My friend Brandal taught me to weld. He also recommended a book that ended up becoming my favorite.
Brandal used to build custom bicycles in a small rented space and I would hang out while he worked. We talked about all kinds of things, and Brandal is the kind of friend who is open to hearing half-baked thoughts with an open mind. He’s a fun person to have a conversation with.
One of my wild theories was that God is the accumulated experiences of every living thing. God, being infinite and not constrained by time, is living the life of every single living thing and experiencing everything through the living of those lives. After living every life, seeing everything from every possible point of view and having every possible thought and experience, he becomes omnipresent, omniscient and maybe even omnipotent. Because God wouldn’t be limited by time, he would have all of this knowledge before gaining it.
Interesting idea, but complete nonsense. Or maybe God exists and that is the exact right explanation – who knows?
Another theory I threw at him was that we’re all experiencing life on three levels: physical, mental and spiritual. The spirit is the awareness – what we truly are, the body is the physical manifestation of us, and the mind is the interface between the two. I think I thought that up all by myself, but I probably read something that put it into my head. Twenty years later I’ve seen versions of that idea expressed more than a few times in other places. I like the idea.
Brandal’s day job was as a welder at the place I was working at the time. Throughout my youth and most of my 20′s I was an avid bicycler. When I met Brandal and learned that he was a bike builder I made it a point to become friends with him. To this day, he’s one of the most interesting friends I’ve every had. His wife, Holly, was a fashion designer and they had two adorable girls, Sarah and Miza. If we’d gotten a girl when we adopted from Bulgaria, I planned to completely steal that name and call her Sofia Mirabella Riley, or “Miza” for short.
When I left Boise I let the friendship fade, which I regret. I don’t think Brandal builds bicycles any longer, which is a shame because his bikes were fantastic. I think he races motorcycles now.
I have just digressed for six paragraphs…
Brandal recommended the book Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, which is my favorite book. Geek Love is a novel about a family that owns and operates a circus and sideshow. The children in this family are all freaks because their parents wanted them to be and experimented with various drugs during the pregnancies. The story follows the children, a boy with flippers instead of arms and legs (he starts an amputation cult), a dwarf albino, Siamese twins and the youngest one who looks normal, but has psychic powers. It would have been easy to screw up this book, but Dunn nailed it. The characters are well written and believable and the story is compelling.
I re-read Geek Love every couple of years because it’s just that good and I’ve lent and recommended it more often than any other book too. The last time I loaned it out was to a neighbor and I forgot to get it back before we moved. I had to buy a new copy, which still makes me sad.
Katherine Dunn only wrote three novels: Attic, which I own but haven’t been able get into, and Truck, which is the story of a runaway girl. Truck is a pretty good book too.
It’s interesting to reflect on how various books have come into my life. I love most of John Steinbeck’s books, but he’s so famous that nobody ever really had to recommend them to me. Same with Hemmingway.
I bought my first fantasy novel when I was in Jr. High School. It was at a bookstore in Clarinda, Iowa. I had no idea what the book was about, but the cover was really cool and I bought it and got lucky when it turned out to be good. It was the first Dragonlance book, and I don’t even think the second two books of the trilogy were out when I bought it.
I have a varied set of friends, but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re readers and they’ve all recommended good books to me. My friend Duane recommended Ender’s Game to me a couple of years ago and now I’m a huge fan of all of Orson Scott Card’s works. My friend Matt turned me on to Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. All good stuff.
But the Oscar for best book recommendation goes to my friend Brandal. I need to get in touch with him and tell him thank you.
What’s your favorite book and how did you find it?