On Book Addiction, Time Magazine, and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

I am addicted to books the way some people are addicted to cigarettes.  As soon as I finish one, I start the next – like lighting up a new cigarette off the smoldering butt of the last one.  To be able to accomplish this, I plan ahead.  Generally, I alternate between fiction and nonfiction.  I love both so much I don’t want to neglect one for the other.  So when I near the end of a nonfiction book, I scout around for a fiction book to replace it.

So it was recently when I was reading the final pages of “Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties” by Robert Stone.  I have a pile of unread books on a shelf next to my bed and I targeted a novel to read next.  But then…  I finished the nonfiction and laid it on my desk to review it, picked up the novel, and headed for one of my prime reading locations.

Now here I have to confess a major disagreement with Henry Miller.  I love his writing; he is a joy to read.  But in “The Books in My Life” he goes on page after page in a diatribe about why one should never read while sitting on the toilet.  That’s one of my favorite places to read.  It’s relaxing, which promotes the business at hand, and anyway, what the hell else am I going to do sitting there?  I get a significant amount of my reading done in the throne room.

Anyway, I read the back copy and the inside blurbs as I always do when I start on a fresh book.  I devour a book, every bit, leaving no scraps.  And I realized that this novel, a science fiction novel, had a plot with an element or two that bore some slight resemblance to a plot point or two of the very, very strange novel I am working on right now.  I’m not going to give you any details, because I never discuss details about works in progress, but suffice it to say that for now I decided to put this book aside, as I didn’t want it influencing the course I was taking in my own work.  I have no doubt the two novels are substantially different; I just didn’t want to be at all affected by the themes or ideas of others as I took the journey of discovery of writing my own book.

But then – gasp – this left a void.  I wasn’t sure what to read next.  I had other books, sure, but I always put a lot of thought into what I read; I don’t just grab something off the shelf.

In the meantime, I can’t just sit there doing nothing, so I grabbed the latest copy of Time Magazine.  Several months back the middle school my son attends was having a fund raising magazine subscription sale, so as a show of support I bought a subscription to Time.  I used to read it in Greece once in a while to keep up on certain news events after the fact, and I thought I might enjoy browsing through the issues once in a while.  Several of the cover stories seemed to be on interesting topics.  I read about the early history of Time Magazine recently in the brilliant “The Powers That Be” by David Halberstam, which deals with the era when the magazine was a shaping force in American politics and history.  Not any more, sad to say.  I found the articles boring and the magazine itself stale, redundant, anachronistic.

So I had to cast about quick for other reading material.

And I grabbed “Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia” by John Clute.  It’s a 1995 edition, a huge coffee table book loaded with pictures and text.  I came across it while attending the local Potlatch science fiction convention a few weekends ago.  It was a write-in auction item, and the opening bid was five dollars.  It’s worth a hell of a lot more than that, thought I, and wrote down my auction number.  Lo and behold, no one else bid on the item and it became mine.  A great bargain.  It’s chock full of the history of the field, and it focuses mainly on books and writers, which suits me just fine.  It’s not really the type of book that’s meant to be read cover to cover, but I spent a pleasant few days going through it, reading highlights, re-familiarizing myself with the history of the genre.

In the meantime, I ordered a book I wanted to read from Amazon.  One of my sons has an Amazon Prime membership which he can pass on to several family members, so I received the book posthaste with two-day shipping.  Just as I was finished perusing the encyclopedia, my next reading project arrived.  Crisis averted.

This reading addiction is something I have had for as long as I can remember, and something from which I have no desire to be cured.  Apart from possibly having a hand in my near-sightedness, it has done me well.  I have traveled far and wide in the world of books.  It reminds me of what the wonderful, beneficent father says in the film version of Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake” – I can’t remember the quote exactly, but it was something to the effect that books allow you to travel the world without ever going out of your door.  Great movie, by the way.

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