April 11, 2013

Five From The Fire

Yesterday, on the Ploughshares blog—with which I have, uh, a modest affiliation—Rebecca Makkai had this to say:
I have favorite books. And then I have favorite books, as in, the objects themselves, the ones made weird and irreplaceable by the extra markings in or on them—the annotations, the inscriptions, the love notes.

When people ask for my “favorites,” this is the list I actually want to give.
And that got my thinking about the five books—books-as-objects, I mean—that I'd rescue from the fire:

1. My high school yearbook. Yeah, okay, it's totally nostalgic, but isn't that kind of the point of the exercise? I loved that thing. So many in-jokes. So much history. One, hand-scrawled message, written while so drunk that to this day neither I nor the writer can work out what it says. How could you leave that behind?

2. At Home by Bill Bryson. This is actually one of the annoying British airport editions that I hate—they are hardcover-sized and released simultaneously with the hardcover, but are in paperback so that it's (marginally) lighter for carrying on the plane—but it is PERSONALLY DEDICATED TO ME BY BILL BRYSON. I had him do it at the Boston Book Festival a few years ago. He made a joke about how awful the Red Sox were; I told him, in a vain attempt to impress him because he had been my literary hero since I was twelve, that he should go see the New England Revolution (soccer, i.e. British, i.e. relevant to his interests), which also happened to be what I was doing that night. My (now-)wife snorted at my pathetic toadying. Ah, memories.

3. Don Quixote, a special illustrated edition with colour drawings by Salvador Dali. I found this while clearing out my grandparents' attic a few years ago. I have still never read it, nor have I even actually read Cervantes in any edition. But it seemed like too kookily beautiful an object to get rid of; if nothing else I figured I could use it for hipster cachet at some later point in my life. Prophecy fulfilled.

4. Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne. This was my (other) grandmother's. It has some cryptic in-joke inscription inside the front cover, which my dad tried to explain to me once but even he was kind of spotty on the details. [Edit: actually, it's House at Pooh Corner that has the inscription; all four of the classic Milnes are on my shelf.] It got passed down to him when he was a kid, and then to me, and now it's so tattered and falling apart you can't even look at it without a piece crumbling off. Most recently my dad read from it at my wedding—the poem "Us Two"—and brought the whole damn room to tears. So, yeah. Holding onto that one.

5. The Corrections by... oh, forget it. This book, when I read it at 21 years old, was the first time I really grasped the transformative power of literature; it genuinely changed my perspective on my life and (then-)relationship—I would say for the better. It struck me so much that I recommended and lent it to a string of subsequent girlfriends/girls I was dating/girls I wanted to date. Now it is a joke among my friends that if I recommend you read The Corrections I am trying to sleep with you. So—no offense—but I am not recommending it now; I'm just telling you that the original copy I read back in 2005 is still with me, all those girls later, dog-eared to death, and I will keep it as long as I can.

This will be the most personal information you ever get out of me on this blog.



Rebecca said...

I enjoy this as much for your use of the phrase "pathetic toadying" as for the list here. Great choices, wonderful explanations. Please post yearbook pictures as a follow up?

Andrew said...

Ask and ye shall receive!

The mystery drunken inscription from my yearbook.

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