Another Glorious Library Book Sale

They have three every year, the local library does, and I go to every one. It doesn’t matter how many unread books I have at home. A new favorite might be waiting patiently for me on the overfilled folding tables, or underneath them in the ragged cardboard boxes, holding its frayed corners as still as possible to keep them from getting torn or bent by some careless browser, so that it might look as sharp as it may when I find it and take it home.

There are certain books I know I am looking for. Anything with Rosemary Sutcliff or George MacDonald or G.K. Chesterton on the spine or cover page. One of the titles that has been most highly recommended to me by multiple friends. A nonfiction book on history or mythology that promises to be uniquely useful.

And then there are the happy surprises and the experiments. The “Oh, cool! That’ll be great to have” and the “Well, it’s only a buck, let’s give it a try.” Both important in their own ways. The happy surprises feel like little bonuses, rewards for patronizing the library. But in some ways, the experiments are probably the most exciting and valuable, even if they fail to reach the greatest heights of literature. These are the books where you’re venturing outside your comfort zone; where you hold off exploring no more, but turn your helm and open your sails to receive the wind and wherever it may lead you. The experiments are more likely to make you a larger person.

Reflecting on this most recent book sale, I am satisfied that I have some from each category.

Books I knew I wanted

MacDonald is one of those authors whose books I will buy just on his name alone, so long as I can spare the money and I don’t already own the book. I’ve been curious about At the Back of the North Wind for many years, mostly because of it’s beautiful title. The only other thing I know is that it’s about a boy named Diamond. Who, presumably, gets to ride on the back of the North Wind. There isn’t much more I need to know about it.

Again, Sutcliff’s name alone will get me to buy a book, even when it looks like something completely different from what I expect of her and not something I would normally give a second look. I wondered for a few moments if this wasn’t perhaps some other Sutcliff. But no, it’s her. And it’s a beautiful little story.

In fact, I just read it now, in under half an hour, and it charmed my poor soul and warmed it to no end. This is even more impressive because the story—and it really is just a short story published with its own hardcover—is about a Chihuahua, and I generally dislike Chihuahuas. But it’s as much a Sutcliff story, in its own way, as is The Eagle of the Ninth. Her prose is tender, sprinkled with yellow daffodils, and describes thoughtful people yearning for companionship and love. A children’s story, to be read aloud, but also to be savored comfortably by adults. After reading it, you will want to hug your pet—if you have one—and generally share smiles with those you love.

Happy Surprises

In recent years, I’ve grown to appreciate short stories and seek them out. Last year I bought a huge collection of Rudyard Kipling stories that I still have barely scraped, but that didn’t stop me from snatching up Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy. The cover design is appealing, and it promises excellent stories by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Patricia McKillip, Larry Niven, and many other names more or less well known in modern fantasy and science fiction circles. I was never more than average at statistics, but I think the odds are high that, for roughly a buck and a half, I just bought some really neat stories.

I’m still reluctant to whole-heartedly recommend Guy Gavriel Kay after my experience with Tigana. I love his prose, the historical reality of his worlds, and the integral, though subtle, nature of magic in his stories. I also liked his characters, his twisty-but-sensible-plot, and his many dramatic flourishes. But his indulgence in sexual deviancy in that book really turned me off. However, I promised someone I would give him another chance, and The Lions of Al-Rassan is one of his most highly regarded novels. It also is inspired by medieval Spain and the Cid, a time and person that have also inspired me recently.

The Experiments

Science Fiction. I love it in the movies. I love it in computer games. I love it in webcomics and artwork. I’ve never read any serious, sci-fi novel. Time to change that.

I picked up Ringworld first. The title is famous and the concept so outrageous as to be irresistible. I’ve also heard that Niven regularly marries profound ideas and realistic science with really engaging adventure.

Then I started chatting with a bearded older gentlemen, who was also browsing the sci-fi section. He started mentioning the sci-fi greats and pulled out Glory Road as his favorite Robert Heinlein novel. It seems to be an unusual one for Heinlein, being as much medieval fantasy as it is sci-fi, but it promises rousing adventure by an acknowledged master, so I’m excited to begin my exploration.

So, folks, moral of the story is: Libraries are cool, never turn away from a used book sale, and always be ready to explore new books, new authors, and new genres.


Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

18 thoughts on “Another Glorious Library Book Sale”

  1. I used to dislike chihuahuas… then I met a miniature chihuahua named Pearla who is completely unaware of her size and runs around with a Great Pyrenees on a farm. Pearla trekked five miles with some of my friends, relations and me, to the top of a foothill and down again, with all the cheery gusto of a good farm dog. The only time she needed assistance was when she reached a bank of leaves deeper than she is tall, at which point she briefly permitted me to carry her. She has effectively proved to me that her breed can be sweet, cheerful, and hardy under the right conditions.

    End of random story sparked by your post. 🙂

  2. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a story about a chihuahua? I think something inside me just broke.

    My mom read At the Back of the North Wind to me and my sister when we were younger. I remember telling her later that I rather enjoyed it, and she told me she thought it was quite strange. That’s a pretty fair illustration of how much our tastes differ. Yes, it *is* a very strange book, but like Phantastes, also beautiful.

    Oooh, I envy you Flights. Which are the Gaiman and McKillip stories? I really wish that at some point, McKillip’s short stories would get published in a collected volume, because they seem to be published here and there, and I want to read ALL of them because I love her so much. Yeah, I’ve been reading more short stories lately, too. I didn’t used to give them much time, because I would rather be reading a novel–there’s greater scope to a novel, surely. But I have been discovering the beauties of the short story, partly because that’s all I have the ability and ideas to fill right now. I have a friend here at school who asks me how my novel is coming every time I see him, and when I say I’m writing short stories, he tells me “Nobody reads short stories, only the other people who write them.” Maybe. I think the excellent thing about the short story is that it allows for a certain well-roundedness of form. The limited length allows one to develop an idea without losing sight of it, and seems to encourage a certain almost circular thematic structure that I find satisfying.

    Dude, if you ever need sci-fi novel recommendations, just ask. Actually, I’m going to give you one now anyway: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It’s brilliant.

    1. I know, it sounds horrible to contemplate, but it was actually a really sweet story about a Chihuahua that loves its owner (an elderly lady who lives alone) so much that even after it dies, it talks to angels in order to find a way back to her. An unexpected turn for Sutcliff, but it felt like an idea inspired either by a dog she owned or by that of a close friend whose dear pet had died. It’s very gentle, very personal.

      McKillip’s is “Out of the Woods.” I already read the Neil Gaiman one, actually. It’s called “The Problem of Susan,” and it dramatizes the annoyance many people have with the way Lewis supposedly treated Susan in the Narnia stories. To be honest, I hated the story. It takes a vulgar, perverse turn, and uses for its vague theme the common misconceptions about Christian theology that Lewis’ critics often have, but which are shallow and erroneous. I won’t let it stop me from approaching other works of his optimistically, but I’ve got to admit that I haven’t really liked any of his short stories so far. He’s clearly got lots of talent, it just hasn’t felt to me like he knows how to use it productively. But perhaps I just haven’t yet read anything he’s really put himself into yet.

      Aye, I intend to read that one. It gets talked about a lot, and even Blake read it awhile ago and loved it. I’m excited for Ringworld, because…well, it’s about a WORLD that is a RING built around a STAR! How ridiculously cool is that?

      And I’m not sure if it counts, but I do own the novelization of Titan A.E.. I remember it being a good, fun adventure, though hardly high-minded serious literature.

      1. Yeah, I’ve heard of that Gaiman story, and I’m not sure I want to read it, because I doubt I’d like it, either. You still haven’t read Neverwhere yet, have you? Just stop reading the short stories; I haven’t read many, but I like his longer works better. I also really want to recommend Anansi Boys to you. It’s my very favorite of his novels, and shows off his storytelling skills very well. My only concern with that one for you is that one of the characters makes a breach of her own commitment not to sleep with a guy before she marries him. That’s pretty much the only moral misstep in the book. It does happen for a narrative reason which makes good (if somewhat annoying) sense, so it didn’t seriously diminish my enjoyment of the book. But if you really want to see Gaiman at his best, I think Anansi Boys is even better than Neverwhere. It’s funny, shows off his clever narrative skills, and is all about why it’s important we tell the right kind of stories.

  3. You’ve never read a serious sci-fi novel? Really? Somehow I doubt that.

    I’m pretty sure Out of the Silent Planet counts as such.

    And you seriously haven’t read any Wells or Verne? Or 1984 or Fahrenheit 451? I find this hard to believe. I find it more likely that you’re narrowing your definition of sci-fi too much. So I’ll resist the urge to list out a dozen books you must read immediately, because I’m guessing you’ve already read most of them. : )

    1. You’d be surprised. But you have also pointed out a few ones I overlooked. Fahrenheit 451, for one, and Lewis’ Space Trilogy, for three more. The former didn’t leave much of an impression on me, the latter just seems like so much more than sci-fi. It’s theological sci-fi, which is still sci-fi, but it feels different. I’ve never read 1984. Nor any Wells or Verne. I own War of the Worlds but have never made it past the first page. I have read a few Star Wars novelizations, but they were kiddie stuff, not even Expanded Universe, and barely register in my literary memory. I’m trying now to read some Heinlein, Niven, and maybe even Asimov.

      1. Well you can skip 1984 in lieu of Animal Farm, so long as you read the Appendix on Newspeak (this advice from C.S. Lewis, not myself).

        WotW is a good start on Wells (though The Time Machine is my favorite) – I’ll also recommend The First Men in the Moon, which is the book Lewis is referring to in the beginning of Silent Planet, just for the sake of seeing the similarities between the two.

        Heinlein’s got some fun stuff. I haven’t read any Niven or Asimov (though I’ve seen I, Robot and Bicentennial Man). Let me also recommend Battlefield Earth, by L Ron. Hubbard – simply written, but the funnest 600 (800?) pages you’ll ever spend.

        Hey, you forgot A Wrinkle in Time, too. That’s sci-fi.

        1. Movie adaptations of Asimov’s work always seem to be adaptations of someone else’s stuff… I am not entirely sure why. That aside, I think his short-stories are very worth reading.

          1. I’ve seen some of the movies based off his works, and yeah, they all seem very different. It’s similar with Philip K. Dick. I haven’t read his stories either, but the movie adaptations all feel very different from each other. I hear they’ve all been hugely changed from their source material.

        2. I dunno, Wrinkle always seems fantasy to me. It gets classed as sci-fi, mostly because of her talk about tesseracts and travel to other planets and all, but for all practical purposes it seems more akin to fantasy. It’s not about technology, it’s about supernatural creatures taking humans on fantastic journeys to visit other worlds and learn about supernatural aspects of the universe. If anything, it’s theological sci-fi like Lewis’ Space Trilogy, but even that is heavily influenced by fantasy.

          I’d like to read The Time Machine, as well as the others you’ve mentioned. So many books…

          1. Strictly speaking, the only difference between sf and fantasy is that the former proposes there is a scientific explanation for everything that happens (even if it doesn’t offer that explanation) and the latter proposes no explanation. It gets more complicated when the supernatural is involved, but the rule stands. Both Wrinkle and Space Trilogy involve God using science as His tool (a wider understanding of science than we actually have, but still). Hubbard has a good explanation of sf vs. fantasy in the forward to Battlefield Earth.

  4. I read Ringworld for the first time but a few months ago: wonderful book. And it has a lot of affinities to fantasy. Very provocative as well, addressing notions of godhood and fate in a way that I thought was pretty unique.

    I’m also very intrigued to know what you think of the new Kay novel. Under Heaven is another very recent read, and I enjoyed that one quite a bit. Haven’t read Tigana.

    Let me also second and third and fourth the recommendation for Ender’s Game. It’s one of my favorites. As in, top ten favorites. I utterly dread the movie adaptation.

    1. Thanks for the support towards Ringworld and Ender’s Game. I may even start the former after I finish the book I’m currently reading, which is Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief.

  5. I hope you enjoy The Lions of Al-Rassan, it’s one of my favorite Gavriel Kays. I always cry at the end of that one.

    Niven’s Ringworld is always a good choice, and although Heinlein’s Glory Road is a lot of fun, it’s not very “Heinlein-y”.

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts on all of your newly acquired goodies!

    1. I’m usually pretty stoic towards my books, but there have been a few to coax some manly tears from me. Mainly Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers. We’ll see if Kay at his best can do the same!

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