Monday, August 07, 2006

The bookish meme

The Other Andrew highlighted this book meme, and since discussions of favourite books usually brings out the teacher-librarian in me, here goes:

1. One book you have read more than once:
Like Andrew, I'm a hoarder when it comes to books. Wasting time on the Internet these days has definitely cut into the time I might have spent re-reading old favourites, but I would have to choose 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

In the 1980s, my friend, Elaine Lee, was appearing in the play version, opposite Judi Farr and the late Leonard Teale. To my horror, the season at the Marian Street Theatre, Killara, was completely sold out. They had just added one more performance by public demand (whew!) but, while I was waiting for the big day, I picked up the book out of curiosity - and was immediately hooked. It's the true story, told in letters, of a feisty New York woman who loves English literature (and the mystique of leatherbound second hand books), and her pithy correspondence - almost love affair - with the canny manager of a London antiquarian bookstore. I just love the way the personalities of both main characters permeate their letters, and to see the evolution of their deepening friendship and mutual respect over many years, and the positive effects a single deep friendship can have on others. One also gets a taste of life in both cities: while stoic Londoners soldiered on under post-war food rationing, hectic New Yorkers' career paths, dental health and rental crises was preventing the following of dreams. Inspiring!

The feature film version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is excellent, too, as is an audio version featuring Miriam Karlan and Frank Finlay. The movie's soundtrack album is also a firm favourite. When I finally got to see Elaine in the play, the curtain call bows by the cast were real tear-jerkers. An amazing theatrical experience.

After reading 84 Charing Cross Road (which included the sequel, "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street"), Elaine Lee herself recommended the hilarious "Underfoot in Showbusiness", also by Helene Hanff, which details her frustrating quest to become a playwright. I then found "Apple of My Eye" on my own, ironically just a few weeks after visiting New York for the first time. That one has Hanff and her friend, the aptly-named Patsy, exploring New York as if they were tourists. They made me want to go back immediately and see everything I'd missed. I eventually found a rare, second hand hardcover version of "Apple of My Eye" (the one with all the photographs), on my next visit to New York. There's this wonderful three-storey second hand bookstore in Greenwich Village, where every book is alphabetized and categorized.

2. One book you would want on a desert island:
I'd have to agree with Andrew on this one: the omnibus edition of The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, . Supports endless re-reading, and I would love the luxury of time to read it again after all the fun of seeing the three movies. (I loved seeing Sawyer reading "Watership Down" as his book of choice or, rather, the default book for a desert island, on TV's "Lost" recently. But it's not long enough for an extended stay.) Coincidentally, the one book Helene Hanff absolutely hated when she had to critique it, as part of her job evaluating books in "Underfoot in Showbusiness", was... The Lord of the Rings.

3. One book that made you laugh:
Mmmm. I love the humour of Peter David, comic book writer and "Star Trek" novelist, who's extended his talents into several series of very funny, very punny, medieval/fantasy books, particularly his Sir Apropos of Nothing trilogy. See also "The Woad to Wuin" and "Tong Lashing". (I also love collections of newspaper comic strips of the 80s and 90s, such as "Bloom County", "Calvin and Hobbes", "The Far Side" and "Robotman". They often give me a good belly laugh.)

4. One book that made you cry:
The ultimate time travel novel, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. A young guy inherits a strange time travel belt and turns his life upside down as its power tempts and/or corrupts him. It's a real coming-of-age novel, so as a then-stereotypical science fiction fan in my early 20s, this one really hit home at times. Jokingly known in some circles as "The Man Who Fondled Himself", it certainly adds layers of complexity to all those SF shows that so carelessly flirt with time travel.

I consider David to be a friend, now that we've shared several ST convention experiences together, including one where we were both guests of honour in New Zealand - but I barely knew him when I first read TMWFH. David, of course, is also the creator of "tribbles", those little prolific fuzzballs from "Star Trek". I've bought every novel David has written (and have read most of them), and he always takes his readers on an informative journey.

5. One book you wish you had written:
My unpublished social history on Aussie TV phenomenon, "Number 96". Sadly, after several close calls, the Australian literary market was unable to embrace my proposed manuscript as a commercial venture. (Maybe I should reconfigure it as a doctoral thesis?) The book would have contained behind-the-scenes gossip, previously untold anecdotes and celebrity interviews. Series creator David Sale corrected many false assumptions made about the show over the years. Former executive producer, the late Bob Huber, generously supplied unpublished documents, including writers' guides, confidential memoranda and personal production notes. The book was to have celebrated the indelible marks this ground-breaking series left on its family of cast and crew, on the TV industry and on Australian popular culture. Sigh...

6. One book you wish had never been written:
Worst "Star Trek" novel ever: Deep Space Nine: The Laertian Gamble by Robert Sheckley. I was shocked to realize he was a highly respected science fiction writer. This book was just turgid, turgid, turgid. I read every "Star Trek" novel, and this was just bloody hard work to even keep turning the pages. Ick.

7. One book you are currently reading:
Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno. It's the very latest "Star Trek" novel, of course: the definitive and biographical novel of Captain Christopher Pike, whom we saw hale and hearty in footage from the first ST pilot, "The Cage", and so tragically disfigured in "The Menagerie", the only original series (TOS) two-parter. This novel celebrates ST's 40th anniversary, and I was one of the fans on Psi Phi and TrekBBBS who helped make it possible for the author to return to the ST fold after her long exile following the "Probe" debacle.

8. One book you have been meaning to read:
Mmmm. I've bought all of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next (and Jack Spratt) science fantasy novels as they've come out in mass market paperback. He was signing in Galaxy Bookshop one night - and anyone who owns a pet dodo (The Eyre Affair) and gets Lost in a Good Book sounds like someone I want to read about. The covers and blurbs are so compelling, I hope I do enjoy them when I finally get the chance.

9. One Book That Changed Your Life:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry. I knew ST from the animated series of the 70s, and pre-publicity about the making of the first feature film to revive TOS. Picking up this novelization in a supermarket checkout queue (and reading it before seeing the movie) turned me into a ST fan and opened so many new doors over the past three decades.

10. Now tag five people:
Well, tagging people made me feel a bit uncomfortable last week, so I'll cheat a bit and just invite anyone who is interested to play to leave their comments or hyperlinks below.


Andrew said...
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Andrew said...

4 Charing Cross Road. It was, or still is, a great book and the movie was ok too.

yaniboy said...

Just going back to your comment about Sawyer and Lost... you know that the book he's shown reading in each (or most) episodes isn't a random choice...

It's all about the layers and the subtext baby... damn I love that show...


Anonymous said...

Hi Ian, posted my meme on the books here


Therin of Andor said...

Thanks Andrew, yaniboy and Rosalind,

yaniboy, yes indeed, I know! Looking forward to the "Lost" Season Two finale on Thursday night, and no doubt many more mysteries. layers and subtext.