One thing I hate in readers is a lack of curiosity. Often times folks devoted to a genre whine loudest about not having anything to read, when actually, if they just moved their heads a little in any direction, they’d find something great. Kindles have done away with that, although I’m not sure they’ve done much to improve reader curiosity. If anything Kindles have managed to speed everyone’s descent into a bottomless pit of their own choosing, only now that descent’s fueled by Amazon’s algorithm.
An illustrative anecdote: a month or so back I gave away some books to a friend. One of them I thought was awful and told my friend as much. A week or so later he told me he’d read the book, agreed it was awful, and “the next seven books in the series were just as bad”.
Now this lack of curiosity might not be the biggest problem in genre. But I’d hazard a guess that it could be the keystone problem all the other problems trickle out from. Again the solution is simple: move your head a little in any direction. You will find something better.
A while back I read this post by E. Catherine Tobler called “The Women We Don’t See”. It starts with an anecdote from a friend of hers who realized he hadn’t read a book by a woman in two years. And he was okay with that. A more recent while back, the writer K. T. Bradford challenged readers to quit reading white men for a year. I didn’t opt on the challenge, but I wasn’t incensed by the suggestion. If anything, both posts can simply be read as reminders to maybe think two minutes longer before picking up your next book to read. Even looking at the suggested books outlined in Bradford’s post, she’s only listing twelve books. One a month. You can’t read one book a month by a non-Anglo and/or non-dude writer. Seriously?
There are two big reasons authors get forgotten (beyond the fact that they might suck). The first is the author wrote only the one genre book, and that one was usually early in their career. Fred Chappell’s Dagon and Frederick Turner’s Double Shadow both fit this description (although Chappell has returned to genre at times).
The other reason books get forgotten is because they either exist outside a genre or within a genre that in part hopes to reject them. Despite the history and tradition of women and non-Anglo authors writing SFF, it’s certainly not part of the institutional memory yet. Not when an author can be asked to recommend books to readers and come up with nothing better than the equivalent of Led Zeppelin. This is also why I’m probably only hearing about Doris Piserchia this year. It’s probably also why Joanna Russ gets read like she’s an inoculation against feminism. And why a comment Margaret Atwood made years ago still gets trotted out against her.
All of which is to say show a little curiosity. Take the extra minute and change up your reading diet a bit.
Yeah, I hate that analogy too. It suggests I’m writing all this to extol the salubrious effects of reading certain books, like Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman is a bit of broccoli on your plate, and you should read it because vitamins, instead of the real reason, which is it’s a great science-fiction book with a moral dilemma at its heart that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who knows what the prime directive is.
And in case you need a place to start, here’s a link to SF Mistressworks. Go crazy.
Intestinal Parasite Bildungsroman
The Epic Mundane
Grimdark Judy Blume
Fan Fiction for Famous Mathematical Equations
“-gasm”: wherever you see the suffix “-punk” now, you’ll see “-gasm” in the future: Mythgasm, Cybergasm, Steamgasm, etc.
Lord of the Sweet Valley Highs
The Genre Adjacent
TV Trope Twister
Noirnoir, Neo-noirnoir, and Revisionist Neo-noirnoir
Real Estate Agents of Dune
The Future Needs Grandpa
Wait For the Cable TV Series
Pooh Corner Slash
Mod, Mod-Mod, Ultra Mod, and Incomprehensible Gibberish
Two-Fisted Tales of Engineering in Space
I should be working on my thesis. Instead I’m doing something else. What am I doing? Take your pick!
1. I’m reading a book. Look at my to read pile. LOOK AT IT! These books aren’t going to read themselves! And if I don’t, who will!?!
2. I’m totally building the setting for that 5e campaign I was talking about in the coffee shop last week. The sword and sorcery one where the only classes available to players are Barbarian, Bard, Monk, Paladin, and Warlock; and the only playable races are Human, Dragonborn, and Tiefling (and they have to roll for random mutations). I might even be working on the map!
3. That novel I’ve been fiddling on for the past two years or so. The one that’s now like <i>Jane Eyre</i> meets <i>True Grit</i> on <i>Dune</i> with Mr Rochester as a sandworm! Yeah, I’m totally working on that.
4. Or if not, that than one of the dozen or so short stories I’ve written over the past year, but are still in the scrawled in crayons on recycled paper stage. I put them in a folder and everything! So like I’ll totally get to them… some time… and why not now, when they make very effective procrastination devices against writing my thesis paper?
5. Or, maybe, I’m actually working on my thesis and weeping, because I’m screwed.
A Gothic tales of Victorian real estate… which means there’s murder, blackmail, and at least one mentally maladjusted relative wandering around the estate like a ghost.
I have to admit to being the type of person that’s skeptical of popular books unless they’re over a hundred years old. I have no patience for the page turning genre bullshit of today, but give me some Karl May novel or a forgotten “sensation novel”, and I’m there. Maybe I should approach contemporary page-turners in the same way, because it’s fun to breeze through a book, scanning pages, snidely commenting on how awful it all is – there’s a 1st person narrator in this book, but only for a third of it, yet he knows everything! How!?! WHY!?! No explanation – Wylder’s Hand is awful, but for a good bit it’s deliciously awful. The problem being that it then becomes awful again.
At the end you realize the plot could have been solved by the two heroines moving to Switzerland and becoming lesbians sooner. At least they were one of the two couples in the book that showed any affection for each other. The other was the Vicar and his wife, but their relations were so insipidly treacle-laden that I needed an insulin shot just to get through their chapters of endless, “Wha’does’wittle’wapsie’tink’I’should’do’boo’?” It was horrible.
But, geez, what a great cover – and for all the rage-reading I ended up doing at the end, skimming vast swaths of the book because it was written like this, “The cart road leading down to Redman’s Dell and passing the mill near Redman’s Farm diverges from the footpath with which we are so well acquainted, near that perpendicular block of stone which stands a little above the steps which the footpath here descends…” I have to admit I want to read another one of these great, clunky, shittily-written beasts of a Gothic novel. But if you want to read Le Fanu, don’t start here. Find a copy of In A Glass Darkly. It’s the better book by far.
I deleted my Facebook account last week.
Or I put in a request to have my Facebook account deleted.
Or some iteration of that…
And this isn’t out of some privacy, anti-Zuckerberg stance, but simply for my own mental health. I wish I could be one of those people that lurk and post once or twice a year. The people who know what’s going on with you, but never say anything. Yeah, they’re creepy, and yeah, I’m talking about, you know, my aunt, but I envy their self-control. If I could simply lurk and not opine, I’d still be there. As it is I can’t, and I know I can’t, and I also know 4PM with low-blood sugar and bored at his desk Justin is really and truly not the best Justin. So as not to give “him” a soap-box and to cut down on the petty annoyances of finding out your former good friend thinks alien wooly mammoths built the pyramids because we now have cell phones, on one hand, and the daily machine-gun barrage of outrage-inducing current events that I must form an opinion about and emote about RIGHT NOW, on the other, the whole thing was getting me down.
Of course, I’m having second thoughts. For one thing, I’ve somehow managed to become friends with people that don’t check their email regularly. Send them a FB message or a Twitter PM and they get right back to you. But an email? No. (Although the worst of those people are the ones who you email and then they text you back, because WTF.)
The other reason I’m waffling is that FB groups were easy to organize and most everyone checked them regularly, so if I cave it may just be to belong to one or two groups for gaming and swapping books. Otherwise I start feeling like that asshole vegetarian friend of yours from high school, you know the one that passive-aggressively manipulated everyone to eat where they wanted, because they were assholes more than they were vegetarians. What ends up happening is everyone makes plans on FB to meet, and then one of them has to email me to get my input, and then bring that to the group, then back and forth, so on and so on, so that in order to stay connected I have to find a friend who doesn’t mind being stuck in the middle, and I know if that was me there, I’d be as annoyed as shit.
All that’s making me rethink my decision a bit.
I realized my favorite thing about living in South Korea. And I don’t even think it’s a South Korean thing, as a hold over to being a country not the size of the USA thing. Like if I lived in Ireland or Italy, I suspect I’d encounter the same thing. It was also what made me like living in Queens, NY. I know, Queens!
Anyway, what I like is that the city where I live, Pohang, retains the quality where a single pedestrian who is probably elderly determines how the city is designed. It’s like if you took Betty White and made her a metric unit that measured urban accessibility. Okay, maybe not Betty White, maybe Jane Jacobs, but you get the idea.
Pohang is a kilojacobs city in that every neighborhood is self-sufficient. Within an easy walk of my house I have access to hardware stores, stationary stores, delis, grocery stores, a traditional market, and restaurants. It was something Joe Mitchell talked about in post-war New York where every neighborhood was a self-contained village. This single pedestrian is accommodated in other ways as well: lots of parks with places to sit down, a robust bus system, and cheap taxis. This is vastly different from the USA where the unit of urban measure is a family with an automobile, and therefore things can be spread out, the supermarket here, the school there, and your entertainment way over there. Public transportation is treated as a charity to be given to the unfortunate, and not as a tie that binds the city together.
Now, I am talking about a small city. I have no idea how Seoul compares, although even there I think it would conform to the model of Queens, NY as opposed to Detroit, MI. And like I said I don’t think this is necessarily a Korean thing, some kind of “Wow. Confucianism dictates that you treat your elders with so much respect!” bull shit, as it is related to country-size. The USA has “Settling This Vast Empty Land” as a foundational myth, and it shows in most of our cities.
Fortunately for me, Korea’s foundational myths don’t seem to effect urban planning all that much.
“It’s not that these things happen or even that one survives them, but what makes life strange is that they are forgotten.”
– Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight
That’s one of the books I finished recently. It’s pretty good if you like your modern novels on the short, impressionistic, and ultimately sad and depressing side. In fact if that’s what you like, it’s better than pretty good.
Now if only it had a wizard or some astronauts in it…
A thought experiment – every fantasy novel in the world has been destroyed. You have only been able to save three. From these a new fantasy genre will be born. What three novels are they?
I know two of mine, but I’m still trying to figure out the third.
In the meantime what are yours?
Here’s my 9/11 post. It might explain why I don’t want to read yours.
I was at work in Greenwich Village when the first plane hit. I heard the crash and went outside where I saw people in apartments at their windows and on their balconies looking downtown, so I went up to the roof and saw the first tower on fire. At this point I was the only one in the building and since I didn’t have a cellphone, I needed to get to a phone so I could call Jin. She would have been coming into the city through the WTC path station and I wanted to call her before she left and tell her that “something was happening”.
No one at that time knew what was happening, and I was thinking about how I’d wanted to go to the WTC station that morning and go to the Borders Books on the first floor. Jin had reached the Journal Square path station and heard what was happening and come back home. We hung up. I went back to the roof, bumping into a few of my coworkers. We all went to the roof. We all had numbed, confused looks on our faces. The buildings burned.
Incongruous moment one: the buildings were on fire and burning and there was such a mix of this is happening, but we’re also at work and the day’s routine must be adhered to that my friend Rob and I had time to go to the deli, which had other people in it, and buy coffee. We took it back up to the roof and stood there drinking over-sweet coffee from blue paper cups with Greek urns on the sides while the buildings burned.
We saw black specks falling from the building and speculated about their nature. Rob had had a studio grant to paint in the WTC and did panoramic landscapes from there. Another acquaintance now had the same grant and, although we didn’t know it at the time, she was down there in one of the burning buildings. She escaped. One of only a small number to do so from that floor in that building. The first tower collapsed and there was this scream from all around us, this moan from everyone watching that just gave way to silence.
Incongruous moment two: that silence.
Jesus. That silence.
We were far enough away that we couldn’t hear anything. Later I’d meet people who weren’t in New York that would say something like “It was like watching a movie”. This was nothing like a movie. The first tower fell without any sound and after it fell this cloud of paper rose up in the sky. From where we were those pages sparkled in the sun. They were beautiful. I know. I know. There was nothing beautiful about any of this, but there it was incongruous moment three. Beauty – maybe the way sharks are beautiful.
I could not watch the rest. I could not see the second tower fall. I went downstairs to be alone.
But the day didn’t end there. The more I remember that day, the more incongruous events occur: the mad rush to give blood for the “survivors”, we’d go from hospital to hospital, lines everywhere, but nothing to be done, a cop car passing coated in white dust, the sight of an artist who I had worked for standing in the middle of University Place crying. She’d lived 6 blocks from the WTC. She was frozen with shock and her boyfriend and I got her moving again. Uptown. Always that long procession uptown.
And then there were the days and weeks after. The checking in with everyone you knew. The National Guard soldiers in Jersey City standing around the armory carrying baseball bats. The way the news had no script. No one had a narrative for the event. And weeks later when I woke up to the news of an engine falling off a plane in Queens – I couldn’t bring myself to get on the train and go under the river to get to work.
I’ve never watched the TV footage of 9/11. The moments when it shows up in a documentary – I am shocked to the point of tears by it. Even in movies. I can’t watch the destruction of New York in some action flick (like The Avengers) without getting at least some small whiff of a panic attack coming on.
I think I’m still waiting for those incongruous moments to end.
A friend from home came to Korea for a visit. She was doing both the ROK and Japan in one Far East swing. I convinced her to leave Seoul and had down to the country. We met in Gyeongju the next city over from where I live. She was impressed by my Korean, which shocked me since I can’t speak the language. What I know is maybe a handful of phrases and numbers. Basically I can go into a store and ask how much something costs and know how much to pay when I’m told. But after living here for four years I’m also a lot more comfortable not knowing what people say to me and having a “conversation” regardless of the fact that I can’t speak the language. Either I’m listening for one word I know and reply with one of the hundred or so I know, or I’m just playing a rather involved game of charades, which gets you pretty damn far.
Sometimes I know exactly what’s being said in some scripted exchanges because I know the script. If I’m buying groceries and I’m asked a question, it’s probably about whether or now I want a bag. I get a lot of mileage out of stuff like that. Or it comes back to the comfort level. Some people, like the shop keepers in my neighborhood, I see everyday, and I’ve stopped and chatted with them where they’re speaking in Korean and I’m speaking in English, but we’re having a conversation that I can only imagine resembles that scene in Ghost Dog where Forest Whitaker and his friend that works in the Ice Cream truck and only speaks Creole are having a conversation about a man building a boat on the roof of an apartment building. Neither speaks the same language but they talk to each other just the same.
Or in other words you can get pretty far here simply by playing a decent game of charades.