Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Five-Book Meme

Because Sassy tagged me, and it’s never wise to ignore a lawyer...

Total Number of Books I Own
You must be joking. I’m pretty sure I own more books than any other single class of things. I have more books than clothes, for example. More books than, say, forks. Certainly more books than money; and all too often, more books than good sense. Definitely more books than I am willing to count, and that doesn’t even include the multitude of books I have lost, tossed, or given away. I’ve probably owned at least four complete sets of The Lord of the Rings alone (because the damned Two Towers has this habit of disappearing).

Last Book I Bought
Touching Earth by Rani Manicka. I like my reading material to have more than a touch of eccentricity--you will rarely find me picking up anything touted as “a sweeping generational saga of immigrants”, for example, unless at least one of said immigrants happens to be a voudon priest or some such. So this novel--which features dancing Balinese twins, a courtesan with “a switch that allows her to feel no pain”, and a sinister Sicilian who makes a deal with a blood goddess--ought to be right up my alley. (And I found this in the general fiction shelves, which probably goes to show that slipstream is happily slipping into the mainstream.)

Last Book I Read
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King. A reread--because I devour books the way other people eat rice, so I need to retrace my steps whenever I run out of fresh material. Fortunately, ol’ Steve is always good for a revisit. The last new book I read was Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable. (See my sideblog, over there to the right.) It continues to amaze me that the selection of fantasy titles in the children’s section is infinitely superior to that in the actual sci-fi/fantasy shelves. Note to the buyer of Powerbooks: there is actually more speculative fiction out there than Star Trek, Star Wars, and All Things Robert Jordan. And really, just how many versions of Tolkien do you think the buying public requires? Even if we keep losing The Two Towers.

Five Types of Books I Read
(1) excellent, (2) good, (3) passable, (4) mediocre, (5) shit on a shingle. Okay, no, I know that’s not what the question meant. Let’s see:

1. fantasy and fantasy-leaning slipstream. I also read sci-fi a lot when I was younger, but my husband has infected me with his prejudices, and I have come to share his viewpoint that the vast majority of science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Which, yay, cool concepts and all, but in my never-very-humble opinion, stories should be about people, not ideas. I know this is very revolutionary of me, but what can I say, I’m a maverick that way.

2. alternative history. Basically, this sub-sub-genre (There are probably even more “subs” than that) covers books set in a historical time period, exploring the real or imagined events in the lives of real or imagined historical personages. Much of it is fantasy, but a good deal isn’t. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose springs to mind, for instance.

3. whatever nonfiction happens to strike my fancy. I’ll occasionally spot a nice, breezy dissertation on science or history (and convince Dean to buy it--not hard, as he loves the stuff thrice as much as I do!), or I’ll specifically set out to get something I want to learn about. I’ve also been eyeing The Lonely Planet Travel Book and one of Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks for some time, but they’re astronomically priced. Considering that (a) I dislike hardbounds; (b) I am the world’s laziest cook; and (c) I hardly leave my hotel room except to go to the bookstore anyway when I do travel, it’s a little too exorbitant an expense even for my recklessly-obliging wallet.

4. folklore, fairy tales, and mythology. There’s actually quite a bit of this floating around, but sadly, much of it is prettily designed yet poorly written. The fact that a folklorist has the capacity to collect traditional stories does not automatically indicate that he/she should actually be allowed to write them down.

5. see-ree-yous litch’r’chur, although most of my choices of this nowadays pretty much fit into one of the above categories. I’m going to have to wait for Isabel Allende’s Zorro to come out in paperback. (One of the advantages of see-ree-yous litch’r’chur is that it is almost guaranteed to come out in paperback.)

6. shitlit. This includes science thrillers a la Michael Crichton, occult-ish thrillers like Katherine Neville’s The Eight (but not Dan Brown’s execrable Da Vinci Code, thank you very much), and sexy horror thingies by the likes of Laurell K. Hamilton. The derogatory classification doesn’t mean these books are bad, necessarily, just that they’re not likely (or expected) to contribute much to my intellectual edification. Books I read when I don’t feel like activating my brain, yet which will not make me reel in vomitous disgust.

Five Books that Meant a Lot to Me
1. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.
This was lying around the house when I was a kid because my brother was studying it in school. I picked it up because it looked like a fairy tale book, and was instantly engrossed, then and apparently forever. Though I couldn’t get why it was such a big deal that Artemis put the shepherd Endymion to sleep every night, and would then “visit” him while he was sleeping. So the lady wants to visit, thought I. Let her!

2. Salman Rushdie’s East, West. Rushdie is my favorite writer, but this is actually not my favorite of his books. It is, however, the one that solidified for me the notion that you can be a writer of a certain nationality, yet still write in English about whatever the hell you want and set it wherever you damn well please. He is no less Indian for his choice of language, and I love him for it.

3. Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne. My first concrete proof that fantasy can be written with intelligence and integrity. Also: the onset of my love affair with beautiful sorrow. Whenever I’m reading the latest Kay book, Dean will ask me, “So how’s it going?” “It will all end in tears,” I reply, already misty-eyed several chapters from the finale, “but I love it.”

4. Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. Hugely influential not just in terms of critical analysis of children’s literature, but even in the way I’m rearing my child. Bettelheim’s contention was that fairy tales, in all their dark, scary glory, are intended not merely to entertain but to educate; and moreover, to prepare children to face the world rather than protect them from it. Of course, the man killed himself in the end, but I still think he made a good point.

5. Ellen Datlow, Gavin Grant, and Kelly Link's The 17th Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Dude, it was my husband’s first international print publication! And as one of the best spec fic short stories in the world, at that. The ridiculous thing is that I have never read any of the other stories in this collection. Because every time I pick the thing up, I end up reading Dean’s story again, putting the book down, and sighing in proud satisfaction. Someday I hope to get over it, so maybe I will actually have read the whole thing by the time I’m, say, sixty.

And yeah, I know I was only supposed to list five types of books that I read, but believe me, keeping it down to six took all my restraint. As for who I’m tagging, as usual, if y’all wanna do it, then do it. Whatever floats your boat, y’know?
Nikki bit in at 3:41 PM :: ::
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