Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I Accept The Challenge

I don't care for the music memes passed around so often between blogs (I think they are cheap tool to fight writer's block with; they also are seized by people who wish to sound hip but probably aren't), but a "favorite books" meme.. well, I'll do that.

The proprietor of the excellent Hobson's Choice didn't pass this to me, but I'll attempt it anyway.

Number of Books I Own:

1700 or so, which I hope to add to this weekend at the library sale. I stopped buying cds in, oh, 1998; the music industry will not get much more of my money. I don't buy many dvds, but that's mostly because that's my roommate's passion. I am a warfare-minded consumer, and so rarely buy new clothes; in fact, I try to buy "used" in nearly everything -- appliances, electronics, furniture. So, whatever extra money I have, which is never much, I spend on books. Sadly, I dont keep up with reading like I should (goddamn computer).

Last Book I Bought:

The Political Economy of Slavery by Eugene Genovese, on the advice of my friend JC in DC. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but so far it's a fine Marxist analysis.

Last Book Read:

As opposed to what I last plundered, which is a different thing, the last I read straight through was The Pursuit of the Presidency 1980 by the Washington Post crew of, mostly, fucktards.

Seven Books That Meant A Lot To Me:

I couldn't do this justice with non-fiction criteria, so I'll stick with fiction minus poetry and plays. The following are not in order of importance.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo: I read this at exactly the right age, as an angry teen. It taught not so much a lesson in revenge so much as one in resolve. Plus, it was an awesome adventure. It's very much a novel for youth -- male youth. With intelligence, determination, and a very-attuned sense of justice, it is possible, at least in theory, to avenge yourself on those who have wronged you without it eating your soul up in the process. Character matters. I particularly like how Dantes did not take back Mercedes in the end.

2. Brave New World: My favorite dystopian novel, and the only one of the classics (We, Anthem, 1984, Animal Farm) whose target still exists and so whose point is still relevant. It is the ultimate indictment of consumerism, hedonism, and technophilia/technocracy. In a world that is losing all of its cultural diversity, its poetry-of-life, its ability to say "stop" in the face of what is marketed as technological "progress", the book, when read by the young, innoculates them against modern stupidity, yet it is not reactionary in the Archie Bunker/Republican sense of the term. It is a weapon to be used against globalists, social darwinists, and those who place a higher regard on "efficiency" rather than on humanity.

3. Candide: So very funny. From it, I learned that "crushing the infamous" is quite enough. The classic rap against Candide is that it offers no alternate recommendations to replace the ideologies and beliefs and value-systems it righteously trashes. This is first, wrong, and second, irrelevant. The character of Dr Pangloss, it's true, shows what fools eternal optimists are. But more than that, it shows what fools ideologues and fanatics are. Despite evidence upon evidence, Pangloss ignores or bends all to cling and conform to his retarded beliefs. Voltaire did not need to offer an opposing ideology which would account for the book's events. He did not need to replace what he destroyed: it was a service enough to destroy or expose what was stupid. But he went beyond that anyway. In the end, Candide settles down to "till his garden". This is not a throwaway line or an endorsement of ascetism or isolation, but rather a small recommendation to "work" at the local level, to do what you can with what you can muster, to be "involved" but not join the latest damn-fool mass movement.

4. Julian: Vidal's masterpiece, I always thought, and I was pleased but not surprised that Hitchens thought the same thing. For anyone who loves reading of the classical world (and I was a boy who stole my school library's copy of Plutarch's Lives to read and re-read the character sketches/mini-biographies -- of Alcibiades and Alexander in particular), this novel is most affecting. At the end of Julian's reign, the classic world was snuffed out and superstition and sectarianism were re-born in the most ugly way; one sees the Dark Ages coming. The end's incredibly powerful; I shed tears at the blind old teacher Libanius's epiphany, when he realised that his world was dead, as he heard its epitaph spoken gleefully in his own student -- stolen by Christianity -- John Chrysostom's speech. This, after one had just read of the nature of Julian's demise, it's too much to bear. The novel's in the form of correspondence between Libanius and Priscus, two of the late Emperor's teachers. Priscus is Vidal: cold wit, funny, gossipy, stoic. Libanius is sincere but a realist, not sappy. But he is hopeful. Until the almost the very end.

5. Foucault's Pendulum: Some people will go to any length to believe anything. I'm someone who believes in what I guess could be called "structural conspiracies". Also, I believe that Oswald didn't act alone, James Earl Ray probably was part of a conspiracy, and I even believe that Richard Nixon's goons may have had something to do with George Wallace's shooting. All that said, UFO conspiracies and secret society conspiracies are, to me, laughable propositions. Eco's novel shows how people, specifically people with too much time on their hands, cling to conspiracy theories to the point of homocide. Even conspiracies which are invented, on a lark, by other groups of people with too much time on their hands.

6. The Illiad and The Odyssey: Not novels, of course, but then they don't read in English like the poems that they are. For a red-blooded American boy who loved Harryhausen movies, the monsters in the Odyssey loom in the imagination. As an adolescent, I admired the ingenuity of the Acheans and of Odysseus. When I first read the Illiad, I thought Achilles was the hugest prick; all my sympathy was with Hektor. I still think Hektor is the most sympathetic character in most ways, but now I see Achilles as a victim of his passions and gifts, admire him for his reluctance to serve at the need of the state, but empathise with his wrath. I have a temper problem, exacerbated by a world that is totally without justice. Everything's wrong, therefore everything is outrageous. But moreover, I admire Achilles in that the cause of his wrath was just. The interests of the powerful -- the state, the king, the tribe, the gods -- aren't enough to compell a man to fight. But the death of a friend or lover (in the case of Achilles and Patrolcus, both) is quite enough indeed. The lesson of the Odyssey is that hubris kills. That's useful to know.

7. The Sherlock Holmes Stories: Reason and Ethics can defeat the forces of amorality and superstition.

Passing this on:

digamma and Answer Guy, if they want it. Actually, I might do digamma's for him if I'm later so inclined. Muahahahah