JLS (jlsjlsjls) wrote,

Books I have known

Reading shemhazai's A Memetic Feast has been a memory trigger of reading. I'm nowhere near as eloquent as she is so I'll just compensate with my usual mad rambling and overuse of parentheses and dotdotdot skillz. ;-)

We've a fair amount of overlap in our childhood years books and their authors: Twain, Barrie, Kipling, Defoe, and most of the others. To which I'll add Louisa May Alcott (for love of her bits of snark against the constraints of her era), Mrs. Meade (for similar reasons), Booth Tarkington's Penrod stories, and Lucretia Hale's tales of the Peterkin family. I adored and still regularly re-read Sheila Braine's The Princess of Hearts (a copy originally owned by my grandfather, then my mother, and now currently in my custody to be passed on to the next generation). Plus a further oddball assortment of Victorian and Edwardian fiction acquired by my mother during her own childhood (the daughter of an elderly neighbour, upon that neighbour's death, let my 9-year-old Mom take whatever she wanted from the bookcases because she knew she'd been a frequent book borrower from her mother ... Mom still has most of that haul) ... memorable titles being "Baby Bob" and "The Kingdom of the Winding Road", "The Little Lame Prince", and "The Adventures of a Brownie". Plus original Grimm and Andersen in all their gory, un-Disneyfied glory, and Scandinavian fairy tales collected under the title "East of the Sun and West of the Moon". Helen Shackleton's (Montréal-dwelling sister of the explorer) children's poems. All of Montgomery's Anne books of course. Thornton Burgess' series of wildlife stories about Sammy Jay, Reddy Fox, Peter Rabbit, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, etc., that sneakily taught animal behaviour and the rudiments of ecology and food chains). Didn't encounter Tolkien until halfway through high school and Narnia until college. But I still vividly recall my seventh grade teacher reading us a couple of chapters of "Dracula" aloud every day before lunch (nary a parental complaint about that either ... at least I assume not since he did finish the book). Read Frankenstein m'self that same year on his recommendation.

And at the beginning of eighth grade I read my first science fiction novel**, Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters" and was promptly hooked on the genre ... (a few months ago I re-read this one for the first time in years and it's still chilling). This led, during the rest of the year and all through high school, to Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Verne, Burroughs, Norton, Wyndham and far more whose names I can't recall; high school is where I discovered Dumas and Hugo and also a whole raft of Canadian authors with a personal bias towards the (often dark) humorists: Stephen Leacock, Eric Nicol, Richard J. Needham (the only columnist ever to have his writings on the front page of the Globe and Mail alongside the major new stories instead of on the editorial page), Robert Thomas Allen, Max Braithwaite, Gregory Clark. Heine's "The Last Canadian" was published during this time and that was "WOW! Science fiction that happens in MY country!" (That novel was especially meaningful at the time ... to Canadians the Cold War was something that was going to put us in the crossfire no matter how neutral we were; as I recall it was estimated that if things went hot up to 25% of missiles fired by either side would hit us rather than their intended targets since they were all programmed to take the shorter route through our skies and over the pole rather than across the oceans).

College and a city and a HUGE public library system: I distinctly recall first reading Leslie Charteris' Simon Templar novels thanks to the London Public Library. This was also the time when Bob Asprin came up with the notion of the shared universe and the "Thieves' World" series was newly launched. Packed sardinelike into a small Toronto hotel room with about thirty other convention attendees between my first and second years of college I was one of the first Canadians to see the ***cough***pirated***cough*** first there episodes of the TV version of "The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and that led to devouring Douglas Adams ("The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" had just been published and during the next year the radio series finally made it to Canada). I'm sure there were other new-to-me writers as well and I know there were new-to-me titles by authors I already was familiar with, but this was also my time of catching up on years of missed movie-watching (thanks to The New Yorker, a retro filmhouse that charged next to nothing to see features old and new) and being introduced to the folk music scene (thanks to dating a guitarist), so nothing else really stands out; I know that I discovered Cherryh, Leiber, Harry Harrison, and Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise during my first cataloguing job here in Alberta. After that ... well, between then and now I've read far more than I can possibly remember.

Like Shem, every book has influenced me ... the bad as well as the good. The majority unconsciously and in small ways that accumulated into something larger that can't ascribed to a single cause. But then there are the ones that were lightning bolts and those are also the ones most likely to be re-read. And even those, I've likely forgotten half of 'em as my own mind grew and changed, but here's a sampling of titles that come immediately to my currently lazy mind:

--The aforementioned "The Princess of Hearts" where Princess Joan was the hero and she didn't do what she did to gain a prince or a happily ever after, but was ready to sacrifice her own self and happiness for love of her family and the people of the kingdom (for the record this book was first published in 1902, way before "The Paper Bag Princess" and other better-known so-called feminist fairy tales)

--O'Donnell's original "Modesty Blaise" and its sequel novels. Not only a strong female character but also the Blaise/Garvin relationship demonstrating that it's supposed to be possible for a woman and man to be the closest of friends without it having to be sexual or aa romance (these days I suppose I really should describe it more as a demo that two adults whose sexual orientation is towards the other's gender can be friends without it being sexual or a romance, but the life issue at the time was specifically my being capable of hanging out with guys whose company I enjoyed but who I wasn't "interested" in nor was I a threat to gals who were interested in them ... ah youth and its complications. O'Donnell at least reassured me that I wasn't crazy to think this should be possible. ***GRIN***).

--Terry Pratchett's "Hogfather". The nature of belief and its true importance in a nutshell.

--C.J. Cherryh's "The Faded Sun" trilogy. The first time I ever felt like I was truly being shown how an alien mind might work. (One or two of you may have noticed that I demonstrate a occasional slight fondness for her "Foreigner" series ... same reason but here the whole thing is much more expanded, detailed, and evolving)

--Carl Sagan's "The Demon-haunted World". Ever read a book that was like reading the inside of your own head translated into print? This book was that to me. Countless things that had existed only as concepts in my head transcribed into words (very useful to a person who has difficulties with mental visualization and thus also with pulling thoughts into a form that can be described verbally)

--Will Eisner's "Contract with God" trilogy. Just awesome on so many levels that I can't even explain why.

--Chris Claremont's "God Loves, Man Kills". Everything that's wrong with and dangerous about bigotry and prejudice in one brilliant brief story. The one graphic that people who aren't normally into comic books/superheroes should read. Also why I remain fond of reading X-Men stuff ... this tale was my first foray into that world and the characters and their relationships in this tale were so strong and intriguing that I was hooked and the core "family" members of the second incarnation of the X-Men remain my favourites in this universe.

--Helen Forrester's "Twopence to Cross the Mersey". This and the following three volumes of Forrester's autobiography ("By the Waters of Liverpool", "Liverpool Miss", and "Lime Street at Two") made me aware of what growing up in poverty, deprivation and abuse are truly like and for half my life I've only needed to think of her to automatically kill any trace of whining about anything within myself.

--Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's "Last Chance to See ...". A real eye-opener about the true scale of wildlife endangerment and extinction in the modern world and truly my favourite of all of Adams' writings. But even so the bigger impact came from lending my copy to a friend who worked in a high school library and what she said when she returned it: "If textbooks were written like this there'd be no such thing as dropouts." Made me revisit my own teenage conviction that curriculum texts and assigned readings were actually meant to turn kids off of reading and learning rather than encouraging these things ... two years in an academic library did nothing to change my opinion. There seems to be a rule that all information shall be as dry and dusty as possible. My own best teachers used humour and anecdote in the classroom and I STILL remember what they taught while I'd be hardpressed to recall anything the teachers who took everything seriously said. I swear, thanks to Mr. S's horrible joke about "the invention of the first molten golden" I shall remember all about Manius Aquillius for several centuries after my death (for those scratching their heads, Molson Golden is a Canadian beer)

And I'm getting sleepy now and have to go back to work tomorrow so I'd best wrap this up and go to bed now.

**Bear in mind that I grew up in the back of beyond: the village library was tiny and ancient and our school library had lots of nonfiction about space but had next to nothing in the way of science fiction until then ... how and why the collection changed around this time is a mystery since the librarian was the same one who'd been around since I was in second grade and didn't approve of kids even being allowed in the library let alone reading the books. Glad it did though. I'll also add that Canadian TV was limited to programs produced here plus a few (mainly comedy and variety shows) from Britain ... very little from the U.S. ...and I'd only ever been in a movie theatre once in my life ... my second time wasn't until I was fifteen ... so despite my longstanding interest in space I'd had virtually no exposure to SF programs or films.
Tags: reading

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