Robert N. Lee

Got bored with Song of Ice and Fire…

I finished the first four books a week or so ago, started on the new one and realized I was burnt out. And have been casting about, since, in reading time, reading short stories and bits of things, looking for something to get lost in when I want to get lost.

***

“Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors?”

A decade or so ago, my then-girlfriend read Watchmen and said “You should really read Middlemarch. It’s a big, sprawling mess about all the people who’d be the side characters in somebody’s else’s book, too.” (And this is the thing the unfortunate Watchmen movie lost, if you’ve only seen the movie, that makes it a sorry adaptation.)

I tried. I was not expecting to finish, I’d started The Mill On the Floss years before and given up. But the opening hooked me.

“Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind.”

What about all the other women before Theresa of Avila, and the ones who lived alongside her, and those since? The ones just as passionate and driven and whose lives never produced a crowning achievement or set of them deemed worthy of a popular legend? Aren’t they worth books, too, and aren’t those books worth reading?

Aren’t they, maybe, even the books most worth reading? If only because they are so rare?

***

Also, I had read quite a bit about Theresa of Avila before I read Middlemarch. Maybe that helped?

***

This is, really, the crux of the eternal and boring debate in genre lit about…”Quarter Pounders vs. filet mignon”…”slobs vs. snobs”…”privilege vs. passion”…whatever it’s being called on Livejournal or some message board full of wannabes who never will, this week. If you are an SF/F/H or comics or whatever fan at all, you have run into it. You have engaged in it, even. You are possibly on one side or the other.

Except there aren’t two sides, really. The “fight” is always more like one side jacking itself off and yelling at some straw person who writes for The New Yorker and hates Stephen King. Even though…The New Yorker has rather fallen in love with Stephen King in particular, the last decade or so. And everybody knows that, so that’s pretty stupid.

That’s the side that never reads out of one genre category, or never outside of some subgenre or another, whose reading tastes get set early to some easy marketing position and never, ever change.  A tip, though: don’t ever throw out the category “Romance” in front of the biggest “I’m oppressed by The Man who doesn’t think Star Trek tie-in novels are True Literachah” yeller, no matter their political or social whatever positions re: women. They will start hooting and hollering about what idiots those writers and readers are. Those present – mostly women – who read and write vampire romance or fantasy romance or whatever will stay mostly silent and justifiably offended. Funny how the biggest Egg McMuffin fan always has some other crappy treat that the truly lowbrow eat. Dude, you like McDonald’s better than Arby’s, that isn’t exactly a badge to wear with pride.

(And yes: I’m saying your ripping on Twilight, geek, is sexist and destructive, whatever the hell it is you think you’re doing, mocking what little girls read. Why don’t you go call them all fat to save them from anorexia while you’re at it, asshole? Oh wait, you do that already. And learn something about Mormons before you go ripping on Mormons over those books, too, while we’re at it. But you might have to read a book that isn’t about The Last Airbender for that, sorry.)

Anyway, this is fine, you can do that, stick to one thing you like to read about and read nothing but. The world is filled with so many books you’ll like that are all about vampires or vampire hunters or Japanese vampire hunters or gay Japanese vampire hunters, you’ll never get done with them all. And then there’s fanfic, lucky you!

But there are other people who write and read horror or skiffy or comic books, and their reading habits are more expansive than your own. They read other things, too. They read things they don’t necessarily like, even, or like at first. They read difficult things and old things and things that aren’t about…the things the vast majority of books are about.  They read long, occasionally dull non-fiction about how the minutiae of all the lives they’ll never experience themselves works. Maybe they learn another language just to read in, or three, or aren’t talking shit when they say they can do “research.”

The mere existence of such people infuriates many members of fandom. You don’t have to brag about your extracurricular reading, you just have to mention it, ever, and you will kick off a battle of butthurts. Like you were saying, just by having any opinion about Nabokov at all, “The books you and I have in common aren’t good enough.”

Which is clearly not your…er, my problem.  Of course I’m not saying that, or I wouldn’t be at this fucking con in a fucking Fourth Doctor costume, now would I?

***

I like stories about heroes. I saw every superhero movie this summer. I also like stories about nobody’s heroes. And the difference really is like Quarter Pounders vs. filet mignon, both of which I also enjoy, in different settings, at different times.

But filet is meat and a Quarter Pounder is a childish semblance of meat, and I figured that out a long time ago. The existence of better food was not an affront to me, I just tried better food, and found I liked it. Got to cook it, even, or assist, anyway, in some three and four star kitchens, when younger. Got to cook in an Asian restaurant and be taught that kind of cookery by immigrant cooks, once, too, because…I like food that isn’t Quarter Pounders. Enough to go get a job for a while cooking it, even.

That doesn’t make me better than you, if you didn’t do that or can’t cook to save your life. Nobody can do everything.

***

The love of my life is not a reader. At one point in my life, I could not have imagined this, loving someone this deeply who didn’t love books. Whatever, I’ve been involved with women who read as much as or more than me, before, and…this is where I’m staying.

She likes it when I read to her. She loves reading whatever I write. That’s awesome.

***

Life really is like an RPG or MMO, I find, in that…you have to pick your skill trees and grow them. You generalize too much, you may end up unfocused and useless to yourself and others. And everyone has the same limits of time, and varying limits of…drive, intelligence, curiousity, energy, ability, opportunity, etc.

Once, when I was much younger, I imagined that nobody intelligent was not a regular and habitual reader. I am now in my forties and cannot entertain such childish fantasies, I’ve lived too much for that. The world is full of people way smarter than I am who hate the very idea of reading for pleasure. I feel sorry for any geek my age who honestly doesn’t seem to know this, you must have limited your experience of intelligent people to…only people who are much like you as possible.

You pick your skill trees, you grow them. Maybe sometimes you blow some of your stored-up gold and put all your points into growing new trees, even. I have dedicated a lot of time and passion other people might to raising their children or being a dedicated employee who retires with a pension and a gold watch or building software or healing the sick or getting into management or rebuilding old Ford engines…to reading.

I make no claims to moral superiority, in this regard.  You might be a better parent, or a better dentist, or a better mechanic, or a better friend. You gave that more time than you did reading, good for you.

***

I’m a more dedicated reader. That’s all. And I know people who are way more dedicated and better and wider-read than I am. So it goes. I do have kids and jobs and…”a life.” As the frustrated and bitter saying goes, “I have a life,” when someone feels like they need to defend themselves because…they aren’t champion snowboarders who can fly or master wizards or psychic destroyers of worlds. The kinds of people they like to read about.

I like to read books about those people, too. I am still as much in love with ghosts and spaceships and time travel and dragons as I was as a kid. And I like to read books about you. People just like you. And me. Never going to be a saint or a star, but…never are Crowley’s words truer than when reading books like Middlemarch:

“Every man and woman is a star.
Every number is infinite; there is no difference.”

For realz, yo. They write books about that. “They” write science fiction and fantasy and horror and comic books like that. I’m pretty sure somebody wrote a book once, even, about people falling in love and first kisses that’s like that. You should really read some. Or…spend more time with your cats or your Xbox and be happy being somebody who is happy reading one kind of thing.

Have a life. You are a star, I never meant to say otherwise. Why would I want to read books about you reading books about vampires and playing with your cats and your Xbox, if that were not the case?

***

Anyway, I’m reading Middlemarch again. Yay. Next week maybe I’ll read some comic books.

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