Yes, it’s true: yesterday here in Keene, the rain stopped and the clouds parted long enough for optimistic restauranteurs to set up shop outside, just in time for the lunch rush. After a week of rain (and more precipitation forecast for next week), these and other umbrella tables were a sight for sore eyes.

After having bewailed the fact that it took forever for someone to choose me for the book stick meme, it seems that now everyone is being super-careful to invite me to the party. Mere days after I responded to Bane‘s passing of the three’s meme, both Amy and Chris tagged me for the latest book meme. I guess now everyone will be giving me Mercy Memes for months to come.

1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned:

Who the hell knows? Right now, I have probably a couple hundred “pleasure” books in my apartment, and several dozen more in my office at school…and then there are the textbooks for my classes, and the textbooks that book reps send for review, which are scattered in both places. (Yes, that’s one perk of being an English prof: free (text)books!) This, though, is the tip of the ol’ iceberg since at various points (while facing various moves) I’ve liquidated huge portions of my personal library. I’ve blogged before about the huge downsizing my library underwent when my ex and I moved to an apartment in Keene from a house in Hillsboro: after selling several hundred dollars worth of used books on Amazon, I filled a garage wall’s worth of bookshelves with priced-to-move books…and either sold or gave away every last one. Incidentally, I still get a little emotional reading that post about weeding out books: it marked my first “between the lines” mention of my then-impending divorce, the division of a library into piles marked “his” and “hers” being one of the more emotionally difficult parts of the process.

But, to answer the question of how many books I’ve owned: more than I presently have, which is more than most.

2. Last Book I Bought:

It’s not exciting, but it’s true: the last book I bought was the Eyewitness Travel Guide to Washington, DC. I’m a sucker for travel guides, loving to plan a trip almost as much as I love taking trips. It’s been over five years since I’ve been to DC, so I’m making a mental wish list of things to do and see when I’m there visiting my aunt in June. Call me a Super-Geek, but I can’t help but love a town (district?) chock-full of free museums, a zoo designed in part by Frederick Law Olmsted, and both the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress. (For all the times I’ve been to DC, I’ve never visited either of the latter, which means they’re at the top of this year’s agenda. I suspect I’ll have to be revived after swooning in the presence of so much Literature…see, I told you I’m a Super-Geek.)

3. Last Book I Read:

I’m doing my usual summer thing, which is to start far more books than I finish. So the last book I finished is still Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, which I loved; before that, I read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, which I hated. (It started splendidly, became monotonous in the middle, and ended with an “okay, let’s do anything to call it a wrap” stinker of a conclusion.)

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

Chris already tapped Robert Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in his list of five, so I’ll set that mind-altering title aside. (Let me simply remark that I’ve read the book countless times, included it in my dissertation, and have inflicted it on students. It definitely Means A Lot To Me.) Here are five other books that are significant to me:

  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden. Yeah, it’s somewhat cliched…but like countless other Weird Kids, I read Thoreau in high school and grooved on his counter-cultural, pro-Nature vibe. As fate would have it, I ended up writing a doctoral dissertation on American nature writing, nearly every chapter of which refers to Thoreau. When it comes to American nature writing and my so-called life, it all starts with HDT.
  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Some have called Dillard our generation’s Thoreau. When I first read Pilgrim over a dozen years ago, it rocked my world: on nearly every page, I found myself in awe at the power of Dillard’s prose and jealous at the fact that I hadn’t written it. Dillard’s mystical view of the natural world was a spot-on match with my own sensibilities: Pilgrim is a book I could have written had Dillard not gotten there first, damnit. I actually need a new copy since I’ve literally read my old edition to pieces.
  • Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums. Say what you will about On the Road: The Dharma Bums will always be my favorite Kerouac novel. I love Keroauc’s free-wheeling rendition of the spiritual quest as a wild rollicking roadtrip punctuated with wine, poetry, free love Zen lunacy, and mountain climbing. Japhy Ryder, Kerouac’s semi-fictionalized portrait of the poet Gary Snyder, is one of my favorite heroes of American literature: he’s a bold and wise lover of freedom…and he hikes nearly naked. What’s not to love?
  • Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses. I’d never read Ackerman until an early reader of my Pedestrian Thoughts essays remarked that my prose, at its most descriptive, reminded me of Ackerman’s. So when I read Senses, I nearly swooned with delight. Ackerman’s prose is lush and decadent, filled to the dripping with sensory detail. Senses is an informative book, but it’s also a sensuous rush: in a book group where I’d recommended this title, one woman remarked she called her husband to “get over here, quick” because Ackerman’s description of kissing and the sense of touch got her so, uh, inspired. Like Japhy Ryder, Ackerman thinks the body is a good thing, and her prose reflects that fact. Let’s face it: smart is sexy, and big time sensuality is even sexier.
  • Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon. I don’t normally read “chick lit,” but… Last summer when I was struggling with the decision to divorce, I went to several sessions with a local therapist. In the course of talking about my unhappiness and the kind of premature midlife crisis I seemed to be having, the good doctor mentioned Berg’s book as being a retelling of the kind of angst she hears time and again from patients sitting in her office. When I read Berg’s novel of an empty-nester who hits the road after losing herself in a bland marriage, I saw parts of myself on nearly every page. Like the Doc had suggested, I was on the road to ruin if I stayed in an unhappy marriage, and Berg’s book drove that point home. We often talk about books that impacted the course of our life, and The Pull of the Moon literally changed my life: reading it gave me the courage to get out of a relationship that had outlived its usefulness.

5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog:

  • Rach because she’s one of the students upon whom I inflicted Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and she lived to tell the tale.
  • Jean because I can’t recall her ever doing a meme on her site, and I’m sure she has exquisite literary taste.
  • Bane, a tag-back for that previous meme.
  • Johnny G because he shares my penchant for Library of America books.
  • John because everyone loves a seeker…and his books.