a little east of reality

Thursday, June 02, 2005

tagged: books

This is a little blog thing making its way around lately. Thanks bk for tagging me.

1. Estimate the total # of books you've owned in your life

This is such a hard question. I would have guessed in the 100s, maybe 800, but I have a suspician it's actually more than that. When I was a kid and had the time and energy to read voraciously I was mostly getting my books from the library. When I started work, I went through a phase of buying books, but I read them too quickly and it became a very expensive habit. I started making myself stick to one chapter a night, no matter how exciting the book was, just to stretch things out. It was hard to do, but it made the books more meaningful.

In Japan some friends and I formed a book club. We would get together once a month for a meal and bring books to pass around the group. English language books were expensive to get there, so this really helped us get more books to read. I also read a lot of books I would never have bought, and found some great ones amongst them. I think I read my first Amy Tan book through book club. That was also the first time I heard of the Harry Potter series. There was a book floating around for ages called I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, but I never got the chance to read it. (One day.) Apparently it was hilarious. It certainly was in high demand. When two or more people wanted the same book we settled it Japanese style, with janken. I never could seem to win that book.

Now I buy my books mostly secondhand from this great store called Canty's. I scoot over to the other side of town once a month or so to spend too much money there. They know their stock and are wall to wall books - so much so they are doubling their premises soon. A couple of photos are below this post.

2. Name the last book you bought.
The last book I bought was Jamie Boud's Envy The Rain. I'm still waiting for it to arrive, but this is the prologue. Jamie is the guy who writes The Known Universe, one of the blogs on my links list in the sidebar. His way of describing people, conversations (and his photographic eye) are the reasons I read that blog every day. A book is not a blog, but if you read a few of his posts (skip down past all the guff at the top about the book to the day-to-day stories) I think you'll agree that he writes in a concise, clean style, free of superfluous detail - unusual in blogs. I'll update once I've actually read the book, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to enjoy it.

3. Name the last book you read.
I just did that here.

4. List 5 books that mean a lot to you.
Most of these changed the way I think, or at least helped me understand the world and myself with more clarity.
I first read this at 15 and I think it really helped to articulate what became my sense of justice and of what fair treatment and compassion is really about - understanding people and not being afraid of those who are different. Apart from the social statement, the writing is wonderful and the characters better.
Grapes of Wrath, Jon Steinbeck
Similarly this book changed the way I saw the world. It was the first time I truly understood that in the world of true capitalist practice, people are merely resources to be gotten as cheaply as possible with no regard for their happiness or health. It was the first time I really understood that the people who tout unfettered market forces as the way to alleviate poverty are purely and simply liars or fools. It was a hard book to read, though brilliantly written, and I cried all the way through. The scene where they tip the excess oranges into the river upset me so much I had to stop reading it for a while. It was so hard to read that its message of hope regarding the resilience of the human spirit was almost lost on me.
Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk
I used to mull things over a lot. Then I studied political philosophy and kind of overloaded on profundity. It didn't help that I was writing my honours thesis around that time. After that I took a break from books that challenged me - until I found Palahniuk. His stories are stark, brutally honest and unapologetic - and I had no choice but to become excited again by the ideas that form the basis of how our societies function (or don't). I had seen Fight Club and really admired how he was able to thread philosophical ideas from people like Kirkegaard into stories that were so immediate and anything but academic. Lullaby explores all kinds of themes - how we deal with noise, the way that we tend to trivialise the sacred things of ancient cultures, how people deal with power. I loved the fact that his writing is so different to my own and what that taught me about powerful writing. I love that his characters immediately did what I would never have had them do.
Korten spent 30 years working in development aid in what used to be called Third World countries before realising that the system was not helping, but rather increasing the disparity of wealth in these countries. Now he is an activist of sorts seeking substantial change to our economic system and an advocate for new, less destructive and more people-oriented ways of living. If I won the lottery tomorrow and could quit my job and do anything I wanted, I would go do an internship with Korten's Yes! magazine.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey
The only self-help book I've ever bought for or recommended to other people. This is a book I read again every few years. The seven principles are so inherently sound that I've never met anyone I didn't think could benefit from reading this book.
Honourable mention to:
This is my favourite picture book, and I've read it out loud so many times to so many children that I now associate it with a myriad of good memories. The illustrations are wonderful, perfect for a story that makes me laugh out loud every time. With all the serious books above, I also really needed to include one that means a lot to me simply because it's delightful. And we all need some delight.

5. Tag 5 people.
This is a challenge because I'm a new blogger and don't have so many blogworld contacts. (I often wonder how many of my friends have a blog that I'm not aware of.) If anyone would like to be tagged and tell us something about the books they read, just leave a comment.