Saturday, May 13, 2006

Reading Into the Past: Week of 5/7

This week I rolled a 15, which takes me back to 1991 and the very earliest days of my reading notebook. (I might not have mentioned this before, but I started keeping a reading notebook at the beginning of December 1990, since I'd lost my job at Gale Research when they closed their New York office and I wanted some kind of not-being-a-bum metric to focus on. I then started at the SFBC on April 15, 1991, and kept up the notebook out of inertia.)

This is so far back that I hadn't moved to my normal system, in which I listed books read by date. Back then, I was keeping track by week, and adding up the number of pages each week. (I quit doing that in September of that year, probably because I finally realized that counting book pages, magazine pages and manuscript pages all equally was completely asinine.)

So, instead of my normal list, I have two lists, since I don't know what books I read on which dates. First is Week Ending 5/4/91:
  • P.M. Griffin, Seakeep (in Storms of Victory) 216pp
    I'd read the first short novel, by someone else, in that book the week before. This was one of the odder side "Witch World" projects, and I vaguely recall the other short novel in this book (Port of Dead Ships) as being better. Looking at my notebook again: well, perhaps this is because Port was actually by Andre Norton, who has a certain advantage in this area.
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch, editor, The Best of Pulphouse 377pp
    This is a great collection, and a book I feel very fondly towards, since it was the first book I ever bought professionally for the SFBC. I'd only been at the club for about six weeks, and Ellen Asher (SFBC Editor-in-Chief) was on one of her twice-yearly, completely incommunicado vacations in the UK. Some kind of budget problem reared its head, and every club in our group suddenly had to have more new books every cycle -- starting with the cycle we just finished. So I (as the greener-than-green neophyte editorial assistant) had to find two books to buy within a week. (I should say that I had the advice and help of Moshe Feder, ex-SFBC assistant and, at that time, editor of the Military Book Club.) To make matters even more difficult, the cycle in question was the twice-annual "Collector's Issue," which consisted entirely of classics. Well, I'd recently read and enjoyed this book, so I bought it. And, for the other slot, I indulged myself and brought back The Best of Fritz Leiber, which we still had under contract. (I figured Ellen would be more likely to be happy if I only spent the company's money on one book while she was away instead of two.)
  • Steven Brust, The Phoenix Guard 353pp
    First of the Khaavren romances. I read it, loved it, and realized there was no way in hell I could sell it in the SFBC -- particularly since we hadn't done any of the Vlad Taltos books at that point. I could just see how we'd sell it: "Hey, kids! You know that fantasy series about an assassin that you only vaguely know about and we've never offered? Well, this book is loosely related to that, works much better if you already know the world, and is written in a fake-19th century style! Wait -- where are you all going?!"
  • Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (end) 616pp
    It's a good book, but I still don't agree with Jonathan Lethem that it should have won the Nebula (or that any of the things that he thought would have followed had any chance of actually happening, for that matter).
  • Various Periodicals 562pp
    See? I didn't even list what I read. That's a lot of pages, so it was probably at least five or six magazines. But I have no idea what they were. I'm pretty sure I was reading National Review, Movieline, Comics Buyer's Guide, Skeptical Inquirer, Playboy (strictly for the articles, of course), and Spy then, and I might still have been reading National Lampoon (if it hadn't died by that point). But there probably were others that I've forgotten.
  • Joan Vinge, The Summer Queen (begin) 130pp
    This was the single most horrible manuscript I've ever had to deal with. (And that's about all that remains in memory: how unpleasant, physically, this was to read.) What I had was a huge stack of paper (800 pages, copied double-sided -- which I hated in those days), printed lightly, with massive numbers of editorial notes, queries and emendations. For a year or so afterwards, I had nightmares about reading The Summer Queen...
That was a relatively light week (my third at the SFBC), at only 322 pages a day -- the week before I'd done 575 pages a day and my first week I read six books for the club (though I should admit that two of those were novellas-as-books). The next week was a bit busier...

Week Ending 5/11/91:
  • Montalban, The Angst-Ridden Executive 229pp
    A mystery by a Mexican writer whose name I found on a list of good stuff somewhere. I must not have liked it much, because I never read another one of his books.
  • Joseph Hansen, Skinflick 194pp
    This is one of a series of mystery novels featuring Dave Brandstetter, who was interesting for two reasons: he was an insurance investigator (so he actually had a good reason to be poking around the lives of dead people), and he was gay (and this series started in the '70s, when that was a big deal). They're the kind of old-fashioned hard-boiled mysteries I read a lot of in those days and still love: short, to the point, and focused tightly on the actual case, without long digressions about the detective's supporting cast's love lives and other extraneous junk. I haven't read Hansen in probably a decade or more -- the last novel in the series, A Country for Old Men, was published in 1990, and Skinflick might actually have been the last of the early novels I tracked down -- but I liked them all very well at the time, and thought of him as one of the better writers in that area.
  • Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Superman Archives, Volume I 272pp
    The first few months of Superman stories from Action Comics, back in the day when he could only outrun a locomotive, jump a quarter of a mile, and withstand anything short of a bursting shell. Sure, inflation can be a bitch, but I'd rather have the kind Clark had.
  • Robert B. Parker, Looking for Rachel Wallace 219pp
    A middle Spencer novel. I've written about them before, and I will admit that the current novels can be a bit airy, but Parker has put together an incredible string of excellent novels in this series.
  • Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Expedition 192pp
    A skiffy art book that should be better known; it seems to have fallen completely off the face of the planet. Barlowe, of course, is of Guide to Extraterrestrials fame. This is a higher-concept book; it purports to be the record of the first interstellar trip to an alien biosphere, sometime in the twenty-mumble century. Barlowe is the official trip artist, and the book contains his sketches and full paintings of the various creatures of this planet, along with his trip journal and other ruminations. It's a really wonderful SFnal idea, done with great style and energy, and in a better world would be one of the minor classics of the field.
  • Sue Grafton, "A" Is For Alibi 215pp
    I think I started reading this series because the then-editor of the Mystery Guild, Maryann Eckels (whom I realize I haven't seen in nearly ten years) pushed them on me and told me I had to read them. I don't think I ever thanked her for that: thanks, Maryann.
  • Bill Pronzini, Dragonfire 196pp
    Another mystery, from the "Nameless Detective" series. Yes, the series was a bit gimmicky (the detective's name was never revealed), but the '70s and '80s books were all good tough hardboiled stuff. They got a bit mushier in the '90s, and I eventually stopped reading them, but the first couple of decades of this series is great stuff in the old mold.
  • Joan Vinge, The Summer Queen (end) 1280pp
    Oh, god, please just make it stop.
  • Hearn, Bad August 243pp
    Yet another mystery. I think this was another author I was trying out and didn't keep up with. (I suspect this in part because, in these early days, I didn't list author's first names, and I now have no idea what Mr. Hearn's parents named him.)
  • Marcia Muller, The Shape of Dread 282pp
    One of the Sharon McCone mystery series: yet another one that I liked better back in the day before half of the book was about Sharon's home life and the dating misadventures of her sidekicks.
  • Various Periodicals 377pp
    What I said before, except I seem to have read less of it this week.
  • William F. Nolan and Martin H. Greenberg, editors, The Bradbury Chronicles (start) 270pp
    One of a flurry of feschrift anthologies of this era: this one had a bunch of mostly minor stories that were supposedly inspired by Ray Bradbury's work. I don't remember it at all.
And that week came out to 567 pages a day.

I'm now a couple of days later with this than I was last week, and am dangerously close to the next time I'll do this. I hope I don't end up combining weeks next time, or I could have a thousand-line post...

1 comment:

Scott Lynch said...

Ahhh... I picked up *Expedition* when I was in eighth grade, and thought I was going to be an illustrator when I grew up. I found that book completely entrancing, and keep it close at hand in my office to this day.

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