anghara: (book and glasses)
OF COURSE we bought books at Powells while we were in Portland. You really thought we went into that place and walked out empty-handed...?

I got some great research books for both the current project in the throes of research, and for a potential future project which might be of interest. One of the latter books was a gorgeous older volume, in quite good shape but obviously an aged book - it looked good, it was on a subject that interested me, and I bought it.

When I came home with it, [ profile] rdeck, who hadn't really had the opportunity of inspecting my hoard before I packed it away for the homeward journey in the Portland hotel room, turned this thing over in his hands with interest and asked, "When was this published?"

Which was the first time I looked.

And discovered I was holding a book published in 1857.

The oldest book I own is a law book, in Latin, dating back to the early 1700's - probably worth less than it sounds it might be but a treasure for me simply because -well - wow - it was bouncing around this tired old world three centuries ago. The French Revolution hadn't happened yet. The Sun still revolved around the Earth, and scientists were known as "natural philosophers" - Isaac Newton was still almost newly dead. People were still dealing with the fallout from the Great Plague of London. The world was waking up to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Immanuel Kant. And this book was knocking around the same world, and being read, and being understood (Latin was still a language of learning and knowledge and the gowned academics pored over dusty Latin tomes with hand-drawn illustrations). It gives me a frisson just to hold that book and know that it is a bridge between myself and some reverent hand which has been dust for three hundred years.

I love old books.

This is why I have never warmed to electronic "readers". Three hundred years from now, the Amazon Kindles and their ilk will be so much electronic junk. The books, they endure.
anghara: (book and glasses)
This musing got triggered by this blog post, and a sudden urge to go back and run a finger down my bookshelves and remember books - why I got them, why I loved them, why I still own some (but not others), what it is that makes a book get tenure on my shelf.

(Let's keep it genre, shall we - for this post, at least - or else this would get really unwieldy...)

I still have a bunch of the early Asimov stuff - the robotics stories, the Lije Bailey detective-in-the-stars tales - and this is what I cut my SF teeth on, one of the first SF-nal forays I ever made that were frankly genre novels, my badge of courage, my entry into this brave new world. I read Asimov, and I loved it, and it was my password - "Hello stars, Asimov sent me".

I still love some of the robotics stories, but it's a sentimental affection - when I re-read some of them (and in the interests of accuracy it hasn't happened in more than a decade, really) I read them with an indulgent smile on my face. They are LINEAR. They start at a beginning, and they go on until an end, and they stop. Most of the time that end is dimly visible from that beginning anyway. *There are no surprises*. And yes, I know, I've read them all before - that's belabouring the obvious. What I'm getting at is that I, and the world, have moved on from the early simple sweet Asimovian storytelling. Comparing Asimov with, say, Stross, is like going from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian universe - one where the earlier tenets still hold, in many simple cases, but where the nature of the latter world has been explained in a way that would make the former world blink and clasp its hands and breathe, "wow, magic".

Asimov himself moved on, up to a point - the Foundation books were an order of magnitude more complex and layered than the laws of robotics stuff. We all grow - writers and readers both - it's part of being alive. We grow up as people and with us an entire genre is also growing up and out, changing even as we watch, kicking its baby feet one bright shiny morning and getting kitted out to go fight a war in a distant galaxy that night and a hundred years later all at the same time.

But I still have them, the early Asimovs. They remain my badge of honour, my password, my certificate of passage. They may be, now, slightly battered vintage cars sitting retired in a safe garage somewhere and not being taken out much any more because their tires are balding and their shock absorbers are shot - but they were the cars in which you took your date to Lovers's Leap and made out in the back seat while the lights twinkled in the town down below. They've got tenure, those books. They done earned them.

Then there's the books that the blog entry I referenced above is dissecting. The Pern books. Once again, I've got them - or most of them, anyway. I don't own the Menolly books, Menolly irritated me in many of the same ways that Robert Jordan's women irritate me (and that's a whole another can of literary worms, whoa, back on the topic...) I read them, what, twenty years ago now? More...? When were they published again - my copies are upstairs and it's too far to go check now, but it's been a fair while. I can pinpoint exactly when Mccafffrey began to go south on me, though, and that was not with the Pern books, not then, not in the beginning - it was the Crystal SInger books. Good grief, but that woman was unpleasant. Tough, sure, able to fend for herself, sure, talented, way sure, but MAN was she unpleasant - and with that, all the rest fell away for me. WHy would I care about what happened to an unpleasant woman? I read the Crystal Singer books. I no longer own them. I still - warts and all! - have the Dragonflight/Dragonquest/White Dragon trilogy. I haven't touched them for years and years and years - and EVERYTHING that has been said in that blog post is absolutely true, so help me, and I have no idea why I go back to that idea and insist that I still love the whole sense of Dragons and Telepathic Bonding and all that. Tolkien said once that he "desired dragons with a profound desire" - he knew of whereof he spoke. Mccaffrey tapped into a powerful fantasy with her dragon-human bond - who wouldn't want to have such a creature for a pet, a friend, a companion? I have to say, though, that once again those books fail me TODAY in that they are too linear, too simplistic, too damned obvious. Over many years of reading my tastes have obviously gravitated towards the complex and the layered and the rich and the lush, and Pern no longer delivers that. Besides, if we're talking worldbuilding, they lost me way back at agenothree.

Another example. I first read Orson Scott Card's Songmaster novel in a partial published in - what was it, Analog, Asimov's one of those, may years ago. I fell in love with the story, with the power of the tale, with the voice in which it was told, with the compassion and the tragedy that followed the development of the relationships of young Ansset and those who surrounded him, loved him, molded him, ruined him, redeemed him.

And then I bought the entire novel when it came out, and the second half of it - the part not published in the magazine - was weaker, for me. Lots weaker. But I liked it enough to continue reading. I picked up Ender's Game - and really loved it. But then that franchise ran out of steam fast, and by the third book in that series I was gone - I did borrow Card's attempt to re-harness the original storyline, the Ender story told through Bean's eyes, from the library and read it, but I don't own it. And other Card books - particularly the Ships of Earth novels - annoyed me so much that I was literally growling at the things when I was reading them. Those books, or at least some of them, I still have - but the only reason they're still on my shelf is inertia. I'm just too procrastinatory. But they'll go, eventually, probably. I KNOW I'll never return to those books again.

Other classics - Dune. THe original Dune took my breath away then, and still does today - here was my thrist for complexity slaked, and then some. It was incredible, and powerful, and it found a deep place within me. But the sequels - ah, the sequels - I managed to read the first three. I haven't touched any since then, especially not the ones written in collaboration by people other than Frank Herbert. Sorry, but that was HIS story. Being someone's child doesn't necessarily mean you have the God-given right to continue that person's "Legacy", and indeed sometimes it is probably the wiser course of action not to. But I can't really speak for the later books in the Dune franchise. I haven't read them. If anyone has anything positive to say about them please feel free.

Zelazny's Amber. LOVE the original five. Less devoted to the second set, but I still have them. I hated with a flaming passion the attempt to resurrect "Roger Zelazny's Amber" a couple of years ago. Sure, the story he told had potential prequels or sequels dancing around in the stars. But *Zelazny is gone*. NOBODY else does Amber. NOBODY. This was a place of his heart - he understood it, even the things about it that he didn't talk about in the books - and perhaps he MEANT those prequels and sequels to stay untold. In fact, I seem to remember him saying as much just before he died - that he didn't particularly want anyone else playing in that sandbox after he was gone. Those books? Full tenure. And not just because one of them happens to be signed.

Mary Stewart's Merlin books? Keepers, all. One of the best and most powerful tellings of a story told many, many times. ANd it makes things like "Mists of Avalon" strike a particularly sour note for me.

Spider Robinson's stuff - ye gods, do I have to explain? The man's a Pun King, and for someone similarly afflicted his books are a constant joyride of rolling-eye groaning delight. Keepers, again - and once more not because one of them is signed thusly: To Alma, who obviously has The Callahan Touch herself.

What else have I got there? Gene Wolfe? Larry Niven? Michael Moorcock?

Guy Gavriel Kay? Oh, him I've got - ALL of his books I've got. I could rank them for you, sure, from the astonishingly sublime (Tigana) to the merely magnificent (Song for Arbonne, Lions of Al-Rassan) to things like his newest, Ysabel, which I found a tad "meh", and not only because he apparently makes a conscious return to his Fionavar roots in this book - and I consider the Fionavar Trilogy to be his training trike, the fantasy novel(s) in which he cut his teeth and which led him to write gems like Tigana. But I've got 'em all. He's a keeper. Always will be.

Glenda Larke - friend and colleague - who understands story, worldbuilds with passion, and Writes Good Character. Keepers.

Newer favourites, like Catherynne Valente, Elizabeth Bear.

Space will always be at a premium in my bookshelves, where things are shelved double-thickness and books often stuffed in sideways on top of the stacked paperbacks where there's room. But some books get bought, get read, get evicted. Others... stay. They've got their hooks into my heart and my memory, somehow, and they are more than just the contents of a bookshelf. They are a set of signposts for the literary road I've travelled so far, and may be choosing in the future. They are not possessions. They are that part of me that is - that part that CAN be - written in other people's words. They represent the bits of my mind and heart and spirit which THAT writer, THAT story, made possible.

So. What's on your bookshelves, then...?
anghara: (Default)
[ profile] norilana posts in her journal on the 18 books she considers "formative" - she qualifies her choices by saying that she is considering only books she had read or encountered before high school - and I suppose I could have done it on that basis but I decided, instead, to come up with the first 20 books that came into my head that I would consider to be "formative" for me in the sense that they matter to me deeply or that they were milestones of sorts in my life or reading career. Although much of this list - nearly half of it - does meet [ profile] norilana's criteria, some of the others were encountered when I was older, some merely by virtue of having been encountered later than they should have been because my level of English, the language in which I read them in, governed the chronology rather more forcefully than the actual age that I was at the time - and one or two I read as more or less an adult, but they have left a lasting impression on me and I consider them, at this point in my life, as formative as anything else I can remember.

So - here's my list:

1. Heidi by Johanna Spyri - the book on which I learned to read. Talk about formative!

2.The GOod Earth by Pearl Buck

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

4. "Vreme Smrti" ("The Time Of Death") by Dobrica Cosic (yes, there IS a translated version - but I read it in the original Serbo Croat and I honestly don't think that while it is a gripping book in any language it will not resonate half as much for someone who ISN'T part of that culture and that land as it did for me)

5. Winnetou by Karl May (It was the first book that made me cry while I read it - I realise it's corny and utterly devoid of any realistic ideas, written by a German whose ideas of the Wild West and the Noble Savage were less than, uh, accurate and whose evangelistic tendencies drove me nuts sometimes, but hey, it was a small price to pay...)

6. My son, my son by Howard Spring - hell, ANYTHING by Howard Spring, the man is a genius at giving you the story of a life in a way that makes YOU, the reader, share it.

7. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay - that spoke to my MARRROW...

8. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres - the man really knows what makes people change.

9. Cat;s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

10. The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

11. the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde

12. the poetry of Desanka Maksimovic (Hey, I can't help it if I can read in several languages!)

13. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott

14. "Through Desert and Jungle" by Henryk Sienkiewicz (also read originally in my own language, as a child, and a beloved book to this day)

16. Almost anything by Ursula le Guin

17 Le Morte d'Arthur by Mallory (and, as corollary, "The once and future king", by T H White)

18. the ORIGINAL Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales (not the sanitized stuff, thanks very much, I loved the visceral quality of the originals)

19. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (I learned English at ten; at thirteen I was reading the full-blown, unabridged, fulsome and stylistically tough set of Forsyte novels. That was a milestone for me)

20. Narnia books by C S Lewis

What a mix... It's often been said that mixing one's drinks leads to faster and harder intoxication - here I'm mixing genres, languages, reading levels and subject matter with such wild abandon that it's no wonder I wound up as drunk on language as I am...

So. What books are rattling around in YOUR head...?
anghara: (Default)
Or perhaps that should be, "wither, reading?" - there is a disquieting trend that is becoming obvious out there.

A little while ago, in February, I stumbled on this particular report:

The Associated Press is ending the book review package provided to
newspapers, Editor and Publisher reports.

A spokesperson says the "AP is revamping its Lifestyles coverage to
focus more resources on topics like food and parenting, and as a
result we are discontinuing the book-review package that had moved
through that department."

She adds that book coverage will continue through the Arts and
Entertainment Department, though the emphasis appears to be on news
and features.

Chop, chop, chop. Who needs books when you can have scintillating recipes or other more "lifestyley" features such as how to arrange cushions on your sofa or which plasma TV to choose? Oh, hey, I know, people have to eat - and watching the latest game on the best possible hardward has to count for something. Like, who needs books anyway...?

Perhaps you think I'm over-reacting. Perhaps I am. But both as a reader AND as a writer things like this sting - people like me seem to be increasingly dismissed as harmless kooks who can go away and indulge their shameful little reading habit in private, thank you very much. Perhaps some day reading in public will come to be regarded as just as "dangerous" to public morals as breastfeeding a child is today - who knows, someone's passions might get so inflamed at the sight of a book in another person's hand that they'll race off to the nearest bookstore and buy several, and get so engrossed in them that they'll miss the game on the new plasma TV, and whither our society then...?

Granted, I'm exaggerating, and it's a symptom rather than the disease - but then, on the heels of the AP decision, comes something like this:

Trying to Save Books at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Zachary Steele, owner of Wordsmiths Books, is one of the leaders of
an effort to make the Atlanta Journal-Constitution rescind its
decision to fire book editor Teresa Weaver and cut back book coverage.

In addition, Shannon Byrne, a publicity manager of Little, Brown, is circulating a petition that
says among other things that the paper's book section is one of the
best-edited literary pages in the country.

"It provides Atlanta, which ranks #15 on the University of
Wisconsin's list of most literate cities in the U.S., with a powerful
and necessary cultural dialogue. Under the astute guidance of the
section's editor Teresa Weaver, the books page has demonstrated an
admirable commitment to both literature and nonfiction works which
have grappled with some of America's most complicated issues and themes."

In a Shelf Awareness ezine blog entry, bookstore owner Zachary Steele wrote, among other things, that
"an absence of a literary presence in the primary source of news in Atlanta robs not only you and I, but it deprives future generations the exposure to what is and always will be the most vital aspect of their maturation. A book--literacy in its global form--is a necessary
component to intellectual growth. Reading is on the rise amongst our youth (check out the great success of Decatur's Little Shop of Stories if you doubt me) and now is not the time to reduce or eliminate the one place they can go to read further."

Check out your local paper. Does it have a book page? Does it have a book page that provides more than just a stump of a review one paragraph long which pretty much encapsulates the plot of the book under discussion and no more?

I cannot imagine a world without books, without reading. But much more of this, and an entire generation will find it hard to imagine a world WITH them.

If nothing else helps, try this - why can't newspapers consider books and reading as a "Gardening" feature? The word is a tender plant, and its care should be of interest to those who wish to cultivate a flourishing garden. And there is no sweeter fruit, when it is ripe and ready, than Story.
anghara: (Default)
I'm about to launch into writing something a little more extended than just an ordinary review for SFSite - writing about Frank Herbert's "Dune", and what the book meant to me. When it's up, I'll post a link - but for now, I'm thinking back, and remembering my first reading of that book and of what a revelation it was to me. It's almost like looking back through the years, reversing the flow of time, remembering the things I did not know back then, and those were legion. We are all young, once.

"Dune" was one of the shattering books of my own personal Science Fiction Raeder's Odyssey. It would be interesting to know - do you guys have such a book in your own past? Something that... just... changed you...?

May 2009

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