Paperbacks mostly done

I unpacked all but four of the twenty-or-so boxes of my father's books. Two of the remaining ones contains papers, LPs, CDs, and an ancient laptop with a dead battery; the third contains digest-sized sf magazines that I'm holding off on unpacking; the fourth contains hardcover and trade paperback books, but I stopped before unpacking it because I wanted to deal with the paperbacks.

The paperbacks, almost all science fiction, are now mostly shelved. I'm keeping about 300 of them; discarding about 100. Most of the discards are either duplicates of books I already own or duplicates of other books from the boxes.

Interesting to see which authors Peter had the most of. In particular, there were about 55 Philip K. Dick paperbacks.

I found that set interesting for a couple of reasons:

  • Almost all of them were bagged: book inside a comic-book bag, bag folded around book and taped closed. This means that they're among the few books that survived without any smoke damage. But it surprises me--he didn't generally buy books for their collectable value, and most of these weren't in perfect condition to start with, and I suspect few of them are rare. (There are a couple of first paperback editions in the set, but most are nth printings.)
  • Over 20 of them were duplicates. (Most of the duplicates were bagged as well.) He had three copies of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and half a dozen others, and two copies of a bunch of others.

I confess, though I probably shouldn't, that I continue to be sophomorically tickled by jokes about Dick's name. I know, I know, it's not nice to make fun of people's names, and I'm sure Dick heard all those jokes many times over the course of his life. But it nonetheless amused me to contemplate the fact that my father was a Dick collector. As I told Kam, you can never really have too much Dick.

But that's enough of that. The next-biggest collection was Keith Laumer books--over 20 of those, even after I pulled out the duplicates. I always liked the Retief books, but never read much other Laumer; I may give some of these a try. (One of the ones I hadn't heard of before was his anthology Dangerous Vegetables, apparently a parody of Dangerous Visions.)

There were also significant numbers of books by Delany, Elmore Leonard, and A. E. van Vogt. (By each of them individually, I mean, though I'm amused at the idea of that collaboration.) And a fair number by Spinrad and Sturgeon and Heinlein. Almost no books by women--Le Guin's The Compass Rose, Russ's We Who Are About To, Zenna Henderson's The Anything Box, Sheri S. Tepper's Grass, Tanith Lee's Delusion's Master, Marge Piercy's The High Cost of Living. (Also Woman on the Edge of Time, but someone (almost certainly not Peter) seems to have torn a bunch of pages out of that book at some point.) Suzette Haden Elgin, Native Tongue. Two Pat Cadigan books. Oh, and an anthology edited by Andre Norton. And Ellen's The First Omni Book of Science Fiction, though it doesn't have her name on the cover. Maybe a dozen books by women out of the roughly 400 paperbacks. Though to be fair, his collection isn't nearly as (um) broad as I had assumed from its size; a bunch of books by each of ten or twelve authors, and not many by anyone else. I would guess no more than about a hundred authors total, including anthologists (see below).

One thing I found fascinating was looking at the covers. There are paperbacks here ranging from the '40s through the 2000s (only a few at the recent end, though), and in some cases there were three copies of the same book with covers from, say, 1968, 1978, and 1982; looking at those side by side was neat. And a fair number of the books have very recognizable designs (layout, typeface, art style)--especially the late-1970s and early-1980s Del Rey editions, and certain styles of early-'60s covers. It was fun to guess the period from the cover.

(Speaking of covers, I wanted to mention one that I was very surprised by: an early-edition paperback of Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage. For those unfamiliar with it, the book (which is well worth reading, btw) is about a 14-year-old girl, raised on a starship, undergoing a month-long sojourn on a planetary surface. The cover of this particular 1973 Ace edition shows a somewhat stylized female body swooping out of a UFO toward the reader, angled in such a way that you see her face, shoulders, and arms; the surprising part is that also visible are a pair of bare breasts, complete with nipples. To be fair, the woman on the cover looks more or less adult, so maybe the artist and/or art director just hadn't read the book; still, I would have been surprised to see that on a book cover even if the protagonist were an adult.) (Now let's see what kind of comment spam I get for this entry.)

It was also neat to see a couple of old-looking books that turned out to be paperback reprints of much older hardcover originals, which in some cases had originally been published in serial or short-story form in magazines. A nice sense of the continuity of the field. (And speaking of continuity: van Vogt had a productive writing career that spanned fifty years. That's mighty impressive. He didn't go for more than three years between novels from 1946 through 1987, according to his Wikipedia entry. (Although his ISFDB entry shows novels appearing from 1940 through 1993, with a couple of five- or six-year gaps. I'm too sleepy to try to figure out the discrepancy. He also had short fiction appearing regularly from 1939 through 1986, with one big gap in most of the '50s.)

One thing that surprised me was just how many of these books were anthologies and short-story collections. Maybe my interest in short fiction isn't just a personality quirk; maybe it's genetic. :)

(Yeah, yeah, or my reading interests were shaped by reading through a substantial chunk of Peter's science fiction shelves when I was a kid.)

Still unshelved are a couple of stacks of paperbacks that I'm not sure yet whether I'm keeping or not. One such stack is eight issues (out of the eleven-issue run) of Jim Baen's Destinies "paperback magazine," plus a copy of New Destinies #IV. But that's part of a larger question: what am I gonna do with all these magazines? Lots and lots of issues of Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF, plus assorted issues of no-longer-publishing magazines like Galaxy and If. There's no chance that I'll read through all these--I'm months behind on current magazines as it is. And for that matter, what are the chances that I'll ever read all these anthologies, given the number of anthologies that've been sitting unread on my shelves for years, plus the new ones I've bought in the past year or two that I haven't gotten all the way through yet?

Dunno. The idea of taking a year off to do nothing but read gets more appealing all the time. :)

Wow, that was my second smiley this entry. I think that means it's time for me to go to bed.

Tomorrow I'll get started on the hardbacks. Don't ask me how I'll find bookshelf space for them.

4 Responses to “Paperbacks mostly done”

  1. SarahP

    I really enjoyed this entry, Jed. I can see the attraction of having lots of different editions of the same books, just because the books themselves, as artifacts, are so interesting (I’ve become a bit obsessed with this over the past year, while serving on the Norton jury and seeing the range of beautiful and ugly books put out by various publishers).

    Have you heard of the Diana Wynne Jones series, where if you put all five books next to each other you get a map of Dalemark? Very cool (I can’t remember where I read about that; hope it wasn’t on your blog!)

    Also, haha the Dick jokes!

  2. Aliette de Bodard

    Ouch. I’m going to have the same kind of problem soon, when the books I have scattered at various locations (parents’ flat, campus room, my flat, boyfriend’s flat) finally come together (I’m tired of having to look for stuff). I hope you do end up having enough bookshelves for those books you want to keep.

  3. Bhadrika

    I think questioning whether or not it’s worth owning books and magazines that you may never have time to read is a slippery and very depressing slope. One of the first things we did in our new house was to buy and stain enough bookcases to cover every wall in the living room, so that the boxes of stored books (mostly Steve’s; he never did the post-Swat purge that I did when I thought I was moving to Japan for a few years) could be shelved and [someday] organized. Sometimes I wander around looking at them and thinking about how I will never read the vast majority of them. I once thought the key to immortality should be to always be in the middle of a book — what reasonable deity could allow a person to die without finding out the ending? Now I’m mostly reading kid’s lit since a) it lets me read and discuss books with Jazz & Wolf, b) there’s an awful lot more of it these days, some quite good (and all of it vaguely depressing, since I think I ought to be writing stuff like that instead of most everything else I’m doing with my life), and c) my narcolepsy is less of an issue with kid’s books (both due to them being short enough to finish even if I fall asleep every few pages, and fewer words/line is less of a trigger for the narcolepsy (I think it’s an eye movement thing)). So I look at the adult books, and sigh. Maybe someday. Maybe never.

  4. Jed

    SarahP: Hadn’t heard of that Diana Wynne Jones edition; cool. I’ve seen something similar with some other series–maybe some edition of LotR?–and always think it’s kinda neat.

    Aliette: So have you reunited your books yet? Hope you have space for them too!

    Bhadrika: Have y’all discovered the Firebird imprint, run by Sharyn November? Highly regarded mostly-YA-focused science fiction and fantasy. Another thing to be aware of that you may not know about is the Andre Norton Award for YA sf; that’s the award SarahP was talking about above. So far, that award has been given only once, earlier this year, to Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black, but it may be worth keeping an eye on the award winners.


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