Thursday, December 29, 2005

I Am a Sheep, Part Two

Fifteen Things About Books (Why Fifteen, Incidentally? Why Not Twelve, or Six, or Three Hundred and Sixty-Five? Why Not a Thing-a-Day Meme? OK, Not Really. I'm Just Asking Questions. Don't Give Me That Look. I'm Turning Off the Bolding Now.)

1. I like to own books, at least, I like to own books that I like. Lately I'm beginning to question this insistence, as they pile up around me. But usually I justify the book-buying habit in one of four ways. A) The book might go out of print--which is valid because I have somewhat quirky tastes. B) I might need to refer to the book in the future--particularly if it's nonfiction. C) I might want to lend the book to someone. Which I do fairly regularly, as I am a book evangelist. D) This book is my friend. I want my friends to stay close by.

2. I have OCD habits when it comes to reading. It's kind of embarrassing. I habitually check page numbers, even if I'm completely absorbed in what I'm reading. I also count lines of text for no good reason. I like it when paragraphs or groupings of paragraphs work out to be squares, but only certain squares. Sigh. OK, I've gone this far; 64 is a crappy square, because it's also a cube. It's just lame, all right? So is 144, because there are two 2's in twelve. Squares of squares are ideal. 1296, for example, or 2401. Um, not that I ever get that far in counting lines of text. I usually lose count after a page or two and start over. Yes, I'm a Rainman wannabe. Yes, I am weird.

3. I read many books which I enjoy, but I am constantly looking for books that will blow off the top of my head and force me to reconstruct my brain. This rarely happens. A few books which have done this in various ways include One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Sound and the Fury, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, On Stranger Tides, Hunger, Lone Wolf and Cub, Seven Gothic Tales, No Man's Land, Don Quixote, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Hopscotch and Vellum. This doesn't necessarily mean these are the best books ever, but they were the best books for me at the moment I read them. Some years I don't read any books like this, and this makes me sad.

4. One of the reasons I love my iPod (Its name is "Cash Is My Copilot," in case you're wondering) is because it allows me to read on trains and planes without distraction.

5. I am generally of the "If You Can't Say Something Nice" school of book talk. If a book genuinely insults or offends me, I will complain about it, yes. And if a book should have been good but isn't, it will bother me and I will talk about it. I get frustrated by things that fall short, probably because there is always the "why" to think about. But I don't see any point in flinging vitriol or contempt around. Just because you can be rude and funny at the same time doesn't mean you should. I'd just rather put my energy into other things.

6. If Piers Anthony is dissed in my presence, I may launch into my lecture about how maybe the Xanth books aren't great literature or anything (although the first two books, in particular, have a lot of crazy-cool stuff going on in them) but they kept me reading at a time when I could very easily have gone off books altogether. It was junior high and I was finally sick of Tolkien and I wanted something light and silly. I read books like The Unbeheaded King and pretty much everything by Douglas Adams, and those were great, but the Xanth books were the perfect blend of adolescent fantastical nonsense and I loved them. Yes, they got progressively sillier. Yes, the puns became a bit too much. (Yours truly was responsible for a couple of those that appeared in later books; maybe I'll tell you which ones someday.) I still love Piers, because the strangeness of Xanth and the general cluelessness of his protagonists reflected the strangeness of the world around me and the general cluelessness of me. Also because of the way in which he talked about being a writer, and made it seem like something anyone could do. Finally, because I sent Piers two fan letters and got two very kind letters back. It's true I haven't read him in a long time, but I can't help but be influenced by him--by Xanth, by Phaze/Proton, by the Incarnations of Immortality and by the various other series I read by him back in the day, many of which were never meant for impressionable young people. Anyway, that's my lecture. Don't diss Piers and you'll be spared it in person.

7. I have, for reasons I cannot fully explain, read more books by comedians than anyone I know; books by Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Murray, Merrill Markoe, Laura Kightlinger, and others. I have not, however, read Couplehood, nor will I.

8. Less than ten years ago I read novels all the time and hardly ever read short stories; now it's almost completely flipped. I also never intended to write short stories, and didn't really know how they worked. What changed that? Attending Odyssey, and reading the Dozois and Datlow/Windling Year's Best's. That started me on the form, and now I read short story collections and anthologies (as well as magazines) far more than I read novels. I wouldn't have believed it, myself.

9. I don't collect books in the sense of seeking out signed first editions and that sort of thing; I have a few of those, but mostly I don't care much about the condition as long as it's readable and not falling apart in my hands. I have some used books that have been written in, but I won't write in books myself. I wouldn't feel right doing that.

10. I have wanted since I was 10, at least, to have a book with my name on the cover. I want, eventually, to have many. A hundred or more.

11. If I have kids I will read to them. Maybe not every night--although that would be the ideal scenario--but as often as possible. When the oldest is old enough to read, we will take turns reading to the younger ones. Also, they will read comics. I look forward to arguing with seven-year-olds about whether Spider-Man could take Batman. (He totally could, by the way.)

12. I don't re-read much. The last book I re-read was probably One Hundred Years of Solitude, I'd guess. Mainly this is because there are many books I want to read, and not enough time to read them all. Even without all the reading I have to do for school, there are too many books for me to spend time re-reading old faves. If I was re-reading, I'd probably re-read Salinger and Vonnegut and Heller and Friedman and Lardner. Those are my boys.

13. I read the classics not because I feel like it's my responsibility as a writer to learn the foundations of the craft (although I feel this strongly) or because I want to impress people with my bookishness (while I'm probably somewhat guilty of this, it's not something I think much about). I read them because I like them. Homer rocks. Sappho rules. Ovid is da bomb. Virgil, well, I was never that impressed. Dante's Inferno is spectacular, but it goes downhill from there. So yeah, some of it is overrated, but my tastes have changed since I was forced to read Great Expectations in high school. I've only read one Dickens as an adult thus far, but I think Nicholas Nickleby is one of the greatest novels ever written. The greatest, of course, is Don Quixote. Even the classics that have done nothing for me--I've tried to read both Proust and Austen and given up--I'll come back to at some point and try again. The canon wasn't just slapped together by a bunch of drunk white male English professors, you know? There's some good stuff in there. (And BTW, I'm enjoying War and Peace. It's, you know, long. But so was The Lord of the Rings.) Genre classics are part of this, too. Sturgeon and Bester and Cordwainer Smith. Peake and Lord Dunsany and Walsh's Mabinogion. You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been, it's true, and that's reason enough to go back. But it's also the shiznit.

14. I read a lot less genre fiction than I used to. Most of the genre fiction I do read is in the short form, and a lot of that isn't what I'd call mainstream SF or fantasy. I don't really think that the mainstream of the genre has changed very much, despite the grumbles we hear from time to time. I think my interests and tastes have changed. This is not to say that I no longer like genre, because I do. I love it. But I like to see it do something new, and not just sprinkle sensawunda (I believe it comes from the Latin) over new science/magic. Yawn.

15. I like to get books as presents. Just sayin'.


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