All the Old Books are New Again

…at least, they are for me right now, as I’m having the intensely pleasurable experience of introducing my son to the great science fiction that I grew up with, and recommending good current fiction as well.

My Aspergian son reads well but slowly, so he’s not able to get through the sheer number of books I did at his age (plus, I never had to deal with the siren song of the digital world.) He often listens to recorded books (thank you, Audible subscription) but I still have to make recommendations knowing that he won’t read as many books.

So, where do you start? Start in the Golden Age and work your way up? Start now and go back?

I also homeschool him for his core classes, including English and Social Studies, so a few novels made their way in under the guise of assigned reading. Last year, he read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow at the same time we were following the Edward Snowden situation, so that was a huge success (my son is feverishly reading Homeland right now.) We also started listening to 1984 on a car ride recently, and maybe it was the narrator, but we were both super creeped out by descriptions of the Ministries in the beginning, especially the Ministry of Love–I’d forgotten how great George Orwell’s prose is.

This past school year, my son read Starship Troopers and then All Quiet on the Western Front, which, along with The Iliad, made for an entire year-long examination of war in literature. He has a dystopian literature class coming up, so he’ll read Fahrenheit 451 and Ready Player One. (The class also covers World War Z, which he’s read and loves–of course…)

So my son’s getting quite a dose of dystopian fiction–I’ll need to bring in a broader view of science fiction and fantasy. For sure more Heinlein, some Asimov and Clarke. Plus John Scalzi, Neal Stephenson, Iain Banks, Stephen King…LOTR! Narnia!!!

So many great books, so little time…luckily, he likes to get recommendations from me (so far), and even more luckily, I feel the need to revisit these novels to make sure my recommendations hold up over time…

Any ideas? If you could read only ten books EVER again, what would they be? Or, if you were designing a high school curriculum around science fiction, how would that look?

This was the cover of my copy of Starship Troopers, from when I first read it in the late seventies or very early eighties. I had to get a new copy for my son because this one sadly fell apart when I tried to read it.

This was the cover of my copy of Starship Troopers, from when I first read it in the late seventies or very early eighties. I had to get a new copy for my son because this one sadly fell apart when I tried to read it.

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Reading Every Book (Ars longa, vita brevis)

My Childhood Library  When I was a child, I wanted to read every book in the library. And I had a plan.

I wasn’t completely delusional. I was only planning to read all of the fiction in the library, and not even all of that. I had no interest in the picture books, and I figured I had read most of what would no be considered middle grade (Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder, most notably.) My plan involved moving through all of the “Juvenile” section. I didn’t think much beyond that, other than vaguely considering the day that I’d be done with the children’s room and move on to the adult shelves on the main floor of the library.

I even remember trying to decide if I would allow myself to skip books that didn’t look interesting, or if all the books meant all the books. And I don’t remember if Louisa May Alcott was really the first author on the first shelf, but those are the books I always think of being on that shelf. Little Women. Little Men. I know made it at least as far as Lloyd Alexander (The Black Cauldron series.)

It’s unlikely that I really thought this project would work, although I was a very fast reader and I had lots of time on my hands–you can only watch so much Brady Bunch, cable/videos/internet hadn’t been invented yet, and I had few responsibilities of any kind. Plus, I was only about ten, so I had a lifetime to get through the Juvenile section.

But maybe I did. My grasp of reality was definitely more tenuous back then. I know I had some trouble with the concept of fiction versus non-fiction, even well into the time I was starting to read adult science fiction (I remember asking my mother if it Lankar of Callisto by Lin Carter was fiction, specifically if it was possible to find a magical portal in some earthly jungle and wake up on one of the moons of Saturn. She said if I wanted to believe it, then it was possible, which for some reason I thought was an acceptable answer.)

At some point, I abandoned my plan to read all of the books. I read a lot, but I didn’t confine myself to alphabetical by author, and at some time around age twelve I started hitting science fiction and Stephen King pretty hard, so that was it for the juvenile section (which had almost no science fiction.)

I’m having a similar problem now. I fully realize that I won’t read everything; I have finally grasped the magnitude of the situation: number of books in print + number of books published ever year+ actually having responsibilities now. And I don’t want to read everything, anyway. Definitely not the boring ones.

However, now I want to write everything.

I love writing (most of the time.) But it takes a long time, especially to revise and make an okay book into a good book. So I have this anxiety about writing now: There are so many characters, so many stories. So many kinds of stories.

I want to write an amazing space opera like Iain Banks’ Culture novels , and a young adult novel as shocking and perfect as How I Live Now. And a complicated thriller like Reamde. And insanely funny stuff like Hyperbole and a Half. Definitely nonfiction about how I got magically teleported to the moon of Saturn one day while exploring the Amazon Basin.

I know that I won’t write everything. I won’t even write all of the books that I have inside me right now–some, sad to say, don’t deserve to be written, and the competition for my writing time is intense. I’m figuring out what I do write best, and not surprisingly, it’s the kind of stories that I’ve always liked best…but told the way I tell them.

There’s even Latin phrase for this feeling: Ars longa, vita brevis.

So, back to finishing The Decline and Fall of Taran Elember. And then my in progress YA trilogy about the Singularity. And then that one with the AI dragons that I wrote just for fun but I really like…

Art is long, life is short.