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Monday, March 14, 2005

Passing the Stick (Better Than Passing the Stone)

Taking the stick from Stephanie:

1. You're stuck inside Farenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

In Fahrenheit 451, individuals memorize one book apiece in order to preserve them. (I was reminded of this by another blogger who did this survey.) Therefore, the question is, which book would I like to memorize. Given the current state of my memory, I better choose The Cat in the Hat.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Maybe the whore who beguiles Yossarian in Catch-22. You want ficky-fick? Oh, wait. Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. Thirty-eight years later and still going strong.

3. The last book you bought was...?

My wife and I tend to buy collectively, but, I’d say it was The Skin of Our Teeth.

4. The last book you read was...?

Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt. A biography of Shakespeare. Interesting reading, but closer to speculative fiction than biography. And I’m a confirmed Stratfordian.

5. What are you currently reading?

Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham. As in Roosevelt and Churchill. Interesting and well-written histoical study of the realtionship between the two.

6. Five books you would take to a desert island...

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Much Ado About Me by Fred Allen
Six Plays by Kaufman and Hart by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
The Wisdom of Laotse by Lin Yutang

What three people are you passing this stick on to and why?

Phil -- because it could fall anywhere in the cultural spectrum from SpongeBob to James Joyce.
Mark – who doesn’t have a blog, because I don’t know what to expect. (He can use my blog, if he’d like.)
Robert – who also doesn’t have a blog, because he cares about literature and what it can do. (He’s also welcome to use my blog, if he’d like.)


Robert G. Margolis said...


In one of the Marx Brothers' movies (which one is it, Len?), Groucho says: "I have a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it." In sticking me up with this stick, I think you've given me a stick with which I'm about to use to beat myself over the head.

1. You're stuck inside Farenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

Stuck inside a book about the burning of books? What's the difference between that and where I am now? It reminds me of the answer of I forget who to the question: "If your house was on fire and you could only save one thing, what would you save?" Answer: "The fire."

That book, for me, in as much as it is a "book" in the sense that's meant here, is the Qur'an, or al-Qur'an al-Karim, as it is more usually referred to in Arabic.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I presume this means a fictional character in a book or other work of literature. Layla in the story "Layla and Majnun", Rachel in the moment Jacob sees her by the well, and Sheharazhad in "A Thousand and One Nights".

3. The last book you bought was...?

Two copies of "Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran/Oscar and the Lady in Pink", by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt. One copy for the daughter of friend of my wife, one copy for a friend of mine.

4. The last book you read was...?

It's been years since there's been a "last book" I've read, as I don't read very much, in quantity or variety, as I once did, nor do I read or finish a single book at a time.

5. What are currently reading?

I don't read a single book at a time. I read, say, 4, 5, 6 at a time, reading in different directions, for different purposes, and, at present, trying to read as little in English as possible. More precisely, I re-read constantly. So: There is a daily study and recitation of the Qur'an. And I'm always reading dictionaries; in particular Arabic-English dictionaries, and more in particular those dictionaries that concentrate on the Arabic vocabulary of the Qur'an. I rely constantly on a Qur'an lexicon and grammar, written in French, by Maurice Gloton. Then, for example, and more or less currently, I am reading several books and numerous essays in French by Tariq Ramadan, Khaled Bentounes, and Armand Abecassis; the first volume Mafatih al-Ghayb, Fakhr al-Din Razi's Qur'an commentary, the first volume of Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Karim, which is Ibn Kathir's Qur'an commentary, selected chapters of al-Futuhat al-Makkiya by Muhyi al-din Ibn al-'Arabi, and the Kitab al-Mawaqif of Emir Abd al-Qadir, some writings by Abd al-Halim Mahmud. I often read an Arabic original along with a French translation, when available, to improve my reading abilities in both languages at once. For example: al-Sirat al-Nabawiyah and an outstanding French presentation/translation by Wahib Atallah. This list was accomplished by looking around, as I type, and listing what I've had my hands on recently; it may sound like a lot, but it's not; I read bits at a time, usually over and over.

I alternate the above, or some version of it, with "children's books" or their near equivalents. Most recently I re-read the Maira Kalman trilogy of books about Max
The Poet Dog, a two-novella book by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, "Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran/Oscar and the Lady in Pink", and "The Story of the Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her How To Fly," by Luis Sepulveda.

I alternate the above, or some version of it, with "children's books" or their near equivalents. Most recently I re-read the Maira Kalman trilogy of books about Max
The Poet Dog, a two-novella book by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, "Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran/Oscar and the Lady in Pink", and "The Story of the Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her How To Fly," by Luis Sepulveda.

5. Five books you would take to a desert island...

al-Qur'an al-Karim

A Qur'anic Arabic-English which is currently in preparation and hopefully will be published before I'm removed to a desert island.

al-Futuhat al-Makkiya, by Ibn al-'Arabi

The Masnavi, by Maulana Jelal al-Din Rumi (in the Persian original, since this is a fantasy of sorts as is, at present, my ability to read Persian).

Some collection of Hadith.

What three people are you passing this stick on to you and why?

Alas, this stick stops here. I don't know 3 people to whom I could pass it on, as Len, Phil, and myself have already received it.

Len said...

Yes, you got stuck with a stick. I think, for the record, that the Groucho quote comes from "Duck Soup." I'll have towatch it again in the next few days to make sure.

Excellent responses. Thank you. I'm not usually one for particpating in these Internet games, but this one had an interesting subject and was forwarded on to me by my wife. She's given me so much, what's a couple of minutes of my time in return?

Allow me, if I may, to take up the cudgel, so to speak, and invite three more unfortunates to this party on your behalf. It'll behalf yours and half mine. I'll also provide half the wit.)

Anonymous said...

451/Memorize- If I’m going to be reciting this aloud to escapees around the campfire, I’m going with Vonnegut. I’ll take "Sirens of Titan."

Crush- I’ll go with Ayla from "The Clan of the Cave Bear." Nothing gets me hotter than a woman who can bring down her own mastodon.

Last bought- I got two on the same day, as I had a credit from returning gift copy #2 of "America" by the crew at "The Daily Show" (friends know I love John Stewart/best all-time textbook parody). What I got/bought: "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner and "Monster of God" by David Quammen.

Last read- "A Widow for One Year" by John Irving. Doesn’t mean I’d recommend it but I have to tell the truth, as this is the internet.

Current reading- "The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac. A recent gift from a friend to remind me of the good old bums.

Desert Island- If I was really going to get stranded, I’d take five big fat books that I’ve never read but had heard were good. Stuff like "War and Peace" and "Ulysses." I think the question is really about five books you love and could re-read and read aloud from. Most of the books I love seem to be from when I was a teenager or a young man. Let’s have:

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"- Mark Twain

"Nine Tomorrows"- Isaac Asimov

"Black Elk Speaks"- John Neihardt

"Tortilla Flat"- John Steinbeck

"Desert Solitaire"- Edward Abbey

Good thing I’ve already got my Vonnegut memorized.

3 Sticks- To the next three people who come along! I hope one of them brings a really huge dictionary to the island.

Mark Down

Anonymous said...


Are you able to refix my duplicative?

I'm troubled circumnavigating the blog.

Doc L. Ganger

Len said...

As we say in the northeast, "No Problem! I took care of it for you, but good. Now, someday, I may require a favor of you--" You know how the rest goes.

Excellent responses, as well. I may just spend the rest of my days passing around sticks and enjoying what other people have to say about it.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Yeah, Len, this passing and receving the stick stuff can be quite addictive. Me, I'm ready to move on to the hard stuff, to sticks and stones, though they may break my bones.

Len said...

Maybe I should invite the President so that I can stick it to the Man. Maybe he's too stuck up to stick with me, though. Still, we're stuck with him, so maybe we should get stoned. Except its probably all just sticks and stems these days.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Len, if you mean the current two-time unelected, discarded and uncounted vote President, then I'm afraid he'll only ask his new Paranoia General to arrest you for brandishing a "terrorist" weapon. And remember, he's proudly proclaimed that he doesn't read. He just needs to be shown where to sign to make an execution order official or to cancel the Constitution (which, as he's so convincingly argued, the Founders never meant to apply to him).

Robert G. Margolis said...

...And by "terrorist weapon", I mean, of course, a book, not the stick.

Len said...

He and his friends can make it stick with either a stick or a book. Of course, you're right. he's very proud of his semi-literacy, and it's a commentary on the state of the nation that so many people would say that this makes him a "regular guy." (That and bran cereal.) Of course, he and his co-conspirators wrote the book on giving the people the shaft, which is, after all, a kind of stick.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Other things that make the Emperor Savant a "regular guy":

He's choked both on his own vomit in the mens room of a bar and on a pretzel in the room in the White House which has that simulated 60's swingin' bachelor bar.

His Grandpappies both helped administrate and profited from companies that were seized under the "Trading With The Enemy" act during World War II. And his family was into gas efficiency, long before oil: there are direct links between his family's money and investments with IG Farben, supplier of chemicals to Auschwitz.

Maintained the "Gentleman's 'C'" in college through sheer money and legacy power.

Womanized and did drugs and debauched like the best of womanizing American heros in the best of country-western songs.

Capitalized on his repetance like the best of our very own, homegrown tent revivalists.

Killed lots of people, like a gangster of mob boss, only did it legally.

Len said...

Robert, this is taking a turn ofr the serious that I hadn't intended, but that's the nature of conversation, isn't it, to go it's own way.

It's amazing to me that people can think of Georgie as a regular guy when he went to Phillips Acadamy and Yale as a legacy student. He was born with the silver spoon in his mouth and he bit off the end.

It's amazing to me that citizen's can be so ignorant of their system of government that they can toerate someone as President who thinks himself king. I wished that I could have been at the town hall debate so that I could've asked him, "Mr Bush, can you explain to us the difference between a citizen and a subject and how do the policies of your administration support the notion that we are a nation of citizens?"

Somehow, I doubt my question would have gotten chosen.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Yeah, Len, sorry about the turn of the conversation today on "As The Conversation Turns". I could have tried to say the above somehow with puns and word-play, but I was afraid the Dead Horse Rights Activists would take my stick away, and sometimes the serious so funny, on all its own, you just have to let it be its own material.

It is very generous of you to assign or attribute cogent "thinking", as an ability, to the Emperor Savant. Delusional, yes. Deeply delusional, yes. Surrounded by by soul-sucking power pirate enablers of deep delusion, yes. (But that's taking a turn for the light-hearted; back to serious.) In the Bush-Nostra, the "thinking" is done by others. Unless you call such unscripted bon mots as this "thinking" (and I'm quoting approximately from memory):

"Dictatorship's a good a thing. Of course, I'd have to be the dictator (heh, heh)."

"You see, I don't have to explain myself about anything. That's the thing about being President; other's have to explain themselves to me, but I don't have to explain anything."

The actual completely accurate quotations are available, I'm sure, with just a bit of searching.

Your small-town optimism and charm continues to shine through, Len, in thinking that you'd actually even get in to the Town Meeting. The Busha Nostra events are by pre-screened and approved invitation. It ain't "Our Town", that's for sure.

Again, sorry for the abruptly non-comedic turn of conversation. Before I send this, I'll go back and hide a whoopie cushion somewhere in the above text.

Len said...

Robert, just because I hadn't intended for this to go serious, don't think that it bothers me. Serious away.

I agree with you on every point. When I speak of Mr Bush "thinking," I'm really only referring to the basic firing of synapses. Thinking in the sense of creating, examining, comparing, and evolving ideas is far beyond his capability. His talent is for belief, which he confuses with wisdom.

One of the things that amazes me about Mr Bush is that he believes (there's that word again!) that he has a sense of humor. Now, this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I have to say that it is nothing short of dispiriting for me to hear crowd chortling at his snide asides and self-important unwisecracks. He always has to let you know that the joke has arrived by snorting out a chuckle or two, just like a second-rate stand-up. Cheney is even more disgusting in this way.

The event I was referring to was one of the debates with Kerry, the one in Missouri. I would have been barred by not being undecided, of course. I don't know what other screening criteria there were, but I probably would've been stricken by both sides for having a small gleam of intelligence in my eyes.

I've spentt a good deal of time in recent months trying to get a handle on Mr Bush. Who is he really? How smart is he? How cynical is his belief system and the actions that arise from it? Is he just a puppet, like Reagan? (And anybody who's seen that movie with Erich von Stroheim knows that puppets can be evil, too.) Or is he an initiator of policy?

I'm still not sure on much of it. I've said for years that the perfect title for a book about the Reagan presidency would be "Asleep at the Wheel." This guy's not as easy to sum up. I think he's of about average intelligence and his instinct is the instinct of the bully. He covers for his myriad deficiencies with bluster and mean-spiritedness. Since he can't convince, he scares.

I certainly don't think that Mr Bush is a great President, but I do think he'll turn out to be a significant President. At least they're not trying to amend the Constitution to let him return for further destruction of the American ideal.

Robert G. Margolis said...


I have not yet begun to get really serious here. "Yet awhile," as Shakespeare had one of his characters say (I think).

Amendment of the constitution for GWB? No, that will be attempted for Der Groppenfuhrer, the Enron Governor of Californicate.

On the sunnier side of the serious side of the street, there is a nicely accumulating amount of very good-to-excellent independant and investigative reporting about GWB and family. I suggest, if you haven't already read it, a 5 or 6 part series written by Jeffrey St. Clair, published in the on-line edition of "CounterPunch" ( An author search at the site should find you the series. Other recommendations for reading and study available upon request (not overlooking that you, in fact, did not request this first recommendation).

Well, you seem to have covered all the other punchlines, for the moment.

So, let me ask: read any good books, lately?

Len said...

What does Proctor say as Pastor Flash in "Don't Crush That Dwarf"? "I only read good books."

I just looked through my briefcase and found "Franklin and Winston," John Steinbeck's "The Long Valley," S.J. Perelman's "Rising Gorge," and "The Complete I Ching" by Alfred Huang. I can recommend each in its own way.

I'll check out the web articles you mentioned.

Re: Ahnold. It ain't gonna happen. Even if he sets fire to the Reichtag in Sacramento. Someday, like Rainer Wolfcastle on "The Simpsons," he will have the opportunity to say, "Maria, my mighty heart is breaking."

Even if Orrin "Booby" Hatch gets the Constitution amended, Ahhhnold will get disqualified for steroid use.

Anonymous said...

If I'm stuck inside F451 I think I'd like to be The Joy of Cooking.

Last book read: The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
Current book: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Desert island books: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, On the Road, Bird, Welcome to the Monkey House, Holes

Waiting for the new Beck album-Guero

-Sernie Blim

Len said...

Mr. Splim, you have beaten me to the punch! After I finished kicking myself for limiting myself to three just because the list said so, I was going to invite you to join our merry band!

And great list!

Robert G. Margolis said...


Len, the Jeffrey St. Clair series, to which I refer, has the overall title of "High Plains Grifter".

barrie said...

I'm sort of following my stick around. This might be the most interesting discussion it has prompted.

If I'm getting stuck on a deserted island I think I'm taking you guys with me :)

Len said...

I don't know about me, but the other guys are certainly interesting. Being in their company makes me look good, too.

Anyway, thanks for checking in. Stop by again; you never know what direction the conversation is going to go in. (Except when I weigh in. Then it always seems to go backward.)