Charlie Stross has book-tagged me! Ow. This is like a chain-letter in blog form. Should be self-explanatory. 1: Total number of books I own: oh, goodness. The vast majority is still in storage. I got fifty or so with me. Call it two thousand. I sold about three hundred in the recent cull, which put a noticeable dent into the collection. 2: The last book I bought: Whispering Nickel Idols, Glen Cook; Trash Sex Magic, Jennifer Stevenson; What's the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank. 3: The last book I read: The Descent of Alette, Alice Notley. Working on: Alabi's World, Richard Price; The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki; and (still) Henry, King of France, Heinrich Mann. (Hank does not have his brother Tom's skill.) Professional books I am reading in chunks: The Politics of Property Rights: political stability, credible commitments, and economic growth in Mexico, 1876-1929, by Haber, Razo, and some guy named Noel Maurer. 4: Five books that mean a lot to me: probably best to go in chronological order.
1. The Bible. You know, I'm the only person I know who has been exorcised? Not the full Catholic ceremony, but still. My childhood was a little like the Addams Family. Anyway, the (absolutely bland) church I attended as a child let me read the Bible during sermons and Sunday school. Why not? And let me tell you, the Bible is one strange book. I learned it pretty well. Concordances showed me new ways to organize my thoughts; the translations of John 3:16, how different languages were from each other; the footnotes, how different concepts mapped differently from language to language. Socially, I learned that people would lie about, distort, or not even bother to check the most important book in their life if they thought they were right. 2. The Encyclopedia Britannica. When I was eight years old or so, I picked up the idea of binary trees. My mom was going back to college and leaving her programming texts around for me to read, so it was possibly from there; but the first use I made of it was based on the game Twenty Questions. It struck me that you could classify everything in the whole world, if you came up with the right tree. Over a million types! So I sat down with a big pad of paper and went through our brand-new Encyclopedia Britannica, looking for tree-like bases of organization. (Although I didn't know it at the time, this was the Mortimer Adler edition of the Britannica, which helped my search a lot.) I knew about the Linnean system from somewhere, and that became the basis for the 'living' half. The other stuff was more complicated. My parents thought my project was cute; I wasn't a very good explainer. I think I got to the eighth level or so. 3. Gdel, Escher, Bach: an eternal golden braid, Douglas Hofstadter. I'm still not sure why I spent that summer with relatives. First my maternal grandparents, in the fields and pastures of Brown County, then my paternal uncle and his wife in the "big city" of Green Bay. They were all of fifteen miles away from each other, but they might as well have been on different continents. The only thing unifying those stays were my trips to the Brown County Public Library, where I'd return to the same book every time, Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork. Eventually my aunt checked it out for me. At first I grooved on the Lewis Carroll interludes. Then I started messing with Hofstadter's formal logic system, played with his toy model of the DNA-RNA-protein replication cycle, thought weird thoughts about recursion. Later that summer my uncle taught me calculus. 4. The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe. By the time I got to college, I had this terrible fear of being uncultured. My dad speaks six languages, plays the violin, paints, gardens; my mom has four degrees (only the second person in her family to go to college!) and more books than I do. And me, I used to read penny-dreadful by the box, in breaks between textbooks. Hmm. Even I could tell that was a little unbalanced. So I set out to better myself. This probably wouldn't work with someone who didn't love reading for its own sake already, but I sat down and made lists. Read everything on the lists. Looked around to see what else was like that. What was important? Why was it important? A new list, of literary criticism. What were they teaching? I was on a rather narrow course track, but I could read the syllabi. Eventually I would sneak in to classes that fit my schedule. I was hungry. Starved. I had a box from the Science Fiction Book Club that I hadn't opened. It just didn't appeal to me any more. Very few people I met wanted to discuss science fiction _and_. And I wanted that 'and'. Maybe you can tell. One day, more out of guilt than anything else, I opened that box. I was a little burnt out. I sat down and started reading Gene Wolfe's series. Hours passed. Near the beginning of the fourth book, there is a scene where a captured prisoner of war, whose language consists only of Maoist slogans, tells a folktale in his native idiom. A folktale told entirely in Maoist slogans, with a running translation. By the end of that scene I was standing up, pumping my fist in the air, shouting and not even knowing I was shouting. One of the most brilliant, bravura pieces of sheer technique I have ever read; and though I am a little more jaded now, I still think it's incredible.That's only four. Well, I will only tag four people. 5:Tag five people and have them do it on their blogs: 1. Doug 2. Claudia 3. Carrie at Bad Mama 4. James Nicoll at More Words, Deeper Hole