My love affair with books – the early years

Following on from yesterday’s ebook vs paperback debate, I wanted to talk about reading in general. I’ve always been a keen reader. I was reading before I started school and quickly exhausted the set reading books available, to the point where the teacher in my last year at junior school said to just bring in a book from home.

Cover of "The Stainless Steel Rat"

I’d already been plundering my dad’s book collection – it was fairly small, consisting of books on the shelf by his bed and some in his office at work, but I soon picked up a taste for pulp sci-fi. Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat is still a favourite of mine, and I went through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series in no time. Followed up with Asimov’s I, Robot, and his Lucky Starr -Space Ranger series, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman books, the list goes on. I think my teacher was a bit alarmed when I turned up with a well-thumbed copy of one of the early Mars books, with their covers strewn with giant green aliens and bikini-clad heroines.

Back in those days, books also seemed to be a lot thinner!

I’d joined the local library too, and whizzed through books at a rate of knots. This was back in the days before computerised library issue systems, and each book had a little card ticket[1] which went into a pocket in one of your library cards. I got told off by the librarian at the tiny local branch library (maybe 50 metres from our front door, bliss!) for reading too quickly, as I’d returned a book that I’d borrowed a couple of hours earlier and she hadn’t got round to filing the tickets yet! Luckily she took pity on me and gave me a couple of extra library tickets.

My own bookshelves followed and were soon groaning under the weight. Then came the dream weekend job – working in a public library to make a bit of extra money, and getting paid to look after and talk to people about books. Great fun, and with a whole world of books at my disposal. Plus I got to persuade the librarians there to buy copies of a book I wanted to read, and got to read them before anyone else. I spent a few happy years working evenings and weekends in a variety of libraries across the city, from the tiny little local libraries to the bigger city branches. Had a weird moment one day working in Byker library when I realised that it was *exactly* the same design of building as my base at Fenham library, only with half the number of books.

I’ve got a load of library-related tales to tell, but that’s for another day. The question I have for you today, dear reader, is about your early reading – did you start young, late, what sort of books did you like?

[1] The Browne Issue System, for the curious amongst you

books – ebook vs dead-tree

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap: (from WordPress.com)

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?

Now, there’s an interesting question. Subtly different to ‘do you prefer ebooks over paperbacks?’

For a long time I thought about getting an eReader. The ability to carry many books in a small space really appealed – often I’d go on holiday or on a business trip with a selection of books to read, just in case one didn’t take my fancy or I finished one and needed another one whilst I was away.

Finally, for a birthday a couple of years ago, I got a Kindle. I became a shameless convert, loading it up with a wide variety of books. Fiction, non-fiction, some I’d already read in paperback, some new. I probably read more that first year with the Kindle than I had done for a long time beforehand. The convenience, the size, weight were all perfect. The lovely e-ink screen, readable in full sunlight on a beach. It had (still has) a case with a built-in light, so I could read at night. Brilliant. I thought I’d also solved the problem of running out of bookshelf space at home too – after all, my virtual bookshelf was as long as I needed it to be.

Books, pre-ordered weeks or months ago would automagically appear on my Kindle on the day of release. I remember the first time I pre-ordered something, switching the Kindle on at midnight and hitting Sync. There it was – a fresh book, ready to be enjoyed. Bargains to be had too – Amazon often had offers on with books for £1.99 or less. I stocked up for a rainy day. My ebookshelf was getting longer and longer…

There were niggles, of course. Remembering to make sure it was charged up (a minor problem, given the astonishing battery life of the Kindle). The page refresh, which was *just* a shade slower than I’d like it to be. The slightly clunky user interface, and the fingermarks from the kids who expected it to be a touchscreen. 🙂

The biggest problem for me? Sharing books. One of the true joys of reading a dead-tree book is that moment you finish it and want to press it into a friend’s hands, urging them to read it as you just *know* they’ll love it. My brother and I would see each other occasionally and do a book swap – half a dozen paperbacks picked up across the intervening months that we knew each other would enjoy. With the Kindle, that wasn’t possible. Sure, we could recommend books to each other, but both had to buy a copy. Which, I’m sure the publishers (and Amazon) loved. (Yes, I hear Amazon is doing a lending library thing, but having an ebook for 2 weeks just isn’t enough.) We’d lost the discovery, the book that you wouldn’t have bought, but having read one, would happily go and acquire the author’s back catalogue.

The other thing I’ve found is that I missed reading a ‘proper’ book. Knowing how much you had left to read by the ever-decreasing pile of pages under your right thumb. Sorry Amazon, but a ‘percentage read’ just doesn’t give you the same feel. The ability to flick back a few pages to refresh your memory on a scene or plot point – again, the Kindle lets you do that, but frankly, it’s a faff.

And also there’s something just brilliant about holding and reading a physical book. The tactile sensation of flicking through the pages, or peeling back the covers on an unread book is something I don’t ever want to be without.

So, these days I split my time between the ebook and the dead-tree versions. They both have their place, and I wouldn’t be without either.

How about you, dear reader? Are you an ebook convert, or an old-school die-hard? Or, like me, somewhere inbetween?

Books: 2013

A record of the books I’ve read in 2013. Read:

  1. The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History’s Greatest Escape Artist, by Harry Houdini [nf, pbk]
  2. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes [f, pbk, arc]
  3. The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman [f, pbk, arc]
  4. Racing Through The Dark: The Fall And Rise Of David Millar, by David Millar [nf, pbk]
  5. Railsea, by China Mieville [f, e]
  6. London Falling, by Paul Cornell [f, pbk, arc]
  7. Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway [f, e]
  8. Fade to Black, by Francis Knight [f, pbk, arc]
  9. From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming [f, e]
  10. Hokkaido Highway Blues, by Will Ferguson [nf, pbk]
  11. Red Army Faction Blues, by Ada Wilson [f, pbk]
  12. The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Tracey Chevalier [f, pbk]
  13. Poison, by Sarah Pinborough [f, hbk]
  14. The Fire Witness, by Lars Kepler [f, pbk, arc]
  15. Lexicon, by Max Barry [f, pbk, arc]
  16. World War Z, by Max Brooks[f, e]
  17. Game of Thrones [book 1], by George R.R. Martin [f, e]
  18. My Criminal World, by Henry Sutton [f, pbk]
  19. The Machine, by James Smythe [f, pbk]
  20. City of Blood, by MD Villiers [f, pbk]
  21. Bigger Deal, by Antony Holden [nf, pbk]
  22. The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross [f, pbk]
  23. The Last Banquet, by Jonathan Grimwood [f, hbk]
  24. Solo, by William Boyd [f, hbk]
  25. The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch [f, e]
  26. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan [f, e]

Currently reading:

  • Moon’s Artifice, by Tom Lloyd [f, pbk]
  • The Palace Job, by Patrick Weekes [f, e]

Didn’t finish:

  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson[f, pbk] (Not often I don’t finish a book that I’ve started, but really didn’t get on with this one.)

Key: f – fiction nf – non-fiction hn – hardback pbk – paperback e – ebook (probably read on Kindle) arc – review copy

NaNoWriMo approaches

It’s that time of the year again when thoughts start to turn to NaNoWriMo.
For those new to NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month (see what they did there?), and takes place in November of each year. The premise is startlingly simple:
You start on November 1st and finish at midnight on November 30th. In those 30 days, you write 50,000 words.

Fifty thousand?” I hear you cry. “Isn’t that like totally a lot?”

Yes. Yes it is. And stop shouting, please..

That’s kind of the whole point. You’ve got thirty days. You need to be averaging 1,666-and-a-bit words per day, so you don’t have time to edit (well, assuming you’ve got other things to do other than write). It’s all about getting that first draft out of your head. Write first, edit later.

(First drafts, by the way, are supposed to suck. That’s the law. You can check if you like.)

Anyway, I did NaNoWriMo last year, and for the first time ever (I’ve tried it several times before), I went over that magic 50,000 word mark.
Not only that, I finished a day early. *polishes winner’s medal*


There were points in the process of writing it where I was literally laughing at how bad it was. The grand plot and character that I’d started on day one sort of fizzled out by day three as I moved over to see some action over *there*. I realised on day… fifteen? sixteen? that the character I’d based the whole story plan around hadn’t been seen for two weeks. I wrote her back in, decided that I didn’t really like her much, and wrote her back out again. These other guys? Doing all the cool stuff over *here*? Far more interesting.
So, it was an experience. It completely drained all of the writing mojo I had though, and I’ve not really written anything much since. I picked up last year’s NaNo recently and started re-reading it. I was surprised that bits of it didn’t actually suck quite as badly as I’d remembered, and bits of it actually sounded like I knew what I was doing. Other bits sounded like someone else had written them.

These were clearly the post-midnight caffeine-fuelled sections. You tend to get a lot of them.

I’ve not decided if I’m doing NaNo again this year. I quite fancy the challenge, but also fancy doing something a bit different.
Watch this space.

books of 2011: mini-reviews

(nicked from my Twitterings, because I’m too knackered to do it properly)

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (@laurenbeukes): Brilliant. Compared favourably with Michael Marshall Smith (@ememess), I’d have to agree. Dark, gritty, deliciously original. Buy it. Thank me later.

The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (@JonCG_novelist). Vampire assassins in Venice. Seriously, what more do you need to know? utterly brilliant.

 

Currently reading The Watchers, by Jon Steele, which has the tagline “Imagine the Bourne Identity rewritten by Neil Gaiman”. I’m *so* intrigued…

 

My top ten books

Inspired by World Book Day, I thought I’d pull together a list of my top ten favourite books[1]

So, in no particular order, I recommend:

1. Only Forward ~ Michael Marshall Smith

This was Mike’s debut novel, billed as a cross between Blade Runner and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s neither, but an entirely original blend of smart-talking protagonist, weird & wonderful situations and locations, holding together a dark, funny, unforgettable story. This is the book I’m most likely to recommend to you on any given day.

2. The Stainless Steel Rat ~ Harry Harrison

My dad had a copy of this on his bookshelf at work, and I was drawn to it by the fabulous spaceship on the front. It’s a corking read which zips along without pausing for breath. The thing I love about old sci-fi books is that they’re short, skinny little paperbacks that you can get through in a couple of hours, but packed with excitement, adventure and really wild stuff. This is the story of Slippery Jim DiGriz, ace con-man, and titular Stainless Steel Rat, and his recruitment into the Special Corps, run by criminals to catch criminals. Who better to catch a thief than another thief? Brilliant. I’m not ashamed to say that Monty owes a lot of his heritage to the Rat.

3. Dune ~ Frank Herbert

Yes, it’s long, and yes the later books in the series do go on a bit, then turn utterly bonkers. But Dune is wonderful, deep and complex, laden with atmosphere.

4. The Kinky Friedman Crime Club ~ Kinky Friedman

A friend gave me a copy of this many years ago, and I was instantly hooked by the tales of Kinky Friedman, loft-dwelling, cigar-smoking, espresso-guzzling private dick for hire in NYC, with a great line in one-liners

5. Pashazade ~ Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The first of his ‘Arabesk’ trilogy, it’s a book I’ve read many times. Jon has a knack for finding a sentence or turn of phrase which is just *so* delicious and perfect that I find myself reading and re-reading sections, just to work out how the hell he did it. Masterful.

6. The Eyre Affair ~ Jasper Fforde

Ah, no list would be complete without Jasper. The adventures of Thursday Next, Jurisfiction Agent. The first book is literally stuffed to the gills with ideas which make your head spin. Superb.

7. Against a Dark Background ~ Iain M. Banks

A lot to choose from for Mr Banks, but this is my favourite. Dark, oh so dark, but a cracking good read. The Lazy Guns alone are worth the price of admission.

8. Pyramids: A Discworld Novel ~ Terry Pratchett

Again, lots to choose from. Pyramids is my favourite and most-read of my Pratchett collection. The opening scenes where young Pteppic joins the Assassin’s Guild are a joy to behold, and Arthur’s line

‘This is a No.2 throwing knife. I got ninety-six percent for throwing knives. Which eyeball don’t you need?’

cracks me up every time I read it. I went to get my copy of the book to check I’d quoted it correctly, and giggled when I read it.

9. Neverwhere ~ Neil Gaiman

I first read Neil’s ‘American Gods’, quite enjoyed it, but couldn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. Gaiman fans seemed to be *everywhere*, but on the basis of AG, I wasn’t entirely sure why. Then I read Neverwhere, and never looked back. Genius.

10. Un Lun Dun ~ China Miéville

…And if you’re having Neverwhere, you’ve got to have Un Lun Dun. Seriously, just go and buy it. It’s entirely different from China’s other stuff, but weird and wonderful and odd and inventive and just plain bloody marvellous. You can thank me later.

 

There are, naturally, some notable exceptions on there – The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for one. But then I’d assume that if you were likely to read it, you’d have done so already.

Also there are other books by most of those authors which I’d also highly recommend. Jasper’s second book, Lost in a Good Book, is arguably better than the first, but I think you’re better off starting with The Eyre Affair. In LiaGB he realises that he’s got a readership who will quite happily trot after him down whatever crazy labyrinth of ideas he comes up with, and the story works a little better.

Iain M. Banks (and his alter-ego, Iain Banks) has his Culture Books, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons, and for his ‘mainstream’ books, The Crow Road is brilliant. The Crow Road starts with the line

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Seriously, how can you not want to read on?

Michael Marshall Smith’s other books are great too – Spares is a very close second behind Only Forward in my book, and some of his short stories are utterly superb, very dark, scary, thought-provoking and funny. If you happen to come across a copy of his collected short stories, More Tomorrow & Other Stories, snap it up. It was only a short print run, but is a great collection. Failing that, go for What You Make It: Selected Short Stories, a shorter collection in paperback.

I could go on, but I think that’s quite enough for now.

 

So, dear reader. What are *your* favourite books? And what did happen to my copy of American Gods?

 

[1]This list is subject to change depending on various factors, including my current mood, what I’ve just read, how much coffee I’ve had and the phase of the moon.

books, books and yet more books

Reasons I love my Kindle: #34,208,930,243

Sample books.

Free samples of books. Clicky the (free) sample button and a free(!) sample gets automagically delivered to your kindle.

Well, to my kindle. Unless you’re doing the clickying, in which case it will most likely turn up on your kindle.

Currently lined up:

Oh, and a subscription to Asimov’s. Brilliant.

And Twittering with authors is fun too – having read and loved JC-G’s The Fallen Blade (review incoming), he recommended Lauren Beukes to me, and I recommended Michael Marshall Smith’s Spares to her.

And to you, if you’ve not read it.  Spares is bloody brilliant.

And also just finished Mike Shevdon’s (@shevdon) The Road to Bedlam (sequel to the brilliant Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre 1)  (Magda, if you’re reading this, it’s still in my desk. I *will* post it to you, soon!)

Phew. Been reading a lot since I got my Kindle.

So, dear reader. What have *you* been reading lately?