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Saturday, April 30, 2005

You're It! 

Dialogic hit me with a book tag, a viral request of sorts for the recipient to answer 5 questions about books. After I've completed the questions, I'm supposed to ask five more people.

Q1 -- You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to save?

Rats, Lice and History – Because I learned more about Western Civilization and the natural history of man in its 300 pages than in any History class I took or in anything else I have ever read. Ostensibly a natural history of typhus, microbiologist Hans Zinsser uses the disease and its impact on man to provide a sweeping narrative of 2000 years of Western civillization.

Jared Diamond ripped off the title, style and form for his book Gun, Germs and Steel. Michael Pollan is indebted to him as well. In the book Zinsser offers a history not only of rats (he points out uncomfortable similarities of that species to ours), lice and typhus, but also medicine, plague, parasitisim, religion, warfare and (especially in how the outcome was inevitably determined by disease), conquest human folly, evolution, science, epidemiology, civic sanitation, and various diseases like syphilis, Black Plague, St. Vitus’ Dance and scurvy.

He’s cumudgeonly but never too cynical and he NEVER loses his sense of humor. The entire book is brilliantly insightful and astoundingly funny, full of fascinating digressions, tangents and erudite wit. If Ambrose Bierce were a microbiologist this is the work he would have produced.

I would memorize it because it’s one of my all time favorite books, and its purpose will be to let others know that as dark as times may be, humanity (along with its sidekick, the rat) will prevail.

Q2 -- Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee, although life expectancy for his special ladies was never too long, since they were usually killed off so he could have another interesting romantic interest in the next installment. It would never have worked. He was too much of a loner.

I always had a crush on those charming alcoholic sophisticates Nick and Nora Charles. They had a pleasant marital arrangement based on lots of money (hers), mutual affection, witty banter and crime solving. I also like Morticia and Gomez Addams. If only all ennui and all of life's troubles could be chased away by Gomez’s cry of, “Tango!”

Q3 -- The last book you bought is?

(Or bought for me at my request. Thank you, E!) Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook. It’s a collection of remembrances of an L.A. homicide detective who served during the 30s and 40s. Fascinating visual record of gruesome but every day events he would encounter on the job. One of the most haunting pictures is of a bunch of partygoers who succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. They all looked as if they had just peacefully fallen asleep on the couch. I felt a little bit like Serial Mom reading it in bed the other night. It reminds me of my days at the Sheriff’s Office, where I would spend hours poring over crime scene photos, where I developed a lurid streak a mile wide.


Q4 -- What books are you currently reading?

Too many to list here, which is the pitfall of working in a public library and having all of this access. I just finished My Life So Far by ‘Hanoi’ Jane Fonda. She’s pretty annoying but so emblematic of that Boomer generation I just had to.
I like to keep the works of mordant gay men like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs close by to read and reread.
I just finished the Epicure's Lament by Kate Christiansen, who writes like a mordant gay man. It's excellent.
I always keep my Southern belle lettrists by my bedside (Florence King – hilarious and wise but beware, she does not suffer fools gladly. Rosemary Daniell, Flannery O’Conner).

I just finished February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America, about the time before WWII when this amazingly diverse group of artist created a colony of sorts in a house in Brooklyn.

Q5 -- Five books you would take to a desert[ed] island?

I would like them epic, to pass the time.
Gone with the Wind –. Mitchell captures the oral history tradition of her culture brilliantly – a remarkable piece of storytelling. Also, the pure social Darwinism aspect of it, how these people had to recreate their lives and a new society from the ashes of war in which most of them lost everything.

Shogun – Perhaps only a writer who was a prisoner of war and husband to a Japanese national could produce such a that provides a window to the mentality of the Japanese. Recreates Shogun Japan vividly. He really opens up an entirely other world to the reader. Read this instead of the dreadful Memoirs of a Geisha.

House of Spirits – While I find Marquez’s magic realistic style nightmarish and unsettling, Allende's is beautiful and lyrical. She began this book as a letter to her grandfather about the history of their family. Politics, love, the whole South American, and human experience.

The Stand – When I read this when I was 13 I proclaimed, “STEPHEN KING IS THE GREATEST LIVING AUTHOR, EVER!” Ok, he sucks now, but his early stuff is fantastic, especially this apocalyptic tale of a battle for good and evil that takes place among the survivors of a super plague. I reread the Stand every couple of years. What a storyteller.

I’m sneaking a few more on: Books of Lists, People’s Almanac or anything else published by the team of Wallechinsky and Wallace. These books are compendiums of every fascinating, bizarre, delightful and wondrous fact that you can imagine. Their works have provided endless amusement and education and have made me a formidable Trivial Pursuit player.

Comments:
Thanks Foxy,

For the record its Dialogic, but no big...

I'll check out the Rats, Lice...

and I am a huge fan of the Travis Mcgee series having listened to them on audio tapes when i was doing a lot of traveling.
 
Oh yeah, I agree, The Stand is a masterpiece of the apocalyptic horror genre!
 
John D. MacDonald rocks. His Trav series is the best. And that's all I have to say about that one.

And the uncut version of "The Stand" is better than the original published version.

Jared Diamond has a new book out now, called "Collapse," that sounds very intersting. I'd like to hear your take on that one, too!
 
Rats, Lice, and History is wonderful. Check out "The cry and the covenant," by Morton Thompson, and "Eyewitness to history," (ISBN 067428750).
 
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