I’ll show you my bookshelf, you show me yours: thoughts about reader diplomacy

I was driving a friend to an art exhibit when we started that conversation, the one readers have.

(not my actual bookshelves, except in my dreams)

This is the conversation where we carefully, and without being very nosy or pushy, start eyeballing each other’s bookshelves, from a diplomatic distance.  In the past, I’ve been known to be very impulsive about this, going, with much handwaving, so far as to push books (Rilke, Marquez, Quammen, Calvino. Once, a treasured Borges.) into dinner guests’ hands and generally bring shame on the family through enthusiasm. So in recent years, I’ve become a bit more cautious.  I haven’t encouraged folks to read Charles Stross without a reason, not recently anyway.  And, in the case of this conversation, I tried to keep my mouth shut and listen, for this particular friend is a quiet thinker and my own personal ballyhooing about books, I decided, could wait.

In the past, friendships have made it through this conversation, and emerged mostly unscathed, and sometimes enriched.

This time, we discovered enough similarities that we could proceed.  We discovered, particularly, that neither of us like to be categorized as genre readers.  This is true of me even if I do often pick favorites and read them obsessively, and may be found cheering for a book that’s about to come out as one might if one enjoyed football and one’s favorite team were about to take the field.  I have admitted as much to my friends in the past and don’t mind doing it again.

What we like, we also discovered, is a good story, a strong and unique voice.  We like to be transported.  I’d argue that a doorstopper like Annals of the Former World, or a science-for-the-rest-of-us non-fiction like First Light provides excellent transport as much as some of our favorite books (together on this short drive, we thought of The Phantom Tollbooth, Narnia.). By the time we arrived at the museum, I was so close to dropping my disguise as a normal person and suggesting to my friend, by way of introduction to an favored author, that she try The City and The City.

So. Time to fess up, to my friend and to all of you.

I’m one of those people.  A book pusher. A fast reader.  A genre-jumper.  Today, for instance, I desire to place my China Mieville collection into your hands.  I found him when someone suggested Looking for Jake and I read “The Tain,” and “Reports of Certain Events in London,” and walked around jawdropped for the rest of the day.  I dove into Perdido Street Station and didn’t want to put Iron Council down, I waited for more because Mieville transported me, much like Stephenson and Gibson had, when a fellow book-pusher (Stuart, that’s you) introduced me to them long, long ago.  They, all three, picked up my imagination in a sack and dropped it down somewhere else and when I righted myself, I was different for the journey.  (For instance, there’s a scene in Kraken where the shabti… ok, I’m not going to spoil that one, but trust me.)  And now the next Mieville, Embassytown is on its way to me – pre-ordered and in the queue.  I’m bouncing like a fangirl because, well, that’s what I am.

However, in the past couple of months I’ve realized that my fangirl shelf has enlarged, by a lot.  I blame e-books, in particular, and the ease with which I can satisfy my curiosity about a new recommendation. Several of these, I’ve gone on to buy in hard copy so that I can inflict share them with others.

The enlarging began somewhere near when I clicked on a Genevive Valentine story, “Bespoke” archived in Strange Horizons. Or, perhaps it started when a box of books arrived from my friend Raq, containing Th1Rt33n, The Algebraist, and more.  It could have begun near the BoingBoing link to Cat Valente’s Deathless, or to the twitter recs for Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City.  It’s hard to tell, but by the time the weather was really, finally set on spring, I had my grabby hands on a whole new pile of authors I’ll look forward to reading more from, and being transported by.  I had a digital version of Mechanique and was emailing friends to tell them to Get It Now; ditto with Cat Valentine’s Deathless.  A few weeks later, Zoo City percolated through my queue and, though I was jealous that Lauren Bueukes received her Arthur C. Clarke award from Mr. Mieville, and shocked that one of my favorite books from last year, Dervish House, was beaten, I got over it and opened up Zoo City and was again transported.

Good lord we have some amazing writers among us.  Seriously.

Then, on the suggestion of a twitterer in Australia (looking at you, @mondyboy), I found Ken Liu’s Tying Knots in Clarkesworld, which is still ratcheting around in my brain, as well as “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by Lily Yu.   And, in a completely different genre, a YA book coming in September that I can’t tell you about yet, but I’m still thrilled to have been able to peek at it.  Oh, and over here, on this shelf – have I told you about the new Charles Stross coming out in June…. ?

Ahem.  I’m doing it again, aren’t I?

So now that I’ve completely laid bare what I’m reading at the moment, or have loved at some point and am thinking of it now*, what’s on your bookshelf?

[*Dear friend, that is not an exclusive list, please also see these books by Gibson, Stephenson, Azimov, Cadigan, Attwood, Egan, … (Dear reader, that isn’t an exclusive list either, please also see…). SIGH.] 



  1. Okay, this is totally off subject, but I’m confused… in my world on the East Coast of the United States (presumably where you are as well, though in a different city), it is just after 12:00 p.m. on Saturday the 14th of May. However, your comment says it is 2:37 p.m. on the 14th. How did you clear the space time continuum???

  2. Hmmmm… mine posted the wrong time by 4 hours. Are you operating from a previously undiscovered isle off the west coast of Britain?

    • Oh I totally should be broadcasting from some undiscovered island! Want to help me find one? Also, I probably should look at my timezone settings…

  3. I’ll just note that I have a note carefully filed away that says “The following things are to be read IN ORDER, per Fran:…” Yes, my dear, you are a book pusher, and a highly successful one.

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