Article published on February 9, 2016.
I engaged in a light conversation with an infrequent user of books over the Yuletide period. The chap explained his particular choices over the last twelve months, as did I of course. His taste encompassed the genre S.F. or Science Fiction for those who do not know. Each to their own, is my mantra, but S.F. as a serious read?
We discussed the various merits of different books as a decent bottle of Xmas Cabernet slid down. I was a trifle ‘pushy’ in my explanation of why I did not enjoy this S.F. basically because it serves no purpose that I could see. In retrospect, it was the drink talking mainly, but it did make me examine my own particular tastes.
For as far back as I can remember I have been actively seeking biographical books that hopefully can teach me how somebody conducted their life and circumstances. As a direct opposite to that genre however, I also have an abiding leaning toward books about the dead. I recall doing a review for newbooks some while back, the book entitled Stiff by Mary Roach. The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is boldly printed on the front cover. I thoroughly enjoyed that one. The opening paragraph amused me
‘The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.’
so I had to read on.
One book I recently purchased A Journal of the Plague Year is by Daniel Defoe, he of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ fame. He wrote this after the plague had passed, but he saw it all as a child in London. We also have Samuel Pepys’ Diary account of the same pestilence.
Also Necropolis by Catharine Arnold, a fascinating book about the history of London and its dead. I have any number of books relative to death and its residual aftermath. Strangely, most people usually dismiss the subject out of hand – the Ostrich syndrome? – but, when you begin to explain certain factual details, a lot of people become totally absorbed in it. Maybe it is like the rubberneck individuals that have to examine road accidents; they either quickly turn away after a cursory glance, or become engaged in the scene and create another accident as a result.
I mentioned London, and this has also become a favourite subject. Many books adorn my shelves about London, for example, Mayhew’s Characters by Henry Mayhew. Quite an old book now that features those strange jobs that the street folk engaged in back in history. I also have another entitled Mayhew’s London by the same author; this has even more examples of how folk made a living back then, these books are so absorbing, different and certainly educational.
The classics get a few more shelves, my understanding is that if a book can stand the test of time, be made into films etc; and still be in print today, they must be worth a read. I also have a copy of what is purported to be the first thriller. The Adventures of Caleb Williams by William Godwin and published in 1794. William Godwin was the father of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
This little ‘expose’ of some of my particular fancies is but a very small peek into my collection, it sounds like I am blowing my own trumpet perhaps, but in my defense I reason it helps explain why I tend to dismiss S.F. as frivolous. This of course does not make me right and [you are] correct, we all have our own tastes, but when I am confronted with yet another cover showing some scantily clad, buxom Amazon with a wind-ruffled mane of luxurious hair, often accompanied by a ‘space’ creature or robot, I have to turn away. Having said that though, I enjoy, not greatly perhaps, a few S.F. films. Although most of these films are full of macho posturing, CGI generated creatures and unbelievable characters; they still retain a mild essence of thrills.
I am quite open to dialogue in order to discuss the merits of Science Fiction if anyone cares to engage with me, perhaps I could be persuaded to read a book you could recommend to me as an introduction, although I have to say it may be an uphill struggle. In fact aesthetes can discuss any genre whatsoever with me. I can be found on the Book Chap category via Nudge.
Mayhews Characters by Henry Mayhew
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