My thanks to the commenters on my previous post, wherein I said mean things about a beloved classic of science fiction, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. That book had been recommended to my son by his sixth-grade teacher, a friend of mine whose taste in books has been generally very good, at least as far as sixth graders are concerned, and my son has been enjoying our reading of Ender’s Game to some extent, though he does chafe a bit at the cliche of cockroach-like aliens and perpetual intergalactic war. He likes the hero/genius/child, of course, and how he outwits, outplays and outlasts ™ the mean stupid bully child. But enough of that.
What I meant to jot down some thoughts about is how we, and by “we” I mean readers, all tend to have a set of books that we adopted, often at an early age. These books are almost pets, almost friends, and stay with us for life. Ender’s Game is one of these books for many people. I’ve had a number of such companions in my life, and regardless of their perceived “quality” or stature or fame they all have incalculable value to their “owners”.
Then there are the ones that got away. My mother was a librarian, so I spent a great deal of time in my youth in libraries, and at one point I was enamored with any kind of fictional sea-faring adventure. I still read Joseph Conrad and Jack London and Richard Dana and Herman Melville but back then the books I read were for kids or young adults, and I couldn’t find enough of them. They were full of terms like fo’c'sle and aft and bilge and jib, none of which meant anything at all to me, but the seas were rough and you could get washed overboard at any moment. There were no monsters in these books, no aliens, nothing inhuman but the ocean itself and the first mate, who was always dreadful.
I cannot remember the authors or titles of any of those long-ago library books. When I look into it I recognize nothing of what I find. The names and words are long since gone. I’m pretty certain, though, that if I found them again, I would be stunned at how simple and probably silly they were.
I went through a fairly long period of reading science fiction (never had much use for fantasy or magic except in fairy tales) but then it stopped appealing to me, almost all at once, in my mid-twenties, which is now some decades ago. I still enjoy some science-fictiony elements in more speculative fiction, but flat-out world-building with fake languages, too many limbs and unpronounceable names is beyond my scope for now. I’d rather make fun of such stuff, which I’m doing a little of in my current story (The Lemon Thief’s Ex-Wife’s Third Cousin) wherein one of the characters works for a newspaper, translating headlines into non-existent languages because you never know. Sometimes we adopt genres as well as books and authors. I guess I think of science fiction as a sort of pet rock, pretty to look at, and sometimes even amazing. Sea-faring adventures, now there’s a genre that’s pretty much come and gone.
(somehow I’m reminded here of one of the tidbits from Bookstore Lore: The Stupidest Questions Ever Asked in a Bookstore. A person comes into the bookstore and asks “where are your non-fiction books?” The snotty clerk (ahem) says, “well, you see that sign over there that says ‘fiction’? “Yes,” the unwitting customer replies. “Everywhere else,” says the rude clerk, “is non-fiction.” – Naturally, the customer was looking for a book on serial killers. In America, “non-fiction” translates almost always into “Serial Killers”.