Books books books books


1. Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?

I don’t remember not having a love for reading, but I can certainly remember a few things that made it stronger. Almost all of them have to do with people reading to me.

I remember sitting in Mr. Bruce’s history (supposedly) class while he read The Hobbit to us. I remember Dad reading 20,000 Leagues. I remember hours spent reading Hardy Boys books in the boarding school dorm at nap time, while someone practiced piano down the hall. There are, to this day, certain piano melodies that bring vividly to mind images of the Hardy Boys investigating dark caves and abandoned pirate ships.

2. What are some books you read as a child?

The earliest books I remember are Noddy, other stuff by Enid Blyton, Richard Scary, and Beatrix Potter. The first book I remember owning was “The Monk Who Shook The World.” The first hardback book I remember owning was “The Red Badge of Courage”, by Steven Crane. I’ve still got that.

The books I remember reading which I most wish I still had are the Lensman books by E. E. Doc Smith, which are now difficult to obtain as a complete set, having been out of print for many years, although you can find most of the books used in various conditions. I took them to a used book store and traded them for other books, which in turn were traded for other books. I used to go to the used book store in Nairobi almost every time I went downtown.

I remember reading Trumpet of the Swan and believing every word.

I remember reading ‘Salem’s Lot and being absolutely terrified but unable to put it down.

I remember a certain pretty girl in highschool who introduced me to Douglas Adams and Terry Brooks. The Shannara books were a bit of a revelation. Who knew anybody could write as grippingly as Tolkien? And Douglas Adams – well, what can one say? My signed copy of the Guide is truly a treasured possession.

I remember discovering The Colour of Magic in a book store in London, and devouring it on the plane on the way back to the US, and laughing so hard that people from several rows away were craning their necks to stare at me.

3. What is your favorite genre?

Science Fiction and Fantasy in equal measures. Although most of what I would consider my favorite books are in neither category, that’s what the bulk of my reading has been over the years.

4. Do you have a favorite novel?

Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. I read it every summer, and have done for the last ten years. Every time I read it, I find something different in it. I love this book. It’s about a boy discovering that he’s really alive, and then discovering that he’s going to die some day. It’s a wonderful celebration of life, and an exhortation to experience life while you’re alive. It’s a memory of a childhood, and it sends shivers down my back, and makes me cry, and laugh, every time I read it.

And it sends echoes all through his other books. I hear phrases in it that turn up decades later in other books. I hear ideas that he builds entire stories around 20 or 30 years afterwards. The bottles of wine in that cellar are truly the source of all of his other tales, and so I keep going back to it again and again.

I cant quite say enough about Bradbury. He’s one of those authors that people tends to dismiss as “just a sci-fi author”, and so miss out on the wealth of his writing. Like King is “just a horror author.” And Shakespeare is “just a dirty-minded bard.” And the Pacific is “just a big wet spot.”

5. Where do you usually read?

Um … is this a trick question? I read … um … where there are books.

6. When do you usually read?

Mostly when I’m awake. But sometimes I dream about it, too.

7. Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?

Yes. I usually have 3 or 4 going at once – several on paper and one audio book.

8. Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?

No, but I very seldom read nonfiction. The real world is far too depressing.

9. Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library?

Alas, buy them all. I know, I should go to the library more, but I just hate to get rid of a book after I’ve read it.

10. Do you keep most of the books you buy? If not, what do you do with them?

When I was a kid in Nairobi, I frequented the used book store. I would read a book, and when I was done with it I would take it and trade it for another. In this way, many books passed through my hands that I would now dearly love to own. The complete Lensmen series by E.E. Doc Smith. The complete works of Ray Bradbury (at least up to that time). The Dune books. The Adventure of Tom Bombadil. The Foundation and Empire series, and many many of the Asimov robot books.

There are many times when I look longingly at a book on Amazon, or some used book site, that’s priced outside of my range, that I once owned.

So … all that to say, I never get rid of a book any more. I hang on to it forever. My collection grows and grows, and every cherished book – and the not-so-cherished ones – stick around just in case I need them some day.

Yes, I have a problem. I’m ok with that.

11. If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child?

The one we read and loved, we share with our kids. Narnia. Middle Earth. Trumpet of the Swan. 20,000 Leagues. We love reading with the kids, and they love it too. Kill your television. Read with your kids. Seriously. You can live without turning on your TV. We haven’t watched a TV show in 2 years, and we’re managing just fine.

12. What are you reading now?

Duma Key, by Steven King. Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Vernes. Shardik, by Richard Adams. Wicked, by … somebody. The Razor’s Edge by Maugham. The Fellowship of the Rings, by Tolkein. Anne of Green Gables. I think that might be it, but it feels like I’m forgetting something …

13. Do you keep a TBR (to be read) list?

I try to, but it tends to get jumbled all the time. Something comes up that I want to read, and it displaces other things.

14. What’s next?

Three Cups of Tea. Sacred Death, by David Snell. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Bradbury. Fields of Battle, by John Keegan. The Book Thief. No Picnic on Mount Kenya.

15. What books would you like to reread?

Something Wicked This Way Comes. Brothers Karamazov. Bleak House. The Color of Magic. Fahrenheit 451.

16. Who are your favorite authors?

Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is easily the best living author, and easily one of the best ten authors of the last hundred years. It would, I suppose, be presumptuous to say he’s in the top 20 ever, because I really haven’t read enough to be able to make that claim. But I think he is. If you haven’t read any Bradbury, you should. Start with Dandelion Wine.

He has a way of saying things that gets right to the truth of it. And he taught me to write every day, whether or not I have something to write. Bradbury writes a story every day. Naturally, most of them aren’t very good, but you have to write a lot in order to write a few things that are truly great. That’s what Bradbury said, and I take it very seriously. I have had the privilege of meeting two of my favorite authors – Douglas Adams and Arthur C. Clarke. I would love to meet Bradbury.

Charles Dickens. Yeah, I know, folks think that Dickens is wordy – and he is. But he had the courage to write about social issues when it was unfashionable to care about the poor. And he wrote about the average man as though he was an actual human being – a fellow passenger to the grave, and not other creatures bound on other journeys – when it was convenient to think of the poor, and minorities, as something less than human. His characters are simplified, and as such are larger than life. The play Oliver, performed at Turi, was what started my love of Dickens, and it has just grown from there. I read A Christmas Carol several times a year, and the last few years I’ve done a straight-through reading aloud to a small gathering of my friends.

Others include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, E.E.Doc Smith. Douglas Adams. Terry Brooks. Terry Pratchett. William Wordsworth. Wendell Berry. Pablo Neruda. Robert Aspirin. Steven King. It’s hardly fair to have to pick.