Sunday, November 09, 2008

Books! (A quiz)

Here's another quiz, that I found a few weeks ago at Sheila O'Malley's place. It's about books. I'm writing this a few weeks before my return from posting, so a couple of answers may technically be inaccurate by the time this sees the light of Blogistan, but here we go!

What was the last book you bought?

On my birthday I treated myself to two items at Borders: this year's edition of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, and an Everyman's Library edition of the writings of Kahlil Gibran, a man whose writings have intermittently fascinated me over the last year or two, to the superficial degree that I've explored him at all. (Which is why I bought the book.)

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series is an invaluable resource for anyone at all with any interest whatsoever in those genres. Not only are the books packed with amazing fiction, but the introductory essays, summing up the preceding year in those genres, are extremely good sources of reading suggestions. Even better are the essays on music, film and TV, and comics; if you want to know some great comics to read, just follow the suggestions in these essays. I'm glad to report that one graphic novel I read in 2008, Bryan Talbot's stunning Alice in Sunderland, made the list.

Name a book you have read MORE than once

I don't do a whole lot of re-reading of books in their entirety, but I do enjoy dipping into books again on a frequent basis. But there are some that I've re-read, and some of those I re-read fairly regularly. I read the following every three or four years:

The Lord of the Rings, JRRT (I'm due, actually; maybe this winter)
The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay (Another year, maybe.)
The Lions of Al-Rassan, GGK (my favorite GGK novel, by a good margin)
The Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander (Currently reading with The Daughter at bedtime; as of this writing, we have only two of the five books to go)
Quite a few of John Bellairs's books. Why none of these have been made into movies is beyond me; I should think that The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Curse of the Blue Figurine, and The Treasure of Alpheus T. Winterborn would make terrific movies.
Cosmos, Carl Sagan.
On Writing, Stephen King
The Griffin and Sabine sequence (both trilogies), Nick Bantock. I gave this whole set to my best friend a year ago. I love the execution of this series.

There are a number of books I intend to read again sometime, hopefully soon: Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends; Mary Stuart's King Arthur quartet; all of GGK's novels that I haven't recently re-read (A Song for Arbonne, The Sarantine Mosaic) and the ones I haven't re-read at all (The Last Light of the Sun, Ysabel).

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Hmmmm...interesting question. Books don't usually change my thinking as I read them; they take some time to work on me and to shift my soul about. In my college days, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and its sequel Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, by Robert Pirsig, made quite the impression, although I think about them less and less as time goes on. I re-read Zen a few years ago, and I remember noticing this time how whenever Pirsig reaches a really interesting, but potentially troublesome, spot in his philosophical meditations, he uses the fact that he's writing in novel form to simply stop the philosophy and return to narrative.

I do recall that my own personal liberalism was faltering a bit back in 2002, only to have it strongly resuscitated when I read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

I do all of these. They always say you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can sure judge if you want to buy it by its cover; that's what browsing the bookstore is all about. Choosing a book is like trying it on for size, you know? I love good cover art, and it's more likely to make me pick up a book to look at it.

Recommendations and reviews also go a long way. There are lots of authors I wouldn't have ever experienced had I not received recommendations for them. That, to me, is the best part of reading blogs: constant reading recommendations!

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Either. I'll usually have one of each going at the same time, in fact. However, I tend to be a lot less rigorous about finishing non-fiction books that I am with novels; I tend to feel guiltier about not finishing a novel than I do about a non-fiction book. (Unless the novel is just dreck, in which case I generally give up pretty early on.) With non-fiction I'm a lot more willing to read until my attention for the book wanders, and then I skip through the rest of it, getting a general gist of things. I don't really read non-fiction out of a need for research; I read non-fiction as a way of stoking my creative fires and giving my curious self something to do. I read fiction to satisfy my need for story.

What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

Writing, I think. Beautiful writing will keep me going through a book that may not even have a "plot" in the usual sense. I couldn't describe the "plot" of The Lions of Al-Rassan in any useful way, for example. But the writing propels me forward. "Beautiful writing" isn't just about description, though, or artfully-turned paragraphs; I consider things like the overall motion of a story to fall under that category as well.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)

As usual with questions like this in quiz-things, I'm answering with a list:

Taran of Caer Dallben, Princess Eilonwy, and Fflewdur Fflam (The Prydain Chronicles)
Lewis Barnavelt, Uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman (The House with a Clock in its Walls, and sequels)
Johnny van Dixon, Professor Childermass (The Curse of the Blue Figurine and sequels)
Diarmuid dan Ailell, The Fionavar Tapestry
Jehane bet Ishak, Ammar ibn Khairan, Rodrigo Belmonte, The Lions of Al-Rassan
Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings
David Bowman, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath
Tyrion, A Song of Ice and Fire

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

As of this writing, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; Hollywood by Garson Kanin; The Arrival by Shaun Tan; the Flight series of comics anthologies; The Complete Correspondence of Robert and Clara Schumann; and The Daughter and I are reading Silver on the Tree, the final volume in the Dark is Rising sequence.

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

Before this writing, Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. I loved it. Also The Bookhunter, a graphic novel I'll post about soon.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

All the time. Life's too short. I rarely decide that I hated a book, though, when I give up on it; my typical way of referring to the act of book-abandonment is to say that I "bounced off" the book. Whenever I decide that I'm just not invested enough in a book to keep going, I almost never decide it's because I hated the book but rather than it's either simply not my cup of tea, or maybe it is my cup of tea but I just wasn't much in the mood for that particular tea. I've bounced off lots of books over the years; some of which I've come back to finish later, others I've not come back to yet. Some I've even stopped reading not for any reason relating to the quality of the book, but because life circumstances intruded. My best example of this is Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song for Arbonne, which is the first GGK book I ever started. I found it at the Olean Public library when I lived there, and was struck by its cover; I checked it out and read a chapter or two. But a trip and some work stuff reared their heads and interrupted my reading; then the book was due so I let it go back to the library but mentally bookmarked GGK as an author to return to. (I eventually did, of course, when I read Tigana. Arbonne would be the third GGK I would finish.)

I've also started but failed to finish The Brothers Karamazov a whole bunch of times. I'm probably due for another attempt. For me, that book is like Everest and every time I set out from Base Camp, a big storm comes along and buries me in snow and by the time I dig my way out climbing season's over. Someday, though, I'm gonna reach the summit of that book. And then I'm gonna come back down. Oh yeah.

Books I abandoned because I simply hated them? Hmmmm. There's The Celestine Prophecy, which I hoped would be an Indiana Jones type of adventure (with its cover copy referring to ancient Peruvian manuscripts and the like), but instead it was mystical hogwash, complete crap. And I was really underwhelmed with Stephen King's Dreamcatcher; I like King a lot, but I doubt very much I'll ever bother returning to that one.

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