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A book meme

I know that you are all craving for more of these meme thingies from me, and I figured, Why not do two in a row? Especially, since this is a completely different type of meme, dealing with my literary tastes. I picked it up a few days back at Jason’s, my usual source.

  • What was the last book you bought?
  • Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. Normally not my type of book fare, I picked up a library copy that our visiting friends brought with them to our summer holidays. There wasn’t enough time for me to go through more than a half of it by the time the book departed back to the States, so when I saw it at a bookstore some time ago, I decided that I needed to acquire and finish it.

  • Name a book you have read MORE than once.
  • Hundreds of them. To pick just one, I’ll mention Spartacus by Raffaello Giovagnoli, which was one of my top favorites in my early teens.

  • Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?
  • I can’t say that one has. Some books that I read in my late teens that had not been previously published in the Soviet Union (for instance, Жизнь и Судьба) helped me re-evaluate my notions of the socialist society, but I suppose I’ve been properly conditioned for that since my childhood anyway. But that’s about it. I think I’ve always been reading first for entertainment and only then for enlightenment. A bit shallow, I know.

  • How do you choose a book? (E.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?)
  • Mostly by either a recommendation or an existing affinity for the author. I’ve had occasions of picking up a book at a store based on its cover, then reading through the summary and deciding on giving it a go, but those are rare and far in between.

  • Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?
  • Fiction. I don’t exactly know why, but non-fiction usually quickly bores me. I have little interest in the minutiae of real-event recounts; I find biographical lionizations and auto-biographical self-aggrandizements quite tiresome; and I rarely truly need the depth of the subject-matter works. After all, you can have it all summarized for you by Wikipedia; and we all know that it must be true when it’s on the internets.

    That being said, Этюды об Учёных (not sure if it was ever translated in English, but I suppose the name would be Essays on Scientists) Ярослава Голованова – one of my most favorite books ever.

  • What’s more important in a novel, beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
  • It would be silly to point out that the best books should possess both, wouldn’t it? I’m certainly not going to be able to slog through a boring book no matter how beautiful the writing is, but I lately find myself especially drawn to superior quality of writing.

    I don’t know if I can explain it properly. I am not an aspiring writer and I think of myself as having very little talent in the field, but I am able to write. When I read a book full of decidedly un-masterly turns of phrase, I can’t help but think that it could conceivably be my own clumsy efforts that I’m reading. And why would I want to read something that does not impress me as being superior to my own skill?

    Does that make any sense?

    The Razor’s Edge is a great illustration. I picked it up and found myself enchanted by the skill of the writer. I have never before read Maugham, and it was a revelation. As I progressed into the book, I got increasingly disinterested in the subject and the characters. But I remained captivated by the quality of writing. So much so, that upon finishing what on balance was a disappointing read, I moved on to other works by the same author.

  • Most loved/memorable character (character/book)
  • D’Artagnan, Captain Blood, Sherlock Holmes, Alain Quartermain, Paganel, Leatherstocking (whom I most loved as the Deerslayer), Aragorn, Long John Silver, Maigret, Ijon Tichy, Остап Бендер, Жеглов, Штирлиц, Фандорин, I could keep going for a long time. I doubt that I could select just one who is the most loved – I’ve read too many books for that.

  • Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
  • Short Stories Vol. 1 by Somerset Maugham. And two more by him afterwards, all given to Becky for her birthday by the aforementioned friends, Ilia and family, all likely to be read by me first.

  • What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?
  • The Razor’s Edge, which I finished a couple of weeks ago.

  • Have you ever given up on a book half way in?
  • I don’t think so. If I’m still reading on page 100, chances are I’ll finish the book. There have been occasions, though, when I realized by page 20 that the book was not meant for me.

    Although, to be honest with you, I am not sure if I ever actually finished Crime and Punishment, or simply convinced myself that I had.


  1. Brian Greenberg

    C&P was the only book I ever resorted to Cliff Notes for in High School. 100 pages in, all of the long, Russian names sounded exactly the same to me (no intention to offend here, remember – I was 16), and I had no idea what was going on. When I caved in and bought the Cliff Notes, it went on and on about the importance of the prositute character. I didn’t even know there was a prostitute character.

    I’d always assumed it was better in the original Russian, but now your post leads me to believe it’s just an all around bad book, ill-deserving of the iconic status it has achieved.

    Yeah, that’s the ticket…

  2. Ilya

    I always subscribed to a notion that only literary scholars can like Dostoyevsky. I have no affinity for his works. Nonetheless, in high school, when C&P was part of the curriculum, we had a mock court to judge Raskolnikov. I was assigned the duty of prosecuting him. I’m pretty sure that I got his conviction – and more importantly a top grade, which I suppose indicates that I at least knew everything there was to be known of the plot and characters.

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