Friday 12 June 2009

Confessions of a Bibliophile #4 - Author Addiction Or Reading Stalker?

I often wonder about addictive personalities - in part because of my own. It manifests itself in many ways, shapes and forms. In regards to my readings, I keep lists of each book read each year, favorite authors, and favorite books. These lists can be seen on my blog as well as a nearly complete collection of my published and unpublished reviews. But when does a love of an author's writing become an addiction, or a form of literary stalking? I think in the last number of years I have had a few book or author fetishes; in short, in short periods of time read entire author canons or most of their works, or compulsively tracked down out-of-print and hard-to- find obscure books from various authors. In this week's column I will examine a few of those obsessions, and maybe my reflections will provide a mirror to parts of your own life.

I did not keep track of the books I had read until the fall of 1995. Since then I have read over 1300 books. So in the last 151 months I have read 1334 books - that is an average of almost nine books a month and 104 books a year. In that same time frame I have read the following sets. Between 1995 and 1997, 31 books by Madelein L'Engle. I read 18 by Kathy Shaidle, 35 by C.S. Lewis, and since 2006, 37 by Jose Maria Escriva. I have read only six of his books but combined I have read Calvin Miller's books 56 times, and I have read only 4 of Noah benShea's books but read them for a total of 28 times. I would definitely say that is fanatical if not obsessive behavior!

Yet that is only part of the story. Chuck Palahniuk wrote the novel Fight Club, and after seeing the movie in the summer of 2004, I devoured all of his books except Fight Club - both his fiction and non-fiction. I read 7 of his books, 2 collections of his works in under a year, then finally read Fight Club. A while back, a short story The Warm Sand that I had read haunted me for decades. After being reminded of it while browsing used book stores in Toronto I managed to track it down. (Here is a story about the story and how I found it the story is also posted with permission.) After finding the story again, I interlibrary loaded every edition of all of author J.F. Power's books and read them and compared different editions of his short stories.

In my column two weeks ago I talked about Canadian Phenom Kathy Shaidle. I first encountered her blog, tracked down her books in print, then spent the better part of a day tracking down a small independent publisher in Toronto that released early editions of her works of poetry and managed to get copies that were still in stock so that I would have all of her books. (An author profile.)

I often get asked how I read so much, or why I sometimes reread books again and again. The answer is simple I read because I must. There is some small part of my that needs to read daily, it is central and core to my being. I read over 100 books a year, and any given year 15-20 of those are rereads. I reread books for a few different reasons; first because the book has had a lasting impact on me, and I need to reread it to experience that effect again. The list of these annual rereads change, as some become less important and some are added to the list. Some book's I reread because I know I did not 'get it all', an example of this is The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, the first time I read this I loved it but knew that about a third of the theory was over my head. So in successive readings I have gleamed more and more form the book. Some books I reread because new books have come out in a series, I have gone back and reread some series chronologically, and also in the order they were published. Finally some books I reread just because I love them and want to revisit the characters, the story or revisit the impact it had upon my life.

I have met only a few of my favorite authors in real life: Madelein L'Engle, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael W. Higgins and a few more. I have corresponded with a few on the web and before the 90's through snail mail. I also used to collect signed books, both those I had signed and those for which I sometimes paid a stupid amount of money. Recently on e-bay I saw a 1st Edition Fight Club go for over $1500USD. Before marriage and children I was never that bad but I was overly zealous in my acquisitions. I still have only a few signed books - sold some when I needed the money and some when I needed the space. But the question remains: Do I stalk authors? I find I do. I tend to find an author I like and try to read everything they have published. I sometimes compare various editions of books like Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land considered a classic in its day. After his death, the original book almost three times the size was released by his estate. It was even better than the version his publisher made him hack down, and that had been a classic for ages. However I seldom have gone out of my way to engage authors on the web or in real life. A few have contacted me because of my reviews - most thanking, a few complaining and one outraged. Yet, as always, you never know what you will find between the covers.

(First published in Imprint 2009-06-12.)

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