By guest blogger Ed Greenwood
I collect books. I have two cottages (“cabins” to Americans) crammed full of books, and a sleeping hut that has some books, and oh, yes, a house crammed with more than eighty thousand books.
Yes, you read that right. Eighty thousand tomes, mainly fantasy and SF, but a bit of everything, really, from comic books to mighty wrist-crushing reference tomes. (I am also a librarian and a writer, and come from a family of writers, and so collect books by instinct and family habit, as well as through my own booklust.)
I haven’t read all of them (there’s a constant bedside stack of books waiting to be read; in fact, from time to time I put an IKEA lamp on top of the stack and gain an extra bedside table), but I’ve read perhaps ninety-five percent of them, every word—and some I’ve read and re-read often.
These re-reads are “my classics,” you might say, from LOTR to Kipling’s Stalky and Co. to Kay’s Tigana and A Song For Arbonne to Zelazny’s A Night In The Lonesome October and his early Amber books, to Panshin’s Anthony Villiers novels and C.L. Moore’s Jirel tales, to early Vance and Norton and Wodehouse and John Dickson Carr locked room mysteries, and the James H. Schmitz Hub stories and John Bellairs’s The Face In The Frost to Colin Watson’s Flaxborough novels, to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman tales and The Galaxy Primes and Spacehounds of IPC and even his circus family SF tales (his Skylark books didn’t grab me as much, for some reason).
Oh, yes, my “classics” include great books, and ripping yarns—and some pulps that are less than . . . ahem . . . stellar as literary works, but are by gosh-darned rip-roaring adventure stories that race you, nay, drag you along to their colorful conclusions.
And I feel no shame at all in embracing these less polished works. They are, by Crom, fun, and work for me.
Why? Well, looking back, I can see that for some of them it was stumbling onto them at the right time.
Let me explain. I happen to be Canadian, and if apple pie is root Americana, then the game of hockey (“ice hockey” to American readers) is somewhere near the heart of what it is to be Canadian. Many Canadians debate, as all sports fans do, who the greatest players and teams were, and who could beat whom blindfolded on a bad day with various appendages tied behind their backs. More grandly and formally, sports writers carry on this debate under the guise of determining when the “Golden Age” of hockey was. One of our greatest former hockey goalies, the lawyer and sometime politician Ken Dryden, sagely entered this debate by stating that the Golden Age of hockey, for you, was whenever “you were twelve.”
I believe this notion (leaving the exact age mutable to best apply to each individual) applies to our reading careers, if we can call them that, too. Just as the (sometimes awful, in retrospect) movies and television shows of our youth shine golden in our memories, so too do many books.
Some of the family stories and romances my elders remember fondly are, well, wretchedly bad. Boring, leaden-paced, clumsy, and unconvincing. So are some of the pulps—but the pulps, for all their overblown highwaymen and crashing moons, their interstellar pirates with robotic limbs and eye patches and love affairs with tentacled aliens, and their wide-eyed and bosomy space explorers with fishbowl helmets, set out with verve and enthusiasm to tell outlandish tales of entertainment. And deliver more than their share of wild rides.
Bring ’em on, I say.
Waiter, another platter of outlandish entertainment! With the tentacles still writhing, mind . . .