Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Four questions

Hey, lookit me, I'm doing another meme-type thang. I first saw this one at Sherri's last Thursday, but I was getting over my head injury and had no time for memes. Today Brendan had a go at it. So here's my contribution:

1. Number of books I own
Damn if I know. A bunch. A whole bunch. Hundreds. Maybe a thousand or more. I never counted them.

2. The last book I bought
Last week I got Harry Mathews' brand spanking new, My Life in CIA.

3. The last book I read
I've been catching up on Paul Auster, so I've read his last three novels: Book of Illusions, Oracle Night, and Timbuktu. Right now I'm rereading his excellent Mr. Vertigo.

You can't go wrong with Paul Auster; even his less successful novels (Book of Illusions and Leviathan come to mind) are worth reading.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me
James Joyce's Ulysses changed the way I view books and the written word. No other book has had such an impact on me. I've only ever read it once, but it took a long time and it opened up a new, strange, and exciting world to me. I had no idea you were allowed to write a book like this. Suddenly I realized that I could write anyway I wanted and didn't have to be hemmed in by the dreary stuff the teachers were always shoving at us.

Junky by William S. Burroughs is basically just a straighforward account of a man's decent into heroin addiction in the 1940's. It shouldn't be great, but it is. I can't even remember how many times I've reread this book. And I can't imagine a time in my life when I wouldn't think of rereading it.

Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs by Ted Morgan is probably my favorite biography. I used to reread this book almost constantly in my early 20's. If I was bored, I'd just pull it down from the shelf, open it at random, and start reading. I remember seeing the freshly published volume in a bookstore when I had no money at all. Not being able to buy it was painful. So I started scheming for ways to scrape up some money. It was the end of the school semester, so I sold a pile of my college textbooks and headed off to buy it. I think I failed all of my exams, but I couldn't have cared less, I was in heaven. (I later became a much better student, by the way.)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett nearly did to me for plays what Ulysses did to me for novels. I even started writing plays after I read Endgame, even though up to that point in my life (I think I was seventeen) I'd had no interest in theatre at all.

Immeasurable Distances by Harry Mathews is another of those books that I read and reread until I practically wore it out. It's an essay collection by the only American member of the Oulipo. I can't really describe the contents other than to say they were on various writers (some of whome I'd never heard of), the strange methods of the Oulipo, and other seemingly mundane subjects. This book has taught me more than any other I can think of. (It's long out of print and the publisher, Lapis Press, doesn't even exist anymore. A new volume of his essays, The Case of the Persevering Maltese, contains most of Immeasurable Distances, along with some newer pieces, but strangely, doesn't excite me the way the previous volume still does.

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