Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The English Major

Day 28 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

Dick (yes, really, Dick), who is one of the SOBs, reports that he took The English Major to bed last night. It's possible, from the descriptions/reviews I read at Amazon, that Jim Harrison writes "dick lit," but I'm hoping we'll drop that line of conversation pretty soon! Just couldn't resist it here.

Nor can I resist another mention of Philip K. Dick, thanks to Douglas Robillard's most recent comment (to previous blog entry) about the new Library of America editions of his work, and the fact that he wrote the book on which the movie Bladerunner was based. "Ohhhhh!" I said to myself, "that's right! I'd heard that."

In fact, one of our recent customers who was buying some Dick, in paperback, was telling me that most of the films based on his work have not been nearly as good as the books themselves. So I will get around to reading him someday.

And yes, Doug, I join your wife in recommending that you read the Sparrow and then its sequel, Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell. Powerful stuff that puts human history in context by looking at misunderstandings with devastating consequences on another planet! Our twin cities also read her book Thread of Grace, historical fiction, for our Tale for Two Cities program a couple years ago.

So...The English Major seems to be a middle-aged On the Road sort of thing, or exiting middle age, as the main character is 60. And a former English major.

Susan and aka Simone have pursued intended audience (and less incendiary labels, like "women's fiction" and "men's fiction" to help identify book by its intended audience, although the other categories also remain, primarily as marketing tools, as Julie notes) as a guide to reading experience, and The English Major may be intended for a male readership, and an exiting-middle-age male readership at that.

But I find I am willing to read just about anything to find out more about the various ways of being human. As my reading impulse is mostly that--not to be entertained, but to learn about being human, and how to handle it--I do find that I learn stuff from just about anything I read.

Of course, I have set books aside.... In some cases, I come back to them, as it was just not the right time to read that book. In some cases, I never come back to them.


Mike Peterson said...

Kathleen: what a great reason to read: to learn more about being human, but I do admit that I read for entertainment. I don't read Dan Brown; I have friends who tell me how bad he is. John Gardner said that the writer shouldn't try to be unentertaining just to drive away the dolts.

Kathleen said...

Oh, I like to be entertained while I am learning about how to be human. I've got no problem with that. I'm just identifying for myself why I read...and this is what I've come up with after many years of reading!!

Anonymous said...

The reference to Philip K. Dick, and movies made from his books, brings me back to pen names and authorship. When Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" was ultimately made into a movie, it bore a title drawn from another author's work: Alan Nourse's "Bladerunner," or, rather, the screen treatment of Alan Nourse's book, which was written by William S. Burroughs.

All three authors - Dick, Nourse, and Burroughs - used pen names in publishing some of their works. Burroughs' "Junky" was originally published as by William Lee. Nourse's "Intern" was published as "by Doctor X." Dick used Richard Philips and Jack Dowland as pen names.

Nourse's non-fiction expose of hospital practices under the name of "Dr. X" was dismissed by some defenders of those practices who accused the author of really being a group of disgruntled nurses and not a male physician. (And therefore, whatever they wrote couldn't be credible - a telling showing of gender- and hierarchical-bias.)

In fact, that wasn't the only time Nourse was suspected of being a woman - "Alan Nourse" was also suspected of being a pen name for Andre Norton when he began publishing science fiction under his own name.

I still retain my copies of Dr. X's "Intern," both versions of Bladerunner / Blade Runner, and Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (as well as Junky, in its early funky paperback version).

I will admit to re-reading Dick's "Man in the High Castle" more often than "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" I'm not sure if that's because a dystopian past is more palatable to contemplate than a dystopian future. Perhaps that explains the attraction of historical fiction, too. Though sometimes it's the history of a past that never was - a la Kingsley Amis' "The Alteration" or Robert Sobel's "For Want of a Nail." Both of the latter books which I recommend, though they are very different in tone and approach.


Kathleen said...

Wow, Bob! I love learning all this about the pen names and attributions, etc. Sounds like you have a fabulous collection of books, too, in important versions!

We have lots of those early paperbacks carefully wrapped in little bags and stored on high shelves at Babbitt's!! (Though I will probably search for them in the database, not on the high rolling ladder....)