Sunday, November 18, 2007

"What are you doing?" "Culling a List..."

That answer is to be read in a confessional mumble, as if it is the same as "drinking alone..." "surfing porn..."

The best part of the story is that when my sister asked the question, it was because she had a list she wanted me to make for her.

But I am telling the story out of order. Let me start over.

I have referenced the book list here before, and with a horrifying amount of detail. I really don't know what I was thinking. What I didn't mention then is that I started this book list 20 years ago. Same list. It has survived 8 moves and several pens, but over the past year or so I have discovered that it is no longer interesting to read things I thought might have been interesting when I was a 23 year old graduate student. For a while it was, and I have had some good reads that way, but the past few trips to the library have had me rolling my eyes at the book jacket. Not now, not ever, but apparently once, and dear me would that girl get deep under my skin right about now.

I did this weekend what I never thought I would do.
No, I didn't throw the list away -- I'm not medicated, I'm just bored.
I culled the list. And mostly by gut. I started to look into what these books were, but then I thought, **** it, there's been 20 years of books written since then, and I can't read the ones I have already acquired that weren't on the list to begin with.

Here's what I dumped:
Anything I thought I "should" read, but never wanted to in the first place
This means you, War & Peace, Old Man and the Sea, and Crime & Punishment.

Books I read in college
It was a nice idea -- read them again now that you have time, instead of the "1st & last sentence of each paragraph way," or the "even chapters only" method, which is still my advice on Grapes of Wrath.
Inspired by this weeding, I later culled the Netflix list of things I thought I wanted to see again.
Maybe I AM medicated.

Books I wanted to write like, including lists of first novels I was going to study to see what the secret was. Remember too that I was in publishing school, so I was exposed to Publisher's Weekly weekly, which is just open bar to the task-aholic.

Books which have since becomes movies, and which I have since (mostly) seen.
I didn't even know some of these were on there. But gone was Evening, Thousand Acres, Last Exit to Brooklyn... Truth: I would still rather watch a movie than read.

Short Stories - whatever. I think I was trying to impress a professor. Ditto on..

Post-modern crapola I was only pretending to like.

AIDS novels, Holocaust literature, and anything late-80s that smacked of Tama Jamowitz, Doc Martens, and Gen X-ers disdaining the culture the Boomers had left them. They all had their day -- some very good stuff came out of them -- but it's been said.

What stayed? This list won't make me look deep, or anything, it just shows you where I am now.
Southern fiction. Still great, still what I wish I could say un-self consciously and without effort. A lot of this got on the list right away in 1987 when I had moved to Texas only to discover it was not the South (it is Texas) and I missed my homeland and that of my "pipple."
Now that I am more Yankee than I ever would have been a Belle, I have begun subscribing to the Oxford American, because I really do think the South I knew is disappearing.

4 women who.... The senior thesis I never wrote was "4 women/1 story: From Little Women to Designing Women." I love 4 women friends books, even when they are ridiculously tacky (cf: Valley of the Dolls.) Don't you wish you could read Lace again for the first time?

By the way, my unwritten linguistics thesis would have been "Why gay men talk like that." Another story for another day.

Mother/Daughter Joy Luck-ish plots - which is really just a combination of the 2 above. These diagrams come together to form Ya-Ya Sisterhood at the Center.

Biographies - I only threw out a couple as, "well that was a short-lived interest," and I can't quite name whose they were just now.

Theology - some of it stayed. Some of the biblical fiction just had to go. It is always written too densely, in too small a font, and the copies you can get smell like Nanny's basement. So I just kept the straight talk.

I did have to get a new notebook, because now the original was a mess; and for half the day I didn't care much about preserving the list of books I had already read, since it was not wholly accurate, and recopying it did seem to stretch even my limits of crazy. In the warm sunlight of Sunday morning however, it seemed like an excellent way to revisit the past 20 years.

Now - the beginning of the story, which is the end.
My phone rings and it is Greatest of All Sisters, who is driving with her daughter, Rory Gilmore, and they are trying to name movies named after states. They both have an appreciation of lists, but neither has the attention span (read: neurosis) to make one themselves when they know they can call me.

I do not have much interest in this list, because I know about Delaware and Rhode Island, which they have not yet thought about, and Rory yells from the back seat that they have to be fiction, "I'm not watching in documentary!" (the girl I watched Traveling Pants for. how is that for gratitude?)
And I say, don't they want movies that are set in the specific states? And they say, yeh, whatever, we don't care... and I know they will watch Georgia, even though it is set in Idaho, and My Own Private Idaho, even though it is a terrible movie. And really, my head has already exploded and now they are off naming movies named after months.....

The films-by-states list is now available upon request. Write me at my personal email for your copy. And Delaware was still a problem.


  1. Delaware: "Wayne's World"... "we're in....Delaware..."

    and btw, the crazy "word" i had to type in to post this was "cgbgrqcu". WTF?

  2. Caroline, What you did is something we all need to cleaned house. And, along the way, you had a terrific walk down memory lane. Each of those books, read or un-read, represented who you were--at the time you added the book to the list. So, in the late 80's, AIDS novels were a new genre so of course you wanted to read them (then again, the fact that you actualy DID the AIDS walk was radical at the time). And, now that it is 2007, the games you played 20 years ago don't seem to be as much fun...why? because new games replace old ones. It's called growing up.

    It's a good thing. At some point, we realize that "The Old Man and the Sea" while something we feel we should read just isn't going to happen--ever. And, we let it go. But the list itself is a tribute to who you were and are. Both at the same time.

    We'll read it as a tribute at your 75th birthday party. It will be fun!

  3. Kids, kids -
    Old Man and the Sea is a short read and a good commentary on the Struggle - ultimately against oneself. Please don't throw it away forever....

    Big Hint - ok to start reading a book AND NOT FINISH IT. I've only reached this insight after my 50th year...


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