Not long after the aluminium incarceration came to an end, I wanted to spend a great deal of time reading. Reading has always been one of the great pleasures in my life, but a guilty pleasure. All that time spent reading really should be spent doing something productive, or so my inner Puritan told me.
(In fact, it was at least partially to get over that sense of guilt that I returned to college to become an English teacher, because I would, in part at least, get paid to read books and even write about them. That hasn’t quite happened just yet, but who knows?)
Still, what I wanted to read was not what I had been reading during the past few years. I have a “to-read” list that is as long as my arm, and if I lived to be a hundred, I doubt I would make a dent in it. What I found myself craving was some 0ld-school science fiction, the kind that I read when I was fourteen years.
Part of this is because I was craving comfort food in the form of books the way some people crave comfort food in the form of, well, food. I wanted the stuff I grew up reading and enjoying and loving and dreaming about. I’m sure there’s some sort of psychological term for this (regression, maybe?) but I don’t care. The whole purpose of comfort food is make you comfortable, to evoke the same feelings you had when you ate it as a child sitting at your family’s table. Reading is a solitary activity, true, but why should my goal here be any different?
Since funds were low, I went to a couple of different secondhand bookshops. I knew the first had an exceptional selection of science fiction in trade paperbacks, although the second was a bit hit or miss. (I really must do a post about all the secondhand bookshops in my area, since they are apparently an endangered species.) Here’s what I picked up at the first one:
Why did I pick these three books? I chose Against the Fall of Night because it was written by Arthur C. Clarke (this is the guy who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, so it has to be good, right?), and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart because it gets a favorable mention in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (or at least I think this is where he mentions it; I will have to check to make sure). I picked up The Girl with the Jade Green Eyes because the back cover describes how a park ranger in Idaho finds nine women “cavorting naked on a meadow in the Idaho Panhandle”. My thirteen-year-old self would have been all over that.
I’ve read two of those books so far, but I won’t say too much about them just yet. I want to read all of these before I talk about them. (That will be a long post. I hope you have the stomach for it.)
I also went to the Friends Bookstore, which supports one of my local libraries. Their selection of science fiction is always sparse, to say the least. I don’t know if this is because the mostly old and entirely volunteer staff don’t know what to make of it, or if they just don’t get many donations of science fiction, or if someone comes in and snaps it up as soon as it ends up on the shelf. (I suspect the latter.)
Anyway, I picked up a couple of books for fifty cents a piece:
I have a long and complicated relationship with The Catcher in the Rye, so I especially enjoyed finding this copy, whose cover I’ve never seen before. In fact, there are two iconic covers for this book, one of maroon with the title centered in yellow near the top, and the other with a silhouette of the carousel on it, so this book is a rare find for me, and now enjoys a special place on my bookshelf.
I remember reading, or at least trying to read, The Book of the Dun Cow when I was in middle school. I don’t remember how it ends, so I don’t know if I finished it or not. What I do remember is that it was a difficult book to read, because it was full of ideas. This book was lauded at the time, at least according to the cover, as a wonderful fantasy novel that was sure to become a classic, but alas it has been almost entirely forgotten. I am looking forward to reading it again, or at least trying to.
I also went to another secondhand bookshop, which had once been a bit upscale, but now seemed dowdy, disorganized, and down on its luck. (Well, aren’t all bookshops down on their luck?) They also had a cat which fortunately more or less ignored me. Why is it that so many secondhand bookshops in this country have semi-feral cats running around? They serve no purpose that I can imagine, other than to kick up dust and aggravate my allergies, as well as adding a rather special odeur to their residence. Yuck. Just plain yuck.
Anyway, here’s what I picked up:
I picked up the Moorcock book because he was favorably mentioned in a scholarly work on the history of science fiction that I read a year or so ago. I’m halfway through it now, and so far, it’s the best of the bunch. I picked up The Revolving Boy for no other reason than the cover. The story itself, as described by the back cover blurb, sounds fairly pedestrian, at least by 2011 standards, but to be honest, I think that at some point as a young child, maybe six or seven years old, I had the same outfit the boy on the cover is wearing.
I stopped at the comic book/gaming store a day later and trolled through half of their 25¢ bins. This was my haul:
You’ll notice that most of these are Marvel, rather than DC comics. That’s an argument I don’t want to get into now. You’ll probably also notice that half of these are Power Pack comics. I don’t remember when I first came across Power Pack (some time in middle school, I presume), and while I don’t have a great fondness for the main characters, there was something appealing in reading about other kids who also just happened to be superheroes, since we all viewed ourselves as actual (or at least potential) superheroes. This was somewhat of a rarity in comic books, although both Marvel’s X-Men and DC’s Legion of Super Heroes described teens as superheroes, their actual appearance was that of a fully-formed adults, especially as the series progressed (as you can see from the cover above, Wildfire doesn’t look like your average sixteen-year-old).
Perhaps what I liked best about Power Pack was that they had one of the most interesting comic book back stories I had ever read.