Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I haven’t read most of the great books, or, Doing the Diligence

A fun game at conventions is to dance around what you haven’t read. There are so many nerds who get so little face-time validation elsewhere that they’re quick to condescend and lecture on behalf of the Great Roberts Heinlein and Jordan. This leads many con-goers faking having read books and participating in empty conversations. I’m not sure who it’s fun for, but it must be fun given how frequently it happens.

A game I play at conventions is confession. Bring up an old Jack Vance? I’ll admit to never having read it and ask what spoke to you about it. I’ll confess to never having read Theodore Sturgeon or Octavia Butler, or only having read Samuel Delany’s non-fiction, or only the first book of Wheel of Time and Ender’s Game. The fun of this exercise is watching people around me relax, because by going first (and going at all), I’ve let them give up pretense. Tension leaves their shoulders as they realize it’s okay.

My excuses are legion. I didn’t grow up with LeGuin and Zelazny, and only ever heard of G.K. Chesterton after I graduated college. I’ve gone out of my way to collect books by canonical authors in order to catch up – what I call “doing the diligence” – which yields a mixed bag of results. LeGuin and Zelazny amaze me, but if I never read another Asimov short story that’s a thin fictional veil over a science lesson, I’ll be fine.

My troubles are compounded by interests in literary fiction, which has its own far broader canons around the world. The many years I spent reading Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and various translations of The Divine Comedy seem to be the same time others were getting familiar with The Sword of Shannara (only read the first one and can’t remember it, sorry). And then there are all those superhero comics that ate up my adolescence, though they seem to be more useful now that Marvel films are dominating the earth. Don’t get me started on Beta Ray Bill.

Nor have I have I given up my other loves. I’ll get to A Canticle for Liebowitz, but I’m probably going to read Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel first. So maybe I’ll always be behind, but that’s not always bad.

I own it, but...
As frustrating as it can be to listen to geniuses dissect apparently great works I’ve never heard of, this slower pace has also yielded great pleasures. I’m not sure I would have appreciated the works of Shirley Jackson as a teenager, though having started reading her a few years ago with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, she is now one of the most inspiring authors in my life. So there’s the frustration of finding two more important books for every one I knock down, this hydra of literacy, but there is also the wonder of finding true masterpieces vetted by decades of readership.

It may just be the way I look at things, but I am far happier to have read Lord of Light late than never at all. No one I know of writes this way today, and as far as I’ve read, no one else used to, not even Zelazny.

If you’re curious, the next authors I intend to do the diligence on are Lois McMaster Bujold and Samuel Delany. I’m told I’ll love Nova. The two keep getting postponed because I’ve taken such a long detour through Jo Walton, even though she so strongly recommends both of them.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Three Positive Things in Three Days, and Cheating

This wasn't my best week. Starting Monday and hitting hard Tuesday, my body started rejecting my new medication. I've only gotten some clarity in the last day or so, and am struggling for productivity. I see the doctor for the next consult on Thursday.

In related news, Ross Dillon cheated recently. He was tagged in a Facebook game to post "three positive things for three days," and he posted nine all at once. He's a man after my own heart.

I read his list minutes after finishing a short story and was quite exhausted. I played along. No reason not to be positive here for the span of nine items.

1. Marathoning the first season of Lost.

2. A writer I respect saying he was compelled to stay up late to read to the end of a story he beta read for me.
3. Ice cream cakes.

4. Homemade ice cream cake substitutes.
5. Grilling hamburgers.
6. People who smile when the rain reaches them.
7. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic.
8. Telltale's The Walking Dead game.
9. Hearing the version of the ending theme of Naoki Urasawa's Monster, an instrumental song which always creeeped me out, and finding the lyrics inspirational and reassuring. 

I confess just listening to For The Love of Life cold won't have the same effect.
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