Via Zach and Andy comes a book meme.
1. One book that changed your life? As a college freshman, encountering The Stories of Premchand. One of India’s greatest writers, Munshi Premchand wrote in Urdu and Hindi, and introduced realism into a literature that was long known for favoring mythological, fantasy and historical subject matter. Premchand wrote not in a high-toned Sanskrit-derived Hindi but in the plainspoken language of the common people. (I’ve only read him in Hindi, not in Urdu.) Premchand grew up in poverty and his stories were fierce social, political and colonial critiques. They also dealt head-on with caste and gender discriminations, not a popular subject in India 100 years ago. Two of his works were adapted into films by Satyajit Ray, Sadgati (“Salvation”) and Shatranj Ke Khiladi (“The Chess Players”). More reading: a good newpaper article on him; and a collection of his stories on-line, in Hindi.
2. One book that you have read more than once? John Mehegan’s Jazz Improvisation: Tonal and Rhythmic Principles (1959). About 15 years ago, I decided to learn jazz piano after seeing The Fabulous Baker Boys (post here), but was thoroughly intimidated because I had no idea how to read or write music. For about a decade, I had played guitar, fairly seriously, but only by ear. Mehegan’s book was not easy to cozy up to at first, and is very different from today’s jazz texts. It’s rigorously terse (and when you’re a beginner, that can be infuriating) and doesn’t try to get chummy with the reader; there aren’t any warm and fuzzy pictures or figures or colors; the page layout is spare and severe; and it’s a slim 200+ pages, although packed with mondo jazz knowledge and insight. (Think Bresson’s Notes On The Cinematographer, only with illustrative snatches of sheet music strewn through it.) Its economy and aloofness remind me of the science and math texts we used in India that were authored in England; for some reason, the American texts came off a little more extroverted and informal, and seemed to work harder to grab our attention. (Or that’s my memory of it, anyway.) My copy of the Mehegan is dog-eared, written and highlighted all over, and falling apart. And I still haven’t finished all the exercises in it.
3. One book you would want on a desert island? Something large, omnivorous, digressive, its curiosity knowing no boundaries, a sort of uber-Merzbau that might serve as a microcosm of the world I left behind, “the theater of all my struggles and all my ideas,” Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project.
4. One book that made you cry? Ninth grade: Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms. Years later, a repeat experience upon seeing Frank Borzage’s 1932 film version with Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper.
5. One book that made you laugh? Lolita.
6. One book you wish had been written? An avant-garde, non-narrative indie comics magnum opus by Jaime Hernandez, a sort of book-length version of the 6-page Dadaist strip “Easter Hunt” (see panels above).
7. One book you wish had never been written? Mein Kampf.
8. One book you are reading currently? I’m in the middle of several, including Movie Mutations, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin. This book is so inspiring and enthusing and fun that I’ve rationed myself to only a few pages a day because I don’t want it to end. Next to the Mehegan above, this is the book I’ve scribbled in the most: the margins are bursting with a personal, 'parallel cinephilic narrative’!
9. One book you have been meaning to read? I picked up For Ever Godard recently, and just browsing the text and the stills, it looks like an absolute blast.
10. Pass it on. Open and welcome to all!