a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Book Meme

So this fill-out form, which has been skulking about the blogosphere, has finally made its way to my corner. Here goes:

1. Total number of books I've owned.

A total guess, but it's probably around 800-900. I still live with 300 or so, but have been shaving off the number over my two-and-a-half-decades. Which reminds me, must dig out those old Narnia books.

2. Last book I bought.

Geez, it's really been awhile since I went book-hunting. I believe it was Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, though that fell around the same time I snatched up Movie Man by David Thomson, Religion and Science by Bertrand Russell, Ever Since Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould, and Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, so who knows which bundle came first. If that number for whatever reason impresses you, know that was well over a month ago. I'm due a Bookhaven trip.

3. Last book I read.

My reading habits have become embarrassing over the last several years. I used to be a literal bookworm, but my habits died somewhere around senior year in college, and never quite relapsed. Nowadays, I fall into reading spells, burning through a handful of books, and then getting distracted and not reading for anywhere from a couple weeks to (ye gods) a couple months. In any case, the last book was the aforementioned Religion and Science, my introduction to Bertrand Russell. This one isn't, as you'd guess, an all-out assault on organized religion, but a shot-by-shot account of the blockades that engulfed Copernicus, Galileo, et al., and science may frequently lose its battles but always wins the war. Makes me feel oodles better about the Intelligent Design debacle, even if I may not be around to witness its inevitable demise.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me.

Assuming this isn't a "favorites" list...

* Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My canonical entry for the list, Heller's absurdist smorgasboard took me months to finish, probably because I was poring laboriously over every rich sentence. Even moreso than its anti-war messages or even if it's neverending absurdist gifts, what really stuck with me was the Altmanesque spread (though I wouldn't have called it that at 18). Every character is fully-realized with their own brilliantly dreampt-up quandary, to say nothing of the dizzying ways with which Heller interlocks their wanderings. I even mostly like the much-loathed 1970 Mike Nichols movie, which plays like a pretty kick-ass Greatest Hits comp.

* The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
I read this famed evolution low-down in November, which makes this the newest addition, but I can't deny a hierarchial spot to the book that led to me making the small sidestep into all-out atheism. That's a common response -- I read it after a plug from Steven Soderbergh, who said the same thing -- but don't think of Dawkins' book as all blasphemy all the time. Apart from being frequently hilarious and endlessly informative -- his chapter on the eye is one of the best reads in memory -- it breaks down the "irredicably complex" argument rather neatly, showing, among other things, that complexity is hardly the dead-give-away folks like Michael Behe make it out to be. It's also quite the gateway book, sending me on the hunt for everyone from Dawkins colleagues Gould and Dennett to mathematician (and, heh, former teacher of mine in college) Paulos and godless philosopher Russell.

* The Witches by Roald Dahl
Probably the reason for my skeptical bent (strange, that, since it's about friggin' witches), Dahl's typically nasty kiddie opus is one of those books I vividly remember reading. Or not reading, per se: my fourth grade teacher read it to my class. I'm sure I had traces of worldly suspicion prior to these sessions, but this made them blossom: it was as though all the things I trusted, particularly w/r/t anything adult-oriented, were being turned topsy-turvy. I even recall staring at my teacher's feet, seeing if she, like the hags of the book, had block feet. Plus it taught me my most cherished lesson: don't take snakes from strange women. Not the author's best (his short story Skin is among literature's creepiest), but the one that made me a life-long Dahl convert.

*The Dream Life: Movies, Media and the Mythology of the Sixties by J. Hoberman
Just out in paperback! I wanted to put a movie book on here, but even Thomson's Biographical Dictionary or Pauline Kael's numerous collections didn't have the definitive impact Hoberman's chronicle did. It wasn't that I hadn't been mindful of history, both cinematic and, um, actual, before. It just allowed my interest to take on a more concrete form -- and, embarrassingly, it extended to current politics, which I had been slightly indifferent to previously. The climax of the book (in the penultimate chapter, not the one about the aftermath) actually got me all misty. QED!

*Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I read this published screenplay in paperback before I saw the movie and a book's a book, yes? I was 15, if my math's correct, when the movie came out, and with few friends and no driver's license (not to mention parents who, it was safe to say, weren't up for a movie where Ving Rhames gets rammed), it was tough to go see the film in the theaters. On a whim, I got the script. I must have read it 50, maybe even more, times before it came out on video (this was like six months later), at which point I was constantly pointing out all the differences from script-to-screen that I viewed as mistakes. More importantly, it turned me into a hardcore cinephile, and I had found my lifelong cause. In a way, had my PF experience been orthodox, I wouldn't be where I am now -- for better and for worse.

I'm supposed to pick five people to assign this to. But I think this is in the last throes, and I honestly don't know too many people with blogs. I don't think I can come up with five, but right now: get crackin' Jer, Doug, Ryan, and my newest link, Marisa.


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