Ten-Or-So Books Of Fundamental Importance

There’s a lot of stuff kicking around in my head at the moment, and I’ve been feeling not-Internet-y for the last few days, which is pretty odd for me. In the meantime, though, I think I’ll talk about books. An age ago Kate posted a list of books that questioned her assumptions – I’ve been trying to compile the same, but without much luck. Instead, here’s my list of Ten-Or-So Books Of Fundamental Importance (in no particular order):

1. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
I first read The End of the Affair during rainy May 2000, having just returned from London. This is the book I wish I could write. Greene’s argument for faith, concealed within and behind a love affair, is the most transparent and wonderful I’ve ever read. This book, like Galatea, got and continues to get under my skin for many reasons, not the least of which because I find it echoed in the rhythm of my own writing and thought and emotion.
2. Galatea 2.2 – Richard Powers
I first read Galatea in the waning days of August 2003, just as things were going to hell in my personal life. It just – it slayed me. The double helix storylines – the scientific challenge to create understanding and the personal quest to understand and find – I return to it again and again and each read unlocks something new.
3. The Hours – Michael Cunningham
I first read The Hours on a sunny day by the river near Wausau as my lover and I waited for our clothes to dry after an impromptu swim. I fell quietly and hopelessly in love with Virginia Woolf on that July afternoon, my previous crush turning into a full-fledged love affair. Cunningham’s homage to Mrs. Dalloway is lyrical, lush, challenging, and emotional. The film was fine, but the novel is far more rewarding.
4. Microserfs – Douglas Coupland
When asked, I always list Microserfs as my favorite book of all time. I read it for the first time when I was 17 – no, 16? – on the recommendation of a coworker. I have continued to read it at least annually for the last nine years, and it is one of the few books that has continued to grow with me. While the subject matter will be dated all too soon, Coupland’s simple and heartbreaking observations on what it means to be human are spot on. And it has Legos on the cover.
5. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist was given to me for Christmas by my uncle and devoured during a snowstorm in the early days of 1999. The narrative is simple and charming, but this slight book packs a punch if you’re willing to accept the fable. This book marked the beginning of an obsession with Coelho, reawakened recently by a friend’s completion of the pilgrimage.
6. Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
I read Jitterbug Perfume in the wee hours of the morning, July 1997, while on a youth group trip to DC. I have a hard time picking a favorite Tom Robbins novel because they are all (OK, most) packed chock full of adventure and randomness and mysticism and bizarrely esoteric subplots. My two copies of this novel have disappeared into the ether. If Tom Robbins showed up at my door, I would run away with him. Yes.
7. Blankets – Craig Thompson
Blankets forever changed my perception of graphic novels. I read it the first weekend of June 2004, during another period of uncertainty and emotional upheaval. My sister read it the same weekend, and we were both slayed. Thompson’s sensitive memoir could be, at times, the childhood of anyone I knew growing up or know now – the struggle to find your place, the first gasp of real love, the questions of faith that seem so easy until you really question them.
8. A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Reading A Moveable Feast a few days before my departure to London, January 2000, marked the beginning of so much of what constitutes my aesthetics as an adult – and, of perhaps equal importance, my desperate love affair with Paris. Food and wine and art and personality and travel – I was smitten. It remains by far my favorite Hemingway.
9. Two-Part Invention – Madeleine L’Engle
Read during what would be the only winter of my marriage, Two-Part Invention struck me as a profound example of what a relationship should be. L’Engle writes lyrically, powerfully, simply about her marriage, her youth, her dreams, her faith, and the man she loved and lost to cancer in 1987.
10. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Like Galatea, like The End of the Affair, like The Hours, I find The English Patient echoed in the rhythms of my thought, my speech, my emotion, my prose. Unlike the rest of this list, I can’t remember when I first read this novel, though I suspect it was in late 1999 after being sucked into the film one lazy Saturday afternoon with my roommates. The film and the novel marked the beginning of my obsession with the desert, though that may date back to The Alchemist a year before. Ondaatje’s prose is breathtaking. That is all.

I just feel – weird these days. I dunno. Maybe it’s Paxil withdrawal. Maybe it’s too much randomness. Maybe it’s the transition back into the school lifestyle. I feel – restless a lot, and uncertain, and a little disconnected from the whole thing. Maybe it’s reading Galatea again, which has had me crying at the bus stop more than once. It’s like everything and nothing have changed. My friend Neil likes to sometimes withdraw completely from other people – I’m starting to see the merits of that lifestyle choice. I’m not depressed – no, nothing like that – just, out of sorts. *shrugs*

A third post about me from someone I don’t know offline in a week. That’s hella random. Ada wrote about privacy, about discretion while blogging. Philip wrote about his divorce after reading about mine. And Shawn’s friend Jen wrote about my relationship with him, and how she perceives it based on what we’ve written in our blogs. I don’t really know what to say. The internet is such a weird and sometimes-wonderful place. Some of the things that were said make me ache – and others, I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Tonight, though, I felt very much like a little girl in love (or not-so-little). The party was a lot of fun – many many people I didn’t know, and a few I did. Kevin was leaving as we arrived, so I got to officially meet him for half a second. I came in nearly last in the Oscar pool (damned going with my heart), got a little choked up during Eugene Levy & Catharine O’Hara’s performance, and remembered (again and again) why I only have eyes for Shawn. He held my hand as we walked home in the rain, and my heart was caught up in another walk, another rain, another time lost in conversation and silence, in the pressure of one hand against another. Will it always be this vivid?

Finally finished Susan Minot’s Evening, which I’ve been meaning to get around to since I picked it up in proofs in 1999. There were parts that were ehh, especially at the beginning, which put me off because I had so looked forward to this book. But some parts just got under my skin in the same way Galatea 2.2 did this summer. I may have to post an excerpt at some point.

But now it’s after midnight and I have to work in eight hours – but I’m not tired. I suppose I should make an attempt at sleep – somehow insomnia’s not as much fun without a late night enabler on the phone or lying next to you.

a new life

I suppose this isn’t the best venue to make this announcement, but other people already have. Nate and I have separated. I’m living with Jen and Cassie until I can find an apartment. My plan at the moment is to move to Champaign and start over. We have hardly begun to tell people – I haven’t even told my family. They knew I’ve been staying with Jen and that things have been rocky – but they don’t know that I’m not going home. So if you’re reading this, please don’t go out and call my mom. There’s been a lot going on. I’m tired and just wanting to get on with my life. I love him but I can’t go home. It’s like after years of searching, life has found me and I can’t turn my back on it this time. How to explain?
On the bright side, I finally finished Galatea 2.2 and am almost done with Letters to a Young Poet, which is absolutely awesome and is touching me in so many ways.


Our housewarming party is tomorrow. I’m not sure I’m ready for the hubbub of lots of company – but I’m looking forward to seeing many many of my friends.
Galatea 2.2 is really, really wonderful. Shawn warned me that it would get under my skin, that it would get in my bones. I wasn’t sure what he meant at first – and then I started really reading. Some of it sounds so much like me – like my writing style – like the way I think – that I feel like I’ve been enveloped by the story, by the ideas. It’s strange to feel totally a part of yet detached from a story. I want to put everything on hold until I can finish; unfortunately that’s not an option.
A fortune: “Art is the accomplice of love.”
Five questions for Newman, who is as I type this on her way to mi casa:
1. What’s the difference between ‘theater’ and ‘theatre’?
2. Write a haiku about Tom Jones.
3. What’s your favorite memory of me?
4. Why do you act?
5. What do you want out of life?

An interview from Mary J. I’m an interview whore:
1. What is one thing you really, really wanted for bday/xmas that you never received?
I really, really wanted an American Girl doll but always thought they were too expensive, so I never asked for one. Yeah, I got over that.
2. If you had a vegetable garden, what would you plant and why?
I would like to plant tomatoes and peppers and lettuce and lots and lots of other things. Oh yeah, and garlic. Lots of garlic. I would really like to be much more self-sufficient, grocery-wise, than I am right now.
3. What teacher (from kindergarten – college) had the biggest impact on you?
Can I pick two? three? In high school, probably Mr. Rooney, my senior English teacher. He was one of the first teachers I had that really treated me like an equal – other teachers were my friend, but I felt like Mr. Rooney respected me as a peer as well as a student. I wonder whatever happened to him. Some of my fellow students suspected he was in the witness protection program. Maybe that’s true. In college, my biggest influence was Mr. Glass. There were several other teachers with whom I really connected – specifically Alan Hurst at Regents and Colleen Page at RC – but Mr. Glass has proved much more of a lasting influence.
4. Of all the people you’ve lost touch with over the years, who do you think about the most?
I’ve lost touch, in varying degrees, with a lot of people that I miss. I don’t have any major regrets in this matter – the people I’ve lost touch with have generally given up on their end of keeping in touch – or have drifted so far away and have changed so much that we have nothing in common. I suppose I miss Anne the most – we worked together long enough to cultivate a very interesting and challenging friendship, a friendship that I think could’ve been more were the circumstances different. She moved out to the west coast with her girlfriend to go to school – I hear from her on occasion. I wish she was still in my life cos I felt like she only brought good things.
5. What is the tallest building you’ve been in? What was the highest floor you went to?
I’ve been to the highest observation deck at the CN Tower in Toronto. I was scared to death and nearly threw up. Good times.
Aight. Back to work.

how to get a job in your field

Hey, remember when I said I wasn’t going to blog for a while? Yeah, that was funny.
Kate has decided that we need to teach “how to get a job in your field” courses cos really, that’s much more practical than a lot of the stuff you take at college. I thought the fact that neither of us have jobs in our field might be a problem, but Kate doesn’t think so. I’m going to trust her on this one.
20 minutes til I can get out of this basement. Came to the realization that I live an almost entirely subterranean life. That sucks. I work in a basement, escape outdoors for a little bit, then go home and spend most evenings in the basement with N. Hmm, no wonder I’m depressed. My body is probably screaming for sunlight! Perhaps I will have to remedy that with some quality porch sitting tonight.
Going to the library to pick up Galatea 2.2 cos I’m wicked in love with Richard Powers. Oh yeah, and just what I need is more reading material. I am brazenly disregarding my ban on the library. I don’t care. I will make time.