“By The Book” – Railfan Edition

I am shamelessly stealing this idea from J D Lowe at the excellent 30 Squares of Ontario blog. He wrote his “Miniature Buildings Edition” post based on a post by Michael Leddy on the Orange Crate Art blog, which riffs off the New York Times’ “By The Book” game. I guess there’s a lot of theft involved here. No honour among thieves? Who knows… on to the game.

What books are on your nightstand?

I am currently reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, as I mentioned at the bottom of my last post. The other books on my nightstand are:

  • Provenance by Ann Leckie. This is a science fiction book, set in the universe of the award-winning Imperial Radch trilogy. As I was reviewing my recently read books in Goodreads, I realized that I have already read this book! Oops.
  • Memories of the Moonlight Special by Barbara Lange. I read about 60% of this book and then stopped. I liked the book but, I’m afraid to say, I lost interest in finishing it. The stories are good but I don’t have a real connection to the area and I just moved on to other books. I don’t think I will finish it.

What’s the last great book you read?

Well, “great” is a really hard thing to live up to, isn’t it?

I’ve spent too much time thinking about this question already, so I am going to say Flood by Stephen Baxter. The premise of the world being flooded is interesting – I’m a sucker for apocalyptic books like this – and the cast of characters and the story telling were outstanding.

Describe your ideal reading experience?

I’m lying on the couch, a blanket across my legs, with a cat sleeping on me.

Unfortunately, in that position, I usually fall asleep within half an hour.

The links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links, meaning that I earn a small commission if you buy something using that link, at no additional cost to you.

What’s your favourite little-known book?

Armor by John Steakley. This was an easy choice.

This is a classic military science fiction book, by an author who only wrote two books, the other being Vampire$, which was made into an awful movie starring James Woods.

Armor is a psychological book. Two books, really. It definitely has a lot of similarities to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – and was probably inspired by it – but Armor is far more about dysfunctional armies and psychology than the political science / personal responsibility that Starship Troopers is known for.

Which writers working today do you admire most?

  1. Greg McDonnell. His writing style – the breathless, excited way he writes of trains and the people who work on them – is arresting… and his photography brings it home.
  2. John Scalzi. I love his military science fiction, and his tongue-in-cheek way of writing. He doesn’t take himself too seriously.
  3. Owen Laukkanen. He’s a great mystery writer, and a great railfan too. I admire his writing and his photography!

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

I can’t say just one thing, but the book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men really brought home how male-centric our world is. The central theme of the book is that men are the default, and women the exception. It’s really stunning how pervasive it is. As a man, I benefit from being the default and I just didn’t notice many of the ways that men are the default.

One small example from the book is how crash test dummies (“Reference Man” represent the male body, and because of that, and other factors, women are 30% more likely to be injured (and 17% more likely to be killed) in car accidents.

I might need another bookshelf
I might need another bookshelf

How do you organize your books?

I have a few bookshelves… railway books go in a couple, railway timetables go in another, and there’s a floor to ceiling bookshelf in another part of the basement that has all of my fiction books.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

The Bible, maybe?

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I read a TON of science fiction books. I didn’t read much fantasy; in fact, I turned my nose up a bit at it. I took a few runs at the Lord of the Rings trilogy before I finally liked it.

I also read Asterix quite a bit… sometimes only in French because that’s what the Oromocto Public Library had. Did you know Asterix was 60 years old last year?

Andre Norton was an author I read a lot in my teenage years. Her Witch World books were really good – at least the early ones in the series were – and I enjoyed some of her science fiction books as well. They were pitched as “young adult” and, well, that’s what I was.

I also read a lot of Fritz Leiber. Mr. Leiber is my favourite author of all time, but he didn’t make the list above because he died in 1992. His Fafhrd & Grey Mouser / Lankhmar books are fantasy classics. I also enjoyed his horror books – with a definite Lovecraft influence. Books like You’re All Alone and Our Lady of Darkness occupy a place of honour in my bookshelf.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

Clearly I read more train books now.

I fell out of reading for a decade or two when I had kids. Who has the time? Now that my oldest child is a real adult and the younger two are teenagers, they are all more independent and my wife and I both have time to read. She’s a voracious reader, and I read maybe 20% of the number of books that she does. Last year I read 28 books!

I also read more non-fiction, non-history books.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Well, first off, dinner parties scare me, so it’s unlikely I would do that. The only dinner party we organize is our annual New Year’s Eve fondue for our family.

But anyway…

I would have loved to have met Fritz Leiber and told him how much of an influence he was on me. So he’s invited.

I’d like to meet John Scalzi, so he’s invited. He’s smart and funny.

Finally, I’d like to meet Ursula K. Leguin. Her science fiction and fantasy was so different from her peers of the time and I’d love to hear her talk.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like and didn’t?

The Eight by Katherine Neville. A few of my Internet friends absolutely love this book, so I read it after my wife did. I should have liked it – it had CHESS. However, I found it to be contrived, and the massive deus ex machina in the middle of the book really killed any remaining enjoyment of the book I had. Sorry to any fans of the book out there.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I wouldn’t say there are any at this point in my life.

When I was younger and just reading science fiction and fantasy, I felt like I should read the well-known fantasy series by Robert Jordan, the Wheel of Time series. The problem I had with that is I am not patient and I didn’t want to wait a year for each book. I still haven’t read that series and probably never will.

What do you plan to read next?

Streetcars of St. John's
Streetcars of St. John’s

Streetcars of St. John’s by Ken Pieroway is next in the queue. I’ve enjoyed his Rails Across the Rock and Rails Around the Rock so I am looking forward to the next “before/after” book of railways on Newfoundland.

6 thoughts on ““By The Book” – Railfan Edition”

  1. Nice bookshelf, though another one or two would come in handy. I used to post what I’m reading, but I’ve never been that much of a book reader. Perhaps ‘what pictures I’m looking at’ would be more accurate.

    Thanks for sharing, Steve!


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