January 05, 2007

Out for a random walk

Matt Van Brink tagged me on this one.

Find the nearest book.
Turn to page 123.
Go to the fifth sentence on the page.
Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog.
Name the book and the author, and tag three more folks.

You are, however, not to make unkind inferences, when I forbear to reply to your kindness; for be assured, I never receive a letter from you without great pleasure, and a very warm sense of your generosity and friendship, which I heartily blame myself for not cultivating with more care. In this, as in many other cases, I go wrong, in opposition to conviction; for I think scarce any temporal good equally to be desired with the regard and familiarity of worthy men. I hope we shall be some time nearer to each other, and have a more ready way of pouring out our hearts.

James Boswell, Boswell's Life of Doctor Johnson.
New York: Modern Library, n.d.

Hmmm... elegant, but not the most scintillating passage in that book, by any means. (It's an excerpt from a letter Johnson sent to a printer in Scotland who was reprinting The Rambler.) How about the second nearest book?
"Mama's talking about Mr. Verkhovensky's son, Peter, whom she insists on calling a professor for some reason," Liza said, and led Shutov off to the other end of the drawing room, where they sat down on a divan.

"When her legs swell up like that, she's always irritable," Liza whispered to Shutov, continuing to examine him with the utmost curiosity, especially his eternal tuft of unruly hair.

"Are you in the army?" asked the old woman, with whom Liza had heartlessly left me.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Possessed,
trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew.
New York: Signet Classics, 1991.

Better, although out of context, it reads more like a Woody Allen parody of Dostoyevsky than actual Dostoyevsky. How about the third closest book?
Some of them say to thee, 'Allow me to remain at home, and expose me not to the trial.' Have they not fallen into a trial already? But verily, Hell shall environ the infidels!

The Koran, trans. J.M. Rodwell.
London: Phoenix (Everyman reprint), 2001.

Now we're getting somewhere!

A thought: if you did this with music ("Take the nearest score. Go to page x. Go to the yth measure on the page," etc., etc.) you'd most likely end up with far fewer duds—you could get at least a couple of paragraphs of interesting commentary out of almost any three bars in the repertoire. Is this because: a) unlike prose, music is not figurative, and thus needs more explication; b) unlike prose, musical notation is primarily a set of instructions for recreating sounds, and only secondarily a source of enjoyment on its own; or c) music simply has a greater signal-to-noise ratio than other artistic forms of communication? Probably a combination of all three. Discuss among yourselves.

I won't tag anyone else with this, lest they prefer to stay at home and not be exposed to the trial. Feel free to pick up the ball and run with it, however.

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