Monday, April 05, 2010

Reading

Fiction
Some friends have put unfair pressure on me to give fiction another stab. Grrrr. There are some authors I can tolerate- George MacDonald Fraser, for instance. But he's done so much research it might as well be a textbook. Only more fun. The series my friends have recommended (read, "insisted on") are classics in the speculative literature field.
It's been a hard plow. One of my gripes about fiction in general and the fantasy/SF subgenre in particular is that the things that should make fiction fun boil down to sex and violence... and most write as if they have never been in a fight. And only had sex with a partner once.
If someone is going to have sex with a multi-breasted ancient shape-shifting undead demoness of seduction it should be at least as good as the sex I'm used to. C'mon writers, it's called imagination. The best sex you can imagine should not fall so far below the real thing.

And, generally, they write sex far better than they write violence. 'Nuff said.

Still, the man has a way with language. Unexpected turns of phrase or strange references made me chuckle a couple of times. In a way it reminded me of Nelson Algren. Not to the same level, of course. Algren did things with the language in his writing that could be so powerful and be completely unnoticed (some of the paragraphs work perfectly as metered poetry and it doesn't distract or draw attention).

Classics
Gave a challenge to some students to read a book they wouldn't normally pick up, something from a section of the library or bookstore that is unfamiliar to them. If they do it, I kind of have to, right? So I'm 3/4 of the way through "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Sigh. Heavy sigh. What evidently passed for cynical wit in the day just seems snide and self-involved now. The things intimated as horribly corrupt and evil wouldn't shock a tenth-grader. There was a murder, finally. Maybe it will distract the point of view character from describing brocades and clothing, but I doubt it.

Non-Fiction
"Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life" is a constant challenge. It's the kind of thing I've been writing about lately from an entirely different point of view. It's really hard for me to stay on point with this. There is good stuff here and the basic formula is workable... but it hits so many of my buttons. The rich, privileged and wiser-than-thou preaching to the unwashed heathens... and I can't help but believe that if the author had ever met one of the people in my list of unwashed heathens he would run. But his idea of unwashed heathens appears to start at anyone who works for a living. You know, sweats and gets hands dirty. What an Arab would call a fellahin.
This voice and attitude seem very common with the professional mediators and peace-makers for hire (so many of them and it seems that they account for about 0% of what little peace actually gets made). I think it might be time for a blue-collar, version of peace and understanding, coming from some people with scars on their knuckles...

20 comments:

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Sorry, bad typo: Try again:

Well. You could try reading some fiction written in this century. Might be, I dunno, a tad more up-to-date.

(And I'd be interested as to what constitutes unfair pressure ... ?)

Anonymous said...

OK.

Try Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A personal favorite.

-Egad

Eric

Kai Jones said...

To contradict the previous poster (Eric): nothing by Orson Scott Card. His bag of tricks is all child abuse and any child abuse is justified if it is the means to an end.

I won't make new suggestions. There's one book that I've thought you'd enjoy ever since I read it, and I told you about it a couple of years ago.

jks9199 said...

I personally enjoy L. E. Modessitt's books. My guess is you might enjoy a few of them (The Forever Hero trilogy, the Ecolitan series, Octagonal Raven, Flash... among others). A couple of common themes are that power isn't without a price, and personal responsibility for actions. Not a lot of sex in his books... at least on stage. Violence is there, and while some of it has it's problems -- it's not terrible in my opinion. Take that for what it's worth... I like that his books make me think -- and that heroes aren't perfect.

Elias said...

Ender's game is also a personal favourite of mine, but I can definitely see what Kai Jones means.

Dune, by Frank Herbert is another personal favourite of mine.

In both cases, the violence isn't written that well, but the narrative, in my opinion, is good.

Illogic said...

I personally like Neal Stephensons brand of sci-fi, but instead of recommending a book I'll just post a short story. It gives you a taste whiteout taking hours to read after all.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,982610-1,00.html

Anonymous said...

I stand by Ender's Game. I can understand your POV, but I think,

"His bag of tricks is all child abuse and any child abuse is justified if it is the means to an end." Is a bit of a broad generalization.

I first read it when I was around 10 or 11 and have enjoyed the entire series. To each their own.

-Egad

Anonymous said...

Ender's Game is a classic, and I think the critique of OSC is rather unfair. Mind, he is extremely right wing and that comes across in some of his writings heavy-handedly , but not especially in that one.

Mind, there IS a lot of bad writing out there. Some of it is not even fun at all.

-Robert E.

Toby said...

Fiction is something I also RARELY read, but for fun and authors who 'play' with language and imagination well, I'd look at Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchet :)

Anonymous said...

All literature gets "timed out".but I like Balzac, also Guy De maupassant " Bel Ami" is still contemporary IMHO.......I've never read Dr.Faustus by Marlowe but I love the film ( on U-Tube).bits and bobs get outdated in everything but somethings remain true...you just have to understand what the author implied , in some cases.rather than stated directly.............lots to read, lote to undersatnd and learn

Jorvik

Johnny Abacus said...

If you like well researched fiction, you might be interested in the historical fiction Dorothy Dunnett writes. I particularly like the Lymond series.

Frank said...

Charles De Lint's, "The Onion Girl" is brilliant. Eiji Yoshikawa's, "Musashi," is another favorite of mine. Richard Morgan's, "Market Forces," was really good, too.

Frank said...
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Joe Callahan said...

I'm not a big fan of fiction either but you might want to give Patrick O'Brien a read sometime. The Aubrey-Maturin novels seem to be something people either love or hate to read without much in-between but I enjoyed them.

Anonymous said...

If you have too much experience of good sex and bad violence?

Niven's short stories. Puzzle stories, numerate, funny.

Sherlock Holmes. Check out the Baring-Gould annotated Sherlock Holmes from the library.

Barbara Hambly. New Orleans, 1830s.

And, yes, George MacDonald Fraser. Nobody before or since comes close, and he's not just 'as good as a textbook' you imbecile, textbooks are written so you enlisted swine can affect to understand what your betters (him) are talking about.

Bruce

Irene said...

Rory,

Given that most authors- in fact most people- have little experience with violence, how would you advise them to learn to write it? You have, if I understand you right, previously advised fiction authors not to try to extrapolate from their own limited experience with conflict or loss because it is so different from physical violence as to be non- transferable, so what would you suggest?

Frank said...

"Virtual Light," by William Gibson is another favorite.

Anything by Haruki Murakami. (He reminds me of J.D. Salinger.)

Also, for some uproariously funny, totally outrageous stuff, try Tim Dorsey. Tim Dorsey's stuff is what might have been the product if Hunter S. Thompson and Carl Hiaasen had stayed up all night guzzling whiskey and doing 8-balls of coke, and then said, "HEY! Let's write a NOVEL!!" Hahahaha..

Frank said...

Also, John Steakley's, "Armor."

TM said...

Regarding the comments about Dorian Gray, I assert we read old books to learn about the history of style in English prose. It helps any writer to do so. Yes, the content may date itself, but how it is written may still teach us something about a well-turned phrase or the richness of our frequently neglected vocabulary. The English language has a long tradition of prose styles that conveys many moods and sensibilities. It is worth a read.