Unfamiliar Books Meme
Although less frequently than a few years ago, I still read in the print media diatribes from columnists about the inanities of blogging; these generally take the form of bemoaning the idea that blogs are no more than online diaries, and wondering who would want to read the idle musings of so many people.
Ignoring the inherent irony of little-known newspaper columnists filling up space with their own idle musings, it’s amazing how much the blogging world has grown in the last few years – fueled in no small part by the proliferation of free blog hosts such as Google (the owners of Blogger), WordPress, Live Journal, Typepad, and any number of lesser known services. Bloggers search for others with similar interests, thereby forming virtual communities (and if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re interested in the online Freemasonry community). Along with blogging communities comes a desire to know a little more about those who write alongside of you, and bloggers are known to pass along various online tests and quizzes to others in the community.
Reminiscent of those games that most of us have played in grammar school, they take the form of “What five pieces of music would you take if you were stranded on a dessert island?” or “Write five random things about yourself” or “Take this scaled down MBTI and tell us your personality profile,” these quizzes have become known as “memes,” from the concept proposed by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (not to be confused with this guy…) of passing on cultural and social information in much the same way that genes pass on genetic information. Memes are usually frivolous fun – many of us enjoy taking online tests (even when we know what the result will be) probably for the same reason that we read the horoscopes: we always enjoy hearing good news about ourselves. Often, one takes a quiz and then asks (or dares) several other bloggers to do the same.
Not many memes get passed around in the Freemasonry community, partly because it’s rather small; my own blogroll lists fewer than 45 blogs at the moment, many of which are updated infrequently. Offhand, I’d say that maybe ten or fifteen of us write with any regularity, while a few more are active, although posting interesting articles culled from other sources. Compared to the numbers of blogs of those oriented toward politics, entertainment, culture, sex, or business, Freemasonry is a particularly small community, indeed.
This is a long lead-in to my own response to being “tagged” by Movable Jewel with an interesting meme. Less frivolous than some, the meme asks you to describe three books that others may not be familiar with and tag five people.
My first pick is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Yes, a lot of people have heard of it, especially after Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” was compared to it; but few people have actually read it. Like other Eco books, it’s filled with descriptive prose, fantastic insights, and more esoteric trivia than should be allowed. There is a reason that Eco is has been called “the most popular unread author;” I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they picked up the book, got several chapters into it, and put it back down. It says something about my mental state that I’ve read it several times.
At the other end of the scale, I’m a huge Thorne Smith fan, and rarely go a summer without re-reading “Topper Takes a Trip.” Smith’s books all have the same format: a middle-aged man in a rut and feeling hemmed in by societal pressures suddenly finds himself in embarrassing situations over which he has no control, and eventually learns that he can only control his reaction to the situations. “Topper” (who met some errant low-plane spirits in the previous book) is vacationing on the Mediterranean with his stodgy wife and several stodgier society types, when he is re-visited by these ghosts. Poignant hilarity ensues. While a very, very tame version of Topper was a short-lived TV series in the early 60s, Smith’s books were bawdy and risque, no less so because they were written 80 or 90 years ago.
Several of my brothers have mentioned such Sci-Fi greats as Robert Heinlein, Douglas Adams, and Robert Anton Wilson. Since this is supposed to be about little known books, I’m going to mention one of my favorites: Cordwainer Smith (no relations to Thorne). “The Best of Cordwainer Smith” was published in 1975, but contained mainly his short stories from the late 50s and early 60s, many of which were published in such pulps as Galaxy or Amazing Science Fiction. The stories were typically set thousands of years into the future in which an overcrowded Earth sent out colonists to planets, or in which populations lived in crowded dystopias under the watchful eyes of hidden rulers. Omniscient computers, genetically enhanced animals, and creatures living at the edge of our dimensions filled the pages of his stories, most of which were less predictive than eerily surreal.