Move to the new house complete, I now enjoy a thirty-five plus minute drive to work, usually more on the way home. This leaves me with some time to pass while in traffic. I’m sure there are many options. But I did not hesitate. Once the move was scheduled, I hit the library for books on compact disc.
This commute gives me at least an hour a day of reading time. Or, at least, being read to time. Others in traffic around me are frustrated, impatient, even angry. Me, I don’t even mind failing to make the yellow light. It’s an extra minute of story.
Let me tell you tales of labor of high adventure. Or, maybe not. I mean, you’ve got your Labors of Hercules. But let’s face it, those weren’t so much lunch pail jobs as they were quests. And Hercules was hardly a blue collar fellow.
There is Sam. Samwise Gamgee, that is. He provides, probably, the quintessential exemplar of the working class hero. A gardener on a heroic quest. A participant at least. The only of the Fellowship with a job. The rest of the Fellowship consisted of aristocrats or demigods. Good work, if you can get it.
Garrett, P.I. is self-employed. In fact, he’s employed as little as possible, preferring to loaf rather than labor. And now that he’s got people on his payroll, he is management, not labor. The boss.
Neither Conan, Fafhrd, or the Gray Mouser ever worked a steady job if they could help it. Why would we want them to? Those of us bringing home a paycheck who also read heroic fiction do so to forget about the job for awhile. We don’t want to read about Conan’s day at the office, or the Gray Mouser’s panel van breaking down along his route. We want to read about them breaking heads in a tavern brawl.
Look, there is nobility in work, in doing your job well and taking care of your family financially. But it isn’t the stuff of legend. I understand there is a market for business novels in Japan. Good for them, but I can’t say it sparks my interest. No, when I get home from work I’d rather open a book to swashbuckling adventure, not to salary negotiation and the copier malfunctioning again.
So happy Labor Day, all. Have a cold one, toss a dog on the grill, and read a tale of high adventure.
In the grand scheme of the things, the sweeping panorama of mankind’s struggles, it isn’t much of a problem. “Minuscule” gives it too much credit. But this is my web log and I’ll complain if I want to.
Seems to happen to me every time. I reserve a couple of books at the library, even putting the hold on different days or even weeks. But inevitably both books arrive for pick up AT THE SAME TIME. Grrr. Usually new releases as well, meaning I’m allowed less time to read them. C’mon library. I’m not single anymore. I’ve got a wife and kid. I can’t just come home from work, plop down on the couch and read until 2AM. (If I did, I imagine I’d find myself single again pretty damn quick.)
I’m considering reviews today, from the perspective of both a reader and a writer. What value is there in a review?
On-line we find two prominent sources of reviews: Goodreads and Amazon. There are a plethora of other sources on the web for reviews, but the two aforementioned are the big dogs, the Siskel and Ebert, the Statler and Waldorf. Is there any value to us as readers in these reviews? I don’t recall being swayed by a review on either site to either purchase or bypass a book. What about you? Does either site influence your decision making?
Goodreads seems primarily a collator of numerical evaluations, readers moved enough to provide a rating on a scale of one to five, but not sufficiently motivated to describe their reactions. There is the virtue of simplicity in that. A large enough aggregate can provide a snapshot of the general reaction to a book. But as a reader that fails to move my needle one way or the other. And as a writer, I question whether Goodreads reviews drive book purchases. Have any of you seen the average review numbers for one of my books and said to yourself “The reaction to this is overall favorable. Based on this trend I will download a copy of this book to my Kindle.”
Amazon strikes me as similar to Goodreads. But since it requires some sort of written response in addition to the facile assignment of a number, any given book will have fewer reviews than on Goodreads. As a reader, in theory a collection of arguments pro and con should help guide me. But I don’t think that in practice I’ve ever read a book because of Amazon reviews. As a writer, Amazon reviews can provide a positive influence on sales. Not because the reviews influence readers, but because the reviews influence Amazon. Once a threshold of positive reviews is reached, the Amazon algorithms decide that customers are really purchasing this, triggering a ramping up of advertising. So, yay Amazon reviews, I guess.
The reviews that have convinced me to pick up a book come from independent sites, sites that aren’t primarily review sites, or that cover more territory than simply book reviews. Blackgate, for example. Or a personal web log, written by someone whose taste in literature appears to largely overlap with mne.
Is mine a common experience? Or am I an outlier on this?
I admit that I get around to reading certain influential, well-regarded, even seminal books rather late. Given finite time, the truth is many of them I’ll give a miss entirely. Better late than never, goes the axiom, a truism that’s probably circumstantial in application. In the circumstance at issue, it holds up.
“What are you babbling about,” you ask? Fair question. I’m on the cusp of sickness, and feeling a bit loopy, so it’s likely I’m meandering. This is what I’m babbling about:
I’ve nearly completed re-reading “The Worm Ouroboros,” E.R. Eddison’s underappreciated masterpiece. It is a mine worth delving into again, its depths not fully plumbed, its treasures still unmeasured. If I haven’t made myself clear, I love it. The villains are Shakespearean, complex and fascinating. The heros are Homeric, grandly larger than life, embodiments of virility and arete. The language is gorgeous, archaically poetic.
An aside: I know Tolkien read and appreciated “The Worm Ouroboros” despite Eddison’s philosophy, as espoused in the book, being antithetical to Tolkien’s. But I wonder how deeply “The Lord of the Rings” was inspired by “Worm,” if at all. I mention it, because while reading a description in “Worm” of a mustering of troops I was reminded of the scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring” when Pippen is watching the arrival of soldiers before the siege of Gondor, the description of the men, the naming and characterization of the leaders, their homes, etc. A side by side comparison would be interesting, I think.
I’m also in the last third of Steven Brust’s most recent Vlad Taltos novel, “Hawk.” “Hawk” is about as stylistically far away as it is possible to be from “Worm.” It is written in first-person smart ass. It is terse, sarcastic. Descriptions are sparse. The language is colloquial, contemporary. If I haven’t made myself clear (and I probably haven’t) I love it.
There are many who cannot appreciate “Worm.” The prose is too dense, too purple. The speech is stilted, unnatural. And he who requires a novel to reaffirm his socio-political convictions will not make it through the first fifty pages.
There are many who cannot appreciate the Vlad Taltos books. The prose does not conform to some readers’ notions of what period fantasy should be. It is unabashedly contemporary. He who requires immersion in faux-historical language will not make it through the first page (though this particular reader might enjoy the “Phoenix Guard” novels.)
Me, I love the gamut. I look for a good story, and I don’t care if it is vintage or modern. So I’ve got that going for me.
Hobbits are the quintessential homebodies. So it is no wonder that Professor Tolkien’s literary masterpiece includes one of the few examples in speculative fiction of a lovingly detailed home. Bag End is so finely realized that most of us would love to live there. That makes it a rarity. Homes in speculative fiction are usually jumping off points, or places characters are pleased to leave, or destroyed in order to compel the characters to leave. Homes are seldom longed for, or if they are, we take the character’s word for it, instead of vicariously experiencing that longing ourselves as we do with the Baggins’ cozy hole in the ground.
Christmas is behind you. The detritus of wrapping paper, bows, packing material, and boxes has been disposed of. The refrigerator is stuffed with leftovers. You hope to make enough room for party platters and bottles of champagne within a few days. The presents of clothing are washed, folded, and put away.
And now you’re looking forward to utilizing the best of the presents: the bookstore gift cards. What to buy? Relax, dear reader. I’m here to help.
Opinion time, readers. What is your preference, or perhaps tolerance, for the amount of description of places, things, physical appearance, etc. in fiction? Do you like to have an exacting rundown of what the characters look like, what the furniture in a room looks like and how it is arranged, and what everyone is wearing? Or do you tend to skip the descriptive paragraphs and scan down the page until the action recommences?