18 January 2011

Eleven in '11 ... No. 2 (books)

London Library Reading Room

No. 2.
What can I say here?  Like so many of you, Dear Reader, I am a bibliophile.  Books on architecture or apologetics. Poetry or politics. History or mystery.  Fiction and non.  Quirky books elaborating on the minutiae of the moment, or irreverent volumes making mathematics simple.  If a writer cranks out a book done well, is well-reviewed, inspiring, particularly helpful or simply has a nice hook (or a different take on things) -- especially if it can be found in the discount bin -- chances are I'll read it.  As I like to say, two books a week is all we ask.  And, if a friend writes a book, well, dang it!, I'll buy several copies.  
When I watched the PSA for literacy.org showing youngsters getting ready to embark on journeys to new worlds and their books stamped like a passport from the engineer who was boarding passengers, and then as the young lad begins to read the words on the page, the landscape around him -- reflected in the train window -- reveals itself as the Emerald City ... chills. 
Imagine if everyone read two books a week.  Real books, too.  Weighty books.  Let's make a deal, you and I. Or, at least you can just placate with a polite nod of "okay" over there on your side of the Internet's conjoined computer screen.  How about we agree to read at least one book a month?  That is doable.  If modern Presidents of the United States have time to read a book or two occasionally, then why not us?  I've seen the pictures of Bush and Obama and Reagan and Clinton strutting from Air Force One to an awaiting limo toting said tome.
President Obama Note to Y. Martel (author Life of Pi)
One of the reasons I put up with Oprah (she's not my fave, but I truly respect the hell out of what she's built, her empire.  My ex-father in law worked with her in Nashville years ago.  They ran into each other at the Oscars, and she remembered him well.), is that she has had such an amazing impact on encouraging us to be the highest and best us, and that definitely includes her book club.  I also love that she is who she is, and she doesn't confuse herself or others with trying to be someone else that some a-hole like yours truly might want her to be.  She's real, er, real rich, but genuine to boot.
London Library
Okay, so yes, as the big No.2 above indicates, I am a reader of books.  But, a true bibliophile holds a special place in the dusty racks and stacks of their heart for the setting that is the library.  The London Library for me is the literary locus of the printed media and book culture and erudition all festooned with a lovely British lilt. The staff exceeds all professional standards, and one can obtain with aplomb great research there.  Just ask the fictional American  research assistant, Roland Michell, from the novel (and movie) Possession: A Romance, by A.S. Byatt, both of which I highly recommend you read and view.
When money's tight (which is usually the past couple of years), I'll get my fix from the library or via a free eReader or will gladly take a book second-hand from a friend.  You can obtain all the public domain classics on Google's free reader (or some other eReader), and we'd be busy, you and I, with a book a month for years.  And, we'd be so much better for it.  And, society would be better for having better versions of ourselves coursing through and over its causeways and byways and by the way, and not to mention, we'd be able to answer a lot more of those pesky questions on Jeopardy!  And, now, hundreds and hundreds of books later, I love crushing Alex Trebek's puny questions.  Books is brainfood, y'all!!!
Before I list some favorite books, here are some favorite authors. I say "some" because, well, almost all of my books are in storage right now, and this is off the top of my head.  It's a little Wordle that I put together especially; adds to the sense of occasion, dontcha think?
FatScribe Wordle of Authors
These aren't necessarily the big eleven in my (very) humble little existence.  Just eleven I thought represented certain aspects of my life well.  Btw, there is one important book that is obviously missing (really a collection of 66 separate books, old and new) that we can discuss a bit later.
The Catcher in the Rye was it for me when I read it in high school (three times) because Jerome David Salinger helped me finally to recognize what a writer's voice sounded like (I know, I know ...  many of you Eastern elites were ingesting The New Yorker when you were in junior high school and understood this sophisticated patois, but for us indolent Angelinos, it was revelatory.)  Franny and Zooey, however, really placed a hand with lighted cigarette on my shoulder and said with cocktail breath, "you wanna try this? You should try this, this writing thing ole boy."   I was hooked on the story of the family Glass as it took little (to me) surprising turns, with drinks at sophisticated joints, and college sports, and all the swells rocking sweaters and overcoats and pearls, featuring rooms in NY city apartments where one could take a melancholy-induced nap. It had trains and cabs and older brothers and family drama and young person angst.  Perhaps it's trite to say that Salinger is one of those writers that influenced me the most over the last 25 years to be sure, but sometimes trite is true.  For the first time I thought that it might be nice to sit and think and create a story with fountain pen and blank page, and to set in motion ex nihilo some wonderful characters of my creation the way Salinger does.
Harold Berman was quoted by so many of my law school professors that I went out and purchased the book.  However, it wasn't until a couple of years later that I could actually read the book with some free time.  The tome is a masterpiece, a magnum opus without peer.  When I think of the biggies here in this little category, it goes: Blackstone.  Berman.  Bork.  If you practice law, you owe it to yourself to read this wonderful contribution to the cannon.  If you don't (as I do not), you can show-up all of those lawyers who've never read a single book since law school (and there are MANY) by taking a few months to get through Law and Revolution.
Michael Chabon, in my humble opinion, is the greatest American writer of the last fifty years.  His plots and characters are masterful. His use of language nonpareil.   I was given his first book (his master's thesis for the UCI writer's program) when I was an undergrad, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.  His book Summerland, I read to my boys when they were small, and then my eldest read it sua sponte when he was eleven (genius, sheer genius, said his dad ... and how appropriate in light of, you know, the big play on the "eleven" theme).  Chabon won the Pulitzer for his Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  But, my favorite book of his has to be Wonder Boys.  Steve Kloves adapted this book masterfully (as he has done almost all of the Harry Potter books for the big screen), and I put his script for Wonder Boys up as a perfect pitched game for anyone looking to see a great script.  Anyway, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a great way for you to understand the brilliance of this writer.  And, as you might imagine, Dear Reader, he and I have absolutely zero in common when it comes to politics.  But, I love the guy anyway, er, not love love, but you get my meaning.
This book by Allan Bloom made me decide to go to graduate school and get a master's in public policy.  I became fascinated with Bloom in high school (and his professor) Leo Strauss and a few other more conservative Chicago intellectuals.  Bloom's erudition and grasp of history and the negative implications of the wont of academia and media to practice historicism when it fits their needs, to twist it for their own expedient ends, have informed the way I view all of post-modern American politics.  Bloom took an amazing amount of heat from his fellow academicians for The Closing of the American Mind, being labeled and confirmed a neocon (a word I love, btw) for his effort.   An older friend of mine from church, who was one of ABC's political editors, had recently introduced the phrase real politik to me after a discussion we had on Bloom.  I would later name the first Internet website I developed (a very successful, student-run public policy journal) called NeoPolitique in honor of Bloom.  Highly suggested reading ... even thirty years later.
No one can equal this dandy and his skill with the roman a clef.  I appreciate his white suits and wonderful stories and his conservative bent.  Where I loathe pretensionist novelists like Norman Mailer (RIP) and John Irving telling everyone how to live, I can stand proud that a novelist of Tom Wolfe's caliber can tell them and other Eastern sophisticates (in my stead) exactly where to get off.    My good friend (best man at my wedding) and I were in South Carolina helping his parents move into their lovely new home sitting on the 17th fairway.  My friend's dad was dying from a blood cancer, and he wanted me to take any books I wanted.  I took many good ones, but this A Man in Full was my favorite.  I read it in like two or three days, sitting late nights in the Charleston heat on the back patio, drinking sweet tea  and smoking an occasional cigar.  My friend's dad also had an amazing pen collection.  He was, truly, a man in full, who rebounded from borderline bankruptcy, who called his 30 yr-old son "sweetie" and who never ceased to provide for his family, even when he was at death's door. 
I personally owe, and I believe the country also owes, a debt of gratitude to Shelby Steele for this work.  The Content of Our Character is THE book on race-relations.  As a father of two boys with a black mother and white dad, I am very sensitive to this issue. Have been since I was a boy and witnessed the event that was Alex Haley's "Roots" on ABC network television (that used to be a big deal back then).  When I was a boy, I can remember exactly where I was the first and only time I used the "N" word (and, no, it's not a prequel show to Showtime's The "L" Word ).  I was with the son of a Cy Young and MVP winner (a Dodger great, the second black-American to be admitted to play in the Majors), and he and I were playing a basketball game called "tip-in."  We were in junior high school, and I had just beaten him out for the scholar athlete award, and we were killing time before the bus was supposed to pick us up.  I missed a crucial shot and out of nowhere, I used the word as curse word, not as a racial epithet directed at anyone.  Don't know why I said it.  I'd never said the word before in my life, and right there in front of the son of a racial pioneer I uttered it.  He chased me around A.E. Wright Middle School for a full ten minutes before he finally said, "Goot, I'll make you a deal.  You stop running and I'll only hit you once.  Then we can go finish our game."  I stopped and he hit and we played.  We played football and basketball on our high school teams (he would later play at Stanford) and neither ever mentioned it again.  Coda: LuxeMont, the Internet company I founded a few year's back, was asked to play in an LPGA event by one of our advertisers, a company that was the official LPGA provider of private jets.  I had no idea, but it was owned by my childhood friend.  Yes, the same. 
Milton Friedman's introduction to F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the first time I was able to read his words of economic wisdom.  After reading Hayek's book in grad school, I went on to devour everything I could get my hands on by Friedman, including any YouTube videos I could watch.  Genius, as all Nobel Prize winners are.  Well, most prize winners are.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Frederick Douglass, to me, represents one of the greatest bootstrapping stories in Western history.  From slave to publisher, from beaten chattel to feted White House guest. After his first wife passed away, Douglass would marry a white woman (to the consternation of some), and die at a ripe old age.   Douglass would hold several political and bureaucratic positions of power in DC.  Talk about your real Horatio Alger story.  
Read State of Fear, it blows the claims of those insipid, anthropogenic-preaching, lie-disseminating and fear-mongering miscreants out of the water who want to re-engineer the capitalistic West in their radical leftist Utopian image.  I never knew Michael Crichton to be conservative, but when I read this latest tome, I had one of the most surprising aha moments in my reading life. Regardless, the prescient Michael Crichton has always been a fave.  A take-me-to-the-beach sort of fave, who nonetheless was a terrific spinner of yarns fave in terms of his techno-drenched SciFi thrillers.  His oeuvre routinely presaged the headlines of tomorrow.  With degrees from Harvard (including Harvard medical) he decided to write novels during his time in medical school.  Renaissance man he (the bastard), Crichton would break new ground throughout his life, becoming the first to have a top-selling novel, hit movie, and television show concurrently, simultaneously, and famously (he created the medical drama, ER).  His home in the Pacific Palisades was filled with art that even Steve Martin would covet and lovely comfy furnishings for his family (and to hold his 6'9" frame) as well as two unpublished novels. After his recent death at an early age, his family discovered that Crichton had produced two more novels (one completely finished and self-edited, and the other almost so).  I can't tell you how much I respect a writer of his caliber.  Here's what Crichton said in Architectural Digest about his home and his love of books:
“All the bedrooms are stacked—there are books piled in the garage, and there are books in boxes in the basement,” he says. “The paperbacks are yellow and cracked, but I won’t give them up. I can’t—I annotate as I read. At one point I calculated that half the weight and volume of what we own is books."  A house with room for books and a family—and one of the most spectacular careers on record—are more than a writer dares to hope for. Though Michael Crichton is not one to hype his domestic pleasures, he can’t deny his good fortune. “This has been,” he says, with measured bliss, “a very happy, very positive house.
Last but most important, The Federalist Papers.  Here is the book (another important anthology of 85 essays) that each and every one of you, Dear Readers, should read (I know, that's obnoxious, my encouraging you to read a rather old, yet important book).  The Federalist Papers informs everything about our Constitutional Republic and its formation, and the role of the Constitution in each and every one of our lives today.  TFP is a collection from three giants who decided to publish their writings with a pseudonym of Publius, mostly to keep the reader's focus on what they were writing, not on who was writing these essays.

So, there you go. 
Up next?
No. 3.


Hollywood Exec said...

nice list. love the federalist papers. good stuff. (i came via your Deadline Hollywood comments.)

Shelley said...

Heavy stuff, for me I'm afraid. I will tag this post, however, and come back to your suggestions when I'm in a serious mood, ready for some education. Where we agree easily is the first part. I think libraries are hallowed places and I treasure my books. I think learning to read should be a birthright for everyone. Looking forward to your list of films.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

I just loved your description of how you came to read 'A Man in Full'... your choice of e.e. cummings, and Crichton's description of a house full of books as "a very happy, very positive house." I grew up in a house full of books and I cannot agree more with that sentiment. Great post Jg! Looking forward to No. 3 film.
; )

Dumbwit Tellher said...

My list of 'books read' looks like cotton candy lined up next to your top 11. Each one of your 11 is fuel for the brain, the heart and the soul. My one & only New Year resolution is to read more books. 'The Content of Our Character' is one I'd like to read first. I have 2 dear friends from my high school days that married. She black, he white. He went on to play for the Oakland / L.A. Raiders in the early 80's. Their children had struggles with growing up in our conservative, small town & I struggled to understand why they felt so different.

I too look forward to your post on films. As always you keep me on my toes. : ) Great post!

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Hi, Deb -- yup, those mixed babies grow up to be the most handsome and beautiful. when i stand next to my boys (someday I'll post a good pic!), I look like death warmed over. they do get most of their looks from their mom who could vanessa williams better looking sister. anyhoo, yes, trying to read more is always a good thing. thx. for visiting, dear friend! hugs.

Barbara said...

I do like your "wordle" m'dear. So difficult to choose. How DID you manage?

Of course, in MY generation, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye was required reading. With Franny and Zooey, it's no wonder you turned to writing.

I've read 5 of your choices. And figure I read about 2-3 books a week, sometimes more. But then, I'm retired. And old. And cook a lot, so I'm reading "As Always, Julia" right now...definitely NOT on your list. :)

My book group is a Godsend. Some very clever young women who, when reviewing, make me wonder if we've read the same book.
And my daughter keeps me on track too and won't allow my mind to drift the way of Harlequin.
But I do have one thing to say, J.G. Reading makes life such a pleasure. It takes you out of your self, traveling, learning, meeting new people, exploring new ideas, imagining.
Lovely post, as always.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Hi, Barbara -- thank you for sharing about how lucky you are to read 2 or 3 or more books each week (and "exploring new ideas, imagining"). you are a blessed woman indeed (and talented!). i LOVE that you've read five from this list. ;)

Caleb Garcia said...

Great writing, great selections. I can't wait till "FatScribe: Volume 1" hits print. I liked the Obama note, nice find. You've given me some great reading ideas- to visit the literary opus of my alma mater.

Also, "N" comes AFTER "L"- so you meant sequel, not prequel.

My only criticism: Where's C.S Lewis?

Kathy said...

Jg...I read EVERY day, and although your fav authors are different from mine, our mission is the same. Some of our chosen topics are similar as well. I haven't read "The Federalist Papers", but may now. I've had a "history crush" on Alexander Hamilton forever. I highly recommend Ron Chernow's take if you haven't already. I'm currently devouring everything Christopher Hitchens, and am always reading Austen and Dickens. Wonderful post...as usual......have a great weekend...k

Jg. for FatScribe said...

caleb -- thanks for the fix. no sleep can induce crazy things (like "woops" publishing a blog post about 3 days before its time! ... like i did on this one). btw, i listed Mr. Lewis on my Wordle, but he almost made it (and probably should have).

kathy -- you're a woman after my own heart. thank you for the recommendation on cherknow. i also have been reading hitchens quite a bit (i just finished his brother peter's latest ... he has more of my worldview, but i love his brother's biting erudition.) finished a few hamilton biographies the last couple of years. interesting life to be sure. we have amazing founding fathers, with warts and all.

christian soldier said...

read the new
Brad Thor
Vince Flynn
books Nov. Dec. and finished the 24 illustrations for my book...does that count...

Mandy said...

I related to this post on so many levels!!! I guess I would have to admit that I, too, am a bibliophile. I love books but just 7 short years ago, I wasn't reading at all. "Reading" for a degree kind of took away the joy of reading for me and by 2003, I was reading one book a year. Harry Potter changed all that and by 2009 I was up to 35 books a year even though in 2010 it was only 26. My aim this year is to read 50 books (and review them!)

I love that you bought that law book in school and only read it now! I've been like that too, going back and finally reading books I picked up 20 years ago.

The Federalist Papers sounds interesting. Last year, I read a book called Great Negotiations and it it included the negotiations around the Louisiana purchase and Franklin's appeal to the French Court for support for the American revolution. It made me quite fascinated in American history in a way that I hadn't experienced before and so I'll add your recommendation to my to-read list.

christian soldier said...

also have read many on your list-
and books containing the Founding documents-self study-
it started back in the early '80s when I met Marshal Foster at my first homeschool convention - son was 8 months old-and realized that we had been lied to about the founding of this great Republic..

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Carol -- congrats on finishing those 24 illustrations. can't wait to see 'em! (and yes, they do count!)

Emm -- 50 books AND reviewed?! look forward to reading your posts ... let me know if you read Yiddish Policeman's Union. (I predict you'll appreciate it.) And, yes, you definitely are familiar with the London Library, seeing that you're an S.A. expat living in London!

christian soldier said...

thank you for the tip as to _America Alone_- I have read it and keep it close - as I refer to it often....
and I - too - was surprised that Michael Crichton had become as conservative as shown in _State Of Fear_-and was truly saddened when he died at such a young age-66..2008--

Have you read any books by Catherine Millard esp. _The Re-Writing of America's History_?
BTW-Marshall Foster is right here in TO - CA -He is a friend of David Barton and was a friend of Peter Marshall-_The Light and the Glory_ -From Sea to Shining Sea_---Sad-I looked to see what PM was doing and found that he died Sept 2010 -only 70 years old :-(--

See what you've started!-I usually write in word 'bytes' - this is a tome!!
Have a great week-end- my friend...

Toad said...

Hero, Michael Korda's bio of TE Lawrence would be a great start

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Exec -- Yeah's Nikki's place is fun.

Shelley -- oh, no! sorry to be so heavy with this post. i think i was a bit moody when i wrote this post ... didn't mean to preach!

Barbara -- same as above for you, but also i encourage you to google the architectural digest article with michael crichton (there are 3 i think) from 1998, i believe. anyway, thanks for the visit! Promise No. 3 won't be preachy ...