I simply remember my favorite book…

My favorite books all enter into the category of those that make me weep hysterically (except maybe everything Douglas Adams ever wrote, which only promote the tears after hysterical laughter.  Maybe I should say books that promote hysteria!). But for today, I’ll go with my favorite novel by a living author:  Galatea 2.2, by Richard Powers.

My first reading of Galatea 2.2 came during my freshman year of college;  I found the book by wandering the library bookshelves and pulling something that looked interesting off, a practice that has introduced me to most of my favorite writers.  Later, I would discover that the head librarian was also a fan of the relatively unknown Richard Powers; hence, the library including all his works in their otherwise scanty recent fiction collection.  With the book’s ample treatment of the history of literature, it instantly hooked this budding English major.

My second reading coincided with a choir tour to Germany, during my junior year of college. I was out of books and frantic–there were a lot of long bus trips.  Thankfully, a bookseller was getting rid of his stock of English-language books, so Galatea went across Europe with me.  That time, I noticed its intelligent discussion of the differences between the old world and the new, the pains of immigration, in the author/narrator’s depiction of time in the Netherlands.

I read it again the next year, when I couldn’t believe that its obvious post-humanism wasn’t clear to me during the first two readings.  After all, it is about a writer trying to teach a computer to pass a master’s-level exam in English literature!  A book “about” artificial intelligence and literary theory.  In that incarnation, the book introduced me to my favorite literary theorists, feminist post-humanists all.

Then, during my first year of grad school, I wrote a paper on the book’s chronotope: roughly its conception of time-space.  There, its treatment of university time measured in semesters and books completed versus the life-time, measured in babies born, friendships strengthened, intrigued me.  After all, it is about a humanist-in-residence in a scientific research facility, and the relationships between scientists and family and academic research and personal life!  (It has the distinction of being the only book about which I wrote a grad-school paper that I can still read without trembling and then vowing never to read or write a word again.)

The next time I read it, shortly after my marriage to another book lover, all I saw was its tragic love story.  How could an affection based on reading aloud to each other in the cold midwinter end?

Now, it’s on my winter re-reading list;  I haven’t read it since becoming an anarchist, and I wonder how it’ll hold up to a more political critique.

Galatea 2.2, like most excellent books, provides enough substance to respond to my reading across changing life circumstances.  Its spectacular sentences inspire my own writing, and I’ve often modeled sentences or paragraphs in my novel drafts off of Powers’ twisting, subtle prose.  It defies summarization, and reading it has always been an experience as much as an entertainment for me.  While I could never hope to write something that measures up to this intensely erudite novel, everything that I do write reaches out to its doublings, its pathos, its deep love, the root of moving literature.

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