Monday, August 07, 2006

The Book Meme

I’ve been meaning to blog on the February Mabou Mines reading of A. Rey Pamatmat’s play Beautiful Day, which is about four friends attending a smalltown wedding. It’s a beautiful work that manages to ask big questions about marriage, community, friendship, small town life, and queerness (in broad sense) while keeping the story's characters and their lives central. I hope to see it fully produced someday soon.

I promise say more about it soon, but in the meantime, Rey has tagged me to answer this book meme, which I found extremely difficult to answer. But I’m up for taking challenges and breaking rules, so here we go:

1. One book that changed your life?

The difficult about this question is that many, many books have changed my life. That’s how I got to be a writer. I thought I’d think a little about how a few very different ones them changed my life.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

This was the first book that came to mind. It’s my obvious favorite book for a number of reasons. I read it while on a summer research retreat in college. I had workshops in the afternoons, but hours upon hours to myself in the mornings. I spent my mornings reading Beloved, thinking about survival, and mourning ancestors. I came out of the experience feeling better prepared to face the world, so I also began to understand -- in a big way -- the kind of personal, spiritual work that novels, literature, and art in general could help people do. It’s when I decided to study literature seriously, and in every way as a writer, as an academic, and as a person.

Cien Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada, by Pablo Neruda

In high school my English class had to write research papers on a poet. No two people could write on the same author. The list of about 50 suggested poets included only white, US American men writing in English. The black students, who had begun quietly talking amongst ourselves about the fact that we were only taught dead white men in our literature classes had made a pact that none of us would write on anyone on the suggested writers list. The trouble was that we all knew the same black writers and this was pre-Internet. Each time I tried to sign up with a writer not on the list, someone had already chosen him or her. My mom suggested I write on Pablo Neruda. I was taking Spanish and had started trying to write poems in Spanish but this choice was most attractive to me because no one else had claimed Neruda. When I started reading his poems, I fell in love with the imagery and the way I had to work to understand the ideas in translation. My own early poems were greatly affected by the stimulation. So are the later ones.

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

My mother and I were in California at the studio of the artist Ted Poniflet. Neither she nor my father had seen him in about fifteen years. They talked about the old days. I was ten years old and he had never met me, but he had just finished this book he thought I might like. He began to hand it over to me and then he decided that maybe I wasn’t old enough to read it. I looked at the cover. It looked like some kind of fairy tale. What in the world could be too adult? He decided to give it to me and I, of course, devoured it, wanting to know why he liked it and why he thought perhaps I was too young. When I read it I felt like the adult world had been holding out on how fun and wild literature might be for adults.

2. One book you have read more than once?
I tend to re-read most books I like and every book I teach. (Beloved was an exception -- I’ve been against rereading it for the last 13 years. I think I might reread it, though, because I don’t want to forget it.) Brutal Imagination, by Cornelius Eady, though I've got nothing on my mother, who read it almost every night for at least a year. Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde. Over and over.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
Am I chilling on this desert island or am I working every minute just to survive? If I’m chilling, maybe I’d want something long and winding, like Gayl Jones' novel Mosquito. If I’m working to survive, I'd probably want haiku (Basho is a favorite) or something by Harryette Mullen. Morsels to memorize and roll around in my mind as I’m gathering wood to build my shelter and pulling up roots and herbs for sustenance.

4. One book that made you laugh?
White Boy Shuffle. The Princess Bride.

5. One book that made you cry?
Beloved. (a lot)

6. One book you wish had been written?
I’m currently trying to write two of them. Absolutely no spoilers.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?
Hmm. It feels a bit futile to regret the present, but my first thought was The Bell Curve.

8. One book you are currently reading?

I’m a multitasker. Right this very moment I’m re-reading Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Ron Radano’s Lying up A Nation.

Keith is reading John Cage’s A Year from Monday and I’m reading in it when he puts it down.

We're both reading and enjoying Mark Tribe and Reena Jana’s New Media Art (only partially because there’s a section on us in it).

I’m reading Wayne Koestenbaum’s Jackie Under My Skin: Interpretting an Icon, in part for research purposes and in part because he’s been a mentor to my friend Ronaldo.

I also recently read and reviewed Alex Weheliye’s book Phonographies and Jurgen Grandt’s book Kinds of Blue for American Literature. What else?

I’m loving Wendy S. Walters’ poetry book Birds of Los Angeles. I want to write more about it because, like much of Walters' writing, I find I can't hold on to what she's doing formally, but the order in it seems so definite and purposeful. What kind of magic is she working? I keep the book by the bed and have been reading in it most nights it for the last couple of months.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Zadie Smith’s On Beauty

10. Now tag five people:
Audiologo, J’s Theater, Amardeep Singh, Cherryl Floyd Miller, Frank Leon Roberts, and Unbeached Whale. That’s six.


Blogger Rey said...

Thanks for the kind words about my play :-) BEAUTIFUL DAY has gotten me a commission and some other attention, but keep you fingers crossed for a full production. I'd like to see that some day soon!

Why did you find the meme difficult? Your answers were pretty clear.

All I really have to say is, I wish you hadn't mentioned The Bell Curve. I'd actually forgotten for awhile there that it ever happened.

4:37 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger Mendi O. said...

I have many more good words about your play, someday, someday.

I found the meme difficult because I couldn't play be the "one book" rules. I had so much to say and I also felt I had so much more I could have said. Ah, well, maybe they'll inspire more blogs, though I'm finding less and less time to write them.

5:57 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger Frank León Roberts said...

Mendi, one of these days I will respond to this call! So sorry im behind! Much love, frank.

2:53 AM, September 12, 2006  

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