Books, Part 2: Fred’s Lists

It occurred to me this evening that I have now been a professional writer for ten years: a decade of selling fiction. So miracles do happen. For years and years, I seriously doubted I’d ever be published at all. But if you stay the course, things happen when they’re supposed to. If you’re a writer aspiring to make your first sale, don’t give up.

(How was that for a really short sermon?)

Anyway, more about books! For anyone who has not yet been there, I strongly encourage you to back up to the previous post and especially to read the reader comments beneath it. The readers of this blog have been answering the call to recommend favorite books. You’ll find wonderful titles there to keep you busy for a good long while. And everyone: you can keep right on recommending books in response to this post — or at any time. On this blog, good books are always on the subject!

The Book Center, May 1970. In the early 1980s, many a D&D meeting was held in this store's basement -- a D&D group that was also part book club. . . .

The Book Center, May 1970. In the early 1980s, many a D&D meeting was held in this store's basement -- a D&D group that was also part book club. . . .

[Aside: the phrasing of that last sentence is an echo from our years of playing Dungeons & Dragons back in junior high, high school, and college. To keep the game focused, we set up something called the Pun Fund. It was a can with a slot in the top. When it started out, as the name implies, if you made a pun, you had to pay a fine by dropping a coin into the slot. Quite soon, though, we expanded to a whole system of fines for anything that held up the game. If your character went on an “Ego Trip” (meaning he talked too much about himself or otherwise behaved like the center of the universe), that cost you a nickel. If you used “Logic,” you had to pay up. (A “Logic” violation meant that you stopped the game cold by arguing that a particular pit trap, for example, violated the laws of physics.) The catch-all offense was “Off the Subject.” That one’s self-explanatory. But in the interest of decency, we soon established the rule that certain things were always on the subject and could not be fined — most notably, food. Any mention of when we’d be taking a food break or what we’d be eating was always, always to the point and welcome. (And for reasons I never understood and never agreed to, Bugs Bunny was always on the subject. You could be in the middle of the most harrowing adventure ever, with the city about to go up in flames, and if you said something in a Bugs Bunny voice, you could not be fined! Go figure. . . .)]

My, do I digress! One more topic before I get to The Lists. . . .

My house from the air, July 1970: My house is just to the right of the road in the center of the picture, surrounded by the little ring of trees. Note that our pond wasn't dug yet, and the farm across the road was still standing. (Don't die of nostalgia, anyone!)

My house from the air, July 1970: My house is just to the right of the road in the center of the picture, surrounded by the little ring of trees. Note that our pond wasn't dug yet, and the farm across the road was still standing. (Don't die of nostalgia, anyone!)

I was happily surprised to discover some on-line reviews of Dragonfly I’d never seen on a site called “goodreads.” What made me even happier was that some of the reviews were quite recent! The book was first published in 1999 — a decade ago — and the mass-market Ace edition is out of print. (It’s still easy to acquire for pennies on Amazon. Yes, you can buy this book for about the price of a Pun or an Ego Trip!) But now and then, people are still finding it, and even better, they’re still liking it! Here are a few lines from some of my favorites, and notice the dates!

In April 2008, “Woodge” wrote: “I found this while browsing in a bookstore and I must admit that the arresting cover caught my eye. Upon a closer look, the cover would seem to appeal to a Young Adult audience but an even closer inspection revealed that to be misleading. (There’s a moral here somewhere.) . . . Well, it was as advertised. This imaginative, original story gets cracking from the very first pages. The imagery is lush and painted with a rich vocabulary. There’s nothing cutesy about the story . . . and it manages to include all sorts of beasties. Vampires, werewolves, gypsies, and other various ghouls all make an appearance in this unpredictable tale. And when the action is really moving it brings to mind thrills you might find in a summer blockbuster. Good times.”

In October 2007, “The other John” wrote: “(Had to re-read this one and get my fix of Midwest October…) Dragonfly is a great read. The premise is nothing new — a child has adventures in a mystical realm. But unlike Dorothy, Meg Murry or the Pevensie children, Bridget Anne (also known by the nickname Dragonfly) heads down to a dark realm — the essence of Hallowe’en. Not quite hell, but much closer than any other ‘faerieland’ of which I’ve read. But it’s not all blackness, either. There is love and hope and faith amidst the suffering and death. Mr. Durbin does a very good job of bringing the story to life, weaving together the plot and the characters. Nothing is wasted — details that I just thought of as embellishment suddenly turn out to be important to the plot. One of the folks who reviewed Dragonfly at Amazon.com said that the book reminded him of Ray Bradbury. Me, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis, partly because of the basic premise, partly because of the underlying Christianity of the heroes. . . . But despite Mr. Lewis’ skill in portraying good and evil characters, his fiction comes across as a weekend gardener — a tad dirty, but still very prim and proper. Dragonfly, to continue the metaphor, is more like a real farmer, for whom sweat and dust are a part of daily life. I really enjoyed reading this and I’m going to put it on my shelf so I can read it again. I suspect it will only get better the second time around.”

On January 1st of 2009, “Jaymi” said: “I remember picking this book up on a lark. It was the name and the cover that caught my eye. We were just about to leave the store when I saw it and knew I had to have it. I’m glad I got it. Imagine Neil Gaiman meets H.P. Lovecraft and this is one possible reality. Dragonfly is the story of a 10-year-old girl who foolishly adventures down into a horrible realm (much like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands). Dragonfly follows a strange ‘exterminator’ down into her basement. . . .”

This is probably my favorite: on April 25, 2009, “Crystal” wrote: “I find it hard to believe this book is not more popular. Far from being overwritten or too descriptive, the narrative is perfect. Death is not off limits, nor does the author try to dumb the story down. So far, it’s as d**n near to perfect as I have come across.”

Finally, on September 10, 2008, “Todd” said: “It is very dark and complex. . . . I really enjoyed the writing style. It is imaginary and literary, with lots of allusions to mythology, great books, and the Scriptures. But they are very very subtle. This is no Left Behind kind of cheap Christian novel. The author, a Lutheran, does a wondrous job of weaving elements of the Christian faith in . . . . I hope he writes more soon.”

There’s also a review in a language I can’t read and my computer can’t reproduce, so I won’t quote that one.

Groink! On to THE LISTS!

I’m going to give you three separate lists here (you’ll see why as we go along). Obviously, I’m not making any attempt to identify the greatest works of literature in the history of humankind. For that, I commend to you The New Lifetime Reading Plan, by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, though the authors aren’t as focused on fantasy and horror as most of us are. (The weirdos.) Heh, heh. What I’m going to list here are the books that, for whatever reasons, have meant the most to me, have influenced me the most, and/or that people who know me well have recommended to me. In general, the books appear in no particular order: if they make the list, they make the list. Without further adieu, then (lest the referee declare us Off the Subject, and we all have to fork over a nickel or a dime):

List #1: My Treasured Books (The Small Shelf):

1. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

3. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

4. Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees

5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

6. My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett (This is a children’s book, but its influence on me is immeasurable: it’s the very essence of mystery and exploration, penetrating the unknown, adventure in exotic places, friendship, and doing things for the right reasons. The illustrations and those wonderful maps are at least half of the enchantment.)

7. Collectively, the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Where to begin? Among my favorites are The Dunwich Horror, A Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and “The Dreams in the Witch-House.” My absolute #1 favorite of his short stories is “The Shunned House.” And finally, his story that I believe supersedes genre and belongs in every college freshman English lit survey course textbook, right alongside “A Rose for Emily” et al., is “The Strange High House in the Mist.” I’m telling you, Lovecraft. . . . I grew up reading him, because the covers intrigued me in our family’s bookstore. As a kid, as a grownup, I read him perennially, and he’s one of the few authors whose stuff I’ve read most of. Even now, when spring comes around and the weather warms up, I itch to dig out a volume of Lovecraft, go outdoors, and read until the sun sets. Lovecraft in the dusk is the ultimate reading experience! If you don’t own any Lovecraft books yet and are wondering what to buy, I’d point you toward the annotated Lovecraft editions edited by S.T. Joshi, who is probably the world’s leading Lovecraft scholar. [I’ve personally met him — he shook my hand at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, and he gave Dragonfly a wonderful review in Weird Tales!]

Peter S. Beagle, signing books at the World Fantasy Convention in Texas, 2006.

Peter S. Beagle, signing books at the World Fantasy Convention in Texas, 2006.

8. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

9. The Book of Wonder, by Lord Dunsany (To protect the very guilty, I won’t tell you how I acquired my copy of this. But it’s worth acquiring, even if you have to venture into a Peruvian temple and outrun a gigantic rolling stone sphere and a tribe of angry Hovitos.)

10. Bertram’s Fabulous Animals, by Paul T. Gilbert (This is another children’s book, but it gave me endless hours of entertainment as a kid. In a nutshell, the protag, Bertram, is a kid who keeps finding out about various fantastic creatures, and he always wants to get one as a pet. His mama always kind of misunderstands what he’s talking about and says okay. He gets one, and pandemonium ensues. Finally, Bertram’s daddy comes home (he’s always in Omaha on business) and straightens things out and sends the destructive and/or selfish fantastic creature packing. It’s that delicious combination of funny and fascinating and terrifying that makes for the very best of children’s books. I remember almost having nightmares about one of the creatures . . . and laughing really hard many a time.)

11. Enchanted Night, by Steven Millhauser (This is my most recent discovery on this list. But it belongs here. I found the book in Tokyo, because of its beautiful cover. Now I read it almost every summer. But I implore you: read it only at night, during the very hottest season you can manage in your part of the world. It’s pure magic. The whole book [which is quite thin, an easy read] takes place during a single summer night; it follows the nightly adventures of a group of people linked by the fact that they are all residents of the same New England town. Wow, just thinking about it makes me want to take it down off my shelf right now. . . .)

12. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough

13. Jaws, by Peter Benchley (Go ahead and laugh, but everything I’ve written has been colored in some way by Jaws. I’ll never forget the happy hours spent on my Aunt Emmy’s back stairway, just off her kitchen, reading Jaws. Yes, this is a rare case in which the movie is better. But the movie wouldn’t exist without the book. The book was first.)

14. Beowulf, by the Beowulf poet

15. Andersen’s Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen (My mom would read these to me whenever I was really sick, so I will forever associate them with fevers and vomiting and delirium — but also with tenderness and love and the comforting presence of a mom . . . and release from all responsibility, because you’re sicker than a dog . . . and the hope of recovery, and the delight of water or ice cubes to a dehydrated mouth . . . and fantasy, and dreams. . . .)

16. October Dreams, edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish (This is a hefty collection of stories about Hallowe’en by many different writers, some famous, some you’ve never heard of. And what may be even better than the fiction is that between the stories are short recollections by the writers of their favorite Hallowe’en memories. I get this book out every October and read around in it.)

List #2: Honorable Mentions:

1. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (His best book — and the single greatest influence on Dragonfly — there’s even a balloon.)

2. The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (I’ve met him and heard him preach at the church he once served [he's a Lutheran pastor] in Evansville, Indiana.)

3. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White (I remember crying in Miss Logan’s first grade classroom as I finished this book. It’s the book that taught me that stories that make you hurt can be among the most effective — and that really good endings are what you should aim for as a writer.)

4. The Charwoman’s Shadow, by Lord Dunsany (My Cricket story “Ren and the Shadow Imps” is a tribute to this one.)

5. The Knife-Thrower and Other Stories, by Steven Millhauser (Wonderful, wonderful stuff — Millhauser finds the details that recapture all our childhood longings — longings, perhaps, as C.S. Lewis said, for things that do not even exist in this temporal life.)

6. It, by Stephen King (In my opinion, this is Stephen King’s best work: it doesn’t get any better than this. I read most of this book in the summer just before I left for Japan, and finished it up in Tokyo.)

7. ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King (His second-best book. Vampires!)

8. The Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling (Ever heard of them? They’re kind of obscure, but you can probably find some somewhere. . . .)

9. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven

10. Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog (This book inspired my next-door neighbor and me to climb everything in sight: the barn, trees, buildings. . . . And to take grainy photos of ourselves at the summit.)

11. The Book of Lies, by Agota Kristof (Search for her name, not for this title: I don’t think the three short novels that make it up were released under this title in the States. This book is not for everyone — it’s very disturbing in places. But for virtuosity of technique and construction, it’s brilliant!)

12. Zothique, by Clark Ashton Smith (Happy memories of dusty crypts and sere mummies that creak as they walk. . . . I saw a new release on Amazon of some of Smith’s stories.)

13. The Lost World, by Arthur Conan Doyle (A South American plateau on which dinosaurs still live . . . for a pre-teen boy, Heaven.)

14. The Land That Time Forgot and its two sequels, The People That Time Forgot and Out of Time’s Abyss, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Fun, fun, fun, fun!)

15. The Man-Eaters of Kumaon, by Jim Corbett (He was a big-game hunter hired by the local governments of India’s Kumaon district whenever they had a problem with a big cat that turned maneater. It’s a factual account of his showdowns with various tigers and leopards. Not a “chick flick” at all, but I’ll bet some of you chicks would like it. . . .)

16. The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer (Never would have read this if I hadn’t gone to college. Glad I did.)

17. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (I saw this performed, too, outdoors on a summer night. Just as much fun as the play was seeing the cast milling about under the trees before and after the show — all these people dressed as fairies in the light of the moon, taking part in this magical experience that is a theater production, which happens briefly in life and then is gone forever, but never forgotten. . . .)

18. The Mothman Prophecies, by John Keel (If you’re going to read just one book on Fortean subjects/the paranormal, this should be the one.)

19. Shiokari Pass, by Ayako Miura (A story of what it means to be a Christian in Japan. I’ve been there — I’ve stood in the actual Shiokari Pass on Japan’s north island of Hokkaido. If you’ve seen the movie — I was there!)

20. Run, Melos! by Osamu Dazai (A collection of short stories by one of Japan’s darkest writers — when I was a young, tormented twentysomething, I loved it — “He understands!“)

21. Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne (Um, yeah. Doesn’t take much to see the influence this has had on me.)

22. Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn (The title means Weird Tales. Hearn was a westerner who moved to Japan and spent the end of his life there, documenting the ancient, strange folklore of Japan for English readers. In your readings of ghost stories from around the world, if there’s ever a Japanese ghost story, I guarantee you that it came to you via Lafcadio Hearn. This book’s shadow falls large across Dragonfly.)

23. The short stories of Algernon Blackwood and Ambrose Bierce (Particularly “The Willows” and “The Wendigo” by Blackwood and “The Damned Thing” by Bierce. I have delightful memories of reading these in the pine grove in my first years in Niigata.)

24. In Evil Hour, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

And finally:

List #3: Books Recommended to Me by Those Who Know Me and Whom I Greatly Respect:

1. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg

2. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

3. Zod Wallop, by William Browning Spencer

4. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo

6. The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson

7. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer

8. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

9. Montmorency, by Eleanor Updale

10. Inkheart and Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke

11. Cloud Atlas,  by David Mitchell

12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller

13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

14. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder

15. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene

16. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

17. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graham

18. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

19. Roverandom, by J.R.R. Tolkien

20. Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

21. Stravaganza: City of Masks, City of Flowers, City of Stars, City of Secrets (4 books), by Mary Hoffman

22. Surprised by Joy and Till We Have Faces,  by C.S. Lewis

23. Phantastes, by George Macdonald

24. “The Golden Key,” The Light Princess, and The Princess and the Goblin, by George Macdonald

25. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

26. House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski

27. “The Door in the Wall,” by H.G. Wells

28. The Garden of Forking Paths, by Jorge Luis Borges

29. The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen

30. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

31. “The Mezzotint,” by M.R. James (Actually, I think I may have read this one: was it reprinted in Mooreeffoc?)

32. Fingerprints of the Gods, by Graham Hancock

33. “The Lonesome Place,” by August Derleth

34. The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford

35. No Clock in the Forest, by Paul Willis

36. Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

37. Song of Albion, by Steven Lawhead

38. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

39. Unlundun, by China Mieville

40. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Think that’ll keep you busy for awhile? Happy reading!

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25 Responses to “Books, Part 2: Fred’s Lists”

  1. Gabe Dybing Says:

    Yes, “The Mezzotint” appeared in _Mooreeffoc_ 5, Fall 2001.

    “The Door in the Wall” sounds intriguing. I think I’m going to rush out and read that one.

    To kind of answer your query from last post, and seeing it on your list, yes, go ahead and read _House on the Borderlands_. It’s shorter and more comprehensible and really is the “gateway” book to _The Night Land_. If you like it, you can move on. Since you’re such a Lovecraft fan, I really think you’d groove on Hodgson.

    _The Night Land_ is the “big vision.” _The House on the Borderlands_ – well, it’s on the “borderlands.” You catch a glimpse.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I knew I’d read “The Mezzotint” in Mooreeffoc! It seriously creeped me out.

      My sources say you can read that Wells story “The Door in the Wall” on-line.

      Thanks for the Hodgson advice!

  2. I am wallowing in nostalgia Says:

    … when I first read this post. Since I was in Miss Logan’s 1st grade class with Fred, was the self-appointed leader of the Flail of Ralsoth and was the most-fined victim of the Pun Fund I hereby declare this posting by Fred as “best-ever” in the history of this blog!

    I LOVED seeing Joe and the old Book Center photo. I remember as a sixth-grader taking $2 and buying the $1.95 Ballentine paperback of The Hobbit (largely because, I confess, I was tired of hearing Fred yak on and on about this ring, this dragon and some town on a lake near this Lonely Mountain).

    Fred — the aerial photo is a gem! I note that the woods had not yet encroached to the area which, in the future, would be on the other side of the dam at the pond. Chris (who in one FSD movie production was buried under a cairn in those woods after being slain by Bigfoot) might be able to help, here, too … am I missing the old cemetery at the turn of the blacktop? Was it not there at the time?

    For everyone else: the Pun Fund was overseen by Robert Taylor, now the trombonist for 4-million album selling band Pink Martini. If I could ever get anyone on this blog to give any band a listen, it would be PMart. Many of their performances are on youtube.com. I think, if you visit this site regularly, that PMart would be up your alley.

    ANYWAY (as Bob would say repeatedly) it is true that The Big R (refreshments) were always on subject vis-a-vis the Pun Fund. It was not Bugs Bunny that was exempt, it was any mention of a Looney Tunes moment or any comment made in any Looney Tunes character voice save Tweety.

    When I have a bit more time I will compile my own book list. As for your list, Fred, I am mildly surprised to see that “The Book of the Dun Cow” and “The Land That Time Forgot” were only honorable mention picks, but, considering the strength of the entire collection …

    And one last note for those who didn’t know Fred as a boy: The creative genius was always there, nurtured by an incredible set of parents who not only encouraged their own son but also took the time to nudge upward and onward all of Fred’s friends. Joe always had a great story to tell, a book to suggest or an encouraging word, and Mary Ann was a blessing to our entire school district, and her impact as Director of Gifted and her dedication to the libraries remains sorely missed. The apple, they say, does not fall far from the tree. This one (Fred) certainly didn’t, it has blossomed into a wonderful tree, the fruit of which so many of us on this blog and thousands of readers of his works and all of his students are enjoying …

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Thank you, Party Leader! What a wonderful comment to read! I always really appreciated the fact that, whenever you’d get back to our old hometown, you’d stop in and see my parents whether I was there or not. That meant a lot to them, too!

    Yes, maybe The Land That Time Forgot should be on the small shelf, too. That slender book was huge for me — as were the two that followed it in the series. Remember those beautiful Frazetta covers?

    About the aerial photo: the woods at the back of the property are there: you just can’t quite see them, because the picture cuts them off. Our property doesn’t end at that first line where it seems to end in the picture — there was a distinct line there (probably an old fencerow or something) that was later erased, and the whole thing was farmed back to the treeline. See the pond on the next property north of ours? That was McNamaras’ pond, where I caught a large-mouth bass on my first real fishing experience. Our pond was (later) pretty much even with that one. So our property goes back that far.
    Glen Haven Cemetery is actually in the picture, too. See that yellowish field north of ours, before you get to that flooded area? The road goes up and right around the corner of that field, so the cemetery is that little dark patch just above that yellowish field.

    Did you notice that we’re all three in the picture of The Book Center? Mom, Dad, and I are all there.

  4. I am wallowing in nostalgia Says:

    Glen Haven, yes, of course, I see it now. As for the Durbin pond, I guess I KNEW that the property went back that far, but seeing it from the air makes it look like a much longer trip back to where the pond eventually was than I recall.
    As for the Book Center pic — that was just a faux pas on my part. I meant to mention MADDOG and FSD but in my hurry to get the post in before other duties pressed it slipped my limited mind.
    The other bloggers should know that the Book Center basement was a regular host site for our D n’ D group. Scott hosted his share and the Taylor’s theirs, but it was determined by the group that, since Fred had to port roughly 35 lbs of Dungeon Master material, it was a lot easier to just hold the meeting where the DM preferred. The Durbin household also hosted numerous meetings (which sometimes meant sassafrass tea brewed up by Fred’s mom … yeah!).

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    Heh, heh! There was also the fact that the bookstore basement essentially was a dungeon! What better place to play Dungeons & Dragons? It was cool, it was clammy and musty, the whole store was full of books (and in the basement we were running the used book exchange, so part of my Dungeon Master’s screen was a natural wall of moldering hardbacks in stacks . . . I’ll bet there was a copy of the Necronomicon there somewhere. . . .)–and–AND–there was that strange, giant door at one end of the basement. It was much larger than a normal human would have needed to pass through. So, yeah.

  6. Chris Says:

    The Book Center Basement. Didn’t you guys sell the used books there under the moniker of “The Little Prophet” (speaking of puns)?

    I recall it as a little island of “development” in a much larger overall dark, poorly defined space. Almost like it was a little island of light in a big area of shadows. Lots of “creepiness” factor off in the shadows there. I always preferred the backroom on the main floor.

    I never did see anything on the second floor though. It was always a mere “hypothetical” as far as I knew. I knew it was there but I never got up to it.

    Sadly I don’t believe T-Ville even has a real “new” bookstore anymore (if you don’t count WalMart, which I don’t). The closest new bookstore is in Springfield I think. There’s an old used bookstore on the square, tho’, if I recall.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Yes, “The Little Prophet”! Aside from the obvious pun, that was also my mom’s counterattack on “The Little Professor Book Center” that opened up on the Square; the owners of that store had designed it primarily as a tax dodge, a way of losing a bunch of money so that they wouldn’t have to pay such high taxes. Never mind that they were putting Taylorville’s original bookstore out of business. Mom was irritated that they went so far as to include “Book Center” as part of their name, so that our reputation and advertising helped their store — so she opened our used book line and called it “The Little Prophet.”

      Yes, your memory of the basement is accurate. Do you remember painting it? I loved the back room, too!

      The second floor was a residential apartment, so we were never up there, either. There was no access to it from inside our store.

      The used bookstore on the Square now is really good for its size, and for Taylorville! I was in there last summer, and the lady who runs it fondly remembered my parents and our store!

  7. Scott Says:

    You are right Chris. After Bill Hopper died, they closed the “Little Professor Bookstore”. There is a used bookstore on the North side of the square. There is also bookstore in Assumption that sells new books. It’s small and they don’t keep a lot of books on hand, but you can order anything you want and they can have it within a week.

    I liked the Book Center Big R the best. We would walk down to Rene’s Drugstore and hit the candy aisle.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Do you mean FRED Hopper? It was Fred Hopper who was involved with The Little Professor for a time. Bill was Randy’s dad, the banker.

  8. mileposter Says:

    I have a request–not that there would seem to be any plans to do away with this information–but I would like it to be here on a continuing basis so that when I want to find a good book to read, I can just come here and look!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      As far as I know, all these posts just stay around forever, like cockroaches and plastic wrappers. :-) Thanks — I’m glad it’s a good reference for you! (Me, too!)

  9. I am wallowing in nostalgia Says:

    Ahh, the demise of the ‘Mom and Pop’ bookstore! Yes, you have the incredible inventory of a Barnes and Nobles, a B. Dalton Bookseller or the other big chains, but gems like the Book Center are almost all dead now.

    The Book Center was a “BOOK STORE” and anyone visiting this blog knows exactly what I mean. It ‘smelled’ of books, Joe and Mary Ann knew books, etc etc. The little jewels in all the other hometowns out there were probably just the same.

    It is just another sign The End is near …

    p.s. — Rene’s Big R was great, but the LakeShore Drive popcorn was unmatched! And on top of that we had the Atari 2600 ‘combat’ battles!!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I never played Atari on Lakeshore Drive! You guys must have done that when the D&D party would get separated, and I had to meet with only a few people at one time — those of you who weren’t supposed to hear what was going on probably played with the Atari in the other room, right?

      Yeah . . . Mom and Dad opened the store because they loved books, plain and simple.

  10. Chris Says:

    Mom & Pop Bookstores: no matter how much nostalgia I have for the Book Center I am still kinda drawn to the glitziness of B&N. I was seduced into the “sit and read and drink coffee” bookstore scene by my introduction to a very small chain in Kentucky called “Joseph Beth”, which is ranked, in my mind just below the Fred’s family’s “The Book Center” in terms of fondest memories.

    I like the selection and arrangement of Barnes and Noble, albeit somewhat impersonal. Still it is a place my wife and I used to “date nights” at. We’d go to a dinner and then hang at the B&N. (Thus earning us the title of possibly the most boring couple my parents ever knew).

    I like the small-store concept, but I also like having near immediate access to a wide variety of books. I might go into the store intent on getting a novel but while there get distracted in the science section and end up walking out with a statistics book.

    *(Statistics books: the booty call of an evening at the bookstore.)

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Yes, it’s really the same for me. I love any bookstore that sells books. I like the selection at B&N, too. But I also hate to see the demise of independent stores that have traditionally been willing to stock quirky books. B&N, for the most part, stocks the “sure bets.” B&N lost points with me for their blase treatment of Dragonfly. Borders, on the other hand, ordered lots of Dragonfly and displayed it face up.

      Do you guys know about The Old Book Barn in Decatur? It’s out there by Hickory Point Mall. That is a regular stop on my visits home — it’s an ENORMOUS used-book store with an entire room devoted to fantasy and sf. It’s incredibly well organized, and I’ve found some real treasures there!

      • Chris Says:

        OMG, the Book Barn is STILL THERE??? I used to hit that in the year I was between unnergrad and grad school when I was working in Decatur!

        That’s fantastic! It was literally a giant barn-shed like facility.

        My only problem with it was that it seemed horridly disorganized back in the mid 80′s.

        I have burned in my mind the image of a rainy fall day when some friends from Urbana and I were aimlessly driving around Central Illinois and wound up at the book barn. For the various trips I made there, that one stands out in my mind.

        One of the guys I worked with in Decatur found a great book there that was strangely illustrated aphorisms and snippets of poetry. We took some of those and (since we worked in a screenprinting shop) turned them into t-shirt designs and printed them. I still have one of those.

  11. Scott Says:

    I have a question. I have seen almost all of the Tolkien selection on your lists. I have seen “The Hobbit”; “Lord of the Rings”; and the Silmarillion. I have not seen “Unfinished Tales” (not a surprise!)

    Has anyone read “Children of Hurin” and what did you think of it? I haven’t read it yet. After “Unfinished Tales”, I was afraid it was going to be another $tinkeroo by Chris Tolkien.

  12. Gabe Dybing Says:

    I give _Children of Hurin_ my highest recommendation. It’s the best realization of the story, which is in both _Unfinished Tales_ and _The Silmarillion_. It’s a work of depth and beauty. Anyone here second this?

  13. I am wallowing in nostalgia Says:

    Chris,
    As Fred and Scott would attest, I was always “Mr. Silmarillion” in our group. My dream is that the LOTR movie team would tackle a Silmarillion in three parts, which is as likely to happen as me winning the lottery. I have always been drawn to the tragedy that is the Noldor, I guess.

    I agree that the Children of Hurin is a fine treatment of ‘Narn i hin Hurin’, which, like ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ Tolkien meant as independent tales with the background of what became The Silmarillion uniting them.

    I am not at all convinced that, even had he lived 30 more years, J.R.R. would have ‘finished’ The Silmarillion. It was, as Christopher said, completely disordered and took nearly five years to put in the form it first appeared in. I believe J.R.R, would simply have kept tinkering, never reaching a state he would have considered as finished.

    “… so that soon he listened perforce, and she wove into words the loneliness, the emptiness and the darkness of the Void where once he walked alone. All his court was thrown down and slumber and his head dropped upon his chest, as the weight of the Silmarils in his crown became an increasing burden. Then suddenly like a gathering avalanche he fell, and hurled from his throne lay prone upon the floor of Hell. A deep silence fell.” … from memory (hope I am close!)

  14. Chris Says:

    A friend of mine whom I roomed with in undergrad went on to get his PhD in philosophy (yes people still do that), he now teaches at Eastern Illinois University and he has apparently published some semi-scholarly stuff on Tolkein.

    Grant C. Sterling, “How Thor Became an Angel: The Religious Development of Tolkien’s Silmarillion“ (Mythopoeic Society Mythcon 29)

    Sterling, Grant C. “‘The Gift of Death’: Tolkien’s Philosophy of Mortality.” Mythlore 82,21.4 (Winter 1997): 16-18, 38

    I know he’s probably got more out there. He was one of those folks like “I am Wallowing” who can probably recite word for word entire passages of the Silmarillion and who has spent a lot of time thinking through the writing.

    (Sadly I have not read any of his stuff on Tolkien, he didn’t send me any reprints.)

  15. Nick Says:

    Reading your short list engendered two memories:

    I first encountered Lovecraft as a college freshman–I read him just after dusk, under a lamppost at a bench on the quad (this was at Grand Canyon University, a private Baptist university in Phoenix, back in 1990–future biographers take note). What a revelation–the delicious chill and that wonderful sense–rarer and rarer as one gets older–Here is another author whose work will bring me great pleasure and delight (in this case, of the goosebump-inducing sort). I immediately wrote two Lovecraft pastiches for my Creative Writing course that semester. Derivative stuff–but they certainly did set the tone for much of my work two decades later!

    I am so glad you turned me onto _October Dreams_. I have used selections from it in my English courses, and this fall when I teach Eng Lit 120: The Horrid Thing: Fear in American Fiction and Film, I’m sure I will turn to it again.

  16. Tim in Germany Says:

    Greetings Fred, Jeff, Scott and Flail of Ralsoth lurkers. I’ve just discovered this great blog and spent the morning reading bits and snippets.

    Scott, I have told many students about your habit of “reading but not really paying attention” over the years. My clearest memory of that comment was during a Book Center basement meeting just after _White Gold Wielder_ came out. You finished the newest (and last) Covenant book before anyone else had even gotten their hands on it.

    I remember being annoyed at the time because you wouldn’t/couldn’t share a juicy tidbit, but in my classroom I usually tell the story as a way of illustrating how NOT to spoil a great book for your friends. Somewhere in the years since I left T-ville, it occurred to me that your “inattention” might simply have been a polite way of saving us from our youthful impatience.

    I know it’s off-topic for this post, but I wanted to add a heartfelt shout-out for the late, great Mrs. Carlton. She was my 8th grade English teacher during my first year in T-ville. Without her guidance, I might never have fallen in with the Flail. I often think of her when I find myself pushing “weird” kids to hang out together. It was a great thing she did for us.

    And finally, I do have something topical to contribute… Two books that I haven’t seen mentioned in your blog, but which I heartily believe you would love:

    1. A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher – This story takes place in a recognizable late-20th-century USA, but its characters inhabit a fabulously rich world of obscure history, myth & ancient literature, scientific curiosities, and pure fancy. Its plot is a fairly straightforward separated siblings who spend several hundred pages searching for each other. But its fantasy world embedded in modern reality is superior to any similar example I’ve encountered. It’s one of my small shelf regulars.

    2. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – This story takes place in Australia, during what seems to be the 19th-century. It’s about a young woman whose widower father, unable to seriously contemplate his daughter’s maturity, decides to award her (in marriage) to the man who can successfully identify every species of eucalyptus in his expansive collection. As the “contest” develops, the young woman (and the reader) is secretly courted by an interloper who tells her the most unassuming yet inescapably memorable tales you’re ever likely to encounter. This is another short shelf stalwart at my house.

    Neither book could strictly be considered “Fantasy” or “Speculative Fiction,” but each contains more true fantasy on every page than the entire Brian Herbert ouevre. And on the off chance that any of you are B.H. fans, please understand this oddly-positioned-and-unnecessarily-provocative opinion as a reprise of my favorite role vis-a-vis the Pun Fund.

    • Scott Says:

      Yeah. Sure. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t want to ruin the ending (or the beginning)! ;)

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