All About Books

Since I’ve been tagged:

1. One book that changed your life?

I always use the same answer for this question, but it’s kinda true, so: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. When I went to university and joined OUSFG, one of the perks was being able to choose a book for the society to buy for its library. The Sparrow had won the Clarke Award that year, and seemed like an obvious choice. It handily blew me away, and I started to pay a lot more attention to what I was reading, rather than (as had been previous practice) omnivorously consuming whatever I could get.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I don’t tend to do much re-reading these days, but Kim Stanley Robinson seems to be an author I revisit with some frequency. I’ve read Red Mars several times, and I keep meaning to find time to go back to Pacific Edge.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

I have utterly no idea. Maybe on a desert island I’d finally have time for the Baroque Cycle

4. One book that made you laugh?

At the moment, I’m working my way through the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts. Sometimes, when I tell people I find Peanuts funny, they look at me as though I’m a little bit crazy. But I’m a Peanuts kid; my Dad has several shelfloads of the small paperbacks from the 50s and 60s and 70s (the ones with titles like Good Grief, Charlie Brown and You’ve Come A Long Way, Charlie Brown) and for the majority of my childhood they were all not-so-neatly packed into a bookcase that sat just outside the bathroom, making them perfect loo break reading. There’s something in the sensibility of the strip, the mix of resignation and optimism, that gets to me; makes me laugh, makes me smile, makes me ache with the truth of it, sometimes. (I’m not so good with humour in prose fiction; I don’t find Terry Pratchett or Robert Rankin or Jasper Fforde funny, for instance, or at least not enough to make me laugh.)

5. One book that made you cry?

The closest I’ve come in recent years is at one scene about half-way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I tend to be quite internal in my responses to books.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Foundation and Zombies.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?

I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. Books are axiomatically good, aren’t they?

8. One book you are currently reading?
9. One book you have been meaning to read?

I’m going to double up on this, because I’m going through a phase of dipping into a lot of things. And I have been trying not to acquire book this year, honestly I have. I’ve been very good about not wandering into bookshops and impulse-buying, and almost as good about not going to Amazon. Despite this, my to-be-read pile seems to exist in a state of punctuated equilibrium. Most of the time books are added at about the rate they are removed; every so often, though, the pile suddenly has a growth spurt. This is one of those times. (It never shrinks, of course.)

There are the books that are totally not my fault. Warren Ellis’ Ocean was a present, for instance, as was Oxford by Jan Morris (although that just makes me feel guilty for not having finished A Writer’s World yet). And Daughters of Earth (some of which, including the introduction, is online here) was an offer that was just too tempting to refuse.

Then there are the books that I obviously had to buy, such as Theodora Goss’s collection In the Forest of Forgetting and Michel Faber’s The Fahrenheit Twins. Orhan Pamuk’s Snow fits here as well, as recommended to me by Abigail; and since she’s got around to writing about what I recommended to her, I should probably get around to reciprocating. Though Twenty Epics keeps sneaking up on me at the moment, since it is shinier and has a better index.

And of course there are books for review: I’ve just finished Sonya Taaffe’s collection, Singing Innocence and Experience, for NYRSF, after which I have Mark Budz’s new novel, Idolon, to review for Strange Horizons. And I’m sure something else will be along in a moment. Not to mention the fact that Clarke Award books are starting to trickle in …

In conclusion: at this point, I’m almost more worried about my flat bursting at the seams than about my ability to ever read everything. I’m not going to tag anyone else and insist they do this meme, but if anyone wants to confess their own recent book-acquisition guilt and help me to feel less like a hopeless case, that would be more than welcome.

6 Responses to “All About Books”

  1. Pigeonhed Says:

    Kim Stanley Robinson is definitely an author worth re-visiting. Pacific Edge is full of subtleties that catch me every time. It is very definitely not what it seems, in a good way.

  2. Changing Way Says:

    The Sparrow, by MD Russell

    A few things move me to post about this novel. First, I recently read it, and was blown away by it. It’s science fiction, in that it’s about contact with intelligent life on another planet. The SF tag puts some people off, as the publishers of the pa…

  3. Graham Says:

    If no-one else is going to write Foundation and Zombies, I think you have to….

  4. Geneva Says:

    Now I’m pondering what it means to say that a book changed your life. It sounds like you’re saying that The Sparrow changed your reading habits (although how much of that was down to a change in your life circumstances, going to university, joining OUSFG, and how much was down to The Sparrow in particular?). Is a change in reading habits significant enough to count as a life change? Plausibly, yes, considering where it took you.

    However, I often get the impression that when the question “What book changed your life?” is asked, there is an expectation that the answer will involve a deep emotional connection with the book chosen. There is a common assumption in our culture that reading books is all about aiding emotional development. Fiction lets us rehearse emotional and ethical situations and experiences. I’ve read things from a philosophical perspective arguing that books and fiction provide a useful way to learn how to be ethical, and I’m told that similar arguments are made in the field of children’s literature, about how reading books helps children to develop emotionally. So I think there is an assumption that books that change our lives are supposed to be books that teach us something, emotionally, ethically. They’re supposed to be books that play a fundamental part in our emotional development.

    Science fiction is traditionally much less focussed on emotions than other types of fiction, so it wouldn’t be particularly suited to changing people’s lives by affecting their emotional development. Maybe the science fiction books that change our lives are books that affect us on a practical level (influencing our interests, our hobbies, the things we choose to study, the jobs we choose to do) rather than affecting our emotional make-up. These may indeed be life changes, but I don’t think they’re the life changes that are commonly under consideration when that question is asked.

  5. Niall Says:

    Graham: it occurs to me that Peter F Hamilton’s already written Zombies and Empire

    Geneva: yes, it was the knockon effect I was referring to. I think you could perhaps argue that science fiction as a whole had an effect on my emotional development, since I’m sure growing up reading Clarke and Asimov wired my brain with certain meme. But I can’t imagine any single book having a profound enough effect on my emotional development to justify the description of having changed my life (which is not to say that I didn’t find The Sparrow extremely moving, because I did).

  6. Geneva Says:

    Yeah, your individual response just made me wonder about larger patterns. As in, would most science fiction books that get picked as life changing books have had a practical effect on the people who picked them, rather than an emotional one? And if so, would that be because readers of science fiction are looking to get something different out of their reading experiences than are other types of readers?


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