Sandalstraps tagged me with this book meme, which I will only half take seriously. It did get me scratching my head -- damn, I'm a book person, I've spent my whole life reading and writing and the name of a book that has changed my life does not jump immediately into my head? I think books have changed my life, but just one? Certain books have changed how I think about certain things (Hobbes' Leviathan changed how I look at politics, for example), but does that change my life? When I was sixteen, I thought Nietzsche changed my life, but now I realize I didn't understand him. Besides, as I grow older I see that real change is slow and over time. Even sudden conversions as a result of a crisis aren't as unexpected as one would think -- life has been laying the tracks for them, unseen (or in the case of the good conversions, God has been calling for sometime, unheard).
I will, however, do my best.
1. One book that changed your life: This was a tough category, and I had no idea until I saw that Brian, who had also caught the meme, listed Purgatorio under a different category. I think the Divine Comedy has changed my life, though I'm not sure how. It just seems to be the summit of human achievement -- theology, spirituality, history, politics and everything else all wrapped up in the most beautiful poetry imaginable. I feel constantly drawn to it and I think Dante's encompassing vision may have had quite a bit to do with my own return to religion -- if that's true, it has changed my life, and quite a bit.
2. One book that you've read more than once: Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. This gem of a book changed my life as a poet: I saw that a poet did not have to limit himself or herself to "sensitive thoughts about feelings," but that personality and energy could make the simplest of poems electric. I have not only read this book more than once, I've bought it more than once after having lent it and never seeing it returned. One of its poems, called "Poem":
Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up
3. One book that you'd want on a desert island: Okay, I know everybody says this, but I would take the Bible. Not only would a desert island experience be a great chance for really studying scripture, but besides, the Bible has everything: poetry, adventure, revelation. Never a dull moment.
4. One book that made you laugh: Candide by Voltaire. If you haven't read it, trust me: brutal, but hilarious.
5. One book that made you cry: I had to think about this one. One book that moved me a great deal was Raymond Carver's collection of short stories, Where I'm Calling From, especially the haunting "A Good Small Thing." The part about the nuns in the South Bronx in Dom Dillo's Underworld is also beautiful.
6. One book you wish had been written: The Complete and Perfect Prosopography of Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Leon and Castile. Yeah, it doesn't sound too exciting. Still, if you were doing the work I'm doing, you'd understand.
7. One book you wish had never been written: There are books out there that represent the most hateful and dangerous ideas that have been formulated (e.g, Mein Kampf), books that represent the worst part of that sewer called contemporary American politics (Unfit for Command or anything by Ann Coulter) and books that can be classified as hate crimes against good English prose (Dan Brown). Still, to wish a book had not been written is something like destroying or burning a book. One shouldn't fight bad ideas with repression, but with good ideas. If I had to choose one, it would be the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for its dangers and its staying power.
8. One book you're currently reading: The Quest for El Cid, by Richard Fletcher. This is a wonderful book about eleventh-century Spain for non-specialists, and I would recommend to any history buff. It's well written, and Fletcher has a great gift for explaining the technical difficulties of medieval historiography in a way that is neither dry nor confusing.
9. One book you've been meaning to read: Any big scary theology tome by Karl Rahner or Paul Tillich.
10. Now tag five people: This is the hard part, since most of my blog friends have already done this. Here goes. If any of you have already bookmemed, put the link in the comments: Jeff, Crystal, Gillaume le Fou, mi primo, and Fay.
Now I'm going away for a few days. Behave yourselves.