The other day I realized something that probably should have been obvious, but that I’d never thought much about. There are millions of readers in the world, but there are very few characters in books who actually read books. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t recall a book I’d read – except my own – where a character reads a book or mentions one or quotes from one. It could be that my memory was faulty; so I went to my bookshelves and looked at all the books lined up there, and tried to think of a single one that mentioned reading or writing books, and I finally found one – Joe Haldeman’s The Hemingway Hoax – and recalled another one – Gene Wolfe’s The Borrowed Man.
Now, I’m certain there are others out there, but I’m willing to bet that the percentage of F&SF books that have characters who actually read or write books is less than five percent. I’m not talking about reading or writing books as the focus of novels, but just as a mention of part of the character’s lives.
Yet biographies of great people usually mention books in some fashion or another. Almost every biography of Lincoln has the story of the borrowed book that he had to replace, and Jefferson’s love of writing and books is certainly renowned. Patton read the classics, and Churchill won a Nobel Prize in literature. Scores of famous people mention the Bible or quote from it, but seldom do authors depict the equivalent in F&SF.
Likewise, almost every human culture has some form of music, and while a larger percentage of F&SF books mention/show music, the percentage is small compared to the field as a whole, despite the ubiquity of music in history and life.
Then there is the issue of family. Families play a part in everyone’s life, and whether immediately present or not, definitely influence actions and motivations. Again, there are more books that show this than there are novels that depict books…but comparatively few F&SF books use familial interactions and pressures.
Just a few thoughts on what’s often not there.