Skip

Auerbach! Lacan! Jameson! Fish!
November 12, 2011 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I don’t believe in dissing books I used to love, and I always suspect the moral judgment of people who sneer at the taste of the reader they used to be: “I know thee not, old book.” Six writers talk what's on their shelves.
posted by villanelles at dawn (72 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
That would make a good ask metafilter question if we had anonymous answers. What book are you now horrified at having once loved a long time ago? God and Ayn Rand would be near the top of the list I have no doubt.
posted by bukvich at 11:35 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


A Clockwork Orange. Don't regret loving the book, regret the absolute ninny that I turned into after reading it.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Villanelles, I feel the same way about Breakfast of Champions.
posted by 256 at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having just weeded, moved, re-organized, and re-shelved my personal library, this was a fun read. Thanks!
posted by carsonb at 11:44 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, sometimes something you love is visited by the suck fairy, and there's no recovering from that.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm somewhat ashamed of my goal of trying to acquire a 1st edition Mein Kampf...for a reasonable price.
posted by Renoroc at 11:52 AM on November 12, 2011


I'm one of those folks that has this strange compulsion to nearly fetishize books. Something about their size, smell, texture, not to mention the whole idea of "bookness". The idea that ideas and history and emotions and imagination can be written down into a compact form and carried around to be experienced by virtually anyone anywhere is just so intensely cool.

I used to hoard books seriously, but my Mom, wanting to clear out my room after I went to college, gave most of the thousands of them away. It's the only thing she ever did that I never really forgave her for while she was alive (ugh) but it also broke the book-hoarding fever for me for life.

Recently, I have been trying to cull my old books down to one bookcase. I'd like as many of my books to be put to good use as possible, so I've been donating lots of them to Goodwill. It has been hard to get it down to one set of shelves (still overloaded). But what I have left is a distillation of all of the books I've truly loved and been influenced by in my life.

Some from childhood, like Where the Wild Things Are, The Monster at the End of this Book and The Blue-Nosed Witch.

Many treasured works from the high school years, by Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Milton, Frost, Tolkien, Vonnegut, Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Dostoevsky and Poe, etc..

Several from the college and grad school years, by Loren Eiseley, Pirsig, Dahrendorf, Heidegger, Mann, Sartre, Clarke, etc..

And so many since then, especialy some outstanding history and historical fiction.

There's something that makes me kind of sad about e-books. They take something that holds a great deal of physical presence, a tactile experience, and turn it into simply information hidden away on a computer chip. Sigh.
posted by darkstar at 11:52 AM on November 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


I have never really been able to get my head around the idea of getting rid of a book once it's read. Passing it on to another reader, sure, but just disinterestedly divesting yourself of its possession? You aren't going to read it again some day? You don't want it there so you can flip through and find random passages to read aloud? You don't like the way it looks on a shelf? What is wrong with you?

I am given to understand that these feelings may be somewhat unrational and less than universal, especially among those who move house frequently.
posted by brennen at 11:58 AM on November 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


And as for books I used to be enamored with, and became an insufferable ass for a while because of them (at different stages of my life): The Bible and the works of Nietzsche.

Both canons contain deep, deep insight and are spiritually, mentally and emotionally thought-provoking and stimulating, but they really did a number on me for a while because I fell for them before I had the discernment to be able to place them in a better context with reality.

I thank my lucky stars I never picked up a copy of any of Ayn Rand's books until I was old enough to be able to tell shit from Shinola™.
posted by darkstar at 11:59 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


You aren't going to read it again some day?

When you reach a certain age, you realize, no, you're really not. It's not just changing tastes, although that's part of it. It's also that there are so many books out there you haven't read yet and you don't have time to read them and reread the old ones too. It was sad when I figured this out, but kind of freeing, in that I could pass on books to other readers and borrow instead of buy because I didn't have to grab every book and hang on to it with both hands.

(I don't sneer very much at my "guilty pleasures" because I don't believe in guilt about books I enjoy, but I have been known to read books by authors I enjoy in the past and notice they're horribly edited. That's happened to me a few times this year with authors who really need a strong copyedit. The last one I stopped reading after 40 pages of wanting to get out my red pencil. Seriously, someone needed to give that guy a beta.)
posted by immlass at 12:06 PM on November 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


... I have enjoyed ... speaking of needing a copyedit.
posted by immlass at 12:08 PM on November 12, 2011


Ender's Game: Thought it was a great book when I was a lonely, nerdy kid. Read it again now and it's not very well written and tainted by the fact that the author's an unmitigated prat.
posted by dazed_one at 12:11 PM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


When you reach a certain age, you realize, no, you're really not. It's not just changing tastes, although that's part of it. It's also that there are so many books out there you haven't read yet and you don't have time to read them and reread the old ones too. It was sad when I figured this out, but kind of freeing, in that I could pass on books to other readers and borrow instead of buy because I didn't have to grab every book and hang on to it with both hands.

I long ago passed the point where I had any reason to think I'd ever read all of the books I own again, but having random access to (almost) any of them still feels really useful. I tend to re-read as much as I start new things, though, and I gather that's somewhat unusual.

All of this will be impossible to explain to anyone once the book-as-physical-object has passed into the realm of historical curiosity. (Which at the rate things are going now looks like it will be accomplished long about Tuesday next...)
posted by brennen at 12:15 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything ever written by Larry Niven.
posted by localroger at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ender's Game: Thought it was a great book when I was a lonely, nerdy kid. Read it again now and it's not very well written and tainted by the fact that the author's an unmitigated prat.

I read this a couple of times when I was younger and very much enjoyed it, the real shame was not the views of the author but that he then milked it for all he was worth with less and less worthwhile results.
posted by biffa at 12:25 PM on November 12, 2011


you know who wasn't all that bad is probably John Bellairs
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:28 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Book wise, I certainly have a vetting system of intellectual stuff out front, Tesco available stuff in the spare bedroom, stuff that should never have been written - let alone read - goes to Oxfam Cancer Research.
posted by biffa at 12:28 PM on November 12, 2011


I have never really been able to get my head around the idea of getting rid of a book once it's read.

A book? Any book? They're all that good? C'mon.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always suspect the moral judgment of people who sneer at the taste of the reader they used to be:

Agreed. And doubly so if you substitute 'music listener' for 'reader.'
posted by jonmc at 12:30 PM on November 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


When I was 15, I would have made claims for Harlan Ellison that I would not make today.
posted by Trurl at 12:32 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


James Wood had a nice essay in last week's New Yorker on dismantling his father-in-law's library. Unfortunately only the abstract is available online, but the article is worth seeking out.

To excerpt a relevant snippet: "... I begin to think, our libraries perhaps say nothing very particular about us at all. Each brick in the wall of a library is a borrowed brick[...] We tend to venerate libraries once we know whose they are, like admiring a famous philosopher's eyes or a ballet dancer's foot."
posted by clockwork at 12:33 PM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love curling up with a good book on a rainy day
and falling asleep together, snoring away hugging my
buddy. Sometimes it ends up as a threesome because
I cant choose which one to read.
posted by quazichimp at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Other times, other places. The past is a different country.

I might, if put to it, mock the books that inspired me in my youth. But I would not be the man I am today without them.
posted by SPrintF at 12:38 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don’t believe in dissing books I used to love, and I always suspect the moral judgment of people who sneer at the taste of the reader they used to be

I look back on some books fondly and can with a smile remember the happy feelings they created in me the first time I read them: that feeling of being blown away by the world the author was creating, magic being woven in the mind of the young, inexperienced, impressionable teenager that I was.

Then I remember that I was reading Dragonlance or Clive Cussler or whatever the fuck and I'm glad I grew up. It's okay to cherish the memories and knowledge that that a book led you to something better while acknowledging that it may have in fact sucked.

I was a clueless kid. I like to think I got better. Not much point to living otherwise.
posted by Palindromedary at 12:47 PM on November 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don’t believe in dissing books I used to love, and I always suspect the moral judgment of people who sneer at the taste of the reader they used to be...

Encyclopedia Brown and Cam Jansen 4 life.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


darkstar: I totally understand what you've said about the tactile feel of a book, the smell (especially of old and gently-decaying books!), their size and shape; e-books will never replace that. I do have a Kindle, but that's because I go through three or four books at the same time, and about eight or ten a week --- the Kindle is merely more convienent to lug around. But given a choice between a paper book and the e-book, I'd rather the paper every time.

I still have my ratty old paperback Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", the ones that first blew my mind lo, those many many years ago. I also have the books in a gorgeous high-quality matched set of hardcovers.... and which do I pull out whenever I feel the need to re-read? The ratty old paperbacks, because of how their feel and smell are simply right to me.
posted by easily confused at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't sneer at my past tense self, but there are some books I cringe about a bit, if for no other reason than the person I used to be hadn't yet been exposed to the same concept done better. Like the wine connoisseur who gets caught with a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel in their fridge, I am occasionally embarassed by how taken I was with Stranger in a Strange land when I first read it, and the fact that I re-read it once ever three or four years anyway.
posted by Mooski at 12:58 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's this somewhat lesser-known Heinlein novel called The Door into Summer. It is a book with Problems, I think, but when I was a kid I must have read it like 20 times. It was one of that handful of books that have always been like literary antidepressants for me, and it fed a lot of the daydreams and ideas of self that got me into technical work. So while I recognize that adult readers will notice creepy old man stuff, I'm not going to pass much judgement on my younger self for being completely unfazed by it. I was just interested in the cool stuff.

On the other hand, if I ever work this time-travel thing out, I am going to have an earnest talk with younger self about buying all those god damned David Eddings paperbacks. I'm not really embarassed by them, exactly, but I want those hours back.
posted by brennen at 1:12 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


That would make a good ask metafilter question if we had anonymous answers. What book are you now horrified at having once loved a long time ago? God and Ayn Rand would be near the top of the list I have no doubt.

Previously.
posted by just_ducky at 1:19 PM on November 12, 2011


I have never really been able to get my head around the idea of getting rid of a book once it's read.

I've had the luck in my adult life to work either in a library or in a bookstore that let me use it as a library at any given time, and so have always felt comfortable keeping the home collection pared down to the essentials and rotating the books of the now in and out. For the last ten years, I've been able to fit those 'essentials' onto one bookcase (though in the most recent years only just barely). But last weekend brought with it one additional bookcase and the collection seems changed. It felt like my books could breathe, and indeed I'd unearthed nearly a shelf's worth of been-meaning-to-reads.

Even with all the luxury I've been afforded in my reading endeavors, I understand brennan's sentiment. 1/8th was pared in the move, and it was the last box out of the old apartment. (Donated to the library, where I kept visiting the just-donated cart and thinking to myself, 'My, it must have been someone with taste and smarts who passed away this week!' before remembering and setting the book down again...)
posted by carsonb at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2011


Almost all the books I own (lots) that I have actually read (a smaller 'lots' but still a respectable number) bristle with sticky-note bookmarks that have comments written on them, and references to pages in other books that I happened to think of at the time as being comparable or complementary. All these together represent a major part of what systematic access I have to, y'know, human knowledge. Given any such entry point, it's not at all hard to recall anr/or reconstruct what I was thinking about at the moment of sticky-noting. (Yes, when I put in a sticky that says "re. this, see p.x in book y) I'm quite religious about putting a reverse-reference note on p.x book y pointing back to the first note. It's a doubly linked list.) Get rid of these? Only in a house fire.

OTOH I certainly don't keep everything. I once got a big box of sci fi and fantasy paperbacks by Lin Carter at a yard sale, and all of them had attractively lurid covers, but every last one of these ear-wax jelly beans got swapped at the used book store after one read. For Tarnsman of Gor I made a special trip.
posted by jfuller at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, particularly the Harper Hall of Pern series, nearly saved my life when I was a young teenager. I own them all but refuse to read them again, because I suspect that the Suck Fairy is crouched just inside the covers, waiting to spring out and horrify me like a novelty snake stuffed into a can claiming to be full of mixed nuts.

But I still can't get rid of them.
posted by KathrynT at 1:47 PM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm about to put all my books into storage, in preparation for a move to a different city. I fully expect to spend far more time than I ought to in packing them up - meeting old friends like that always excites the urge to dip into the pages for just a second, a process that invariably gets out of hand.

In any case, I won't be selling/ giving away many of the books I have (if any). My library is a record of my intellectual development - starting from when I was a little girl with just a few books on a single shelf. I only have a handful of books in the library that I haven't yet read, and I'm looking forward to putting those in a box of their own to peruse at my leisure!

As a teenager I went through a phase of reading historical novels - I started out on respectable tomes such as Josephine Tey's "Daughter of Time" (which is essentially a piece of academic detective work, disguised as a novel), but somehow ended up reading a couple of pretty trashy authors. A couple of those are in the shelves somewhere, and I'm not sure I'll have the heart to get rid of them (though I probably should)
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2011


Oh gosh yes, Kathryn! The Dragonriders series and Heinlein's "Stranger"! I dare not re-read them for the same reason.

I'd also add Robert Sheckley's "Mindswap" and "Dimension of Miracles" to those. I recall being so blown away with just how awesome those two books were when I read them when I was about 14. I strongly suspect they wouldn't hold up to the scrutiny of my 44-year-old self. The ratty used paperbacks still sit proudly on my shelves, though. /:)
posted by darkstar at 2:36 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


LotR, Henry Miller, Anaïs whatever her name. I loved those books, and now I wish I never read them. At a glance, thet are very different, but they have the fantasy in common. These days, I love real stuff - like I'm reading Alice in Wonderland with my youngest. Great fun.
posted by mumimor at 2:47 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


> In midlife, I feel that my tendency to acquire books is rather like someone smoking two packs a day: it’s a terrible vice that I wish I could shuck. I love my books, and with all their dog-ears and under-linings they are irreplaceable, but I sometimes wish they’d just vanish. To be weighed down by things – books, furniture – seems somehow terrible to me. <

Yikes. That’s my life. I couldn’t even guess how many books I have, but it truly is a blessing and a curse. The fact that my wife has twice the problem I do doesn’t help.

I don’t have that big of a problem with the suck fairy and books, movies more so. I don’t reread very much though. Many of the books people list in the other MF discussions I didn’t like when I was a kid. Some of them, like Snow Crash, worry me.
posted by bongo_x at 2:47 PM on November 12, 2011


Those Shannara books, what a waste of time. Guess I didn't really love them really though. just a quick fling that made me miss LoTR even more. I felt dirty an ashamed and more than a little confused, ran back to LotR and have been together for 25 years now. Still no kids though, we are going to adopt.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:54 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nice article, useful recommendations.

I think it's rarely a case of sneering, usually it's with a heavy heart that you realise some dear old friend of a book doesn't cut it now.

Maybe worse is reading an old favourite to your daughters and having it fall dead; and yet also being able to see it through their eyes so that for the first time you see it really is a little whimsical, self-indulgent, and dated. Loyalty still forbids me to mention titles or authors.
posted by Segundus at 3:03 PM on November 12, 2011


Xanth.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


It is a book with Problems, I think, but when I was a kid I must have read it like 20 times. It was one of that handful of books that have always been like literary antidepressants for me

OK that's James P. Hogan for me. I cherish The Genesis Machine and Voyage to Yesteryear and Thrice Upon a Time even though I understand their flaws. But they are just like fried chicken and dumplings to me. They still make me feel good.

His later stuff, not so much. Got more skills, lost the whole believable utopia thing.
posted by localroger at 3:19 PM on November 12, 2011


Back in junior high, I read all ten volumes of Battlefield Earth and I refuse to let anyone take my eternal shame away from me.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:23 PM on November 12, 2011


Why are all their top 10 lists so pretentious? None of them put a single children's book among them, never mind fun mindless stuff.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:23 PM on November 12, 2011


I don’t believe in dissing books I used to love, and I always suspect the moral judgment of people who sneer at the taste of the reader they used to be

The reader I used to be -- like when I was in high school -- loved Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and The Sandman and Night of the Living Dead. That was twenty or so years ago. American pop culture is just now catching up to where I was in high school. It's very weird for me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:25 PM on November 12, 2011


>Why are all their top 10 lists so pretentious? None of them put a single children's book among them, never mind fun mindless stuff.<

I understand where you’re coming from with this, but maybe the fun mindless stuff just doesn’t qualify for "top 10" to them, it wouldn’t for me. I also wouldn’t have any children’s books on my list. My wife loves them but I don’t have any that stand out in my mind from when I was a kid, and haven’t read one since then. Not having children and being in my late 40’s probably has something to do with that. Most of my friends are experts on every animated movie of the last 20 years and I hardly know any of them.

I don’t even know most of the books on their lists, I don’t know if they’re pretentious or not. I did notice "The Sapranos" and "Lord of the Rings" in there though.
posted by bongo_x at 3:45 PM on November 12, 2011


Why are all their top 10 lists so pretentious?

They're writers?

They aren't massaging their top 10 lists to make random customers feel better about themselves?
posted by furiousthought at 3:53 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I once loved that I bet I wouldn't now: A Prayer for Owen Meany.
posted by escabeche at 3:59 PM on November 12, 2011


I copied the lists down for my own reference, so I'll put them here too. I'm assuming they represent the books they value most as adults. I find them interesting as both reading lists and windows into intellectual values.

Gary Shteyngart
Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler
Collected Works of Anton Chekhov
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Season one of The Sopranos
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
We Met, Talked by Sergei Dovlatov


Philip Pullman
Blake by Ruthven Todd, ed
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé
Twentieth Century Dictionary by Chambers
The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop
Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The New American Poetry 1945-1960 by Donald Allen, ed
The Oxford Book of Ballads by Arthur Quiller Couch, ed
The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language by Francis Turner Palgrave, ed


Claire Messud
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 of Elizabeth Bishop
Essays and Aphorisms of Arthur Schopenhauer
Gathering Evidence by Thomas Bernhard
Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Letters, 1830-1857 of Gustave Flaubert
Selected Stories by Alice Munro
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo


James Wood
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
Loving by Henry Green
The Moon and the Bonfire by Cesare Pavese
The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Stories by Anton Chekhov
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal


Junot Díaz
Divided Planet: The Ecology of Rich and Poor by Tom Athanasiou
Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic by Edward Rivera
From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1990, vol. 5, Nadir and Resurgence, 1964-1979 by Thomas G. Karis and Gail M. Gerhart
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture by Marguerite Feitlowitz
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Love and Rockets, no. 12, Poison River by Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez
The Motion of Light and Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village by Samuel R. Delany
Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture by Eric Greene
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston


Edmund White
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Collected Stories of Anton Chekhov
The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Nothing by Henry Green
Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

posted by rollick at 4:07 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


And the full book has lists from Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Rebecca Goldstein and Stephen Pinker, Lev Grossman and Sophie Gee, and Jonathan Lethem too. I wonder what it looks like -- I might put in a library request whenever it comes out.
posted by rollick at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are all their top 10 lists so pretentious? None of them put a single children's book among them, never mind fun mindless stuff.

For the same reason The Matrix doesn't show up on the top ten lists of works of philosophy for many philosophy professors. It may have blown your mind, but that doesn't mean it interests folks who know better.
posted by OmieWise at 4:30 PM on November 12, 2011


No one is bringing up their faintly embarrassing reading of VC Andrews? Jean Auel? I didn't even read them for the sex scenes.

I can't say I regret having read them, but they weren't any kind of formative, they were just sucky books I read as a teenager. I suppose they were good in forming my tastes (sibling incest = creepy; meticulously researched books with huge infodumps = fun), but not pivotal.
posted by jeather at 5:47 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have nicer bookshelves than Philip Pullman but Messud & Wood have more shelves than me.
posted by Catch at 5:48 PM on November 12, 2011


Wait - did I say that out loud?
posted by Catch at 5:49 PM on November 12, 2011


Why are all their top 10 lists so pretentious? None of them put a single children's book among them, never mind fun mindless stuff.

Eh. Phillip Pullman mentioned 'The Castafiore Emerald' by Hergé in his top ten. It's a Tintin comic book. Decidedly a children's book, although I find that I still do enjoy most of the Tintin books even after 20 years.
posted by WalterMitty at 6:07 PM on November 12, 2011


"Every time I go into town I accidentally buy two or three books."
posted by benito.strauss at 6:25 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forget Ayn Rand; I hide my Sweet Valley High: Senior Year books like a deep, secret shame.
posted by litnerd at 7:29 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was nice timing as I just pulled the last 4 book boxes out of storage, and we now have ALL of the books we own in our actual apartment. We long ago reached Peak Bookshelf, and I oscillate between being horrified at my owned-by-thing-ness and wishing I could feasibly acquire (physical) books as constantly as I did in my 20s. Simply won't fit!

Looking at the bookshelves of famous authors, which look so similar to ours, makes me feel more comfortable with things. At least until I remember that I am not a famous author.

Anyway, between adding probably 1 more floor-to-ceiling Billy and a bunch of painful culling and trips to Green Apple, we may soon have a stable bookshelf situation. Then we can have an organizing spree, as one of the few real bones of contention between me and my wife is that her books have never been in order since we combined collections.
posted by feckless at 8:16 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Michael, my partner, has a very intimidating batch of books in his bathroom, but in mine there are just circulating books or magazines.

Huh.
posted by Yakuman at 9:34 PM on November 12, 2011


is a little whimsical, self-indulgent, and dated.
hey now
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:02 AM on November 13, 2011


"Every time I go into town I accidentally buy two or three books."
posted by benito.strauss at 6:25 PM on November 12 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


A-and don't get me started on the brothel that is Amazon.
posted by chavenet at 3:47 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


What book are you now horrified at having once loved a long time ago?

I can think of plenty of books a younger me liked which I wouldn't give the time of day to now, but I can't think of any books I once really loved that I'm embarassed to admit to. I'll never revisit all the shitty science fiction and fantasy I read as a kid, but I'm not horrified by having read it then, even if I might wish that I'd read, say, the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson, or Conan Doyle instead. In the seventh grade, I loved Podkayne of Mars. I don't need to read it again any time soon, but I still think of it affectionately, like a pet.

Maybe my early-twenties devotion to all things Joseph Campbell is the closest I come to being "horrified" by some past favorite. Not by the books themselves, which can stand or fall on their own, but by my evangelical approach to them. For a while, I believed that there was nothing in life that Campbell couldn't illuminate. Maybe this is what horrifies us later, not the books we read, but the way we substituted them for the experience we lacked.

I collected garish early paperbacks for a while, then one day just decided they weren't paying their way and got rid of them. Lately, I've been getting rid of a lot of non-fiction that's been taking up space. (No, I will never read Althusser's Writings on Psychoanalysis or Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind, probably.) I used to be very "I might need that one day!" but the older I get the easier it becomes to admit that there are some things that I'll just never get to.

(Since he was a contributor to this piece, let me put in a plug for Junot Díaz. I saw him read recently and I've rarely encountered an author who was as engaged with his readers and as generous with his time as Díaz was. Totally a class act.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:54 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a bit of an "easy come, easy go" relationship with books. I can't resist a thrift shop with a good book selection and will often come home with shopping bags worth. I also tend to drink a bit at dinner parties and send all the guests home with books I think they would enjoy. The only problem with this method is that the books I still have on my shelves are not necessarily the ones I like the most. So I have a biography of Virginia Woolf that is longer than anything she's written herself, but when I was in the mood to reread Nabokov's 'Speak, Memory' recently, it was missing from the shelves.

(Also missing are the massive amount of fantasy novels I read as an early teenager, although I'm not at all ashamed about them. In fact, I still kinda dig that stuff. I think maybe the bar is set a wee bit higher as far as literary expectations go, but if there is a dragon/hawk/dagger in it, there's a pretty solid chance I will still read/watch/enjoy it.)
posted by troublewithwolves at 8:46 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]




What book are you now horrified at having once loved a long time ago?


I went from V.C. Andrews to Anne Rice. And by age 14, I was so deeply entrenched in a world of black-spined supermarket Gothic that it's pretty remarkable I neither drank blood nor tried to make out with a family member. Then I switched schools and crushed very hard on senior, whose tastes in all things were precocious. I made it a point to read the things I saw him reading, so I might have some reason to strike up a conversation. I remember I had sort of a Eureka moment about a quarter way through his reading list (just after Catch-22 and just before Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). I realized my enjoyment of the books had ceased to have anything to do with my (as of yet) unrequited affection for the guy. I never knew books could be so good. And I knew, with absolute certainty, that I'd never buy another Anne Rice novel again.
posted by thivaia at 9:18 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are two types of books I'm embarrassed for having read: books that I now find categorically bad, and books that were way beyond my comprehension that I read in order to be seen reading them.

In the first category, there's Another Roadside Attraction, Fountainhead, and The Broom of the System (sorry, DFW fans - I revisited this recently and found the voice was just insufferable to me today. In fairness, I haven't read Infinite Jest).

In the latter category, I had a collection of essays by Jean Paul Sartre that I was very proud to read in the high school cafeteria, on the school bus, at the mall - basically anywhere I wanted people to understand that I was an Intelligent, Thinking Person. I would underline sentences, nod with a knowing smirk, and every single sentence might as well have been ancient Aramaic to me. Likewise with James Joyce's Ulysses.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:38 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, one of the big embarrassments is Emergence, by David Palmer. At first as a callow youth I thought this story of a genius 11 year-old girl traveling across an America where a plague wiped out 99.9% of humanity was excellent...but then on later reflection the creepiness started surfacing. The Mary Sue nature of the protagonist (black belt genius who everyone wants to sleep with), the "Fans are Slans" distinction taken to the genetic level (the plague wiped out all the mundanes, you see), the far right wing politics (all Communists are evil psychopaths who must be killed), the pedophilia, and of course, the telepathic macaw. Oh god, the telepathic macaw. The book is really like a parody of a bad post-apocalyptic novel, except serious.

There's also The Harper Hall trilogy, which has Menolly as the definition of a Mary Sue (literally everyone except her parents and the bad guys loves her). And anything I read by Ann Ricin. And finally, Enders Game, about which enough has been written.

Oh god I'm so embarrassed.
posted by happyroach at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2011


(Since he was a contributor to this piece, let me put in a plug for Junot Díaz. I saw him read recently and I've rarely encountered an author who was as engaged with his readers and as generous with his time as Díaz was. Totally a class act.)

A friend sent me a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a few years back. I don't know that I've read anything quite as good since. This is a good reminder to find Díaz's other stuff.
posted by brennen at 11:21 AM on November 13, 2011


Don't feel so bad, Marisa. I would pick up pretentious books to read on public transport, start reading them, but then I'd get embarrassed by my own pretension, so I'd hide the covers while I read them.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:28 AM on November 13, 2011


Don't feel so bad, Marisa. I would pick up pretentious books to read on public transport, start reading them, but then I'd get embarrassed by my own pretension, so I'd hide the covers while I read them.

At least that's pretty self-aware, though. I was perpetually mortified to have been taken out of city limits and out to a rural high school, because after all, everyone knows that people who live outside the suburbs are uneducated hayseeds, so I had to make sure everyone around me knew at all times that I wasn't one of them.

Christ my sneering adolescent classism embarrasses me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:38 AM on November 13, 2011


> basically anywhere I wanted people to understand that I was an Intelligent, Thinking Person.

See how leveling ebooks are. You could be reading Gibbon or Dan Brown on your iPad and all anybody knows about you is that you own an iPad.
posted by jfuller at 12:09 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ann Ricin
I fully endorse this.

If you didn't read some things that horrify/disappoint you today then you just weren't going close enough to the boundaries to really be trying to stretch yourself. Admittedly, sometimes they were the lower boundaries, like Sterling Lanier's Heiro books, but they help you to be very, very certain what "bad" actually means.

But my best friend also got blocked by our 7th grade English teacher when he wanted to do a book report on I, Claudius -- and he really did read this kind of stuff all the time, in between hockey games, despite the teacher thinking he was doing it as a stunt. (You still suck, Mr. Webber.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2011


When you reach a certain age, you realize, no, you're really not.

Agreed. As I have proceeded through my 40s, my to-read shelf has become much more important to me than my collection of read books. At 48, I am seriously thinking of doing a hard cut and selling close to half the read books (which, yes, I kept to "read again someday" and it's quite clear to me too that for most of them, I never will, even if I were to stop watching all movies / tv tomorrow, which of course I am not going to do). Only my collection of experimental / avant garde poetry will remain exempt, in part because it's something that might be worth something to a library or collector intact one day.

Personal aside - it was nice to see Claire Messud in the group; she was a grad school friend and I'm happy she's done well with her writing career.
posted by aught at 9:16 AM on November 14, 2011


i like books, read compulsively, and try to keep the aggregate book collection down ot reasonable levels (under 15 liquor store boxes) to prevent sturm, drang, and hoardin'. these pressures force a certain kind of book to be retained, which turns out to be mostly rares, comics, art books, stuff that is hard to find in the library, stuff i read more than 2x yearly, and a small pile of stephen king books from the goodwill that i can get drunk and read in the shower without fear of incident. i do not find this romantic, more kind of shameful, this need to have intellectual stimulation arrayed in rectangle form all over the living room.
posted by beefetish at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2011


Ah! Had a short nap and, like a recurring nightmare, remembered that I once read the entirety of Piers Anthony's Firefly. Made his Incarnations of Immortality series read like the collected works of Dickens.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:02 PM on November 14, 2011


« Older Troy   |   Outsource yourself! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post