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.

happy birthday, mom

A nice weekend. Spent lots of time with Sarah and Shawn and Hannah – got to see Lucky, Mark, and Missy, however briefly. Mark’s house isn’t the hellhole he’s made it out to be – and Lucky’s hair is now orange. Hmm. I made Shawn watch The Hours – lost at Trivial Pursuit – was dragged along not unwillingly to an English department function – looked at apartments – fell in love with the Champaign Public Library despite some really weird organization things – bought some used books for cheap! – left late and arrived home exhausted but happy. I need more weekends like this. Being there and leaving just intensified my desire to be there all the time – to be able to do things like breakfast with friends and lunches out and wandering used bookstores and just being to the top of my bent. I’m tired in many ways but glad I went.

The apartment search has hopefully born fruit – I fell in love with an apartment on Church, just off this pretty little park, a block up from a Thai restaurant – within walking distance of just about everything, including the library. The bedroom has big windows and was full of sunlight in mid-afternoon – the living room and kitchen are cool – and the shower head does NOT stop at my shoulder. That’s a big plus. I could see being very happy there – really making the place my own. I’m hoping it works out. It would be too too miraculous.
One thing I didn’t accomplish this weekend was any reading – which in the grand scheme of things is alright. I picked up Lust by Susan Minot, Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, a collected volume of the Chretien romances, The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (recommended to me by Jason Watts last Septober 41st), and Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks. In addition to those, I bought some books at the library for $1.00. AND Shawn lent me a new stack in addition to the existing stack. It’s so nice to have books flowing into my life again, though I’m getting desperately behind. Oh, and today Ylda returned my copy of The Hours. I heart books. They make me so happy.
Responses from Diva Kate, who has not started a blog:
1. What is the best thing about living in Tejas other
than your family?

i loved the idea of starting over completely in a new place where no one knew me for who i USED to be. since i’ve moved down here i have found a real sense of who i truly am (cheesy but true)
2. Describe the ultimate Diva Kate Punk Rock Show.
here’s what i’m thinking. live band in the upstairs of my house, with me dancing around in my underwear (duh) and waking up my ENTIRE family. oh, and it would be broadcast on mtv and in the middle of times square.
3. Why journalism instead of interior design?
because i need to write more than i need to breathe. and i hate details, being the big-picture kind of girl that i am. and let me tell you, interior design is ALL about details.
4. Why pirates?
well, why not? a good buccaneer has a creative vocabulary (including vast references to “booty”), colorful wardrobe, and the ability to make anyone who opposes me walk the plank.
5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
in five years i should be either finishing up or finished with grad. school, residing on the east coast and doing MUCH overseas travel for my happening career as a magazine writer. i’ll definitely still be single. possibly even starting to work my way up to editor of a small indie mag?
Great answers. Rock. Back to work. It’d be nice to accomplish something.

the philosophy of e

Some things crystallized while talking to Sarah this morning – what I’d like to call “The Philosophy of E.” I’ve spent a lot of time thinking these days – these two weeks off work – all the hours of the sleepless nights, the time spent alone, the time spending in longing and reading and inquiry. I guess my worldview at this point boils down to two basic tenets:
1. We’re here for such a brief time – our lives are so tenuous – why the fuck not do the things that bring joy?
2. No matter the decisions you make, no matter the course your life takes, that is the way it was meant to be and it couldn’t be any other way.
The first one is pretty self explanatory – our lives are so short; why waste time doing things that don’t make you happy? Or that don’t keep you happy? Obviously we all have to do things that suck – bills have to be paid, toilets have to be cleaned – but those are necessary evils on the path to what brings joy, what brings meaning. The second is a bit more complicated.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe in both predestination and free will. I believe – I know – that the choices we make in life determine who we are. I also know that who we are is determined by all sorts of factors we can’t control – our parents, our upbringing, our fragile bodies, our “natural selection” or predilections. And if the last two weeks have taught me anything, it’s that worrying about how life might be different had certain choices been different is a futile thing. It will drive you mad. Things are the way they are for a reason. I firmly believe that. The choices we make might not make sense – they might be difficult and intensely painful – but they are made for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is – I think we don’t know a lot of the time, which is why life is so precious, so enigmatic, so full of doubt and questioning and joy.

We are here – in life, on this Earth – for a reason – for some brief, undetermined amount of time – and then we’re gone. I don’t know why we’re here. I don’t know the meaning or the measure of my life. All I know is that I want my life to have meaning. I want joy. I want peace. I want the peaks of ecstasy and the depths of despair – and have had both in these two weeks. I want life at its fullest, its richest, its most powerful. And I know – in my heart, in my soul, in the fundamental parts of me that I can trust beyond my reason or my intellect – that I will have these things, that I am in the process of having these things. And it can’t be any different. I may not understand the path I have chosen – but I know it is the only place I could be. And if things are meant to be different, they will be. I have firm confidence in that.
In The Hours, Clarissa relates a story about her youth, how she walked out one day and thought “This is the beginning of happiness.” In her middle age, relating the story to her daughter, she realized that it wasn’t the beginning of happiness, it was happiness. I think that is at the heart of what I’m thinking and feeling and trying to express – that awareness of purpose, of happiness – of celebrating the moment without over-thinking or worrying about how it could or might or should be different. I think just being is enough.


thoughts for the day from nicole kidman (of all people!):

You reach a point, when you’ve reached a certain age and have a certain amount of life experiences, where you just go, Okay, well, this is the journey. I think there’s a beautiful line in The Hours when Meryl Streep’s character says: “I thought that was the beginning of happiness, and it wasn’t; that was happiness.” I think you go, Okay, there’s happiness, and there’s great sadness. There’s a gamut of emotions. If you keep waiting to be happy, that’s never going to happen. It’s more that it’s just life. The wisdom of that comes, unfortunately, as you get older. It just does. You wish you could have it at 14, when your mother tells you about it, but you don’t have it, ’cause you haven’t lived the life.

i really liked that. i like that definition or theory of happiness – that if you wait for it, it’s not going to come. you have to accept that what you have is happiness – and if it gets better, it gets better – and if not, that’s still happiness. and that is hard to realize and even harder to live – but it’s a good
thing to believe or at least to think on.

i had a nice weekend – n was camping in the northwoods and the bitter cold so i had almost two entire days of peace and quiet and cold in our apartment. i meant to cook and to get the cooking site up and get so much reading done – and instead i did all the dishes, slept some, and spent some time with my parents. i think mom felt sorry for me – she kept calling and inviting me over for dinner or whatever – so finally i gave in and had a nice evening eating dinner and doing puzzles. my parents are v. upset because they have been annexed into the city of rockford – one of the key selling points on their property was that they were zoned county and so were exempt from the ridiculously high rockford taxes. some benefits of being residents of the city of rockford, as presented to them by our esteemed mayor, doug scott:

  • City water – which they don’t need cos they have a well
  • City garbage – which is more expensive than the garbage pick up they already pay for
  • City sewers – which they already pay for and use
  • Free library cards – OK, this is a benefit
  • City elections – for someone other than Doug Scott
  • Plowing roads – but they live on a private drive
  • City responders for 911 – this is a benefit as well
  • City parking stickers – ooh hooray, we can spend more money!
  • City taxes – better bend over and get ready….
    needless to say we’re not v. happy. some of their neighbors are already talking about selling cos they can’t afford the restrictively expensive taxes. my dad is concocting a scheme involving donating the house to the church with a provision that they can live there until retirement/death – max tax deduction plus the church wouldn’t have to pay property taxes. it’s an idea.

    anyway, it was a nice weekend. yesterday i slept in, then got up and made lou’s mushroom soup and a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and read about two weeks’ worth of the news. our illustrious and wise governor decided to commute all the death sentences and essentially (in deed if not in fact) do away with the death penalty – which is a major victory for human rights advocates – but a lot of the people on death row were there for doing really REALLY awful things, so i don’t know how i feel about it.

    n came home around 5, beaten and sore from his adventure. no one froze to death or lost any extremities, thank goodness. i had a funny (well, funny in retrospect) panicked moment sunday morning, though. i was standing at the sink, doing dishes, and suddenly had a wicked chest and stomach cramp – like my entire torso cramped up. my first thought (after OW!) was “oh my god, my husband!” and then i said a small prayer to god that please please please don’t let my husband be dead or dying. later in the day, i talked to mom, who mentioned to me that the codeine i’m taking can cause intestinal distress – and i was quite relieved and felt very silly.

    another v silly moment: i went to the grocery to do my shopping for this week’s meals (lots of yummy stuff!) and could NOT find capers anywhere! i looked and looked and looked and then i stopped and thought about my pine nut adventure of 12/14/02. when i couldn’t find pine nuts, i stopped and said to myself “god, i can’t find pine nuts anywhere!” and then found them the next place i looked. mindful of this, i stopped and said to myself “god, i can’t find capers anywhere!” unfortunately, i still had to look for about twenty more minutes. ugh. i love logli cos it has so much fun stuff – but i’m more comfortable at hilander.

    i finished two-part invention saturday night – god, was it wonderful. i cried and cried and cried – and really felt enriched by the reading experience. i ordered my copy from amazon; – used, of course – and once i receive it, i’m going to reread the book and mark it up with all my comments. madeleine l’engle’s writing is familiar and comforting, even in the face of great tragedy and pain. i’m going to start circle of quiet tonight i think – it’s the first in the crosswicks journals series (two-part invention is the fourth).

    only three days til my birthday!!!! for those of you who still need to do your shopping, my amazon wish list is full of enticing goodies. 🙂