Sunday, July 24, 2005

That book meme thing

It seems David has "nominated" me to answer some questions about books. This triggered a long slow period of thinking, and a rambling article started to form in the dark and drafty spaces of this site...

How many books do I own?

Quite a lot, now - but many of them are in boxes till I can get a few more bookshelves up. I used to use libraries a lot, and never really felt the need to own books (books are for reading, not keeping, aren't they?). But then our libraries stopped buying books, so I had to start buying. And now it's nice to be able to refer to them, to refresh my memory, or to reread old favourites. If only I had the time.

Last Book I Bought?
That would be, er.. Harry Potter and the... Half Blood Prince. Just as well I have no literary pretentions :-)

Last Book I Read?
The last book I finished was the Bookseller of Kabul - a fascinating view of life in a very traditional Islamic society from a foreign writer who lived for a while with a local family. I've picked up Fermat's Last Theorem again (I'd "lost" it for a while) and of course I'm reading Harry Potter (which has temporarily displaced Lord of the Rings in my reading queue). The Bible is in a constant state of "being read" - though not quite as constant as it should be.

It's just as well that the "not a book club" Book Club is off for the summer - I'd have no time :-)

Five Most Meaningful Books In My Life?
That's a harder question. I'm not sure if I can answer it. It's not that usual for my life to be revolutionised by reading book. Ideas, yes - they change lives - but they come as much from interacting with people as from reading books. And the changes tend to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. I think my mind is sort of like putty in that respect - new ideas and thoughts stick to the old ones and extend them in new directions, rather than completely replacing them. Does that make any sense?

That said, here are some books that have been meaningful to me (not necessarily in order of importance, but not entirely random either)...
  1. The Bible - it has been and continues to be a huge influence on my thinking, even as I sometimes struggle to understand what it is saying to me. In theory it's where I get my beliefs and practice from, though the reality is sometimes "more complex". Yet, I try. Most days.
    I like that it's more realistic about people than many of us in the "christian world" often are. The heroes are not all perfect supermen. And some are women!
  2. Metamagical Themas (and Goedel, Escher, Bach) by Douglas R. Hofstadter. My first encounter with the "Meme" meme, among many other fascinating ideas.
  3. The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins. A dreadfully evangelistic humanist, but a smart guy, Dawkins has a strange and compellingly different way of looking at life and genetics. But he seems to suffer from the Philosophers' Syndrome [1] - a habit of taking an insight, and believing that everything is suddenly about that one thing. I suppose Hofstader's thoughts on levels of existence and emergent properties had prepared me to incorporate some of these ideas into my hazy world view.
  4. In Understanding be Men. You couldn't write a book with that title nowadays - the politically correct theological establishment would have you for breakfast. But this old book gave me a valuable insight into the pros and cons of many's a theological connundrum, and left me with the feeling that good, er, men, could start from the same premises and come to quite different conclusions.
  5. The Trouble with Guns, by Malachi O'Doherty. A persuasive analysis of years of Irish republican violence.
  6. The Fight - John White. This small book took a remarkably common sense approach to many issues, when I was working through various things in my mind. It would be interesting to re-read it now...
  7. The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. Conversations and letters of a remarkably humble seventeenth-century servant of God. (Less paraphrased translation here).
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. A powerfully told tale, which only strengthened my view that we are people first, and members of groups, classes, or races second.
  9. Chaos, James Gleick. Fascinating insights into a world that was almost unknown just a few decades ago. It explains why we'll never abe able to forecast the weather perfectly, and shown how (on a different level from Harper Lee's book) the universe is all about Maths. Well, almost all.
  10. The Jargon File (aka Hackers Dictionary). Edited by ESR. It gave me a sense of the history of the discipline of coding, and an appreciation of its folklore.
This list is subject to change without notice. I've probably forgotten something vital. And it's not 5 books. So sue me :-)

I suppose I'll have to think of some more people to bug with these questions:
  • How many Books Do You Own?
  • Last Book You Bought?
  • Last Book You Read?
  • Five Most Meaningful books In Your Life?

[1] Philosophers' Syndrome - I suppose it's often really the Apologists' Syndrome, where those who follow and interpret the great thinkers claim more for the insight than was ever intended.

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in many philosophies.


Flaming Firegeni said...

:S it is very difficult to choose 5 books! What criteria should one use to choose - I wonder?

Most of the books in yours and David's selection are deeply "serious". Erm solemnish and mostly "intellectual" sorta.

Does that mean that books that make you laugh or cry are not meaningful?

Sometimes I think that a book that can make me laugh or "cry" is as powerful, if not more, as books that make me "think".

Hmm...? Why do we categorise humanness into "thinking", "meaning", "emotions" etc when humans are a complex concatenation of atoms.

Maybe, just maybe, sometimes laughter and tears can be deeply meaningful and profound in a way that the "brain" cannot explain or categorise. I am increasingly convinced that the Enlightenment's worship of rationality has left us to some degree scornful of the non-rational in terms of "meaning".

Erm this is all becuase I faltered when I realised that my favourtie books included Winnie the Pooh :D

Paul said...

Fair point - I could have included more funny books that also affected me, but the list is long enough as it is, don't you think? That'll have to be an article for another day. Mind you, the Jargon File is hilarious in places! It's not all seriousness. And Hoffstader (for example) isn't at all solemn.

But what's happened to your list? Feel free to include Pooh Bear.