Reading Patterns

When I was 12 and 14 and 17, in the golden age of discovering wonder and discovering new writers to provide it, I would fixate on each new writer and seek out all their books I could find and read them in relatively short order; I suspect this is a pattern not uncommon among new readers of SF even today. And so I read a dozen books by Asimov in the 1969-70 timeframe; more than a dozen by Bradbury in the same era (I remember a trip to Printer’s Ink in a suburban Chicago mall and buying every Bradbury paperback I did not already have); a double dozen by Clarke then too. (Ironically, since I’m not generally a genre movie fan, the first book by Asimov I read was Fantastic Voyage, and the first book by Clarke, 2001.) Heinlein came a bit later, with more than 2 dozen read in the ’71-’73 era. [I keep lists.] And I discovered Robert Silverberg, who showed me what seemed at the time an expanded, more literary and mature, genre; I read 50 of his books (only a few of them anthologies) from 1970-1973.

Along about 1973, via A Change of Hobbit bookstore in Westwood and the then-mimeographed Locus, I became aware of the active SF community, what books were being published each year, what was happening ‘now’. I started buying new hardcovers (Rendezvous with Rama; Time Enough for Love) and paying attention to current Hugo and Nebula ballots. I can recall what was on those 1973 ballots more accurately than I can recall those ballots from last year.

Now, things have become reversed. My decade-plus stint reviewing short fiction for Locus cost me the ability to keep up on current novels, even those on the H/N ballots, even those by my favorite writers. With that stint now past, and despite the challenges and difficulties of a personal relationship with someone who’s not sympathetic with the idea of reading books at all, I’m starting to catch up on things I’ve missed — in a manner resembling the early pattern of author-focused reading. And so, here I am having read Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage the week before Worldcon, and subsequently pulling his books from the past decade off my shelves to read next. Guardian, on the plane flight home. The two Forever novels next; I hope to finally settle my confusion over which of them was a sequel to The Forever War and which wasn’t. Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit to not having read so many important books of the past decade and a half. I wish there was more time.

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