Some time ago, I wrote an article about the trade paperbacks on my bookshelf. I thought it would be fun to reprise that exercise, but this time with the actual books on my bookshelf. What does a comic book fan read when he isn’t reading comics?
The Top Shelf: This is my George R.R. Martin shelf. I became a big Martin fan over a decade ago when my friend Dave recommended Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire to me (Dave also introduced me to Neil Gaiman so I owe him a lot). I read A Game of Thrones in the summer of 2001. I immediately moved on to A Clash of Kings, which I picked up at a beachside bookshop because I had finished the first volume and couldn’t wait for the second. I read A Storm of Swords that fall. I remember that I bought a hardcover copy the morning before my first daughter was born. When my other friends found out that I had become a Martin aficionado, they quickly recommended his other work to me. My friend Jason lent me a copy of Wild Cards. I promptly devoured it and moved on to the rest of the series. My friend Ed knew Martin from his sci-fi days and turned me on to Tuf Voyaging. At that point, I was off to the races. How could I not love an author who wrote fantasy, science-fiction and superheroes well? I read Windhaven, Fevre Dream, Dying of the Light and Armageddon Rag. I read the short story collections like Sandkings, Nightflyers and Portraits of His Children. I read the Anthologies like Legends and Legends II which introduced me to more great fantasy authors. At this point, I own a copy of all but two of his books (the long out-of-print Songs the Dead Men Sing and the recent combo reprint Starlady/Fast Friend)
The Second Shelf: This is my Fantasy Masters shelf, featuring C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien (what is it with fantasy authors and initials?). The Martin shelf takes up the same amount of space because I have more of his hardcovers but I have nearly as many Tolkien books. Of course, I have The Lord of the Rings trilogy. My friend Dan introduced me to it when we were in high school. I read it during my senior year when I was supposed to be in study hall. I have the complete 12-part History of Middle Earth that features earlier drafts of Tolkien’s epic. I actually wrote posts about it on the old board before I had an official column. I may have to dig those out some time for special articles “from the vault.” I also have The Silmarillion and a couple of non-fiction books about Tolkien (The Gospel According to Tolkien and The Inklings). J.K. Rowling is represented by the full set of Harry Potter books. I own the British versions that were also published in Canada. I like that they kept all of the British slang (the American versions removed a few colloquialisms) and I prefer the cover art. C.S. Lewis is represented by a not-quite-complete set of The Chronicles of Narnia. I recently noticed that The Horse and His Boy is missing but haven’t replaced it because a) I would want it in the same out-of-print format and b) we have a second complete volume in my daughter’s room.
The Third Shelf: This is my Favorite Authors shelf and this is the place where I start to stray from the sci-fi/fantasy ghetto (though not entirely). James Clavell has a prominent spot on the left hand side. I fell in love with Clavell’s work when I was a high school student in the late ‘80s. At the time, I would read anything as long as it was big. What I like about Clavell is his epic storytelling, his diverse casts and his overlapping plot lines. Those are some of the things that I like about Tolkien and Martin as well. I have two copies of Whirlwind. It’s one of my favorite books and I re-read it every couple of years so I picked up a spare copy at a library sale. I also have Noble House, King Rat and Shogun though I need new copies of Tai-Pan and Gai-Jin (maybe I can find them at another library sale in October).
Leo Tolstoy sits next to James Clavell. I first read War and Peace when I was 15 years old. It’s another one of my favorite novels and I’ve re-read it every couple of years since. At this point, I’ve read it somewhere between 10 and 12 times. I also have Anna Karenina, The Cossacks, Resurrection and collections of shorter novellas. Tolstoy inspired me to try other Russian authors so I have books by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Goncharov, Trifonov and Turgenev as well. I had Solzhenitzen’s Gulag Archipelago at some point but must have misplaced it in one of my many moves. Keeping with the theme, I store Robert Massie’s biography of Nicholas and Alexandra with my Russian novels (I borrowed his Peter the Great biography from my dad when I was in high school).
The shelf is rounded off with six other authors. There’s Stephen King, another old stalwart. The Stand ranks as one of my all-time favorites and I’ve re-read it as often as War and Peace. I’ve gotten rid of most of my other King books over the years but I now have electronic versions for my eReader instead. There’s Morley Callaghan. This is another author that goes back to high school with me. Callaghan was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and he’s considered “the Canadian Hemingway.” Most of his books are set in Montreal and I love the way that he deals with relationships, introduces social themes and incorporates Biblical imagery. There’s Robin Hobb. I was introduced to her work through George R.R. Martin. He recommended her to people waiting for the next volume of his series. I have about half of her books, though I’ve read all of them. The library is a wonderful thing. There’s Lawrence Watt-Evans. I was introduced to his work through Kurt Busiek. They both live in the Seattle area and Busiek credited Watt-Evans as a consultant on his fantasy series, Arrowsmith. Again, I only have a couple of his actual books. The library and the eReader supplied the rest. There’s Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. It’s not quite a top five book for me but it’s probably in my top ten and I’ve read it several times. I’ve enjoyed a few other Crichton books as well but I tend to leave them at our beach house. It seemed like the perfect place for Pirate Latitudes in particular. Finally, there’s Mario Puzo. Like Jurassic Park, The Godfather is in my top ten and I’ve read it a few times. I was disappointed in a lot of his other novels as they seemed like Godfather-lite but his last book about the Medicis, called The Family, is another masterpiece.
The Fourth Shelf: I was an English Literature and Theatre major in college so this is my English Lit shelf. You can find a bunch of books on mythology, including the classics by Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch. You can find a solid selection of Shakespeare’s plays like King Lear and MacBeth. I don’t have a complete set, however, as my student copy was ruined in a leaky basement. I wanted one for years so Ana found me an e-version through the Gutenberg Project. I may still get a hard copy someday but it’s no longer a big priority. You can find copies of plays that I participated in from Restoration comedies like She Stoops to Conquer to modern dramedies like Marvin’s Room. You can find plays that I watched or studied like Tom Stoppard’s India Ink and Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. You can find classic novels like Utopia, Frankenstein and The Great Gatsby. You can find modern classics like The Robber Bride and The Adventures of Cavalier & Klay. You can find a few fun things like Shakespeare parodies. And you can find a few recent additions like Les Miserables (I read it a few years back) and The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe (which I bought this past winter).
The Bottom Shelf: This is where I store my Science Fiction Series. I’m not trying to hide them as if I’m somehow embarrassed. Rather, I have so many of them that they’re stacked double and triple deep so the bottom shelf is the best place for them. This is where I keep all of my Wild Cards softcovers (the couple of hardcovers are up on the George Martin shelf). Wild Cards is one of the few things I would describe as a “guilty pleasure.” I enjoy the characters and the superhero action. But in their attempt to create a grittier world than found in most comic books, Martin and company strayed too far in the other direction. It seems like every third character is a pimp or a prostitute and half of the characters are on one drug or another. I don’t deny that’s part of the real world but it’s overrepresented in Wild Cards. Where’s the housewife? The high school valedictorian? The people most of us meet everyday? Oh well. I’ll keep stopping by as long the characters have unique powers and interesting adventures.
This is where I keep several dozen Star Wars books. Timothy Zahn and Kevin Anderson are two of my favorite Star Wars authors. I was also very impressed with the New Jedi Order series featuring the extra-galactic invasion by the Yuuzhan Vong. I don’t buy as many Star Wars books as I used to (another tip of the hat to the library and the eReader) but I still have quite a collection.
I’ve also followed a few of the better Star Wars and Wild Cards authors into their original novels, like Michael Kube McDowell’s Vectors and Carrie Vaughan’s After the Golden Age. The rest of the shelf is filled up with Babylon 5 books and a few random fantasy authors like Neil Gaiman, Tad Williams and Roger Zelazny.
The Extra Shelf: That’s it for my big gray bookshelf. But that’s not it for my books. Even after years of downsizing, I have too many books for one bookcase. I store a bunch of other books in a second bookcase that’s otherwise dedicated to trade paperbacks. This is my Oversize Shelf. It’s also my Non-Fiction Shelf. It houses books about baseball and hockey. I have a nice collection of histories, encyclopedias and (now mostly outdated) statistics. It’s the home of musical biographies. There’s an autobiography by Sting and another by Leonard Cohen. There’s a book about the Rolling Stones that I bought the same morning as the aforementioned Storm of Swords (memorable because my daughter was born later that night) and there’s Keith Richards’ Life which might be the best biography I’ve ever read. There are resource books about some of my favorite genre properties like Firefly and Lost. There’s a book about church history and another about world history (called The Chronicle of the 21st Century which I won as a graduation prize from high school). And, just for kicks, there’s a book about dinosaurs that I bought at the dinosaur museum in Drumheller, Alberta.
So that’s what I read and what I’ve read. My bookshelf tells you a lot about me- about my tastes and interests, about my hobbies and inclinations. And, as much as it may surprise some people, it’s not all comics.