Tuesday, November 30, 2010
A Reader's Reader
Yes, Bond. James Bond.
"Ben. Born Ben."
Ben did not actually say that. What he actually said, in response to my question, "Are you doing some kind of reading project?" was, "My life." And I completely understood!
Ben was at that point, after quietly moving through the aisles of Babbitt's Books, making a fine stack of books on a convenient computer stand. He had hung his coat on the back a chair, and every now and then he asked a question. One was about Graham Greene. Our Man in Havana, I said. He said, The End of the Affair. But we didn't have either of these. Or, evidently, The Quiet American. So Ben's stack includes others, instead.
Here is Ben's stack of books:
Graham Greene:* The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, A Burnt-Out Case
Arthur Rimbaud: A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat (in one volume, paperback)
Richard Adams: Watership Down (which Ben read as a child, but needed now to own again)
Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Sinclair Lewis: Main Street
Neal Cassady: The First Third
Ben said it was time to read a book by Neal Cassady, as Neal had been the hero of about 4 books he'd read. Ben's favorite writer is Jack Kerouac, and he made a Kerouac pilgrimage to San Francisco and found Kerouac's house on North Beach, a A-frame that "didn't fit," so it must have been his.
He read Catcher in the Rye at about age 12, and also The World According to Garp, by John Irving, at the urging of his mother. My parents recommended Garp to me, too! And I recommended Franny and Zooey to Ben! And also White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which he bought, because we had a nice hardback for $4!
I didn't mean to put Ben on the spot by asking if he'd read any women. I was responding to his comment that he liked mainly the older stuff and the only contemporary writer he really liked was David Foster Wallace.* I recommended Zadie Smith as a contemporary writer who puts people together of different cultures and generations, the way Flannery O'Connor would stick people of different beliefs and attitudes into a paper bag and shake them up to see what would happen. Ben liked that, and also Salman Rushdie's blurb on the back.
*Wikipedia tells me Graham Greene had bipolar disorder. Ah. Erm, David Foster Wallace.
Ben is writing a novel himself! And that's all I'm going to say about it.
Ben remembered that the first book he ever bought at Babbitt's, at the old location, was Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, when he was 15. It hooked him, on Vonnegut, and on Babbitt's, and on used bookstores in general, because new bookstores, he says, have plenty of cookbooks and mysteries, but not this great stuff.
"Why Rimbaud?" I asked. Because Kerouac mentioned him. Lots of Ben's reading is of the one-book-leads-to-another sort, and, if you read my blog, you know the same thing happens to me. Why Main Street? Because we didn't have Babbitt, mentioned in the Nobel Prize citation, or Arrowsmith, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Ben asked us if Babbitt's Books is named for Babbitt. Yes, it was once a favorite book of the owner. And there is a giant flat-Brian picture of the owner in the window holding Babbitt, one of those wonderful library Read posters. Sometimes it scares the baristas at the Coffeehouse across the street, because it looks like he is watching them. Telling them to read this book....
And I asked Ben if he knew the Pulitzer bloggers. He did not, but I told him they are in my blogroll, and they are here and here, too, Ben, if you are reading. Or if your mom is reading!