Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When I die, I want to go to the Amazon warehouse...

Ah, memes, the last refuge of the blogger who's too lazy to tell you about her travails at the pub quiz last night. Reading back over this, I realise I have bent the rules by refusing to stick to one book in every category. Still, who you gonna call? The meme police?

From Candy Minx:

1) One book that changed your life.

Hmm, there have been a few. Top of the list would probably be Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth, which I read when I was young and angry and feminist. At times, it froths at the mouth a little, but a lot of what it had to say made sense to me - particularly the section devoted to sado-masochistic imagery in advertising. It's not as funny as The Female Eunuch, though. (Runner-up prize goes to Richard Dawkin's A Devil's Chaplain, the book which cemented my atheism.)

2)One book you have read more than once.

In terms of books that I have read the greatest number of times, I reckon it's a tie between Iain Banks' The Crow Road and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every aspect of Pride and Prejudice has been exhaustively debated in the last year or two, and it is obligatory to start articles on the subject with some turgid reworking of the novel's first line. As I've done the second, I'll spare you the first.

Talking of first lines, the Crow Road, as I will tell you at length should you ever get trapped in a pub with me, has the best opening of any book I have ever read. "It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach."

What I love most about Iain Banks are his ideas and his versatility - in this book the narrator Prentice's father is a children's story writer, and his brother Lewis is a stand-up comedian. Other writers would just tell you this, for fear of cocking up trying to bring these two difficult disclipines to life. Not Banks - he shows you the world Prentice's father creates for them as children, and in doing so reminds you of when you were young, and the boundaries between reality and fiction were thrillingly blurred.

It's also an amazingly funny book - quite a feat when it's about death ("away the crow road" is Prentice's grandmother's expression for dying). I try to read it at least once a year.

3)One book you would want on a desert island.

This. I'm sorry, I can't help being flippant. This question is impossible - I would go mad with boredom if I could only read one book ever again.

4)One book that made you laugh.

I'm so sorry, but the one that springs to mind is The World According to Clarkson. I know, and I'm sorry... Maybe I should put it on my shelf next to the Naomi Wolf - it would be like matter and anti-matter colliding; the subsequent explosion could destroy the universe.

5)One book that made you cry.

I might as well continue to plumb the depths of embarrassment by admitting that the last book that made me cry was Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife. It was when Lee Scoresby, the aeronaut, dies trying to save Will's father from the Church's forces, helped by his daemon (somewhere in cyberspace, paul is screaming silently), a hare called Hester. It was just so... so... beautiful. I'd trade you a dozen Christmas Carols for it.

6)One book you wish had been written.

The rest of See The Old Lady Decently, by B.S. Johnson. BSJ committed suicide after writing the first part of the trilogy; the second and third parts would have been called Buried, Although and Amongst Those Left Are You. Johnson is one of the few modernist authors I'll allow in the house, because he's just such a great writer - he's one of those authors you can really tell has sweated over his writing to get it just so. You have to appreciate that.

7)One book you wish hadn't been written.

Children of The New Forest, by whatever git wrote it - Captain Marryat? It was our class book in Junior 4 (now rebranded as "Year 5") and I hated it. It just dragged on forever, while all the kids were wonderful and blameless and always obeyed their elders. Priggish little shits.

8)One book you are currently reading.

A Short History of Islam, by Karen Armstrong. Really interesting, nicely written, and scares the shit out of people on aeroplanes.

9)One book you have been meaning to read.

Damn, this is just the list of self-flagellation, isn't it? For someone with an English degree, I feel there are a lot of holes in my 'book-learning'. I have never finished anything by James Joyce, for example. I would dearly love to read any Beckett or Proust novel to the end as well, but I sense that also is never going to happen. I'd also like to read: War and Peace, Diary of A Madman by Gogol, Things Fall Apart by Achebe and Morvern Callar by Alan Warner.

The books I have queued up to read at home next are: Wyndham Lewis's Tarr, Joyce's Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man and Hardy's Jude The Obscure. I will not let them defeat me, dammit!


Anonymous taste said...

Ahh, Banks.

And yes, oddly enough, The Subtle Knife was probably the last book that had me tearing up. A hare though? I mean, at one point he actually calls it 'a noble creature'.

Talking of noble creatures - Evan Wright's Generation Kill is one scary motherfucker of an account of a vast modern invasion force, er... invading. A country: one of those dry ones with all the oil. Starts with I.

He was one of the derranged set of journalists that decided to go along for the ride with the troops doing the frontline fighting: Actually, if there's one thing that spectacularly strange about the whole account, it's that it's presented as though there's nothing amiss with a civilian riding in marine Humvee at the very front of the invasion, being shot at, an understandably large amount...

Face-bleedingly complusive reading though.

8/09/2006 11:32 pm  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

This is hard huh? See you're smart you went ahead and didn't go for one book...I was miserable about choosing one book. good for you!

I love this post and am going to read it again. I loved the Subtle Knife and i have read karen Armstrongs books, A history Of God is one and she is amazing. Love your list!!!!!!

8/10/2006 1:02 am  
Blogger Pie said...

Meme police would be cool, I can just imagine the interrogation now...

"Interview commenced at 10:28 am. Those present: galatea, DI Mimi, DCI Cantbebotheredtothinkupaname. galatea, can you list 5 reasons you didn't do your meme, 5 bloggers who can verify your story and 5 reasons we shouldn't arrest your sorry ass?"

Meh, it was funnier in my head.

This meme has made me realise I should read more books. There's only so many times I can read Harry Potter.

8/10/2006 10:43 am  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

I prefer Banks in his "M" incarnation: I've only read The Crow Road and The Bridge of his "non-genre" fiction. Both of which were fantastic, naturally. One of the most scary, nightmare inducing things I've ever read came in Consider Phlebas, but his other books contain equally weird and sometimes sick images: the chair made from Zakalwe's half-sister in Use of Weapons, and the bizarre Archimandrite in The Algebraist, as well as other astonishingly imaginative ideas. His alien races actually seem alien, rather than vaguely humanoid.

I read Children of the New Forest when I was very young - it was part of a series of children's classics I had. At the time I quite accepted that Cavaliers were of course noble and brave and chivalrous ("wrong but wromantic", as Sellar and Yeatman have it). It's only now that I start thinking that Cromwell had the right idea, and deserves credit for being a better general than anyone the Stuarts could rustle up.

Sorry, gone way off topic. Great post, though (liked the Build Your Own Canoe particularly).

8/10/2006 1:16 pm  
Anonymous random internet guy said...

I bought The Crow Road at lunch on the basis of your recomendation. I'm four years out of an English degree and depressingly enough I'm finding that I've started to conform to the stereotype of the middlebrow male who only bothers to read 9 non-fiction books and the Booker winner every year. I have a horrible fear that literature will join that long list of things that used to seem terribly important and exciting but are no longer so, like school reports and Beck albums.

8/10/2006 3:39 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

I think I can guess one of the scary things in Consider Phlebas that you're thinking of - is it the island of people who only eat shit? They give all their food to their chieftain, who has a pair of built-in wire strippers in his teeth - which he uses to scrape all the flesh of the protagonist's finger? Because that was horrible.

I ruined my chances with the office fittie at my last workplace by describing that bit to him in detail. It was when his eyes glazed over at "they all have to eat shit" that I knew I had made a catastrophic flirting error. I suppose it is lucky I have found a boyfriend who also likes Iain Banks, and is not scared I am secretly a coprophile.

8/10/2006 3:42 pm  
Anonymous galatea said...

You bought the Crow Road on my recommendation? How scary - i always feel responsible when people do that, and if they don't like it I feel I have let them down personally.

It is an excellent book, though. When I next do my yearly re-read I shall devote a post to extolling its wonder....

Funnily enough, although The Bridge and Walking On Glass are at least as good, and Complicity's not half bad, I just don't love them the way I love The Crow Road.

8/10/2006 4:21 pm  
Anonymous random internet guy said...

Don't worry, I'm pretty sure I read it and liked it about ten years ago plus it was only two euro in the Oxfam shop. Actually I think I've read most of his stuff but the only one I can recall in any detail is The Wasp Factory, those mental images aren't going anywhere.

I will definately track down The Beauty Myth though. When girls start going on about the pressure from society to look good I've learned not to say "Just eat healthily and do some fucking exercise!", but I still think it. Perhaps it will enlighten me.

Great site btw, loving your work!

8/10/2006 5:12 pm  
Anonymous lb said...

You should enjoy Tarr, er, probably. Have you got your hands on The Apes of God yet? That one needs some serious time to really give it one's full attention; a short jail sentence perhaps, or a few days trapped in a lift, or something.

8/11/2006 7:31 am  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

That is exactly the bit I mean. From "Consider Phlebas". Makes you glad that he's a writer, and thus is sublimating all his violent impulses in fiction.

I read "Jude The Obscure" when curious about Thomas Hardy's novels. It was depressing and yet oddly tragic. I made it all the way through, but have never read any more Hardy, probably as a result.

8/11/2006 1:25 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

I have the Apes of God, in a forbidding early edition that smells of moths and intelligence. But I am sort of scared of opening it... I really wish I could read at work, instead of exhaustively reading Guardian Unlimited and refreshing my email every five minutes.

As for Hardy, well, I read Far From the Madding Crowd and quite liked it, in a 'I'm glad I now don't have that to cross off my list' way. I like his poetry more. It's short, for one thing.

8/11/2006 1:47 pm  
Blogger Aidan said...

The short story collection "Dubliners" by Joyce may be a better way in than, "Portrait Of The Artist..." where he starts to become slowly more impenetrable - "Dubliners" is much more moving and subtle. I've tried starting "Ulysses", several times, but p17 seems to be an especially heavy one to turn over...

8/17/2006 11:58 pm  

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