Monday, August 25, 2014

The Samizdat Collection

As previously noted I most fully enjoy a book when my hands, as well as my eyes and ears, are engaged with it; I’m lucky to be able to read and type at about the same speed, so the way I get the most entertainment and the most efficient education out of a book is to copy it into a computer file while I read it. And here’s a short list of some books I can sell without a pang, because by now “my” copies, the ones I plan to keep, are samizdat. This is not a complete list; it's just a handful of folders from the printed samizdat file shelf.

As previously discussed, Andrei Codrescu's Bibliodeath, and also Road Scholar.

Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Without Tears, Knitter’s Almanac, and Knitting Around; one of these years I’ll get around to copying Knitter’s Workshop and perhaps, by that time, I’ll own a copy of The Opinionated Knitter, the posthumous collection.

Harriette Simpson Arnow’s Weedkiller’s Daughter; some day I may copy The Dollmaker and Mountain Path.

Margaret Atwood’s Robber Bride and, so far, part of Cat’s Eye. I’ve read Cat’s Eye several times, only once and only partway at a computer. (I recommend that everybody read The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, which are so superbly written that people don’t always even notice that they’re science fiction, but I didn't read either of those books at the computer.) 

Booton Herndon’s Seventh Day. I wish he’d written more books...this writer could make Seventh-Day Adventists entertaining.

Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic. Some day I may read his other travel books at a computer; they’re enjoyable enough.

Books about both of the foreign languages I actually read (French and Spanish) and the other languages I’ve not really tried to read or speak, but have studied enough to recognize the language and figure out short simple pieces of it like song lyrics: German, Gaelic (both Scotch and Irish), Welsh (although for some reason my brain refuses to absorb Welsh), Swedish, Latin, Greek, Swahili, Hausa, Russian, Urdu, Indonesian, Japanese, phonetic Hebrew, phonetic Arabic, phonetic Korean, and phonetic Amharic. Throw a chunk of any of these languages at me and I’ll stand there going, “What’s that supposed to be?”—but when the panic subsides I’ll remember which language it is, and even remember some individual words before I sit down and look up the words, one by one, at home. (And why did I choose those languages? Because they’re the ones for which I’ve owned first grammars and dictionaries. First grammars and dictionaries for other languages are always welcome.)

Books in French and Spanish. These are the ones I most need to read at the computer. If I read them with my eyes alone, as if they were English, I’ll know how the story comes out but I’ll skip over the words I don’t know and usually miss some of the meaning. If I read them at the computer, I’ll look up and learn new words. I don’t always print or save these samizdat, but I have several of them.

A majority of C.S. Lewis’s nonfiction books, including the literary studies, which are hard to find in the U.S., such that I think I copied all of them from library books. I started copying Lewis’s Christian books around age sixteen or seventeen. I also used to try to write like him, which I now try to avoid doing—a literary “voice” that sounds like someone the age of your grandfather, who lived in a different country, is just plain weird.

Almost all of the short stories of Joan Aiken, just to get them all into one file folder.

Dorothy Sayers’ Mind of the Maker. Exquisite! I also copied her script for a pageant about The Emperor Constantine, although I would have preferred to have her play script about St. Paul. If I live long enough I may read the adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey at the computer, too.

Wendell Berry’s Another Turn of the Crank; eventually I plan to add What Are People For and other nonfiction work by him.

Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, Freedom of Simplicity, Money Sex & Power, and Prayer.

Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Grace Eventually. I want her other nonfiction books, too.

Kathleen Norris’s Dakota, Amazing Grace, Cloister Walk, and Acedia & Me. (If I’d read The Virgin of Bennington at the computer would I have enjoyed it more?)

Marilou Awiakta’s Selu.

Mary Daly’s Wickedary. (Long messy footnotes tend to prompt me to read a book at the computer so I can follow the author's original train of thought.)

Marlene Dietrich’s ABC. (Never heard of it? Can’t find it? Try the Arlington, Virginia, library...they used to have everything.)

Several of Dave Barry’s and P.J. O’Rourke’s books.

Several books by Sark (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), including Eat Mangoes Naked.

Erica Carle’s Hate Factory...a very special samizdat “edition” of a copy my father annotated by hand for my brother’s and my benefit.

Audubon’s Birds of North America. Most people buy it for the paintings; I wanted Audubon’s notes, and I have them...I’m less wild about his paintings.

Many childhood favorites—The Bingety-Bangety School Bus, The Sneetches, Blueberries for this category I’m including only short books with lots of pictures. As a child I learned to read at an age when most children still need to be read to, but my interests were mostly age-appropriate. Some adults in my life fretted that I wasn’t getting enough of a challenge or reading enough serious educational materials, so the actual reading lists of my childhood were very irregular. I’d go to a store or library and pick out Bedtime Stories to Read Aloud, and it would turn up at home bundled together with Practical Beekeeping, The Horseman’s Bible, and Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days? Some of which did become favorites later, but as a child I liked frivolous stories with lots of pictures. Many of the books fell apart before my sisters grew up. I saved the stories to read to The Nephews. This was how I discovered the usefulness of reading at the computer.

Possibly the oddest choice in my collection: Shiva Naipaul’s Journey to Nowhere, an unhappy report by a writer who had an unhappily short life. I couldn’t say how his writing style differs from his famous older brother’s, exactly, or even say that I prefer the younger brother’s books; Sir Vidya certainly gave the world a lot of reading pleasure, and I’ll vouch for his snarky but credible study of Southern Baptists. Maybe it’s just that Shiva Naipaul seemed closer to my husband in age and experience, whereas I think my husband may have met V.S. Naipaul for the first time during the round of Nobel Prize celebrations, when the Great Curmudgeon seemed to be glaring straight at us when he read aloud about Mr Biswas as “a devout practitioner of interracial sex.” In any case, Journey to Nowhere is not the most informative book about Jonestown but it is a wonderful, insightful book about the 1970s in general.

Probably the most commercially motivated selection: Groucho Marx’s Beds, which took one rainy afternoon to copy so I could resell the original book; reselling the book then took less than one hour.

Books I didn't save or print, and now wish I had: large parts of the textbooks we used in my college classes. I read them at the computer but didn't think I could afford either to print the copies or to save the books. Note to all students: try at least to save one or the other. One day you'll want them. The information will be updated over the years but you'll still want to refer back to the hard copy of the original information you stored in your head.