I’m not actually writing this post about a particular book–it’s more about an idea.
There are a collection of authors who are on a number of bloggers and readers and journals “must read” lists. For fans or writers of speculative fiction that list undoubtedly includes Ursula LeGuin, Walter Wangerin, Gene Wolfe. But I’m not buying it.
Some months ago, a blogger wrote an article about why Christians should read horror. I’m not buying that either.
Call me snapped, but I don’t want to read stuff that is dragging my mind and heart into despair, and I’m not planning on reading that kind of book ever again if I can avoid it. I’ve tried.
I hefted myself through a number of “Christian horror” titles, and yes, there were messages of redemption toward the end, following pages and pages of ritual pagan human sacrifice, loss, and grief or fear and madness. I’m not buying the idea that my life is richer for having read those books, or that my spiritual eyes are open wider, or that I understand the world better.
I’ve also tried reading The Book of the Dun Cow, a title that appears on any number of best book lists. I stopped on page 136. That’s more than half way through (my copy has 246 pages). And I’ll tell you, by nature I’m a finisher. I’ve finished my share of bad books simply because I started them.
As it happened, the place in the story where I stalled is at least two pages of the animals coming:
The Foxes had come from the north. The Ants, like thought, had come from anywhere. Now, out of the east and wet with the sticky water of the Liver-brook, Otters rumbled into the yard, scooting chaos into the Antian dignity which had preceded them, snapping left and right like a hundred fish, altogether unrestrained by the gravity of the Council, playing games . . . Animals brown and soft, animals quick and gray, animals ruddy, animals black and melancholy, animals with piercing, suspicious eyes, animals plumed and animals pelted, winged animals and those footed for the ground, the fleet and the contemplative, the leapers and the dodgers and the crawlers and the carriers, the racers and the trotters . . . (pp. 135-137)
It keeps going, but I didn’t. There’s a point where I say, I’m not buying it. This book is supposed to be so deep, so profound, so great an example of stellar, literary writing, but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon. I’m just not.
I’ve tried reading A Wizard of Earthsea, too. This is one every fantasy writer is supposed to read, and I’ve started it, at least three times, I think, and I still have it on my to-be-read pile as if I will some day try once again and succeed. But really, should a “must read” be that hard to get into? Judging from my bookmark, I actually made it to p. 37 the last time I made the effort. And maybe I’ll give it another try some day. After all, it is fantasy, and it has maps.
I’ll admit, I even had a hard time with Out of the Silent Planet, book one in C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy when I reread it a couple years ago, and I haven’t picked up the other two books since. So maybe it’s me.
Or maybe contemporary fiction–21st Century Fiction, writing instructor Donald Maass calls it–has spoiled me for the old style. I don’t want to read books that meander or digress, but I also don’t want to read books that wallow in angst or fear or despair.
I’m just not buying it any more. These books can win all the awards out there and have other writers praising them to the hilt, but I’m not buying the idea any more that the best books are the ones I don’t like to read.