This one thieved from Ritu’s LJ. It’s a bunch of questions and answers about books.
Books that changed your life?
1. David Brin’s Earth (though it may surprise those who know me well). It set me up to see SF as something that could have relation to our world, and could have a massive scope. I had (and continue to have) issues with some parts of the book, but as a kind of recapitulation of John Brunner’s masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, it’s a great first SF novel to read as an adult.
2. Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang then convinced me that literary SF was indeed possible and important, and that I too could write SF. So you can imagine I was very chuffed to study with her this summer.
3. Going a little further back: two books that were important were Seven.. Fiction… of… Wells, a book that was really titled Seven Science Fiction Novels of H.G. Wells but it was a library discard, and over the many years the lighter-colored text on the spine of the dustjacket went so pale it was invisible. That, and the copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time seem to have been pretty important books in terms of the direction my life has taken.
4. When I asked my father whether he truly believed in God, he gave me a copy of a book by Erich von Daniken — not Chariots of the Gods, mind you, but rather Gods from Outer Space. I’d say it also had an influence.
5. Finally, though I’ve never actually read it, The Jungle Book and other Kipling works were important to my childhood. I grew up with a father who’d grown up on Kipling and it rubbed off on all the stories he told me; I think there was a little of “Gunga Din” and Plain Tales From the Hills in just about every story he told during my early childhood. So as ambient works, never yet read but always semipresent, I think they were important to me on a formative level.
One book you have read more than once?
Good question. I’m such a slow reader I tend not to read books more than once unless I have to. However, the first book I ever read twice–thrice, in fact, I think–was The Hobbit.
One book you would want on a desert island?
Well, now, one book is not enough. I would want to have a programmable-display-paper book with chips for all of my most loved texts; one that runs off solar energy, of course.
But if I had to choose only one book, I’d pick a one-volume English translation of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu since, well, that’d help fill out the years of time I’d be spending sitting there. That, or the collected H.G. Wells, maybe. I still haven’t worked my way to the end of Seven… Fiction… of… Wells, though I still have it right here with me.
One book that made you laugh?
The last book to make me laugh aloud was Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, reviewed here.
One book that made you cry?
My regular answer, and this may sound unusual, but it’s Sterling’s Holy Fire. The ending. But it was a tough spot in my life and everything made me cry in those days.
However, for a more reliable metric, I’ve just started reading Geoff Ryman’s Air and had tears in my eyes half the time through the first 60 pages or so, and I’m generally quite happy and doing well these days. Amazing book, that one.
One book you wish had been written?
Ummmmmm… how about The Autobiography of Philip K. Dick? VALIS is supposedly autobiographical, but I mean the story of his whole life. I’d love to have been able to read that.
One book you wish had never been written?
If I answered that question, you’d find me dead in a ditch with a copy of a certain L. Ron Hubbard religious paperback clutched in my hand.
One book you are currently reading?
Geoff Ryman’s Air. To be followed by a few collections of short stories, the 2005 Year’s Best anthology by Gardner Dozois, and Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, I think.
One book you have been meaning to read?
I’ve been meaning to read Charles Stross’ Accelerando for a long time. And now it’s on my shelf awaiting my attentions.
A really obscure book you have read.
I don’t get a lot of chances to read obscure books these days, but I guess I’ll take a stab at this. My one caveat is that I haven’t read the whole thing, all three volumes, cover-to-cover. But I did at one point do some extensive reading within the various volumes. The book is:
The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents, by Franz Michael. At least, I think it is. I can’t find reference to any other multi-volume set of texts stuffed full of Taiping documentary content — Taiping imperial proclamations, the poems of their mad leader, newspaper articles about the rebellion, all either in the original English, or (as most Taiping documents were in Chinese) translated into clear and lucid English prose. When I left Montreal for Korea, I photocopied hunks of the multiple volumes in these books, knowing I’d never find copies over here, and they’re still waiting to be put to some good use. It’s coming, soon… but not in poetical form. Rather, instead, in an alternate history, I think.
The other one I’d note is H.G. Wells In Love, which is a posthumous publication by one of his sons of the addendum section of his autobiography, in which he discusses his sexual life. I have no idea why my current place of employment has a copy of this in the library, but I’m not complaining, in any case.
Which book do you most frequently recommend to friends?
I actually don’t often get to recommend books to friends. Oddly enough though, I think I recommended two authors most this summer: Greg Egan (especially his short story collections), and Joanna Russ (especially her The Female Man). And on the basis of the first sixty pages, I’ve recommending Ryman’s Air to a lot of people, too.
A writer I recommend to people quite often, but different books to different people, is Derrick Jensen. Most often, it’s either Walking on Water for people interested in critical perspectives on education and teaching, or A Language Older Than Words for people who are more interested in intelligent, honest, and non-PC environmental awareness and activism — environmentalism that isn’t shackled by trying to fight with left-wing social agendas, dogmas, and special interest groups. In other words, environmentalism that admits most human beings will never, ever be all-out vegans.
Finally, I am often finding myself recommending Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained to people, not so much for the wonderful insights on the roots of religious ideas in evolutionary psychology, but more for the models of cognitive templating and the effect that human gregariousness has on our perceptions of the whole world around us.