Cardinal Column #15: The Final Countdown

(Editor’s note: This was my final column for the Cardinal, written hoping to get a better sense of closure to my project and talk about two of my favorite books. By picking the two, I was – as I said in my writing – genuinely surprised and pleased to find common links and be able to elaborate onto them. Not much else to say here as this was a column written as my own reactions, so I have no other reactions to add to those.

With the posting of past columns completed, don’t think this will mean I have nothing else to say – I hope to move onto printing new content fairly soon, once my relocation to Portland, OR gets sorted out. Stay tuned for more than partial excitement!)

Les is no more: a tearful farewell to our book worm

Originally published in The Daily Cardinal, April 26, 2006

As Mr. Fitzgerald put it, “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past …” Yes dear readers, the time has come for my final chapter, and the last installment of “The Lesser of Two Equals.” Next year, I move on to greener pastures (or at least sleeping Monday nights with no deadline) and my deviant typist photo will be retired.

I thought long and hard about this final column, and doing justice to the best writing experience of my college career. First, I thought I’d list off my favorite books and authors and be culturally relevant, but my fellow columnist Pudas beat me to that idea—and even took the closing line I wanted. First he makes me overdose on gin, and now this.

Then I decided to turn to the old reliable of addressing readers’ concerns, except for the sad fact none of you seem to have any. In 14 columns I’ve received five e-mails, most of which were, instead of personal questions and literary debate, bitching at me for not being harder on the lying author Nasdijj and praising my knowledge of “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

There are two questions, however, that I’ve been asked before this column started and increased during publication: what was the first book you ever read, and what’s your favorite book? I tend to give evasive answers to these questions (i.e. bullshit my way out) because my book collection is ludicrously difficult to decipher, but for my denouement I thought I should try to answer them both.

My first book (cue tender music) was a children’s book by Marilyn Sadler, called “It’s Not Easy Being A Bunny.” In it, P.J. Funnybunny grows tired of being a bunny and takes off to live with other animals, ranging from birds to beavers to skunks. However, when he learns he can’t fly or work hard or stand the smell, he realizes he’s happiest being a bunny and goes home to the family burrow.

Hearing this at a tender young age, free from college cynicism, was one of my best youthful experiences and I both read and had it read to me many times. In addition to a simple format—P.J. moving from one animal to another, rejecting each one and building up a list of past efforts—it had a gentle theme of finding yourself and appreciating what you had. Additionally, the image of a tiny rabbit making moose calls is still one of the cutest things ever.

Keeping to my sympathetic side, this book still holds a close place to my heart—on my desk back home in Brookfield, where it remains safe from my college excess. Even now on vacations, I still pick it up late at night and peruse its well-taped pages, harkening back to the days when my vocabulary had 20 words and being you mattered most.

After remembering this from 15 years ago, I was struck by the radical shift to my favorite book (cue orchestral crescendo) and the only book I own multiple copies of: Hunter S. Thompson’s drugged-up epic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” I first read this on a drive to Indianapolis, and the trip we were taking to a gaming convention was quickly displaced by a head-trip of literature.

Beyond the fact that this was the first book to make journalism look like a cool profession—Raoul Duke and his attorney driving around in convertibles, loaded on amyls and acid and not paying for any of it—it was also one of the few books to jar me into alternate perspective. Not only was it original, but its fluid, stream of consciousness format passed my ultimate test: I not only wanted to read more of this, I wanted to write like this.

Making these two choices was difficult, but it also birthed a startling question—how did I go from a white rabbit with bird aspirations to an acid-fried attorney demanding “White Rabbit?” Were these themes of brazen individuality, trips saluting the fantastic possibilities of life somehow connected? Did reading P.J. Funnybunny make me more receptive to Raoul Duke, and did this mean Sadler was inadvertently guilty of corrupting the youth?

Personally, I see it as a salute to the tangled web of literature that is out there. We’re all drawn to common elements in the books we read, and finding what those are elements is one of the best parts of developing our reading style. When we look back and find these threads, it’s not only an amusing coincidence but a sign of how our reading tastes are birthed very early in life.

Thanks for following along with me this year, and if you see me perusing in a Madison bookstore or library, don’t hesitate to say hello.


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