6.27.2008

Book Me!

Suggestion by fritz.

I’m an avid reader… who doesn’t read that much.

That’s the fantasy as compared to the reality.

I love books… always have. I just don’t actually sit down and do a lot of reading. Maybe the more accurate term for me would be “book lover”… because the words don’t actually imply the act of reading.

Yeah, I like that. That’s what I’ll go with:

I’m a book lover.

You know that silly crap they spew about books being “doorways to another world” and other magical metaphoric terms? Yeah… I buy into that 100%. To me, that’s not crap.

It is one of my long-term dreams to have a library in my house… and not just a small room to keep my books on a couple of makeshift shelves. I’m talking a full-on, two-story LIBRARY… with high shelves in which you need to climb a rolling ladder that’s permanently attached… with a balcony section with even more shelves up there, all filled to the brim with books.

And hardcover… lots of hardcover books. Sure, there’s no difference in content between the hardcover versions and paperback copies… but having a hardcover version just seems… I don’t know… more permanent… longer-lasting than a softcover. If I find a book series I really like… I’ll try to find it in hardcover. That’s what I did with Lord of the Rings… I wanted a really nice, classy, hardcover set that didn’t have pictures or references to the movies on them (even though I love the movies, I always find it cheesy to have “now a major motion picture” permanently printed on it). I even got the hardcover, complete collection of Calvin & Hobbes… even though it probably would have been cheaper to get the few remaining paperback collections I was missing. Hardcover is just… better. That’s why I like it when I find the inexpensive copies of old stories… like a collection of H.G. Wells stories, Thoreau’s Walden, or short-story collections. I even have nice little hardcover versions of the 2 original Winnie-the-Pooh books. Opening a solid cover, as opposed to a paper one, really feels more like “opening a door to another world” (I told you I buy into that 100%).

Too bad I acquire more books than I actually get around to reading…

The earliest book I remember reading and loving was The Little Bear books. There were only three of them (that I remember)… and one of them had him flying to the moon, another had him having a birthday party with his other little animal friends (because… well, he was a bear. A little one.), but I don’t recall the plot of the third one. I remember about 7 years ago, I was walking through a bookstore (as I was often want to do) and saw The Collected Little Bear… which was ALL three of those original books, bound together, and it was even hardcover. It had the one where he went to the moon… the one with his birthday party… and I still can’t recall the third one. *shrug* Needless to say, I made the impulse buy right then and there… because that’s one of those books that I wanted to definitely have for MY kids one day (when and if I should have them). Now I do (somewhere… I just have to remember where I stored it).

I remember doing a lot of reading in Middle School… probably because I wasn’t doing too much else, social-wise. That was the time I discovered John Bellairs… who I would probably consider to be one of my all-time favorite authors, solely because I enjoyed his books so much at that age. He wrote in the “Junior Readers” category… so you’d most likely find his books in the kids section… but they were SPOOKY. I’m talking these things had atmosphere to spare… creepy old houses, cobwebs, dark corridors, secret passages, old dormant mysteries, scary figures lurking about… if those books were written and reviewed today, I don’t think they’d have been put in the kid’s section… (but only because people are too damned sensitive these days.) The first book of his I ever picked up was A Figure in the Shadows, which was actually the second book in a trilogy that featured the same characters. I used it for a book report… and I thought it was absolutely fantastic! I went and found the other books… The House With a Clock in Its Walls, and The Letter, The Witch and the Ring… and enjoyed them just as much. Then I collected the Anthony Monday mysteries, and the Johnny Dixon mysteries… all characters of John Bellairs, and all had that same style of atmosphere. Even after I reached adulthood (an arguable statement, I know), I went back and re-read a couple of them… and they’re STILL really good. I say… F the “kid horror” writers like R.L. Stine and his ilk… they’re gross-out hacks that churn out bad plots for a quick buck… doesn’t impress me. You want to hit me with a good spooky story? Look to Bellairs… who rarely had blood… no gross-out scenes… just solid mystery and tension with well-written characters… in a kid’s book.

Plus… the guy’s from New England. Yep… he’s a local boy. Or was… he died in 1991. I was sorry to hear his passing… as I credit him with getting me into the Gothic Mystery genre… and even horror in general.

Come to think of it, he was probably the only “horror” writer I liked… I couldn’t find any others I considered memorable. The only other horror books I liked were short story collections like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (and its sequels More… and Even More…) and The Thing at the Foot of the Bed and other stories. Something about the “extreme” scary stories (that add in more gross-out and visceral ideas) that makes it fit into the short story form so much better in my eyes. They’re short, sweet… quick and to the point, not wasting any time… like getting to the punchline in a joke. Probably because I love the idea of “telling scary stories around a campfire”… and if you try to tell a Stephen-King-length novel in that situation… you’d get a Boy-Scout-style-Lynching. (Which I think involves being tied up with very complex knots and whittling) Edgar Allen Poe wrote mostly short stories… and pioneered the whole horror genre that way. Even the Bellairs books… are very quick reads, all things considered. Sure, there’s always the examples like Dracula (which I did my Senior Year Book Report on in High School… and covered the title page in fake blood) and Frankenstein…(who have both earned their pedigrees for a reason) and plenty of others. But I would consider those “exceptions”… because I think it takes considerable skill to write a horror story that big and still remain interesting. (And no… I’m personally not that crazy about Stephen King… his best works are short stories and novellas.) At best… most horror novels, especially the ones of today… elicit a “that wasn’t too bad” from me. But again, there are always exceptions.

So, in my youth, with the quality of literary horror lacking (movies were a much different story… and my standards were lower for those), I had to move to other genres. Back then, I did a lot of literal “judging a book by its cover”. Look at the cover illustration, read the blurb on the back... am I still interested? If I was… I checked it out of the school library. I remember finding one book that way… but I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me. It was about a kid inventor… who got his hands on a time machine and went looking for his adult friend who looked like a cartoon version of Ted Nugent. He went back to Camelot and cured the king with aspirin and even traveled to a future utopia/dystopia where he finally found his hippie friend. I think it had a long title… like “The adventures of (so-and-so) and his amazing (thing-a-ma-bobber)” But that’s all I remember. I want to re-locate it… pretty much solely out of nostalgic curiosity.

Another book I’ve been keeping an eye out for is a telling of the Hercules tale from Greek Mythology… this particular one had a head-on picture of Hercules on the cover, while wearing the pelt of the Nemean Lion… the full head of the lion being the headpiece of his armor. Seriously… it looked really badass. And the version was well-told and kept my interest (well… to the 12-year-old Me)… and went all the way from his birth to his death. Me want. Still.

Anyhoo…

When I hit high school… I still kept my technique of finding books to read… and now I was doing it in a bigger library. I then found the book that probably kick started my love of the “pulp adventure” genre (in the books, that is… of course I loved Indiana Jones and all those kinds of high-adventure movies set in the 1930s)… it was a more modern book written in that style… a series called Agent 13: The Midnight Avenger. Book 1 was The Brotherhood of Evil… it looked neat, it looked scary, it looked exciting, it looked like I was checking it out of the library. I read it. I loved it. It was just a fun, exciting read with international espionage, action and lots and lots of teenage-geek-style coolness. After that, I immediately checked out and read the sequel… The Serpentine Assassin. Again… it was great! Just as good as the first! I then went to get the third book, The Acolytes of Darkness… and they didn’t have it. I tried looking elsewhere… to some bookstores… but they didn’t have them either. In fact, all the bookstores didn’t even have the first two books… that school library was the ONLY place that I could find, in which those two Agent 13 books actually existed in reality. (It was kind of a frustrating search) Even after I got out of High School… I searched in vain for these books… especially because now I couldn’t check them out of the school library anymore, and I wanted to own them for myself. Nope… they were no where to be found.

Fast-forward to years later… when I first head out to California for Grad School… it’s actually the week I flew out there in advance to find a place to live and scope out this school I was about to attend, but had never seen before. There was this big 2-story used bookstore right on the edge of the downtown area… definitely the biggest and most well-stocked used bookstore I’ve ever seen (before or since), and right across from a really nice little old-style movie theater. The very first time I stepped in there to check it out, I look straight ahead where they had a huge rack of sci-fi/adventure paperback books… and I hadn’t been in that store for more than 5 seconds when my eyes drifted downward slightly… and I saw a copy of Agent 13: The Midnight Avenger – The Brotherhood of Evil. Out of sheer instinct I grabbed it, before ANYONE else could! (Even though there was no one else in the store) I opened the front flap to see how much they were asking for it: 2 dollars.

I walked out of there owning that book, needless to say. After years of search, I had the first book in my possession. I eventually even acquired the second book… through an online seller. Had to pay a little more, plus shipping… but it was still less than 10 bucks, and it was in good condition as well. And imagine my glee when I FINALLY located a copy of Acolytes of Darkness! It was printed along with another spy-thriller called Web of Danger (which I still haven’t read)… I now had all three! I re-read the first one… it was still fun! Re-read the second one… it was still great! I then, for the first time, got to read the conclusion to the whole story & series… and it blew.

Wow… probably one of the biggest disappointments I ever read. They took away the cool gritty exciting espionage action… and replaced it with lamely thought-out supernatural half-assed sequences that made no sense in the context of the previous stories. *shrug* Oh well… I still have the first two… and I just look at the ending of the second to be a cool cliffhanger that will never be resolved… which is all the more exciting for it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

As you can probably see… my “leisure-time-reading” was solely about my own personal entertainment, not so much about expanding my own mind with the “classics” and examples of great, intelligent literature. The closest I came was reading Dracula for that book report… and that’s one I really WANTED to read, and just wanted an excuse to do so.

Whenever I did hit the “classics”… well, it was for a class. Frankly, when you HAVE to read something… you don’t really want to. They weren’t all bad… Freshman year I got to read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World… which I liked, because how often did I get to read science fiction in school? And I remember Camus’ The Stranger being pretty interesting (Senior Year)… but most of the others, not so much. Junior year especially… the year you focus on “American Literature” solely… I actually HATED every single book we had to read. Though, I actually blame my teacher for that. He just made everything seem so mind-numbingly boring. He was this pretentious a-hole that thought everyone was stupid (and if he didn’t think that… he sure acted like it), and was overly-tough on his classes. (Now, I have no problem with tough teachers… I’ve had plenty… but they were fair… and interesting, which is why I did well in those classes. This guy was ONLY tough… and neither fair nor interesting) The first book he made me utterly hate was The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

That’s a book I will NEVER give another shot to, I hated it so much. When I discovered that Hawthorne actually died in the town I went to college, it actually made me happy. Whenever I walked by his memorial plaque in the park, I gave it the finger. Granted, the hatred was more of a result of this teacher’s work then Hawthorne’s. When explaining why he took five pages to describe what a garden looked like that was sitting outside of someone’s house, the teacher would talk about how brilliant Hawthorne was, and how poetic his prose was, and how it paints such a detailed picture, blah blah blah. (When in actuality, the reason for the overly-long descriptions? Authors back then were paid by the word. The longer the book, the more money you made, and they all had house payments to make.)

The other books I was made to hate? The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huck Finn and The Catcher in the Rye. Now… years after I got out of high school… I decided to give The Catcher in the Rye another chance… mainly because I started hearing that it was tied into so many conspiracy theories. (Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald both supposedly had it in their pockets during their respective killings… so did Mark David Chapman, John Hinkley Jr., etc) Whether it was true or not, I don’t know… but it intrigued me enough to try and see what the fuss was about. I still don’t know the fuss… but I did enjoy the book a LOT more when reading it on my own time… and I don’t think it had to do with my maturity level now as opposed to then. To try and describe the book to someone… it wouldn’t sound interesting. But actually reading it… I thought it was well-done, and it actually kept my interest.

I’ve started Huck Finn a couple of times… but always got distracted with life before I got too far, and ended up putting it down for so long, that I would have to start over. Maybe I’ll have to give The Great Gatsby another try sometime. Maybe I’d like it. Just *that* teacher made it unbearable.

Fortunately, I had other teachers that were better at it. Hell, it was my Graduate Advisor that insisted I get into the Harry Potter series. I resisted for awhile… mainly because it was “popular”… but when I finally did, I was completely hooked. Sure, Potter lives… but Longbottom kicks ass! Boo-ya!

(I could probably do a whole geek blog on Harry Potter alone.)

These days… I still try to read every now and then... and my tastes have opened up more. I actually find pleasure in reading non-fiction books these days (the subjects I’m interested in, obviously)… and I’ve been trying to get to books and series that are modern “classics”, but I just never got around to reading before. I started reading the original James Bond books by Ian Fleming… I’m on the third one, Moonraker (though I haven’t picked it up in a while). And I was very happy to see that they were re-publishing some of the old The Shadow pulp stories that came out in the 1930s (Since really discovering him in the early 90s, he’s become one of my absolute favorite characters of all time), so I’ve been collecting some of them when I can. Plus, as I am a proud geek, they still occasionally publish new Doctor Who books (featuring the older versions of the character… taking place in between the episodes of the old series) that I occasionally indulge in.

Maybe its just pure escapism… I’m okay with it. I just love the feeling of buying a new book… and I frequent book stores as often as I can. With the bigger stores, I tend to browse around the Bargain section a lot… if there’s a specific book I want… I’ll usually order it cheaper online. But I like digging through and taking chances on books in the hopes that I’ll find a really neat treasure somewhere in there… a great story, or an interesting subject… or maybe just an outdated horoscope (if it looks funny enough).

Because I think there are perfectly acceptable times to judge a book by its cover.

Literally, that is.

6 comments:

fritz said...

I love books, and I love to read. My entire family read lots of books during my formative years. I was an early reader, sticking to age-appropriate books until around age 10, when I started reading the books I saw my dad and older brother reading. Dad had lots of books, but mostly sci-fi/fantasy, and mostly paperbacks.

Portability is high on my book requirements list, so I'm not crazy about hardcovers, unless they're clearanced cheaper than the paperbacks (which are obscenely expensive nowadays); although I can understand the attraction for you, I don't share it.

The first adult books I read were fantasy ones by Terry Brooks. Then I read more fantasy & sci-fi by Anne McCaffrey. Then I read a whole lot of just sci-fi, mostly by Robert A. Heinlein (written in the 50s-60s about the distant future of the 80s-2000s--it was pretty interesting to see what hopes they'd had for my present). Somehow, I never got into Azamov. I stuck exclusively with sci-fi/fantasy for a couple years until my cousin introduced me to romance novels when I was 13 (Johanna Lindsey made me laugh out loud).

My freshman year of high school, I set myself an arbitrary goal to read 100 books by the end of the school year. I fudged a little at the end, reading Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom (Mars) series (lots of little books), but I made it, IIRC.

My brief foray into horror consisted of It and Pet Cemetery. I'm just not a fan of the genre in any medium. I take that back. Edgar Allen Poe's work is pretty cool. And I've recently read some books that contain lots of vampires/werewolves as prominent characters, but they aren't horror novels.

In college I didn't do much reading for pleasure, b/c I was an English major, which meant I had to do a lot of reading for classes, and there are only so many hours in a day.

I've taken other breaks from reading, for various lengths of time...well, from reading books. I always read the news and comics online, or bits of magazines. Lately I've gotten back into books with a vengeance. (Weird way to put it, but these days I'm flying through about 5 books a week.)

Throughout all of this, mostly b/c of my father's influence, I bought books. Hadn't been to a public library since high school. However, gradually I changed from buying full price to visiting second hand stores and used book sales. And I stopped reading much fantasy or sci-fi. I finally got over my need to own a copy of the book, so now I'm going to the library and expanding my horizons for free.

These days I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries. I just read a fantasy novel for the first time in ages, and it was really good, so now I have to conquer the rest of the series.

I inherited a box of old paperbooks from my father (didn't have the space to take them all). While the LOTR movies were in full swing, DH read the dog-chewed copies from that box (which even I hadn't gotten around to reading yet), and it was a wonderful way for me to feel a connection between DH and my father. More recently, DH wanted to read some fiction (which happens about once or twice a decade), so I gave him some books that my father and I had read, which DH enjoyed a great deal. Again, for me it was a wonderful sense of connectivity, sharing an enjoyment of these books that my father had purchased.

So, yeah, reading is very important to me for lots of reasons, but the biggest thing it's done for me is allow me to gain experience vicariously that otherwise I'd never have. And yes, I've patterned some of my behavior and responses to situations on what various heroes have done in the books I've read. But when you're a teenaged bookworm with zero social life, it's better than sitting in front of the TV...or it was for me!

fritz said...

RE: The Classics

I've gone through most of my life with the feeling that I should read them. I've read a couple in my spare time, and more than a few for various classes from high school through college. Mom and Dad had a bunch of them (sets from Reader's Digest or something), but I mostly ignored those b/c they were hardcover with no cover art and no summary blurbs. Tough to judge a book by its cover when it's plain faux leather with small gold letters. Yes, I judge books by their covers all the time. There are too many of them not to use visual impressions to help narrow the field.

I remember when I was around 11, checking _Moby Dick_ out from the library. Didn't make it past the first page or two. But I know the line, "Call me Ishmael." I know about the plot, I get cultural references to it, and I was _this close_ to watching the TV movie starring Patrick Stewart, but bottom line is seafaring adventures, no matter how classic, just don't do it for me.

I did read _A Scarlet Letter_, in high school, I believe. And although I didn't love it (writing styles have changed quite a bit over the years, and I had just been reading some Piers Anthony fantasy novels--his style is telegraphic--sentence fragments everywhere), I didn't hate it. I don't think I've read anything else by Hawthorne, though....

I greatly enjoyed _The Three Musketeers_, and liked _The Count of Monte Cristo_, (both by Alexandre Dumas), simply because they were rousing adventures. And I'm really glad I read the musketeers b/c it helped explain why there are so many movie adaptations, and none of them seem to tell exactly the same story. (Big book, lots of plot lines.)

However, my all-time favorite "classic" (dead white male--and yes, I know Dumas wasn't all white) author is William Shakespeare. I haven't read all his works (though I saved my college compilation), or seen all of his plays performed, but I've enjoyed everything I have read/seen. (If you haven't seen Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins, check it out.)

Oh, and the Harry Potter thing. We were living in LA, and DH was hearing daily rants from his coworker about the evils of these books promoting witchcraft/devil worship--but the coworker hadn't actually read them. Nobody who was critiquing them had actually read the books (or so it seemed). So from curiosity, to see what the BFD was, we bought the first one, took turns reading it, and totally didn't get the hype/hysteria. It was fine. It didn't suck. It certainly didn't promote anything sinister at all, but for us, with our vast number of fantasy/magic books under our proverbial belt, it was a bit of a letdown simply b/c it wasn't earthshatteringly spectacular. We've enjoyed the movies, but haven't bothered to pick up the rest of the books yet.

I'll probably chime in later with more book related ramblings....

Anonymous said...

I am a book lover too...and a book snob. I try to always buy hardback when I can (Amazon is great for that) b/c hardback books really do last longer. Some of my paperbacks are falling apart after a couple readings and a few moves, but the hardbacks are still going strong. So, I think they are worth the money.

I also have a stack of books that I still need to read, and by stack I mean 12 stacks. But does that stop me from browsing on Amazon or entering every bookstore I pass by? NO! haha

I too, despise The Scarlett Letter. I had to read it Sophomore year, and I was miserable. It's so depressing. I picture things in my head as I read them, and the whole time I was reading it, it was like I "saw" everything in a dark, cloudy gray...does that make sense?

One of these days I am going to buy the entire set of Harry Potter books and finally read them.

Anyway, that's my two cents.
Take care!

Hayley

Agent Cake said...

Seems some of the books you hated, I loved. Those classics anyway. My favorite The Great Gatsby, did a term paper on it. Just love F. Scott Fitzgerald that much. His life paralleled his books.
Another favorite, Catcher in the Rye, did a term paper on Lennon because of that book. I think many people can relate to Holden Caufield.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.....books. I have hundreds, (more if you count the comics!) Most i've read, some i just haven't gotten around to yet but i'm gonna get there.(as soon as i stop spending HOURS in Barnes n' Nobles (i know cheesy but give me caffeine and a place to read for hours and i'm happy as a penguin in the center of the penguin cluster)

I just picked up a new book yesterday, though i'm in the middle of re-reading a trilogy because the 4th book come out in aug. and i want to be ready! But it sounds really really cool (the new book not the 4 of 4 book) Its called soon i will be invincible, its all superheros and how they are still normal people underneath all the super strength or lazer beam eyes but they have to pay rent, navigate relationships, and still save the world it sounds really really cool.

We'll see......

fritz said...

Back to the hardcover/paperback thing--I never re-read my books. Once is enough (even when it's a fabulous read, I just don't like reading the same book twice.). My father, though, re-read the LOTR series once a year.

Now, with movies, I'll watch a great one (great as in I find it enjoyable, not great as in "classic") 2-3 times. For the exceptional movie, I'll watch it up to a dozen times. (I'm not counting the movies my son watches, but I'd easily be pushing 50 viewings on some of those...but I don't really watch them...they're just background images and sounds to me.)

Just had to come back to make another comment b/c I said I would earlier....

Happy 4th of July! Blog about fireworks--which are your favorites? (Or do you hate them all?) I like the fountains (sparks only) the best, and anything with blue or purple gets my vote.