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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The Power of Flight Delays

Scary fish

At Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle

Anyone who has traveled by air in the past century has heard some form of the following words “Sorry, everyone, there has been a slight delay. We are getting a warning light on the (landing gear indicator/temperature gauge/coffee pot system) and so we are waiting for a mechanic to check it out.”

Followed a little later by: “We are returning to the gate while we fly in the part, but don’t go far as we will hopefully be re-boarding soon.”

And then: “We’re flying in a mechanic, so that will hopefully do it–but if you need to rebook your connecting flight, just talk to the gate agent.” (Everyone runs to get in line.)

Sadness? No, not if you’ve got a great book. Those of us who crave more reading time hunker down for hours–possibly many delicious hours–of full-immersion reading.

Reading for hours at a time without interruption has for me become a huge, rarely experienced luxury. I have to get in as much reading time as I can in smaller snippets–kids and work and projects and writing all demand attention.

But small snippets don’t work for every book. Some novels are difficult to jump in and out of like that, especially long, sprawling stories that require keeping track of lots of characters.

I recently had a reading-intensive trip to Seattle. My flight was delayed by a coffee pot light malfunction* (true story), and so I missed my Minneapolis connection (several times, as I kept re-booking and missing flights.) Finally, I was able to get Minneapolis and then a flight to Seattle, but connecting in Houston. A total of almost eighteen hours to read!

Fortunately, I had the perfect airline-delay books: Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear time travel novels. These two books are really one very long story, which I loved–but I’m not sure I would have loved them as much if I’d only read them in short bursts. I think the tension in these novels set in London during the Blitz might have been dissipated for me if I’d been slogging through them in little bits in my regular life.

I’m flying to Baltimore soon. It’s a direct flight, and only two hours, but I can hope that something in the pre-flight checklist is a little off, and maybe I’ll need to rebook and have to connect through LA or maybe Amsterdam.

Hmm…definitely need a good, long novel…

*To be fair, I think the airplane crew was worried about the light indicating other electrical problems. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just about coffee being a mandatory element of flight.