PaperBackSwap Blog

8 Years, 8 Members, 8 Books

For PaperBackSwap’s 8 year anniversary, we asked 8 members

to tell us about 8 books that have mattered to them.

Today we feature Greg (Vostromo)



In recalling eight books that have made particular impressions on me I’ve realized I’ll be repeating myself to a large extent (which won’t surprise anyone) because I’ve spoken about them in this or that Forum post through the decades — which fact only serves to confirm how much these several works have meant to me. Limiting something so important to only eight is supremely difficult — I have over twelve gigabytes of Amber Heard pics alone! — but there’s something to be said for narrowing focus so severely: I don’t know what it is, but maybe somebody will tell me.

(1) The biggest impression of all has to be granted to the unremembered and likely unidentifiable children’s novel about stock car racing which is the first book I recall selecting from a library for myself for no reason other than pleasure. Whatever caught my eye about its spine — colors, fonts, words, who knows — it started me “reading”. If I ever was able to find it again I’m sure it would prove embarrassingly old-fashioned, obvious and square, if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t care, since it was a door I stepped though into a world wider than I will ever be able to fully navigate.


(2) Tie: and not books but stories: Jacques Futrelle’s “The Problem of Cell 13” and Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger?” These stories revolutionized my concept of “entertainment” from a one-way street to a tangled monster highway roundabout. They revealed, though I was too young to consciously grok the fact or its full ramifications, that just as you can’t step into the same river twice, you can’t read the same story, because you are part of it: what do you mean there’s something after the story ends? how can something continue after it’s over?  how can you make me the author of a story I’ve already read? how can you stop with a question mark?



(3) Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” showed me that the world within a story was sui generis and all that mattered was that it made its own kind of sense — and that the resonant poetry of the imagination was every bit as real and meaningful as the hardest fact.



4) Thomas McGuane’s “Ninety-Two in the Shade” made clear the difference between story and plot. The plot is the rivalry between charter-fishing concerns -– be still my beating heart! But the story is how love, honor, greed, choice and consequence can or can not make a world out of individual souls.



(5) Moby freakin’ Dick! Melville’s mad masterpiece taught me that the classics are classics for a reason, and that your teachers sometimes know what they’re talking about. That a single work could be read with absolutely no attention paid to its subtextual meaning, or with attention paid only to its subtextual meaning, and be fully satisfying either way, showed me just how much could be accomplished by true artistry with the written word.



(6) Studs Terkel’s “Working” because it made me feel OK to be just a tiny part of a huge planet, limitless in imagination and feeling, limited in realities and possibilities, one not of many but of all.



(7) John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run” — just that one, not the sequels — because I was intensely struck by how well it captured the timeless, eternal struggle between love and happiness, and ever-flexible, ever-changing boundaries between the two. Special mention for the more specific but still passionately felt echoes of “The Maples Stories” (a/k/a “Here Come the Maples”).



(8) Finally, a story about storytelling, about which the less known beforehand the better: William Kotzwinkle’s brilliant, chimeric “Fata Morgana“. As I said in my Amazon review: if you cannot enjoy this book, you’ve let yourself get old.














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7 Responses to “8 Years, 8 Members, 8 Books”

  1. Ani K. (goddessani) says:

    I, too, must applaud Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Brilliant.

    And hooray for the classics!!

    So many books, only 8 to choose from.

    You did well.

  2. Vicky T. (VickyJo) says:

    Okay, you’ve inspired me to read Moby Dick. Well played, Greg, well played.

  3. Bonnie (LoveNE) , says:

    Greg nice job you sound so…well I’ll just say informed. Glad to see you’re up to 8 books now, way to whittle away at that TBR!

  4. Robin K. (jubead) says:

    Thanks for sharing…

  5. Bonnie S. (Bonnie) says:

    I am so embarrassed. I had to look up sui generis.

  6. VOSTROMO says:

    Bonnie S — don’t feel bad: I know what it means but unfailingly mispronounce it. It’s (basically) “soo-ee JEN-er-uhs” but I can’t stop from saying “soo-ee jen-ER-uhs”.

  7. Bonnie S. (Bonnie) says:

    Greg, I can pronounce it fine…but still am ashamed of having had to look up the meaning. And, no matter that I have a chicken poop and straw statue to you in my back yard (which is melting in the recent rains), I will never again try to finish Moby Dick.

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