Friday, 19 October 2007

Books that become old friends, some shameless begging, and a game of "spot the intentional error"

Sometimes you come across a book that will become an old friend -- one that you buy in hardcover, because you know you will read it often enough to justify having a well-bound copy.

Because I change apartments frequently, it is important to try and keep my book collection small: books take up a lot of space and weight, especially if you ever move between Canada and Korea.

Here is my list, in no particular order (other than the order in which they came to mind, which says something in itself).

The Little Prince - Antoine de St.Exupery
Haroun and the Sea of Stories - Salman Rushdie
Ahead of All Parting - The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke - trans. by Stephen Mitchell
New American Standard Bible - breast pocket edition
The Annie Dillard Reader
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzerald
The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Franny and Zooey - JD Salinger
Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
Speaker For The Dead - Orson Scott Card
Mirrored Minds: A Thousand Years of Korean Verse - trans. by Kevin O'Rourke
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tsu (my translation is by Sam Hamill, and highly recommended.
The Art of Happiness - Dalai Lama and another guy.
Several of John Keats' best poems.
(with pride:)
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
Batman: the Dark Knight Returns - Frank Miller
Batman: the Dark Knight Strikes Again - Frank Miller

Others that nearly made the list, or are somewhere in an anthology on my shelf, etc:
The Collected Short Fiction of Flannery O'Connor
Hamlet - Victor Hugo
E.E. Cummings - Selected Poems
Oedipus Rex - Sophocles (I once tried to write an essay on this one, and after reading it, was so impressed I didn't want to write about it: I just wanted to read it to people instead.)
amazingly enough
The Iliad - Homer (translated by Robert Fagles - thought it would be dusty and dry, but this translation is vivid, visceral, and quite stirring!)
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

painfully absent:
Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

if my apartment building burnt down, I'd grieve the loss of some irreplaceable things, particularly some photos, old drafts of old poems, and the painting my best friend Melissa made for me, but those are the books I'd buy again.

For a guy who loves reading and storytelling as much as me, that list is pretty darn short!

But the reason I'm writing about this is because I just reread Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
(Ender's Game, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, The Catcher in the Rye, Rilke, The Little Prince, Mirrored Minds, and the Tao Te Ching are the books end up off the shelf and in my hands most often)

My friend Tamie wrote on her blog that Seymour, from JD Salinger's works, is the fictional character she'd most like to meet.

I'm gonna add to that list, the Little Prince, and Ender Wiggin, the protagonist of Ender's Game and Speaker For The Dead.

Here's why:

Ender's story touches me deeply, because I really feel like he is the most human, most representative everyman I've ever read. He contains the genius, the potential, and the sorrow, the compassion and the viciousness, the insight and the need for redemption, that made the human condition so baffling, and all these features are displayed believably and compassionately in a character that is so human, I feel like I know him. I don't want to give away any plot points if you haven't read the books, but Ender's flawed, confused greatness is the most touchingly human portrayal I've ever seen of a protagonist in a book.

I highly, highly, highly recommend you read Ender's Game, and Speaker For The Dead: they will teach you something about compassion and healing, in a more profound way than you'd ever think, given that it's a pair of science fiction books. I think maybe there are some things that we can only learn from stories. The Talmudic Tradition, and Jesus, were onto something there.

(My other favourite everymen (everyhumans) are Holden Caulfield (Catcher In The Rye), and, though he's a little too perfect, is Jean Valjean. I love him, but I don't feel like I know him, the way I do with Ender.)

If you want to know why I love Catcher in the Rye, and especially Holden Caulfield, so much, ask.

PS: It's my birthday on Monday. I feel kind of bad doing this, but here's a low-grade, and low-class call out:

(shameless begging for my friends in Canada to send me something that can't be found in Korea. . . more shameless begging for my friends in Canada to send me something that can't be found in Korea. . .more shameless begging for my friends in Canada to send me something that can't be found in Korea. . .)

. . . please? If you really want, I'll send you some compensation.

(just in case this wasn't shameless enough already. . . )

This begging can be used as wallpaper, too.

so, uh, enough of that.

what books are YOUR best friends?


Dad said...

My best friend, and the book that comes off my shelf most frequesntly is the Bible. This year I am enjoying again Eugene Peterson's version - The Message. I highly recommend it.

By the way, Happy Birthday. We just sent off a care package. It contains some TH coffee, but no shoe inserts. It can take 3-6 weeks for stuff to get mailed to Korea! Have you found a quicker way than the slow-as-molasses Canada Post?
Dad & Mary Anna

Dad said...

I also enjoyed reading "Speaker for the Dead". It caused me to reflect on my own role as a pastor called to speak when someone has passed away.

I attended a funeral this week where the deceased was hardly mentioned during the sermon. The preacher may have spoken the Gospel, but he did not speak for the dead.

Whenever I preach at a funeral I consider myself as a "Speaker for the Dead". It is not my intention, or my place to tell the whole story, but to tell enough of the life of the one whose passing is mourned / celebrated to reflect how the Gospel came to life through that person and how their life speaks to us and calls to us with respect to the major decisions of our lives.

Often, in life, a person may have had a very quiet testimony. Someone (and I think the pastor has to be a part of this) needs to speak up for them at their passing - to put their life in the perspective of eternity.

An "open mike" does not quite do it because then we are likely to get just the good stories without them being placed in an eternal context.

I hope that when my time comes, someone will 'speak for me' as pastor Colin spoke so sensitively for Mom when she died.

Roboseyo said...

Speaker for the Dead is one of the most powerful books I've read, too. Thanks for the birthday wish.

I love the book because it's a reflection on what's truly important in light of death, a story of redemption, a statement of faith about humanity, and a handbook on dealing with other cultures/races' assumptions (as well as a dressing-down of human arrogance) all at the same time.

elizabeth said...

you made me laugh. thanks. that pix is great.

i cant promise anything beyond thanking u for the post though;

let us ur blog readers know if u cant find someone to send u the shoe inserts, however


melissa said...

I'll send you some. Re-send me your address.

My best book friends include;
Anne of Green Gables
Emily of New Moon
Laura Ingalls Wilder books... yes, still....
The Poldark series
Life of Pi
The English Patient
Ahnil's Ghost (sp?)
A Fine Balance
The Glass Castle
Mercy Among the Children (redemption and grace and pathos all mixed up together in the Eastern Canadian landscape)
Ann Lamott
Rumi (recent addition)
Lord of the Rings
Reading Lolita in Tehran
A Path Made Straight (mother teresa)
the History of Modern Art
the Twits
As the Waltz Was Ending
The Handmaid's Tale
Oryx and Crake (even though these last two are stories of the same spirit, I like them equally well, separately)

I couldn't spot the intentional mistake. My stupid.

Roboseyo said...

there's no shame in loving books for younger readers, melly-cat. one of the best books I've read is "The Chocolate War" and "Ender's Game" is clearly targeted at 14-year-old boys.

i have shel silverstein on my list, for goodness sakes.

Roboseyo said...


first person to spot the intentional error gets to choose the topic for my next post.

melissa said...

Ha ha,
your next topic will be something to do with menstruation if I spot it.

melissa said...

Is it the fact that you stated Hamlet was written by Victor Hugo instead of Shakespeare?

Roboseyo said...


do you seriously want me to blog about menstruation?

melissa said...

I'm kidding about the girlie stuff!! Lol!! I wouldn't do that to ya, don't worry.
How about #2? We all would love to hear more, but I don't want to push you beyond what you're ready for.

I know, why don't you write about why you love to write/why you write, and what you like about literature? Your own philosophy of your art. Yup, that's the topic I choose.


Roboseyo said...

will do. it may take a few days of stewing though.