the diary thing

BOOKS

books

06.02.05: Anthony of The Meatriarchy has tagged me as part of a kind of literary chain letter thatís been filtering through conservative blogs over the last few days. Another victim, Monte Solberg, still hasnít bothered letting us know what a Canadian Member of Parliament reads, even with a fully active blog to broadcast the news. All of the three blogs Iíve maintained over the last few years have been moribund for too long, but none as long as this particular site Ė the first thing I ever did online, back when online diaries were the blogs of their day. Whatever that means.

Iíve wanted to revive at least part of this site for months now, but time has been scarce. But Iím feeling ambitious this week, so here I go, making a commitment I probably canít keep. I doubt if Iíll be able to update this thing more than once a week, probably not even that often. So if you like what you read here, I canít promise you anything more. The best I can offer you is to go here, or here. I actually make money writing that stuff, so the motivation to produce is obvious enough.

Anyway - books. I own a few. Read all about it.

Number of books I own:

Oh Ö my. Okay Ė we moved six months ago, and then had a baby, so I havenít quite had the time to build all the bookshelves necessary to get our library out of boxes yet. And so they sit Ė around eighty boxes or so, filling up one whole hallway, still filled with the books that our friends Kathy and her boyfriend Arnie helped us pack months ago. (Thanks again, guys.)

Iíve unpacked a dozen or so boxes in my study, and filled the Ikea shelves in the dining room with the ďpretty booksĒ - our Folio editions, most of the art, photography and architecture books, basically. That would make about a hundred boxes of books. Assuming somewhere between two and three dozen books in each box, depending on size, that would make it about 3,000 books, best guess, probably more. Not including about a hundred and fifty board books and storybooks up in the girlsí room, or course.

Since weíve moved Ė and probably since almost all of my scant free time is taken up with building bookshelves Ė Iíve tried to imagine owning fewer books. Iíve been giving away books to friends and co-workers over the past few months, and being a lot more ruthless about selling anything I donít absolutely want to keep. Iím hoping that, by the time the shelves are done, enough time will have passed that Ė at least for me Ė Iíll feel a lot less sentimental about the books Iíve been carrying around for years.

My wife, I think, will be much more ruthless. I have a dream of a few dozen boxes of books to sell or give away, and something we havenít had in years Ė empty shelves, in single, not double rows, so we can see all of our books without having to pull out a front layer. No one without a massive home should own this many books, unless theyíre planning to donate it to someone, one day.

Last Book I Bought:

Anthony Blunt: His Lives, Miranda Carter: Behold the story of a traitor. I find the Cambridge Spies fascinating Ė how does privilege produce a spy? What kind of logical torture do you have to inflict on yourself to betray a system thatís placed you very nearly at the top? How can an intelligent person end up working for an tyranny, one that exaggerates the inequities they claim damn the west with an even more extreme repression? Blunt, even more than Burgess or McLean, embodies this contradiction to me Ė the fact that the system he worked to undermine protected him for so long makes his story even more compelling.

Last Book I Read:

Churchillís Hour, Michael Dobbs: The third book in a fictionalized trilogy set during the first few years of WW2 in Britain, with Churchill as the protagonist. Thanks to Nick at the Flea for the recommendation Ė I enjoyed them tremendously, the first (Winstonís War) most of all. Dobbs was in Thatcherís cabinet, so he has a pretty decent feel for Westminster. If you need to be reminded of just how close we came to losing that war, this is as good a place to start as any, provided your next stop is John Lukacsí Five Days In London: May 1940.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy: Iíve been re-reading this every four or five years since I bought it, just after I left college. Itís a book about an aimless man, which is why it sometimes seems like an aimless book Ė Binx Bolling (whoíd write a name like this today?) is pushing back the onset of adulthood as far as he can, leaning back into the cushion that his very comfortably middle-class New Orleans family can provide.

Looking back, what attracted me to the book was a combination of identification and wishful thinking; I was committed to delaying responsibility as far as possible into a future that, frankly, didnít promise much. I didnít have the cushion of family and money, though, no matter how much I tried to imitate Binxís style Ė I still find something terribly appealing about the whole American post-war period today.

I canít help but wonder if my identification with characters like Binx wasnít a self-fulfilling prophecy Ė that if Iíd just chosen my fictional heroes a bit differently, I might not have drifted so painfully through the whole of my twenties and half of my thirties, only really getting on with my life when it was probably nearly halfway over.

It was the title that grabbed me, I think Ė evoking a life spent watching, at a distance, doing your level best to take in life in small, carefully examined increments, maintaining the illusion of control. If Iím honest with myself, though, itís hard not to admit that it was probably as much as I was capable of at the time. Itís amazing to me, and a bit shaming, to realize how long I spent with my emotional training wheels.

The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa: Saw the movie first, then read the book. When I was young, I was impressed by its epic qualities Ė now Iím almost overwhelmed by the sense of decay and sadness. Lampedusa, a Sicilian aristocrat, wrote about the end of the world of his father and grandfather with a sense of inevitability that only comes from living squarely in the aftermath. The Leopard feels more like history than most history books.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh: Another book I revisit every few years. Itís amazing how well Waugh depicts the strange status of English Catholics Ė they werenít the ones who made a break with their countryís heritage, yet theyíve become something very like foreigners in their own country. While we watch the slow self-implosion of the Church Of England, this book gives a glimpse at one small facet of that collapse, captured in time decades ago.

Intellectuals, Paul Johnson: There was a time when I needed to hear that the people I admired Ė or rather, the people Iíd been told to admire Ė had feet of clay. When you grow up looking at culture and intellectual life like something behind a thick pane of glass Ė a party in a well-lit room from which youíve been somehow been excluded Ė itís hard to develop the habit of skepticism.

Johnsonís polemical book has been called a lot of things; Christopher Hitchens called it ďfoul-mindedĒ and ďdisgracefulĒ back when he was still a fully-paid up member of the left. I doubt if heís changed his mind, though, in spite of whatever sea change has overtaken him (and all of us) over the last few years. It might not be Johnsonís best work Ė or even a particularly responsible piece of history Ė but it served the purpose of shaking me away from the political and cultural moorings to which Iíd been tethered for too many years.

Englandís Dreaming, John Savage: I suppose Legs McNeilís Please Kill Me would do as well, but itís Savageís book that I come back to again and again, the only book about punk thatís actually as smart as we all fancied we were, back when rebellion still felt like something an adult could do. Punk was my cultural moment, and while I was too young to participate in the first wave of punk as much more than a spotty spectator, saving up to buy records with money I earned caddying at the local golf course, it is still and will always be the high ground from which Iíll survey culture and history.

Iím happy to be an old punk; I couldnít help but smile the other day when my 2-year-old daughter started bopping along to a Lurkers track while sitting on my lap in front of the computer. Still, I wonder what her rebellion will be like, and whether Iíll be shocked, or merely judge it poorly compared to my own Ė I still donít know which would be more tiresome.

And in keeping with the game, I nominate:

John Scalzi
James Lileks
Jim Treacher
Joey De Villa
Phil Dellio

...and one more besides:
Marzi

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