Guinness74 tagged me with a book meme, which says to open the nearest book at page 123, find the fifth sentence/phrase, and blog the next four sentences/phrases. I saw this meme last week on Tim’s blog. At that point, the nearest book to me was The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker and the text on page 124 (no text on page 123 — just a photo of a cartoonist) was funny stuff about the artist’s background.
Today, the nearest book is rather dramatically different: A Clockwork Orange. My son, who watched the movie several days ago, is now reading the book, so it was on the table behind me.
Page 123 comes as the doctors have completed their “treatment” of Alex for his violent, antisocial traits; they’re ready to reintroduce him to society. The four sentences are as follows:
“… At this stage, gentlemen, we introduce the subject himself. He is, as you will perceive, fit and well nourished. He comes straight from a night’s sleep and a good breakfast, undrugged, unhypnotized. Tomorrow we send him with confidence out into the world again, as decent a lad as you would meet on a May morning, inclined to the kindly word and the helpful act. …”
These sentences literally gave me chills as I typed them, knowing as I do what kind of person Alex really is, despite the “cure” inflicted on him, and remembering the things he did before this point in the story and will undoubtedly do after the book’s end.
I’ve read only part of the book. The movie is phenomenal. Horrifying. Pitch black. Bizarre. Marvelous. No other fictional character is simultaneously as cool and yet as psychotically sadistic as Alex. If you haven’t seen it, you should … but be prepared.
I read the ends of books first.
[Waiting for the shock and confusion to subside.]
First, I should say that I don’t read a lot of fiction; my preferences run to sociology, psychology, history, and that sort of of thing. The fiction I do read is generally written by a small group of favorite authors: Rex Stout and Ngaio Marsh in particular. These are mysteries, and the authors are known quantities, so I don’t need or want to know the endings.
However, when I start reading a fiction book that’s an unknown quantity — say, a new thriller by Thomas Harris — then I want to know it will be worth my time. And by that, I mean I want to know that a primary character I’ve learned to care about during the course of reading won’t be dispatched in an ugly fashion in the last few pages.
Take the new Harry Potter book, for example. (And no, I am not going to give away the ending.) Why in the world should I devote 15-20 hours of my life to reading it if I know it ends with Harry, Ron, and/or Hermione splattered all over the walls of Hogwarts by a well-aimed Voldemort curse? My son and husband brought home a copy from a lovely midnight party held at Destinations Booksellers, and the next morning my son was kind enough to release it from his grip just long enough for me to read about half of the last chapter and the epilogue. Thus informed, I was able to make my decision about whether I’ll read the book.
You see, I read books for the same reason I go to movies: for diversion and enjoyment. (Yes, I find out the ends of questionable films, too, before I spend hard-earned money only to be devastated by an unexpected turn of events. Thank goodness for TheMovieSpoiler.com.) I do not read or go to movies to experience wrenching emotional moments or sob at the loss of a beloved character (or their child, or their pet). Some people find sad or otherwise emotionally overwrought books and films cathartic and speak happily about how much they cried after reading or seeing such-and-such (the movie Terms of Endearment comes to mind). All I have to say to that is, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Call me twisted, call me a wimp, but I like to know that all is well — in advance!
What would you do if you had 4 completely free, uncommitted hours by yourself, to do whatever you wanted?
I got to answer that question last weekend. I travelled with my husband to an out-of-town meeting (leaving the kids with their grandmother). Friday evening, after dinner, he went off to talk about fascinating insurance and budgetary information. What to do?
I didn’t want to watch TV. The hotel didn’t have easily accessible high-speed Internet access. I was very tired, having gotten up earlier than usual several mornings, so I considered crashing really early. But I’d brought a book, so I decided to lie down and read for a while.
Four hours later (just after midnight), I finished the book, just about the same time my husband returned from having a post-meeting beer in the hotel bar.
I don’t know the last time I’ve just read, and read, all I wanted, with no reason or requirement to stop and do something else. (It reminded me that my son gets this from me — he reads, and reads, and reads, just as I did when I was his age.)
It was wonderful.
(Oh, yes: If you’re wondering what book, it was Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. I hadn’t read it for years, and I’d forgotten what an astonishingly good book it is. If you think the movie is incredible — which it is — you should read the book, too, because it gives you added insight and detail into the characters and plot. You may find that, like me, you can’t put it down.)
Yesterday I wrote an entry that was meant to be a general commentary on the books I read and enjoy. It was fun to write, and I hoped that it might encourage some visitors to check out a few of my favorite authors and titles.
Instead, the entire (lengthy) response in the comment section has focused on one short item from the entry: the fact that I listed the Bible as a book I wish had never been written. This response was not my intention, and, whether or not I should have seen it coming, it’s taken me entirely by surprise.
Ben tagged me! And a fun game of tag it is, too. It’s my turn to address the following list of book-related categories. At the end, I’ll tag some people to go next.
I’ll preface this by saying that although we own hundreds of books (maybe thousands — they line our living room, fill our nightstands, and overflow from boxes in the basement), and I love having them for reference and occasional brief forays, I’m basically pretty limited in my reading preferences. I’ll go through waves of reading one particular author or genre (see “A Book That I’m Currently Reading”), but unless something fairly specific sets me off on a new road (a recommendation from a friend, for example, or a profile in The New Yorker), it’s hard to get me to try something new. For example, I doubt very much that you could ever convince me to read popular fiction. I don’t like much fiction at all — unless it’s written by a very small group of authors whom I adore. I much prefer nonfiction, on any of a variety of subjects.
On to the list…