Tuesday, October 8, 2019

I like books

Beginning in February, 2007 I began to keep track of the books I was reading.  It has now been 12 years since I began to keep track, and in that time I have read 766 books, for an average of just over 63 books per year, or about one every six days or so.  When I run out of books to read, I slide into depression, which only gets worse until I go to the bookstore and buy more. 

My method for buying (or borrowing library) books is simple:  I go up and down the aisles and look at the books as they go by.  When I find one that seems to “call” to me, I pick it up and look at it.  The “calling” may be because I recognize the author, or because of the cover, or because of the title, or because of the subject, or for none of these reasons.  Sometimes the book that “calls” to me seems to just stick out from the others.  I then read the blurb on the back cover (or the inside, if it is a hardcover book).  If the blurb has too many made-up words, I reject it immediately.  If not, I will probably keep it.  I skip over authors I have read before and didn’t care for.  I look for new books by authors I liked.  I will pick out 6 or 8 books to take home.  I have a need to always have some in reserve.  When I get to the last one, I begin to worry about running out of things to read.

I prefer female authors to male authors, as a rule, because female authors tend to write more about the people in the story, while male authors tend to write more about the events of the story, and I usually find the people more interesting. 

I read all kinds of books.  I used to concentrate on Science Fiction, because that was where I would find the mythology was that was driving the authors to imagine “out of this world” events.  But then Science Fiction morphed to include Fantasy, and I liked them for the same reason, only Fantasy was no longer mostly concerned with outer space, but also incorporated inner space. 

I read non-fiction books mostly about science topics, and especially alternate ideas about physics – a subject I studied intensely in college, where I came away with the distinct feeling that my professors knew a lot less than they thought they did.  I keep thinking there should be an underlying philosophy of the world around us that explains why it operates the way it does, but mostly I learned just the rules whereby it operates, without any further explanation of why it should be that way.  At the most basic level of the sciences I studied, I found that no one could actually explain what these things were.  No one knows what an electron actually IS, for example.  All I got were rules about how it functioned.  No one knew what gravity actually IS, but only the “laws” by which it operated.  I could compute how things would work, so I could solve engineering problems, but I still didn’t know what was actually HAPPENING at a fundamental level.  So I keep searching.

I have always been interested in things that no one could explain, so those kinds of books seemed to “stand out” as I passed them in the library, or the bookstore.  I used to call them “weird books”, and they fascinated me, because no one knew how to explain the things reported in these books – aluminum artifacts from before aluminum was known, for example, or silver bowls found in a bed of coal.  It all seemed to indicate that our view of history was woefully incomplete, and that modern science wasn’t the first to discover all the things it claimed to discover.

At college we had a saying:  “Often in error, but never in doubt”, which was first applied to students and faculty at other centers of higher learning – MIT, for example – but which I later applied to many of my own professors, with, as it turned out, very good reason.

I read historical fiction in preference to non-fiction history because the fictional stories can spend more time providing a “feel” for the time period in which it is set while still providing historically correct dates for important events.  I maintain that “non-fiction” history is still fictional anyway by reason of the author’s choice of what to leave out of the narrative, and the writing style is far less interesting.  I always wonder what the author is leaving out.  I keep thinking of the saying that “history is written by the winners” and I wonder how the book would be different if I could compare it to one written by those who were left out of the narrative.  But nothing is complete – even living through the events of the time is not a complete experience of those events – so the history books can be a source for events, names, and dates, but I like historical fiction for a fuller “experience” of the time and place. 

I do have some favorite authors:
Ilona Andrews, for the “Magic …” series.  Magic Bites; Magic Burns; etc. and the “Edge” series:  “On the Edge”; “Steel’s Edge”; “Fate’s Edge”, etc. 
Katherine Arden, for the Russian books in a fairy tale style:  “The Bear and the Nightingale”, and “The Girl in the Tower”, and the third installment that isn’t out yet, which I am looking forward to.
Pip & Tee Morris Ballantine, for the hilariously funny stories:  “Phoenix Rising”, “The Janus Affair”, “Dawn’s Early Light”, and “The Diamond Affair”.
Steve Bein, for the trilogy of Japanese sword novels, “Daughter of the Sword”, “Year of the Demon”, and “Disciple of the Wind”.  These are stories of lethal confrontation, but really well done.
Anne Bishop, for her series that begins with “Written in Red”, “Murder of Crows”, “Vision in Silver”, Marked in Flesh”, and “Etched in Bone”; but not her books in other series, which I didn’t much care for.
Patricia Briggs, for all of her books.  I have read 19 of them.
Susan Cain, for her non-fiction book “Quiet” on the value of introverts, because I am one.
Jacqueline Carey for “Kushiel’s Dart”, which was very different from anything I had read before.  This one broke new ground, but the follow-on books in the series didn’t keep up to the standard of the first one.
Gail Carriger, for her absolutely delightful books called “Souless”, “Changless”, “Blameless”, “Heatless”, and “Timeless”.  They were like stepping out of my own life and into another one in Victorian London.
S. A. Chakraborty, for “The City of Brass”.  Others are coming out in hardcover, but I will wait until I can get them in paperback, unless I break down and get them at the library.
Genevieve Cogman, one of my most favorite authors, who can’t write fast enough to satisfy me.  Her books are:  “The Invisible Library”, “The Masked City”, “The Burning Page”, “The Lost Plot”, “The Mortal Word”.  If you read these books, you MUST start at the beginning and read them in order.
Julie E. Czerneda, a biologist who writes really good biologically oriented science fiction, including:  “A Turn of Light”, “A Play of Shadow”; “Survival (1 of Species Imperative)”, “Migration (2 of Species Imperative)”, and “Regeneration (3 of Species Imperative)”.
Rod Duncan, for “The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter”, “Unseemly Science”, and “The Custodian of Marvels”
Kim Harrison, for her long series (15 books) that begins (and you MUST start at the beginning) with “Dead Witch Walking” and then continues with titles taken from all the Clint Eastwood movies.  The last three books in this series exceeded my own rating system – I had to add another level to cover them.
Emma Jane Holloway has three good books:  “A Study in Silks”, “A Study in Darkness”, and “A study in Ashes” about Sherlock Holme’s niece.
Conn Iggulden writes very good historical fiction.  I have read 7 of them, but there are more.
Erika Johansen, for her wonderful trilogy that begins with “The Queen of the Tearling”, and continues with “The Invasion of the Tearling”, and ends with “The Fate of the Tearling”. Each book is significantly different from the others.
Robert D. Kaplan is not a fiction writer, but travels a lot and writes very thoughtful pieces about geo-political issues around the world.
Ann Leckie wrote a really interesting trilogy:  “Ancillary Justice”, “Ancillary Sword”, and “Ancillary Mercy”.  It took me a while to understand the rules of this story, but I found it fascinating.  She followed with a book about a different location in space, where the rules were different yet again, called “Provenance”.  This book views the previous trilogy from outside that story, and sheds light on the odd rules of those books as well as telling a new story altogether.
Scott Lynch wrote “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, “Red Seas Under Red Skies”, and “The Republic of Thieves” about clever people conning each other, with a love story embedded in them as well.  Now that they are all out, you won’t have to wait years for the next installment like I did.
Devon Monk wrote excellent fantasy stories about Portland, Oregon, near where I grew up.  I have read 16 of these books.
Laura Resnick wrote absolutely delightful and very funny stories with mangled titles such as “Doppelgangster”, “Unsympathetic Magic”, “Vamparazzi”, “Polterheist”, “Disappearing Nightly”, “The Misfortune Cookie”, and “Abracadaver”, and I enjoyed every single one of them.
Michelle Sagara has a series of books that all begin with “Cast in …” that are intensely enjoyable to read.  She isn’t through yet, and I wait anxiously for each new one to come on the market.  She also has other series and writes under more than one name.
Zecharia Sitchin writes alternative views of pre-historical earth events.  People either love him or hate him.  His views are mostly counter to the mainstream historians of the pre-history eras, so they all hate him, but a lot of work has gone into his take on history.
Sherwood Smith, for his “Inda” series: “Inda”, “The Fox”, and “King’s Shield” which together make up one really good story.
Jodi Taylor:  I will read anything she writes.  I simply love her “Tales of St. Mary’s” books, which are all about time travel (studying history in contemporary time) like you never imagined before, and are the best rendition of time travel I have ever read.  These books are just fabulous in the extreme:  “Just One Damned Thing After Another”, “A Symphony of Echoes”, “A Second Chance”, “A Trail Through Time”, “No Time Like the Past”, “What Could Possible Go Wrong”, “Lies, Damned Lies, and History”, “And the Rest is History”, “ and “Argumentation of Historians.  You don’t have to read them in order, but you will lose a lot of context if you don’t.
Will Thomas, for his stories about a rookie private investigator in old London.  Very well written, and poor Thomas Llewelyn, our hero, suffers injury in the line of duty in most stories.  “Some Danger Involved” is the first one.  The first book that I read was about three books into the story.  I recommend starting at the beginning, because our hero progresses through the books, and how he changes over time is the most interesting part. 

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