Monday, June 06, 2005

Monday is "Meme" Day

by Tom Bozzo

The second "tag" feels like less of a novelty, but this one, from Jay at Folkbum, is not an imposition.

Number of books in my collection: around 350 in Madison, maybe half that again in old paperbacks are still back in Delaware.

Last books bought: I can't remember anything since blogging about the purchase of China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and The Atrocity Archives by Charlie Stross.

Last books read: Fiction: The Atrocity Archives. Non-Fiction: Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser.

Currently in progress: This is my addition. I am finally gaining some traction in Neal Stephenson's The System Of The World, which I had started out reading with about the same alacrity with which a prominent public figure assailed I Am Charlotte Simmons. However, I am now making what is by comparison progress at superluminal velocities, and may yet crack Jonathan Strange (or finish re-reading Vineland) by the end of the month.

Five books that mean a lot to me: Alphabetically by author:

Pierre Franey, The Sixty Minute Gourmet. This book played a central role in keeping me fed to the standard to which I'd become accustomed growing up when I was on my culinary own in grad school. As a result, I never stooped to preparing abominations like "gloop," a former housemate's (an English Lit Ph.D. student!) term for the mixture of boxed macaroni and cheese and instant mashed potatoes — it's worse than it sounds. Franey's adaptation of the Escoffier chicken sauté makes regular appearances on our dinner table. It's amusing to note that in the late 70's, sixty minutes was considered quick for serious cooking, but now is an eternity in light of various works promoting edible meals that can be prepared within a half hour. Ah, progress.

William Gaddis, The Recognitions. I am congenitally unable to finish this book. I've made three main attempts, of which the last — an early-90s effort on the Metro commute to an after-school job in D.C. — took me about 3/4 of the way in. I'll probably first try to pick up JR from where I left off a couple years ago.

Thomas Hardy, Jude The Obscure. Jay offered Tess for one of his five, but for me Jude, perhaps my favorite book I'd been compelled to read, epitomized what I'd do for literature — in this case, wage total war on my freshman year roommate. It was beastly hot the first week of college, and he, being from a part of Connecticut that apparently doesn't get hot, kept me up one night when he couldn't sleep telling me all about himself. The breaking point was his confession that he considered literary criticism to be a waste of time, as he was incapable of detecting meaning beyond the literal text of a work. He illustrated the point with Jude, and I snapped. In retrospect, I probably should have just asked him to be quiet, and I'm also perhaps lucky he didn't kill me in my sleep at some point in the intervening conflict, as I dimly recall that there was an Intervention by our next-door neighbors (n.b., the dorm was alternating-room co-ed). Despite witnessing that teenage angst bull**** in action, one of the neighbors remains a good friend, and perhaps not too surprisingly, has a job ministering to first-year students — as the term of art now goes — at an elite college.

Philip Mirowski, More Heat Than Light. This is a very entertainingly written and mostly sharp critique of "physics envy" in economics, which I read at a point of late-second-year crisis with economics. Somewhat ironically, I went from More Heat Than Light — which ends with less than a bang, as Mirowski really didn't have much of a counter-program to offer at the time — to envy different kinds of physics, on the basis of which I conclude the story of monkeys showing some understanding of the concept of money from the debut Freakonomics column in the New York Times Magazine is not totally inconceivable (*). In retrospect, I recognize that I made a Bad Career Move for obtaining a tenure-track academic job, but feel no regret light of a counterfactual comparison of the job I got (and still have, nine years later) to the next best academic alternative.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49. I was pointed to this in senior year of high school as "serious" fiction that would appeal to SF sensibilities, so Lot 49 was the gateway drug to the postmodern American novel, which for a while I studied pre-professionally. My first girlfriend was besotted with F. Scott Fitzgerald and gave me a copy of The Great Gatsby for my (17th) birthday, and I reciprocated with a copy of Lot 49, which reportedly was not appreciated at all. My copy mysteriously vanished in our move last year.

I pass this on to Jeremy.


(*) In '94, I'd heard a presentation by a couple guys who claimed to have evolved a system of exchange with credit in a computer model of locally interacting economic automata.
A fight over the interpretation of literature, or the lack there of? Wow things were much different when I was in college.

-- The Angry Sicilian
There were plenty of other reasons why that roommate and I never would have been best pals, and Jude was just the proverbial straw. I'm pretty sure I never explained to him why I'd turned abruptly from a mild-mannered geek into a brimstone-spouting demon from Hell.
You can see how well I do with things passed to me. I still haven't done the music baton!
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