Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why is this interesting?

A non-quilty post, so be advised before you read.

There is something going around the internet, though I haven't seen it on a quilt blog yet. It's a "nearest book" game whose rules are:

* Grab the nearest book.
* Open it to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
* Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

(Other versions say open to page 123 and copy the first 3 sentences after the fifth one.)

I was hooked. I read one person's entry, googled to read more, and then decided to participate. My first problem: Although there was a pile of reading material near my chair, it was all magazines. What does that say about me? Hmmm...

Was I interested enough to get up? Frankly, yes. The first book I saw lay behind me on the kitchen table, a book I'm taking to a discussion group I recently joined:
It's The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker, edited by Matthew Diffee. I had read the introduction last night but hadn't gotten to page 56 of the text. Despite the fact that the book has teeny-tiny page numbers and I was not wearing my reading glasses, I found page 56. It was a cartoon, the only text its caption: "We had irreconcilable similarities." (If you envisioned two guys talking at a bar, you're exactly right.) Perhaps 123 would prove more fruitful? Nope. It's a photo of the cartoonist Mort Gerberg. So it appears I read magazines and picture books.

It was time to get dressed for the day anyhow, so I trotted upstairs and the first book I cast my eyes on sat on the nightstand, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
The fifth full sentence on page 56 reads, "Congress, which during Reconstruction had been quick to enact measures of legal, social, and economic freedom for blacks, just as quickly began to roll them back." It's part of an insightful discussion of the Ku Klux Klan. I haven't read as far as page 123 yet, but couldn't resist this excuse for a quick peek ahead. The three sentences starting with the fifth on that page read:

"The total effect was dramatic. By 2000, more than two million people were in prison, roughly four times the number as of 1972. Fully half of that increase took place during the 1990s." Certainly makes me curious, but I didn't read more. The title of the chapter is 'Where Have All the Criminals Gone?'

So now I had it. I found random sentences from my own book, and had read context-less sentences from other people's nearest book, and why do I care at all? Is it voyeurism, seeing a bit of personal detail about someone I don't even know? Is it intellectual, seeing if I can figure out what the book is about from only one (or in some cases, three) sentences? Am I looking for a connection (I've read that book!)? Am I looking to prove myself superior (I would never read such trash!)? Do I want to feed a low sense of self-esteem by unfavorable comparison with others (They read such interesting books, and I'm surrounded by magazines)? Am I just amazed by all the diversity in the world (all of us blog, but we all have different books at our sides)?

I asked my husband, who generally can come up with an insightful comment at times like these, but he doesn't find this particularly interesting and doesn't know why anyone does. I welcome any thoughts you have on the subject. The dozen or so blogs I checked did not really comment on the activity itself, except for one blogger who simply said, "Why not?"


Grannyspot said...

I'm intrigued! So - I grabbed the book nearest to me - William Least-Heat Moon's new book, "Roads to Quoz" and the fifth sentence on p. 56 is: "Further, humanity seemed to interest those two men of technical mind less than an unknown algae or a bit of odd rock (particularly novaculite, socalled Arkansas stone Indeans used for tools of many kinds)."
The first three sentences of p. 123 read, "Uncle Jack proved to be Andrew Jackson Grayson, the "Audubon of the West," who created a corpus of ornithological illustrations that expands to the Pacific slope and northern Mexico Audubon's brilliant but topographically limited, grand catalog of birds. Grayson, a native of the lower Ouachita country, started his career as a shopkeeper in Columbia, Louisiana, before moving to St. Louis and then on again across Missouri where in 1846 he joined a wagon train that for some distance included the Donner party. Soon after our departure for the end of the valley, an exhibition of Grayson's bird prints went up at the museum, once a two-floor mercantile built in 1916 by an Italian-immigrant couple trained in the arts - he in architecture and she in music, her pianoforte once sending down to the street the only classical notes Columbians could then hear this side of Natchez or New Orleans."

I find it a fascinating (if quite arbitrary!) way to "dip into" a book - piques interest - or not!

IamSusie said...

My nearest book is a quilting book: " Sew C2AA,A to 3AA, A to make unit 1." Thank goodness this book is mostly illustrations and diagrams!

paula, the quilter said...

I've seen this on other blogs, but have not participated. I am at work and there are no books other than the phone book (BORING!!), an office products catalog, and an out of date zip code finder. I usually have a book in my bag, but today I forgot to put it in. I am currently reading The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters.

meggie said...

I have seen & done this meme. I can't now remember what my results were! I found your thoughts about it very interesting.
I sort of automatically joined in, not thinking deeply about it all.
Grannyspot's second author might take a prize for the longest sentences? LOL.

Joyce said...

"I might have tried to do something about it, but by the time the letter caught up with me, it was accompanied by a telegram informing me of Lionel's death."
From Justice Hall by Laurie R. King.
The 3 lines on p. 123 were pretty long so I won't include them.
Interesting. I've seen it before but never tried it.

The Calico Cat said...

I've never thought of it as anything but blog fodder. In the mean time I am reading a book on breastfeeding, so I'll pass...

Libby said...

I find this interesting, too - but so much depends on where you are sitting! In some cases it must say more about where you are sitting than about you. I'm currently on my mom's computer and not a bit of the reading material that's in here belongs to me. The actual nearest book is "Teaching Inclusive Mathematics" and has a chart on p. 56.

Laurel said...

P.56, 5th sentence: "And even when those famous recordings were planned -- the classic "Hot Fives" -- the record company considered enlisting a better known leader to front the band."

From a stack of Jeff's books next to my chair, "The History of Jazz."

: )