Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is The Book You Didn’t Want to Read and Ended Up Loving.
This was kind of difficult for me to answer, because most of the books that spring to mind when I cast back and try to recall which I didn’t want to read are the ones I ended up hating. If I ended up loving them, I kind of forget that initial pain. Like childbirth.
But I finally settled on HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad, which I had to read for AP English senior year of high school. The edition above is the one I read – and still have. I know a lot of you hate it, but come on over to find out why it was pivotal for me.
Our topic at SFF Seven this week is How long is your TBR list? The answer for me is easy to give. Come on over to find out more!
I lied a little in the comments this morning.
That’s what the comments section is for, right? Right??
Okay, no – I exaggerate. But one of my SFF Seven group-blogmates posted this morning about how much he loves the Star Trek franchise books, especially a particular set. We’re talking this week about books that people might be surprised we love. He certainly surprised me – and I commented that I’ve never gotten into reading any of the franchise books, meaning the books spun off movies and TV shows like Star Wars and Star Trek.
Which is largely true, but not precisely so.
See, I did try to read one, a long, long time ago, in a mall chain bookstore far, far away. It was not long after Star Wars Episode IV came out, which my parents took me to see on the big screen, dragging me along to their choice of movie as they always did, which then absolutely lit up my world. In the ensuing years – there were three years in real time between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back – I became addicted to Star Trek reruns on TV after school, discovered Anne McCaffrey wasn’t the only fantasy writer, and spent a lot of time and allowance money at that mall chain bookstore. Maybe it was a B. Dalton?
At any rate, I was dying to know What Happened Next in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back was YEARS away, and I spotted a Star Wars BOOK.
I tell you, angels wept.
I bought the slim paperback – I bet it wasn’t more than 200 pages – and eagerly began to read. What had happened to Leia, Luke and Han?? Well. The opening scene (or one of them) took place in some kind of pawn shop and culminated in a light saber (?) being thrust into a guy’s eye and bloody pulp flying everywhere. Then… I can’t even remember, but people were doing Wrong and Weird things. The characters weren’t like they were in the movie. It might have been that Leia, Luke and Han weren’t even IN it.
Angels were not amused.
This was long before I understood that a canon could be riffed upon. The book might have been written “in the world,” or – who knows? – might not even have been authorized. I have no idea now who wrote it or much more about it than the eye pulp flying everywhere.
Plus, that the story didn’t deliver anything like the movie had, and I was already well-aware that books are always better than the movie.
So, I never read another. That one book filled me with such loathing that I wrote off all franchise books as anathema. Now I’m wondering what I’ve missed…
What about all of you – do you read franchise books like this? Are there any you LOVE that I should check out???
I loved these words so much, I just had to Word Swag them. Batya Ungar-Sargon messaged them to me about my book, UNDER CONTRACT. We met when she took my workshop on consent at the RT Convention and then she asked to use that material for this terrific article she wrote on romance and feminism.
My favorite bit? “Graceful in its fealty to genre.” It’s a distressingly far too widely held opinion that writing romance is easy. The genre is derided for its highly defined tropes and inevitable happy ending. It’s true that romance readers have definite expectations – but that means it’s more difficult to write, not easier. Telling a good story, the story you want to tell, while adhering to the tropes is a delicate dance. Thus, “graceful in its fealty to genre” is one of the best accolades ever.
“Incredibly written” is pretty nice, too.
I want to talk a bit today about the Top X lists. You know the ones I mean. “The Top 100 Best Books of the Century.” “The Top Ten Fantasy Books Every Woman Should Read.” Etc, etc.
They’re proliferating more than ever because of sites like Buzzfeed, Salon and Huffington Post, which thrive on numbered lists of all kinds. Lists get clicks. Numbered lists are one of the favored varieties of Clickbait out there right now.
Writers and readers are constantly encouraged to name their “Top Whatever” lists. Favorite book, favorite author, favorite book boyfriend. For writing guest posts and articles, making lists like this can be a fairly fast and easy way to go.
I, however, think they’re dangerous.
That’s what I said – and I don’t think I’m overstating. This is why.
To me, this is another exercise in the inevitable interview question posed to anyone who’s had a microphone thrust in their face: What book is on your beside table? (A phrasing I love because they’re not actually asking “What are you reading?” and – maybe this is just me – my bedside table is a kind of TBR pile purgatory, where books can languish for years, quietly gathering dust and sneering at my procrastination.) Equally inevitable, the person will respond with A Tale of Two Cities or some such. Seriously, I considered it a drinking game there for a while, how many celebrities, politicians and other interview-friendly folks cited reading A Tale of Two Cities.
Of course, maybe it’s that everyone *starts* the book, because we all feel we SHOULD read it, and then every last one of us ditches it in bedside table purgatory because the damn thing is so stiflingly dull. (Yes, I tried to read it. Stalled on page 121, marked with a 1992 bookmark. It’s back on the bookshelf, though.)
If they don’t say A Tale of Two Cities, then it’s Great Expectations or War and Peace or Moby Dick. Right? Because everyone wants to sound smart. No one is going to say Robin McKinley’s Shadows, which is the book currently languishing on my bedside table, or Molly O’Keefe’s Everything I Left Unsaid, which I’m currently devouring on the Kindle. At any rate, all of this is evidence of the ongoing conflict between what we think we should read and what we actually read.
These lists, then, tend to reinforce the “should read” side of things, which is to say, the surface, social version, rather than the reality. In fact, many of the lists include “should” in the title, creating an onus by their very existence. Worse, because people who compose the lists want to look smart and well-read, they all tend to include the same books. The ones everyone cites as being the ones to cite.
See how this cycle perpetuates?
Maybe saying this is dangerous IS putting it a tad strongly. But I do think it’s counterproductive, continues to elevate the same group of books – which creates homogeneity – and reinforces snobbery.
Read what you want to read!
I’m over at Word Whores this fine summer Sunday, talking about the vast vagaries of my To-Be-Read list, what I’ve recently finished and what’s up next!
This time of year in Santa Fe, we can get gorgeously warm days. On Tuesday we ate lunch on the patio in shirtsleeves and the kitties stalked the restless gophers. Good times were had by all. Of course, today it’s cold, stormy and overcast, but I’m ensconced in my cozy chair with a teapot on the warmer and life is still good.
A funny thing – I use Tweetdeck to sort my Twitter feeds, to help manage the flow of information. I also have columns devote to searches for mentions of my name or of my book titles, so I can see when people are talking about them. A couple of my titles overlap with album titles – particularly THE TALON OF THE HAWK and COVENANT OF THORNS. I think this is kind of cool, that I title musically, in a way.
The upshot is I see conversations – and fan enthusing – about these, especially Talon of the Hawk by The Front Bottoms. I’d never heard of this band, but I impulsively bought the album so I could listen, since we have this serendipitous artistic overlap. I like it. And wow – do other people love, love, love this album! People tweet about it all the time, say how he listened to it over and over, sang all the song with her sister on a road trip and expressing all the love. They discuss how awesome this album is. And tons of them want to get tattoos of the knife on the album cover.
It just makes me think.
Readers do this to an extent, but not nearly so many and not to the same extreme. I think there are a few reasons for this. A lot more people listen to music than read books. In 2013, 76% of American adults had read at least one book during the year and the typical American reads five books a year. Compare that to the stat that the average American listens to four hours of music a DAY. An enormous difference, huh?
Also music is social in a way that books tend not to be. Listening to music can be a gregarious event, from singing while road-tripping with your sister to attending a massive stadium rock concert. Books, even if we discuss them at length, tend to be a fairly solitary experience with a huge internal involvement.
I clipped this quote from Kurt Cobain once, which I have not been able to find. It’s probably floating aimlessly around in some forsaken file folder. At any rate, it’s amazing because he’s talking to an author about how he imagines readings are like rock concerts, with screaming fans and a mosh pit. It’s kind of adorable, how mistaken he is – and also enlightening. I read it and thought, why CAN’T it be like that? Wouldn’t it be great if it was?
I dunno – maybe I’m dreaming. What do you guys think?