Cover to cover: the Book Meme

Today (okay, yesterday for me) Berry is asking about books.

Are you a bookworm?

I used to be, far more than I am now. When I was a child it was rare to find me without  my nose in a book. These days it seems I have the attention span of a goldfish (I suspect I can blame the internet for that) and – while I can happily sit down with a good book – I can no longer read for hours and hours like I could before.

Which do you prefer: hardcover, paperback or electronic?

It depends on what the book is about. Art books and suchlike, I prefer hardcovers. Reference books (of which I have tons), I go for paperback. Fiction, I’m not fussed what I have. One thing, though, that I’ve noticed with ebooks is that they make it so much easier to part-read a book and never finish it. I have probably 20+ unfinished books on my Kindle right now (as well as hundreds of others that I haven’t started; I have enough books on that thing to see me through the the End Times, I swear), because if I fire it up and think, “Oh, I’m not in the mood for this book today,” I’ll switch to another one and forget I’d begun reading the first! At least with a physical book, it’s still sitting there as a reminder.

Which book is your favorite?

That’s like asking a mother to pick a favourite from all her children! XD

I think, if you’re going to force me, it would have to be a classic: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, purely for its worldbuilding. As a teenager I read that monster, and I’ve gone back to it time and time again. I have all of his son, Christopher Tolkien’s, books about the novel, wherein he goes through his father’s manuscripts one by one and writes about the evolution of LotR, how the journey itself unfolded in his father’s mind. Very much like Second Life, Middle Earth is such an amazing world to lose yourself in.

I’m going to cheat and add a series as well: Patrick O’Brian’s entire Aubrey/Maturin series (the first of which you may know from the Master and Commander  movie), the entirety of which is fondly known among its fans as The Aubreyad. I can’t even begin to express how much I love this series, from the badass Stephen Maturin to the pun-loving (and equally badass when he needs to be) Jack Aubrey, and the gentle love between them. It was never written as a homoerotic book (indeed, it isn’t homoerotic, per se), but these are two men with a deep and abiding care and love for each other. Patrick O’Brian has often been called “the Jane Austen of the Sea”, so if you love Austen you’ll probably enjoy O’Brian. And don’t be put off by the nautical theme; Maturin is a complete landlubber and O’Brian lets the reader learn all the complex terminology through him.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Stephen had been put to sleep in his usual room, far from children and noise, away in that corner of the house which looked down to the orchard and the bowling-green, and in spite of his long absence it was so familiar to him that when he woke about three he made his way to the window almost as quickly as if dawn had already broken, opened it and walked out onto the balcony. The moon had set: there was barely a star to be seen. The still air was delightfully fresh with falling dew, and a late nightingale, in indifferent voice, was uttering a routine jug-jug far down in Jack’s plantations; closer at hand and more agreeable by far, nightjars churred in the orchard, two of them, or perhaps three, the sound rising and falling, intertwining so that the source could not be made out for sure. There were few birds he preferred to nightjars, but it was not they that had brought him out of bed: he stood leaning on the balcony rail and presently Jack Aubrey, in a summerhouse by the bowling-green, began again, playing very gently in the darkness, improvising wholly for himself, dreaming away on his violin with a mastery that Stephen had never heard equalled, though they had played together for years and years.

“Like many other sailors, Jack Aubrey had long dreamed of lying in his warm bed all night long; yet although he could now do so with a clear conscience he often rose at unChristian hours, particularly if he were moved by strong emotion, and crept from his bedroom in a watch-coat, to walk about the house or into the stables or to pace the bowling-green. Sometimes he took his fiddle with him, and now that he was using his precious Guarnieri rather than a robust sea-going fiddle the difference was still more evident: but the Guarnieri did not account for the whole of it, nor anything like. Jack certainly concealed his excellence when they were playing together, keeping to Stephen’s mediocre level: this had become perfectly clear when Stephen’s hands were at last recovered from the thumb-screws and other implements applied by French counter-intelligence officers in Minorca; but on reflexion Stephen thought it had been the case much earlier, since quite apart from his delicacy at that period, Jack hated showing away.

“Now, in the warm night, there was no one to be comforted, kept in countenance, no one who could scorn him for virtuosity, and he could let himself go entirely; and as the grave and subtle music wound on and on, Stephen once more contemplated on the apparent contradiction between the big, cheerful, florid sea-officer whom most people liked on sight but who would never have been described as subtle or capable of subtlety by any one of them (except perhaps his surviving opponents in battle) and the intricate, reflective music he was now creating. So utterly unlike his limited vocabulary in words, at times verging on the inarticulate.

“‘My hands have now regained the moderate ability they possessed before I was captured,’ observed Maturin, ‘but his have gone on to a point I never thought he could reach: his hands and his mind. I am amazed. In his own way he is the secret man of the world; but I wish his music were happier.'”

Which children’s book is your favorite?

This will probably make a few people side-eye me, but when I was a kid I used to stay with my grandparents in the countryside, and the only books they had there (that I remember reading, anyway) were the books my mum read as a teenager. Thus I associate books such as Little WomenWhat Katy Did, and the entire Malory Towers  series with my childhood, even though the editions I read were from the 1950s. For myself, when I bought books with my own money (I joined a paperback book club at school, for example) I – again – loved the old classics, such as The Famous Five  series, the Five Find-Outers  series (mine was – as you will see from following those links – an Enid Blyton-loving family), and then (terribly un-PC these days, I know) the Willard Price Adventure  series about two young men who worked for their father as ‘bring-’em-back-alive’ animal-gatherers for zoos and suchlike.

What’s the last book you’ve read?

Elizabeth the Queen  by Alison Weir. (I adore historical biographies.)

Name your top five favorite writers

Five? Oh god. Um… Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman, Patrick O’Brian, and Arthur Rimbaud.

Name a book that had a strong impact on you

Not so much an entire book, but just one scene in a book. It’s from Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights  (published in the US as The Golden Compass). The book is the first in the His Dark Materials  trilogy, and it goes into great detail explaining the importance of dæmons – the animals that are, pretty much, each person’s soul in the books. These animals are constantly with everyone; their guides and companions. And then, the book explains the process of ‘intercision’ – cutting away the dæmon and effectively removing a person’s lifelong companion and soul. Someone is doing this to children, on a large scale, and it’s up to Lyra – the book’s protagonist – to find out why and to try and stop it.

And then, the book takes us to little Tony Makarios, whom Lyra finds in a dark old shed. Tony’s dæmon has been cut away from him, and all he has is a little bit of old, dried fish, which he clutches so hard that… I’m welling up just thinking about it. I swear, that scene affected me so badly that I had to put down the book for several days. I simply couldn’t return to it until I’d regained my equilibrium. It’s an exquisitely-written scene, moreso because you know  the helplessness and loneliness that boy feels, and if you’ve ever lost someone dear to you, that scene will cut so deep that it’ll never quite leave you.

You would really need to read the entire book leading up to this scene, to get a feel for just how vital the dæmon is to each person, but here’s the moment that made me sob like a baby:

“The little boy was huddled against the wood-drying rack where hung row upon row of gutted fish, all stiff as boards. He was clutching a piece of fish to him as hard as Lyra was clutching Pantalaimon, with her left hand, hard, against her heart; but that was all he had, a piece of dried fish; because he had no dæmon at all. The Gobblers had cut it away. That was intercision, and this was a severed child.”

Note: Pantalaimon is Lyra’s own dæmon. He begins as a moth, and then settles into the form of a pine marten.

Favorite & least favorite book genres?

I love fantasy and SciFi, all the way to historical biographies and general interest and reference books. Just about the only thing I’ve never been able to get into is what’s been dubbed ‘Chick Lit’.

Favorite & least favorite book-to-movie adaptions?

Peter Jackson did Tolkien proud with the three-part Lord of the Rings  trilogies. And I loved the Peter Weir Master and Commander movie (although I do wish he’d option the HMS Rose  ship again, because I know that Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany signed on for three potential turns as Aubrey and Maturin, and it’s only awaiting the ship and the spare time – oh, and funding *sigh* – for them to make another. I’d love to see the next one be an adaptation of HMS Surprise, because in M&C you never got to see the badass side of Maturin until the big battle at the end, and in HMS Surprise  you get to see him in all his catling-wielding Catalan-spy gloriousness).

You’re probably familiar with the LotR movies, so here’s a theatrical trailer for Master and Commander:

Another favourite for me is Baz Luhrmann’s treatment of Romeo + Juliet. As to a least-favourite? I actually can’t think of one off the top of my head.

Have you ever bought a book based on the cover alone?

Possibly a coffee table-type book, but no. I do love nice covers, but I have to be interested in the book itself before I buy.

Where do you usually buy your books?

It depends on how badly I want the book in question. If I simply can’t wait, and a Kindle version is available, then it’s Amazon every time, because I can be reading the book in less than a minute. For classic, out-of-copyright books, I download from Project Gutenberg. Print books can come from Waterstones, Amazon, WH Smith; any bookstore in my vicinity that carries them.

However, there is nothing I love more than spending an afternoon browsing through a secondhand book shop. Terry Pratchett wasn’t wrong when he defined L-Space (aka: Library Space) as:

… L-space manifests in our world in those obscure, hidden bookstores that, logic and the laws of physics insist, cannot possibly be as large on the outside as they appear on the inside. Somehow, after scraping one’s shoulders against the improbably small door, one finds one’s self turning one unseen corner after another, seemingly going on forever into further and more obscure sections as yet unobserved by human eyes. The town of Hay-on-Wye, known for having more bookshops per square mile than anywhere else in the world, contains many examples of this, and may be a substantial access point to L-space. Essentially, all bookstores are potentially infinite in extent; gateways into literary hyperspace: “[a] good bookshop is just a genteel blackhole that knows how to read.”

For more on the wonderful definition of L-Space, click here.

Do you go to the library?

I used to go every single day, and I really ought to start doing that again. (So, in short, no I don’t go any more.) However, I’ve no idea where my old library card is, so I’d need to re-register for another one!

ETA: I was chatting on the phone with my Mum a few days ago, and she told me something about myself as a kid that I’d forgotten. Since it’s relevant to this post, I’m adding it here. When I was young there was a small library just down the road from my house, and it had quite an extensive children’s and teen section upstairs. Mum told me that I would visit the library first thing in the morning, get my allocation of three books (all that children were allowed to take out at any one time), walk home and sit and read, read, read. Then, in the afternoon I would take my now-read books back and get three more. And these were not simple books with only a handful of pages, either. One day, the librarian asked my Mum, “He’s in here twice a day; does he actually read  all of those books?” and my Mum replied, “Oh yes. He’s even reading at the breakfast table.”

So yes, that’s how much of a bookworm I once was ;-)

How many books do you own?

I daren’t even count! It’s well into the low hundreds, possibly moving past five hundred if you count ebooks.

If you were to write a book about Second Life, which topic would you focus on?

I would write a fantasy novel about what happens to the avatars that log off and never return; left floating in the gap between Virtual and Nowhere; ghosted for ever more.

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