The fickle finger of fluidity

12 Apr

I tried to do the ten most influential books meme, I really tried. But I could only find five books on my shelf I counted as “influential enough”, and even a few of those seemed to be pushing it. If I lowered my criteria, all of sudden there were dozens and dozens of books that were equally influential, but none were really that “influential”. I just liked them enough to keep them for 20-30 years.

And I couldn’t help but feel like there were some really, important, influential books from my childhood that I just couldn’t remember. I couldn’t do that meme if I was leaving out really important books that had just slipped into subconciousness over the years. This feeling was quickly substantiated when I read other’s memes and remembered some of the books I’d forgotten. My memory is a sieve; I should be forbidden from doing these memes.

So I gave up. At first, I thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t do this meme. But after reading the reactions of oursin, redredshoes, and matociquala I realized it ain’t just me.

I’m just not the type that can make lists of “favorite” things or “influential” things. My mind doesn’t organize the world in terms of those kind of value judgments. It’s too fluid. My favorite things change every day, my influential things, every year. And at the same time, I am a creature of habit, hanging on to the same sorts of preferences year after year. But that doesn’t mean I would consider those things “favorites”. I’m just used to them and too busy or lazy to seek out alternatives. I do encounter new things all the time, of course, in the random bumblings of daily life. I make new discoveries all the time, and find new things to delight in.

23 Responses to “The fickle finger of fluidity”

  1. dlgood April 12, 2004 at 10:43 am #

    I understand that. I “feel” where you are coming from. I tend to identify most “10 most….” lists in a similar vein – although my personality biases me a bit more toward organizing and structuring things. But such lists are by no means inclusive and “influence” is a sufficiently fuzzy enough term for something that shouldn’t be static anyway.
    I just viewed it as an opportunity to shill for some stuff that I really liked to read and give people a sense of what I’ve read that grabbed me – far more than an actual quantification on what truly influenced me.

  2. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 10:54 am #

    But such lists are by no means inclusive and “influence” is a sufficiently fuzzy enough term for something that shouldn’t be static anyway.
    Strangely enough, it is my need to be all anal and objectively correct that really stymied me in this meme. I can come up with a list of books I liked very well or that influenced me, but are those REALLY the ten books that, in actuality, influenced me the MOST? I know they’re not. Most of the ones that had the greatest influence in making me who I am today have fallen through the cracks of conscious memory.
    And then, like you, I thought, “What do they mean by ‘influential’, anyway? I thought of changing the meme to the “ten top books that made me want to be a writer”, but then I came up against my inadequate memory again. I found my list being top-heavy with gay and lesbian books I read in my teens and early 20’s–but they held sway during that part of my life, not before or after, and therefore shouldn’t be over-represented in the list.
    And I was embarassed by the fact that I had so few philosophy books on my list. I’m sure many of those were influential in the way I think about things, but I can NEVER answer the “Who is your favorite philosopher” or “Whose philosophy influenced you the most” questions. “Many or none” is the best answer to that question. And it really bugged me that I couldn’t remember what texts I read in my very first philosophy class, a class I would call highly influential in my subsequent life.
    I am simultaneously too rigid and too fluid for this particular meme, and others like it. I’m OK with that, but I did feel anti-social most of last week being unable to join in the meme.

  3. mamculuna April 12, 2004 at 11:23 am #

    I knew that if I tried it, what I’d really be writing would be “10 Books I Can Think of Right Now!”

  4. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 11:33 am #

    No kidding. I admire the memories of some people; my memory, especially of childhood stuff, is swiss cheese. Under the right circumstances, things will come back to me I haven’t though of in years, but that’s triggered by something I encounter in my current environment. Trying to bring up stuff out of memory cold? Impossible. I realized to this meme right, I’d have to spend hours at amazon.com and other places large volumes of books are listed until I came up with a list that satisfied me. And even then, would I recognize books I read by title or cover art alone? There are some books I remember and wish I could read again, but I don’t remember their names and/or authors anymore. I’d recognized them if I accidentally plucked them off a used bookstore shelf and browsed through them for a while, but that’s the luck of the draw!

  5. superplin April 12, 2004 at 11:55 am #

    I’m just not the type that can make lists of “favorite” things or “influential” things. My mind doesn’t organize the world in terms of those kind of value judgments. It’s too fluid. My favorite things change every day, my influential things, every year.
    Oh, god, me too. There are so many fannish memes asking your favorite episode/season/scene/etc., and they always leave me stymied, unable to choose even a Top X#. And that’s an automatically limited range of selection. Books? Ack! Too many!
    I also have the memory issue you mentioned to someone else. I’m amazed at these people who can remember every book they read as a child, right down to the plot. I’m lucky if I can remember what I read last month.
    Reading other people’s lists is fun, but I almost always see a book that makes me think, “Oh, yeah: of course that’s one of mine, too.” Yet I never would’ve been able to pull it out of my own memory unaided.
    I fear this may be a sign of early onset senility.

  6. etrangere April 12, 2004 at 11:57 am #

    I see your point. All I wrote was the ten most influencial books I could think of at the moment, I would not claim it was the most accurate I could do. Ask me again, and I might find another list.
    I wouldn’t have been able to do a list of the most important books. What does that mean ? But books that have marked me, that have struck me deeply, made me thing, or that just represent something about me… I can do. They’re not necessarily my favourite books, or the greatest books I read, they just are like landmarks in my life.

  7. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 12:11 pm #

    I fear this may be a sign of early onset senility.
    Or maybe our brains just work differently from other people’s. It’s not a sin. Memory is a tricky thing. Most of my memories of childhood are pictures frozen in my mind without much of a context–how old was I when that happened? What grade was I in? I don’t remember. I just see myself doing something specific, or thinking something specific, but the circumstances of my life at the time that event happened are gone. It was the activity I was engaged in, the face of the person I was with (if not their identity) that was vivid and remained with me.
    The same goes for picking “favorites”. Ask me my favorite episodes, and my brain starts making distinctions: episodes that appealed to me emotionally, episodes that appealed to me intellectually, episodes that were well-written, episodes that explored a favorite character (somehow I am better at picking favorite characters than episodes. But then I’m people-oriented. Ask me to pick favorite quotes, and I’ll go into a state of catatonic schitzophrenia. Dialogue just doesn’t induce value judgments or memorableness in me like characterization).
    My answer to “favorites” lists is either “It depends” or “I never thought about it. I’ll have to research that for a bit. I’ll let you know.” At any rate, it takes too much time and thought to come up with such lists, and by the time I do, everyone’s moved on to the next meme.

  8. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 12:17 pm #

    I wanted to come up with an accurate list mainly because I wanted to learn something interesting about myself, and I wanted others to learn something interesting about me. I realized I was just fumbling around for quick answers or answers that easily came to mind and I wasn’t really doing the meme so much as just creating a post so I could “join in” with my friends.
    Sometimes just socializing’s more important than accuracy, I guess, but then I realized I wasn’t alone in my stymied-ness and that’s social, too!

  9. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 12:27 pm #

    Re: Not alone!
    I’m fortunate in that I kept some of the books that meant a lot to me in adolescence, and even though I’ve moved and did the tossing-away thing before hand a bazillion times, I was too sentimental to rid myself of some of these books. In fact, I’ve gone back and bought a few of them at amazon marketplace, or if I ran across them in a used bookstore. Not because I plan on reading them, ever (some are embarassingly the sort of thing only a juvenile could appreciate), but because I’m sentimental.
    None of this implies they were deeply influential on me (or if they were, there are some I won’t admit to in a public LJ entry). They all had influence, but sometimes that influence didn’t extend beyond that week or that year.
    One experience that is amazing, though, is to revisit a book you haven’t read in 20-30 years. You might see how it influenced you in ways you never realized at the time because you didn’t have the perspective you have now. You might just react to it totally differently now than you did then, because your “buttons” are different now than they used to be.
    These things are so much more important, and so much less important than we can talk about in lists.

  10. ann1962 April 12, 2004 at 12:28 pm #

    After I posted my update I saw yours
    Early onset senility fears. Me too. I thought about trying this new book list meme but I have so few memories from my childhood that I figured it was pointless. I know I read all of the requisite books but I don’t remember when. The timing of any read, I think happens when you are ready for a book and it is ready for you. Books I read in my teenage years, that had a huge impact, would not have that great of an impact now. Time passes and those impacts are less severe and lessened. The books, of which there are so many, come and go. Remembering the sentence of a book that may have had an impact is long gone. Sometimes I found that one sentence may have struck me a certain way, rather than the whole book. Hence my love of poetry. Its images stay with me longer.

  11. scrollgirl April 12, 2004 at 12:29 pm #

    Hee! Fair enough, Masq. And I kind of understand, because I always have a hard time limiting myself to a set number of “Favourites” and I spend way too much brain power on perfecting my answers to these silly memes. I mean, I kept editing my Important Books post and adding on more books and authors, and it took me forever to write up the post to begin with!
    What I find interesting doing “10 Most…” memes is that I invariably learn something new about my tastes and preferences. Like that favourite Buffy eps meme from a while back. It was interesting for me to actually sit down and think about why I preferred one episode over another, what elements I consider essential (good plot? it makes me cry?) for an episode to become “favourite”.
    Anyway, we all process things differently, and reading your post is cool for learning how you see and choose your favourite things 🙂

  12. etrangere April 12, 2004 at 12:35 pm #

    Not that I disagree with you – I don’t – but you can still learn something about yourself without being totally accurate? Kinda like social sciences : trying to be as objective as you can, even knowing you can’t be totally. But now I’m nitpicking ^_^ Yeah, saying you can’t is socializing too. I like those memes, even the really stupid quizzes, because Ive always had trouble comunicating about myself, i guess. I need the illusion i can find out and say something about myself, something true, with them. But it’s a cop out, I know it, but it’s still as seductive. Now I’m rambling.

  13. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 12:39 pm #

    Re: After I posted my update I saw yours
    Hence my love of poetry. Its images stay with me longer.
    I think some people can do this meme easily while others cannot depending on what it is we are listing. Half way through my attempt to do the meme, I thought, “Can I do movies instead? I can think of ten influential movies.”
    Another thought that occured to me was, “Does ‘influential’ have to mean I read these books early in life? Do I have to pick ones from childhood and adolescence?” I almost thought of deliberately picking one book from a different era of my life. It would by no means be representative of what really influenced me, but what does influence me changes so radically in different eras, it would have given a more accurate picture of the kinds of things that influence me.

  14. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 12:45 pm #

    Exactly. I wanted to learn something about myself from this meme, and listing a bunch of stuff off the top of my head wouldn’t have done the trick. After struggling for a while, though, the thing I learned about myself is I don’t often pick favorites in anything, and when I do, they are things that are themselves more important to me in the first place.
    Like I said above, I can pick favorite characters, but the list will be very short. I can’t pick favorite dialogue at all. Ask me to pick favorite episodes, and the list starts to get unwieldy because I can’t make relative distinctions between the ones I enjoyed. I can pick “influential” movies, but not “influential” books. I don’t have favorite philosophers or philosophies, I take bits and pieces from many of them and reject whole portions of many of them.
    It all depends on the thing being listed.

  15. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 12:48 pm #

    Oh, you’re right. Striving for total accuracy is too time-intensive and trying to come up something for the sake of joining in is usually more important and more to the point of the meme in the first place. I may post about the few books that were immediately on my list, with a bunch of disclaimers about how these aren’t the most important or influential or favorite, they’re just ones that have stuck with me that are interesting to reflect upon.

  16. atpolittlebit April 12, 2004 at 1:20 pm #

    Heh
    I can’t do a “10 Favorite…” or “10 Best…” or “10 Most Influential…” list for anything. I immediately want clarification on what the list is really looking for, and even then my mind just doesn’t wrap itself around those concepts.
    Why can’t we ever come across a “10 Books I Liked Reading as a Teenager” or maybe “10 Books I Kept Because I Liked Them” or perhaps even “10 Books I’ve Given Other People as Gifts”? These lists I could do! 😉

  17. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 1:34 pm #

    Re: Heh
    10 Books I Kept Because I Liked Them
    I could do that meme, too, although I still might question myself about it. “Do I really like this book, or did I keep it because it looks impressive on my bookshelf”? Or because it was influential on me at the time, even though I didn’t like it and don’t like it now, but I’m sentimental? Or because other people liked it and/or thought it was important and I don’t but just can’t admit it to myself. Or because…
    The point is, sometimes I don’t know my own mind. I guess that might be the point of the meme. To really sort these questions out finally already. ; )

  18. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 1:47 pm #

    Re: Not alone!
    That’s part of what made me yantsy about the list — I know there were so many books I read as a kid I have no clue about now, and they’re just gone….how do I know what kind of impact they had? Probably something similar happened with adolescence.
    I know, I had that nagging suspicion as I looked on my shelf and saw what I did have. Then I was reading someone’s LJ and they listed, e.g., Judy Blume and I’m like, “Fuck! I would have done that meme and left off ‘Are you there God…’. That convinced me there had to be many more I was forgetting that, if I did remember them, would be musts for the list. I keep some books from childhood, but they’re often the ones that still resonate with me today. There are VERY influential childhood books I got rid of long ago because the influence was important at the time and isn’t now.
    Ha, I finally hunted down 2 or 3 books I’d had in childhood and was looking for ever since (mainly because I couldn’t remember ALL of them and it was driving me nuts) and….man, did I remember it differently. Now it feels like I’ve got two different memories: the book I read at say seven and the book I read a couple of months ago! v odd.
    Tell me about it. Your very experience of the world, and your memory, are written (and revised) by what’s important to you at the time of the writing and revision. I watch old movies and think, “I don’t remember it that way”.
    There are other books/movies that are as I remember them, more or less, but that hit me differently now than then. I had that experience this weekend with an old “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode that I thought was quite brave at the time and now pisses me the hell off for a very different reason.
    Then there are books/movies that are the way you remember them, you just see so much more in them than before. One of my favorite childhood books, “The Forgotten Door” by Alexander Key is such a book. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking, “The society on this alien world makes so much more sense than our world. It’s got its priorities straight”. As an adult, I’m thinking, “Wow, what a transparent advertisement for small-scale Socialism.”
    Then the chicken-and-the-egg question pops up, did this appeal to me because I had Socialist sensibilities, even as a child, or do I have Socialist sensibilities because I read books like this as a child?
    *Who knows*

  19. mamculuna April 12, 2004 at 2:17 pm #

    Exactly the same. There are books I truly love–I can recall the plot, characters, descriptions, etc–but no clue aobut author or title.
    There’s a young adult story about a young African-American woman whose brother has porphyria (the vampire disease), and I’ve tried since Buffy appeared to remember that one. Completely lost. Something about whisper or softly in the title, the author’s first name could be Virginia.
    Maybe we should start a meme–“Do you recognize this book?”!

  20. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 2:31 pm #

    Maybe we should start a meme–“Do you recognize this book?”!
    That’s an excellent idea. Given the large number of reading enthusiasts in our friends’ circle, someone should be able to “name that book”.

  21. angeyja April 12, 2004 at 3:15 pm #

    *smile* too true. I believe that it started here if you’re curious… another journal that’s very lookworthy.

  22. neshaffer April 12, 2004 at 3:58 pm #

    Glad to hear from the horse’s mouth that the meme is really supposed to be biased towards how we would chose our influences now, rather than reflecting the objective truth of what really DID influence us. It says more about who we are in the moment we made the list than some grand truth about the influences throughout our lives.
    In that case, my utter inability to make a list tells you lots about me and who I am right now, and has therefore served its purpose. ; )

  23. arethusa2 April 12, 2004 at 6:42 pm #

    I wish we would!
    I read a book in the fifth grade that I absolutely loved. I can’t remember the title or author or a lot of the plot, but I could tell you exactly where it was on the library shelf of St. Ignatius Elementary School. It was about a boy whose name started with J who traveled to another world which was much like Oz but had the neatest spaceship-type vehicles. No one ever aged in the country, they had to leave it to get older. One character was a wood girl, that the boy accidently created by mixing up lots of different trees. Help!?

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