Intellectual Infidelity

17 01 2007

I’m going to put off my promised entry about the cult of bibliophiles, and talk about something that occured to me this morning.  I’d like this to be an interactive entry because I am not of one mind on this.   My question is: can modern must-read Literature be defined by a group of elite reviewers?  (Essentially, do I really need to be a Literary snob with a Literary bookography to pretend that I know what I’m talking about?)

I have noticed lately that I fall into the stereotype of ‘readers of trash’ when classified by self-proclaimed intellectuals.  Also, reading this morning in Harper’s, New York Times, and other magazines with articles on the web that based on my library and on my Bookography over the years, that I am one of those who spends money on what is apparently the downfall of literate culture.  (I have taken this to mean ‘genre fiction’ such as modern mystery, romance, sci-fi, and fantasy novels.  If an author is dead, though, that automatically seems to classify them as worth reading.)

In school, I read all the required books and actually thought about them – but I still cannot say any of them changed my life.  In fact, Jurassic Park made me swear off Michael Chrichton in the 6th grade.  I feel like I’ve done my time of penance in the classics and the modern literature that will be a classic twenty years from now.  If I enjoyed it and was affected by it, wouldn’t I still be reading it?

On a side note, how has the word literature come to mean intellectual snobbery?  Literature is anything written, right?  You can find literature on the train schedule.  You can publish literature on company policies.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the capital “L” denotes a secret society of wannabe snobs that can only recognize each other by their Reader’s Digest vocabulary super-words and the fact that they can BS their way through a book conversation without ever letting on that they skimmed the book and read the book reviews online. 

Back on topic, I have long held the belief that a writer’s job was to connect with the reader.  The painter’s job was to connect with the viewer.  That communication, whether verbal, written, or visual, is not complete until feedback is given and an emotion is inspired.  Maybe this is a pop-psychology corporate training course’s idea – but somehow, I’ve made it through life believing this.

When I read a book I want to get into it.  I want to be immersed in a world that is not my own and I want the imagery to grab a hold of me and not let me put down the book until the back cover closes.  I don’t want just entertainment like the book snobs I read this morning suggested.  Reading is more than a ‘movie’ experience for me.  I come away with thoughts about the character’s growth and personality and personal beliefs.  I think about the way experiences shape how the characters view the world around them.  I want to know a little about their personal philosophy and how that dictates their reactions to events.

I want, for the few hours I’m involved with the author, for them to submerge me in a world that I can believe in. 

It seems to me that many authors realize that they are going to have to write into a space where every reader will bring their own experiences and beliefs into the lines between their words.  What I write here will not be interpreted by each reader identically.  If I want to be precise, my language had better be precise and well thought out.  If I want innuendo to exist and room for interpretation, I should think about what meanings I want to be attached and the best way to shape my words into what I want you to translate.  Your translation essentially makes my writing good, bad, or simply blah.  I want you to connect with me through an object as transient as a webpage and understand my heart, the world I have imagined, my experiences, and the world you let me pull you into for just a little while. 

In my fiction, I write the way I like to read.  I connect with my readers the same way I connect with authors I respond the best to.   In my non-fiction, I try and make my articles entertaining and informative – no one is going to learn anything if they are so bored that all they can think about is the most recent episode of 24.  In my blog entries, I want you to nod your head along even if you don’t agree with me (if only because you understand where I may be coming from) and feel welcome to comment. 

In all of those, I want a discussion either directly or inside the bounds of your mind.  I want my reader to say “why does she believe this?” or “why such an inflammatory statement?” and then keep reading to find out.  I want my readers to come away satisfied that they found what they were looking for.

I believe that these ideas of connection between the author and reader are where classic fiction and the elitist fiction does not catch me the right way.  (Visualize a fish caught by a hook through the eyeball.  That’s not the right way.)  I am fairly down to earth and I don’t appreciate people speaking over my head.  I actually understand what they’re saying, but why make it so complex?  Is it to make themselves look smarter or do these authors actually believe that using bigger words will make them more precise in their language? 

Literary Lingo, though, is not precise except to those elitists who thrive on tweed jackets, expensive cigars, and looking down their nose at the commoner.  I remember my mother refusing to let me say ‘discombobulate’ as a child because she did not believe I knew what it meant.  I did.  As a grown-up, I don’t believe she knew exactly what it meant but I do believe that she was saving me from playground ass-kickings.  I don’t think we as a culture ever grow out of hating show-offs.  

I do connect with popular genre fiction when it is well written.  I am in my own right a snob, but that’s because I hold an author to the standard that I expect.  I will not put a lot of energy in pushing myself under the water to find an author’s written world.  I figure that if I can read at a post-graduate school level that authors worth my time and money should have the ability to write and communicate cohesively without obvious grammatical and spelling issues.  (I do understand that with that statement I just kicked 3/4 of the blog world out of my reading list.)

I also crave a cultural connection with the author, through language, experience, and philosophy.  What do I mean by that?  Let’s choose Christian inspirational authors.  Think of the difference between C. S. Lewis, Rob Bell, Max Lucado, and Rick Warren.  All have been on the Christian best-seller’s list and all of them should be immediately recognizable names.

Who do you think I read?  It’s not Max Lucado and Rick Warren.  I do own their books but I’ve never actually finished one.  I can’t actually tell if it’s the philosophy or language that I can’t follow, but something in me and something in them does not bond.

C. S. Lewis and Rob Bell are two of my favorite Christian authors.  Actually, they are only bypassed by Don Miller of Blue Like Jazz (and others) and James Langteaux of God.com and God.net.  Now, Rob Bell was probably not born by the time C. S. Lewis died so I’m reading two very different generational messages here – I’m sure that the western church Lewis saw was very different from the global church that Bell sees.  However, both connect with me on that deep level that I need.  I understand their analogies.  I am drawn in by their language.  I am swayed by their arguments and I am reaffirmed and strengthened in my beliefs.  I am not reading words on a page – I am having a conversation with the author.

So what are your thoughts? Can modern must-read Literature be defined by a group of elite reviewers?  Does money talk when defining the best of the good?  Am I making any sense?

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26 responses

17 01 2007
imani

I disagree with you quite a bit but my response may not be as clear as I like because I am struck with a malady and lie a bed. (Already you can tell I’m a Literature snob.)

The one point I do agree with is that NYTBR and others of its ilk have their own narrow reading philosophy which they’d like to impose over the Western world and it certainly doesn’t deserve to. The short shrift they give to genre work without appreciating for its own merits and fairly judging the cream of the crop, so to speak, is depressingly middlebrow.

However you give as short a shrift to complex literature, and the people who prefer it, by resorting to tired stereotypes just like the NYT would to a romance reader. The capital “L” literature snobs, swirling brandy and talking theory as they indulge in mental masturbation, poo pooing the philistines. Classic literature was a “penance” for you, why do they have to write with such complexity, surely it must be because they want to make you feel bad for an ego boost.

And it is so common when genre fans defend their art. What grounds do you have for dismissing literary works for their complexity and artistic goals–which can, thank you, be as engaging, immersive and exciting if not more than some genre and vice versa? I like to read something challenging and don’t at all mind if a book sometimes talks “over my head” because I will then work at gaining an understand of the author’s meaning. Yes, sometimes, “bigger” words, depending on their various definitions, histories and etymologies, can be more precise more suited for the purpose of a writer than “smaller” ones. Why would you want to discourage writers of all kinds from exploring the breadth and diversity of their language?

Does the general reader’s taste even reflect this? For every woman who only reads dead white men of the approved canon, and every man who considers Robert Jordan to be the Shakespeare of our time, there are others (like myself) who read Proust one week and Garth Nix the next and gain untold pleasures from both.

17 01 2007
hyperpat

To answer your prime question: can modern must-read Literature be defined by a group of elite reviewers?, I’d have to say that while this condition should not prevail, all too often it does. There is a certain amount of ivory-tower closed circleness between ‘literature’ classes and self-appointed critics of written material, who often deride and ignore what’s happening in the marketplace (“if it’s popular it can’t be good, and if it’s good it can’t be popular”).

However, there is a place for works that deliberately try and extend their reach, to write something that has a lot of ‘buried’ message, to use styles and forms that may make it difficult for the reader to decode. Often, it is exactly such striving for more than ‘just telling a story’ that really does lead to excellent works and new ways of telling a story, though perhaps not in the first or twentieth attempt at it.

Unfortunately, too many critics jump on each new experimental work as the latest be-all and end-all, and rarely look to see if, amidst all the experimentation and complexity, the work still has the power to engross and entertain. An author that fails to communicate to his readers has, in my mind, forgotten what writing is all about, and critics that praise obscure works precisely because they are obscure are just as guilty.

This rift between ‘popular’ and ‘significant’ should not exist. Critics who consistently ignore ‘genre’ literature are missing the boat, and readers who won’t touch an ‘artistic’ work may be missing a different boat.

17 01 2007
Cyndi

Thank you both for intelligent, well-thought out comments. 🙂 It’s so interesting to see each of your philosophies and maybe try and figure out how each was formed. I’m still not sure of my own, so I’m asking questions.

To continue the discussion, imagine the rift did not exist between the popular and the significant (as hyperpat so diplomatically put it.) How would a young reader find things that were well written and worth reading? Do books become more relevant as an author grows both in age and mentality? Should there be a ‘push’ of reviewers who will give the same credit to both classic and genre? What qualities actually prove the value of a piece of writing and is there a variance based on genre and a variance based on the reader’s experience and preferences?

17 01 2007
caveblogem

My wife is a literary scholar and critic, and although she doesn’t share my taste in reading, mostly, she understands it. And I understand hers. She studies, teaches and writes about Victorian literature, which these days covers everything from the “penny dreadfuls,” the early sensational “true crime” rags, to Dickens, Trollope, Marx, Mill, James, and even heavier stuff.

For her these books call upon a set of skills and knowledge of social codes and conventions that she has spent a great deal of time learning. So they start out being a little more entertaining for her. Since they are not as complicated she can spend more of her attention marveling at their use of complicated rhetorical devices and poetic turns of phrase.

But it takes too much work for me to really enjoy that stuff. I like to stretch myself, to learn something new, but not to learn something new about the Victorian era. I think everybody who reads a lot vacillates, sometimes having the energy for something complicated that they are interested in, sometimes going back to something comfortable. As you learn and grow some of the books that you found impossibly complex will become more accessible to you. But some of them you will probably never be interested enough in to make that effort.

I think that young readers, any readers, should get a librarything account and check out the contents of personal libraries that have a lot in common with their own (I advocate entering books that one has read into librarything, rather than just books you own, which will give more information about your preferences.) Look at the books in those libraries that you haven’t read. Any look interesting? Check them out.

And don’t let intellectual snobs get you down. Make up some obscure fact that you can throw in their faces if you actually have the misfortune to be face-to-face with one. “Oh, I was thinking of reading Proust, but I saw that article the New Yorker about his pedophilia and cannibalism and decided to give him a miss,” you might say.

17 01 2007
thirtythousandpeople

Ok so I heard Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved was the best American fiction of the past 25 years, so I picked it up. And it’s horrible. It’s horrendous. I asked a lady I know who majored in Literature in college what she thought of it and she said she just can’t read Toni Morrison. I don’t understand why it’s supposed to be such a good book when so many people don’t like it. (Some of the popular Amazon.com reviews were vicious).

Perhaps I’m not well-read enough yet to enjoy “good” literature. Maybe I’d “get it” if I was more mature. Who knows.

I understand Rob Bell’s writing. He’s amazing. Toni Morrison, etc, not so much.

18 01 2007
hyperpat

No matter how you look at it, reading is a subjective experience, unique to each reader. The reader bring his own life experience to the table, and it’s quite probable that as he gets older, different types of literature will appeal more him, that the more complex work may become both easier to understand and more satisfying than works that are pure adventure story only.

The critics try to identify properties of literature that can be objectively looked at, looking for that something that makes the subjective experience uplifting and rewarding (or a disaster). In as much as most people have very similar dreams and reactions to the world of living, to some degree the critic’s search can be successful. However, often the reader does not wish to put a large amount of effort into finding buried ‘goodies’, so the novel that presents its story clearly and straightforwardly is likely to get a better reaction from the reader than one that tries to say many things in oblique and hidden fashion – a worthy aspect that seemingly escapes most literary critics. The real trick for the aspiring author who wants to have his work remembered is to tell his story such that the casual reader can derive enjoyment from it, while the reader looking for something more will be able to find it.

Looking at something like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, we see exactly this: a very straightforward story of a family down on its luck, facing a situation with little prospect of things getting better, but the family always keeps muddling on. Delve a little deeper, and we find thoughts on socialism, unions, capitalism, fear of strangers, human short-sightedness, and some of the roots of brutality. Delve even deeper, and we find a look at what makes humans human, where hope, despair, and courage intertwine. All couched in language both simple and lyrical.

For the young reader, being able to find things that ‘speak’ to him, in his language, is difficult. Part of what middle and high school English courses are supposed to do is introduce youngsters to a wide range of works, to help the students find just such relevant material. Unfortunately, these same courses often force the readers to analyze the works to death, try and make them see some of the buried message, often before these readers are ready for such in-depth work, and concentrate on ‘classic’ works, with little presentation of genre works that might appeal more to young readers. And there are darned few YA level books of stature out there – which might be one reason why the Harry Potter set is so wildly popular.

Thirtythousandpeople: I enjoyed Beloved, and felt that it was well written. However, I also think it’s gotten a bit more praise than it really deserves. As an alternative that works somewhat in the same area, I might suggest you try Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

18 01 2007
imani

I confess, hyperpat, that I question your assertion that critics jump over experimental works. I don’t read the NYTBR, Harpers or the New Yorker (for eg.) much anymore but the general impression I get is that experimental works are far from being praised and jumped on in the literary mainstream. Look at the authors who are usually hallybooed: Zadie Smith, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, lately Jennifer Egan and Pessl. Most of the books given focus in the critical spotlight are quite conventional in their narrative. (Of course for this to really make sense we would need to be working with a concrete definition of “experimental” but I think it would take some exaggeration to include any of those authors works under that banner.)
I make no apologies for reading romance
If there’s a problem it is that the experimental stuff, usually more supported by smaller presses, aren’t covered enough. Or fiction in general. Critics hail non-fiction as the only form of literature that can enlighten us during these bleak times, woe fiction is dead. And such nonsense.

Cyndi I think that young people have fairly good sources for finding good literature. Besides what their friends are reading, librarians are at at the forefront of trying to find good contemporary lit as well as the classics for kids. A lot of them are on the web right now writing great blogs about children’s and YA lit and they recently came together to start their own “award”–The Cybil–to give attention to all kinds of children’s/YA lit from fantasy to historical or contemporary narratives.

I’d also love it if there were more critics in the various respected book reviews who had less of an academic bias when approaching books but I don’t see it happening any time soon. Or more books from independent presses but until they have the cash to place two page splashy ads for Stephen Dixon I don’t see that happening either.

Your last question is the most difficult to tackle, I think. Really all I want are informed, intelligent, honest critics who stay true to their internal aesthetic criteria and judge a book on its own terms.

Thirtythousandpeople I’m fairly sure that the Toni Morrison thing was done by the NYTBR–note the source–where they surveyed a large but fairly limited sample diversity-wise. In the end every list, even canons, are subject to the participants biases and the conclusions are inevitably qualified. Having said that citing a few Amazon reviews and a friend who didn’t like it are hardly credible supportive statements for concluding that Beloved is widely unpopular. Or that if it’s not popular it must be crap. Or that it is representative of “good literature”. That’s giving too much credit to the NYTBR which has not deserved that status for at least five years now.

I crave balanced perspectives in these kind of discussions. Like hyperpat who produces such note-worthy responses. Kudos to you, sir. I enjoy them.

18 01 2007
Cyndi

Imani and hyperpat – you are making me feel so old! 😛 When I mean younger, I’m leaning towards the older teenager and young twenties age groups. I feel like (as I was just young twenties a couple years ago) like these groups are not in a demographic to where books that meet their personal stages are advertised. I do own many YA books and have read most of them, but I would admit that I finished the ‘level 6, age 12 and up’ books when I was in the 2nd grade and the older level YA books by the time I was out of the 6th grade. (Think Christopher Pike’s thrillers and Sweet Valley University for the older YA books.)

Now I’m finding I’m just starting to grow out of the Glamour and Cosmopolitan stage and being a frequent reader of both until a year or so ago, I can personally testify that the most they review inside are chick lit and so-called ‘beach reads.’ I see nothing wrong with a quickie light book, but I like heavier genre fiction. (Think about the Kushiel series from Jaqueline Carey, political thrillers from David Baldacci, and Tami Hoag’s mysteries. The Scott Turow I’m reading right now is amazing.) What do young men read? My husband is into Architectural Digest and the, oh so aptly named, Handguns Magazine. He supplements his time between with catalogs from upscale tobacco companies and surfing the internet.

In the past, I’ve found that I come across most books by browsing the shelves at B&N and picking up the thick books and looking for the summary. *blush* I admit that I’ve chosen books simply because the synopsis was written without typos. However, I feel like I’m missing out on too much. When I try and find reviews online through Amazon, I find that they are either trying to be too analytical or fond of giving empty praise. Most reviews simply talk me out of giving a book my time.

I would love to have time to befriend a librarian, but most of the ones in my home library are overworked and worn out from all the undisciplined little monsters. I work 50 miles from my home (as do many of my age) for a large corporation. I really only have access to coworkers – most of whom are over 10 years older than me, the internet, and the occasional magazine.

Is there a creative idea or magazine that I’m missing out on?

18 01 2007
Cyndi

caveblogem, you know I love you, right? (Don’t let your wife get offended – I say this a lot. ;)) I agree with most everything you said and why don’t I know you on LT? Hrm? Don’t we have a wordpress group over there? Wait… is that the blogger group?

Ok – enough questions. I love the idea about the obscure ‘fact.’ I’m going to have to try this next time I get accosted by a snobby coworker pointing out the genre fiction on my desk and eyeballing my Office XP for Dummies manual. Or maybe I’ll just keep copies of writing style and grammar manuals out and pass them around whenever someone sends me a thpecially written email. There’s an idea…

18 01 2007
caveblogem

Cyndi,

I wasn’t offended by any of it. I don’t think my wife would be either. I periodically run into literary snobs (rarely, it was much worse in graduate school. Almost everybody in the first couple years is attempting to show the profs they are smarter than everyone else and it gets pretty ugly), but nowadays, with nothing at stake, it is pretty fun sport to see how quickly I can pop their bubbles.

LT. . . You mean LibraryThing? Is there some sort of group that I should be a member of? Seems like more work. Is it fun?

18 01 2007
Cyndi

Yup, LibraryThing! If you go to Talk, there’s a list of message boards that I normally piss people off masquerading as literary snobs on. Seriously, there’s quite a bit of that whole graduate school silliness you describe but there are a several really cool folks over there. 🙂

18 01 2007
hyperpat

Imani: While you’re correct that many of today’s praised writers are not ‘experimental’, there certainly are some who are: Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, Umberto Eco, John Barth, Samuel Delany, William Ginsburg, etc. And it’s also true that not all the efforts by these writers have been praised. But I have certainly received the impression that “Literature” (with a capital L) has turned away from any straight narrative in favor of things like unreliable narrators, non-linear time lines, deeply subjective world views, stream-of-consciousness (yes, this dates from Joyce, but it was experimental when he started using it), magical and hysterical realism, and hypertext fiction.

Cyndi: If you’re beyond the YA and beach reads, perhaps a trip to the older ‘classics’ really is in order. If there is one thing that proves the relative value of a work, it is the ability of it to survive over time. Now I know that many (especially 19th century) works were probably forced down your throat in school, but these works remain quite readable. Think Austen, Bronte, Shelly (Frankenstein – if you haven’t actually read it, it’s quite a bit more than what all the movies have portrayed), Melville, Twain, Dickens, Frank Norris, and then proceed to Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner. Outside of these, you might find authors like James Michener and James Clavell to be interesting, though they do have a tendency to produce books that look like doorstops.

18 01 2007
imani

Oh Cyndi that’s funny about the “older” thing. I’m in my early 20’s (recently turned 23). I would say litblogs are a great source for book recommendations as well. I’m a member of Metaxucafe and, with the number of blogs there, you can’t really go wrong. The members list is as diverse as you can get–everything from the academic to writers blogs or reading journals. Some focus on specific genres so there are mystery writing blogs, SF/F blogs, romance, YA/Kids lit, Poetry and so on. I know that you said you tried the internet before but I don’t know if you were aware of that site.

Besides journals like the Times Literary Supplement, New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books where I get the bulk of my book recommendations.

I admit I think my lit journal tastes might be more academic than you may want. But Dan Wickett at the Emerging Writers Network has a list of lit journals and magazines in his right sidebar. Maybe you could browse through it when you have the time and see if any of them are to your taste?

If you do like heavier genre fiction I’d like to recommend Guy Gavriel Kay. His best book, IMO, is Tigana. He writes with lyrical passion, creates dense narratives and his works are incredibly enthralling. I also think that YA fantasy authors have a lot to offer and are creating stories leagues above Christopher Pike (much as I liked him when I was a kid) or even J.K. Rowling. I’m not sure about what you’ve read or who you’re aware of but Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy is amazing. Edith Pattou’s East is this admirably beautiful and breathtaking adaptation of a familiar fairy tale. Others to try are Holly Black and Philip Pullman.

18 01 2007
Cyndi

First thought: oh, Lordy… I’m actually older than someone!

Second thought: those are all great ideas! I’ll have to jot them down. Hyperpat, I do have a Bronte on my to read list, but only because I remember reading her in middle school as extra credit (I wasn’t supposed to but we had this program where books were given point values and whoever got the most points “won” or something…) and the stories still intrigue me.

As for Frankenstein, I really have something weird about monsters killing people… I had nightmares from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I have this weird brainwave that says monsters don’t kill people, people kill people! R. L. Stine wrote an adult novel called Superstition and it scared the living crapola out of me! I read all of a chapter of it before I handed it to my sister and told her to get it out of my house. She then finished it and gave me nightmares with the play-by-play.

18 01 2007
hyperpat

Ah, but Frankenstein’s monster is not ‘just’ a monster, but is endowed with some very human emotions and desires, and in many ways is a person. Which in some ways makes this even scarier.

However, if monsters are not your thing, but you do like fantasy as evidenced by your reference to Carey, you might also think about Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series. Though the last couple of books in this set have disappointed me somewhat, the first four are very different and well written, and pretty much avoid all the cliches that the genre has become known for. And for a strong female protagonist, there’s Robert Heinlein’s Friday.

18 01 2007
imani

I second the recommendation of Frankenstein. I read it last year Cyndi and it is *completely* different to any impression pop culture has given us, trust me. It’s not a dumb monster with bolts stuck on the sides of his head. He’s a very complex character, monstrous yet sympathetic and the narrative is so compelling that I think you could perhaps just give it a try, a skim online if any copy on Amazon has the “Search/Look Inside” feature and see what you think.

I forgot to mention Lian Hearn for fantasy. She wrote the Tales of Otori quartet, set in Japan. The author actually speaks Japanese so her book has this authentic ring of a proper translation that immediately immerses you into the world of secret assasination societies in the old world.

18 01 2007
Cyndi

Hmmm… I think I’ll stick with the other suggestions before delving into Frankenstien. 😉

Lean Hearn sounds very interesting, as does Heinlein. As for fantasy, Carey and Terry Goodkind are the only two fantasy authors I’ve been able to handle. Some of the genre is just silly to me – it doesn’t seem like it could ever be real. Goodkind has disappointed me the last book or two, so I still have Phantom on my desk waiting to be read. I have this odd idea that if I don’t read it, I won’t be able to delude myself of the great-authordom of Goodkind.

Only Kushiel’s series from Carey got me. I really don’t like any of her other work. I think it’s the religion aspect that first grabbed me, and then it turned into a beautiful world in my head. I would be very grateful to find another fantasy author that could grab my attention.

18 01 2007
oscar macsweeny

you talk about your fiction – how about publishing some on your blog instead of blatehring on and repeating what a hundred other people have already said and navel gazing… i’d rather read some fiction than hear you go on about what you like and what you don’t like… as you say “enough already”

18 01 2007
Cyndi

Oscar, my friend, do you prefer the erotic kind or the non-erotic kind of fiction? I can put my money where my mouth is.

18 01 2007
imani

I’d imagine you’d like Kay then since the majority of his fantasy springs from a historical fiction setting. Only Fionavar Tapestry is “high fantasy” although all of his books are written with a gravity that allows you take his stories seriously. (For me at any rate.) I admit that I have not tried either of the authors you mentioned. I am wary of silliness and Tolkien imitators and Goodkind series title–“Sword of Truth”? ahem–and cover art–ahh ye olde valiant medieval pantaloons–prevented me from taking him seriously. (Cover art isn’t his fault but once it has that faux medieval thing going you really really need an excellent artist on your side or it’s just going to look like Dungeons and Dragon land.) I can’t say I’m a fan of those never-ending series either.

Carey I have heard a lot about but for some reason I haven’t picked up her book yet.

18 01 2007
Cyndi

*wishlists Kay*

Hmmm… I can see how Goodkind can be interpreted that way. It’s a series that is based on a world that was split into three ‘boundaries’ to end a great war. I find it’s different from a lot of novels because it crosses a lot of boundaries that I don’t find in traditional fantasy and the characters are really 3-D. In the later books, it starts getting preacy about political theories and the constant ‘truth seeking’ gets kind of offputting because the main character is obviously being compared to a messiah figure. Most people stop reading around the Naked Empire point, but I really enjoyed that one and Pillars of Creation. Chainfire is the one that pissed me off. Thank God Phantom is the next to last book in the series!

Carey is very adult. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s any worse than a raunchy romance novel – it’s definitely better written. However, the masochistic erotica is quite prevalent. Again, I love the characterization in the series and the religion that is created is so amazingly interesting. It’s a bit of Hebrew folklore with a bit of Christian history mixed with a thoroughly mythological premise. I really enjoyed it, but several of my more ‘religious’ friends were offended from the back cover. Really, if you’re intrigued, I’d definitely suggest it. My closest friend really enjoyed the first, but the second and third got too raunchy for her.

18 01 2007
imani

I live for raunchy. I’ll finally take that a look at them when next I head to the book store (which is weekly).

19 01 2007
Cyndi

I live for raunchy.

Girl, me too. 😉

19 01 2007
hyperpat

Actually, I found Kushiel’s Dart to be rather tame in this area, with little in the way of actual graphic depiction. The idea that sex-for-hire practitioners should be respected, rather than relegated to the bottom dust-bin of the social pecking order as in our society, however, I found to be one of the best points in this work.

For some very graphic depictions of all manner of sex, try some of Samuel Delany’s works (Dhalgren, Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, Phallos, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, and then his frankly erotic works like Hogg, Equinox, and The Mad Man).

19 01 2007
Cyndi

The idea that sex-for-hire practitioners should be respected, rather than relegated to the bottom dust-bin of the social pecking order as in our society, however, I found to be one of the best points in this work.

That’s precisely the reason I adored Memoirs of a Geisha. I have a long standing conversation with my husband that the draw for women to high-class prostitution is not that it’s easy money but the fact that the womanly grace and skills of seduction can be celebrated. Women who use those skills in any other business place are called trash and it’s implied that they are “sleeping to the top.” Women spend years as little girls in dance classes, learning to be graceful and hold intelligent conversation, asking if they are pretty and wearing full skirted dresses so that they can twirl around like ‘princesses.’ Essentially, every woman does not want to be celebrated just for her mind or just for her body but wants to be seen as a companion with all her assets celebrated. I think that’s what touched me about both Geisha and the Kushiel’s series.

As for the graphic depiction of sex, I find that men are more numb to the way women like to read about sex. Women, on the whole, prefer very elegant depictions of it where the mind is just as involved in the encounter as the body. I’ve found most women thought Carey’s series (as well as Laurel K. Hamilton) are quite graphic but I can see how a man would not believe that. Also, women’s views of erotica is evolving quite a bit as the only revenues that were allowable before were Harlequin romance. I used to sneak peaks at my dad’s hidden Playboys for the articles just because those romance novels were either too tame or too cheesy. Men, on the other hand, were often raised to be very open about the act with other men and in their literature. My father raised me with the belief that I should have every skill a man had and taught me that the woman’s body was to be celebrated as an art form, so I’ve never been shy about erotica or nudity but I have found that when I read it, I much prefer to read writing by a woman. (Don’t get me started on Sidney Sheldon – the traitor with the asexual name!)

19 01 2007
hyperpat

Memoirs’ depiction of the geisha society was very well done. I appreciated not only its language but its working within the confines of geisha world, not appreciably stepping outside it to the larger Japanese society. I have visited the country (on business), but this is an area the casual visitor will never get to see. James Clavell’s Shogun also touches on this aspect of Japanese society, though not in nearly the same depth or accuracy.

Now speaking as an old happily married man, I noted the difference in how men and women react to sexual depictions a long time ago. I do believe our brains really are wired somewhat differently, beyond the cultural influence, and that can lead to problems unless both parties acknowledge and make allowance for the differences. Few women seem to like the XXX rated movies (while such depictions may not bother them, neither do they do anything for them), and conversely few men like the ‘girl romance’ type movies. As a lot of ‘literature’ has been written by ‘old white men’, there is probably a comparative shortage of works that present the women’s viewpoint in realistic and memorable ways. Carey, Hamilton, Anais Nin, and a few others seem to working towards rectifying that imbalance.

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