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 really fantastic weekend

A wicked bad headache to inaugurate the transition to a new blog. That’s not a good sign. Actually it isn’t ANY kind of sign as it is related to work, not to my blog. A crazy busy day punctuated by periods of boredom – I just got my computer back after 45 minutes of watching other people use it. I’m ready to take off my shoes and jacket and just relax.

A wonderful weekend. Shawn met me at home after work Friday – we had tickets to see Gross Indecency at Krannert. It was wonderful. I read the play in August and was really moved – seeing it staged moved me in entirely different ways. The actor playing Wilde was brilliant and beautiful. Moises Kaufman’s vision is so unique – a really refreshing method of approaching real life events through fiction and nonfiction – through truth, however you define it.

NaNoWriMo kicked off just after midnight with crazy writing goodness at my apartment – Sarah, Shawn, Amy, Michelle, Kathryn, and I all hunched over our respective computers and notepads, scribbling away – such lovely clicky silence punctuated by the rustle of Halloween candy and random getting to know you and “I hate my novel” sorts of discourse. This will be great if it doesn’t destroy us all.

Saturday I did nothing for the majority of the day – read more of my beloved Rick’s Plowing the Dark, which I finished on Sunday. Rick needs to work on his endings – or maybe I just don’t understand. I’m going to have to talk to someone about this. Either way it was nice to just lounge around with Shawn doing nothing, playing on the internet, reading, etc. Saturday night was dinner at Bread Co, then Into the Woods with Shawn, Sarah, and Jim P Purdy. What a strange play. “If only there were doors?” I enjoyed it but am getting into musicals less and less as I grow older. Not sure why that is. Hanging out at Perkins with the above plus Josh and Theresa, then back to Shawn’s.

Sunday was the official NaNo kick-off/Scattergories game at Espresso Royale – then more reading and writing and internetting and eating – a late-ish trip to Meijer, and lots of playing with the little penguin. Home late, some writing, then not so sound sleep.

A nice weekend. Hopefully a nice week. Love to all.


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.


I guess I just don’t have much to say tonight. I’m tired – tired of feeling broken, tired of these ups and downs. I just want to feel whole. Two days ago I felt like an entirely new person – and I know I am – but not sleeping and not having an appetite and not being used to the work schedule tend to overshadow those things that I’ve gained. This last month – oh Lord, it’s been hard – but I can say, even in this vale of tears, that it is worth it. Lord, is it worth it. That isn’t to say that there aren’t days when I struggle – when I ache and cry and feel like, well, like I felt today – but I know this is right, all of it, what I’m becoming. These are the growing pains we’re always told about – the shuddering as I cast off the old skin.
Read a short story by Richard Powers (courtesy of Shawn) that totally blew my mind – especially these lines:

“The hardest of the year’s unpredictable plots was still to come. Nothing we ever tell ourselves about the future prepares us for it. … There are two ways of reading our digital fate, the same two ways of reading any fiction. Either we’ll explain ourselves away as mere mechanism, or we’ll elevate mechanism to the level of miracle. Either way, the greatest worth of our machines will be to show us the staggering breadth of the simplest human thought and to reawaken us to the irreducible heft, weight, and texture of the entrapping world.”

Took my breath away. I’ve heard the rest of his fiction is equally as intoxicating and challenging. I might have to check it out.
Talked to Sarah for an hour or so tonight – wonderful and refreshing. I feel like – know – I can tell her anything – anything at all – and she’ll love me and give me her honest answer, even if she is at work. I’m so, so grateful to have her in my life. I would NOT have survived the last couple of weeks without her.
In fact, at this point let me give a “shout out” to all the kids in Champaign (and elsewhere) that took care of me – Sarah, Hannah, Amity, Shawn, Dan, Matt, and Lucky – back home Jen, Nate, Dan, Scandalous Pants, Eva, and of course my Mom – and so many others, far away but sending love and encouragement. I love you all.