That meme thing
Well, since Michael tagged all of us co-bloggers, which includes me, for that meme thing, I suppose it would be rude not to reply. So, here are my long-winded and sarcastic answers (very long-winded, I can say now that I've finished it); if you have no interest in my reading or music-listening habits (in which case I applaud your good sense), there's no need to read any further.
1) Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies.
Well, since I'm such a stingy and grasping bastard, I don't give away much, certainly not books. In fact, the only book I can remember giving away is Martin Heidegger's An Introduction to Metaphysics, of which I had read very little (I was in Amman at the time, which no doubt explains everything). If I were to start giving away copies of books, it would probably be copies of either Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals or Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, since I have several desk copies of each now. But I'm afraid I just can't get into the melodrama and false enthusiasm of the question. My friends have different tastes, different interests, and different outlooks and backgrounds, and I'm not sure I can think of an appropriate one-size fits all book. To the extent that I can think of such a thing, it would be a fairly obvious and uninteresting "classic." One fairly unknown or out of the way book that made a very profound impression on me was Richard Klein's Cigarettes are Sublime, although that would obviously be of much greater interest to long-time smokers than to those whose lungs have remained unblackened.
2) Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music.
Again, the melodramatic emphasis on some kind of epiphany here is annoying. I received, if I remember correctly, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited for my sixteenth birthday, and I think of that as the beginning of my adult experiences with music. Al Kooper's organ definitely changed the way I listened to any song with an organ, and Mike Bloomfield's guitar work is exemplary. The mixture of recognizably bluesy basics with an ethereal, other-worldly atmosphere and texture influenced my future tastes in music, and certainly did much to expand my adolescent conception of what was possible musically in the idiom of pop/rock. But, of course, the overwhelming virtue of Highway 61 Revisited is the lyrics, the songwriting. That certainly changed the way I listen to music, and I've been listening enthusiastically to Dylan ever since (I especially like the apocalyptic strain in his writing, evident in Highway 61 Revisited especially on "Desolation Row," but also "Ballad of Thin Man" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" -- damn, just listing those songs reminds me of what an incredible album that is).
Also as a teenager, I remember getting a best-of Elvis Costello CD from one of those record clubs, and being especially taken with "Oliver's Army" and "Radio, Radio." That field would lie fallow for some time, though; it wasn't until more than ten years later that I started listening to EC again, and he has certainly changed the way I listen to music. Musically, his albums, with the Attractions and without, are extremely interesting and ambitious, but it is, again, the lyrics that grab me much more than the bare music (or so I think). Costello covers much of the same ground as Dylan, but his writing tends to be much more taut, overtly ironic, alienated, somewhat angry but still with a clear distance on himself and clear and clean sense of introspection or self-examination. Dylan, of course, does all of those things as well, but his best songs are often more visionary, less self-aware and less self-critical. One of my secret ambitions is to write a long essay or book comparing Dylan and EC, likening Dylan to Hölderlin and Costello to Heine, and discussing what they reveal about the modern or hyper-modern or post-modern conscience.
But, if I really had to pick one piece of music that really changed the way I think about music, or listen to music, it would probably have to be Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. As the friend who recommended it said to me, "It will take you about a month to recover." Despite having blathered on at such length about Dylan and Elvis Costello, I can't think of much to say about Daydream Nation, except that it did more than anything else I've heard to expand my awareness of the complex possibilities of music.
3) Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue.
You mean back-to-back? Although Michael wisely suggested epics by folks like Kurosawa wouldn't be on this list for him, I would probably prefer an ass-flattening six-hour marathon of dual viewings of Ran or The Seven Samurai than other favorite movies of mine like Casablanca or The Usual Suspects. Those latter two movies have great stories and tell them extremely well, but once they're over, I can't imagine watching them again. If I were going to watch a movie "again and again," I'd prefer something richer and denser. But, if the question is just asking about watching movies repeatedly over time, then pretty any of the movies listed on my blogger profile.
4) Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief.
I'm not entirely sure what this question is asking, but Robert De Niro and Sean Penn have been absolutely amazing in everything I've ever seen them in, as has Benecio del Toro. Robin Williams, believe it or not, has been convincing and even compelling in every role I've ever seen him act, from Mrs. Doubtfire to a man whose wife was murdered on Homicide to The Birdcage to Insomnia -- four extremely different roles. Some of the great television performances I've seen include Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue, and Andre Braugher on Homicide, at least until they did that stupid stunt of having him suffer a stroke. There's a sequence of episodes in NYPD Blue where Sipowicz's son is shot and he starts drinking again, and Dennis Franz gives a performance unmatched by pretty much anything else I've seen on television, and the scenes where he's interacting with Simone or his lieutenant (speaking of great, though largely unsung, performances) are some of the best television I've ever seen (at least if it's as good as I remember it being). Michael Richards and Jason Alexander both gave brilliant performances in Seinfeld, and really created their characters more than the writers did. Hmmm...Anthony Hopkins. Kevin Spacey is another almost unbelievably talented actor, although he doesn't always choose his roles or his movies as carefully as one might like. He has an uncanny ability to communicate with his eyes, and to carry scenes where he is sitting and talking with another character. His turn in The Usual Suspects is an obvious example, but the moments in L.A. Confidential where he answers the question "Why'd you become a cop?" with "I can't remember," or when he says as he's dying, cryptically and menacingly, "Rollo Tomasi," are great examples.
5) Name a work of art you’d like to live with.
I'm really not a big fan of the overblown character of these questions. "Live with"? How pretentious is that? As if taking a dump or mopping the kitchen floor would somehow become more spiritual if a painting by Raphael or Rembrandt were hanging in the next room? Well, okay -- when I was kid, my favorite holiday was May Crowning. The mixture of adoration of an idealized feminine figure and the wonderful arrival of spring made me very happy. (Although the first memory that springs to mind when I think of this is of me stealing some flowers from the neighbor, which really isn't very pious.) So, I'd probably choose something featuring Mary, most likely Botticelli's Annunciation, maybe the most graceful representation of the human form I've ever seen. Damn, this is taking a long time. I'm leaving this answer at that.
6) Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life.
Name a more pretentious way of asking this question -- you can't do it! Again, this question is so bombastic as to be more or less meaningless, because I have no idea what "penetrated your real life" is supposed to mean. The first hundred pages of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited are achingly beautiful and affecting, at least for me, and are probably the best expression or capturing of a mood, nostalgia mingled with regret and loss, that I've read (though it's rather downhill from there). Amos Oz's Don't Call it Night stirred something fairly deep in me, both because of the narrative voice, the male protagonist, and the fact that it is probably the purest example of atheist literature I think I've ever read. Not that it actually undertook to proselytize for atheism, like the indescribably boorish and crude Richard Dawkins, but in that novel, more than anything else I believe I've encountered, you have a very clear sense that there are only human beings in the world, no higher forces. It's a story only about human beings.
But, more and more, if I had to pick a favorite novelist, it would be Dostoevsky. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to teach him last year, and I hope to do so again as often as possible. What strikes me about him -- well, many things strike one about Dostoevsky, of course, but one important thing is that, in addition to his famous almost preternatural psychological penetration and intensity, he has probably the keenest sense of human absurdity of any writer I've ever read. His satirical abilities as well as his ability to capture the absurdly self-aggrandizing and self-destructive tendencies, or rather compulsions, of human beings are unmatched in my experience, and he usually presents them in ways that make me double over in laughter.
7) Name a punch line that always makes you laugh.
"George is gettin' upset!!" Like Michael, much in The Simpsons and Seinfeld makes me laugh no matter how many times I've heard it before. Unfortunate as it is, many of those lines are delivered by Michael Richards (but, hell, if I can still enjoy Ezra Pound, why not Kramer?). One example: the story of how he saves a toe and drives it to the hospital in a bus while fighting off an assailant.
Well, damn, if you've made it this far, you probably feel like me, exhausted and in need of a good stretch and some refreshment. So, for you brave souls who soldiered on to the end of this, my apologies for dragging it on for so long. Being the solipsistic and anti-social bastard that I am, I tag no one, not least because the last thing I want at this moment is to prolong the agony I'm currently experiencing because of this list.