The Me-me-me-me meme

With a curtsey to Michelle. This has been around and about for such a while that I’m struggling not to feel like the schmuck at the bottom of the pyramid scheme, but, hmm, perhaps the good authors of this site might need a little encouragement.

What is the total number of books you own?

Not very many. Due to a combination of crunchingly mindless bureaucracy (on their part) and inattention (on my part), a few years ago I lost – lost as in ‘had taken away from me’, not lost as in ‘misplaced’ – a number of boxes containing maybe 600-700 books, two of which were first editions worth more than a thousand pounds between them. Gah. I’m back up to maybe 80.

What was the last book you bought?

I think it was Return to Reason, by Stephen Toulmin.

What was the last book you read?

Not sure. These days I seem to be good at getting into books but bad at getting out of them. I’m dipping into Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, am partway through a Pratchett, and began Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a while ago. I suspect the last one I actually finished was either Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, or Pratchett’s Going Postal.

What are five books that mean a lot to you?

Striker, by Kenneth Cope

A childhood indulgence. It’s a novel spun off a BBC kids’ television series from the mid-’70s, about a boy’s striving to become a footballer against his father’s wishes. As a kid, books were about comfort for me, rather than about expanding horizons. I didn’t have all that many; I wasn’t really given books as presents, and my parents didn’t have books around them except for the occasional airport pulp. But that was okay, because I just read and re-read what I had, and was very happy with that. Every so often I’d head to bed early and read Striker from cover to cover, typically finishing, exhausted but fulfilled, in the wee small hours. The familiarity was the thing; I could escape into my own private world for a while, and I loved that. Out of print, I’m sure, but Amazon or abebooks might find you a copy.

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s best, and it gets better with re-reading. It has exactly the right idea about humanity’s significance in the universe. Vonnegut doesn’t do moving very often, but the last scene is profoundly so.

The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins

Dizzyingly brilliant. It unfolds with the precision and elegance of a Chinese puzzle box, and you won’t ever see the world the same way again. It’s one thing to have a vague idea of what evolution is, how it works, and what the implications of that are, but it’s quite another to see it with the clarity that drips from every one of Dawkins’s words. He lays into theism more explicitly elsewhere, but this is where his assault began, hammering away at the idea that complexity needs design, and that beauty in nature requires a guiding hand. If I could choose to write like anyone, it’d be Dawkins.

Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart

Because it’s a bloody masterpiece, and because hardly anyone has heard of it. You’ll laugh and cry and gasp with wonder, sometimes all at the same time.

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams

It’s even more patchy and undisciplined than most of Adams’s stuff – which is saying something – but his best fiction writing is here, because it’s a love story that mirrored a love in his own life, and those emotions tempered his sometimes-glib cleverness, alloying it with a humanity and optimism that’s conspicuously missing from earlier books.


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