Natural Selection

We just went away to the beach for a few days, for the first time ever, to Puerto Rico where I didn't think we would be happening by any libraries or bookstores. We weren't going for long, and didn't have a whole lot of packing room, so when we were frantically running around the night before (yes, that's how we do it) I made the rule: 1 book per girl per day.

And then I got to see.

Of course, being the small, particular people they are (and also being without wallets with which to procure themselves new books) they brought books they had read before. Here's what went:

Chestnut: The Long Winter, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Dancing Shoes, and The Thirteen Clocks. (Why only 4? No one knows. A secretive smile was the only response.)

Diana: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm; The Necromancer: The Secrets of the immortal Nicholas Flamel; Avalon Web of Magic: Song of the Unicorns; All Just Glass; and one of either Fruits Basket or Fablehaven—I'm not certain.

I apologize for the minutiae-ish-ness of this post, and what makes it worse is that I can't quite articulate why these lists are both fascinating and impenetrable to me. It's as though the books chosen are some sort of coded representation of who they are, and who they are going to become. Like that old Tom Robbins personality test: who's your favorite Beatle? Except more internal, more telling, more like watching someone build the basis of their influences. I think of Flannery O'Connor, saying that what really made her as a writer wasn't all the books she read in school but Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of the Mysterious and the Macabre (or something along those lines). It's not that I'm always so interested in personality formation, exactly; it's more that the way this works within and along with fiction is fascinating to me. What our imaginations seek, or something.

I brought Gryphon by Charles Baxter and An Ordinary Man by Mona Simpson. I ended up interspersing the Baxter  with The Associate, which was in the place we rented, sand in its pages (yes, John Grisham. And a more alarmingly sexist and lackadaisical performance I hope never to witness). And what do those books say about me? That I'm schizophrenic and lazy most likely. But it's not the same, is it, because my imagination and I are already formed. I remember hearing John Barth read once, and he talked about reading Borges when he was in his thirties, and what an unexpected joy it was reading something that spoke to him so deeply when he thought he was already formed as a writer.

It's hot here today, and I can see summer stretching before me. I so hope that it's a summer of books that do what these ones did for the girls: provide an entire enclosed alternative universe. Any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “Natural Selection

  1. I don’t know how much a book selection really says about you at any given time. I read anything and everything and my book selections were pretty random depending on my mood or my interests. Although I did have certain traditions for reading. We went to Maine every summer and I always had to read Island of the Blue Dolphins at least once while on the beach (I did this until I was 18). Every Christmas for years I would get up early in the morning and read this ridiculous random kid’s book that had nothing to do with Christmas, whose title I can’t even remember, and then go back to sleep (the last time I did it I was 19). Huh. Well, maybe that DOES say something about me after all!

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  2. Someone recently recommended a strange little sci-fi series with which I am now obsessed – The Company books by Kage Baker. In the Garden of Iden is the first one. An awesome cross between sci-fi and historical fiction. Wasn’t sure I would like it (the only grown up sci-fi I like is Orson Scott Card) but thanks to the beauty of the iPad and digital books, I’ve been devouring them one after another (the first isn’t available digitally, though – I got it cheap from a reseller on amazon).

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  3. I think vacation reading is a magical kind of reading. Despite my numerous attempts, the closest I ever got to finishing “The Brothers Karamazov” was on vacation; there was something about not having a million other things to think about that made it easier to fall into that world. I have also read more than my share of John Grisham and similar titles while on vacation. It offers a freedom–to indulge and to nourish–that we don’t usually get. And there is something revealing, I agree, in what we choose to do that with.
    Myself, when told I could only bring a specified number of books, I always went with maximum number of pages; I guess I live in fear of running out of words to consume. But that’s a story for another day!

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