I confess, I don’t know what a meme is, or how it’s pronounced. I see it used a lot, and I think it’s like the word “meta” — something I wouldn’t like, something sort of ironic and self-conscious and twenty-first century. I’ve never even looked the word meme up, fearing it will make me feel inadequate and uncool, like semiotics.
So, when the sweet Miss Almost Bluestocking asked me to answer some questions about books, and called these questions a meme, I had a moment of weird anti-technology poo-pooing. The kind of thing I shouldn’t admit, come to think of it. But since I’m being honest here, I’ll just say that when I do this I generally think, “a forty-six year old woman does not [fill in the blank — in this case it’s meme]. ” You know, it could look undignified.
And then I thought, well goodness, how is it going to hurt you to do something new, missy? They’re just questions. I answer questions all the time. (Mom, how much was a penny worth when you were a kid? is the kind of question I’m called on to answer all the time. That, and “Who has the world’s biggest army?”) And at least these are questions that have nothing to do with weapons or candy. And they’re interesting (and Ms. Bluestocking has interesting answers.)
Here are the questions. And here are my answers. Come to think of it, though, I’d actually rather hear YOUR answer, Dear Reader, if you want to give this a go.
Here’s what I want you to do. Imagine Terry Gross, of National Public Radio, is asking you these questions on her radio show, the one where she only interviews people worth hearing from. You’ve just won a Pulitzer, or some such honor. You’re feeling humble, a bit besieged by all the interest in you, but secretly hoping the guy (or girl) who dumped you in college is listening and regretting his behavior. By the way, you’re actually not really besieged, you’re just acting that way because it seems properly modest. In fact, you’re beyond thrilled that Terry Gross cares even the tiniest bit what you think about anything at all. Got that? Okay, I think we’re ready for the mee-mee. Wipe the cream cheese off your nose. Okay. We’re set.
- One book that changed your life.
No book. I don’t think books change your life. I think they do something even better: as they teach you to be a better reader, books help you acquire skills to live a happier life. Two examples: Mysteries help you learn to spot the bad guy. Poetry helps you learn to express yourself succinctly. I could go on, but I think these answers are supposed to be succinct.
- One book that you’ve read more than once. The Odyssey. Every fall for about ten years, I would re-read the Odyssey. I loved the fact that I found something new every time I read it. I also love the way it’s structured, with the framing device of Telemachus’s journey. And although I’m a peace loving woman, I really like that scene where Odysseus and his son give the rotten suitors what they deserve.
- One book you’d want on a desert island.
Shakespeare. Collected Works. I hope that’s not cheating. It’s all there: history, comedy, tragedy. Poetry.
- One book that made you laugh.
That very funny book by David Sedaris, the name of which escapes me — the one where he describes learning to speak French and what an idiot he is. I like him very much, and have adored him ever since I heard him describe on National Public Radio his adventures as a department store elf during the holiday season.
- One book that made you cry.
Oh, definitely, that would be Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. I think it’s seeing the truth through the eyes of a repressed narrator that did it for me. I found it unbearably sad to be in the head of a man who didn’t know how to secure his own happiness.
- One book that you wish had been written.
What a great question. I think the answer to this is almost always the last book of a writer you didn’t know had died until you asked for the next book and found out there weren’t anymore. The most recent sad example of this is Sebald, the great German writer who died not long after Austerlitz came out — such a wonderful and important book. And you just knew he had more to say.
- One book that you wish had never been written.
I’m a first amendment absolutist. There’s no such book.
- One book you’re currently reading.
Trollope’s Barchester Towers.
- One book you’ve been meaning to read.
Swann’s Way. I actually have sort of read this before — through the gestation and births of three children. By the time I got to the end I had no idea what had happened in the beginning. I wonder if it will be different now that I’m not sleepless and nursing. I have a new translation, a Penguin one. We’ll see.
So, okay, that wasn’t too bad. I was sipping a champagne cocktail while I did that, could you tell? And I was wearing a great pair of sling backs. And a slick pencil skirt. I looked famous, and properly fit (not too thin, not too plump — but clearly able to sword fight my way out of the radio station if necessary.) Even though it was a radio audience, everybody could tell there was a pencil skirt involved. Terry kept smiling at me and refilling my glass. (Were you listening, college boyfriend? Are you sorry now??) Anyway, Dear Reader, it’s your turn. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.