Love and Rockets

I didn’t hold on to any of the books of my childhood & teenage years, not the odd assortment of volumes about cars, aircraft and imaginary spaceships; not the hardback copy of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar… I never returned to the school library; not the first book I bought with my own money (Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss) nor the other SF&F paperbacks that followed it: Dune and its sequels, the first three Hitchhiker’s Guide books, Jack Vance’s Lyonesse - and a few others. The greater part of my youthful reading had been courtesy of the local library. My parents kept only a couple of dozen books in the family home, but frequently borrowed from the library, and I habitually followed suit.

Things began to change when I went to university, where I took my first steps toward accumulating a personal library. By the time I graduated I had something like a hundred volumes of my own. After some thirty-three more years of acquisition and deaccession, however, a mere four of those remain on my shelves today. Of those four, the one I’ve held on to for the longest is Love and Rockets: Book One by Los Bros Hernandez, bought from Forbidden Planet in London in the autumn of 1987, when graphic novels were newly in vogue. It was later joined by the likes of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Elektra Assassin and The Incal.

In the summer of ‘88, I obtained a paperback copy of Primo Levi’s wonderful memoir-novel-essay The Periodic Table, which appealed perfectly to my taste at that time for combinations of the literary with the scientific. I had already had my mind blown by the university library’s copy of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow when, in ‘89 or ‘90, I bought a copy of my own - an 8th printing of the Picador paperback edition. In late ‘88, a friend with poetical aspirations recommended Heaney & Hughes’ The Rattle Bag anthology to me, and I soon afterward found a well-used second-hand copy of the ‘83 reprint in the Oxfam shop on Kensington Hight Street for £1. It proved to be a potent ‘gateway drug’ for me into the world of poetry, and I’ve treasured that dog-eared volume ever since.

Also on my shelves back then (such as I can remember) were Pynchon’s V, Slow Learner, The Crying of Lot 49 & Vineland; William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Cities of the Red Night; Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs; Kerouac’s On The Road; Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky; Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood; The Great Gatsby; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist, Ulysses, & Finnegans Wake (also Pomes Penyeach); A Hundred Years of Solitude; E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime; Black Tickets by Jayne Ann Phillips; Lucius Shephard’s The Jaguar Hunter; an omnibus edition of The Books of Blood; Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson; Amanda and the Eleven Million Mile High Dancer by Carol Hill; William T. Vollman’s You Bright and Risen Angels and The Rainbow Stories. What others, I wonder, have since fallen permanently beyond the reach of my memory?