the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Snowbound

Snowbound, chatty, and tipsy, actually. Is it bad form to blog blotto? But I had no less than three separate parties cancel tonight.

I can't think of any law related topics today. I was writing a drunken list of all the books that significantly altered my life. Not because they were written so well, but because they seemed to highlight a turning point (or cause one) in my non-reading self. There are many respectable books out there: Absolom, Absolom (Faulkner), Don Juan (Byron), The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter) etc., etc., , but I get tired of people making Greatest Books In the World Lists. I'd like to say that Infinite Jest or Confederacy of Dunces changed my life, but they didn't. I loved Confederacy, couldn't get through Infinite, but they didn't change my life.

The list is weird. Witness:

Shakespeare's Stories: A kid's book with the summaries of Shakespeare's most famous tales. Discovered in elementary school library. Thought it was just another book with princesses and princes and dukes and magicians and cool stuff like that. But anyone who heard the title was so mysteriously impressed, so I decided to investigate this Shakespearean character. So it's the kid's book, not the plays, that change my life. Thank God it was illustrated, something that the adult versions sucked at.

Bohemian: Glamourous Outcasts: Just discovered this book a few months ago. The unconventional lives of artists makes mine seem so ordinary. Sometimes I like that.

Opus Pistorium: The King of All Dirty Books, discovered in college library. Ruined me for all porn and became the subject of a fictitious essay for nerve.com. I’d always dismissed Henry Miller as a misogynist—but what a misogynist! All fire and brimstone.

Franny & Zooey: I liked Catcher in the Rye, but Franny & Zooey was my bible. It talked about God, and meaning, and trying to find it in the preppie, chic, Upper East Side, intellectual, sweater-girl, co-ed, New England, All-American culture. It was pop culture, but inside were the simplest, purest comments on art and spirituality and the search for wisdom.

Raymond Chandler, canon. I loved his tough guy. I loved his poetry. I loved the nostalgic world he lived in. I loved the romance. And in the worst parts of my life, I would read every one of his his books on the treadmill, dreading when I would reach the last one. He encapsulated everything I love about old movies and earlier eras--and men.

P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster series. Less about the plot and more about the beautiful craft and comedy so bubbly, so light and frothy and frivolous as air itself. The ultimate in escapism. Like getting tipsy and never coming down.

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook. I was amazed to find out at the tender age of 9, that there were others who actually pretended to live in a fantasy world—and made a million bucks out of the fact that others wanted to do the same. My parents heard about some kid killing himself and wouldn’t buy me the books. I got them anyway. Why do kids read so much science fiction and fantasy, and we adults grow out of it?

Princess Daisy: Discovered at my violin teacher's house while she was tuning my strings. Filled with the most baroque, luscious, ridiculously detailed descriptions—of characters, of places, of outfits. Like Vogue, 1979. It made me start imagining what it would be like to live in the big city.

Arranged Marriage. The first time I ever read an Indian author writing about Indians. After a while, I saw the flaws in her writing –all her men were almost uniformly bastards or dead, and it was all about the unhappiness of the Indian women and the uselessness of Indian men. I started to see flaws in the writing style a bit later and now I don’t read it much. It was the first book about Indian-Americans—I'd never thought we were good sources for literature before.

Lolita. The first time that I was able to really dig into this book was after it bored the hell out of me in school. When I read it, and reveled in the prose, and read it in class, it was the first time that I really studied anything modern, something that the trendy intellectuals liked. I would revisit it and learn every line in it eventually. It was a pure love of words.

Edgar Allen Poe, Abridged Illustrated Children's Treasury. The stories of Edgar Allan Poe in an abridged, pocket-sized treasury version with writing on one side and picture on the other. I must not have read that many words, but this book scared the bejeezus out of me to the point where I actually vomited out of fear in the middle of the night. I dreamt of people standing in my room, waiting for me to sleep so they could kill me. I dreamt of women clawing their way out of coffins and roaming into the halls with the sole purpose of tearing someone’s throat out. In short, it made me a big chicken and I still hide under the covers when I see a really scary movie (I can’t even watch The Shining).

D'Auliere’s Book of Greek Mythology. There would be better ones, with better illustrations and more details, but this is what got me obsessed with Greek mythology and the idea that there could be pantheons of really cool gods and adventures and a form of fairy tales that adults actuallyseemed to respect.

Dancing Wu Li Masters: A book which told me that philosophy, religion and science all met at some bizarro land called Quantum Physics. Science as nihilism, yet strangely optimistic. Mind-bending. Might be fun to read at this moment, actually.

And so forth. What does it mean? I'm worried about something Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) said--that we never love books the same way as we did when we were kids, and the books we loved as kids get into our system for good. That list is populated with books I discovered before the age of 10.

There's got to be more out there, I think...



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