Sunday, May 11, 2014


John Wright contributed to a column of SF writers who told which books they re-read to pieces. He began his with "The primary purpose of nonfiction books is either to give us facts, give us insights based on facts, or to persuade or urge us into some course of action based on that insight. But the primary purpose of fiction is to slake the thirst we have for the magical waters which flow from worlds beyond the dry and bitter world of facts, to drink, to bathe, to be cleansed, to be refreshed, and to emerge shining from the baptism of the imagination to return to the dry wasteland of the factual world washed and prepared for battle."

This obviously oversimplifies: One book I have re-read repeatedly is Ryan’s The Longest Day, which is as factual as he could make it, and yet tells as grand a story of courage and honor as any fantasy. But the point is taken.

I looked at the list of books the authors read, and their descriptions of either why or how they were so central, and wondered about my own list and what it says about me.

I wrote out a list, and noticed a few oddities. Some books or short stories I esteem I haven’t actually re-read much. For example, "A Martian Odyssey" by Weinbaum has some of the clearest descriptions of truly alien intelligence I know of, and I recommend it frequently. I’ve read it twice. Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer series I’ve only read twice, but that’s partly because I had some impressionable youngsters running about and so didn’t acquire a copy of my own.

Some books I read very many times (RM), and others merely many (M). The list is incomplete—it doesn’t include some light reading that slips my mind completely at the moment.

Let it be noted that I am typically careful with books, and the “to pieces” aspect may usually be attributed to our offspring.

Biblesui generis: RM
C.S. LewisNarnia (esp Magician’s Nephew and Last Battle), Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, Great Divorce, Screwtape LettersRM
C.S. LewisOut of The Silent Planet, Mere Christianity, Pilgrim’s RegressM
ChestertonMan Who Was Thursday, Orthodoxy, Heretics, Father BrownRM
TolkienLord of the RingsRM
TolkienHobbit, Farmer Giles, Leaf by Niggle, first part of SilmarillionM
Charles WilliamsnovelsRM
Charles WilliamsplaysM
SimakTime is the Simplest Thing, Way Station, CityRM
Kuttnermany short storiesRM
Bradburymany short storiesRM
CarrollAlice, Through Looking GlassRM
HaggardShe, Ayesha, King Solomon’s Mines, Allan QuartermainRM
ZelaznyLord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Today We Choose FacesRM
BeagleLast UnicornRM
StevensonTreasure IslandM
MacDonaldPhantastes, LilithM
PratchettThief of TimeRM
Pratchetta few other Diskworld, Good OmensM
GrahameWind in the WillowsM
MillerCanticle for LeibowitzRM
BiddlecombeFrench Lessons in AfricaM
deCampIncompleate EnchanterM
LaumerRetief’s Ransom, Dinosaur BeachRM
ChandlerLong GoodbyeRM
vanGulikearly mysteriesRM
vanGuliklater mysteriesM
L’EngleWrinkle in TimeRM
T.S. EliotThe Cocktail PartyRM
RyanLongest DayRM
BunyanPilgrim’s ProgressM
Twainvarious, more often the short stories than the novels M
Nyevarious short storiesM
KellyPogo booksRM
FrankFarley collectionsRM
Aaron WilliamsNodwick collectionsRM

The latter few aren’t exactly great literature, but I don’t always read great literature . . .

Some of these are obviously for the humor: Twain, Pratchett, Kelly, Nye, Biddlecombe

It looks like I have a taste for “worlds within worlds” or “unknown worlds” fiction, and for twists. With some other things thrown in, of course: still quite a few of these are origin or end-of-the-world stories (Today We Choose Faces is a little of both). That seems to show up in my own fiction as well (the bulk of which has not yet been inflicted on a suffering world).

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