Book Meme 2012
Week 6: The author by whom you own the most books
I may shock you all by NOT cheating in this blog-post. In my defense, there is not really a way to cheat here other than lying, and what is the point of a dishonest meme?
Though I have not cheated, I am still faced with a peculiar circumstance. Behold the three-way tie.
I own ten books by Agatha Christie, ten by Terry Pratchett, and ten by George MacDonald. Tolkien is the runner up with 9, but I won’t expound on him today.
One result of the literary exploration of my shelves is that I am ashamed not to own more P.G. Wodehouse. I’ve read many of his books, but I own few. This must be remedied. Unfortunately for my pocketbook, the delightful Pratchettean book store down the road from me has a lovely collection, but I digress. It is time, I suppose, to put in a word as to why I own ten books apiece from the above three authors.
This author is my standby when I am in need of entertainment. I am fond of the mystery genre, especially when the author incorporates humor and gravity effectively, as Christie does. I enjoy attempting to unravel the puzzles she lays out, and I like watching her colorful characters waltz across the pages.
It may not be the first that I read, but And Then There Were None was the first work of Christie’s to make a deep impression on me. That book is an example of her skill, and while few of her books are up to that standard, the mind capable of creating such an intricate mystery created many more to perplex and delight. Christie is one of those authors that I feel is well balanced. There is nothing about her writing that amazes me. She is no word-smith, but she her style is capable, and develops over time. She handles her characters and plots with skill. On the whole, if I can be as competent in writing as she, I will be very pleased.
Ah, Pratchett. The first book I read of his, Guards! Guards!, came early in his career, and you can tell. I have seen worse written books, certainly, but it is not up to my usual standards for fiction. And yet I ate it up, dived headlong into its sequel, and kept going.
That sort of thing had never happened to me before. My path is strewn with books that I abandoned after reading poor prose in the first chapter. What can I say? I was trained into literary snobbery from an early age. So what is it about Pratchett that overcame my reaction to his clumsy writing? His humor appeals to me, being dry and witty, but more than that, I fell in love with his characters almost immediately. I had to know what happened to Sam Vimes, Carrot, Sergeant Colon and Cecil Wormsborough St. John Nobbs. Lady Sybil Ramkin was of interest too, by the end of the book. I am still trying to absorb the lessons inherent in my reaction to Guards! Guards!. That a shoddily written book should be among my favorites tells me that my literary snobbery ought not to be the only measure by which I judge a book.
Thankfully, Pratchett’s style and skill have improved and he has been, for some time, a skillful writer. I do not agree with his worldview, but his insight into human nature is layered and often profound. I enjoy the human elements of his stories and the complex questions he raises. He makes me think and he makes me smile, sometimes simultaneously. Most of all, though, I am in love with his humor, and his characters.
Remember, “Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.” -Terry Pratchett from Guards! Guards!
MacDonald’s flaws as an author are quite obvious. He wanders off in strange and obscure bunny-trails, he hits his reader with great blocks of thick, purple prose, and the paths of his stories are often as winding and bewildering as the roads of Faerie. I am not surprised that he is not widely read. The irony is that even his failings delight me. I cannot think of a single author who captivates me as MacDonald does. The landscapes of his mind, heart and soul seem released on page, and they are simultaneously strange and familiar.
His tales for children are as whimsical and imaginative as those of Lewis Carrol without the aura of nightmare beneath the dream. By this I do not mean that MacDonald glosses over the dark aspects of existence. Rather he acknowledges the darkness and is unafraid, and this gives his reader courage. What is more, he reveals beauty in the most unlikely places. He teaches his reader to look and think rather than to assume.
His fiction for adults is more difficult to read, but I find it rewarding too. The darkness lies deeper and I can tell that the author has been troubled and afraid. But, as an author, he follows his characters through mundane and fey worlds undaunted and, again, I follow. I will quote a passage from Lilith in the hope that MacDonald will speak for himself better than I can.
The moon at length approached the forest, and came slowly into it: with her first gleam the noises increased to a deafening uproar, and I began to see dim shapes about me. As she ascended and grew brighter, the noises became yet louder, and the shapes clearer. A furious battle was raging around me. Wild cries and roars of rage, shock of onset, struggle prolonged, all mingled with words articulate, surged in my ears. Curses and credos, snarls and sneers, laughter and mockery, sacred names and howls of hate, came huddling in chaotic interpenetration. Skeletons and phantoms fought in maddest confusion. Swords swept through the phantoms: they only shivered. Maces crashed on the skeletons, shattering them hideously: not one fell or ceased to fight, so long as a single joint held two bones together. Bones of men and horses lay scattered and heaped; grinding and crunching them under foot fought the skeletons. Everywhere charged the bone-gaunt white steeds; everywhere on foot or on wind-blown misty battle-horses, raged and ravened and raved the indestructible spectres; weapons and hoofs clashed and crushed; while skeleton jaws and phantom-throats swelled the deafening tumult with the war-cry of every opinion, bad or good, that had bred strife, injustice, cruelty in any world. The holiest words went with the most hating blow. Lie-distorted truths flew hurtling in the wind of javelins and bones. Every moment some one would turn against his comrades, and fight more wildly than before, THE TRUTH! THE TRUTH! still his cry. One I noted who wheeled ever in a circle, and smote on all sides. Wearied out, a pair would sit for a minute side by side, then rise and renew the fierce combat. None stooped to comfort the fallen, or stepped wide to spare him.
The moon shone till the sun rose, and all the night long I had glimpses of a woman moving at her will above the strife-tormented multitude, now on this front now on that, one outstretched arm urging the fight, the other pressed against her side. “Ye are men: slay one another!” she shouted. I saw her dead eyes and her dark spot, and recalled what I had seen the night before.
Such was the battle of the dead, which I saw and heard as I lay under the tree.
Just before sunrise, a breeze went through the forest, and a voice cried, “Let the dead bury their dead!” At the word the contending thousands dropped noiseless, and when the sun looked in, he saw never a bone, but here and there a withered branch.