Twaddle

Influx, Part III: New Books! Brand New Books!

My grandma, you guys! As I said, she took me out to Barnes & Noble this afternoon and got me many many books. These books:

  • Reading the Silver Screen: Introduction to film analysis: a general text to serve as an entrée to books about specific topics (namely, film noir and portrayals of antiquity).
  • Cathedrals of the World: A second poppy, picture-heavy book about church architecture – this time in English.
  • Classical Gods and Heroes and Tales of Norse Mythology: Serious mythology books to accompany Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes.
  • Judaism for Dummies: Because I actually know nothing about Judaism? And that’s a damn shame.
  • Church History in Plain Language: Because I also know less than I ought to about my own faith. Best of all, the author is a Protestant, so I can trust that his prejudices are different from mine.
  • History of Philosophy by Julián Marías: Context and gapfill for the small amount of Western philosophy I have in my library. Coincidentally, I’ll probably end up tackling it just about the time I get caught up on Peter Adamson’s podcast.
  • De rerum natura as translated by A. E. Stallings: I’m just here for her.
  • The “No Fear” Canterbury Tales: Partly because I haven’t actually read much Chaucer, partly because it’s an amusing concept. (The No Fear series started out as a set of “translations” of Shakespeare and other basically-already-modern-English works into chatty contemporary prose, which was a newish idea. But now it seems they’ve expanded the brand to incorporate a translation from Middle English – something people have been doing for a century, easy. Their new thing worked out so well it turned into an old thing: I find that funny.)
  • The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories: Because all the Lovecraft I had was the two stories in the back of that Michel Houellebecq book. And because I haven’t read At the Mountains of Madness yet. And because the page-edges are black where you’d maybe expect them to be gilded, and I’m susceptible enough to think that’s cool.
  • Neuromancer: Owned it once. Read half of it. Really liked that half. Put it down one day and didn’t pick it up again except to sell it. (I do this a lot, even or especially with books I really like, for no other reason than that I am flaky and suck.)
  • The Fault in Our Stars: My sister told me not to read it (the implication being that it would somehow turn me basic). And Steven Greydanus said interesting things about the film version.

My tendency here seems to be to want to supplement or expand on things that are already in my library. I am more and more thinking of this as a curriculum, as a chance to pick up the kind of broad-but-interconnected education I didn’t quite get at university.

Influx, Part II: The Goodwill

Well! Since my previous post even, I’ve been to yet another bookstore – a regular first-run house, a Barnes & Noble in fact – and thanks to the   e x t r a v a g a n t   generosity of my grandmother I have a dozen more titles than I did three hours ago. But I planned to write about the Goodwill first. I bought some sixteen titles that I have catalogued in my own library, plus a few others that I gave to my sister, and I don’t mean to list them all. Suffice it to say that it is really remarkable what you will find at the Goodwill.

Granted, it’s mostly the kind of books people get rid of – bestsellers of yesteryear, self-help books, pop-religion – but then in the midst of all that there will be something odd and wonderful. Like a book of 18th-century afterpieces, or The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (a poet I admire all out of proportion to how much of his work I have actually read), or an ex-library copy of Notes from the Internet Apocalypse (which I bought on Kindle, back when I had a Kindle, but never did read). Or books with titles like Epiphany in the Modern Novel and French Novelists: Manners and Ideas from the Renaissance to the Revolution (both ones that my sister snapped up). You honest-to-Elinore don’t know what you’ll find.

Influx, Part I: Half Price Books

In the past week I’ve gotten out to two of my bookbuying destinations: Half Price Books and the Goodwill (also Sam’s Club, but let’s not talk about that). So here are some notes on the new acquisitions, starting with the HPB stuff.

Fiction

  • Pride and Prejudice: Picked up from the paperback racks; I figured I ought to read it some time, since everybody talks about it constantly always. (Horrible confession time: I’m always a little suspicious of people praising female authors, because you never know when they’re being earnest and when it’s a patronizing affirmative-action type thing. But Austen is such an eminence, and has been for so long, that I can believe she is immune to all that.)
  • The Plague: I saw that my mother had picked up a copy, and decided I really ought to reread it. She had gotten the cheapest one, but luckily there were more.
  • Lost Horizon: A recommendation from an aunt. I’m leery: her tastes and mine aren’t too congruent. But eh, it’s short.
  • The Outsiders: My sister’s rec. I’m actually kind of looking forward to this one.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King: Mismatched-cover paperbacks. My uncle’s recs. Like Pride and Prejudice, I suppose this is one of those works everybody has to read eventually. (Further confessions: I saw like the first two movies and, sorry, they left me cold. Also, exposure to the all creepy at the periphery of fandom scared me off Tolkien for a long time. But I really loved his translation of Pearl, which I read in college last year, so it’ll be interesting to take a chance on his prose.)
  • The Man of Bronze: I glimpsed this in the Very Old Paperbacks racks near the entrance… after I’d already checked out. I’d been interested in reading one of the original Doc Savage books ever since I attempted a portion of one of Philip José Farmer’s unpleasant fanfics – as far as I could determine, everything I didn’t like about that was Farmer’s own invention, and everything I did like about it was from the source. So I grabbed it and got back in line.

Nonfiction

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: I picked this up, frankly, as broccoli reading. My collection is very short on African-American voices, and on American history in general. And while it’s probably too late to produce some kind of total, balanced curriculum here (even if I wanted to), those are some serious deficiencies.
  • Elizabethan Village: I have an abiding, if very low-level, interest in Early Modern stuff. And it was cheap.
  • The Prince: My brother recommended this. He would.
  • Five Dialogues of Plato: More broccoli reading. My collection is really, super, stupid short on philosophy. And I’ve never really read Plato, outside of bits and pieces in philosophy class – sharply excerpted, and heavily annotated and explained, so that you were not knowing the original texts so much as as kissing their veil.

In Russian

  • The Lonely Planet phrasebook: I’d gotten this out of the library before, and my main impression at that time was that I wished I owned it. I have another phrasebook, a reprint of a Cold War-era text, but it’s nice to supplement it with something contemporary.
  • Фантом памяти (Phantom Memory, or Phantom of Memory, or something like that), by Alexandra Marinina. Yes: I bought. A novel. In Russian. I don’t read Russian. But maybe, in a couple of years when I get to it, I’ll be able to struggle through.
  • Воскресение (Resurrection), by Tolstoy: Like the above, but more so. When I hit this one, I figure I’ll either produce some of the most entertaining writing of my life, or quit the project (and possibly human society) altogether.

Why?

I’m one of the few people you’ll meet who’ve written more books than they’ve read. (Garth Marenghi)

I’ll be the first to admit that this project is a bit unremarkable. It’s not hard, on this Internet of ours, to find superreaders who consume books almost as fast as they acquire them, helpful souls who rate or review everything they read, and sites – like my sister’s favorite, Goodreads – that let such people track their bookdoings within a dedicated, structured system. (I should add that I’ll probably end up making a Goodreads account. She’s sold it to me pretty well.) (UPDATE: Totally did.)

I’m not a dedicated bibliophile. I don’t read, really, and I don’t collect books as some do: my library is very much on the small side, and to the extent that I am acquisitive, I regard it as a vice. I’m also leery of publicly rating, reviewing, and reccing. Or rather – as with tagging – I appreciate others’ efforts but I don’t like doing it myself. Numerical ratings are slippery; I always feel (again, as with tagging) like my ratings should adhere to some standard of objectivity, or at least to some consistent scale, but in practice they never do. And this makes any ratings history into an embarrassing record of prejudices and passing enthusiasms. Reviewing is even worse, because along with the unconsidered judgements it gives digital everfindability to my godawful pretentious prose.

The point of the Omega Library, if there is one, is that it’s a reading project by a nonreader, a book project by someone who is not bookish (except in the shallowest sense). My library is what it is because of bad stabs at status-seeking, failed aspirations, sensationalism, sentiment, inertia – everything except the love of books. I’ve tried to build a self by building a library, working from the outside in. The only way to redeem that is to run with it – to actually try to internalize these books of mine. It’s personal to the point of being slightly gross.

And that’s the reason for the blog format and the general gratuitous me-ness of this whole thing. Tracking, rating, and reviewing make it entirely about the books themselves. And it isn’t – not entirely.