Every time someone asks me that question, I know the answer is probably going to be no. I cringe sometimes, wondering what author’s name they are going to throw out at me, and how stupid I’m going to look when that “no” slips from my lips. It’s inevitable.
See, not only are there just too many books to read ‘em all, but, personally, I have some gigantic holes in my reading history.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve pretty much been reading solidly since about fifth grade. At different points in my life I’d read a couple books a week. (I realize there are some of you out there who read almost a book a day. Wow. That has never been me.) There have also been points in my life – mainly during particularly stressful periods when I had a day job – where I was lucky to read a book a month. But no matter what, I always have a book I’m reading.
Thanks to my father, I started my reading life in the world of sci-fi. He was, and continues to be, a huge fan of the genre. I ripped through Asimov’s FOUNDATION series (trilogy at the time I started), through various books by Arthur C. Clarke, and nearly everything by Robert Heinlein. I read James White, a few by Phillip K. Dick, and bits and pieces of all sorts of others.
For a while the only thing I would let myself read was sci-fi. I remember one birthday my mother giving me a Western novel. I’m sure I said, “Thanks,” but I never read it. I was a purest. And, by definition an idiot.
Eventually my horizons broadened, and I started reading thrillers and adventure stories – almost everything by Alistair MacLean, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED by Jack Higgins, BLACK SUNDAY by Thomas Harris, and then, of course, the works of Robert Ludlum.
And as I grew older still, I’ve come to enjoy books of many different genres, but those holes remain. For example, because of my sci-fi fanaticism in my teens, I missed out on the whole pulp crime/intrigue world of fiction. Why? Because a) I just didn’t even know about it, and b) if I had I probably would have said, “Where’s the spaceship?”
By missing that chunk of our collective history, I had missed some of the greatest writers of our time. I know, I know. I should be taken out and shot. But before you pull that trigger, know that all of that has been changing over the last decade. Slowly at first, but really picking up speed now.
And thanks to the 31st Vintage Paperback Collectors Show & Sale here in L.A. held a few weeks ago, I’m moving into light speed catch up mode! If you’ve never gone to a classic paperback show, you should. They are unbelievable! Thousands of old crime and thriller and adventure novels. And –tapping into that old first love of mine – tons of vintage sci-fi stuff, too!
I left the show with 138 books. That’s right. 138.
Now, admittedly, that number is cheating a little. I met up with someone who had offered to give me a box of books they didn’t want any more. Turned out to be a total of 100 books, most of where were part of the Edward S. Aarons’ ASSIGNMENT: series. There are 48 books in the series, I am now the proud owner of 44 them, with duplicates of most. Couldn’t be happier.
But beyond this wonderful gift (thank you, Michael & Jodi!), I purchased 38 more. One goal was to fill out missing parts of the MATT HELM series I didn’t own. Got some, still need more (but that means more happy searching in the future). Other finds were: THE MAN WITH MY FACE by Samuel W. Taylor, PERRY MASON THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS by Erle Stanely Gardner, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP by Edward L. Beach, THE SINGAPORE EXILE MURDERS by Van Wyck Mason, and LOVERS ARE LOSERS by E. Howard Hunt (yeah, that E. Howard Hunt.)
I also gave into that sci-fi boy inside and got about a dozen or so 50s era sci-fi novels.
Kid in a candy shop? Yeah, that’s me.
But the best part is once I get through all of these, then when someone asks me “Have you ever read…?” I won’t tense as much waiting for the name. Sure, the answer is still going to end up being “no” more often than not, but the percentage will be less. And I’m working on tilting the scale the other way!
So, holes in your reading history? Are you doing something about it? And who have you read, but wish you had read sooner?
Though an avid, constant reader from a young age, I have "holes" in my reading history. But I feel I’m knowledgeable about the books and the genre as a whole enough that I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I have too much to read otherwise. This is almost feeling like going back to the "guilt" reading thread. 🙂 I appreciate very much the hard boiled and noir crime classics and even newer ones, but they’re just not my cuppa.
Lucky you to have such a great experience! Oh, I love used book sales and hauling home boxes of treasures that I never tell my spouse about — or is that just me? <g>
Sorry for being chatty today but this also reminds me of a meme going around of the 10 most influential books in one’s life. I did it on my blog with the caveat that they were the books most influential in my *reading* life. We all had to somewhere to get to this wonderful world of crime fiction.
I have huge holes in my reading for the last 15 years or so, especially in the realm of lit fic. I got sick of reading that felt like bad homework, I guess. Also, I’m a big re-reader. There are some books I’ve read upwards of a dozen times, including David Simon’s HOMICIDE.
It was so great to see you in LA, Brett, thank you!
With all that is out there, I don’t know that we can help but have holes in our reading history. I’ve been an avid reader as long as I could read. But I didn’t come into a real love of crime fiction until about four or five years ago when I left teaching. Now I read between 100 and 125 books a year, mostly in the crime fiction realm, but not entirely. And I still am often saying "no" when someone asks me if I’ve read "so and so," especially older stuff. But part of the fun is having those holes and discovering whole new worlds!
Brett, your "holes" and mine together equal a lot of ground! You read all the sci-fi so I don’t have to, I guess. It never interested me, but I have spent most of my adult life reading a lot of other stuff, including many of the classics that never appealed when I was younger. Some of it deserves the term, and some of it doesn’t, but I have enjoyed finding this out for myself, as opposed to being force-fed by a well-meaning English teacher.
It’s all good. There’s a reason why there are so many different genres, because we are all different, and different types of stories resonate differently with each of us. Viva la difference!
I love your new collection from the vintage book show. I came away with several myself, including three written by Westlake pen name that I didn’t know existed.
As for reading holes, I’ve got more than everyone here combined.
Brett, thanks for this post. How validating! I used to consider myself well read until I started going to writers’ conferences and hanging out at my local indie bookstore. It was quickly apparent how few books I’d actually read. To fill some holes, I try to make every fourth book a classic or something non-fiction, though the majority of my reading is comprised of novels (I can’t resist the escapism).
In many ways, networking with other authors has broadened my reading, because I like to read my new friends’ work. Now that my To Be Read shelves are overflowing, though, I’m less likely to pick up books that are recommended by others because I know what a long line of TBRs is waiting ahead of me. When would I ever get to them?
Enjoy those new reads. I’m happy for you. 🙂
I’ve always said I am sadly under-read in our genre – but there’s nothing "wrong" with that. It simple means we’ll never be bored! But I understand the cringe… : )
"Brett Battles…that name sounds familiar. Are you a collector?"
I pretty much feel totally ashamed by my lack of reading. I read almost nothing as a youth. I did get into Sci Fi, yes, that was a treat. I read all of Clifford D. Simak. A little Asimov and Heinlen. And a lot of the Doc Savage series. My reading didn’t pick up until college. Then again in my mid-twenties. As I was writing Boulevard I pushed myself to read a book a week. Now I have thousands of books and I get my satisfaction from reading the titles on their spines.
Since I’m a relative newby to the joys of reading, ~ 6 yrs, I don’t think "holes" adequately covers the lapses in my reading history. 😉 Once I really got into it (read: addicted), I found myself devouring books; not only because I enjoyed them so much, but because I had this feeling that I needed to catch up. A while ago I’d pretty much accepted the reality that that’s just not gonna happen, but it doesn’t hurt to get a little reinforcement that I’m not the only who experiences those I’m-so-out-of-the-loop cringes.
Though coming late to the reading-is-fun party does have its advantages…you don’t have to wait a year or more for the next book in the series to come out! :-p
As someone who dabbles in writing poetry, I find I am woefully under-read in current poetry. But in my defense, it is hard to sort the gold from the dreck out there, and very tempting to just dive back into the oldies-but-goodies.
I find that, no matter the genre, there is more quality stuff that I could read. I like some alternative history, for example, but I haven’t read any of Turtledove’s, and some would say he’s the best in that sub-genre -and I love Eric Flint’s 1632 series.
I have read a little of everything, and all that does is show me that I can never be definitively "up" on them all.
Great subject for a post, Brett.
Funny how similar our backstories are. I, too, started reading at a young age because of all the sci-fi paperbacks my father always had laying around the house: Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Robert E. Howard, Larry Niven, etc. Then I moved on to crime fiction (after failing for twenty years to sell sci-fi short stories to ANALOG magazine) and the rest, as they say, is history.
While I’ve read most of the "masters" (John D. McDonald, Ross MacDonald, Chandler, Hammett, even a few Agatha Christies), there are omissions in my reading history that are truly inexplicable and, some would say, totally unforgivable. These aren’t authors I’ve consciously avoided, just some I’ve never gotten around to seeking out:
Never read Alistair MacLean.
Never read Ian Fleming (not a single Bond, and I’m a freak about the movies!).
Never read Richard Stark OR Donald E. Westlake.
Never read Ludlum.
The list goes on and on. And this is just the genre stuff. The "classic" books I haven’t read on the literary side would fill three wings of a municipal library.
Not proud of it, but there you are.
Gar, you must read MacLean and Westlake/Stark — immediately. No crime fiction library is complete without them. Especially the Starks. Those are lean, mean crime machines.
I’ve read a bit in many genres, starting in sixth grade with the Nancy Drew books, the Naria Chronicles and various paranormal teen books before moving on to romances and westerns of all things. I’ve read some of the classics, including the YA classics like the Little Women series, and I’ve read a few of the current mainstream classics. However, I mostly read fantasy and mysteries today.
My huge hole is in current YA, and since that’s the field I’m hoping to get published in that’s a terrible and embarrassing gap. The problem is I have time to read about one book every two months, so do I pick up the mystery I know I will enjoy or do I pick up the YA book that, unfortunately, often feels more like homework as I struggle through it?
Great post, Brett.
I know how way behind I am, so I’m just trying to read AUTHORS, even if it’s just one book, to get a feel for the different styles out there. Sometimes I’ll jam on two or three of an author’s books if I really dig their style and tone, like the Kenzie/Genarro books, or the Cole/Pike books. But I’m so very far behind–and I can only manage about a book every two weeks or so–that I would rather not go back to the "All Stephen King" or the "All Michael Crichton" style that I started with.
There are just too many good authors, big time and midlist, out there to limit myself.
I am woefully under-read. There’s a huge list of mythology I want to read, and classics I never got introduced to throughout college, and scads of sci/fi and fantasy that sound brilliant, and acres and acres of thrillers and lit fic that I’d like to get my hands on. All in spite of reading an average of a 100 to 150 books a year. [This is one of those moments when that whole Matrix download-directly-into-the-brain thing has some appeal.]
I agree w/Rob about the Starks. And folks should rent POINT BLANK and PAYBACK, two great adaptations of same.
Holes? I’m not a big fantasy fan. I’ve tried to be on a couple of occasions. It just doesn’t take. It may be that demonic unicorn in my office who spears me every time I try.
I think I tried a MacLean once and just couldn’t get into it. Which one would you recommend I read to give him another go?
The irony is, POINT BLANK is one of my all time favorite movies — easily in my Top Five. So yeah, it’s a joke that I’ve never read Stark (especially since I own two of his Parker books.
Hey gang, just ducking to thank you all for all the great comments so far! Sounds like I’m definitely not alone. PHEW! Okay, back to the kids and our spring break vaca at my folks place!
Love the collection.
I have to say that when people ask me ‘have you read…’ I feel that caught in the headlights look come over my face (hope it’s only a feeling and not actually my expression). I don’t read a lot of mainstream fiction so I get caught in the headlights a lot.
I am always interested to hear what people think about their favorite book even though I may not have read it ( or may never read it).
Gar, I’m coming back to this very late, but for MacLean I’d recommend the Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare.
For Stark, just start at THE HUNTER (Point Blank) and keep going. And be sure to read the Stark novels featuring Grofield as well.
For Westlake, SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY is a particular favorite, along with THE FUGITIVE PIGEON.