Sunday Funnies #11

The latest strip from Calamities of Nature.


Our Books

Renoir, Woman ReadingA couple of days ago I took on the enormous job of organizing my home library. It’s a task that, for various reasons I’ve been dreading, and therefore avoiding. Now it’s not that I’ve never organized my books. In fact, even in the days before computers I had indexed and cross-referenced my books, having created my own cataloguing system, of course, all of it neatly compiled in one giant binder. After I got my first computer, I created a database just for my books, and as soon as the technology was available, I had a program that would allow me to read the barcodes of the books, automatically entering them into my database. Since then I have always taken both great care and pleasure in organizing my library. That is, of course, until a few years ago.

As I’ve alluded to here before, three years ago I went through what was, without a doubt, the scariest and most difficult time in my life. Without rehashing the entire nightmare, suffice it to say that as tends to be the case in these situations, leaving was more difficult than staying, if nothing else because of the fear. I still remember the day that I physically moved out, knowing that I had just a few short hours to grab whatever I could and throw it into the back of a moving truck. Thankfully my friends and family were all there for both physical help and moral support, but it was the least organized and most stressful move of my nearly forty years.  I lost much in that move, but of out of everything that was left behind that day the most painful were many of my books.

Moving into our little apartment later that afternoon and unpacking the boxes of books, I realized that as many as a couple of hundred books were missing, but I couldn’t face the loss then. I’m not sure what they represented, but fully quantifying that loss would have been an unbearable addition to all that was already happening. So I shelved the books as haphazardly as possible, and left it that way. A year later my daughter and I moved again into our current home, and the books were shelved in much the same way. As I was telling a friend the other night, until I decided to take on the task of re-organizing my shelves it was a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat, the books weren’t “really” missing until I organized them and really saw that they were no longer there.

So with all of that in mind, that was that task I embarked on this spring break. I took my “big girl pill” and, with my daughter asleep, started pulling books of the shelves, carefully placing them into so many piles. I quickly started realizing that many, many books were not there, and as I started arranging them by author, subject, etc, the loss hit home. My signed Douglas Adams was gone, as was my first edition Foucault’s Pendulum. All my Huxley paperbacks were missing, as was my Lolita, and my I, Claudius. None of my Tolstoys could be found, neither could my single Grisham book, which I loved because it was one of the only books my grandfather ever gave me. Suddenly, sitting in the middle of the pile of books I started to cry. As I had expected, the loss of those books was pretty difficult to bear. I know that they were only material objects, nothing to become so attached to, and that most of the books were ultimately replaceable. But at the moment they represented something more, something ineffable; those books symbolized all that was lost then, all that was forever changed.

For those of us that are real bibliophiles, I suppose that our books will always be more than just books, they become a part of us as soon as we read them. Moreover, at least in my case, my annotations and other notes (I tend to use my books as notebooks sometimes), make those books holders of a great part of my own history, intellectual and otherwise.

I stopped with my fiction, the smallest part of my library, and reshelved the rest of my books, again with no order or reason. Maybe one of these days I’ll resume the task. But in the meantime, I’ll mourn the loss of those books that were truly irreplaceable, and begin to fill my already overflowing shelves with new books, and in them, start writing a new history.

Day 3: A Book That’s Made Me Laugh

Oh dear. I’ve been dreading this one since I saw the challenge, and I was hoping that maybe I could skip it, ignore it, or maybe even lie about it and pick a book universally found funny and write some sort of a post around it. But my integrity won’t let me lie, and Beverly’s “day 3” post made me realize that I’m not alone in my predicament. I suspect that this will be a terrible post, and I apologize ahead of time.

I don’t tend to read books (or watch movies for that matter) that are obviously funny or billed as comedies. The truth is that I seldom find those things funny at all.  I’ve read a few of those books, such as Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, and his Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, or Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus Trillogy, and although they certainly made me chuckle, I don’t remember laughing out loud in a way that elicited strange looks from the people around me.

Then there are those books that have made me laugh out loud, even embarrassingly so, but for reasons that I think are probably not in keeping with the spirit of today’s challenge. Take my last entry, Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop, as an example. God knows I laughed out loud often during the read. And along those lines, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged would also be a nice fit. I laughed long and hard at what she thought passed for clever writing and deep philosophical thinking. But no, that kind of laughter doesn’t qualify.

So what does? What book that I’ve read has truly made me laugh out loud? Well, after much thought and procrastination (this should be day 5 now), the answer came to me as I was waking up this morning; Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha. It’s an odd little book about a time-traveling news crews, holograms, and a tap-dancing St. Peter, and at times it reads like an odd mutation of Vonnegut, Pynchon, and maybe even a little Tom Robbins. I don’t remember who said this, but I remember seeing it described it as “outrageously irreverent impiety,” and it is exactly that. It’s also intelligently satirical (of religion, 24-hour news channels, politics, modern mega-churches, and so much more ), often downright wicked with its humor, and absolutely blasphemous. It may not be his best book, and it’s undoubtedly immature, but it’s certainly his funniest, and I did laugh my way through it.

I read it many years ago in 1993, so I’ll leave it up to the publisher to give you the synopsis:

Timothy (later St. Timothy) is in his study in Thessalonika, where he is bishop of Macedonia. It is A.D. 96, and Timothy is under terrific pressure to record his version of the Sacred Story, since, far in the future, a cyberpunk (the Hacker) has been systematically destroying the tapes that describe the Good News, and Timothy’s Gospel is the only one immune to the Hacker’s deadly virus. Meanwhile, thanks to a breakthrough in computer software, an NBC crew is racing into the past to capture—live from the suburb of Golgotha—the Crucifixion, for a TV special guaranteed to boost the network’s ratings in the fall sweeps.

As a stream of visitors from twentieth-century America channel in to the first-century Holy Land—Mary Baker Eddy, Shirley MacLaine, Oral Roberts and family—Timothy struggles to complete his story. But is Timothy’s text really Hacker-proof? And how will he deal with the truth about Jesus’ eating disorder? Above all, will he get the anchor slot for the Big Show at Golgotha without representation by a major agency, like CAA 1,896 years in the future? Tune in.

Maybe Woody Allen should turn this into a movie.

Thirty Authors Discuss God

I’m too sick, and my head too fuzzy with medication, so instead of attempting to construct coherent sentences, I’m going to let thirty others, who are known for their eloquence, speak about a subject that comes up in this blog every now and again… religion, and its counterpart, skepticism.

Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham, a British neurosurgeon, created a series of videos regarding the debate between belief and atheism. The first two videos feature academics and theologians discussing both belief and disbelief, with the aim illustrating his central argument that “the more scientifically literate, intellectually honest and objectively skeptical a person is, the more likely the are to disbelieve in anything supernatural, including god.”

In the third video of the series,  which I came across on this site, Dr. Pararajasingham compiled video of thirty renown authors discussing atheism. My favorite has to be Ian McEwan (starting at 9:28), although Douglas Adams and Christopher Hitchens are pretty outstanding, too.

Here are the authors included in the video, in order of appearance.

1. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction Writer
2. Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Laureate in Literature
3. Professor Isaac Asimov, Author and Biochemist
4. Arthur Miller, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright
5. Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature
6. Gore Vidal, Award-Winning Novelist and Political Activist
7. Douglas Adams, Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer
8. Professor Germaine Greer, Writer and Feminist
9. Iain Banks, Best-Selling Fiction Writer
10. José Saramago, Nobel Laureate in Literature
11. Sir Terry Pratchett, NYT Best-Selling Novelist
12. Ken Follett, NYT Best-Selling Author
13. Ian McEwan, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
14. Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009)
15. Professor Martin Amis, Award-Winning Novelist
16. Michel Houellebecq, Goncourt Prize-Winning French Novelist
17. Philip Roth, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
18. Margaret Atwood, Booker Prize-Winning Author and Poet
19. Sir Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
20. Norman MacCaig, Renowned Scottish Poet
21. Phillip Pullman, Best-Selling British Author
22. Dr Matt Ridley, Award-Winning Science Writer
23. Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature
24. Howard Brenton, Award-Winning English Playwright
25. Tariq Ali, Award-Winning Writer and Filmmaker
26. Theodore Dalrymple, English Writer and Psychiatrist
27. Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
28. Redmond O’Hanlon FRSL, British Writer and Scholar
29. Diana Athill, Award-Winning Author and Literary Editor
30. Christopher Hitchens, Best-Selling Author, Award-Winning Columnist

(And sorry for the awkward grammar, I blame the pills for the cough).

Book Fair Weekend

November is always an exciting month.  The weather is getting more tolerable (for South Florida, anyway), Christmas is in the air, Thanksgiving dinner is being planned, and the Miami Book Fair International rolls around.  I’ve been making my annual pilgrimage there since the mid-80’s, and have always really loved it.  One year I even had the opportunity to meet both Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame).

This year I didn’t get to see any authors or other presentations (time just didn’t allow), but I did spend the better part of what was a beautiful Saturday strolling through the book-lined streets of downtown Miami.  My daughter had the chance to experience the excitement of having a book signed by the author just for her, and I had the joy of looking through tent after tent of used books, indie books, old books, rare books, and everything in between.  In the end, I walked a way with only a couple of books and one or two little gems, but it was a well spent afternoon.

Bill Bryson’s “At Home,” a “Foucault Reader,” and a 1922 copy of Huxley’s “Chrome Yellow.”

A funny aside:  When I went to pay for the Foucault Reader the gentleman that I paid looked at me strangely enough for me to ask if everything was alright. He said that it was odd that a woman was taking an interest in Foucault.  I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or not, so I just smiled politely and walked away… but little does he know! I’ve been reading Foucault since I was introduced to him in a “Queer Literature” class in 1996!

The only disappointment this year was the absence of the “Antiquarian Annex.”  I collect old and rare books (at least those that my budget allows), and the Annex was always my favorite part of the fair.  So many beautiful bindings, illustrations, first editions, and some books so precious that they sit, untouchable, behind glass. Walking through the Annex always felt a bit like a walk through a small slice of the history of books and reading. There were a few antiquarians there, but nothing like in previous years.  Here’s to hoping they bring it back in the future.

Despite the missing Annex, it was an absolutely lovely Saturday afternoon, and I look forward to going again next year.