Monday, September 9, 2013

Sorting the Books from the Chaff

I just had to return a book to the library when I was only halfway finished with it.

Well, it was over 1000 pages (1111, to be exact). Double-columned pages, with small print, which I suspect means more like 1500 real pages. Or so I felt while reading. It was a great book, but cumbersome for reading on mass transit--or anywhere, really.

I will plug that book because I see no reason not to: The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. If you like weird fiction you will find a lot of things to like there--I did! Stories by authors as varied as H P Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, M R James (no relation), Fritz Leiber (my favorite!), Leonora Carrington (a Surrealist painter!), Stephen King, Kelly Link, China Mieville, and just about any other author you can think of when the phrase "the Weird" is mentioned. Roughly, the book includes one story per year since 1900.

I got halfway through the book ... by skipping a bit. Yes, I will admit to skipping through some of the best known authors in the history of speculative fiction--I just won't say which ones.

I used to read everything I picked up from one cover to the other. That included acknowledgements and copyright pages (even though they were so boring! Yuck!). I had a sense of obligation to the task of reading--if it was to be undertaken, it must be completed as well. Don't you do a disservice to a book by not reading it all the way through? Even if it bores you to death? Just like a person, you have to give a book the benefit of the doubt and finish before declaring it a huge stinky waste of time and paper!

And then I realized there is way too much stuff in the world to read. Just because a book is a classic, or popular, or awesome, I don't have to finish it if it doesn't strike me. Maybe the first book I ever refused to read all the way was Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables when I was 14. Because I hated it, and his writing. I tried to read him again a few years ago and, no, I knew what I was doing the first time I put him down in disgust. Still don't like him.

Reading, I have come to decide, should be a matter of taste and not a duty or obligation. I wish I could read every classic back to The Aeneid and feel enriched by all of them--but there are just too many and I probably won't like 90% of them! This is why I consciously refused to be an English Major! Because, when enforced, reading is arduous! Majoring in it would probably ruin my enjoyment of reading.

As a writer, you are taught certain techniques for catching the attention of readers. Which means I am on the lookout for a catchy first sentence, a quick plunge into action, an obvious and interesting protagonist, when I start reading. If I don't find what I'm looking for, I skip. Well, I give it a couple pages first. Maybe 30 or so, if it's a novel.

So I should know better than to let others entice me to read something I don't care about and yet ... and yet in The Weird, I did. The editors promised a certain story to be groundbreaking, fascinating, and a complete renewal of the weird tale. Or something like that. So I read the whole 40-some pages (more like 50 real pages!!) even though I didn't understand or like it from page 1. Needless to say, I was irritated and frustrated by the ending. What can I say, that story just wasn't made for me, so I shouldn't have read it. It's not a matter of not giving someone a chance, but of simply being incompatible. That story and me were not a good fit.

And so I've come full circle, from reading it all no matter how drivelly, to reading for proper mechanics like an editor. Which isn't so bad, I suppose. Since there's so much out there to read, you really do have to sift and sort to find what you like. And there's no reason to read what you don't want to!

(Unless you're an English Major.)

No comments:

Post a Comment