Monday, August 14, 2006

The Book Meme (One Book That Changed Your Life, etc.)

I have been tagged by Jenn and DISL for the book meme. I have been meaning to do this for a while, but it's been very busy around here. Here it goes:

1. One book that changed your life. A Room in the Woods, by Kang Sok Kyong. This is a novella that I read in graduate school in my early twenties. It was originally published in Korean, so I read the translation (which scholars have shown to be quite good). This book changed my life for several reasons: a) it was the first book by a Korean writer I ever read; b) it was very good, affirming my suspicion that there was a body of literature from Korea to which I would be able to relate; c) it was timely. The novella touches upon themes of love, desire, suicide, and family relationships---all subjects close to my heart. There is also a lot of poetry in the book, which was important as well. I read this book at the same time I began to realize poetry was going to be important for my life.

2. One book you have read more than once. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. Like you, I imagine, I have read many books more than once, but this one is one of my favorites. Set in Prague in 1968, Kundera is at his best here---philosophical (yes, there are some great Nietzsche references), beautiful, and provocative. I have not seen the movie, which I was not surprised to hear did not do the novel justice, but each time I read it there are new facets to love---the sensual (and sexual) tensions between the various characters, the political exile subplot, notions of loyalty and time, the organic forms of love and sex, and yes, that infamous bowler hat. I also loved Kundera's La Lenteur (Slowness), but The Unbearable Lightness of Being is so layered and rich, it begs to be read again and again.

3. One book you would want on a desert island. The City in Which I Love You, by Li-Young Lee. To be honest, I would probably want The New Testament, but the first poem ("Furious Versions") in Li-Young Lee's second book of poems is the closest thing to my idea of the perfect poem and I know it would occupy me for a long time. It is in seven parts, and quite frankly this book could also have been my answer for the questions #1 and #2 on this meme. Aside from "The Wasteland" and some Wallace Stevens poems, Lee's make me want to do what Timothy Liu preaches---commit great poems to memory. I would take the first week on the island to memorize only the first poem, another week to read it aloud, and probably another week to convince myself that I had not yet lost my mind.

4. One book that made you laugh. You Cannot Be Serious, by John McEnroe. I read a lot of biographies---literary, historical, and especially sports memoirs. This won't make your belly ache with laughter, but McEnroe's as funny and irreverent as he was in his youth (he reached the semis of Wimbledon when he was 18). He's got plenty to say about Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, and of course, Tatum O'Neal. I appreciate his mastery of the game and his unbridled love for it, despite what consequences may come. He reminds me of another athlete these days, Bode Miller. And I don't think there will ever be another tennis player quite like McEnroe.

5. One book that made you cry. To be honest here, I can't think of one. But there was a huge lump in my throat for many portions of Luong Ung's memoir, First They Killed My Father, so I'll stick with that. This is the powerful recollection of Ung's experiences as her family endured the Cambodian genocide (she was about eight years old at the time). I can tell you this---I have been to Phnom Penh and throughout the Cambodian countryside. The mines are still there. I have read this memoir and taught it in class, and there are some breathtaking moments of life and death that will slow your world down.

6. One book you wish had been written. Yet unpublished, yet to occur: How I Made My Millions and Bought the Island of My Dreams.

7. One book you wish had never been written. Can't think of one.

8. One book you are currently reading. Drive, by Lorna Dee Cervantes. When you hold this book, you feel like you are holding something important in the larger scheme of things---history, art, culture, and of course, poetry. On one of the walls in my office, I have two posters from the Academy of American Poets. The one from 2000 is the best---a collage of various poets, Lorna Dee Cervantes among them. So there's that weight of stardom, but more importantly her poems are fabulous. I bought the hardback version and am enjoying it a great deal. I count her among my influences, so this long-awaited book (an impressive 308 pages) will take a good while to absorb. But I'm in no rush. It's like other great things---food, nature, breath---best to take it in slowly.

9. One book you have been meaning to read. Aloft, by Chang Rae Lee. This author's first book, Native Speaker, is one of the best novels I have ever read. I bought Aloft because I loved Native Speaker so much, but Aloft is a departure and it didn't take with me right away. I just re-read the New York Times book review on it, so maybe now I should get back to it and finish. I read a lot of books--a quarter of the way through. I don't know why. I enjoy them, but for some reason I put them down for about five years and then revisit them. It's just one of those things. Other books (at least the first part) I have enjoyed but need to finish are A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, The Brothers Dostoevsky, and The Stranger. And I also want to read some Augsten Burroughs.

10. Now tag five people! I don't know if ya'll meme, but I hereby tag Reb, Jae Ran, Pris, Emmy, and Sheryl.


Michael Parker said...

Great list of books and thoughts, Lee. I'm so glad you mentioned Lorna's Drive. Her work is amazing. Thanks for this post.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Great list. Now I have to go think of a list for me.

Lee Herrick said...

Yes, I'm loving Drive/. If you feel like it, I'd love to see both of your lists, Michael and Dana. I had a hard time with it; several people whose lists I have read stated they hard a hard time limiting it to one. I also really wanted to mention a few films that were major tear-jerkers, but I tried to keep to books.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Lee, you are right it's a difficult list to make. But isn't that great that we all have so many wonderful books to pick from? Anynway, I just posted mine up. I'm sure I'll change my mind if I read it again.

Lee Herrick said...

I loved your list, Dana. You're right; it is a blessing to have so many to choose from. Today I bought Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Peace, which came out last year. It's his idea(s) on how peace can be achieved in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Hui Jeong said...

it took me a while to read a loft as well. when i finally did, i was a bit disappointed. sorry lee!

jenni said...

Great list! I need to add a few of these to my shopping list for next month. This month I've gone alittle overboard. sigh.

Lee Herrick said...

Hui Jeong, I got that feeling when I started just didn't grab me like his others. I hope I can finish it eventually though because I love his writing generally.

Jenni, good luck keeping the book buying under control. It's tough. I bought two yesterday, along with a book for our daughter.

Sheryl said...

Hi Lee,
I'm thinking of my list now. Better late than never. It does seem like a tough thing to narrow things down. I sent an email, too.

Michael Parker said...

Hey Lee. Just got back to read your reply. I'd love to do this. Now, to put on my thinking cap. So many noteworthy books.