Killer Books

Every once in a while I’ll be out typing my yap in a blog site and someone will opine that “Joe America is an intellectual who  . . .”

Well, boy howdy, that cracks my head open like ripe jack fruit on the cutting board, because I don’t consider myself to be no “intellectual”. I suppose that’s because I still have this internal vision of myself as a goof-off kid off the farm in Colorado , USA, who learned to run his lip real good on a typewriter.
So please, please my Society of Honor compadres, don’t call me no stinkin’ “intellectual”.  I’m just a guy who bumps up against lots of books and introduces himself. Just a friendly guy, you might say. An introvert of the mind and extrovert of the eyeballs.
Which reminds me of this gorgeous girl I saw downtown the other day. She had on this really short . . .
Oh. Oops. Sorry. Almost digressed there . . .
I am a gonna prove the point in this blog, that Joe Am ain’t no stinkin’ intellectual, by listing some of the books that got the best of me during my life time. You know, the ones I started reading and never finished. You’ve been there, right? Your sixth grade teacher tells you to go read Rizal and you pick up one of his tomes and all of a sudden your head is clogged up because his words don’t mean jack. (No offense, Jack. It is just an American idiom.) Rizal is off in some ideological lala land that you are not able to grasp. You are only 11, after all, and he was an ancient battler of the ideological wars, part handsome, sloe-eyed poet driving the girls mad, part angry, wild-eyed rebel driving the priests mad.
You are just an innocent 11 year old kid who wants to go swim In the river. His words are flat-assed undecipherable.
“A Tale of Two Cities”, by Charles Dickens
My ninth grade English teacher assigned this book as our big project for the year. “Read it and do a book report at the end of the term. It will count for half your grade. The other half will be the exams.”
Charles Dickens
Uh huh. I got to page 17. The words were so thick and meaningless that it might as well have been written in Tagalog. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” The most famous opening lines of all literary history.
Huh? Which was it? Best or worst? What the dickens is this Dickens guy saying? His words are thicker than cement. What do I know or care about France and its endless revolutions of poor and rich people storming this place or that, hanging one another, and stomping down narrow cobblestone streets? I want to go out and shoot hoops.
I . . . just . . . could . . . not . . . read . . . it.
So I didn’t, and that was the beginning of my 30 year depressed period when I knew I was a failure. I didn’t do the book report. And I was one of those star kids you love to hate, the kind who seems to pull down good grades without even trying. Well, the teacher was kind enough to confirm my first wife’s prediction. My wife said: “You know, Joe, you are lucky. Things will work out well for you in life.” She proved to be one of those people who can see the future, read palms, know what will happen before it happens. Scary. She said it was hell knowing so much, especially when people were heading for the grave.
“Joe,” said my teacher as he gave me my report card. “I gave you a B (a good grade) because your brother was a good student last year. I know you could have done that book report well if you wanted to.”
See, I ain’t no intellectual. I’m LUCKY!
Well, to a point. When I got home, my brother proceeded to beat the shit out of me because he had to work so hard to get his grade and I waltzed home with mine. He never gave me any help on my homework thereafter.
“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes
I wish I had a real name like Miguel de Cervantes. I would not have to use this fake Joe America alias for its mass marketing appeal.
Don Quixote
This is the best of books and the worst of books.
Cervantes
I love Sancho Panza. He wasn’t no intellectual neither, but he was wise. He was Don Quixote’s trusty partner, good hearted and innocently doing his best as the Don rode crazed across Spain on his horse and fought sword battles with windmills, got his teeth knocked out by bandits, and other lunatic deeds. Sancho never met a slick truism that he could not apply to the situation at hand.
  • “A closed mouth catches no flies.” 
  • “Mere flim-flam stories, and nothing but shams and lies.”
  • “Every man is as heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse.”
This would have been a great book if Cervantes had stopped at about page 300. But he continued, and in small type, too. Page 500, page 700 and on and on it went going over and over again the lunacy and pathos of the great Don. Page 900. Page 937. I quit.
139 pages to go, and I couldn’t finish it. My sanity was too important to me. But I had read enough that I could “pretend” to have read the whole thing. So I do.
See, I ain’t no intellectual, I’m a PRETENDER.
So don’t ask me how it ended because I have no idea.
“Hawaii” by James Michener
I picked this book up last December and slogged away reading on and on about the Tahitian island natives who fled to Hawaii to avoid being eaten, and the Chinese laborers recruited to work the cane fields, and the Filipinos who had intercourse with the locals and also worked hard. Each page got heavier and heavier as I turned it. It became my nap time reading because I could not get through one page without falling asleep.
Page 820 of 1,036. The Japanese on the island were being hauled off to camps after Pearl Harbor. End of the reading road.
So I have no idea how this one ends, either. I’ve spent some time on Hawaii. It is nice, but I wouldn’t want to write a book about it.
James Michener
Or read one.
Here’s all you need to know about Hawaii. Surfing is on the windward side where the waves are big and the green mountains look like they were imported from the Philippines. Hanama Bay is a great place to take the kids, a regular giant heated swimming pool with fish in it. The Punch Bowl is not a dish, it is a hollow in the mountains with high rise apartments sprouting up all over the place. There are no more lepers on Molokai, the volcanoes still spew hot lava on the “Big Island” of Hawaii, sugar cane and pineapples got replaced by tourists and retirees, the Pali overlook is windy as hell, and Hawaii is expensive.
See, I ain’t no intellectual. I’m a SMART ASS.
The Moral of the Story
About a four decades after my ninth-grade incident with a “A Tale of Two Cities”, on a slow day in the Philippines and not too many English language books on the local National Bookstore shelf, I found Charles Dickens again, a title of “Great Expectations”.  What the hell, I said to myself. I’ll give it a try.
I took it slow and easy and a whole world opened up to me. Descriptions of places and people that were sensitive and rich and humorous, a tale that was dramatic and happy and sad. Unbelievable. Soon, I could not put the book down.
“David Copperfield” was next. Amazing writing. Then, yes, I am happy to report to my brother and ninth grade teacher that I finished “A Tale of Two Cities”.
Charles Dickens pushed himself to the top of the list of my favorite authors. What an artist with words.
The moral of the story is to read until the cows come home or Sancho Panza shuts up or your brain expands.
Words are like water, you have to find the temperature and depth you like best. Sometimes you like deep, sometimes you like comic books. It’s all good . . .
Comments
42 Responses to “Killer Books”
  1. Cha says:

    A Tale of Two Cities, no wonder you got off to a bumpy start. Why couldn't you have just started with Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys instead?

  2. Anonymous says:

    "Americans like fat books and thin women." – Russell Baker

  3. Anonymous says:

    From: Island Jim-E (aka: The Cricket)1. I would like to pay homage to the commicbooks which are needed by any civilization toallow the poor folks a "thumbnail" resourcefor information, set up social/cultural limitations and define good and evil, providea synopsis and resoure for "cribing" english essay classes! The comicbooks may be the only thing available for a good "basic education"of the unwashed masses (at least the ones that can read)!2. Perhaps a good comic book on the subjectof birth control would be a good publicationneed for the islanders!3. My faviored book/magazines:a. Timeb. Mad and "classics" comicsc. Bullfinches Mythologyd. Any books by Jules Verne and Josepth Conrad…e. South Pacific and other epicsf. Playboyg. National Geographich. Scientific AmericanLastly: My list of Killer Media!Observation: Too bad that more books/magazines/comics, etc., are not availableon the internet (as we lack comprehensiveisland free libraries for the most part.)Lastly, I am now of the opinion that theworld religions/churces, computervideo games and the motion picture filmindustry (especially themes of violence) are rotting the brains of this and future generations! Chirp!

  4. Anonymous says:

    "American like Joe loves fat books and thin women."-apologies to Mr. Baker

  5. Ah, that was the teacher's doing, not mine. My early reading was a "Tom Swift" series by I Don't Remember. For example, one of the stories was "Tom Swift and His Flying Submarine". Classic stuff. Then I migrated to Jack London, "The Call of the Wild", which reset my soul to that of an outdoorsman. Then mysteries, especially Agatha Christie. And onn and onnn.

  6. That is very funny, considering the thickness of the books that defeated me. I did get all the way through "Tai Pan" and "Shogun" by James Clavel. Thickies. The rest of the quote is reasonably accurate, too.

  7. What a wonderful reading list, book-ended by Comic Books and Conrad and a variety in between. "Heart of Darkness", played against the movie "Apocalypse Now", is fascinating. "Apocalypse Now" is the only war movie I can bear watching (they are too emotionally upsetting) because of the helicopter surfing scene, which roughly approximated the tenor of my year in Saigon, and the parallel to "Heart of Darkness".

  8. chohalili says:

    Wow! Mr.Joe this is my speed:) books:) I heard much about " The tale of two Cities" but never brave to read, I had enough of "War and Peace" by Tolstoy, now finding Kitty Kelly is so much fun "The Royals" & "Jackie O" so controversial yet with humor. BTW I read "Shogun" way back the 70's I fall in love with Anjin San, I even went to Japan & visit Kyoto and imagine I was Mariko.

  9. Ah, I've done several Russian authors, but not that hefty tome by Tolstoy. "Shogun" was my favorite book until I read Dickens. Of course I related to Anjin San (Sir Captain)and fell in love with Mariko. I've been to Kyoto, too. They had holiday at the time while I was there, with a parade of samurais, so I saw the costumes, real time. Long sword, short sword.By the way, you were very brave. Very bright. And terribly sneaky.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Offense well-taken Joe, ;))If Johnny Lin is true to his word that he will not read Killer Books because of the caption for intellectuals, he didnt have a clue that he missed a good read on Lucky Joe, Pretender Joe, and the SmartAss Joe.Its Jack

  11. Well, possibly he does not yet grasp the true insignificance of anything I say, other than what it means to him. Huh?Glad you enjoyed it. I thought I was a little egotistical and over-bearing, but it was good to discover that others also enjoy books as I do.

  12. Edgar Lores says:

    Hah! What a misleading title. Killer books, for your information Joe, are those that kill you with wonder, not weighty tomes that kill you when thrown at your head.My Dickens is limited to “David Copperfield”. I promised myself I would read the classics in my retirement. I have reached the point, but participating in the web revolution is so much more fun.Speaking of weighty tomes, I have devoured most of Michener, the Russian masters – “The Brothers Karamazov” (796 pages) and “War and Peace” (1,225 pages and which I have read thrice) – and gone through Boccaccio’s “Decameron” (100 stories) and Barth’s “The Sot-Weed Factor” (800 pages). I must confess I couldn’t go pass page 8 of the “Lord of the Rings” (manuscript is 9250 pages).Some of the killer books in my list through the years are:1. The Catcher in the Rye – Salinger2. Price and Prejudice / Sense and Sensibility – Austen3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Pirsig4. The Magus – Fowles5. Tai-pan – Clavell6. Into the Heart of Life – Palmo7. Anything by Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Bill Bryson8. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Marquez9. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – Wroblewski10. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Barbery11. Memoirs of a Geisha – Golden12. The Life of Pi – Martel13. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Rinpoche14. Lord Valentine’s Castle – Silverberg15. The Hunger Games – CollinsOh, the list is endless… I haven’t even mentioned Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby”), Hemingway (“A Farewell to Arms”) and Herbert (“Dune”).And also: o Comics: Superman o Magazines: Readers Digest, Time and Shambhala Sun o Girlie magazine: Playboy for the interviews and Penthouse for the pictures

  13. Anonymous says:

    Don Quixote was also hard going for me. Insane. Irreverent. I'm more into memoirs and nonfiction. Hitchens, Gladwell, my favorite musicians Lenon, Dylan. Fiction I associate more with Ishiguro-there's a reward waiting for you if you get through to the end.DocB

  14. Cha says:

    Aaw, now my earlier reading choices seem even more pedestrian. I went from Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys to Mills and Boon! (Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were required high school reading so they don't really count as credit for my good taste early on.)Anyway, i made a great big leap to George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm eventually and since then have thumbed through a couple of classics. John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is the first book that made me cry. East of Eden is the second.Of late, I find myself drawn to books written by authors with non-American non British sounding names. From Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, I have since entered the worlds of Khaled Hosseini (Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns), Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go), Shan Za (The Girl Who Played Go), Orhan Pamouk (My Name is Red), Athol Fugard (Tsotsi) end a few other wonderful, gifted writers who have taken me across continents, sometimes back in time, and allowed me to bear witness to the many struggles and triumphs of the human spirit.Now halfway through Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngosi Adiche, set in 1960s Nigeria. Maybe after this, I'll make a quick trip back to my humble beginnings and get on with current big hit 50 Shades of Gray :)))

  15. You, you . . . "intellectual"! Damn. Fine reading list. I've done about half of them. Have you read "The Milagro Beanfield Wars"? Ha! I got you on that one, I'll bet. Or Carlos Casteneda? I still walk with my hands facing the earth to draw up power. I keep losing my peyote pipe though. You have read the classics if you've done "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", I must admit. Pirsig and Dostoevsky. ha I related to "The Idiot", Dostoevsky. "The Castle? Kafka. Ahhh, "The Metamorphosis!" I saw that as a play in Los Angeles. The guy who played the cockroach son spent most of the play hanging from steel bars representing the ceiling of the room. One strong, agile dude.Wow, you got my brain cooking now, and memories. I'm lucky to have met so many interesting people doing this blog and I'll pretend I've read more books than I have but I shall refrain from being smart assed. Just this once.

  16. Cha says:

    @DocB, Ishiguro makes it so easy to get to the end anyway. Have only read two of his books but love how they're both so different from each other in terms of style and storyline.

  17. Cha says:

    The Elegance of a Hedghog is another book that made me cry. (i'm such a crybaby. Hehe)

  18. Anonymous says:

    @ChaBet you teared up at the ending of Remains- and Never-.@JoeAmLike you I realized just lately that I'm no intellectual when I tried to read Bolano's the Savage Detectives. I couldn't go past page 29. Painful realization. There are no detectives in there.

  19. Ah, two recommendations for Ishiguro, who is new to me. I've added him to Rizal on my National Bookstore search list for next weekend. Thank you.

  20. Ah, Steinbeck. How could I not include him on my listings. An American icon, along with Mark Twain (who argued loudly against the Philippine American War). I've visited "Cannery Row" in Monterey, California, now stocked with restaurants. The book (by Steinbeck) is great, and indeed "Grapes of Wrath" worked over the emotions pretty intensely. Hemmingway is among the guy guy writers, bare writing, but powerful. You've got authors on your list I have not read, so clearly I have to get rid of my Tom Clancy and get with the program.

  21. Anonymous says:

    @ChaRe great endings. Read last month Julian Barnes' Sense of An Ending ( pun intended ). Very nice twist. Like Ishiguro. DocB

  22. Cha says:

    Start with Remains of the Day, Joe.@DocB, maybe 😉

  23. Cha says:

    DocB, Ah yes, that's on my to do list (Sense of an Ending). Thanks for the reminder.

  24. Edgar Lores says:

    It made me laugh. Cannot forget that scene, her first visit to the pot. It also made me cry – but that would be spoiling it.

  25. Edgar Lores says:

    You got me on "The Milagro Beanfield Wars". I've got Castaneda and Kafka under my belt, and Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling". The notches on my eyeglasses include Sartre, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.

  26. Anonymous says:

    All you bookworms and no mention of Moby Dick? I wasn't impressed with the movie adaptation and my wife thought I rented a porno DVD when Herman Melville's classic starring Gregory Peck was released! -Sleepless in Seattle

  27. Anonymous says:

    My "killer books" are those that imparted knowledge to me from grade school to doctorate.My "entertainment books" range from "amusing" which are comics to fiction, to "guide to life books" which are true stories and autobiographies which in reality are diluted for marketing purpose.Agree with Edgar that web reading is more cerebrally nutritious because they are virtual time realities, unfiltered and uncensored.He he he Johnny lin

  28. Ahh, yes, the non-fictions are great. I recently dug into the George W. Bush years, which now that I think about it, read a lot like Kafka. One of the most interesting I read a few years ago about the building of the Panama Canal. A plot as interesting as many fictions. I also agree on-line reading has a "currency" to it, a sense of being involved in the history that is unfolding.

  29. Sleepless, that's funny. Porno DVD. Indeed, Moby Dick is a classic. Is it more a guy book than a girl book? One of my all-time favorites is "Treasure Island", Robert Louis Stevenson. I read that about every five years. I can't tell you how many forts I have built at night going to sleep, imagining how to do it on an island.

  30. Cha says:

    Read For Whom the Bell Tolls a while back, maybe it's time to revisit.Wasn't aware before that he also wrote poetry, just recently stumbled into Advice to a Son. Sound advice, I'd say… "Never trust a white man…" :))))"All your friends will leave you,all your friends will die,so live a clean and wholesome life,And join them in the sky"Bare.. Terse…Succinct!

  31. Cha says:

    Ahaha, yes that scene :))"Art is life, playing to other rhythms."

  32. Right, "Never trust a white man", and "Which aisle are the whitening creams on?" The two most frequent racial comments made in the universe. The more you write here, the longer my shopping list gets. I remember the movie "For Whom the Bell Tolls". I fell madly in love. Some babe named Hepburn . . .

  33. Anonymous says:

    Johnny linHey Doc, Glad you didnt miss Joe's Killer book. You made my day.Its Jack

  34. Anonymous says:

    Joe,Time for you to break out your HUMPTY DUMPTY INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY and edudecate me why I react rather negatively if not violently when intellectuals and elites is subject in a blog. Although I have a Ph.D. (pizza hut delivery), no pun intended, I know someone with a liget Ph.D. whom I wonder where she bought hers.Its Jack

  35. Anonymous says:

    Opsie sticky fingers. I meant legit

  36. Humpty needs a little more information, Jack. Are you angry because the elite are criticized, or because they do the criticizing?I rather put "elite" into two buckets. One, those who are truly more knowledgeable and competent than most. And two, those who THINK they are more knowledgeable and competent than most, but don't have confidence that they are, and therefore need to put others down. Humpty does not include the latter group in "elite". He puts them into a category called "snobby frauds".

  37. Anonymous says:

    I am not sure why I am angry Joe. I think your bucket number two explains it. Perhaps, its about people with a know it all attitude I observed at GRP. Love that word: "snobby frauds" Hey, my concern is not directed to you and your guests. Its Jack

  38. Yes, got it. It is incredibly frustrating to deal with people who are not interested in solution, but in putting others down.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Yeah Sleepless, I am with you. Not even Tom Clancy, OH BOY! I am not a happy camper.Its Jack

  40. Hey, I have every Clancy book ever written on my shelves, not to mention every Grisham, Crighton and Ayn Rand.

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