Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The books and the dream



In college, and it was maybe midnight, perhaps a little later, when the DJ said, "Who do you think is the best guitarist, ever. Call and let us know."

I was all over the moon about this -- who? How should I cast my vote? John Mclaughlin, Julian Bream, my current boyfriend? Or someone definitely in the running, so my vote would actually count.

"Julie, what do you think?" I asked, all in a dither, flapping my hands, "I'm going to say Clapton. No, wait, maybe Jimmy Page." It seemed so important at the time; we were very high.

Which is sort of the way I've felt when the Facebook thingy has come around every so often, asking for a list of 10 favorite books; the ones that have influenced our lives. "Don't think," they say, "just throw out some titles."

Don't think? Books are my life. I read, therefore I am. Which is why I've tucked the question in my head since at least 2010, and every so often realized a title or two. Tossed one in favor of another; re-appropriated the one that's been tossed, and tossed the interloper. Then reconsidered them both.

I don't know how many books I've read, or partially read, in my life. Gotta be thousands. And really, the only way to excise this exercise out of my brain is to lay down a line in the sand.

The best bit of literary criticism I've ever heard came from Des Zamorano. When she read Breakfast at Tiffanys, at my suggestion, she came back with, "What I love about this book, is that as soon as I read the first two pages, I knew I could relax; I was in good hands."

Good hands.

A writer is a pilot. With the bad writers, the middling-to-serviceable writers, the maybe they'll write something good in the future writers, there are layovers. Times when the prose jolts you awake, and you find yourself stuck in an airport, drinking a watery Bloody Mary, eating a runny grilled cheese, and feel a taxi back home might be in order.

The exceptional pilots never stop -- they take you on a journey, on a dream, their dream, yes, but their dream becomes your dream. A dream you'll dream until the last chapter, the last page, and the final line. And then you crash.

The Glory of My Father and The Castle of My Mother - Pagnol
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Kundera
Long Ago in France - MFK Fisher
Among Friends - MFK Fisher
Emma - You know
The Great Gatsby - Ditto
Mary Poppins - Travers
Breakfast at Tiffanys - Capote
Stones for Ibarra - Doerr
EB White (anything, it's all perfect)
Wodehouse (anything, they're all alike)
Cross Creek - Rawlings




34 comments:

  1. Such a great list. Cross Creek--a miracle of a book.

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  2. The problem with these lists is that as soon as I read someone else's, I remember a title I should have put on mine. But like you said, there would be thousands.

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  3. I have always loved EB White. I just found Wodehouse last fall. Emma and Mary Poppins (the book, not movie) are lovely. I try not to make such lists; I think "Top 10 Books" are for people who have read maybe 20 books, including all assigned reading ever. I'm pretty sure you know I devour books, and I probably own 2000, many of which I have yet to read.

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  4. I always hesitate to say Breakfast at Tiffanys is a perfect book, because more people know the movie, and the movie has nothing to do with the book. Same with Mary Poppins. And it's fine if people liked the movies, but the movies and the book have nothing in common, other than the name.

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  5. Patrizzi 📙📘📗📕📓📔📒✒️✏️September 9, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    Gosh, there are so many books I haven't read. I sometimes read a book over two, three times if I love it. I agree with Des. It's the first two pages that let me know.

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  6. I love reading other people's lists but like you, I've been editing my own list in my head for awhile.

    I can still remember where the Mary Poppins books were on the shelf of the Altadena library - favorites growing up. I'm excited to read them to my kids . . . have to get going while they still like me to read aloud.

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  7. I can't post my list for the same reason you have trouble. There are just too many and it's too important.

    However I like reading other peoples' lists! A good friend put up hers today and I did not recognize any of the titles. Surprising.

    Breakfast at Tiffany's is truly perfect. Almost never has such a great book spawned such a hideous movie, but I can't hate it because of Audrey Hepburn. There's a short story that was published in the same collection as BaT's called The Diamond Guitar or something similar. That's amazing too.

    And I devoured at the Poppins books and loved them too. ;-)

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  8. I think my list has changed over my lifetime. In my teens I was crazy for Hemingway, in college I would have told you Rabindranath Tagore or Yasunari Kawabata. Lately, fiction doesn't interest me but I hope I come back to it. Maybe I'll start with my favorite childhood book, "The Island of the Blue Dolphins", just to get warmed up.

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  9. A wonderful post as usual, Karin. A thing that hooks me with writers is powerful use of the language. I will overlook major plot holes if the writer uses the language well, makes me stop mid-story to reread a passage just for the arrangement of words. Also, I ignore all posts like that on Facebook, along with the "what fill-in-the-blank are you?" posts. I don't care.

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  10. I honestly don't know if I could have survived childhood without Caddie Woodlawn.

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  11. Whew... I can't read enough of you. I can take only a little at a time, though.

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  12. Thanks, Shanna. I'll always treasure that.

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  13. I love this. You, my dear are a great pilot yourself.

    Although I love books and reading, I've only read one of the books on your list. It wouldn't be among my favorites, however I'll give the others a look and see if I feel transported.

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  14. BTW, did you take that photo? It's lovely.

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  15. If you ever write a book, I'll put it on my list. Though like you, I'm reluctant to make a list as there are too many books to choose from. Question: does the pleasure you get from a book depend on the age at which you read it? The books that have stayed with me longest were read in my late teens and twenties. Nowadays, I'm too critical of the writing or the plot to get truly immersed the way I used to.

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  16. I like Christopher Parkening and anyone who can play a good blues rift.

    As far as books, I don't read much but I like Wodehouse for one.

    I also like the way you pilot me.
    Thanks for all deep and clever thoughts.

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  17. Thank you Carolynn and Pierre. As for the photo, yes, I took it, though I just happened to catch the light in a good mood. And Pierre, some days just beg for a Bingo Little, don't they?

    So Bellis, are you more drawn to non-fiction? I know you're a Bryson fan. So am I. I recently re-read A Walk in the Woods. The first half, anyway; the second half loses me, probably because his friend is gone.

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  18. Oh yeah.. You've got some groovy ones there! And a few I've never heard of as well.

    One of my all-time favorites is a book I was forced to read as an 18- year-old taking an introductory anthropology class---an abbreviated version of an 18th-c. Chinese novel called Dream of the Red Chamber. I read the English translation, of course, since I don't know a bit of Chinese. I was shocked to actually fall in love with it. Many years later, I found a WAY longer version of it titled Story of the Stone. It's gigantic and kind of a tough read in certain places, but totally cool---a novel I go back to every few years because it just gets me.

    Oh, and my #1 favorite guitarist is Mark Knopfler.

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  19. Oh yeah.. You've got some groovy ones there! And a few I've never heard of as well.

    One of my all-time favorites is a book I was forced to read as an 18- year-old taking an introductory anthropology class---an abbreviated version of an 18th-c. Chinese novel called Dream of the Red Chamber. I read the English translation, of course, since I don't know a bit of Chinese. I was shocked to actually fall in love with it. Many years later, I found a WAY longer version of it titled Story of the Stone. It's gigantic and kind of a tough read in certain places, but totally cool---a novel I go back to every few years because it just gets me.

    Oh, and my #1 favorite guitarist is Mark Knopfler.

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  20. You're in good hands with Page and Clapton and these books.

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  21. oho! There are a few I have not read. Looking forward to the ride!

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  22. A great post as usual, Karin! Lovely photo too.

    Clapton is my preferred. A prosaic memory: many years ago, in 1990, Eric Clapton performed at the "Live in Rio de Janeiro" and I met him by chance in a restaurant in São Paulo. My son ( he was a boy at that time) went to him and asked him to for an autograph. He gladly signed it and talked with us nicely. So nice person.

    About books, I'm with you, books are my life too! Love what you wrote: "I read, therefore I am"!
    You have such a great list and there are many books in your list I haven't read yet, but I read these of your list: Emma, The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffanys, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera. Certainly you remember, what Kundera wrote in that book, a wonderful words about dogs: “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace.”

    Finally I also think that my list has changed over my lifetime, as PJ said too. But there was a book that was significative and very meaningful to me. It was "The Alexandria Quartet", a tetralogy of novels by British writer Lawrence Durrell, published between 1957 and 1960. The four novels are Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. Really they are great!
    (Sorry my big comment...)

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  23. Your comments, big or small, are always welcome, Sonia.

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  24. I like the challenge of "don't give it much thought." We all know the books that have truly mattered to us. The wonderful thing is that everybody's lists are different yet often include some of the same titles. If I could remember the name of the textbook on Spanish culture from college, that would top my list. Really.

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  25. Yeah, I might add my astronomy book. I remember the author was Kepler, or something like that. He was my professor and he changed my outlook.

    I like that challenge, too, Ann. I turned around and looked at my book shelves, and I saw the books I'd kept because I couldn't bear to part with them. Though my shelves are overloaded, that was my best clue.

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  26. The light in the photo and this list...both are inspiring. I don't have such a list but do enjoy reading the lists of others, and I have read a few of your titles. Maine claims EB White and I've loved him forever.

    I could go lots of ways on best guitarist but only one way on best song for guitar ~ "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams. I have it on vinyl, the album "Hand Made," 1970.

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  27. Love your list of books! Never did get thru Lightness but will try. 1st entry --- only saw the movies, will have to read. And don't know 10 at all. Loved Stones the first time I read it sitting on the lawn after work in our Torrance 1/3 house... Do you find that you remember books by the location? Did you ever read Come, Tell Me How You Live? by the Agatha Christie Mallowan? If not, I am getting it for you. Hugs, Tash

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  28. PS ... Loved Stones of the 2nd time, and 3rd... Maybe there was a 4th also. Did you ever meet the author? She was from Pasadena if I am not mistaken. More hugs, Tash

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  29. Tash -- I love that you love Harriet Doerr. Sadly, no one else seems to have heard of her. She was the granddaughter of Henry Huntington (the daughter of HH's only son), so whenever I give a tour, I always tell people about Doerr and insist they read her. Try Tiger in the Grass -- the first essay is a real knockout. (I never met her, but I'm such a fan, I know the location of her last house.) Haven't read the AC, but I'll see if the library has it. So nice to hear from you.

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  30. Books are your life. Are bookshops still dying or in this Ipad tablet age have books gotten a life extension? Besides a pilot, my favorite writers can also be hikers.

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  31. Ah, that's so nice, Cafe. I heard somewhere that we're reading more novels than ever these days, maybe it is thanks to the ebooks.

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