"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Booked by 3: My Turn

I'd meant to get this up earlier, but I got distracted making graphics in Photoshop.

Name up to three in each category that have moved you or stayed with you, and for extra credit (heh), quote a favorite line or passage.

1. Poem
I'm not much of a poetry lover, but a few have stuck with me over the years. I love the poetry of Robert Frost, but the one that stuck with me stuck did so mostly because it was the one a friend of mine in junior high school had to recite in class. I can't recall the poem I had to memorize for that class, but I sure remember hers, because she'd rehearse at the bus stop every morning for a week. The poem was "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." I can still recite it except for the next to last stanza. The last stanza has always resonated:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

My other favorite poems are "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert M. Service:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

and E.A. Poe's "The Raven":
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."

2. Play
I love plays. I used to read them all the time when I was in my teens, but with so many good things to read, I stopped reading plays and short stories (see below) in favor of novels. The plays that stuck with me are "The Still Alarm," by George Kaufman, which I read in a collection of one-act plays. "The Still Alarm," which I reread a few years ago, still is one of the daffiest bits of farce one could hope to read.

Kaufman, with Moss Hart, wrote another of my favorite plays, "The Man Who Came to Dinner." This play was written for Alexander Woolcott, one of their fellow Algonquin Roundtable members and theater critic who wanted to try acting. The playrights figured Woolcott was qualified to play only himself, so they wrote the play about him, in the form of Sheridan Whiteside, the dinner guest who never leaves. And to round out the cast, they wrote in versions of Woolcott's then "shadow"/friend Harpo Marx as Banjo and an actress based on Tallulah Bankhead. This info was in Harpo's autobiography, Harpo Speaks! and the play was later filmed, with Monty Wooley in the starring role. This site doesn't mention Woolcott wanting to act, but does recall an incident Hart had with him that inspired the play. There's a nice overview here about the play and the Roundtable. And according to Harpo, not only did the Roundtablers back then think of themselves as the "Vicious Circle," but there was a group within the group that called themselves the Thanantopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club, comprised of the hardcore inner circle, of which Harpo was a member.

There are plenty of plays I love, but for number 3, I'll pick Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet." Not only was it a masterpiece, but it inspired hundreds of later versions, including the brilliant "West Side Story."

3. Short story or novel

This is the hardest for me. I read a lot of short stories when I was growing up, but none come to mind. And there are more than 3 novels that made an impression, but 3 that especially moved me are A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, Shardik by Richard Adams, and The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. Honorable Mention goes to 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, which, while not the first of the genre I read, sealed my fate as a science fiction reader.