Sep 15, 2004

Books on my Bookshelf


Someone said that the books on your bookshelf say a lot about who you are.

I don't own many books. I don’t even own a bookshelf. Which, I guess, says a lot about who I am.

In the last 18 months I've stayed in 13 different places. Between a cross-country move, house sitting, subletting, trips back to New York, finally finding a permanent place in LA, discovering my roommate was nuts; more house sitting, subletting, couch crashing, more trips to New York ... REALLY finally finding my own place. A sublet that ends next June.

I'm subletting a bookshelf.

One good thing about being homeless is, you realize what is really essential, and what you can survive without: like boyfriends, skin care systems, and heavy books.

With all that moving, heavy books are the first to go. I rarely keep a fiction book. Once I've read it, I give it to a friend so they can enjoy reading it. Nonfiction books are harder to get rid of. Like the reference books that threaten me, "You might want to refer to me some day!" But who needs a French dictionary when most of the expressions you hear don't need a translation. Like, "Super-chuette!" Or, "Jessica Simpson est une idiote!"

The books I still own fall into two categories: Spiritual Help and Career Help. When I'm done reading, I don't give these to friends. That's cruel. Friends don't let friends give self-help books.


Of this category, I've held onto The Tools of Screenwriting , written by a professor who makes his living -- not by writing screenplays, but from collecting book royalties and sitting at his tenured job, stoned.

Then I've got The Writer's Journey. Author Chris Vogler distills Joseph Campbell's teaching on myth down to a 12-stage story structure he calls The Hero's journey. It's good book for screenwriters, but everyone in Hollywood got a hold of it. Now EVERY TIME I go to a Hollywood film I can see Vogler's formula all over it. "Oo, look, Van Helsing just met his Threshold Guardian!" ... "Look, Batman's reached his innermost cave!" Which happens to be a cave.


There's The Transformation of the Inner Man, Inner Healing, Listening Prayer, Listening for the Healing Inner Man, … No, I don't have these. These are books I read in my twenties, back when I thought knowledge could fix me.

I refuse to buy these books any more. Still, my brother manages to buy me one every year, despite my protests. It doesn't matter what the title is, they can all be boiled down to this:   How To Be Better. Funny, the premise of Christianity is: Jesus Paid It All. But here's a book to improve on what he did!

Let Jesus Sex Up Your Marriage!
Jesus, The Ultimate Life Coach.
Lo-Carb Cooking In The Lord.

Here's a gem my brother gave me. The Sacred Romance.The premise is that God is the Ultimate Romancer. Now, I forced myself to read the first chapter, and the only link I could find to romance was that the style resembles a cheesy paperback you'd find at Sav-On.

I first remember the Romance calling to me when I was a boy, just past dusk on a summer evening. Something warm and alive and poignantly haunting …

"Poignantly haunting?" Why not just haunting? Isn't haunting poignant in this context? Anyway.

Something poignantly haunting would call to me from the mysterious borders of the farm

Why were the borders of his farm mysterious? Didn't his family know where the property line was?

where the tall grasses swayed in silvery response to the moonlight's embrace.

I can't even touch that. They have Darwin Awards for that kind of writing.

There at water's edge the voices of crickets, katydids, cicada would sing to me. The surface stillness of the pond played host to the shiny green lords of the young river, the deep-throated bullfrogs ..

This is where I put the book down. Isn't there a decent editor who can spot a syrup bomb? No, the editor is some divorced Baptist with red beehive at Charisma Publishing in Tulsa, crying over froggies and fairy princesses.

This is why I detest Christian pop culture. The medicocrity.

I want to honor my faith. But I also don't see a lot of beauty or honesty in anything produced from that culture post-CS Lewis. The only example of a Christian in the arts today is Jessica Simpson. And Elle est une idiote!

Actually there is one book on my bookshelf I really love. Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul. But it's only the book sleeve. Someone stole my book at the gym. Think about it. Stealing a book about saving your soul.

The last book falls under both Spiritual and Career help. It's The Artist's Way. I've gotten some good things out of it, like writing three Morning Pages every day to clear my head. I can even glean some of spiritual nuggets from the book. But sometimes it feels like a glorification of the Self. Stanislavski said, "Love The Art in yourself, not Yourself in Art." We artists can be so self-absorbed. People are dying in Iraq, and being shot in South Central, the health care and education systems are bankrupt. But don't ask me to help because I gotta take myself on my Artist's Date!

But is it them, or is it me? Well it has to be me, because I am part of the art and faith cultures; so I'm part of the problem. And even if there is mediocrity and self-absorption, there's also goodness. Isn't there? All things being equal, shouldn't I strive to be better? Or work in a field I love as opposed to one I detest ? Isn't the world that Jesus came to save worth saving? Worth living in? Worth writing about? My criticism eventually comes back to criticizing God. And to be an eternal critic is the antithesis of being a creator.

I know this visual artist. He's very serious, very religious, a genius to be sure. He paints very serious, very religious, genius paintings of painstaking detail. Once went to the LA Craft and Folk Museum, and I noticed a hand-blown glass bead necklace for sale for $800. I was appalled. Then again, I'd never priced Jimmy Choo shoes. "$800 for a beaded glass necklace?" I cried. "You could sponsor ten World Vision orphans for that kind of money!"

He shrugged lightly. " But the artist put time and effort into creating beauty. And that's worth something. Art is worth something, in and of itself."

I need to remember that.

You know, If there's one book I think I'd benefit from reading, it would be How To Resign from Being Theological and Cultural Policeman of the World.. That's what I'd like to do: not turn OFF my bullshit detector, but turn it down a few notches. I'd like to enjoy art and life just for its own sake … in whatever hobbled and cobbled form it comes in.

That's what I need help doing. Just don't ask me to sway in silvery response to the embrace of Jessica Simpson.