I is what I is from my reading biz
When my fellow writers and I get together, we often discuss the books we enjoyed in our formative years. Kat Richardson
is an encyclopedia of science fiction, Mark Henry
cut his writer teeth on psychological thrillers with a supernatural bent, Jeanne (bless her heart) enjoyed urban fantasy back before it even had a name. As a kid, my reading interests were all over the place, heavy in historical nonfiction--lots about airplanes--and bunches of speculative fiction.
I was twelve when I first perceived the Aha!
--the epiphany that these squiggles on a piece of paper could immerse me so deeply in an invented world that I momentarily forgot everything else. That book was The Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton, and I pretended to be sick so I could stay home from church and finish the book. I had borrowed it from my dad, who like the characters in the story, was a government chemist, though he laughed at the strained earnestness of it all. None of the characters spoke or behaved like any federal civil servants he was familiar with.
Even though I was a book worm, there were plenty of school reading assignments I couldn't digest. I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull
a simplistic bore. I slummed through Silas Marner
and Wuthering Heights
But a few assignments managed to break into my stubborn head.Such as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers. High-school English homework and definitely outside my usual milieu. But McCullers's prose kept me hooked and made me admire the power of the well-crafted narrative.1984
by George Orwell. This kick-to-the head hasn't lost any of its punch over the years. I recently thumbed through the story to pick up some passages to use in a writing class and I found Orwell's masterful prose incredibly fresh and as disturbingly visceral as anything in a horror novel. Wow.Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley. Another story that remains inventive and crisp and remarkably prescient. Made me ponder the dark consequences of technology.
My private library was the shelf headboard of my bed and it was crammed full of books, mostly paperbacks that I had bought for 15-25¢
at the used book store by Surplus City. One notable read was The Penetrators
, a Cold War cautionary tale by Anthony Gray, pseudonym for Hank Searls. That book has been long out of print and despite my fondness for the story, one recent reviewer called it a "poor man's Fail Safe
My best friend Ron and I used to trade books and a favorite series that we devoured were the Travis McGee
stories by John D MacDonald. Those books laid the foundation for my appreciation of pulp noir and seedy characters.
Another book that I reveled in because it fed into my adolescent anarchistic streak was Clockwork Orange
, by Anthony Burgess. Ron and I became somewhat fluent in Nadsat
and the slang still creeps into our conversations.
Even though I'm an urban fantasy author and a frequent panelist at Science Fiction/Fantasy cons, a lot of people assume I was a keen reader of vampire and supernatural fiction, which I wasn't. I enjoyed learning the myths but I couldn't get swept into the stories like I should have been. Same was true for most science fiction. I found a lot of the books dense and meandering. One exception were the John Carter
series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Thoats. Radium guns. Green giants. Naked Martian women. More fantasy than science fiction but what was not to love?
There was also a collection of short stories that really grabbed me, Science Fiction Terror Tales
, edited by Groff Conklin. "Lost Memory", by Peter Phillips really gave me the chills.
One book that I liked quite a bit back then was Siddhartha
, by Hermann Hesse. The book was about as spiritual as I've ever managed to finish and at the time (I must've been 16) the story spoke to me. Many years later, my oldest son had this book as his high-school assignment and I took the opportunity to reread it. This time however, as an adult, I found the main character Siddhartha, to be an ungrateful whiner. Get over yourself already.
Another book I thoroughly enjoyed but which does not age well, is The Eiger Sanction
by Trevanian (né
Rodney William Whitaker). Like the garish pink of the original book jacket, the prose seems dated (though I will gladly trade his sales numbers for mine). However, at one time, I could picture myself the intrepid and dangerous mountaineer sipping Laphroaig and fending off the affections of countless women. Trevanian's later novel The Main
, about a police detective in Montreal, holds up much better and is one of the best mysteries I've ever read.
Next weekend, October 21-23, I'm the Toastmaster at the fabulous MileHiCon 43
. Guests of Honor include authors Vernor Vinge and Glen Cook, editor Gardner Dozois, and artist Theresa Mather. Come join the fun and shenanigans.
Labels: books, Laphroaig, reading