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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Meme

Ma Beck tagged Mac (and all who drive on the left side of the road) and I begged Mac to tag me, so she did. This one made the rounds in the summer of 2006 and it looks like it's on a come back.

(A few of my bookshelves.
Click on photo for enlargement)

1. One book that changed your life.

Witness by Whittaker Chambers. It's his autobiography. He was born at the beginning of the 20th century in Philadelphia and was the pivotal figure in Alger Hiss-Wittaker Chambers cold war drama. As a youth he'd become dissaffected by modern society and like many of his generation attached himself to the communist party. He was vetted to go underground and came to know many agents, both homegrown and foreign, who infiltrated the highest levels of the US government. I came to know of him initially by reading William F. Buckley, Jr. Chambers eventually left the party and revealed the inner workings of the communist party in the US. If you want to know ideologically about the Cold War, and even its affect on American politics and global politics until today, for that matter, this book is *the* seminal tour de force. It details his ensnarment into the party, and his ultimate break from it and the reasons why. I give this one a good read about every other year or so. At heart, I'd always been an anti-communist, and this book taught me a lot of the American political left/right dynamic important in the 20th century. It's also somewhat of a spy thriller a fascinating look at one man's journey through the competing philosophies of the 20th century. Ideologically engaging, for all its length it's difficult to put down. This book also ideologically pushed Ronald Reagan from New Deal Democrat to Conservative.

2. One book that you've read more than once.

Odd question, as virtually most books I've liked I've read more than once. A perennial favorite for light reading is Life With Father. Its vignettes of family life in the Clarence Day family in the last quarter of the 19th century make you feel like you missed something by not knowing them personally. Father and Mother are larger than life and vividly portrayed. Stylistically the prose is elegant but unfussy.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island.

If I was never going to get off that island: The bible. If I was going to get off the Island: Brideshead Revisited. Unforgettable characters, one for every type of Catholic and heathen alike.

4. One book that made you laugh.

Groucho and Me. It was the start of my love affair for all things theatrical. A friend of mine when I was 14 was a real Grouchophile. I read that book, his others, then about Vaudeville, and then books about theatre as as a whole. (Oh, and it was through reading Groucho's books that I came to Pepys. Odd what leads you from book to book(s)!)

5. One book that made you cry.

None. Ever. Promise. Though there have been books that have made me angry at the injustices of man to man - for instance the Diary of Anne Frank and Robert Conquest's books about the Great Terror in the Soviet Union when the kulaks et al were being liquidated. The Icon and the Axe by Billingsly was also very powerful.

6. One book that you wish had been written.

The Infallible Guide to Picking Winning Lottery Numbers if you've been Really, Really, Really Good -- by Jesus Christ. [Hang on a second while I move out of this easy chair and into an underground concrete bunker somewhere, I think I hear thunder and lightening in the distance, and I think we may be under bombardment by asteroids.]

7. One book that you wish had never been written.

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. A more pretentious load of horsebleep I have never suffered through. I call it "The Book without Qualities." It was my last quarter in college, and for reasons it would now require a small fortune in psychiatric bills to conjure, I took a course in Austro-Hungarian-Middle European geopolitics from roughly Congress of Vienna through the early 20th century. The book was required reading. A few minutes ago when I looked up the sordid details in the wiki article about the book I was pleasantly pleased to find out that he and his family suffered grave poverty when he was writing his "masterwork." If he suffered even a hundreth what I did reading the damn thing, then I am well satisfied. Schadenfreude. It's what's for dinner.

I can't miss mentioning a close second: Simone de Beauvoir's Memoires d'une jeune Fille Rangee. (Memories of a Dutiful Daughter) In many ways it's a fascinating read, but one that was instrumental in a lot of nascient feminazi claptrap. Simone honey, equal pay for equal work and women being treated as if they had a brain in their heads is all great stuff. For that, right on, sistah. *BUT* you went off the rails with most of the leftist atheistic conclusions to which you came and screwed up forevermore men holding open doors for women without them having a seizure as to whether or not they would get their heads bitten off for doing so. Thanks a lot, b*tch!

8. One book that you're currently reading.

Lighter reading: Broadway Ancedotes by Peter Hay. I've been under so much stress about all I can manage is light reading. The one serious book I'm rereading right now is Raymond Brown's Introduction to the New Testament.

9. One book you've been meaning to read.

City of God by St. Augustine. You'd think I'd have read the thing by now. But noooooooo.... Can't tell if I start/stop because everytime I pick it up it's too reminiscent of the present or what. Ya think?

Tagging all bibliophiles out there who haven't done this one, or want to do it again. If you haven't got a blog of your own, feel free to use my com box. And if you do decide to do this meme, drop me a line in the combox I don't want to miss your picks.


Adrienne said...

Funny --- my hubby just read Witness and then he gave it to Father Bill who just finished it so we have had Chambers discussion group time going on.

I laso liked his Cold Friday.

gemoftheocean said...

Yes, I've got Cold Friday too. Seriously, I find Witness so hard to put down. IT angers me to this day the idiots who defend Hiss. It does clue people in why the left was so hateful to Nixon. He was the one that helped trap their fair haired boy.

I found it interesting, though not surprising that one of the first things that lead to the Chambers, both Whittaker and his wife to break with the Communist party, was they decided NOT to abort their baby, against the "advice" of the communist philosophy for people in the underground.

The book is such a must read for those who want to understand the struggle. I think if I could pick 10 people that "I wish I had known" from the 20th century, he'd be one of them. BTW, the left had tried to impugn him by saying he and his brother (who had committed suicide at a young age) had been more than just brothers. It never fails to amaze me how those on the left, for all their supposed championing of the so-called homosexual agenda, readily smear anyone that they perceive as a political enemy if they think they can get away with yelling "gay." They want it both ways.

If you grasp the books philosophical underpinnings, it also explains why the leftist media so hate Ronald Reagan and all he stood for. They tried to paint him as a half-wit, banking on enough gullible fools would buying it.

BTW, the "Ghosts on the Rooftops" article is a fascinating read if you can get hold of it. I can remember looking that up a few times in various university libraries. That was, of course, when TIME was worth reading. Interesting to have access to Time from the 1930s to the present. You can see from about the mid 1960s the whole magazine take a complete nosedive. Complete twaddle now, aimed to the "People magazine" set. Although one didn't always agree with it, some of the sections were quite literate and the tone overall held to a much higher standard. I wish editors would realize that yes, although there are a lot of intellectual goobers and slackers out there, there are quite enough literate people out here who would welcome a general news magazine that didn't pander to people where the average IQ was assumed to be 90.

BTW, this biography:

Tanenhaus, Sam (1997). Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75145-9.

is excellent.

Mulier Fortis said...

Nice one Karen! I don't think I've read any of them... except possibly for snippets of City of God... I might have to do a little exploring...

gemoftheocean said...

Mac, they're all good reads (except for the Musil!!!) For you, being English, I'd start with the Waugh. I don't know if you saw my Brideshead Revisited fun posts, I think I had about 3. You might want to do a search on those. In the late 70s, I think or early 80s The Brits did a big miniseries out of it. Read the book first, but I think it is the singular best translation of book to film I have EVER seen. Every loving nuance is there. Jeremy Irons, Anthony Edwards and a cast of other notables throughout. Fabulous.

Then from there whatever strikes your fancy. If you like spy/ideology stuff, Witness is IT. If you don't know the background though there's about a 10 page run down in William Manchesters THe Glory and the Dream(quite a fun read in itself) -- a social history from about 1930 or so to about 1972. There's a 10 page background section on the whole Hiss/Chambers thing. The Wiki article is actually quite good. (Though the evidence in the Venona papers is really overwhelming.)

For those feminist things Simone de Beauvoir in addition to being an effete snob was also the long time lover of Jean Paul Sartre, and occasionally Nelson Algren (he of The Golden Arm.) It's actually a fairly interesting period piece, but it does help you see where the left and the eternally jejeune and naughty had their leftist ideas percolate. I found her observations interesting. Occasionally agreed with some of them -- but it goes far to show you how far off track an atheist turn of mind can lead one astray. Without a belief in God, there's a vacuum, and this leftist ideology filled a void. They've substituted "the state" for God. It's a different religion of sorts, though the left doesn't admit it. If you took French and want to practice it's not a bad one to read in the original.

Life with Father is just plain fun. I'd be surprised if your school library didn't have that one. And Raymond Brown, until his death fairly recently was considered one of the foremost experts in the Gospel of John. He was a very prolific writer and was also an editor for The New Jerome Bible Study commentary, which I think is a fine work for an intelligent layman and is often a primer for those who want to go on to study scripture.

Happy reading. Someday, I'll finish that City of God.

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

Are you like me in that the 1st thing I do when I'm invited over to an aquaintence's digs is to snoop through their bookshelves? (Its more fun than snooping through the medicine cabinet, and usually more informative!) I don't know anyone who's gotten thru "The City of God" and I've only read those sections which pertained to topics I was researching. I barely got thru his "Confessions" (and if he had mentioned those damn pears 1 more time I would have gone INSANE!). I miss my bookshelves (they've been in storage for 2 years as my studio apartment is too small for them!) so I hope for the day I can afford again to have an apartment with room for them!

gemoftheocean said...

AA: you got it -- my eyes roam over bookshelves like some people devour diaries they're not supposed to read! so help me, ONE tacky romance novel and my stock in that person goes WAY down (assuming they don't have some maidenly aunt living with them who doesn't know any better!)

They can "make up" for it by having a degree in nuclear physics ... and in that case I'll think they're merely eccentric... but the addition of a self help book would forever put the kibosh on them!

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