After I said all my bits about how to make a better campus library ('how about you get recently published books in under five years?') I took my voucher down to the book store and looked for something I mightn't usually buy. Books can be like that. You see one that looks interesting, but it's thirty odd dollars and you realise you've not read any reviews of it, not heard anything about it, and really, thirty bucks is a lot of money, and maybe you ought to do a bit of research first. But with a voucher, all considerations are off. You look at the cover--does it speak to you? How about the weight of the book. I must admit, I like the feel of solid white pages. Then you look a bit at the content. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography? Well, truth is, I'd buy that on a normal day. How about a book about people who eat babies and use the bones to built the Tower of Babel? Could my voucher be spent in a better way?
In the end, however, I settled on a collection called This Is My Best, edited by Retha Powers and Kathy Kiernan. The subtitle for it is 'Great Writers Share Their Favourite Work' and, even though the cover is hugely plain and boring and designed to appeal to retired literary professors, I thought that the idea of asking author's to pick their favourite piece of writing and give an introduction essay was absolutely fascinating. So that's what my voucher was used on.
I haven't read the whole book, but it's fascinating in the authors that have been selected (and who have agreed to appear). Scott Adam's provides a Dilbert strip and is followed by the poet Ai's piece 'Jimmy Hoffa's Odyssey' and later Haruki Murakami appears with the opening to the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Plus there are authors like Arthur Miller and Tom Robbins and a whole heap I've never even heard of, and it's just this beautiful mash of mainstream/literary authors working in various mediums.
And I got to thinking last night how, really, more of this should happen.
There's a joke going round how there are so many year's best anthologies that soon someone will begin The Year's Best Shopping Lists or some such thing, and probably the last thing anyone needs is another 'Best', but I'd really go for a book called Fantastic Voices, and which got around 60 authors of fantastic fiction (meaning: science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, magic realism, and everything inbetween, including comic strip artists and poets and, if doable, things from the comic industry) and asked them what their favourite piece of writing was. You would write to them and say, "You can decide from any of your writing, fantastic or otherwise." Imagine such a book where someone like China Mieville sent an essay about Marxism with an accompanying introduction and that it stood next to authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and J.K Rowling and Salman Rushdie and Michael Moorcock?
Such a book would be fascinating, I think.
Since I'm not an editor and have no idea how easy or difficult such a thing would be to propose to a publisher. Likewise, I've got no idea if it's doable. But I'm looking at a book that found sixty authors and, come on, just think of how utterly amazing that would be, with all the trash and literary of the fantastic jammed against each other?