it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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52-book challenge update, and things that annoy me about literature.

Please note, these two things are not to be taken as connected.

1.  Charles Stross, Accelerando (the posthuman FAQ is the funniest bit of SFgeek I've read since that Agnostic's Prayer in Creatures of Light and Darkness. Also, the book made my head feel too small.)

2.  Joey Comeau, Lockpick Pornography (The online version. I need to order the dead tree book so I can read the additional three chapters. I liked this. It's funny and sharp and it's not, you know, a world-changing book, but it's a tolerant book (the protag isn't tolerant--the book is) and I'll forgive a lot of sins for narrative big-heartedness.)

3.  Leslie Silbert, The Intelligencer (and only sheer cussedness got me to finish it. Not only is it badly written, in that heavyhanded thriller omniscient that is sort of entertaining when you get it from Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton (their other failings aside) but nobody else seems able to keep from becoming drudgery to read, but the MarySueness only occasionally stops for a long dull passage of exposition. Also, it's a bit creepy how thoroughly the author's bio on the back of the book lines up with the protagonist's. On the other hand, the bit where Mary Sue Kate explains what I rather suspect was Ms. Silbert's thesis in the history of science--before it was assigned to her protag--is kind of neat. Also, there are plot twists in this thing that are just too contrived to contemplate.)

4. Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. (second attempt to get through this one. Apt characterizations, interesting worldbuilding, author trying way too hard with the silly voices in a manner that impedes the plot to a standstill, OMG the 20something post-teen angst and Painful Hipness to profound tiresomosity. I would probably like this a lot more if I were twelve years younger.)

And now, I want to talk about things that I wouldn't mind seeing less of in literature.

1) Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs good; people who romanticize Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs bad. (Actually, Kerouac annoys me when read in bulk, because he comes across as so fscking self-satisfied, but I'm not going to ding him on literary merit for that, for reasons I'll explain below.)

This is a pocket example of a pervasive problem. To wit, if you write something reasonably raw and honest and genuinely emotionally difficult, there are going to come along later people who idolize it, and who romanticize it. And they're going to imitate it. And when they do, they're going to take out the difficult bits and make everything tidy and pretty and safe. Not intentionally, but because they're creating a second-remove, sort of digested version, with the sticky uncomfortable bits taken out.

The problem is, the sticky uncomfortable bits are the part that make it art.

2) Because a story is about middle-class white angst does not make it literature. (I'm looking at you, John Irving.)

2a.) This does not mean that stories about middle-class white angst are by definition not literature.

3) Because a book provides a window into an interesting and colorful subculture, that does not make it literature either.

3a) See 2a, above.

Which I think ties into what we will refer to henceforth as the Ginsberg Problem, see 1 above. To wit, Ginsberg writing about what Ginsberg writes about is pretty gobsmacking. Somebody who idolizes Ginsberg and romanticizes the Beats and then tries to write about them is already looking at the material through a filter, and fuzzy focus looks pretty, but it kills detail and specificity and individuation.

So, yanno. Romanticization bad. But also, what John Gardner refers to as "disPollyanna syndrome"--the trendy habit of making everything out to be icky and nasty and 'orrible because that's literary, also bad. Because that's a blurry filter, too. Sharp ugliness must (usually) be counterpointed with sharp beauty to be truly effective.
Tags: 52 book challenge, literary wank
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