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06/26/2005: "books."

The lovely Scott Somedisco got me on the books meme, and I'm a sap, so here goes:

1) Total number of books I've owned

500+, I'd guess. Most of my books are in storage. I buy a lot of books secondhand, though I haven't come across a store here in New York that matches my favorite musty secondhand bookstore, McIntyre & Moore in Somerville, Mass. My fave store for new books is still the MIT Press bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., where high-level cognitive science books and big, luscious art books and physics books and architecture books all rub shoulders in near-utopian ways.

I also find a lot of great books on the street on trash day. I've found books by Hermann Hesse, Julia Kristeva, Alice Munro, and Carl Jung in New York trash bins. Park Slope is especially great on trash day, I've found.

2) The last book I bought:

In preparation for my temporary move to Berlin, several dreary "Teach Yourself German" books, all purchased for five bucks or less. I read them on the subway, a few pages at a time, hoping the information seeps through my pores via hypnosis or osmosis. Incidentally, this is also how I read Ulysses by James Joyce. Every time I got on the subway, I would read one page, and then stop reading immediately. I continued like this for about a year until I drove myself batshit insane.

3) The last book I read

Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco by Peter Shapiro. Highly recommended.

4) Five books that mean a lot to me (in no particular order)

The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology by Cooper, Bloom, and Roth

When I was young I really, desperately wanted to be a mad scientist. As a career. For the first science fair I entered, age 9, I submitted a mouse trap that you could operate via remote control, sorta like a mini moon rover. (My teacher thought it was disgusting.) I memorized the Periodic Table backwards when I was ten, and we had a little laboratory in the cellar when I was growing up. My big brother used to mix up sugar and sulfuric acid together in a test tube on the back patio, resulting in a furiously hissing column of blackish carbon and plumes of gray smoke, to get his annoying little sister (me) to quit bothering him.

It was the world of chemical molecules and their relation to biology that fascinated me the most. But it wasn't til I got to college and bought this dense textbook on neuropharmacology that the light went off in my head. The language of neurotransmitters, synapses, neurons...this is what I'd been waiting for my entire life, while I was analyzing the ingredients lists on the backs of cereal boxes and air fresheners and nail polish labels. What I was really interested all along was how molecules worked in the brain. I still leaf through it occasionally, even if my career (if you can call it that) has taken a 180-degree turn since then.

The Futurist Cookbook by F.T. Marinetti

Dodgy links to Fascism aside, Italian Futurism really was my favorite movement in modernism--far more tweaked and insane than, say, even the most ostentatiously weird Dadaists or Surrealists could be. Some of the best manifestos are in here, like Marinetti's diatribe against pasta. Futurist food was the best food, and not simply because they used steel ball bearings for stuffing and covered hard-boiled eggs in chocolate and didn't use forks. This cookbook challenged every assumption I ever had about food, and how it should be cooked, and how it should be eaten.

Relativity: The Special and the General Theory by Albert Einstein

What this book teaches best, more than anything about physics, is how to go about explaining something to a reader. Einstein explains everything so thoughtfully and gently and simply, and treats the reader as if you're as smart as he was. He's never condescending. It's got this classic opening where he talks about how Euclidean geometry doesn't really seem to make much sense when you really think about it, which is something I'd always suspected when I first took geometry. What is a plane, anyway? What does a "straight line" even mean? Slowly but surely, he gets you to question every pat assumption you've ever had in favor of a funkier and far stranger set of concepts. But he takes your hand every step of the way, so by the time you get to the end of the book and he's completely shredded and reorganized your ideas of how things work, you still feel oddly soothed and tranquil.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and The Proud Highway, by Hunter S. Thompson

It's tough to talk about Thompson because it's like talking about Lester Bangs; he has so many third-rate copyists who just duplicate his stylistic tics and rehash the stories of weapons-grade drug consumption without going deeper than that. I never had any intention of emulating either his prose or his multifarious addictions. What I was more interested in was his fighting spirit, the feeling that suffused his best work. (And there was a lot of bad work, too. Even the last third of Campaign Trail '72 is complete and total garbage. But his best work is better than anything I've read.)

I actually cried when Thompson kicked the bucket, which I've never done for any writer before or since. Even though he was an old white dude in Aspen and I'm a twentysomething Indian chick in New York, I felt a real kinship with him. He was someone I tied my romantic idea of America to, along with Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner and the rest. It was the spirit of Thompson that inspired me to chuck all those solid years of preparing to be a mad scientist out the window in favor of a dubious career as a freelance journalist. I figured Hunter would approve.

The Bhagavad-Gita (various translations)

This happens to be the book I was named after, and also one of the only ancient scriptures I've read (in translation) that really resonated with me. I'm glad I was named after a good book.

Bonus music entry:

Ocean of Sound by David Toop; Energy Flash by Simon Reynolds; More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun (tie)

Interestingly all three books cover at least a few of the same musicians, but do so in wildly different ways, partly because each book develops and employs a different vocabulary for thinking about music. Toop wanders through music in a dreamlike, episodic way that's very similar to how I experience a lot of the ambient music he talks about. But what really strikes me about Toop is that in his adventures through music, he always seems to be traveling alone. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it's very different from a book like Energy Flash, which champions scenes, and large groups of people experiencing music simultaneously. I'm not even going to get started on the third book, or I'll be here all day.

5) Tag five people and have them fill this out on their blogs

DJ Martian, Dave Q, Ronan, Julianne, and Rosemary/Zoe.

Replies: 2 Comments

I pass by McIntyre & Moore everyday on the way to work :)

Michael F Gill said @ 06/26/2005 10:13 PM EST

totally agree about the differences between Ocean of Sound and Energy Flash...

Toop's book seems far less considered, in the sense that it seems like it's amost slipped out of his consciousness more or less as he was experiencing it while Energy Flash seems more reflective; the result of a spiritual come down and the associated mental sparrings that go along with figuring out collectively which parts of a 'night out' were the highlights...

As such, the two books act like lapsed twins because they encompass both angles of musical access, from the socio-shamanic(sorry, even written down that sounds crap) to the relative solipsism (hence: i think therefore I ambient)...


in short. good choices.

Loki said @ 06/26/2005 01:57 PM EST

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