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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Some of THOSE books

I really like these opening sentences in R. Michael Johnson's "Overweening Generalist" blog post for June 9 (OK,I meant to write about it earlier):

We all have one or three or fourteen or "around seven"of those books that we are always returning to, year after year, sometimes almost every day, or at least once a fortnight. One of my problems may be that I have too many of these books. These are books that you keep by your bedside, but perhaps have another copy in your living room. You have perhaps lost a copy of one of these books and have replaced it. Possibly more than once. You have bought copies and given them as gifts, and maybe found out later that they were never read. These are your books. You love many other books, but these are the ones that have melded into your DNA somehow, they've had an almost demonic power over you at times; it seems that, though some of them may be less than 250 pages, their contents are, for you, inexhaustible. These books seem to pay dividends at a far higher rate than you ever imagined when you first picked them up; they are blue-chip stocks that go up in value every year, and you are comfortable with that aspect of opacity in the text ...

Michael's post then veers off into a few thoughts that he wants to offer before going to the fridge for a beer and reveals that for him, two of those books are Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski and Ulysses by James Joyce, two important books for RAW, but I want to stay on his opening passage for a moment, because it made me think about what those books are for me. After I read Michael's passage, I started making a list.

The most important example for me would be the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy; I still have my 1970s mass market paperbacks, which I have read over and over.

Some of my others as Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (he has a new novel coming out this fall, which I'll read ASAP), The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (not as influential on my thought as Wilson or even Stephenson, but boy does Wolfe take you to another world) and Flag of Ecstasy by Charles Henri Ford (a collection of the best material from about a couple of decades from an American surrealist poet I discovered years ago while reading an anthology of surrealist poetry.)

Michael's remarks also fit nicely with what Leary had to say about getting into an "active relationship" with a book.

See also Michael's other post on books (click the photo of the library for a higher resolution photo).


Ewan said...

re-read Illuminatus Trilogy four times now and i imagine i'll do so many more times. find more stuff every time and that also changes with age.

Chris Tucker said...

definitely true for Illuminatus! for me, though I've been holding off for a few years to re-re-read it afresh. agree that Cryptonomicon is excellent as well as Snow Crash and Diamond Age although I thought Quicksilver so bad that I never gave Stephenson another look. So bad in fact that I still believe it to be cryptext disguised as a novel. I just haven't cracked the code yet.