Monday, June 30, 2008

100 book challenge: part two: poetry

Still toying with the idea of trying to figure out which books I would keep, if I were to limit myself to 100. Last week I figured out 25 works of fiction I'd want to keep; here are some selections from the Poetry shelf.

  • Veil: New and Selected Poems by Rae Armantrout
    [Armantrout's poems are enigmatic, delicate, and careful—she may be my favorite living poet.]

  • My Life, by Lyn Hejinian
    [This is perhaps the most interesting and important poetic project of the last, say, 25 years.]

  • Deer Head Nation, by K. Silem Mohammad
    [Back in 2007, I wrote that this book, part of the "Flarf" / "Google-sculpting" genre, was "one of the best new books of poetry to emerge in the last ten years." I stand by that.]

  • This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, by Juliana Spahr
    [Another important book, this pair of poems has a better grip on the key questions of the contemporary moment than almost any other book in my entire collection. Longer write-up here.]

  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems, by Russel Edson
    [Edson's demented little stories, like psycho-sexually rewired fairy tales, are a longtime favorite of mine. This is another book where just opening to any page and beginning to read is pretty certain to be rewarding. Random opening line, to test this theory: "A piece of a man had broken off in the road."]

  • How to Write, by Gertrude Stein
    [Not sure what to say about this book, except that it's not really about how to write. The classic Stein text is probably Tender Buttons, which I wrote up here and here, but don't actually own. Anyway, this one, also great, will do in a pinch.]

  • Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, edited by Jerome Rothenberg
    [Classic 1968 ethnopoetic anthology. Reads like a weird alternative Bible.]

  • Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover
    [A good Who's Who of interesting poets working today.]

  • The Return of Painting, The Pearl, and Orion: A Trilogy, by Leslie Scalapino
    [I've always loved Scalapino (I in fact made her Wikipedia page), and this book is a good example of why. Hard to describe, but I'd say it's like what you'd get if you ran a kind of important modern novel about globalism through some kind of syntax re-ambiguator?]

  • A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, by Tom Phillips
    [If you're not familiar with this bizarre text, run a Google Image Search on "humument" right now. Use this link, if you want.]

  • Human Wishes, by Robert Hass
    [This list is heavy on the experimental stuff, so here's what is, to me, a five-star book of more traditional lyrical poems about everyday life.

  • A Book of Luminous Things, by Czeslaw Milosz
    [Another one for the traditionalists. Love poems, haiku, lyrical meditation—standard stuff, but well-selected here, and I think one needs some more emotional and less academic stuff to round out the picks.]

  • Darkness Moves, by Henri Michaux
    [This French poet isn't that well-known, but his poems are blend of Surrealism, drug writing, and cerebral fantasy that I find absolutely hits me in my pleasure center every time. Sample line: "Infinite are the passages from fog to flesh in Meidosem country."]

  • Howl, by Allen Ginsburg
    [One of the greatest books of poems of the 20th century. Nothing more to add.]

  • The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
    [I also would like to bring along really good volumes collecting William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Hara, Ezra Pound, or John Ashbery, but aside from the Stevens I don't own any of these books, so I don't need to worry about which get the nod and which don't.]

That's fifteen—added to the twenty-five fiction titles brings us to forty. Sixty more to go.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

100 book challenge: part one: fiction

Here are the first 25 picks, all from the Fiction shelves.

  • The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker
    [One of my favorite authors, and this is my favorite novel by him.]

  • Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
    [This book has enough provocative, imaginative ideas in it to last one a lifetime simply by itself.]

  • The Age of Wire and String, by Ben Marcus
    [Still one of the most common books for me to read a random passage out of to someone.]

  • Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
    [Like Labyrinths, this is a book that opens up onto a nearly infinite "possibility space."]

  • If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, by Italo Calvino [The other really essential Calvino novel.]

  • Story of the Eye, by Georges Bataille
    [A 1928 pornographic novel so mindbending it borders on the Surrealist.]

  • Crash, by J.G. Ballard
    [If we're bringing along experimental pornography, we should definitely include this.]

  • Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs
    [And this.]

  • I'm going to cheat here, and count Burroughs' "Cut-Up Trilogy" (Nova Express, Soft Machine, and The Ticket That Exploded) as one volume

  • Another cheat: William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive).

  • I actually don't need to cheat on this one, because I have the single volume that collects The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, by Douglas Adams, but it's really the first only the first volume that matters deeply to me. I can, however, see myself enjoying re-reading the others at some point.

  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
    [I've still never made it all the way through all three of these, but it's good to bring an unfinished book along with some of the faves, and good to have a book you could feasibly read out loud for a year.]

  • The Annotated Alice, by Lewis Carroll [annotations by Martin Gardner]
    [Another good out-loud book, plus it's essential to have at least one book on hand that could entertain children. Having Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass together in one volume make this an absolutely indispensible choice.]

  • Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    [I'm not entirely sure that I'll ever re-read this, but there are some great bits in it that often pop up in my mind, and I'd like to be able to refer to those bits at some point.]

  • The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon [I'll include Gravity's Rainbow later, if there's room]

  • Underworld, by Don DeLillo
    [Maybe my favorite "realistic" novel of the last 100 years.]

  • White Noise, by Don DeLillo
    [Fights with Underworld for the title.]

  • Time's Arrow, by Martin Amis
    [My favorite Amis novel, and the most successful and beautiful extended meditation on the flow of time that I've ever read.]

  • Blindness, by Jose Saramogo
    [Like Time's Arrow, this is a book that's effectively a fantasy, but nevertheless profoundly captures both the horror and the beauty of real-life humanity.]

  • Europeana, by Patrik Ourednik
    [An experimental novel that's also a concise history of the 20th century.]

  • Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
    [Or maybe Pale Fire? Whew, tough choice.]

  • Valis, by Philip K. Dick
    [Far and away the best of his novels.]

  • My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist by Mark Leyner
    [An indescribable mish-mash of cyberpunk, experimental poetry, and humor writing.]

  • Schrodinger's Cat, by Robert Anton Wilson
    [More coherent and more intellectually provocative than the cluttered Illuminatus Trilogy.]

  • Magic For Beginners, by Kelly Link
    [A weird but often delightful collection of fantastical short stories.]

Next up: poetry.

Friday, June 27, 2008

100 book challenge

So in the Red Eye a couple of days ago was an article on something called the "100 Thing Challenge"—which caught my eye at first because I thought it was a spin on my long-running 100 Favorite Things exercise.

It is and it isn't. It's an article on one person's attempt to simplify his life by reducing his personal belongings to 100 things. This appealed to me, probably foremostly because I'm preparing a cross-country move in a few weeks, and so the idea of reducing my belongings has been much on my mind lately.

But 100 items only? Sheesh, I thought to myself, I don't think I could reduce even just my books to 100, much less everything else. (It actually turns out, if you look at the original post from the guy who came up with the challenge, that he's allowing himself books as an exception, so that's heartening.)

But it did get me to thinking: if I tried to reduce down to 100 books, what are the ones I would choose? I have a lot of books that I cart around from apartment to apartment to apartment, more for their decorative value than anything else. Many (most?) of them I don't think I'll ever re-read (and if I was struck by the sudden impulse to re-read them, I could probably go get them out of a library). But there are some that I do refer to regularly, or plan to re-read, or just can't bring myself to part with. But is that category larger than 100?

I think I'll make a list of the 100 "must-saves," and see how I feel about the "leftovers." A complete list or list in progress will likely appear here soon.

See also: the LibraryThing Swap this Book feature; BookCrossing; and my own lament, last year, about what to do with all the CDs clogging up my living quarters (a problem I'm still in the process of solving).