Lisa, of eudaemonia, tagged me for another book meme. I’m glad she did because one of my answers reminded me of a mystery story that had planned to write many years ago. More about that on No. 7. Here goes:
1. Hard cover or paperback, and why?
Audio-especially if there’s a good reader. Jim Dale reading Harry Potter, James Marsters’, reading of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, and Barbara Kingsolver reading her own work are examples of excellent readers. Otherwise, I rarely buy hardbacks unless they’re used or somehow special. I bought Patry Francis’s The Liar’s Diary in hardback, for example.
2. If I were to own a book shop, I would call it…
If I specialized in railroad books, perhaps "The Twentieth Century Limited." In Elkhart, I might call a general bookstore “The Cynic’s Book World,” a pun on Ambrose Bierce’s The Cynic’s Word Book, the original name for The Devil’s Dictionary. Or, perhaps, In the Midst of Life, the later title for Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. Outside Bierce’s onetime hometown, “The Frigate,” from Emily Dickinson’s poem. In sailing days, the frigate was a fast, three-masted ship, used as the eyes and ears of the navy. When one could only locate the enemy by sight, frigates were essential for naval intelligence. Dickinson surely knew this when she wrote:
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
Owning a bookstore is strictly subjunctive mood, though. I have less business sense than a two-toed sloth.
3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is:
I’m going to cheat a little bit on this and use a poem. The ballad “Thomas the Rhymer” is in many anthologies. I first read it in Seven Centuries of Verse, edited by A.J.M. Smith.. And in this quote, weird is a noun, meaning fate. The Queen of Elfland has just dared Thomas to kiss her:
“And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be.”
“Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunten me”
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.
4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be…
Bierce would probably bash me with the cane he carried for dealing with critics, so I’ll pass on him. I couldn’t count on Jack Kerouac to be sober, even in the next world. I’ll have lunch with Kenneth Rexroth. I’d love to talk with him about his childhood in Elkhart, Indiana, even though I can’t expect him to tell the truth.
5. If were going to a deserted island and could bring one book except for the SAS survival guide, it would be…
I’m going to cheat here, too. I’d take my HarperCollins Study Bible, (NRSV). That’s really a lot of books, as it includes both the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha, and a few books, like 3rd and 4th Maccabees, that are recognized only by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Peter, of slow reads, often quotes amazing stories from the Old Testament, which I’ve never read.
6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…
Puts the due date on every book , tape, CD, etc that’s checked out of the library. In the days before computers, you had a card in each book that clearly stated when the book was due. Now you get a receipt for everything that’s slipped into one of the books, used as a bookmark, and promptly lost.
7. The smell of an old book reminds me of…
For some reason, I thought of a small storefront bookstore at the corner of Seventh and Division in Davenport, Iowa. It was in a building that had seen its best days when the Seventh Street trolley was running. Kathleen and I went in there once; the next time we were in Davenport, it was gone. But inside it were multi-volume editions of Goethe, Schiller, and Heine--all in that old German Fraktur type. At that time, both of us knew enough German to appreciate something like that, but we couldn’t afford it, even at the really low prices the store offered.
And that reminded me of a story I had conceived of back in those days. It was a mystery set in Davenport in 1916, before and after the referendum on woman suffrage. The amendment to the Iowa constitution giving women the vote failed because of opposition in places like Davenport and Dubuque, where the Germans and Irish associated woman suffrage with prohibition. My protagonist, Friedrich Teufel (German for devil; thus, the Devil of Davenport), is a reporter for Der Reform, a German-language newspaper, and a first-generation American. He and his unlikely ally, suffragette Clarice Barteau, the widow of a British soldier killed on the Marne, solve the crime. I’m fuzzy on the details of the crime, but I know that Teufel, after a lot of soul-searching, decides to support the amendment. (Aside: I took the heroine’s name from what I thought was the name of one of Kathleen’s ancestors. After doing some genealogical research, Kathleen found that the good woman was really named Clara Bartow. I like Clarice Barteau better.) The story’s on the back burner, but it’s simmering again.
8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…
Simon Morley from Jack Finney’s Time and Again. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand. If you haven’t, it’s a great read.
9. The most overestimated book of all time is…
I’ll risk being “left behind” and say the Book of Revelations from that compilation I’d take with me on the deserted isle. When the early Church was deciding on the biblical canon, Revelations almost didn’t make it in. In the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom argued against putting in the canon. A millennium later, Martin Luther said it didn’t belong in the New Testament; that it was neither apostolic nor prophetic. The Jesus of Revelations is not the loving Savior of the Gospels but a vindictive King who seems intent on throwing most of us into a lake of fire. It has some beautiful imagery, to be sure, but it’s caused more ill-will than any other part of the New Testament, save Matthew 24:25, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
Of course, we’re stuck with Revelations in the canon, and with wacky interpretations of it such as those of Tim LaHaye and other “rapture” evangelicals. But I still think Martin Luther was right about this one.
10. I hate it when a book…
Is overly pretentious. I tried to read one of those long Robert Ludlum books once. The author miffed me right off the bat by having his hero take a compartment on the Rome-Venice train, the Freccia della Laguna. In the early 1980s I worked for the Midwest office of the Italian State Railways. I’ve ridden the Freccia della Laguna. (It was called the Marco Polo by then, but it was the same equipment.) It doesn’t have compartments. It’s set up like an American train, with open seating. O.K., getting trains wrong is pretty high on my list. But then Ludlum proceeds to quote a passage in Czech--untranslated. I’ll accept untranslated French, German, Spanish, or even Latin in a book. But Czech? Ludlum is telling most of his readers, “I’m smarter than you because I know Czech.” I didn’t finish the book.