Recently in Peter's books Category


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(Wrote this entry in August 2015, but apparently neglected to post it 'til now.)

Kathleen has finished removing soot from Peter's books, so I've done a quick culling pass on the mass-market paperbacks and put the ones I'm keeping on my bookcase.

(Climbing the library ladder with a hurt knee was a little bit scary, but ended up working out fine.)

These books are only the ones that I rescued from his house in 2005; probably no more than a third of all of his books. (The other two-thirds I left in the house; I imagine they got thrown away.) When I was going through his house, I just grabbed all the books that looked at all interesting to me, figuring I would sort them all later. I rescued about twenty boxes of books at the time, weighing about a thousand pounds total. Then the books sat in my cousin's garage for nine months; I flew up to Tacoma again that December to sort and repack and mail them. And then they sat in my garage at my old house for a year. I was thinking that they'd been in that garage for four years, but I just discovered that in fact I took them out in mid-November 2006 and started putting them on my bookcases (finished in late December); I have no memory of that. A few months later, I even catalogued them using Delicious Library, a book-cataloguing application. But in 2009, I guess I must have packed the books up again when I moved, and then they sat in the garage in my current house for another six years. An entry I posted in 2010 gives some more details.

But I don't seem to have written much about the authors and contents of the books.

Some things I noticed about the paperbacks:

  • He had certain favorite authors. For example (very rough counts):
    • About 10 books by Samuel R. Delany.
    • About 30 by Philip K. Dick.
    • Half a dozen by R. A. Lafferty.
    • About 20 by Keith Laumer.
    • Half a dozen by Fritz Leiber.
    • About 10 by Elmore Leonard.
    • Half a dozen by Larry Niven.
    • About 10 by Norman Spinrad
    • Half a dozen by Jack Vance.
    • About 10 by A. E. Van Vogt
  • He had a lot of short-story anthologies, both sf and non.
  • Speaking of which, Groff Conklin sure did edit a lot of anthologies. Peter had at least half a dozen of those.
  • He had very few books by women. I'm guessing no more than a dozen of these roughly 250 mass-market paperbacks are by women. A fair number of the books are anthologies, but the TOCs I've glanced at are typical of older sf anthologies in that they generally include nothing by women, or sometimes one story by a woman.

My selection mechanism has skewed some things slightly; for example, I think he probably owned most of the John D. MacDonald mysteries, but since I didn't want those, I didn't rescue them and they're not represented in the above list. However, I noticed the lack of female authors even at the time; I think I was less likely to leave behind a book by a woman than a book by a man, so I suspect that the ratio was even more skewed in his full collection.

The fate of Peter's books

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In an entry from late 2007, Dobe asked what happened to Peter's books. I was going to finally post a comment on that entry to supply some answers just now, when I realized that I might as well make it a full entry instead of a comment. So here goes:

Peter had a lot of books at the end. Most of them were smoke-damaged.

I went through the whole house during that first week after his death and took all the books that I was interested in: books I remembered from childhood, books I thought Peter had particularly liked, books that looked like they might be rare, anything else that seemed worth taking. Carted them all off to Jordan and Crystal's garage.

I left the vast majority of his books in the house—at least two-thirds of them, probably quite a bit more. I think I made some estimates at the time about how many books there were in the house, and how many I was taking, but I don't remember the numbers. I was sad to leave so many behind, but I didn't want them, nobody else in the family expressed any interest in them, and they were smoke-damaged so I didn't think they could be sold or given away. And I was pretty overwhelmed in general.

I assume that when the bank (?) came and cleaned out everything in the house prior to starting restoration work, that they took the books as well. I would have expected them to end up in a Dumpster, unfortunately. But I vaguely recall Jay saying that the bank had put all the stuff from the house in storage at some point; I'm not sure what ended up happening there.

A while later, I came back up to Tacoma and, over the course of a couple of days at Jordan and Crystal's place, I filled several large cardboard boxes with the books I had taken from the house. Then I mailed the boxes home to myself.

Later, at home, I sorted through them again, and decided to keep only about a third of the ones I had brought home.

All of the ones I brought home are currently in boxes in my garage; my new place doesn't yet have enough bookcases for the ones I'm keeping, and I haven't figured out what to do with the rest. I'll probably ask the local library if they'll take books with smoke-damaged covers for their book sale. I suspect they'll say no, and I doubt the local used-book store will take them, which probably means throwing them out. Which I don't want to do, which is why I've been putting off dealing with it for so long.

There's one small category of books that weren't smoke-damaged: he had a bookcase full of science fiction paperbacks, and a fair number of those were wrapped in protective plastic bags. This was especially true for a bunch of the Philip K. Dick paperbacks. So there are several early-edition PKD paperbacks in very good condition mixed in with the rest of the books.

I've tried to clean the soot off of the covers of a few of the ones I'm keeping, but it was a slow process, and I didn't do very many of them, and wasn't very successful with the ones I did work on.

More answers to Dobe's questions to follow in other entries and/or comments in coming days/weeks.


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I have long and often wondered about Peter and books.

For example, I estimated once to someone in a conversation that my brother Peter had probably read 100K books and that he was a "speed reader". Pure speculation. So I had occasion to tell Peter about my conversation (I went to the source) and he laughed and made his own estimate, somewhere in the thousands, but stared kind of dreamy-eyed, as if he wished he could have read a hundred thousand volumes.

A story he often told, (OK, so I prompted a few times, it was so incredible to me), was how he "proved" to Mom and Dad that he could read and understand most of what he was reading in a newspaper at the age of 4. The story always proceeded to include how proud he was at that age, having his own library card, and swore that he walked the couple blocks to the library and brought home books, BY HIMSELF, at the age of 4. (Oh, sure, anybody could do it at 5, and be motivated to, and keep up the routine for another 60 years, but at 4, Peter?)

Another common thought of mine was: how large was Peter's own library, at the end and/or through the years?

What were his favorite books? Which ones did he re-read?

I can tell you that Peter once told me that he read the book, (I hope I don't mangle the spelling), "Goedel, Escher, Bach" (GEB), all the way through, in one sitting, and then read it all the way through, again! Now, I would say, that GEB was one of his favorite books, wouldn't you?

He also always spoke very highly of Jeffrey Mishlove's "Roots Of Consciousness", (1975). I have Peter's copy here in hands. It is inscribed:

"To Peter Hartman,
Who taught me so much!
Jeffrey Mishlove"

I think one of his verymost, (I'm pretty sure that's all one word), favoritest (hargh! Peter had so many!) authors was Robert Anton Wilson (RAW), (Peter told me once that Marcy had met or knew RAW in Antioch, (early 1960's?), do you remember his story, Jed?), as he is mine.

Of course, not that many books survived the fire, or so I think. Peter said once that he didn't care so much for "things and money", because he knew he couldn't take those with him, but that knowledge, ah, knowledge could probably be carried discorporeally.

And he loved to share books. He had a tradition of a "book box", at least since the early 60's, which anyone was free to take any of them home and keep. A "freebie" book box. If you visited him at his home, Peter would invariably try to send some book(s) home with you. They were constantly in flow around Peter. Most of them not simply read by Peter, but, I would say, mostly devoured by Peter. In great stacks and by the tonage. In boxes, shelves or backpockets, no book was safe from Peter's hunger...

Sometimes I wonder how fast Peter read. I picture him flipping through a novel in under an hour, wouldn't you say, Jed?

Once, he had a stack of books he needed to finish and return the next day. I watched him take the entire stack, maybe 20+ books, into his room that night and he returned them the next day. I asked him if he'd finished them? He said, "some, I read all the way through, and some I heavily perused. The few others came in though my dreams." He was serious. He believed he could glean essential data from books through osmosis, during sleep.

Did Peter truly have eidetic memory for anything he read? (Did he pass the test of "what's the 3rd word down on page 23", or whatever, days after he had even looked at the book? The family story says he did, but I was too young to have direct memory of it.)

I asked him once if he had, or had previously had, eidetic memory for anything he had read, and I think he denied it, although admitting his "retention was high". I suspect he had a "fantastic" memory when he was a youth, but that 50 years of alcohol dimmed this into a mere "good" memory. I'd like to read feedback on this.

I know Peter bought books, sometimes, when he had virtually no money reserves. Books were very important in Peter's life, yet, I suspect that he didn't care much for the actual book itself, but craved the knowledge within, as an addict is driven, to find relief.

I hope you found relief, brother.