George R.R. Martin regularly kills off beloved fictional characters in his A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but he has never been able to bring himself to throw away a book.
The renowned fantasy and science fiction author visited Texas A&M University on Friday to explain how his pack rat approach to collecting books and literary materials led him to gift a rare first edition volume of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit to commemorate the acquisition of Cushing Memorial Library's 5 millionth volume. Martin's gift to the library was made in front of an audience of more than 800 at Rudder Auditorium and was symbolic of a long-standing relationship with the university that blossomed during AggieCon science fiction conventions in the 1970s. A friendship with the university and Cushing Library's reputation as a state-of-the-art keeper of valuable literary works made Aggieland the ideal place for Martin to deposit his personal collection.
"I've always been a pack rat," Martin said. "The idea of throwing something out is a bit of anathema to me and I was reaching a point where I was being crowded out of my own home by the accumulation of my books and papers and things like that. I felt the time had come to move it to a library for safekeeping."
Martin said he looked at other schools for the storage of his materials over the years, but A&M remains the trusted source.
"My memory of A&M and the facilities you have here and the strong commitment to science fiction and fantasy were things that swayed me," Martin said.
University Libraries Dean David Carlson put the magnitude of the gift into perspective for the audience.
"A millionth volume is a very special edition in the collection," Carlson said. "Of course, it must be an important volume of literary or historical significance, but its value is much more than this. The millionth volume is also a symbolic representation of progress as a library and a university. Equally important is the person who makes that gift possible."
Carlson would not say exactly what the volume's value is, but he did say the purchase of the book funded by the university and presented by Martin was "expensive."
The volume Martin presented is one of only 1,500 in existence and will be a part of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives' Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection. Martin's personal collection of manuscripts and books are also part of the sci-fi archive, which is one of the largest in the country.
The program did not start until 11 a.m., but some students arrived as early as 8 a.m. to make sure they got a front-row seat to see the author discuss his love affair with book collecting and read an excerpt from The Hobbit.
Michael Fuentez was one of the early risers and said Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books had a profound impact on him.
"They motivated me to start writing my own stuff," Fuentez said. "They were the catalyst to get me moving."
Martin instructed the audience to hold on to all their written works, because one day they could be of great value. For those who are interested in telling stories instead of collecting them, Martin offered some advice: don't stop writing.
"Maybe someday you'll write something that will catch lightning in a bottle or have a TV show based on it, but tell your stories."