My Library: “Show me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

28 Mar

In this newest installment about the personal libraries of TSTC Publishing staff, Publisher Mark Long shares his thoughts about reading, books, and related ephemera.

One my many bookshelves at work full of publishing-related titles.

Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.”

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

What types of books do you gravitate to in order to buy?

At bookstores I usually go to the remainder section first to see if there are any real steals kicking around. Once I’m there I usually look for novels . . . mystery or science fiction. But, given the low sales on literary fiction, you can find a lot of that as well.

How do you organize your collection?

Organized? It’s all very haphazard. As we slowly start moving books from Waco up to our new house at my wife’s family farm, however, I’m very selectively taking about 75% books that I’ve read and love and 25% that I haven’t read but know that I really do want to read. Then I arrange them by height on our bookshelves there.

What’s your oldest book?

The oldest books I own and have read are about half a dozen of the brown back Hardy Boys mysteries. Those are the books that really led the way to my love of reading. When I was a little kid, my dad would read them to me at night right before I went to bed. He’d use different voices for the various characters and get all dramatic when things got exciting and it just made me want to be able to read on my own SO BAD without having to have an intermediary there to do it for me.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

What book have you read the most?

Hands down, it’s got to be Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson. When I was nine or ten my dad, for some reason, bought a paperback copy of it for my mom. She read about ten pages and was so horrified that she shoved it onto a bookshelf and never opened it again. Four or five years later I came across it there, read it, and thought, “This book is GREAT!” I grew up in a small, rural Texas town where everyone was—and, trust me, still is—super conservative so what Thompson thought, did, and said was a complete revelation in terms of an alternative—to say the least—perspective to what I’d seen and heard all my life.

What’s your most-loved book?

Most loved is probably Chaucer’s Knight by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame). It’s a re-examination of the Knight in The Canterbury Tales from the point of view that he was probably a mercenary instead of a paragon of virtue. It’s a good book all on its own but I also crashed a private party at Jazz on the Lake in Austin back when the movie Erik the Viking came out (Jones directed it) and wound up talking to him for at least an hour about his book—and got him to autograph the copy I had “liberated” from the UT library—as he was much more interested in talking about it than the frat boys dressed as Vikings who were staggering around doing their favorite Monty Python skits. Plus he was sitting on a big wooden throne with a longhorn skull mounted at the top of it.

What percentage of the books you own have you read?

40-50%? I’m always buying new books, but the amount of time I have to actually read them seems to be ever decreasing. Lately, since we finished our new house up (and can’t afford a TV to put in it), I’ve been reading a lot there on the weekends and have probably finished more books in the last three months than in the last year or two: The Rum Diary by Hunter Thompson, Hater by David Moody, The Passage by Justin Cronin, and a bunch of others.

What are your top 10 books in your collection?

1. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

All of McCarthy’s Southwest novels are good, but this intersection of heightened biblical language  and imagery combined with West Texas brutality and ignorance has a power that you will not forget after reading it.

2. North Dallas Forty by Pete Gent

The first sports novel I read that didn’t glamorize athletes and their careers as opposed to showing the never-ending state of “here today, gone later today” mentality they live with daily by virtue of being merely commodities to be bought, sold, and used up. Plus, the movie based on the book was pretty good . . . although it did have to stick the upbeat Hollywood ending on it.

3. The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell

Woodrell’s best “country  noir” novel, it is far superior to the better known Winter’s Bone.

4. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

One of the greatest collections of short stories ever. It’s as much about storytelling as the Vietnam War and how the enemy there was actually more of the American mindset and the lush, overwhelming jungle landscape that corrupted it.

5. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

It’s the final Philip Marlowe novel and where Chandler turns the conventions of the hardboiled detective novel on its head to produce an elegiac story of loss and despair.

6. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

7. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

You think your childhood was bad? This memoir masquerading as fiction—as was most of Bukowski’s work—is so honest and so brutal that the only thing that compares to it is Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird.

Greatest form letter EVER!

8. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Part of the series of juvenile (I guess that would be “young adult” now!) novels that Heilein produced in the fifties, I was well into college (and had read it half a dozen or more times) before I realized it wasn’t a parody of the military mindset. Plus, when I was a kid, I wrote asking Heinlein for his autograph and got the coolest form letter of all time in return where he checked the sections that were applicable.

9. Dune by Frank Herbert

The best epic sci-fi novel of all time. Then it turned into a whole cottage industry of never-ending sequels which was disheartening but, man, what a great book all on its own.

10.   The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

It’s Peyton Place set in West Texas. I read an old paperback copy at my grandparents’ house one Christmas when I was about 15 and was just amazed that you could write a whole book about seemingly the exact town I lived in.




One Response to “My Library: “Show me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are.””

  1. Elaine Sehnert March 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Although I’ll readily admit that I didn’t like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, Mark, please remember that I was not a part of the correctly described super-conservative culture where you grew up; I was just as appalled by it as you were. However, I still can’t get more than 10 pages into “Fear and Loathing”: I’m made way too uncomfortable by the feeling of dread that descends at that point because of the plethora of possible creepy or simply unpleasant outcomes for people zooming through life completely out of control. Mark’s Mom

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: