PaperBackSwap Blog

8 Years, 8 Members, 8 Books

For PaperBackSwap’s 8th Birthday, we asked 8 members

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

Today we feature  Julien C. (jaimlesmaths)



Traversing the Nerd Spectrum: How a Fantasy Geek Turned Science Fiction Dork Eventually Became a Paranormal (and Swap) Junkie

by Julien C. (jaimlesmaths)

I can’t remember a time when books were not a part of my life. Books were my second love (after my family, of course). I loved them so much that my greatest act of rebellion when my younger brother came home from the hospital was to rip all the pages out of my favorite Sesame Street Golden Book. (If you ask my parents, they’ll say my true rebellion was scribbling purple marker all over the couch, but I think I just wanted it to coordinate better with the living room.) In any case, after nearly 30 years of being a reader, I look back at the path I took and can’t help but think that it was inevitable that it would come to this: my name is Julien, and I am a book addict.

Once I graduated from Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, I moved swiftly into the realm of fantasy, starting with Roald Dahl’s classic Fantastic Mr. Fox. I didn’t quite understand why the animals got sleepy after drinking Mr. Bean’s cider, but the idea of talking animals existing in a secret underground society that operated independently of ours fascinated me. Two chapters made for a great bedtime story (and the resulting dreams were quite interesting). Dahl’s influence upon me continues to this day – about a year ago, I used PBS to order about 10 of his books for my friend’s 8-year-old daughter. Definitely a good investment of my credits.

The slippery slope towards hardcore fantasy geekdom starts off shallow, but then Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time brought me right to the edge. (And, looking back, I’m pretty sure that Calvin O’Keefe was my first book crush.) It was also the first book that taught me that writing could both entertain and inform. I was in first grade, and the art teacher came into our classroom for a lesson on dimension. She went through line, plane, and space, and then thought she would blow our minds by announcing that time was the fourth dimension. One of my classmates asked what the fifth dimension was, and, after a side comment about “the age of Aquarius” that none of us understood, she announced that they didn’t have a name for the fifth dimension. At that point, I threw my hand in the air (as I was wont to do) and yelled out, “That’s not true: the fifth dimension is the tesseract!” Needless to say, she stopped calling on me after that.


From then on, it was all fantasy all the time. I wore out at least 2 copies of Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones on the many road trips my family took (and The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life from the same series soon followed suit). What I remember most about this book (other than the last four lines, which always made me giggle) is that it first introduced me into the notion of parallel worlds where major events in history split the timeline. (By the way, there is a great card game called Chrononauts based on this premise – I highly recommend it.) Also, in another “correcting the teacher” moment, I maintain to this day that I should have gotten credit for putting ‘shan’t’ as the contraction for ‘shall not’ on that grammar test.



As I moved into middle school, my journey took a sharp and sudden turn. (Sensitive readers may want to skip to the next paragraph.) After my father saw me devouring a few of Brian Jacques’s Redwall books, he recommended that I read The Hobbit because my older brother liked it so much. Here’s where the blasphemy comes in: I slogged my way through it and managed to finish it after three tries, and that was the furthest I ever got with a Tolkien book. I just couldn’t deal with reading about a world that was so far removed from my own. I stood in line for the Lord of the Rings movies just like the rest of the nerd herd, but reading fantasy that deeply descriptive with a slow-moving plot was just not for me. I had the same problem with the rest of the Redwall series and later with the Game of Thrones series. So, you can thank The Hobbit for turning me off from epic fantasy to this day. I had to channel my love in a new direction.


Thankfully, around this time, my mother bought me Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and I took my first steps into the realm of science fiction. This is one of those books that I love so much that I can’t even articulate why. I sponsored it as a summer reading book in 11th grade. I read the first chapter to my students to spark a conversation about bullying. One of the first places I drove myself after I got my license was to a book store where Card was doing a talk and signing – I still have my hardback copy of Shadow of the Hegemon where he inscribed, “It’s good to be Hegemon.” I (almost) share a name with one of the characters. Out of all my books, it is probably the one I have re-read the most.


From the Ender series, I graduated to Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. While I enjoy the entire book, I keep returning to Jubal Harshaw’s definition of love as “that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” I had to bring the book to college with me so that I could properly cite it in academic papers where I used that definition. You grok?


My sophomore year in college, my friend and roommate introduced me to Neal Stephenson by reading me the first chapter of Snow Crash. First, how can you not love a book where the main character’s name is Hiro Protagonist? Second, his best friend’s name is Da5id, which is at least 5 kinds of awesome. Third, if you don’t know what a dentata is, you will after reading this book. Finally, forget internet memes – this book tells you what a meme is really all about. I force all my friends to borrow this book from me (just ask the DVM PBS chapter).


In February of 2007, I found PaperBackSwap via a referral from another book swap site I belonged to (and then quit that other site about 2 months later because PBS was infinitely more awesome). I got into the Games Forum right away, and I know because I had to borrow a credit to join my first one because the first book I ordered hadn’t arrived, so I wasn’t able to buddy credits yet. After about 3 months, someone convinced me to join my first paranormal swap game. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what paranormal was, but I was a swap addict by then, so I joined up anyway. Honestly, I don’t even know what I revealed (and I probably need to apologize to whoever won my offering in that swap), but I somehow ended up with Date Me, Baby, One More Time by Stephanie Rowe. As books go, it was funny and pretty good (though I did feel the need to hide the hot pink cover), but it wouldn’t make my favorites list under most circumstances. However, it is significant to me because it was my introduction to the paranormal genre, which I have been firmly entrenched in for almost 5 years. A new genre is like sex – even though you may move on to better partners later (in my case, Julie Kenner, Charlaine Harris, Cassandra Clare [whom I first read when I was in the Harry Potter fandom], and Rhiannon Frater to name a few), you never forget your first.


After I first sat down to list what books I was going to include in this blog post (what do you mean I can only pick 8? – if you read closely, you’ll notice how I managed to cheat a bit), I consulted with my friend because I thought my list of influential books was too skewed in the fantasy/science fiction direction. But, at the end of the day, I like what I like, and we’re all nerds for some genre, so I shouldn’t be ashamed of geeking out for it. My nerd seeds were planted young, and with the fertilizer of the Games Forum swaps and new book friend recommendations, they have blossomed into new genres and subgenres (paranormal, dystopian, and even some erotica). We all have our own path to follow, but when that right book comes along at the right time, it marks a signpost to a whole new world of imagination and discovery. Welcome to mine.




Tags: , , ,

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

  1. VOSTROMO says:

    Well played, sir.

  2. Vicky T. (VickyJo) says:

    Excellent blog! Thank you.

  3. Ani K. (goddessani) says:


    It’s been awhile since we were in a swap together so it’s lovely to “see” you again!

    I loved it. Very well written and some favourite books of mine are listed as well. (How could I have forgotten A Wrinkle in Time?)

    Good job!!

  4. Julien C. (jaimelesmaths) says:

    Thanks muchly 🙂 I enjoyed reading your posts as well and can’t wait to read the rest!

  5. Cozette M. (CozSnShine) , says:


    An honor and a pleasure to read your blog contribution. As usual, you express yourself well and IMpress me a lot.

  6. Clara W. (MaGee) says:


    Interesting and enjoyable. My paranormal of choice is Dystopia. Often wonder why most of them are YA. Would be interested in your thoughts.

    It is a pleasure knowing you.

  7. Amy N. (nanaamy) , says:

    Wow, what a way with words. Julien, you have inspired me to request books I haven’t thought of reading. And I too, could not get through Tolkien. I enjoyed reading your blog. It was great!

Leave a Reply