Books, books, books, books, and more books

Monday, 4 October 2010 05:49 by The Lunatic

Our container with all our belongings arrived two weeks ago, and we're almost finished unpacking. It’s nice to finally be getting settled in to our house.  Last night, we got started on the last big part of the process that needs to be tackled: The Books.

I've never really considered myself to be an avid reader, to me it's just a part of life.  It's like saying you're an avid breather.  Yes, I like breathing and I manage to do it on a regular basis, even with everything else going on in my life. That's how I've always felt about reading books.

But as I'm unpacking my library, I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the boxes and by trying to decide where to put all the books. And this is after doing a massive weeding out of my collection when we left Bellevue five years ago – I probably got rid of more than two thirds of my books at that time, only keeping the ones I really like or have specific sentimental value, or ones I might want to read again or refer to in the future.

I just did quick count of the books I unpacked last night, and I've read about 300 of them. So how many books have read in total?  Let's assume I've read two books a month since I was 10.  That would be 37 (years) times 12 (months in a year) times two (books per month), equals 888 books. I'm not really sure if this estimate is high or low. And if it’s about right, I’m wondering how the heck I’ve managed to keep a third of the books I've ever read, while moving them from California, to Seattle, to Belgium, Ecuador, Washington DC, Switzerland, and back to the US? Yikes! (and like I said, I weeded out two thirds of my collection about five years ago – it was a sizable Goodwill donation – so I think my estimate of 888 books that I’ve read in my life is a bit low!)

There are just a few authors of whom I've read, and kept, all of their published works – John Irving (I just finished The Fourth Hand last night, not his best work), Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Frank Herbert (and not just the Dune books). Hmmm, the authors whom I have collected their entire repertoire seem to be all men.  Where are all the good female writers in my collection, damn it? When I was a teenager, I guess I read all of Mary Stewart's novels (all gone in my cleanout, except for the Crystal Cave series), and over a span of three years we read all of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books out loud to the kids each night before bedtime, which still have of course.

Frank Herbert's Dune series is probably the biggest endeavor overall – especially considering I've also read all the rest of the books that his son Brian has written (co-authored by Kevin J. Anderson). It's fifteen novels in total (some exceptionally great, others not so good), averaging some 500 pages each. Oh yeah, you need to include Dreamer of Dune and The Road to Dune – biographies of Frank Herbert (which include some early drafts of the short story that Dune was based on) and The Dune Encyclopedia (probably the only encyclopedia I've ever read from cover to cover, but outdated now with the new novels that his son has written.)

Amazingly, I first read Dune when I was eleven years old – and I just finished the most recent release, Paul of Dune last month! (which takes place in between the first two original books, Dune and Dune Messiah). I think there are two more coming out, so I guess I’m not done with the saga just yet.

And it's not just fiction/science fiction that I enjoy.  I've plowed through dozens and dozens of books on investing, real estate, quantum physics, cosmology, economics, tax theory, finance and accounting, business and management, philosophy, and beer brewing.

I guess my interests are a tad bit eclectic.  But I do love science, investing, and mathematics. And beer brewing.

In general, I tend to “study” whatever topic is at the forefront of my attention – which probably accounts for the majority of the non-fiction I read. When my wife and I purchased the mini-mall in the Seattle area, I read every book I could find on lease negotiations, commercial property management, and corporate tax strategy. When we produced the movie Muffin Man, I had to study like a dog to get up to speed on copyright laws, music licensing, entertainment industry specific legal contracts, and how to market/distribute an independent movie.

The research I’ve done for a software program I’m writing to analyze stock options has made me an expert on Black-Scholes pricing models. And tonight, I’m starting a new book, Advanced Probability and Statistics, since I’ll soon be at the point in this project where I will need to start analyzing all the data that my program spits out.

I read fiction for enjoyment, and I read non-fiction for education (either I have a particular job to get done or a subject matter I want to learn about). Both are equally important to me.

My wife is always teasing me because I like to save the books that I’ve read.  She’s always accusing me of being “a collector”. We definitely have a different approach – she buys tons of books so that she always has a solid backlog on hand, and she keeps a bunch of books in her current “to read” queue.  She buys almost anything that strikes her fancy, but often doesn’t get to many of them for a few years. However, when she’s done with a book, she usually gives it away or trades it in.  So except for all her medical and scientific reference books (she has a lot, even for a doctor) she’s probably only read 30% of the books she owns. I, on the other hand, usually only purchase the books I really want to read right away, and I tend to keep most of them after reading. So I’ve probably read well over 90% of the books on my side of the shelf (again, not including reference books, atlases, things like that). We do tend to trade quite a bit when we find something we think the other might enjoy, and I’ve managed to keep some real gems that she would have (to my horror) gotten rid of, like To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis. What a great story!

Many of my books are like old friends.  We might not talk much, but it’s comforting knowing that they are there for me when I need them.

The strangest book I have in my possession is probably The Menstruating Mall by Carlton Mellick III.  Very weird shit (see my review on Amazon). I also own books published by my brother, my step-father, and even our neighbor down the street! My wife is a published author as well, mostly scientific articles, but she does have a short story in the recently released Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues.

My favorites?  Well, that's hard to say; there are so many that I've really enjoyed and have made such an impact on my life. But I think I'd have to put Across Realtime by Vernor Vinge as one of my top choices. I actually borrowed this book from my brother about 23 years ago and never returned it (sorry Geoff). It's made up of two stories, The Peace War and the sequel Marooned in Realtime, which were published together as Across Realtime in 1987. I think they would make great movies (maybe I’ll buy the rights someday ... it would be a great project to take on!) Vernor Vinge's other two books A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In The Sky are also phenomenal and I highly recommend them as well. 

(Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers would also make a great movie – I think it would work best if the two books were merged into one screenplay.)

Another top favorite of mine is The Cider House Rules by John Irving. They did a fairly decent adaptation for the movie; but left out almost the first third of the book which really watered down the story, and made it much less appealing in my opinion.

And I can’t go without mentioning Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Pure genius.

For non-fiction, I'd have to put The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (which should be required reading for all high school students, worldwide!) in my top ten group. The book I’ve probably referred back to most often is Options as a Strategic Investment by Lawrence G McMillan, it’s a wonderful textbook if you want to learn about option trading.

Today, I separated a bunch of my old favorites from when I was a teenager and put them on a special shelf for my kids to read whenever they want – just so they’re easily accessible. I included the full collection of H. G. Wells novels, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and a few others suitable for ten and eleven year olds to dig into. I’ll be curious to see which ones they pick up and read. Of course, there’s also a shelf that we’ve had available to the kids for years, with plenty of books on sex education, anatomy, and dealing with puberty. Sometimes I think we’re the only parents in the neighborhood pushing our kids to look at more nudity.

Tomorrow, I need to buy one more bookcase so I can put away the last few piles of books that are stacked up on the floor, since I ran out of room on our shelves.  And then, after that, we will be fully unpacked and officially moved in!

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