Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Literary Meme

A meme from Litlove is just the ticket for today.

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Non-Fiction: Will and Ariel Durant
Fiction: Charles Dickens, followed by Dick Francis (I have no idea why - I've only read Reflex by him), J.K. Rowling, Elizabeth George and Jane Austen. I have tons of books, but really not more than 8 by any single author.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

Sadly now out of print, The Tall Book of Make-Believe (the over-loved, well worn original from early childhood, and a replacement given to me by my brother to make up for the missing pages in the original.)

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

Never use a preposition to end a sentence up with. But I really didn't notice.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Atticus Finch and Severus Snape -- the good and the dangerous.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?

Les Miserables - so often I can repeat some of it by heart. I love the story of Jean Valjean and never tire of it.

6) What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?

The Wonderful Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum. I didn't read any of the other thirteen OZ books. However, when he was a boy, my son John asked for the full set one Christmas. He's read them all.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

The Story of Edward Sawtelle. Since I don't follow Oprah, I didn't know it was an "Oprah" book until long after I read it. I hated it; everyone else loved it apparently. I did not see the analogy to Shakespearean tragedy. I thought it was boring, rambling, and sorely in need of some editing. I probably have no taste.

8 ) What is the best book you've read in the past year?

Very difficult, but The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen would be among the best, for different reasons. Water For Elephants was certainly a more enjoyable read, but I thought The Book Thief was masterful.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

I would never force, but only suggest. Water for Elephants is a wonderful tale, colorful, and very uplifting. I think most readers would find it time well-spent and they would not curse my name during or after.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

As George Bernard Shaw, himself a laureate, once said of the prize: "Only a dynamiter or a fiend could have invented it." I have heard other critics state that it has more to do with political zeal than critical judgment. I don't know enough about the process used in arriving at a selection, or the criteria involved, to form a personal opinion. I never follow who is on the short list. That said, it certainly does wonders for the winner's book sales.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

Sea of Poppies, by Amitov Ghosh. It has it all: love, sex, reversals of fortune, falls from grace, adventure (on the high seas and otherwise), and pirate jargon. If it did well at the box office, there would also be grist for sequels since it is the first of a proposed trilogy.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Part of its beguiling magic is the blending of the written word and the hand drawings. A movie would destroy that balance entirely.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I've never dreamt about any of those. Pathetically, my dreams usually revolve around work, doing the same task over and over. However, if I could choose to dream about a book or literary character, I would dream about Severus Snape snatching me up on his broomstick for a moonlight ride over Hogwarts.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

I'm not sure what is considered, "low brow," but I guess it would be Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann - in a genre of books most commonly referred to as a "pot boiler," I believe. It was a terrible book made into an even more terrible movie - a movie so bad you just have to sit there and watch it - for the sake of its sheer awfulness. I wish I could remember some of the hideous lines. It's certainly a "must see."

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

Without a doubt, The Freedom of the Will by Austen Farrer. (A volume of Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University 1956-1957). It is complex, subtle, and can take a lifetime to fully study. I was introduced to it by a philosophy professor of mine in college and pull it off the shelf once every few years to read a few paragraphs. (Yes, paragraphs.) It's really too much to sit and read through, although I did that once just to see if I could.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

Not sure how obscure they are. I guess all of them are obscure to someone. Maybe As You Like It or Cymbeline? They don't get as much attention, for instance, as Hamlet or Othello or Merchant of Venice. Shorty (my Mom) gave me a two volume set of The Complete Shakespeare, all his plays and sonnets, for Christmas when I was in college. I've read almost all of them. My favorite of his plays are A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew - obviously, I like his comedies better than the tragedies.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

When it comes to 19th century literature, I love them both. I've already professed my love for Victor Hugo. But Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) is way up there as well.

18 ) Roth or Updike?

Uh, oh. One of those embarrassing gaps mentioned in 22. However, I do have The Plot Against America by Philip Roth that I'm meaning to read.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

Gap? What gap?

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

That's very difficult. My daughter loves The Canterbury Tales, my eldest son loves Paradise Lost. Both discussed them with me when they were in high school, and they brought their enthusiasm with them. So, I have a fondness for each. Personally, I guess I'll go with Shakespeare.

21) Austen or Eliot?

That's really too difficult. I love Jane Austen, but Silas Marner was one of my favorite books. So I think it has to be a draw.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

I'm never embarrassed not to have read a particular author or genre. No one can ever be so well-read as to have covered it all. Also, since I've been out of school for many moons now, I read literature for pure pleasure, not to fill in gaps. I am an eager learner, however, and usually follow up on a recommendation if one is given to me. I am less likely to have read the more contemporary authors. My reading taste has always been more classical, especially 19th century. But I've got big gaps there as well. Since finding book bloggers, I've been lead to some wonderful authors, many contemporary, that I would otherwise have never considered reading.

23) What is your favorite novel?

I seldom have a favorite anything, but Les Miserables wins this, hands down.

24) Play?

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, for many reasons. First, Williams was expert at writing about human frailties and emotions. However, when I was a junior in college, Julie Haydon came to live on our campus as "Actress In Residence." She played Laura, the central figure of the play, in the original Broadway production and had been married to the highly acclaimed and world famous (but by then dead) drama critic, George Jean Nathan. While she was in residence, our drama group performed The Glass Menagerie in her honor. Then too old to reprise her role as Laura, she instead played Laura's mother, Amanda Wingfield - the faded, tragic Southern belle reduced to a life of despair and longing, whose husband went out on an errand one day, and failed to return home. She recites one of my favorite lines from the play as she is conversing with "the gentleman caller" explaining her abandonment. Although I can't remember it with exactness, it went something like, "My husband went to work for the phone company...and fell in love with long distance." (You've got to say it with a Southern drawl to get the full effect.) Anyway, Julie Haydon was a mysterious, beautiful figure on campus that year - always dressed in royal blue, from her hat to her shoes. One day, I ran into her on the street and asked for her autograph. Instead, out of her purse, she pulled a small card with a picture of the Blessed Virgin on one side, and a prayer on the other. "Write your name down for me, my dear." I did. She took the card from me, looked at my name, pressed it to her chest and closed her eyes. She opened them at last and said, "I shall always remember you in my prayers." She put the card in her purse, turned and walked down the street, leaving me in stunned silence.

25) Poem?

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, Robert Frost.

26) Essay?

That Damn Gap Thing!

27) Short story?

Any number of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories, and anything by Edgar Allan Poe, especially The Purloined Letter.

28) Work of nonfiction?

I don't have one favorite. I love biographies and history (seeing as I have my undergrad degree in history). I am currently reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and am enjoying it very much. Last year, I read Manhunt by James L. Swanson, and Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever (A memoir about her father John Cheever). I enjoyed them a great deal as well.

29) Who is your favourite writer?

Again, I'm not one for favorites. But I love many, including Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Wilkie Collins, Rumer Godden, Daphne DuMaurier, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe...just too many.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

I really can't answer that one. I am not familiar enough with contemporary writers. In my extremely humble and inexpert opinion, though, I would say The Story of Edward Sawtelle was the most overrated book. I hasten to add it is an opinion almost no one shares.

31) What is your desert island book?

If I'm going to be on the island for any length of time at all, I'll need more than one: I'll take Les Miserables by Victor Hugo; The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy; and the entire History of Civilization series by Will and Ariel Durant. If there's enough room on the raft, I'd throw in all the Harry Potter books - for fun.

32) And… what are you reading right now?

I'm several chapters into Team of Rivals by Goodwin. But I just started The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, and as it's a library book, I want to get it finished as soon as possible.

I am feeling a little nostalgic right now, after remembering Julie Haydon. I leave you with these lines spoken by Laura's brother in The Glass Menagerie - after he leaves home, never to return:

"I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father's footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. . . . I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. . . . I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!"


  1. Wow - great answers! You know, I have a sneaking desire to read Valley of the Dolls - I love a bit of pure trash sometimes. And I wish I'd remembered Tennessee Williams when I was thinking of playwrights. That's such a wonderful story about the actress. Oh and I also love Rumer Godden although I haven't read her in years!

  2. Litlove, I know...Valley of the Dolls is the literary equivalent of those Peeps Marshmallow chicks that come out at Easter (or, maybe you don't have those across the pond.) I read In This House Of Brede by Godden for the second time last December. She also came to our college to speak when a room in our library was dedicated to her. One day I'll write about my beautiful, old but now defunct little college. It was a wondrous place to study - but in the end poorly run.