A week or two ago, dark cargo suggested the idea of a Books That I’ve Been Meaning to Get To “Pah-Tay”, in which we all take a few hours and you know, get to a couple of those books we’ve been meaning to read for who knows how long, and post a few of our thoughts on a few of them.
I tried, dc. I tried, but ultimately I failed.
I got somewhat distracted by life, family, live music, rain, and George R.R. Martin (It turns out A Dance With Dragons just couldn’t wait), and I never actually got to spend a lot of time actually digging into those aspirational books (though I did manage to get around to finally obtaining a copy of at least one of them) in the general time frame suggested. So, this list is going to be at least partially “books I’m still meaning to get to”, though in those cases, I’ll talk about why I really mean to get them and will honestly remember to grab a copy the next time I’m at a bookseller or library.
If nothing else, by naming names here, I will be proclaiming publicly my intent to read these volumes, which I hope will serve as a reminder to actually do so.
In any case, here’s my list:
♦- Snow Crash – Neil Stephenson: This book is, along with Gibson’s Neuromancer, one of the founding texts of cyberpunk, and has informed so many other works in a wide range of media that I’ve enjoyed. Without this book, there’d be no Ghost in the Shell, no Shadowrun, and certainly no The Matrix. Sure, there were previous antecedents to technologically advanced, corporate dominated dystopias and the hackers that navigate them, but without this book, those sorts of stories (and in fact, the way we talk about the internet and stuff in the real world) would probably be very different. And, I still don’t own a copy. There’s a huge hole in my science fiction geek experience: I am almost wholly ignorant of the adventures of Hiro Protagonist in the Metaverse. I just know that there’s some element or pastiche in one of those other cyberpunky works that I’m missing, and as such, not getting the most out of the experience. Every time I’ve been in the bookstore for the last fifteen years, I either forget to grab a copy, or if I do remember, it’s always out of stock. I really need to remedy this soon.
♦- The Qu’ran: You hear the words “Islam” or “Muslim” in the news every day. A vast swath of Americans think of adherents of Islam as mortal enemies that “hate our freedom”. This hugely generalized perception is, of course, largely worng, and flies in the face of my personal experience with people of the Muslim faith, and probably yours too, assuming the topic of religion even came up. In any case, as much as one hears about Islam, your average American doesn’t know much about the religion. I’ve had some exposure to it through my education in the social sciences and world cultures, and have a vague understanding of the theological high points, but I’ve never taken the time to actually read the religion’s sacred text. The big reason why I haven’t so far is that I’m kind of intimidated by the undertaking, because I’m afraid that simply reading it cold, without context, I’m going to miss a whole lot (witness last year’s aborted attempt to pore through the I Ching). Perhaps along with the text itself, I need to find a few more resources dealing in commentary and context. In the meantime, this weekend I downloaded an electronic translation to my second-hand kindle, so it’s there waiting for me.
♦- DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes: If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a bit of a comic book guy. My go-to passion in this area is probably Bronze Age Marvel Comics, though I’ve done a fair bit of reading on the history of the medium, and am at least slightly familiar with the high points from the 1930s on through the present. One title that comes up over and over in comic book histories as important and influential, and one that is spoken of most fondly by friends and acquantances who favor the “Distinguished Competition” over than the house that Stan and Jack built, is The Legion. I’m a bit embarassed to say that I’ve never read a Legion comic. I recently procured a collection of scholarly essays on the title, Teenagers from the Future,, and have been slowly working my way through it, and learning exactly why so many people have such fondness and dedication to this book about a club for teenagers with often bizare superpowers living in the 30th century that’s been cancelled as regularly as it’s been published since it first popped up in the mid 1950s. Based on this research, I suspect I’d enjoy it a lot; this book, by virtue of it’s setting and middling readership was able to take a lot of chances that the big guys like Superman and Batman couldn’t – early experiments with continuity, non-reversable character death, and gender and orientation issues, well before such things were commonplace, using ridiculous characters like Matter-Eater Lad. I guess I need to go grab a couple of those Showcase reprints.
♦- The Real Frank Zappa Book – Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso: The guy I took guitar lessons from in middle and high school was a huge Zappa buff, and his enthusiasm planted a seed that I’ve watered on-and-off since then. I’ve listened enraptured, amused, and often humbled, to Zappa recordings over the years, and have added a few to my collection. When most people think of Frank, novelty tunes like “Valley Girl” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” are at the forefront; but his prodidgious output was quite a bit more varied and complex. Sure, he wrote songs that were often profane and offensive, but rarely are such novelties so painstakingly constructed and performed. He’s best known as a long-haired rock guy, but one of his biggest influences was classical composer Edgard Varèse, he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame (as well as the Rock Hall), and testified eloquently before the US Congress in defense of freedom of expression and against censorship. There’s a lot there for a student of music and culture to dig into here, is what I’m saying. A few years ago, I read Barry Miles’ biography of Zappa, and was intrigued by the man, his work ethic, and his way of looking at the world. Of course, he also came across as a bit of an asshole perfectionist. I don’t doubt that there’s some truth to that, but I’ve always wanted to get a second opinion from the man himself, and this book is probably the best shot there is for that. Too bad it’s been so intermittently available. One of these days…
♦- Let The Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist: If you haven’t seen the Swedish film adaptation of this novel, you need to just go out and do that right now. I’ll wait. The American remake, Let Me In, was actually very well done (and Chloe “Hit Girl” Moretz was rather amazing in it), but doesn’t quite capture the inherent bleakness and, well, “Swedishness”, that comes across in the original, and leaves out a lot of the more disturbing elements of this unconventional vampire story. I’ve been told that the original novel, which I’ve had coasting in the perpetual “I’m going to read this next” slot for more than a year (other stuff keeps popping up, as it does), digs deeper into some of the tragic themes of isolation and abuse that the films only hint at beneath the surface of this story of the relationship between a meek and picked on boy and his relationship with an equally troubled child vampire. I am absolutely going to crack this one soon.
So yeah. That’s a selection from the list of books that I’ve been meaning to get around to. There are, of course, many more, but these are the first few that come to mind. I wish I had the chance to actually audition a few of them as was the intent of this exercise, but things like life and Paul and Storm shows I bought tickets for months ago kept coming up. I still feel like I’ve addressed the spirit of the exercise if not the letter, so I’m not ashamed to put this out as my contribution.
Anybody else have similar admissions? Feel free to post them below, at your own space (and link here), or over at Dark Cargo!!