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Why Reading and Books Matter

Posted in Books, Reading on February 21st 2008 by Randy Reichardt

.: Recently Steve Jobs was quoted saying that most people don’t read anymore:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Timothy Egan responded to Jobs today in his 21 Febuary 2008 NYTimes blog, Outposts, in a most eloquent and humourous fashion, reminding us (yet again) how important the act of reading is:

Reading is something else, an engagement of the imagination with life experience. It’s fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious. Reading is not about product.

Exactly right, Mr Egan, thank you. I am not a fast reader, and at times in years past have gone months without reading a book. This does not mean I wasn’t reading during those times, it just wasn’t books, more likely magazines, newspapers, journals. More recently, I’ve found myself reading fiction again, after a 5-7 year period where I had read but two novels. But my reading of books has been ongoing and steady, and very enjoyable. I use Library Thing to keep track of my reading habits.

Reading is mind exercise, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic novel, whatever. When I am immersed in a good book, I not only take great satisfaction and enjoyment from the experience, I also marvel at the creativity and originality of the author, wondering how much time and effort it took to do the research as well as simply being amazed at such an imagination.  Indeed – stretching one’s imagination and expanding the boundaries of one’s mind – what can be better?

The Chester D Cuthbert Collection: Reeling In The Years

Posted in Books, Chester D Cuthbert, Miscellaneous, Science Fiction, University-of-Alberta on October 5th 2007 by Randy Reichardt

.: I’ve been in Winnipeg since last Sunday (30 Sept 2007), assisting my University of Alberta Libraries colleague Dr Merrill Distad in the coordination and shipping to Edmonton of the library and personal archives of Winnipeg book collector and good friend, Mr Chester D Cuthbert. In the mid-1970s, when I was active in sf fandom and lived in Winnipeg, I made regular visits to Chester’s home on Saturdays, where the local group of sf fans would congregate on an almost-weekly basis to swap stories, discuss the latest novels and writing, report on conventions, and make plans for our various fanzines and upcoming trips to sf conventions. Chester, who turns 95 on 15 October 2007, welcomed us into his home, and would often share stories of the glory days of past decades in the world of sf fandom. In the 1950s and 1960s, other local fans had descended upon Chester’s house, and spent many a Friday evening until the wee hours doing the same as our local group, nicknamed Decadent Winnipeg Fandom (DWF), did in the mid-1970s.

As time went on, Chester continued to build and maintain a large collection of books covering sf, fantasy, general fiction, psychic phenomena, with special interest focused on writers such as Max Brand and A Merritt. Reams of correspondence covering decades accumulated in his files, as well as hundreds of fanzines.

I moved to Edmonton in December 1978, and have worked at the University of Alberta Libraries (UAL) since September 1983. In the late 1990s, the UAL began to solicit donations in science fiction and fantasy, and in 1998, I brought Chester’s collection to the attention of the aforemention Dr Distad, who subsequently paid Chester a visit in Winnipeg, and made him an offer to consider donating the collection to us. He passed on our offer, but always insisted that when the time came, he wanted his collection kept intact if possible, and made accessible to others who might be interested in its extensive subject coverage.

Chester’s insistence that this happen was reinforced in 2002 by another related but unfortunate series of events in Winnipeg, which began six years earlier. In 1996, we lost a member of the old DWF gang – Bob Stimpson – who passed on at the way too early age of 47 from an illness. Unbeknownst to us all, his very large sf-focused collection had been bequeathed to the University of Winnipeg (UW), also caught unaware when it learned of its acquisition. Many of us thought that Bob had willed his collection to UW because in earlier years, Chester had sold bits of his library to it to help build its small but solid collection science fiction and fantasy. In any event, Bob had done the right thing – he wanted his collection made accessible to those who might benefit from it, learn from it, enjoy it, as he did.

However, after six years of housing the books in storage, UW decided it couldn’t process Bob’s collection, and despite an offer from my institution (UAL) to catalogue and house the collection on UW’s behalf, in 2002 sold the collection to one dealer, who obtained it by all accounts for a literal steal. When Chester learned of this transaction he was, as his son Ray has described it, “incensed”, to put it mildly. In a letter in the fanzine Gegenschein, #80, October 1997, Chester noted, “Bob Stimpson would be dismayed if he knew that his collection is considered little more than a problem.” Earlier, UW had asked Chester to assess Bob’s collection, the value of which he described as “possibly approaching a million” dollars.

Considering that the collection had been bequeathed in good faith, it indeed was a sad day that instead, a profit, and not a fair one at that, was made from a donation made with all good intentions by its donor. As Lorna Toolis of the Merril Collection in Toronto described it,

“It is very sad for everyone. For the University library, which was unable to avail itself of the opportunity. For the students, who will not have access to the materials. For Bob Stimpson, who tried very hard to do the right thing.”

In fairness to the UW Library, it was unprepared for such a large donation, and could not afford to keep it. Nonetheless, an amazing resource was lost to students and researchers forever.

Despite having moved away from Winnipeg in Dec 1978, I remained in touch with Chester, and began visiting him again some years ago, whenever I was in Winnipeg. Then in August of this year, we at UAL were contacted by his son Ray, to ask if we were still interested in his Father’s collection. In January of this year, Chester lost his loving wife of 62 years, Muriel, who left us at the age of 90, and combined with his advancing age, he was no longer able to maintain his large library. Dr Distad worked out the details with Ray, made arrangements for the packing and shipping of the collection, and we arrived to oversee its removal this week.

I arrived on Sunday night (30 September 2007), and on Monday returned to the airport to pick up a reporter from Folio, who, accompanied by a camera operator, was there to record the removal of the library from Chester’s home, and to interview a number of us, including Chester. On Tuesday, the movers arrived, and filled 2.5 half-tonne trucks with boxes. Wednesday the media frenzy began. Various local television and radio stations arrived for interviews, including City TV, Global, CTV, CBC Radio and CBC Television. I was interviewed by CBC Radio (live), and on tape with CTV and Global. I caught the CTV piece, which ran that evening, noticing that my last name was spelled incorrectly – not an unexpected thing. On Thursday I learned that the local CTV piece had aired across Canada on the CTV National News. On Thursday, the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun arrived and interviewed Chester, along with Ray and myself. The Free Press story ran on Friday, and appeared in a number of other papers across the country as well. The Winnipeg Sun story is here. Additionally, Ray Cuthbert was interviewed on the national CBC radio program, As It Happens. You can listen to the interview, which is part of this file, from the Wednesday 03 October 2007 show. Note that you will have to listen to about 16 minutes of other interviews (and dead air in between those interviews) before you get to the interview with Ray.

On Thursday evening, Merrill and I feted Chester, together with many of his family members, at a dinner in Winnipeg. At the dinner, I was fortunate to present to Chester with some gifts on behalf of Merril and I, and our colleagues at the University of Alberta, in gratitude for his kind donation to us, and in honour of his forthcoming 95th birthday on 16 October 2007. I’m loading pictures from the week, and you can see the first batch here. Now comes the next phase, as the Cuthbert Collection makes its way to Edmonton, where it will eventually be unpacked and sorted, awaiting appraisal and processing. Each item will receive a book plate with an appropriate inscription and photograph of Chester, and once catalogued, will include a provenance note in the online catalogue, something to the effect of, “Chester D Cuthbert Collection”, which will allow researchers to search by that designation.

I consider myself blessed to have known Chester for over 30 years, and to have experienced his hospitality and warmth, together with that of his wife Muriel, over this period of time. While I know it is difficult for him to part with his life’s work, I also know from speaking with him privately that he is very grateful to know that his collection will be treated with respect and dignity, and made available for decades to come for those students and researchers who are interested in the fields he collected for so many decades. Thank you, Chester, for all you have done for us.

The SF/Fantasy Book Meme…

Posted in Books, Science Fiction on December 4th 2006 by Randy Reichardt

.: While scanning a few friends’ blogs, I found this meme at Cindi’s site. Generally I loathe blog memes, I think they are silly and too cute for their own good, but I’m sucking it up here and participating in this one, because I found myself scanning the list and making mental notes about various titles, given that I used to read a lot of SF once upon a time. Plus I like Cindi! Cindi notes that the layout of the list is a bit odd in that after the first ten titles, the list is alphabetized. ‘zup with that?? Anyway, here goes:

“Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star next to the ones you love.”

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke*
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester*
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin**** (my all time favorite sf novel)
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke*
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner*
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer*

There are no books on the list that I read and hated, but some of my all-time faves are there, including The Left Hand of Darkness, Stand on Zanzibar, Ringworld, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Neuromancer, and A Canticle for Leibowitz. In addition to Lord of Light, there might be one or two others I started but never finished, but it was so long ago that I can’t be sure about which titles those might be.

ADDENDUM: In his comment, Jason notes, “Leave it the SF Book Club (the SF presumably still stands for Science Fiction) to include a number of outright fantasy novels in their top list of science fiction novels.” It’s a valid point, and I agree – the list would have had more credibility if the SF Book Club had limited the criterion for inclusion to science fiction novels only. In addition to the important titles Jason suggests are missing from the list, I would add The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin, Way Station by Clifford Simak, and A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge. I’m sure there are dozens of others that could be included as well.

-40C Is -40F

Posted in Books, Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys on December 3rd 2006 by Randy Reichardt

.: We’re knee-deep in snow and have been freezing our butts off in sub-zero temperatures for the past few weeks. Edmonton endured a few days of temperatures in the -30C range, which felt like -40C with the windchill factored in. -40C is equal to -40F; that’s where the two temperature scales meet, so yes, it was feckin’ cold indeed. For the most part, I’ve been dragging myself to work, surviving each day with enough energy to return home and sleep rather than head to the gym.  Driving can be a nightmare, but thankfully the City of Edmonton has been able to increase the number of contracted snow cleaning services in the past couple weeks, so at least the roads are passable. The 7-10 day forecast is for temperatures to return to average figures for this time of year, which is around -5 to 0C, much more tolerable.

.: The past few months I’ve been reading more than I have in years. When at the Y, I work out on an upright cycle, and read a lot there. The titles I’ve read recently include:

The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Child of the Fifties Looks Back by Robert Klein
The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System by Siva Vaidhyanathan
The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz
The Film Snob*s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge by David Kamp with Larwence Levi
Hip: The History (P.S.) by John Leland
In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré
The Keep by Jennifer Egan
New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer by Bill Maher
Queenan Country by Joe Queenan
The Rock Snob*s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge by David Kamp and Steven Daly
Sloth: The Seven Deadly Sins by Wendy Wasserstein
The Stanley Kubrick Archives edited by Alison Castle
The Truth (With Jokes) by Al Franken

I am currently reading Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Biskind, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin, David Javerbaum, et al, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m maintaining my own library catalogue using LibraryThing.

.: HDNB played a gig last week at The Fox in Edmonton, in the -40C atmosphere of a late Sunday evening. Kudos to the 15 hardy souls who braved the mean-spirited weather to come down and watch us play a couple sets of tunes.

.: My secondment at NINT has been renewed until January 2008. 2008…would you believe I will be eligible to retire in 2008? I can’t believe it, either.

.: The province in which I live, Alberta, has a new leader, Ed Stelmach. Stelmach won in a runoff vote on Saturday to become the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and the next Premier of Alberta. It was a stunning defeat for the big business candidate Jim Dinning, and a rebuke of the ultra-right wing, US-born and bred candidate, Ted Morton. Any Albertan could vote if he or she was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta; a membership cost $5.00. Predictably, thousands of people in the province joined, as did I, just to be able to vote, and in the end, to elect Stelmach and defeat Dinning and Morton. Stelmach is a moderate, something this province hasn’t seen in decades, and he appears to be a decent human being, unlike the retiring buffoon who is our current Premier. I will celebrate the day Stelmach is sworn in, because we will finally be free of Ralph.

This and That

Posted in Books, NINT, Steely Dan on July 8th 2006 by Randy Reichardt

.: Kenton recently posted a couple of comments (1, 2) on the prices of new books, specifically of how the difference between the Canadian and US prices does not reflect the current exchange rate, which has been near ninety cents for quite some time. Typically, the difference is between 20-25%, but can be much worse – the paperback edition of that book about some kind of code, which was released earlier this year, was priced 38% higher in Canada. The hardcover edition, released in 2003, was priced 52% higher. According to the article in the Toronto Star, prices will dip by 5-10% by the end of the year. I don’t know if federal regulations cover books being imported into Canada – in other words, are US publishers required to price their books within a certain range based on the exchange rate? If not, what’s to stop them from jacking up the prices as much as they desire, within reason?

The second article to which Kenton refers, which is actually an edited version of an editorial that appeared in the Montreal Gazette, notes the following:

Major booksellers have taken to posting explanations in their stores. Prices are set by publishers according to a 12-month cycle, they say. But if retailers are paying inflated wholesale prices and passing on the hardship to the consumer, they are no less complicit.

When I went to Baltimore, I took my copy of The World is Flat with me to read on the flights. On the way back, I either left my copy on the last jet, or in the Minneapolis airport. Since buying the book, Friedman had revised and updated it, and I wanted another copy. The book jacket US price is $30.00, the Canadian price $39.95, or a 33.17% increase. While in Indigo books, I noticed the book on sale for 30% off, with an additional 10% for Indigo club members. (Since buying the book again, the price online dropped another 10% to CDN$21.97.) So the final price, with 6%GST, came to $25.40, a heckuva deal, as they say in Minnesota. Hopefully Canadian booksellers will continue to offer at least some selected titles at more reasonable prices, to counter the continuing price gouging of US publishers.

.: Busy times are ahead. In about 10 days, I will drive to Winnipeg for a 8-9 day visit, which will include another high school reunion. I’m planning to bring my bicycle, using a bike rack kindly donated by Geoff some months ago. I’ll return on the 28th or 29th of July. Shortly thereafter, I’ll be volunteering for the 15th straight year at the EFMF. Two days afterwards, I’m off to NYC, a trip which will include seeing Steely Dan and Mike McDonald perform at Jones Beach on Long Island.

.: Last Tuesday I moved into the new NINT building, which opened officially on 22 June 2006. After I returned from Baltimore, I helped with the opening as a volunteer coordinator that day. On July 4, I was given a temporary office on the 2nd floor, in an area populated by members of the Fenniri Group. The move into the new building began on 29 May 2006, and was done in stages. At present, some of the labs, carrels, and offices remain empty as more people and equipment are still forthcoming.

The reason my location is temporary is that my permanent office is located on the fourth floor, and that floor is still being constructed. The fourth floor will be occupied by off-campus companies, which will lease office and lab space and time on equipment for various lengths of time. The fifth and sixth floors of NINT will be occupied by the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, and Chemical and Materials Engineering.


Posted in Books, Film on December 31st 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: It’s a quiet New Years Eve 2005 here. I saw Rumor Has It this evening, bringing my total for 2005 to 50 films seen, the lowest number of films I’ve seen in once year since at least 1978. Since returning from NYC in October, I have read a few books, however, including Queenan Country, Talk to the Hand, The Rock Snob’s Dictionary, The Truth (With Jokes), and New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer.

As I type this, it’s a few minutes past midnight, 01 January 2006. Another calendar year begins, which always gives pause fo some reflection on what has been, and what is to come. Do you have any interesting plans for 2006. Already I have events mapped out as far as August, with conferences in Toronto, Atlanta and Baltimore, two trips to Winnipeg, and perhaps one to the west coast. Professionally, there could be a shift in my responsibilities at work, but I can’t elaborate at this time.

Wishing you a very happy, gently, safe and rewarding 2006.