Tales from the shelves: Looks at my books!
And now for something completely different: a study of my reading habits!
Back in blog 13, I walked you through a list of my favorite books. Now this list has changed a bit in the last two years – I thought Timothy Keller's The Reason for God wonderful, as was D.A. Carson's The God Who Is There and Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far – but rather than update that fun tally, let’s approach my reading from a different angle. Here’s a broad look at the books I keep on my shelves!
Though the split remains fairly even, my general collection leans a bit more towards nonfiction than fiction. That starts with my complete Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia from 1959, a valuable inheritance from mom and dad, for it tells me just what shape our world was in the year I entered it. I augment that with 13 copies of the Bible in various editions or translations, some of those also inherited. I bring these two categories up first because I do not include them in any of my following analyses.
History, primarily U.S., dominates my shelves. World War II represents my collection’s most covered topic, with 59 books focused on its many facets. America’s westward expansion unfolds in 24 volumes, a tally also claimed by texts on our modern era, while 22 titles discuss the U.S. Civil War. I own 18 books examining America’s colonial days through the 1850s, 16 on the Industrial Age, and 11 each on ancient history and alternative history.
This is where we run into some complications.
I own 33 books on Christianity. I limited that tally to nonfiction titles, unlike most other categories that include works of both actual events and the imagination. I also left out my Bibles. Had I included those with my Christian fiction, that general Christianity category would exceed all others, including one surprise.
With 24 novels on my shelves, Stephen Lawhead ranks as my most-read author. Most of his books fall within the Christian fiction category, whether fantasy or ancient history. But my next most-read author might surprise you: with 19 titles, it’s Stan Lee, often with artist Jack Kirby.
As you see, my collection of comics and cartoons takes up a good chunk of shelf space. Marvel Comics alone accounts for 56 titles, nearly all hardcover, with 9 Fantastic Four collections leading that pack. Most of these joined my shelves in my adult years, unlike my Mad Magazine volumes, where paperbacks that survived my elementary and high school days comprise more than half of those 17 books. Frank Miller’s Sin City books come in next at 11 (a complete hardcover set plus a few paperback repeats), followed by the Hellboy Treasury series at 7, my 5 bound Tales from the Crypt volumes, another 5 from the Calvin and Hobbes series (author Bill Waterson would more than double that had I not given many paperbacks away after acquiring his boxed set), and 3 titles on Bill Mauldin – the one cartoon entry included in the WW2 category.
Other genres also reveal some ironies. With 13 titles, I have more books on Star Trek than NASA or actual space exploration (5). Battlestar Galactica also accounts for 5 tomes, while Firefly falls a bit short at 3. Surprisingly, none of those are fiction.
Since I also own a Daredevil omnibus collection, Frank Miller’s 12 bound volumes tie him for my third most-read author ranking with another fantasy favorite, J.R.R. Tolkien. That brings us to another complication: among Tolkien’s 12 titles, I include several released after his death by his son and editor, Christopher Tolkien. I left out related Middle Earth books that bring the Tolkien genre count to 16.
All this suggests my interests lean more towards fiction than nonfiction. Perhaps I do, but I see this more as a reflection on writing quality than my sense of reality (or lack thereof). With my fiction choices, I’m often guided more by the author’s track record than the subject matter. If I like a writer’s style and logic, I’m more apt to follow his/her byline. The opposite (in general) applies with my nonfiction choices, for with history, science, culture, and other such fact-based subjects, it’s the content that drives my interests more than the writer. That said, I do follow many wordsmiths here. I have 6 nonfiction works by Erik Larson, who’s written on subjects as diverse as the Galveston hurricane, the Chicago World’s Fair, the birth of radio, and the Lusitania. I’ve read nearly all of them countless times.
This points to another distinction between fiction and nonfiction. While some of these historians or journalist authors specialize in certain fields, most of them bounce from subject to subject. I have books by H.R. Brands on 1800s congressional titans, U.S. emancipation battles, our western expansion, and the Korean War. Stephen Ambrose told Lewis and Clark’s journey with the same authority as he handled World War 2 or Nixon. Books by Hampton Sides range from exploring the American deserts and Artic ice fields to hunting for Japanese prisoners of war and Martin Luther King’s killer.
Fiction writers, on the other hand, often focus on sequels and series, which will drive their book tallies high if they catch my interest. That’s why I own 24 by Lawhead, 12 by Miller and Tolkien, 10 by J.K. Rowling, 7 each by Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Louis L’Amour, and 6 by both Ian Fleming and Stephen Donaldson.
It’s also good to point out that novelists may kick out books faster, which makes sense, as they usually control their fictional “facts.”
As all that suggests, my collection focuses more on modern books than time-honored literary works. I collect books based on my interests and enjoyment, often buying them only if I intend to read them more than once… the rest I can borrow from a library. That’s one reason why you’ll find no Shakespeare, Dickens, Frost, Twain, Whitman, Christie, Wilder, Clancy, and others, either because I never had them or I gave them away. But all is not lost for literary lovers. Among my tomes you will find Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (stained with my own blood, as my blog followers know), Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, two different copies of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Shelby Foote’s The Civil War in audio and print form, Herbert’s Dune (in both hardcover and a half-century old paperback), Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy (I’ve given away copies more than once, including paperbacks I acquired in elementary school), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (I’ve given away multiple copies of his Space Trilogy), The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and those beloved Harry Potter novels. And many, many others.
What do I look forward to adding? I’m always interested in what Lawhead, Larson, Sides, and Brands are doing. I eagerly await the next science fiction/horror titles by Blake Crouch, Peter Climes, and Scott Sigler. I hope Tom Clavin will follow his Old West trilogy with a historical look at Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I would get in line to pick up something new by Watterson. Like most of the fantasy world, I’m wondering if Rothfuss will ever finish The Kingkiller Chronicle. And above all, I can’t wait to discover another Potter… or a Seldon… or a Llew… or a Larson, Ambrose, Tolkien, or Carson...
What does all this say about me? I should be asking you that!