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December 11, 2005

15 Things About Me and Books

One of the few blog memes I'm actually interested in participating in. I'm snagging this from Mrissa.

1. I don't remember not being able to read. Or more accurately, one of the very first memories I am sure about was reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I was about two at the time.

2. Possibly the most influential book in my life was The People's Almanac, which I encountered when I was six at my grandmother's house. It seemed that everything in the world it was possible to know was contained in that book. So naturally I was astounded a few years later when The People's Almanac #2 showed up.

3. When I was in kindergarten my teachers had me tutor third graders on reading. As you may expect the third graders weren't pleased about that.

4. My love affair with astonomy started in kindergarten as well; I can still see the book on astronomy with pictures of stars of all different hues, and their temperatures listed beneath.

5. My mother used to scrounge old Time-Life science books and science textbooks for me from thrift stores. That was the coolest thing ever.

6. The first science fiction novel I'm entirely sure of reading was Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein. The first fantasy novel I'm entirely sure of reading is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I'm pretty sure I also read A Wrinkle in Time around the same time, but I'm not sure whether it came before or after those other two books.

7. Because I both grew up poor and was in awe of books, to this day I read my paperbacks in such a way that I don't crack the spine. If you were to come over to my house, it would appear that all the paperbacks have never been open. They have, trust me.

8. In high school, I burned one of my math textbooks at the end of the year and immediately regretted having done so, to the point of actual shame. I still have the remains of the book to remind me that was essentially a betrayal of my beliefs.

9. It's only in the last few years that I've regularly bought hardcover books.

10. You would think that one of the cool things about being a writer is I can go into a bookstore and see my own books there, and you'd be right. But what's even cooler is going into a bookstore and seeing my friends' books there. It's like being able to visit them wherever they are.

11. There are some books in which I enjoy the writing so much, I can't bring myself to finish the book, because that would mean there is no more of the writing to read.

12. I am delighted that Athena both thinks that going to the bookstore is a treat, and that not being able to buy the entire bookstore is a tragedy.

13. As much as I love books, I am not a serious collector. I don't particularly care about first editions and the like. The value of books is what's inside them.

14. With the exception of Twain, I don't like reading novels written before the 1920s. The writing style is so different that it's distracting.

15. I'm not an audio book person. I understand why there is a market for them, and I don't think ill of people who listen to them -- that's just silly. And I wouldn't mind if one of my novels were made into an audio book. But, really, they're not for me. I read with my eyes, not my ears. That said, the people at Escape Pod are going to be doing an audio version of one of my short stories at some point in the near future, and I'm very interested to hear what that will sound like.

I'm going to do a riff off this meme soon.

Posted by john at December 11, 2005 02:19 PM

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David Blumgart | December 11, 2005 03:36 PM

(2) As I'd guess you've expanded your non-fiction reading since you were six, the fact that the People's Almanac is full of errors, urban legends, and misinformation is probably not too important now. But the PAs are pretty unreliable.

(14) I understand your point, but not even Jane Austen? Really? I'm surprised.

(15) After watching my children fall asleep as I read to them, I now cure my insomnia by listening to audio books. So I early await the release of your titles in audio [grin - sorry, I lack the character to resist taking the shot.] Seriously, for that purpose choosing the right books are essential (e.g. The Silence of the Lambs = bad choice. No, really. Lord of the Rings = good choice, except for the damn songs.)

John Scalzi | December 11, 2005 04:26 PM

Yeah, since it's been 30 years since the People's Almanac, I'm not too terribly concerned about its quality control. What it engendered in me -- an interest in a whole bunch of things simultaneously -- was more important in any event.

DebC | December 11, 2005 05:38 PM

HA! I am much the same about paperback books for much the same reason. I have a friend who is driven crazy by this and is moved to comment on it frequently. My books are way better looking than hers, though.

lazybratsche | December 11, 2005 06:13 PM

To me, audiobooks have one purpose, and one purpose alone: they're something to listen to on very long car trips when I'm by myself for the whole 8+ hour ordeal.

claire | December 11, 2005 11:37 PM

what were the meme questions? they're not apparent to me from the answers. but maybe i'm just tired.

John Scalzi | December 11, 2005 11:39 PM

No set meme questions as far as I can tell -- just fifteen things about you and books.

Tony | December 12, 2005 06:54 AM

John, I'm right there with you on not cracking the spines on my paperbacks, got my love of and respect of books and reading from my mother.

FrankH | December 12, 2005 08:40 AM

(15) It's because you don't have a long commute, I suspect. Audiobooks are a way for me to read during my 45 minute drive to and from work everyday. (Safely!) But I also prefer tactile reading too. Although I just finished reading "Agent" on my PDA and had a great time doing so.

La Gringa | December 12, 2005 09:14 AM

I love this meme!

Duane Swierczynski | December 12, 2005 10:37 AM

I'm the exact same way with my paperbacks -- I also grew up in a house were books were at a premium, so I took very good care of them. My wife still makes fun of me for not cracking spines. Thank God I'm not the only one...

Ann Vallier | December 12, 2005 12:16 PM

1- The first books I really remember loving were some my Grandmother got from the Sunday Chicago Tribune (or something like that). They got lost somewhere in one of our moves, but I keep trying to find them. I did find one about the 5 Chinese Brothers, but still look in vain for the story of Frog and Mouse and their restaurant.

3 - I remember getting so excited about learning to read in 1st grade and taking Dick and Jane home with me to read it -- I ended throwing the book across the room in frustration at it's simplemindedness and remaining irrationally upset at all the kids who couldn't breeze through it during reading.

7 - Growing up poor, I have come to rely on public libraries for my reading material. I still do, since, as a voracious reader, I couldn't possbily fit all the books I want in my house. As it is, I have already broken one bookcase by overburdening it and am happily working on the second.

9 - When Science Fiction Book Club came to my attention 15 years ago is when I started buying hardcovers, mostly because that is how they came from them. I have continued to buy hardcovers because, since I reread often, I have now noticed how well they stand up to my "abuse". I have repurchased many softcovers because I have, literally, read them to pieces.

11 - I have never not finished a book because it was so good, but I'm sure I have cried because there was no more. So then I just read it again.

12 - I can totally agree with Athena about bookstores. I have always felt that way.

13 - I totally agreee with you on this one.

15 - Audio books are a great way to cheat the system and "read" a book while working without the danger of getting caught "reading". Plus I can get in many more books this way. And I have finally found a way to get my husband to "read" a book (and now he's hooked on them, too).

Chris Duncan | December 12, 2005 12:48 PM

I thought it was great what you pointed out in number seven about caring for your paperback books. I wonder how many of us actually do that? The only way you can tell that most of my paperbacks are read is by looking at the edges of the pages. When the book is closed, you can see how the pages are darker than a new book would be. I can even kind of tell where I left off reading. The edges of the pages that I've read are darker than the ones that aren't. I think it's oil from my left thumb that causes this.

Also, I hate lending out a paperback because whoever borrows it usually folds it all the way back and the spine comes back all broken and folded at an angle.

Raphael | December 12, 2005 04:10 PM

(7) Would you (or one of the commenters who agreed) mind explaining that trick to me? Because I guess I would always have done it that way if anyone had ever explained to me how to do it.

PaintedJaguar | December 12, 2005 09:52 PM

Well, Raphael, unless I'm mistaken there's no special "trick" to it. You just take care never to hold the book all the way open, so as not to put a break in the glue that holds the pages together at the spine (we're mostly talking paperbacks, remember). This does involve reading pages at a somewhat oblique angle, rather than flat on, but one is used to that. Then too, if the printing goes close to the back of the page, a little interpolation may be required. Thick books are generally harder to keep unbroken and flat-covered than the thin ones, especially if you only use one hand (leaving the other free for snacking). If you are skilled you can turn the pages one-handed as well.

It goes without saying, doesn't it, that you musn't commit atrocities such as bending back the covers or dog-earing pages. Or putting an open book face down, except very, very carefully. Oh, and if you can do without bookmarks, that's probably for the best. Cheers!

(I thought I was the only one too, guys!)

edosan | December 13, 2005 10:47 AM

Anyone who breaks ANY book spine or uses dog-ears is a drooling shite and a murderer, but what's the deal on no bookmarks?

Sounds like a Mensa thing to me....;)

Dong Nyugen | December 13, 2005 06:17 PM

Viz 7. I grew up the same way and my wife doesn't
understand. I have an almost perfect copy of
"2001" from 1968 that I read several times without
damaging the spine. Holding a paperback that way
not only builds strong hands but character as

Viz 14. I see your point but try "The Count of
Monte Cristo" by Dumas. Best revenge story ever.
The point where he finishes rewarding the people
who stayed by his memory and switched to punishing
his enemies who had his imprisonment arranged is
absolutely chilling.

Elizabeth | December 13, 2005 06:26 PM

13. As much as I love books, I am not a serious collector. I don't particularly care about first editions and the like. The value of books is what's inside them.

I was saying this very thing to a friend (who sells vintage books, BTW) just the other day. The books I treasure are the ones whose words move and inspire me.

PaintedJaguar | December 14, 2005 05:53 AM

I'd heartily endorse "The Count of
Monte Cristo" as a great read, with the proviso that you really need to find an unabridged translation (it's a long book). That is hopefully easier to do now than it was pre-Internet. The book is structured like an interlocking puzzle -- seemingly unrelated pieces of story lock into each other as the plot moves along. I've read a couple different abridged versions and it just isn't the same experience at all.

Ann Vallier | December 14, 2005 09:13 AM

Re: The Count of Monte Cristo -- That's another reason audio books are great for me. I also have trouble with the language usage in the older classics while reading them but do just fine listening to someone speak that way.