I avoid many of the pass-along-quiz memes, partly because they can sometimes probe to the point of inappropriate self-disclosure for a priest/professor. (You don’t want to know, and even if you did, I shouldn’t tell you some of those answers.) But since Danya noticed that I hadn’t played in this one, and tagged me for the “books” meme — and since few things are more appropriate than my disclosing my reading habits, I’ll take her up on it.
Number of books I own: You’ve got to be kidding. I’d guess several thousand; five? ten? Jane and Beth have first-hand experience with the office collection, but there are eight or nine bookshelves at home over and above the books at the workplace.
Last book I read: The last book I finished was Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (I read through all the “Unfortunate Events” books in a fit of catching-up-with-Pippa before the new Harry Potter).
Last purchased: The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCullough; The Westminster Handbook of Patristic Theology, edited by John Anthony McGuckin; The Westminster Handbook to Origen, edited by John Anthony McGuckin. All three look terrific; I’m impressed with MacCullough’s ability to keep the countless elements of political, theological, cultural, geographic, even medical history in play while keeping the exposition readable, critical, and convincing. I’ll be recommending McGuckin for my Early Church History class next fall.
Books that mean a lot to me: As others have done, so I exclude sacred texts (stretching that to include the Book of Common Prayer).
The Complete Pelican Shakespeare I used to memorize passages from Shakespeare on my way to and from high school, a mile-and-a-half walk or so, learning about meter, diction, English history, love, death, honor, and truth.
Ulysses, by James Joyce. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead. . . .” Joyce breathed new life into the love of words I assimilated in my youth.
The Pleasures of Philosophy, by Will Durant. I doubt I would assent to most of what Durant advocates, but when I picked this up in a used-book store, I had little notion of how a world might make sense, or how philosophy could be beautiful.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. So rich and lovely , it makes me cry.
Nigger, by Dick Gregory. Two generations now know of Dick Gregory — if they know him at all — as a vaguely comic health huckster. This book broke my nose, it changed the way I look, the way I move in the world. I have not by any means gotten where I need to be; but almost forty years ago, I picked it up because I guessed I ought to, and Dick Gregory knocked a little truth into me.
Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault; The Postmodern Condition, by Jean-François Lyotard; Writing and Difference, by Jacques Derrida. I had not a clue, not the faintest notion, that the uncanny cosmos I always suspected of subsisting behind the façade of predictable, conventional everyday life could find words and point toward what may be thought where words fail you.
The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. I read a mountain of modern Jewish literature in the early seventies; this had the lovely effect of training me to recognize and cherish the possibility that people might care so much about God as to allow it to alter their behavior, without triggering the sense that I might be one of those people. (After all, I knew I wasn’t Jewish.) This illustrates God’s irrepressible sense of irony and loving mirth at the follies of human life.
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. My life is in this novel, somewhere; I hope it’s in the parts that move my admiration, and I fear it’s in the parts that touch my pity.
It would be best for me to cite a book by a woman (I certainly love Austen, I admire Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but these didn’t mark me as forcefully as the others). It would be best for me to cite a book from somewhere outside the West (I learned a grat deal from Nurbaksh’s In the Tavern of Ruin, from the Tao te-Ching, from Shusako Endo’s Silence; but I wouldn’t be telling the truth about myself if I claimed that these influenced me, shaped me to the same extent as the preceding works).
Probably others too, that I’ll add here or in the comments.
Since I’m late to this party, I won’t pick anyone in particular to come next — but if no one has asked you yet, and you’re feeling a little piqued, consider this an invitation to take up the meme.