Saturday in the Stacks
I don’t usually do much in the way of New Year’s resolutions, but this year I made one that I thought I’d share with you all. But there’s a brief bit of backstory first.
If you have been reading this weekly thing of mine here for any time at all, you may be aware that we own a lot of books.
I’ve always owned a lot of books. My mother used to scold me about it when I’d take a week’s worth of lawn-mowing wages and blow it all on comics and paperbacks; at one point she literally forbade me to spend any more money on books. She actually preferred that I blow it on movies or candy or something. That lasted a month. She finally caved when I told her that really, all I needed to finish my Star Trek collection was Star Trek 11 and Star Trek Log Five.
Mom may have thought that achieving the goal of a complete set of Trek paperbacks meant this would end my “book phase” and I would grow into a normal teenager who was good at sports and popular or something. Foolish woman… it just meant that afterwards I’d be moving on to the next book series. Eventually she gave up and kind of resigned herself to her son’s strange ambition to accumulate a giant home library, but she never ever understood it.
Then, in my college years, I made a series of increasingly poor life decisions (what I laughingly refer to as my ‘college’ years mostly involved getting kicked out of five different schools between 1979 and 1985, for cause.) I’m not going to get into all that– I’ve written up some of it before, here and here– but the point is, in order to finance those idiocies, I sold off all my books.
In 1986, when I cleaned up and started turning things around, one of the ways I kept busy was to try and rebuild the library. And I’ve been doing that on a more or less constant basis since July of 1986. It started as a way to reclaim something I loved, that I had sacrificed to drugs and alcohol and idiotic life choices: replacing all the books I’d sold for dope money. (That, in itself, took over twenty years, but we’ve mostly gotten there.)
But over the last three decades, things changed– actually, I changed, as I mellowed out and got acclimated to adulthood. Rebuilding the collection became not so much a quest as as it was just something I did… adding to the library kind of morphed into a hobby and an avocation in and of itself. You know, one of those things that starts as a coping mechanism and ends as something you enjoy doing for its own sake. Bookscouting turned into a hobby, and today it’s pretty much what my bride and I do on our vacations. I love the prospecting, treasure-hunt aspect of it, and I married a woman who feels the same way. Finding a really cool book always provides that warm acquisitive glow.
But it’s not just about finding the books and owning them and gloating over them. They’re meant to be read and enjoyed– otherwise, I might as well be collecting stamps or coins or something. It occurred to me, while we were at the Tokeland Hotel for Fugitive Thanksgiving, that I should take more time to relax and enjoy our home library now that it’s… well, probably triple the size of what I set out to replace.
That’s the resolution. As part of it, I’ve been doing a little daily recommendation on the family Facebook page, “Today’s Book-Nerd Moment.” Just looking around the shelves here in the house and picking out one or another of the books that I really like a lot, usually one that makes me smile or provokes a pleasant memory.
I’ve been doing this for almost a month now and someone mentioned to me that I should make it a blog. Well, I have a blog, or a piece of one anyway, and I recommend books here all the time. So it seemed redundant. But I realized that I could take a few of those book-nerd moments featuring the ones I’ve never really talked about in this space and put them up here, and it might make a nice little column. So here it is.
THE CASE OF THE COLONIST’S CORPSE: A SAM COGLEY MYSTERY by Tony Isabella and Bob Ingersoll.
The blurb: When Captain James T. Kirk faced a Court Martial in the eponymous Original Series episode he was defended by Samuel T. Cogley, an eccentric and computer-phobic lawyer who specialises in taking on lost causes and securing acquittals against impossible odds. Now, once again, a man’s future is in Samuel Cogley’s hands. The planet Anerher II sits in the middle of the Neutral Zone, and neither the Klingon Empire nor the Federation can claim it. Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty, the disputed colony world will go to the party – either Klingon or Federation – which shows it can best develop the planet. Then the fragile peace between the two rival colonies is shattered when Daniel Latham, head of the Federation colonists, is murdered, and Commander Mak’Tor, the head of the Klingon colony, is found crouched over Latham’s body, a discharged phaser still hot in his hand. Sam Cogley volunteers to defend the accused Klingon, but when his investigation inadvertently provides the prosecution with a key piece of evidence and his courtroom tactics unexpectedly backfire, can even the galaxy’s most brilliant defense attorney win the day…?
Why I Like It: This is one of the coolest Trek tie-in books anyone ever did. It’s a Perry Mason mystery Starfleet-style, even down to the book design, which is an homage to the original Perry Mason paperbacks. Tony Isabella told me, “The book design was our editor’s idea and we were delighted with it. Bob knows more of the details, but the machine that did the color on the edges had to be brought back into service. It hadn’t been used in years!”
But even better is the story itself. It works both as a mystery and as a Star Trek story. Just tremendous fun.
The Blurb: An unabridged republication of two of the Shadow’s most thrilling adventures. The book also has a new thirteen page essay “My Years With the Shadow” by Gibson about the origin of the Shadow and his writing process, and another reminiscence by Street & Smith pulp editor John L. Nanovic.
Why I Like It: This one is special to me because of kind of a silly reason, but in the days before the internet, you had to find things in books or not at all. In the mid-70s I was going through pulp reprint paperbacks like a house afire, Doc Savage and The Avenger and The Shadow all had mass-market paperback reprint series in print. And I was reading a lot of books about pulp heroes from Philip Jose Farmer and Peter Haining and so on. Doc and the Shadow were showing up in my comics, even.
But I had no idea what a pulp magazine actually LOOKED like until I was given this facsimile reprint from Dover Books for my birthday in 1976. Plus the book itself was very cool– there were two great historical forewords, one from Walter Gibson himself and another from pulp editor John Nanovic. The stories were good too and it was wonderful to see them with the original Edd Cartier illustrations. I adored it and read it literally to tatters when I was in high school. Replaced it a few years ago.
IN JOY STILL FELT: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov by Isaac Asimov.
The Blurb: Isaac Asimov, the author of hundreds of books, both fiction and nonfiction including the “Foundation” series, was a staunch rationalist, convinced that the act of writing was Heaven for him. That rationalism is evident in his three-volume autobiography. Asimov’s know-how, opinions, joys, and successes as a writer, educator, soldier, husband, father, and general intellectual show-off are detailed to varying degrees, but so are his booby prizes. He readily admits to being very self-involved, a necessity for a writer of his output, but such self-centeredness did not work well for his first marriage. It is, however, impossible not to like Asimov and his enthusiasm, even glee, for life as it comes.
Why I Like It: Sometimes an authorial voice is so familiar it becomes a personality in its own right. I never met Isaac Asimov but I know his ‘voice’ so well I feel like I have. There are literally hundreds of his books out there and we have quite a few, but honestly the ones I like the best are his three autobiographies; In Memory Yet Green, In Joy Still Felt, and I, Asimov. Reading them feels like being in a science-fiction convention’s pro lounge or something where you are just kicking back and letting him tell anecdotes about being a major writer in the 1950s and 60s SF scene. This is my favorite of the three. Though all three are entertaining and somehow really relaxing… or perhaps you’d prefer the single volume Janet Asimov has edited together from the three books, It’s Been A Good Life.
The Dagger Affair (Man From UNCLE #4) by David McDaniel.
The Blurb: Solo and Illya desperately search for the diabolical machine that could end human life on Earth, in a new U.N.C.L. E. adventure, based on the exciting MGM-Arena TV series. “Tell us all about Dagger!” That was the command thrown at Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin by the unseen THRUSH agents who kidnapped them and interrogated them with lie detectors. And from each U.N.C.L.E. agent came the same answer: “We know absolutely nothing of Dagger.”
Why I Like It: This was actually how I discovered UNCLE. I found this book along with about four others in the series on a family vacation to Mount Hood and it saved the trip for me. When I finally got to see the show itself, it never quite lived up to what I got in the books, especially McDaniel’s. McDaniel loaded his books with nerdlore Easter eggs that always delighted me– in this novel it is revealed that THRUSH is an acronym for the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity, and was in fact founded in the late 1800s by the remnants of Professor Moriarty’s organization after Sherlock Holmes’ capture of Colonel Sebastian Moran. “The First Council were aware of a few things the Professor had not seen. Crime, per se, does not pay as well as it used to… the true wealth, they knew, lies in personal power. They set for themselves the goal of unification of the entire world under their control, and the rebuilding of the world into the image they foresaw.” See? They’re just being helpful.
Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew Gaska and a whole bunch of amazing artists.
The Blurb: Archaia’s first illustrated novel! Set during the classic 1968 Planet of the Apes film, Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of what happened between the scenes and centers on the astronaut John Landon, Gorilla police chief Marcus, and Chimpanzee scientist Dr. Milo. Features over 50 illustrations from various top talents in the industry, including full-color paintings by Jim Steranko, Joe Jusko, Dave Dorman, Barron Storey, Sanjulian, and Mark Texeira, starship designs by Andrew Probert, character portraits by Matt Busch.
Why I Like It: First of all, just as an artifact the book itself is extraordinary. The illustrations are all terrific and this doesn’t really feel like a novel as much as it does a beautifully done coffee-table art book.
But the novel part is great fun too. This tells the story of what happened to the astronaut Landon between the capture in the cornfield and Charlton Heston’s horrified rage at the fact that the apes have “cut up his brain, you bloody baboon!!” If you liked the original Planet of the Apes films, you will love this book… and even if you aren’t a big fan, any comics fan would want this book just for the art. Look at that Steranko cover for God’s sake. The whole package is awesome.
And there you go. Of course, I don’t confine the daily book-nerd moments to just comics and geek culture, I kind of cherry-picked these for the CBR audience. But it was fun expanding them for this week’s column, and I might be doing it again from time to time.
After all, one way of enjoying and appreciating my library is writing about it.
See you next week.