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May 10, 2005

You wouldn't know it from what I place here, but I'm a sucker for memes. Because I'm the founder of the Internet Clutter Reduction Coalition™, I'll not explain in detail what a meme is here. For a good definition, along with a list of memes longer than his hair, check out this very creative fellow's website (and bonus points if you can tell us what two memes he's wearing on his very person).

Many memes are just extended vehicles for facilitating a narcissism that is already inherent in the blogger. Others are really catchy, like the Caesar’s Bath meme. I like them all. A lot.

So I leave them alone. It's the same reasoning I apply to video games and watching television: I will really enjoy this, but it will produce nothing of value beyond my immediate gratification, so I'd better keep away from it altogether.

The clever among you might be inspired to humor by that last sentence. Stow it.

I'm not a puritan on the matter, however, and when a perfectly pleasant invitation to participate in a meme is directly and politely extended my way, I'll fall back on the knowledge that to the pure, all things are pure. So here's the list of questions and my answers. I'll expect each of you to leave your own responses in the comments section, or on your site with a link here, all to the end of expanding my reading list. "Meme," after all, is really just "me" twice over.

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

Dilys, the person who dragged me into this game, is willing to trust that someone will memorize the (King James) Bible, leaving her free to take on Canterbury Tales. I suspect in practice we'd need several people working on the Bible, so I'd grab a few sections (from the New King James, mind you): Job, the Samuels, the Psalms, John, and Romans. Job teaches me how to suffer, Samuel teaches me how to conquer, the Psalms teach me how to pray, John teaches me how to live, and Romans teaches me how the Baptists are wrong.

Just making sure you're awake. Romans, when we set aside our various doctrinal arrogances, teaches us grace.

Everyone takes license with the Fahrenheit 451 question, and I'll not break that precedent. Under the theory that what limits the ability to memorize is not a hard cover in one's right hand, but rather some outer limit of memorization capacity, I would add a couple of things to the list: I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew, by Dr. Seuss, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, and the Heidelberg Catechism ("Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death? A. That I am not my own, but belong -- body and soul, in life and in death -- to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.").

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Two crushes that I recall. One was the girl in The Missing Persons League, by Frank Bonham. I've long ago lost the book, and I can't remember her name. I read it over and over, and imagined that I was the boy trying to find my way to the end of a mystery, and that my only friend was this pretty girl who didn't fit in any more than I did. My other crush was on Jane Drew in The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper. Even at the age of ten I liked a gal who could battle witches and make cookies without getting flustered.

3. The last book you bought was...?

Three books, really:

A collection of poems by Wendell Berry. Why? Because his stories read to me like poetry, so I was curious how his poetry would read.

This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff. Why? Consider the first paragraph: "I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology. Also my mother thinks that a dog I describe as ugly was actually quite handsome. I've allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story. My first stepfather used to say that what I didn't know would fill a book. Well, here it is."

The Hebrew Kid and the Indian Maiden, by my friend Robert Avrech. Why? Because he is a wonderful storyteller, and because he's on a mission to develop quality media for people of faith (his company's motto: "belief in books").

4. The last book you read was...?

Buffett: The Making of An American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein. It's a fascinating story. I found myself respecting him more, liking him less, and being renewed in my distaste for Wall Street charlatans who confuse rule-finagling with genuine value-creating entrepreneurship. In the end I came to pity him, because for all his financial success, he'll take nothing with him into the life that he fears, yet cannot believe awaits.

5. What are you currently reading?

A Death in the Family, by James Agee. An excerpt from the prologue, which was a separate piece at the time of Agee's death (his manuscript was published two years after), entitled "Knoxville Summer of 1915":

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

6. Five books you would take to a desert island...

The list is part nourishment, part a blunt assessment of the reality that I'm unlikely to read the darn thing unless I have the good fortune to be stranded with it on a deserted island for a couple of years: (1) The Oxford edition of the New King James Bible. (2) Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. The collected short stories of (3) Wendell Berry and (4) Ernest Hemingway. (5) The collected essays of George Orwell.

7. Who are you passing this stick on to and why?

No matter where I turn, another opportunity for rejection awaits. Fine. I'll pass the baton to two people: Big Arm Woman, and Jordana Adams. I'm asking BAW because, as she may recall, we had that reading program in fifth grade where you got cheesy little laminated cut-outs to signify your progress in the schoolwide reading program. I think between us we read, like, two hundred books. So I know the woman has read something. I'm asking Jordana because I'm curious what someone else with numerous babies to chase after finds worthy of her rare unoccupied moment.

My gosh, that took a bit more space than I intended. And in a post where I unveil what I hope will become the next meme to sweep the Web, the Internet Clutter Reduction Coalition™. I suppose there's some poetic irony in that. Or maybe just hypocrisy. Not that the two are mutually exclusive.

Posted by Woodlief on May 10, 2005 at 09:50 AM


My limited experience with Wendell Berry has taken the form of one essay a few scattered poems. I will have to give our agrarian friend a closer look.

I also like the Tobias Wolff Intro. The little of him I have read I have loved. Quite a diverse array of reading materials you compile!!

Posted by: John at May 10, 2005 12:55 PM

I read one essay by Wendell Berry. It was something about how computers suck as opposed to his manual typewriter because Evil Technology™ and it just set my teeth on edge. As if typewriters grew in a field.

I haven't read anything else of his so maybe I misjudge him. Anyway, sign me up for the Internet Clutter Reduction Coalition™. I've already contributed by taking trackback away from all my sites. It was cool and useful but it became a spammer's gateway which meant I'd either have to load up another script, and I was tired of all that.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at May 10, 2005 10:16 PM

Andrea, you are now the second official member of the Coalition. But our unofficial members number in the tens, if not dozens. Together, we can return the Internet to the pristine state that the good Lord and Al Gore intended.

Posted by: Tony at May 11, 2005 7:48 AM


After wasting time(read: procrastinating) during finals week reading your commentary on Libertarians, Sand in the Gears has become by new Bible, and you, my new god (Superfluous? Yes. Sarcastic? No). Nonetheless, upon seeing a call to duty from you (e.g. the meme) I diligently began to type up my reply. However, after noting that the last book I purchased was "He's Just Not That Into You" and the book that I am currently reading is "Brad and Jen: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Golden Couple" my allegiant discourse came to a screeching halt. Thus, let it be duly noted that I at least tried to respond. (smile)

Posted by: Danielle at May 11, 2005 4:19 PM

Seems gracious from over here, your willingness to sacrifice anti-clutter theory in response to a, granted, rather cliched meme. And yes, that's an interesting commendation for the Epistle to the Romans.

Posted by: dilys at May 15, 2005 6:27 AM

In RE: A Death in the Family, by James Agee

Have you tried So long, See You Tommorow, by William Maxwell?

A short, sweet, haunting novel about childhood memory.

Posted by: Fred at May 17, 2005 11:43 AM


I'm a bit behind in my Sand in the Gears reading, hence this belated response. There is a beautiful musical setting of Knoxville Summer of 1915 by Samuel Barber. There are numerous recordings of it. The version sung by Dawn Upshaw is particularly good.

Posted by: jim at May 24, 2005 1:32 AM