Tuesday, November 20, 2007

So, I'm Making a Journey to a Distant Planet.... (By Request)

So, in response to my call for queries to inspire blog posts, Belle asked the following:

You're being sent to a distant planet as a representative of species and type. You have twenty minutes to pack, and are limited to non-electronic versions of the materials you need for your mission and sanity. You can only take what you can carry, books, clothes, etc. Toiletries will be provided. What reading materials would you take?

Ah, what books would I take on my journey? I'm going to imagine that I could carry 10 books somewhat comfortably. This may be either overestimating or underestimating - I'm not certain - but I feel like that's at least in some way realistic. (And also, I'm resisting my own "top five" sort of tendencies with these questions, in part because it's always so difficult to narrow down to just five, and I inevitably make stupid choices. I feel like having 10 with which to work will help me to choose wisely as well as by preference.)

  1. Now, the first book anybody should take on such a journey would probably be a survival book, except since I'm going to another planet, I'm not sure how useful such a book would really be... what if they don't have the same plant life, etc., as we would have on earth? But, just in case I end up in the wild someplace and it in some way resembles earth in terms of how to make fire, etc., I would take along something like this. I should note that I have no idea whether this would be the best or most useful book, as Dr. Crazy's habitat is not generally "the wild." Thus, I'd probably rely on the kindness of natives or animals or die. But there we are. At least with a book such as this there would be some hope.
  2. Some might say that it would be important to take all of Shakespeare's plays. Most important works of literature and all that. I say no. Why? Well, because I don't exactly read Shakespeare's plays for pleasure in my regular life where I'm not limited, and to take an anthology of the plays would be wicked-heavy. Thus, I'm going to settle for five of Shakespeare's plays, and I will include them under one number, as I feel that five would equate to one normal-sized book. Obviously, I will take the slimmest pocket editions. And so the list is this: Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard III, The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing.
  3. Ulysses. A new copy (so it wouldn't be falling apart at the seems) but into which I'd have transferred all of my annotations. And no, I'm not picking that as a pretentious choice: I'm picking it because I know I could read it forever and find something new in it each time.
  4. Finnegans Wake. Also not a pretentious choice. Indeed, this is the choice of a fraud. I've read parts of it, sure, but I've never read the whole thing, and I feel that if I were stranded on another planet that I might be inspired to do so, thus making myself less of a fraud.
  5. Ok, if I'm really taking The Wake, I'm sure I'd need some sort of companion book, because even I'm not silly enough to think that I could go it alone with that one.
  6. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. One of my absolute favorite books in the whole world. I read it first when I was about 9 years old, and I recently bought a copy so that I could read it again. I could read it over and over again. Witches, puritan New England, love - it has it all.
  7. So far, I've picked stuff that's quite literary - even TWoBP was a Newberry Award Winner - so I feel I must pick something that is silly, for those times when I'm not terribly in the mood for Serious Literature. I choose Bridget Jones' Diary. For I love it.
  8. Oh God! Only three left! I must be sure to choose wisely! Ok, were it in print, I'd choose this, a book including all of Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos books. Tragically, there is no such book in print, according to my cursory search. With this being the case, I'd pick either Shikasta or The Marriages between Zones Three, Four, and Five. If I'm going to space, I want to read Lessing's Space Fiction stuff. I'm consciously refusing to choose The Golden Notebook, as I don't know how interesting it would be to me were I on another planet (and, really, I don't feel like it's a book I *need* to read again even as I love it).
  9. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. No, it's not an "important" book in the way that some others on this list are, but it is my absolute favorite Atwood novel, and I've read it more times than I can count. And I feel that if I were on another planet, it would be a book that I would miss if I didn't take it.
  10. I can't believe I've already made it to 10. I feel like this last choice must be something of great import. God. What will I choose? There are many ways I could go. Again, I could choose something I love that will comfort me. But then I look at this list and I notice that I've only got Shakespeare and Joyce for male authors. Maybe I need another dude? But then I think that maybe I should pick something I've not read, so as to have some new sort of stimulation on this other planet? Well, I'm going to rule out the last option, as I'm sure I'll have to learn the language of the new planet, and I bet they'll have literature, too, so I won't be at a loss for new material. Oh my god! I know what I need for the last one! I've got drama, and I've got fiction. I've got no POETRY! I'm going to make a somewhat lame choice and choose volumes one and two of the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. I'm cheating in two ways here - I'm technically choosing two books, and also I'm choosing anthologies as opposed to single-author works. That said, if I had these, I'd have all of the poetry I absolutely needed in order to survive on another planet. Sure, there'd be poems I'd miss that wouldn't be included there, but all the poetry that I most need - or at least poems by the poets that I most need - would be there. And what is life on another planet without poetry?
So yes, those would be the books that I'd choose were I sent as an emissary to another planet. I'm not sure if they're the most sensible choices, but I do think those are the books I couldn't live without.


Hilaire said...

Great list.

The Robber Bride is my favourite Atwood novel, too. By far. For me, it's because it actually feels as if she is sympathetic toward her characters. Why does nobody talk about this book?

Dr. Crazy said...

To be fair, there are some people who do talk about this book, but here's why I think it gets less attention than others:

I think it's the most ambivalent of her novels, about the world, about women. It's complicated. We have a villain who is a woman with whom we sort of sympathize, we have three protagonists with whom we sympathize, but that we also critique. She's not doing the dystopic thing (Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake) nor is she doing the early feminist stuff of Lady Oracle or Cat's Eye - or others) nor is she doing the metafictional/historical fiction stuff that she does in Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin). In some ways, it's the novel of hers that attempts to do the least, I think, but it's, for me, the best *story*. I came to Atwood first through The Handmaid's Tale and then through the early stuff. *The Robber Bride* was the first of her books that I read when it first came out, and for me, it's ultimately the most satisfying. Is it the best? I don't know. But I love it most.

Dr. Virago said...

Of *course* you'll take The Tempest on a voyage to a strange land in outer space. It only makes sense.

As for survival guides, why not the Hitchhiker's Guide? ;)

Belle said...

Well considered and telling. I used to do this (or a morph of it) in a negotiating class: there were five people deciding, but no one knew which of the five were getting the reading or getting sent. I was astonished that they nearly all chose Shakespeare (they were business majors), and about half wanted a Bible. Weirder still? They were French.

Belle said...

Well considered and telling. I used to do this (or a morph of it) in a negotiating class: there were five people deciding, but no one knew which of the five were getting the reading or getting sent. I was astonished that they nearly all chose Shakespeare (they were business majors), and about half wanted a Bible. Weirder still? They were French.

rwellor said...

Shakespeare rawks!

As we English Majors say. And it's really all about Macbeth, innit?

I have a collected works that I purchased 20 years ago (or so) in London, and it goes with me wherever I move....

I have one bookcase that I keep all my "must have books" in. When one goes in, another must go out. It keeps me focused on the works that are useful to me.

Or it is some kind of controlled OCD?