is only a quarter-bookan outline, a work-in-progress. He was brilliant right up to the end and I'd love to see how this would have been whittled and shaped expertly into yet another romp. But if there's one thing that Neil Gaiman's The Sandman has taught us, it's that every book even unwritten exists somewhere in the Library of Dream. Sometimes when I sleep I dream of finding a treasure trove of P. G. Wodehouse paperbacks at a London riverside book fair or a cluttered Oxford bookstore: two, three, five, ten Wodehouse books I never knew existed and gather up into my arms eager to take them home and dive into them. Among them, I'm sure, is the finished Sunset.
7. One book you wish had never been written
I puzzled over this one a long time. Should I go for the joke answer like "any Danielle Steele novel" or "Anne Heche's Call Me Crazy"? Then I thought about using my meme-given power of Superboy-punching reality until a book that has proposed and inspired evil in its name should disappear from history: something like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Mein Kampf.
In the end, however, I'm going to go for no book at all. I don't believe in censorship. Whether a book is silly or stupid or even evil, I think it's up to each individual little bull and cow to decide what to read, and those choices should be available.
Okay, okay, that was a cop-out. You want a specific answer? Then please burn all copies of Raymond Benson's High Time to Kill, quite possible the worst abuse of the privilege given to a writer to pen an authorized James Bond novel. It reduces Bond to a clueless dullard and highlights an interminable mountain sequence as slow and tedious as that Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode about rock climbing. Punch that, Superboy!
8. One book you are currently reading
The Eight by Katherine Neville, a historical puzzle-box mystery based around chess. It's everything The Da Vinci Code was trying to be, but it's well-written, compelling, and yes, I'm re-reading it.
9. One book you have been meaning to read
Men Of Tomorrow: Geek, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones. I've had it so longI got it as an advance paperback galley at BEA in 2005but haven't sat down to read it yet. Everyone raves about it, everyone tells me I must read it. It's on my "gotta read" bookshelf. I actually pulled it down last week to start but didn't open it yet. Maybe I should take it to my desert island.
10. Now tag five people!
Oooh, golly. I always hesitate to do this. Here's five people. Tag, you're it!: Erin, Tegan, David, Blair. And you, Giraffo, you pompous long-necked twit. I know you are all very busy and of course you don't have to do this, but I would be delighted to read your entries if you do. But it's not mandatory.
Except for you, Giraffo. Grrrrrr. I hate Giraffo.