Travels Around My Bookshelf 3
I don’t have time for science fiction anymore it’s one of those things, like The Beano, chewy sweets and hating your parents, that one should put away once they’ve got past puberty. Reading some science fiction in one’s formative years isn’t a bad thing, but impressionable minds should find a balance between space operas and star battles and the more important areas of writing. Sadly this country is full of wasted youths who, having mastered the skill of reading, find themselves addicted to the modern equivalent of penny dreadfuls.
I did my time reading pretty much nothing but science fiction. I started with Jules Verne and HG Wells, went on to Robert Heinlein and Harry Harrison, and knocked the whole genre on the head when I found myself reading (whisper it) Star Trek novels. Thus far, no further. I still have my Heinleins and Harrisons, including a signed copy of the first of some dodgy trilogy by one of the pair, but I know they’ll be culled one day.
But one science fiction writer I did carry on reading into adulthood was the late Douglas Adams. I remember reading the first volume of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in school. It was the funniest thing I’d ever read, and I distinctly remember finishing it for the first time. I was sat on one of the loos downstairs, in a room that was cold in the way that only British boarding schools can be cold, with the seat below me a cracked wooden oval, promising an icy cold touch to the bottom and the gift of splinters on the completion of one’s ablutions. But I recall finishing the book, and turning straight back to page one to start again.
That copy doesn’t sit on my bookshelf I leant it to my sister in the early 1980s and she promptly lost it, replacing it with a hardback book club edition (don’t get me started on book club editions). Subsequent volumes are there, but my favourite is my copy of Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It sits there up in the top left corner, nestled at the start of the alphabet. It’s a hardback, first edition, and it’s signed by the author. I remember buying it, at Hatchard’s on King’s Road in London, a shop I passed daily on my trips to and from work. He’d obviously been in the shop recently, as they had a small pile. This was 1987, and I was working as a civil servant, renting in the capital, and without a lot of disposable income for books especially hardbacks (at that point I hadn’t become the book snob I am now, and would buy paperbacks quite regularly). But I bought it, and only quite enjoyed it it was no Hitch-Hiker’s, and, if truth be told, Adams’ writing after his first two books (and even the second is not essential) was a lesson in diminishing returns. The wait between books became longer and, while the ideas, the wiz pop of imagination that were typical of Adams’ work, were still there, the humour really wasn’t, at least not in the quantity we knew he used to deliver.
Still, it’s a nice volume, and it bears his signature, and reminds me of an author who, with at least a couple of his books, made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh. So I was understandably pissed off when I leant it to a work colleague who treated it the way people who don’t love books treat books shoved it in his jacket pocket, let the cover fray and pages fox. I got it back, but I’m not sure I’ve ever leant another book. I’m scarred.
The worst book Jonathan Howells (38) has ever read is The Da Vinci Code. His favourite is Catch 22 and that’s why he has chosen Yossarian as a nom de plume for his columns on the website of the British bookseller Ottakar’s. Howells, who was a policeman for about ten minutes in 1991, works at the London Head Office of Ottakar’s, is an unapologetic booksnob he likes hardbacks, hates paperbacks- and turns his nose up at science fiction and fantasy.