Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Reading into the Past: 1999

This is something I used to do, back in the early days of the blog. I thought it was fun, and a silly way to look at a random grouping of books -- something like taking a picture of a shelf and writing about the books there.

It fell out of the rotation pretty quickly, particularly as I started writing more seriously about the new books I was reading, but it's been in the back of my head as something I should try again. So here I am.

I'm still not reading at a volume that regularly gives me books to write about -- I will probably finish a novel today (Sunday, October 11), but I'd like to write a blog post before that. And I didn't write anything yesterday; if you want to do something regularly, you need to make mechanisms to keep you doing that, so it becomes a habit.

For all those reasons, I'm looking to bring Reading into the Past back, and do it once a week. I'll be using a random number generator to pick a year between December of 1990 (when I started keeping up a reading notebook, six months out of college and freshly laid off from an office that moved itself bodily to Detroit) to 2010 (roughly when I started writing about everything I read, and giving me a 20-year stretch).

This week, it's 1999, a princely year. Here's what I was reading in the days leading up to October 14, 1999:

Peter Cannon, Forever Azathoth and Other Horrors (unbound signatures, 10/7)

Cannon wrote Scream for Jeeves, a very funny Lovecraft/Wodehouse mashup, a few years before this, and I did it in the SFBC along with Cannon's somewhat straighter Pulptime (also Lovecraftian) in an omnibus called The Lovecraft Chronicles. Forever Azathoth was a new collection of humorous takes on Lovecraftian themes, and, as I recall, was also quite good -- not as sublime as Scream for Jeeves, but that was a short tightrope act to begin with. I clearly was reading this for work, but I know I didn't buy it for work, so my guess is, twenty years later, that the huddled masses of SFBC members did not buy Lovecraft Papers in the quantities they were supposed to. I'm pretty sure I don't have a copy of Forever Azathoth anymore: it went beneath the waves in 2011.

A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young (10/8)

See below.

A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six (10/9)

At this point, I had one son, who was just eighteen months old. I wasn't actually reading anything much to him yet -- toddlers are not the most engaged audience -- but I was clearly preparing for that. I think of myself as not super-sentimental, but I do love the four little Milne books: these two books of poetry (well, doggerel, mostly; you love these only if you encountered them first when you were too young to know better) and then the two, much better, books of Winnie-the-Pooh stories. These were lying around my sons' rooms during their childhoods, so I've read bits and pieces of both of them a lot more than most things. I imagine I was reading them at this point since I was running a Book-A-Day streak, and short books of verse for children is an easy win there.

Deborah Christian, The Truthsayer's Apprentice (bound galleys, 10/10)

No unaided memory of this at all, I'm sorry to say. I'll Google and then type some more...Oh, this is sad. Christian wrote a few SFF novels in the mid-90s, starting with Mainline, and this book was supposed to launch her big fantasy series. But there was no second book -- though it does look like she came back with a new novel last year, Splintegrate (though the SFE claims that was originally published in 1997, so ???). Anyway, this was some manner of secondary-world fantasy, probably somewhat epic. If I still had my reader's reports, I'd tell you more -- but I lost all of them in the 2011 flood as well.

Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (10/11)

The memoirs, mostly of The Great War, from the author of I, Claudius (and a bunch of other stuff that is mostly not read today). As I recall, there were warring editions around that time -- perhaps a newer critical or corrected edition had just come out, or differences between the US and UK editions were still ranging seventy years later? I remember reading one version of it and then seeing a clearly different version in a bookstore a year or so later, and having that moment of wondering if I wanted to read it again. That aside, I understand that this is still one of the great WWI memoirs.

(After poking about: there's a 1929 edition and a 1957 edition. In the eternal way of the world, older Graves toned down some of his commentary about specific people in the 1957 edition, perhaps because they were then rich and/or influential. I think the one I read, sadly, was the 1957 -- so I may need to revisit this eventually.)

Rudy Rucker, Saucer Wisdom (10/12)

I have trouble remembering which Rudy Rucker novel is which: he's a writer with a distinctive style and set of concerns, so, except for obvious things like The Hollow Earth (a Poe sequel, more or less), all of Rucker's novels are about semi-bohemian people in the near future engaging in odd adventures with mathematically unlikely creatures and realms, often with mildly dystopian backgrounds which are only rarely the focus of the books. I'm sure this was one of them; it was new at the time. I suspect from the fact that I read it as a finished book that it was not being considered for the SFBC, which is slightly sad: Rucker is a zany, unique, wonderful writer whose work I've loved for thirtyish years but he's never been as popular as I think he should be. (Rucker is, to be really reductive, the bastard stepchild of John Sladek and Robert Sheckley on one side and Edwin Abbott and Lewis Carroll on the other.)

This reminds me I have two Rucker novels on my shelf that I could read -- they might come up in the rotation.

Jim Paul, Medieval in LA (10/13)

No memory at all, so off to Google to figure out what this was: Ah! Paul is the author of Catapult, a wonderful mid-90s book about building a siege weapon with a buddy and then testing it. This was his follow-up, a narrative non-fiction book organized around a weekend trip to LA and mostly consisting of digressions about the differences between the medieval world-view and the one he saw in the world in 1997. I still don't remember it, but I have a vague Catapult-shaped memory that may incorporate things that were actually in this book.

Italo Calvino, t zero (10/14)

If there were any questions that I tended to skew to the literary side of SFF, I trust this will prove it. I haven't read as much Calvino as sometimes I think I'd like to, but I've enjoyed his game-like story sequences, particularly the ones that are closest to "science fiction." This is one of those collections.

I'm also surprised to see that Calvino had been dead for a while when I read this: he died in 1985, at only 61. I forget that his major works were from the '60s and '70s; maybe because that was my own childhood, so that era is baseline "normal" to me in a way, and everything else since then is lived history.

That's what I read this week, twenty-one years ago. The younger Andy Wheeler got through a lot more books than the 2020 version does: he had a long commute, eyes still able to focus on a page for hours at a time, and the habit of sitting down, every day off, in a chair and powering through five hundred pages of manuscript. I miss being that guy, for (some of) those reasons and several more.

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