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Getting Through the As

Every so often, I run out of space on my bookshelves and decide to get rid of a few. It’s an occupational hazard when you buy books faster than you can get rid of them and, sometimes, faster than you can read them.

When this happens I usually decide to get rid of a few but what really happens is that since I want to read them first, just to make sure they are not worth reading, I end up reading Watership Down as well as a few others, and get rid of none of them.

This time though was going to be different as I wanted to make sure that all the books I own are catalogued in LibraryThing, and I only add books once I’ve read or re-read them. So the challenge to myself is, can I read all my books?

Well it’s taken me a year to read through the first shelf which is all As. It’s not that hard distract me with a pile of unread books and a library round the corner but I have tried to.

So what’s on my top shelf?

I got rid, several years ago now, of the majority of Piers Anthony books. I binned the dozen or so from the Xanth series which I had very much enjoyed but as he got on to his 30/40th book of the series, they were formulaic and repetitive; and the excellent puns which characterised the early books stopped being excellent or original. One of the reasons I’ve mostly stopped reading crime novels is that once you’ve read one book, any others with the same hero in are much the same and it is boring.

The only books of Anthony’s I’ve kept is the series of Incarnations of Immortality, a gloriously entertaining if somewhat ridiculous seven volume story (eight volumes as of 2007) where the incarnations (Death, Fate, War and so on) conspire to replace a navel-gazing God who is basking in received worship so much that he stops doing his job properly. There are many books in fantasy that debate gods in all shapes and forms but this is the only one I’ve discovered with this marvellous concept.

As you can see from the state of them, these were also the first books of mine that my eldest son read and it lead to us eventually agreeing that he could read my books as long as he didn’t take them out of the house as any book he touches ends up in this deplorable condition. While I’m quite happy to buy tatty battered second-hand copies of books I also insist on keeping them immaculate: no turned down corners, no broken backs, no creases and certainly no writing in them.

The majority of books on my A shelf are those of Isaac Asimov, one of the few authors who wrote books faster than I could read them. LibraryThing lists some 1800 works by him, although that includes editorial and introductory contributions only. I’ve got quite a lot of his fiction, doubled up on the shelf and half a dozen of his non-fiction books although many of these are now out of date.

When my sister left home for university she had a massive clear out of anything that didn’t represent her responsible adult status. As well as her cassette collection of teenage music recorded off the radio she left me four books which had a surprisingly profound legacy on my reading material. Two of them were Pat Reid’s chronicles of life in Colditz which prompted me to start a modern collection of tales of individual daring-deeds including stories about prisoners of war, pilots, SOE agents and other secret missions. They mostly gather dust on my shelves now but speak for a different age and a life that we hope never to revisit. These post war testimonies are unique in their view point and lack the benefit of hindsight and perspective which makes them very different from similar modern accounts.

The other two books she gave me were Isaac Asimov and this started a life long love of hard science fiction, which expanded into softer works and fantasy when I ran out of the hard stuff.

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov

He wrote prolifically, writing text books and non fiction for every age possible as well as examining many aspects of humanity in a science fiction setting. Possibly his most famous (short) story is Nightfall. Based on Ralph Emerson’s quote: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore;” he takes the opposing view that men would in fact go mad. One of my favourites is “The Last  Question”, another short story that seeks to define god as mankind in a science fictiony sort of way; we are God, as Heinlein would later say.

He was another lover of puns and bad jokes as well as being a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado with occasional references in his stories as well as the odd story centred around G&S. He wrote murder mysteries and detective novels as well as his epic Foundation series, very loosely based on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Something to suit every mood which is why I read him and re-read him voraciously from childhood into adulthood until I knew them all off by heart. I still read him occasionally.

He helped shape the way I think. I can’t think of a corner of my mind that he didn’t touch in some way.

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