For the past few years, I have been searching for past memories of books, stories, music, and so on in an effort to discover the cultural influences that have affected my way of thinking. I can identify about 3000 books that I have read, more than a third of which are science fiction. These in turn include about 250 anthologies of short stories. Needless to say, I don't remember them all, but I do have a long list already, and Google, Goodreads, and the ISFDB have been useful as reminders. Generous contributors to the SF&F Stack Exchange have been able to find obscure stories and novels for me, sometimes within minutes. So far I've confined my own contributions to voting, and occasionally to adding books to Goodreads.
What has this effort been good for? 1. It gives me a much better idea of the influences that have affected my life. 2. I have learned that the majority of my reading in science fiction took place during the sixties and seventies. This is the time when my tastes were being formed. 3. I remember the stories from this time frame the best. They continue to inform me. In some cases I recall phrases or sentences that I have absorbed almost as proverbs. This is consistent with the psychologists' "Reminiscence Bump," the observation that most people remember their teens and twenties with greater clarity than their thirties. 4. I remember stories that I reread much more clearly than ones that I only read once, particularly in books that I owned. 5. There is a lag between original publication in a magazine and subsequent reprinting in an anthology. Since I read many anthologies but few magazines, works published originally in the 1940s or 1950s could seem new and fresh to me in the 1960s. 6. If other people have similar patterns of taste and influence and recall, then I can understand somewhat better how different generations develop their own preferences. 7. The effort has shown gaps in my reading. Somehow I missed everything by Madeleine L'Engle and Christopher Priest, and finding them and others on lists of "best books" has broadened my reading.
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