From a conversation today:
Ziek: “Oh I also need to figure out what the fuck my favorite movies and books are.”
Allan: “Visit your facebook page.”
Odd, no? When I went to create my “Handbook to Understanding Allan” for an earlier post, I found it impossible to just think for a few seconds, then name my ten favorite books. Obviously I would run into difficulty ranking them, but more importantly, I simply could not call to mind certain books which I believe had a profound impact on me. I looked through my bookshelf and visited my own facebook page to find them. Ziek (who was filling out a touchy-feely application for something) ended up calling home and having someone read him titles from his bookshelf until he had a working list.
Do we need these repositories, these lists of our identities, in order to remind us of who we are? Is my bookshelf an external hard drive for my mind and personality? Considering that these books are supposed to be particularly vivid or compelling to us, it seems strange that we cannot conjure them when asked. I have argued already that the reading I have done has had a profound impact on my personality – one would think I could recall these formative pages.
However, the mark of an extraordinary book or movie lies in the way we internalize it, so perhaps it should not be so surprising that if someone asks for titles to my ten favorite books, I draw a blank. If someone instead asks why I don’t believe in God, I would point them to the Book of Job and ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus. If someone asks me which literature has had the largest impact on my sense of humor, I would name the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Yet in my “Handbook to Understanding Allan” earlier, only ‘The Stranger’ appears, because it is the only one of these three sitting on my bookshelf at the moment.
You can tell a lot about me from my bookshelf or my list of top ten, I suppose, but it is only a suggestion at summary – an odd impression of me which makes little or no sense out of context. It is not a repository for my thoughts, it is a hoard of material, a well I occasionally revisit.
The fact that I cannot list titles does not mean those titles did not matter. It means they are so much a part of me, I am no longer conscious of them.
PS – Yes, Ziek said ‘fuck’ in casual conversation. I’m as astonished as you are.