Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Whimsy

Saw this in The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain:

A woman was once introduced to Mark Twain at a Christmas party. Feeling obliged to discuss literature, she asked him if he thought a book was the most useful gift one could give. He replied:

“Yes, but of course it depends on the book. A big leather-bound volume makes an ideal razorstrap. A thin book is useful to stick under a table with a broken caster to steady it. A large, flat atlas can be used to cover a window with a broken pane. And a thick, old-fashioned heavy book with a clasp is the finest thing in the world to throw at a noisy cat [without hitting the creature, of course! -cjj].”

Now I’ve an addition to Twain’s list. This morning I played the book game that’s been traversing the Internet for a few years. It works like this:

Turn to page 52 of a book near you. Scan down to the fifth sentence and write it out.

I saw some examples that were intriguing, and a collection of examples that made a surreal little story. I reasoned that because I read several books at a time, I should be able to create a nice mash-up of fifth sentences.

How wrong I was. Nearly every sentence was a bore and hardly representative of the books I’m reading.

Marilynne Robinson’s poetic first novel Housekeeping, for example, contains precious little dialogue; instead, she writes long descriptions and ruminations about loss and identity. The book deserves to be read slowly and thoughtfully. So imagine my surprise to copy this as the fifth sentence on page 52:


That’s it! A one-word sentence. And the sentences from the other books weren’t any more interesting.

So I tried a workaround—the sixth sentence of page 66. This time Marilynne Robinson’s exquisite writing gave me:


I give up. Maybe the trick is combining sentences from a variety of readers rather than from one reader’s variety of books. Why don’t YOU try this game and share your results on Lull. Or, if you prefer, you may e-mail me your sentences and I’ll include them in a future post.

[Photographer unknown; found on Spine Facing Out.]

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