Sunday, August 13, 2006

Only Paper and Glue, But Wondrous Too

Books are rather wondrous things, if mundanely constructed. It used to be that books were things of beauty--the illuminated manuscripts of the Medieval ages; the fine, handsome leather tomes of The Harvard Classics Five-Foot Shelf; the exquisite illustrations that used to populate even "serious" literature. I have a few old and still beautiful books, and I even have a few leather-bound books (my favorite: Willa Cather). It used to be that books were folios, sewn tightly and bound in stiff cardboard and leather, printed in a strange order but if folded in the correct accordian style would produce the pages in the right order (that's why old books have "rough" edges--they had to be "cut" and sometimes the reader did the cutting herself). Nowadays, most books are scarcely more than paper and glue. You can pay a bit more for a nice Everyman or Modern Library edition (although a current favorite of mine are the graphic art covers of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions)--but still, it's mostly just wood pulp (and not even acid and lignin free, so it won't last "forever") and some kind of adhesive.

But still, they're wondrous things. The tabula rasa of the blank page becomes crowded with black ciphers waiting to be read and understood. The spine of the book, held together by little more than glue, turns a sheaf of paper liable to scatter into the wind into a portable piece of education and entertainment, for you to take around with you. Paper holds ideas, glue holds the paper together, and both allow you to hold the knowledge of the world in your hands.

It is my love of books that urges me to do something for the first time--a blog meme. Hey, I got tagged.

1. One book that changed your life?

Too many to count, and since I go through regime changes every 5-10 years in which I seem to reject the previous changes, I'll have to go with the ones that actually stuck through these 25 years. Sorry, I can't limit myself to just one:

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Such a wonderful story. I read this when I was 9 or 10 (maybe a bit of both), and it was the first "serious" and "substantial" piece of literature I had read. I read this even before Huckleberry Finn or Oliver Twist, the quintessential "serious" children's literature. I can't remember much of what I read before then (mostly kid stuff I am certain, lots of German fairytales, everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder). But one day, I found one of my siblings books, picked it up, and read it from beginning to end. And thus began my love affair with literature. I learned how to read with a dictionary close by, I learned how to love bildungsromans, and I learned how to lose myself in a story. After that, I was hooked, and I've never stopped reading. The books that followed weren't always serious, and indeed I learned how to "devolve"and later in life read "children's literature." But even if I read Phillip Pullman or J.K. Rowling now (hey, it's was originally aloud to my children), I know that it was this book that led me to study "real literature." The summers of my childhood and teenage years were spent reading Madame Bovary and The Brothers Karamazov and Moby Dick. The first book that you truly loved will be with you forever, and truly changes your life. Indeed, I ended up being an English Literature major in college. And I will never stop reading fiction and poetry, not even with this crazy law thing I'm doing.

The Storm Center: The Supreme Court In American Politics by David Obrien. Okay, it's one of those books that your AP U.S. History class assigns you for summer reading (like Peter Irons' The Courage of Their Convictions). But it stuck with me. I was interested enough to read further in the area, eventually declaring a major in political science. It made me interested in court politics, and it (although I didn't know until later) introduced me to the attitudinal model of legal realism and CLS and would eventually lead me to CRT. Even if I'm not entirely convinced by the attitudinal model or CRT explanations of Supreme Court decision-making, I still like to study the Supreme Court. Ironically (considering my deconstructionist, CRT background) I am engaged in far more doctrinal analysis now. Go fig.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Too many to count, if you love a book you read it over and over again. But every year, I re-read T.S. Eliot's The Four Quartets at least a few times--and with every reading, I gain something new. A meditation on time and death and salvation, it's something you should read every year. Plus, it's truly beautiful poetry.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

The Aeneid by Virgil. Incredible story, beautiful poetry (even better if read in the original Latin), and the story of the founding of what would eventuall be Rome (sort of, Aeneas left Troy to found a new nation, unfortunately there were already people there so he had to fight them). It begins "I sing of arms and a man," (arma virumque cano) but my favorite is Book 6, where Dido confronts Aeneas with her tragic love.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Well, everything by David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff, and John Hodgman (can you tell I'm a fan of This American Life?) makes me laugh. But if I chose one, it would be Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. It is too good for words.

5. One book that made you cry?

I always cry when I read David Copperfield, but I remember being young (13 years old) and sobbing over Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska. Quite a touching story about a young woman who wanted to break free of the American shetl, her orthodox controlling father, the burden of low expectations and poverty to become a teacher. Sound like anyone you know? It also ignited the nascent feminism in my 13 year old self.

6. One book you wish had been written?

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. One of the best political books ever. Go read it, you'll see it needs no explanation for why you should read it.

I can't choose a law book. I wish I had written them all, and I am unsure whether my talent will ever even approach theirs--so I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Tons, but I have to go with The End of Racism by Dinesh D'Souza. Sorry, no link.

8. One book you are currently reading?

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. Very good. I, a former deconsructionist, sometimes Critical Race Theorist, often normative legal theory-sympathizer love reading positive legal theory. I love H.L.A. Hart's The Concept of Law for example. I am trying to figure out how Rawls fits in the Dworkin/Hart or Fuller/Hart debates (and where I do, for that matter), so it's quite enjoyable.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

War and Peace by Tolstoy. Seriously. Never read it. And it's one of those things, like the fact that I don't really speak French (I took Latin, have trouble with "r's" and "l's," so I can't just "pick" it up), can't play chess well (other than knowing how pieces move...), and don't own more books than I do---that I can't explain why. It just is, like some flaw that I've been meaning to fix but haven't got around to yet.

10. Now tag five people

The small world of the blogosphere --I got tagged by David Schraub of the Debate Link, who was tagged last week by Kevin Andre Elliot, who I know as a frequent commenter on Scott Eric Kaufman's blog (and where you can frequently find me too), who happens to be a personal friend and all around good egg. I like Scott for his intelligent and funny writing, his good company, and the fact that sent me an electronic mix tape today by a guy who wrote a song with my alter-ego's name in it, before he went insane. Mix tapes are so tricky to make, even between friends (let us not mention the difficulty I have had with the "romantic mix tapes" for other guys), that even this short "until I send a real one" electronic one is such a cool thing to do. Let us just say that my alter-ego's name is short and nothing rhymes with it, and with a generic meaning like "From A European Country," so I never expected anything to be written about it. Plus, I am loving his selections and am grateful to discover an artist I hadn't listened to before. Very cool thing to do, but it makes me feel guilty for not sending him an elaborate care package. So he's dissertating, blogging, and sending e-gifts, despite the fact that he is still recovering from being hit by a car a few months ago. Okay, so I hate him for making me feel lazy.

Since I can't re-tag SEK, I'll tag John B. of Blog Meridian, Sudeep Agarwala of De Rebus Publicis, Will Baude of Crescat Sententia, Justin Cox of Opinion-Work Product, and Ancrene Wiseass.

Blog on.