Occasionally, people send me articles because they think it’s amusing when I read something stupid and turn into Mr. Shouty and yell at the world quite a lot about the utter bunk that I’ve just read. You can imagine the nonsense I got when people started touting The Truth Behind Da Vinnie Code, by Dan Whodat. Those have faded, blessedly.
But I got this article, earlier this morning. An article on non-reading, talking about the subject with approval, which, as someone who advocates reading in the strongest sense, is one of those subjects that should make me shouty.
But it didn’t. Mostly, I read it and waffled back and forth between grumpy at it, disagreeing, and thinking about it with an inclination toward taking them to be right. And then I got to this bit:
Bayard’s approach is Derridean: a focus on the relation between objects and the systems that support these. He perceives books themselves as a ‘system’, important only in so far as they are received within society: the gossip that they generate; the ideas that they spawn; the conflicts that they provoke. ‘Relations among ideas are far more important than the ideas themselves,’ he insists. Thus, it is only ever necessary to get a rough sense of what any particular book is about – and where to place it in the ‘collective library’.
(The bold is for emphasis)
And it’s very interesting, and something that I’m puzzling over, to no real end. It’s interesting to perceive books as a system, and the value of each book is only measurable by what they generate as fallout, such as the gossip, the ideas, the conflicts. I go back and forth on whether or not I agree on the idea of it all (“Books are good for just sheer joy and entertainment, too,” says one voice in my head. “Well, yes,” says another, “But what good is a book that is fluffy entertainment but doesn’t leave you with anything at all, not an idea, a view, a thought process, not anything?”)
Anyway, it’s an interesting article.
I have mentioned Jeremy, my friend down the hall, on this blog before. A few weeks ago, when we were all out to dinner, he mentioned in passing that he’d enjoy getting to read a little, again. He read when he was younger, when he was twelve, or younger still, but life and school and the general mess of the world put an end to that. His interests shifted, he never really got back into it. I suggested that maybe I’d try to turn something out of my library of books that he’d like, and he said it was a good idea.
So I stewed for several days. I put a helluva lot of thought into it. You would think I was trying to solve the riddle of the origin of the species, or what the hell sort of language the Nubian empire spoke (have you ever read about the Nubian empire? You should. It’s astonishing. But I digress.) Anyway, I finally settled on a book.
I got Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things down off the shelf. I thought short stories would be the perfect reintroduction to someone who hasn’t read in while. And Neil Gaiman is good, because he writes in a clear, approachable style. I’m hesitant to say that, because it almost sounds like I was trying to pick “easy,” or “simple” writing for Jeremy, which is far from the truth. He is quite a lot smarter than I am, there’s no question of him needing to read “simple.” But at the same time, if you’re trying to come back into reading for pleasure again, perhaps you don’t want to start off with Gene Wolfe, with Colleen McCollough’s several-thousand-page-epics, you see? I waffled for a bit between Gaiman and Stephen King, who also has fine short story collections, and then settled on Gaiman.
I went through the book and picked stories that I thought were good starting points. Even Neil sometimes gets a little more oblique than can be casually read (though, once figured out, they are a delight). For example, A Study in Emerald works if you’ve read Sherlock Holmes, OR it works if you’ve read Cthulu mythos stories. But if you haven’t read either one, the story still works on a pure detective level, but you won’t see what the fuss is about, you see?
So I picked stories and wrote them down. The deeply, deeply disturbing Feeders and Eaters, and the delightful Sunbird, and even the poem The Day the Saucers Came. And, because Jeremy has a strong punk-music-culture background, How to Talk to Girls At Parties, which is such a fun story.
He read ’em. He liked ’em. It made me happier than anything else in the previous two weeks. (Which is probably going to weird him out if he chances across this blog entry, but I don’t care, I am delighted. Some things are worth doing straight off, and that was one of them.)
Now, I have to decide what ELSE to attack him with. There’s always Neil’s other short story collection, Smoke & Mirrors. And there’s either Anansi Boys or American Gods or…now that I just start thinking about it…I wonder what he’d think of Good Omens.
I have to finish The Nondescript. Saying “I need the money from it,” is a chump thing to say, down there with “I bought the magazine subscriptions, and I may already be a winner,” or even dumber phrases like, “Hi, I’m Bono from U2.” But I’m saying it anyway. And besides, I need to finish The Nondescript, because my next novel, a SF work called The Neon God has turned itself into a ready project in my head, and I want to get started on it. I’m looking forward to that one. It’s got a lot of things in it that I have long thought, but never said properly. Sharp-eyed readers (who are probably reading something better than my stuff) will see thematic similarities between The Neon God, and my robot series, God in the Machine. Or at least they would, if I’d ever gotten far enough into God in the Machine for the themes to start appearing.
Anyway, the point is, I need to finish writing some things. It does me no good sitting around and talking, and discussing writing, when I’m doing diddly.
So I’m heading offline. I’ll sporadically check my e-mail, because I can’t divest myself of that entirely (people I know rely on it), and I am available by phone, and my physical letter sent through the post, but that’s it. I at least need The Nondescript done before I feel worthwhile about being out in the world again.
I may be a little bit of time.