If you wander into the home of a book-lover, you will find books everywhere, arranged neatly on shelves, lying on tables, sitting behind the toilet and stacked beside the bed. These are the books that have been read, and they enjoy a happy and fulfilled existence.
There is a darker side to life in this home. If you look closer, into the shadowed corners and dusty shelf tops, you will encounter piles of pristine books that have not known the touch of man. They lurk and glower malevolantly in the darkness, terrorising their owners whenever they walk past and instilling a dreadful horror if they so much as think about buying another new book. Their menace has been with us throughout the ages, and even the gods themselves are fearful of them, speaking only in hurried whispers. With every new addition to their ranks in a home, they grow in power exponentially, even to the point of total mastery over their owner’s life – and death.
These are the unread books, and they are known as the Lal-Pile.
Up until very recently, I had quite a large Lal Pile in my room, at least in my standards; I had almost ten new books that I’d bought over the course of the past month or so that I hadn’t read. Unread books give me a sense of real guilt whenever I look at them or walk around a bookshop, as if I am somehow slighting them by constantly ignoring them or buying new ones. It wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t very good, but I try to make a habit of only buying books that I am reasonably sure that I’ll enjoy, so that doesn’t work.
Anyway, lately I found myself with some free time so I set to work on reducing the Lal Pile. In short order, I read Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling, The Prestige by Christopher Priest, Reality Dust by Stephen Baxter and I’m making my way through The Fifth Head of Cerebus by Gene Wolfe. All four are decent reads. Holy Fire is a typically good Sterling novel that conveys how profounding different humans will be in the future, and how the alienation between generations will only grow as people continue to live longer and longer.
The Prestige was a highly compelling read about a feud between two magician performers spanning generations that contains themes familiar to readers of Priest’s other novels – the idea of opposing and identical forces and characters, and the uncertainty of whether we know what we’re being told in the story is ‘true’. I find it incredible that much of Priest’s work is not readily available in the UK any more given its quality and also the fact that he’s won a whole raft of awards, such as the World Fantasy Award (for The Prestige) and the Arthur C Clarke Award. I had to get my copy of The Prestige shipped over from the US.