So, about three months ago, the brain fog began to lift, and I started reading again. Not being able to read, when reading used to be like breathing, is rather unpleasant.
My husband ventured out into the wide world (so I wouldn’t have to) and paid my library fines (because I always have them), and I checked out ten ebooks (from home). Ebooks are safe because they just expire, saving me from fees that amount to the price of buying the books themselves. Plus, I don’t have to physically return them to the brick and mortar library in the brick and mortar world.
But, ebooks have their drawbacks as well. Once I get used to reading them, I feel compelled to handle paper books with kid gloves for fear of ruining or marking these precious, now decorative, items in any way. And, not being able to flip around to figure out what I missed or find what I have forgotten is beyond frustrating. Yes, ebooks can be searched, but my spatial, visual memory far outstrips my narrative memory, and if I can’t remember exactly what I’m looking for, it’s hard to search for it digitally.
Anyway, with my fines paid and virtual library card in hand, I gave these books a try:
- The Sparrow: A Novel, Mary Doria Russell (Jesuits in space—hey, cool, right? No.)
- Children of God, Mary Doria Russell (sequel to the above, read it anyway)
- Ship of Fools, Richard Paul Russo (potential not reached)
- [I don’t remember the rest, probably because I didn’t actually read them.]
Now, I love scifi, but I don’t like fantasy or werewolves in London or aliens in top hats. Alternate histories used to be political and fun, but now we have wooden ships sailing through the solar system on the aether—it has become pure fantasy. Nor do I like the MFA-generated, forced postmodernism that has infected the genre like a disease (a topic for another day). All of these are de rigueur now, dominating publishing and therefore filling bookstores and libraries.
Even beyond all of that, I can’t get past most authors’ writing style or approach. I would love to be able to read popular authors, but as much as I want to, I can’t. Not even established authors with wildly popular contemporary classics. Loved Hardwired, by an author you’ve probably never heard of, but I can’t get past the first page of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
Over the past three months, I tried these beloved new classics, but to no avail:
- The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett (walking luggage, got a third of the way through)
- Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (opening with a drunk guy sitting in a gutter just doesn’t hook me)
- Neuromancer, William Gibson (not interested in future drug culture, could not get past that—also not sure about that first sentence, either genius or truly awful and unfortunately dated because that color is now uninterrupted, solid black)
And those were the ones that initially passed the first-page-and-flip-through test.
Managed to get through by force:
- Dream Paris, Tony Ballantyne
- Dream London, also Tony Ballantyne
Read and liked:
- The Martian, Andy Weir (no surprise there)
I also read a couple of short stories, but I’m more of a novel person, so no joy.
At this point, I am tired of trying to read things that I should like. I have decided to rebel against the tyranny of popularity and read whatever the fuck I want (like I used to). Following the stream would make my life much easier, but what I like most is literature (scifi and literature are not mutually exclusive). But, and this is the real catch, I hate postmodernism. I’ve read many of the classics, but it would be nice to read contemporary highbrow scifi without convoluted, bullshit narrative gimmicks ruining what could be a good story. Yes, you have an English lit degree—good for you, now go away.
Actually, what I like best is speculative fiction, especially dystopian.
Some of my favorite scifi authors (in no particular order):
- Philip K. Dick (writing style an acquired taste, but well worth the effort)
- Ray Bradbury (lyric language, poetry to the ears)
- Ursula K. Le Guin (timeless)
- George Orwell (no explanation)
- H.G. Wells (remarkable ideas for his time)
See how dated these are? Why do I care? Because I feel like I’m missing out on innovation in language, thought, technique, and vision. When postmodern fiction is well written and seemingly integral to the storytelling, it can be wondrous (although it can be argued that some older postmodern scifi is actually modernist). The same can be true for urban fantasy when done right. To be fair, I think certain subject matter and techniques work better in movies or on TV than on the page, especially when visual elements take the place of or complement non-traditional narrative style (e.g., Blade Runner, Naked Lunch, A Scanner Darkly).
The only contemporary scifi author I really like (that I can think of) is Jack McDevitt. I guess I like a side of mystery with my contemporary scifi (plus, space archeology!).
So, I hereby vow to stop reading (or trying to read) books that I think I should be reading (recent, popular) and just read what I want, no matter how old, unpopular, literary, or modernist they may be. And, I’m going to stop feeling inadequate because I don’t like new or innovative story-telling.
But, despite my pledge, I’m sure I’ll find myself trying to muddle through Vellum, Dhalgren, 1Q84, and Snow Crash. And, you’ll still find me rereading The Left Hand of Darkness, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Foucault’s Pendulum for some time to come.
Obviously, I really didn’t get much reading done in the past three months, but, hey, at least I did read, instead of just thinking about reading. My brain comes and goes, but when it’s here, I do try to make use of it.