07 August 2014


Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 15

Have you read David Wong's 60 Second Guide to Learning the Awful Truth about Yourself? If his name sounds familiar, that's because he's the guy who got me to make CLOSE my word for 2013. I appreciate his newer article as well--and not just because it gives me a challenge I can adapt to one of my own posts. Here's a sixty-second exercise for you . . .

1) Write down the names of the five authors whom you own the most books by.
2) Write down the names of the five authors who are the greatest literary influences in your life.
3) Use your Secret Decoder Ring for the twist: understand that the five authors on the first list are the real greatest literary influences in your life.

You already know which authors would be on my first list. As for the second, it would have (in alphabetical order) Charlotte Bronte, G.K. Chesterton, Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, and Madeleine L'Engle. Of course, the one who made both lists is also the one whom I try to shrug off these days. =P Does this matter, though?

Well, yes. Wong's original challenge was to write down five things you did yesterday and then the five things you think are most important in life--and [Secret Decoder Rings again, please] to realise that the first things are your real priorities. And his point was that the amount of time that we spend doing something is an objective standard about how much we value it. If you spend eight to ten hours a day at a job you hate, well, that does say something awful about you. Such as that you've swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the idea that a centralised mass production economy run by wage-slavery is your destiny. It's not the only thing about you, of course, but neither is it something you can shrug off.

Speaking of economies, there are also the amounts of money that we spend . . .

When I made my first list last week, I was more than a little embarrassed that half the names on it were Romance writers. Isn't my general reading challenge these days to be as eclectic in my reading as possible? At least the five of them (plus the sixth who got an honourable mention) let me be eclectic within a single genre: they cover Contemporaries, Historicals, Paranormals, Regencies, Thrillers, and Westerns! But what this collection really reveals is how my personal beliefs about reading were able to work within parameters set by marketers, who are the Seneca Crane of modern Reading Games. (Forgive me, Christopher.)

Now, in these Games, the writers who will always have an edge are not necessarily those with excellent writing or original stories, but those with savvy marketing strategies. Romance sells really well not just because women are romantic and acquisitive in comparable proportions, but also because someone figured out that siblings who each get their own love stories will push more books than the same number of unrelated characters in identical plots by the same author.

We could say the same about Young Adult and Middle Grade, where series rule. The writers in these genres who appeared on the most other Tenners gave us the "Tortal universe" (17 books) . . . The Princess Diaries (16 books) . . . The Morganville Vampires (15 books) . . . Vampire Academy and its spin-offs (10 books so far) . . . Percy Jackson and the Olympians and its spin offs (9 books so far) . . . Covenant (7 books) . . . and of course, Harry Potter (8 books if you also count The Tales of Beedle the Bard). Provided they don't actually set their money on fire for kicks, these authors are set for life.

By the way, J.K. Rowling actually topped several lists. Not just because Potter-heads also had her adult novels, but also because they had multiple editions of the Boy Wizard series. Including copies in other languages, which they sometimes couldn't even read. And they were the ones whose glosses went along the lines of: "This probably won't come as any surprise to someone who knows me . . ." And David Wong would totally respect that.

So would that unnamed author who inspired my Sneaky, Sneaky Book Thieves post--because what she was trying to get at by insisting that borrowing books instead of buying them is stealing from the author, is that money is an objective standard. If someone is your favourite writer but you've never paid to read any of his books, there's a sense in which your regard is worthless. Especially now that we're living in the age of the dirt-cheap mass market paperback. Come on, people.

Okay, that was just me being provocative. But the point stands . . .

Basically, when we value something, we throw stuff at it. Frequently time. Often money. On occasion, also shelf space. But always something measurable and objective that even someone who doesn't know you would mark.

What have you thrown at your favourite writer lately?


Angie Tusa said...

Well, King tops my collection and probably is one of the most influential authors for me, so I guess I'm at least being consistent. :) Though for me I often have the problem of feeling like I'm not reading enough authors, particularly since I'm out of school which used to force me to read the classics. Lately I've been trying to read new authors that interest me, but I apparently can't walk too far away from King, because just this morning I decided to finally do a Dark Tower revisit by listening to the series in audiobook form!

Coincidentally, John Dies at the End was one of the books I decided to read in branching out to new authors, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Enbrethiliel said...


To be honest, despite all the flitting around I do, I'd love to have the kind of knowledge of an author that you do of Stephen King--which only comes from reading everything (or nearly everything) he has written. But I really don't like reading "alone" these days. And nothing makes me feel more alone than discovering a fantastic author with a decent backlist . . . and having no one to share that joy with. Furthermore, blog-wise, I've found that trying a lot of new authors and genres is great for keeping conversation flowing and people coming back.

PS -- Some time ago, someone told me, "Wow! You've read a lot of King," just because I happened to have read all those he mentioned to me (Carrie, The Stand, Christine and Pet Sematary) as well one he hadn't read (Needful Things). I decided not to disabuse him of the notion. =P

Angie Tusa said...

Since a lot of people seem to figure they know his work by seeing the movies, you're probably at least ahead of the curve if nothing else. :) For me it was just finding him at that right time, when I had been reading YA horror novels and was thirsting for something a bit more grown up.

I don't know if I could embrace a new author now with the same enthusiasm. For instance I've started the Song of Ice and Fire series, and I'll probably continue with that to the end, but I'm not sure it would lead me to read everything Martin has written. My attempt to read Suzanne Collins' other books didn't go so well, anyway.

Sheila said...

Meanwhile, if you have *not* swallowed the lie that you have to be a wage slave, you don't have money to throw at authors to prove you value them!

Isn't it interesting how money is the measure of everything these days? If you don't shell out, you don't value something, and what you spend on is a sign of your priorities. If you have a lot of money, you must be either a hard worker or extra clever; if you're particularly bad off, you probably made some bad choices.

I, of course, have chosen NOT to be a wage-slave, and accepted the general poverty of that choice. (Even when we do have money, I still feel guilty spending it because I didn't personally earn it .... I wonder if that ever wears off?) But it has shocked me just how much my unwillingness to spend money on ANYthing we can survive without has set me apart from everyone I know, even people poorer than I am. I say that I take pride in how little I need rather than in how much I have, but that evaporates in the face of the universal need of money for everything. Friendship costs money -- or do you always expect your friends to pay the tab when you go out, to always drive to you instead of you to them so you don't have to pay for gas? Knowledge costs money -- at the very least, an internet connection. The respect of others costs an awful lot. It's hard to find people who don't judge you for looking ratty -- even if those clothes are perfectly serviceable and ought to last years longer.

This, of course, is way off topic, but I guess I just bristle at the idea that you don't *have* to be a wage slave, but if you don't buy books you don't really value them. Not being a wage slave means foregoing all the goods that cost money!

But of course there is a bright side to all this, because when I think of how I spend my time, it does match up pretty well with what my priorities are. Every choice has a price, but in the whole I am sacrificing things I value less in favor of things I value more.

But yeah, I don't own a single book by some of the people who have most influenced my thought (Gene Logsdon, Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin ..... all thinkers I've discovered in the past five years and thus couldn't buy anything of). Perhaps the mere fact that I spent the time to read them, when time is something that's kind of at a premium for me, is proof enough that I value them.

Enbrethiliel said...


Angie -- I know what you mean about authors coming along at just the right time . . . and the window shutting soon after that point. For me, that author was Madeleine L'Engle. I was just starting to branch out from juvenile series like Sweet Valley Twins and her Fantasy novels were like nothing I had ever read before! I probably had the same reaction to her that younger children had to J.K. Rowling, when Harry Potter first came out.

There's a similar story behind my Jo Beverly collection. I read my first book by her just when I was starting to get into Romance--and she kind of helped to push me in! =P I think the rest of my Romance reading was an attempt to chase the high she gave me in that story.

Then there was G.K. Chesterton, whom I don't own many books by because they were out of print and impossible to get when I first discovered him. I had to read them on Project Gutenberg instead, and when I got to my university, I always had at least one checked out of the library. Anyway, I learned about Chesterton right when I was starting to rediscover my faith, and he simply filled a deep need for Christian writing that I hadn't even known I had.

Anyway, based on my experiences so far, it's clear that if I want to fall in love with another author, I'm going to have to make sure he "gets there first" in some sense. What do you think?

Sheila -- I'm really glad that you pointed that out, because I wouldn't have seen it myself! While I was writing this post, however, I kept recalling a tweet I recently read, by someone who had been using Project Gutenberg and his local library for so long that he felt a little miffed when he finally ran across a book he had to pay to read. LOL! Some people might call him entitled, but I thought he was making a great point about culture. On the one hand, we wouldn't have many of our books if publishing weren't profitable (which means that it is in readers' interest to contribute to its profits); on the other hand, there is something rather sinister in the idea that only those with money have the right to read good books. (I'm already planning a future post!)

And of course, money is just one objective standard out of many. I made it the main one in the post because it's the main one in my library and the only one I can't dispute. I actually agree with you that time is the real gold standard--but I can't really prove that I've spent more time with Chesterton than with, say, Lisa Kleypas.

Time was also David Wong's standard when he devised his challenge . . . and doing it actually got me to revise my list of priorities! You see, there happens to be something I spend a lot of time on but didn't realise was actually very important to me: I no longer use shampoo and soap (GASP!), so I spend a lot of time preparing my personal toiletries and doing research on topical ingredients. Seeing this clearly showed me how much I want to be more committed to a healthy, natural lifestyle. As soon as I figured it out, I got serious about making . . . a sourdough starter. =P Goodbye, industrially processed grains! And good riddance!

Belfry Bat said...

I reject the premise! The greatest Litterary influence is the one he can most quote (most broadly) without realizing it; to whom he turns in writing one's own letters; who he most wants others to read!

So there!

Enbrethiliel said...


You just don't like the way your own library looks. =P

Angie Tusa said...

Anyway, based on my experiences so far, it's clear that if I want to fall in love with another author, I'm going to have to make sure he "gets there first" in some sense. What do you think?

I think you've definitely hit on something! The last creator I found myself enamored with was director Robert Rodriguez, and it had a lot to do with the fact that I was making an independent film myself, and it was so exciting to see someone who shared his film-making experiences with his audience and clearly had an enthusiasm for the craft.

Enbrethiliel said...


Fascinating! I had only been thinking of literary creators, but you're so right that other creative people could have the same effects on us. =)

DMS said...

What an interesting post I know that without even looking at my shelves JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman are two authors who will too my
List of books and those who influenced me. I think all of the books I have by each has been purchased by me or for me by a friend. I have multiple copies of the same book- different editions. :). I like to borrow books too- but my favorite authors have books I have to own!

Thanks for sharing. Definitely need to look closer at my collection!

NoelCT said...

Actually Peter David and other tie-in novel writers have been very influential to me because they make a career out of finding the corners and cracks in something that already exists and filling it with their own stories, sometimes to tie up loose threads, sometimes to add new angles nobody expected could be there to start with. It's also sharpened me as a critic in terms of seeing open possibilities and missed opportunities often left lingering in works, which in turn inspires my creative mind as I think "Hey, here's a nifty little way of making a story which addresses that!" :)

Paul Stilwell said...

I agree with Bat.

Enbrethiliel said...


NoelCT -- Now that I know he's one of those "novelisationists" you mention on occasion I totally get it! ;-) I've tried a few novelisations on occasion (though my geekiness never extended to paying attention to the writers' names!) and know what you mean about surprising angles what had seemed like a straightforward story.

Stilwell -- If your libraries don't have your backs, you've both got nothing! Bwahahahahahaha! (For the record, I'm counting Sheila's borrowing records at the public library. It's as objective and measurable as a personal collection.)

And don't think I haven't noticed that you two are the only ones who haven't mentioned a single author you had to pay a premium to read! =P Seriously, Bat and Stilwell: spill. Just who are the top five authors you own the most books by???

Belfry Bat said...

Actually, I don't think anyone outside Tolkien and Rowling have two books on my shelf. I've read the three standard Dune books and one other, all of Narnia (but I couldn't keep at That Hideous Strength) more about McCafrey's PERN than I care to confirm in public, and I think I'm nearly literate in Shakespeare though I'd always like to know more. Currently in the middles of Wodehouses 2 and 3 (my second is stuck on my laptop which is four hundred miles away just now... or actually, it's in Gutenberg!) and you don't want to know about the maths books.

But what I *speak*, most naturally, seems to be math, snatches of scripture, and Tolkien; never mind the ordering.

Sheila said...

Oh, if you count my browsing records, Anne McCaffrey may just trump all others -- I read every single thing of hers I ever found! Runner-up probably Piers Anthony. That was in junior high, when I had more time to read than I do now.

Oh, but wait: in quantity of books, rather than pages, the Babysitters Club probably wins! Oh, dear.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- Reading was very different before publishing became all about the marketing, wasn't it? And what's so bad about Anne McCaffrey that the Dragonriders of Pern series is so embarrassing?

Sheila -- I fancy that my browsing records from high school and uni were quite eclectic, but since I can't produce a record, you're all going to have to trust my memory. =P G.K. Chesterton tops the list, of course, but right after him would be Carolyn Keene, Francine Pascal, and Gary Paulsen. (Random, I know!)
There are also several books I checked out a lot and sometimes even returned overdue. They were Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson, Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and of course, Chesterton's Collected Poems.

Paul Stilwell said...

Alright, alright!

But first let me say this: what about books that one has inherited from family? I have a lot of Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling because I inherited them from my Granddad. I haven't read much Hardy (aside from his poetry) and haven't read any Kipling (aside from his poetry). I do intend to remedy that though.

But then there is something that works out neatly: I inherited some G.K. Chesterton from my Grandma. I already had a good number of his books. Right now I think have around 17 G.K.C. I would have more but I made the mistake at one point of lending a bunch to a friend. (And you know what happens when you loan a book out to someone, right?)

Funnily, my Granddad (whose wife was the woman who loved G.K.C.) once said to me, "His writing is outdated." ROFL! He was a big fan of Kipling. There's quite a lot of those on the shelf.

And yeah, alright, I own around 8 Michael O'Brien.

And there's 8 Aquinas. (Ah! But again, there I inherited 5 of those from my Dad!)

And there's gotta be at least around 6 or 7 Merton (Anyone want them? LOL).

There's about 7 or so of C.S. Lewis.

There's 3 Belloc, but there might be others in there who exceed that number. I mean Kipling and Hardy far exceed that number...but there might be...oh, that's right, Dickens - there's quite a few Dickens.

There's five or so of T.S. Eliot.

But there's also about 5 or so of Christopher West (For research! Now do *you* have any books that are totally antagonistic to you on your shelf? Can you say that? There's even some Anthony De Mello! Heresy!)

And here is where the theory is proved wrong: while I own around 7 or so Lewis, I only own 2 Tolkien (the other two on the shelf are on loan from a sibling). I don't even own the The Lord of the Rings! So there!

Now enough of this literary palm reading/divining handwriting business!

Bat, what is Dune like?

Paul Stilwell said...

Ahem, excuse me, I own 3 Tolkien. I forgot that I own Boewulf and the Critics (sometimes called The Monster and the Critics).

Still, I've read The Lord of the Rings more times than I've read any other book (Orthodoxy may come close), yet I don't even own it!

Enbrethiliel said...


I count the inherited books because shelf space is objective! But only if you've also read them, of course. ;-)

Speaking of shelves, this challenge convinced me that it's time for a cull. Now, I rarely "curate" (the hipster word for "throw stuff out that you don't want anymore"), because I'm willing "to claim the timestamp" on even the most embarrassing books in my collection . . . but oh, man, the Catholic apologists have got to go. Not because I have issues with them but because their books are truly the ones least likely to be reread or recommended and lent to trusted friends.

Stilwell, what I like about your library is that it falls into the "This probably won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me" category. It's so you and nobody else. =)

Finally, please share your secret: how can books that you don't even own be the ones that you've read the most??? And why did you not think of getting your own copies? But now this reminds me . . .

There are some library copies that I consider "mine" in some sense, because I took them out so often and was often the only user who ever did. I would have liked to buy my own copies, but those titles just weren't available. Yet if I could get them today, I still wouldn't: they wouldn't be "mine" the way those "communal" books were . . . and still are.

Belfry Bat said...

I know you'll understand, En', and Sheila may be piqued/amused, when I say they mostly now strike me as awfully girly...

Sheila said...

Haha, they kind of are; I admit it.

Dune is weird. I think everyone agrees. There are things about it that are way cool -- I like the world the author builds -- but the story just doesn't seem to go right. I don't know how else to explain it! I also found them confusing, to the point that I didn't want to read the rest of the books in the series.

Paul Stilwell said...

I would rather reverse that question to: how can a book I've read the most be one that I have never owned?

I guess because there has always just been something about The Lord of the Rings that sat with me so deeply that thoughts about getting myself the book to own just never occurred; no scary thought of it ever being "out of reach".

Which is perhaps one way of saying that the impulse to read the book has ebbed and flowed with certain rhythms of time that, for me, bypass the thought of wanting to possess it. And the strongest desire to read the book has always seemed to coincide with happening to come across it, or it being available in some way.

I haven't had a library card for, well, I can't remember. I borrowed the book from various siblings, friends and in-laws.

First time reading the book it was an edition in one unit - not in the typical three separate books.

Enbrethiliel said...


Wow. That's wonderful. It also overlaps with my own belief about "the right book at the right time"--except that you don't find your books, but they find you!

Libraries are great, of course, but it's much more wondrous to think that even if we didn't stockpile reading material (whether individually or as a community), we'd still be nourished with good things to read . . . like Elijah being visited by ravens in the desert.