A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Books are complicated things. They are like perfect lovers, hiding in plain view, keeping their secrets carefully between the covers. When we speak of them, they hold our gaze with memories, but we never tell the whole story – do we? We cautiously avoid those delicate evenings, getting to know each other; the stolen afternoons; the nights, together alone in the darkness, page after page until, exhausted, we sleep. And those tiny lies and excuses we make to shut the world out when we simply can’t resist one more intimate embrace. Our books are the sly smile we have when we think no one is looking, and they belong to us, just as we belong to them — sworn sacred to be faithful.
Last week my eBuddy CJ Hartwell went to her bookshelf and …. She tells a better tale than I do, and you can read it here: Hartwell’s Books. But she showed us her books and told us more than who they are. It’s a fascinating idea to look through a few reflections to see ourselves because the truth is nothing reveals who we are quite as clearly as revealing the things we love. So I went to my bookshelf and discovered — it was mostly ex-lovers — long kept and long remembered – from a time so young and strong I may never leave it.
Glory Road – Robert A Heinlein
I found this book in a used bookstore when the world and I still had a use for such things. This is a love story, thinly disguised as science fiction. I confess it took me a few years and few readings before I could appreciate that.
A World Lit Only By Fire – William Manchester
The history of medieval Europe without the hard-sleighing of scholarship. I take this with me every time I go to Europe. It’s not the Europe I see — but the one I imagine, cleverly peeking out of the stones and the streets. Lost footsteps, echoing across the centuries.
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I grew up a prisoner of the vast North American prairie. Ivan and I know what it’s like to be lost and alone in the inescapable wilderness, and we also understand that sometimes there is no glorious, indomitable human spirit. Sometimes there is only survival.
History of England for Public Schools
My father’s textbook, circa 1930. I still use it to keep those pesky Stuarts kings in line.
Tai Pan – James Clavell
This was a best-seller when I was a kid, so I read it. Then I read King Rat; then I read Shogun; then I read Noble House, etc., etc. I keep Tai Pan because it’s a better adventure than King Rat and not so long and involved as Shogun or Noble House. Plus, back when I had visions of being a scholar, I thought “The Duality of Character in the Novels of James Clavell” would be a marvelous dissertation.
Shibumi – Trevanian
Nicholai Hel is a skilled assassin who has spent half a lifetime isolating himself from the madness of the modern world, but … it intrudes – it always intrudes. So, the question remains: can we ever truly separate ourselves from the faceless somebodies who think they have a better idea for the world? Probably not, but we can become such a badass nobody messes with us.
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
A wise person once said, “To believe in the heroic makes heroes.” This is the third, fourth or even fifth copy of a book I won as a prize in grade school. I keep it because I might be too old to believe in Tarzan, Treasure Island or Sanders of the River (Not!!!) but Bilbo Baggins is a good place to hide my hopeless belief in heroics.
Cabbage Town – Hugh Garner
This is a novel so out of print and out of fashion that you have to fight with Google to even find it. It’s Canadian literature from before CanLit became a closed shop and people like me didn’t have to go to America and Great Britain to get published – but I’m not bitter. It’s one of the reasons I’ve spent my life doing what I do.
And two extras:
Dutch-English/ English-Dutch Dictionary
I keep this handy for when Google Translate runs amok.
The Woman in the Window – WD Fyfe
Of course, I have my own book on my bookshelf. D’uh!