Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Good and Bad of Books

I'm a big fan of Alice in Wonderland. Not any of the movies, so much, but the book. I recently read an article about how Alice in Wonderland is based on not a terrifying drug trip, but the idea of a world where the universe followed the laws of theoretical mathematics. The example used was something to the effect of "If I have three apples, and then I get two more apples, I have five apples." But having the square root of negative one apples doesn't make any sense, and if those mathematical laws were tangible, the world we live in would be a lot different.

Quite frankly, that makes me respect Lewis Carrol, aka Reverend Charles Dodgeson, a whole lot more. It's super original and awesome in a delightfully nerdy way. Anyone who's ever had a bad trip could write a book about the wild hallucinations they had. It takes a whole lot more to write a children's story about theoretical mathematics made flesh.

I love reading. I read really quickly, so I'm constantly having to find new things to read. At this point in my life, I've done quite a bit of it, and as such, I've found quite a lot that is not as good as it claims to be.

First, Chuck Palahniuk. I know everybody on earth craps their pants over the stuff he writes because it's oh-so-groundbreaking, but I have yet to read a novel of his that I can stand. Here's the thing about Chuck Palahnuik. His books present a very limited view of humanity: Society sucks, being alive sucks, everyone in the world will let you down and the only way to break free is to do illegal, unethical, or morally questionable things with morally questionable people, who will later screw you over, because everyone does.

It's not even that his books are depressing. Lots of books are depressing and still excellent. It's that he only has one note to hit, and he tries so hard to be innovative and shocking, and really, it's nothing new.

Next, Neil Gaiman. My critique of Mr Gaiman is similar to that of Mr Palahnuik: He only has one thing to say. Oh, he tells different stories, but they all carry the same depressing, tired-out theme. I feel like he thinks he's a way better writer than he actually is, but he's just beating that same dead horse. He rides on his cult following because he knows he can publish any schlock he wants and people will buy it and praise it as the second coming of Christ (except not really, because believing in God is lame). Stardust is one of the few stories I've come across where the movie was significantly better than the book. I wanted to like Neil Gaiman. I really did. It is hard to find good contemporary fantasy fiction, and I hoped Neil Gaiman would be the one to deliver, but he wasn't.

Those godforsaken Hunger Games books. Here's another series that everyone in the world is crapping their pants over, and I just don't get it. I read them a few weeks ago, and I just don't understand what is so compelling about these stories. A bunch of teenagers trying to kill each other for no good reason. Oh, joy. We get to read this again, just like every other teen novel to come out in the last decade or so that wasn't vampire related. Now, I get that the author is trying to speak out against senseless violence and totalitarian government regimes and hooray freedom and all that jazz, and I suppose that's commendable, but still. Those books are solidly average. They are not revolutionary, as some people claim. Nor are they life-changing. There is nothing in these books that has not been said before, hundreds of times. So I guess what annoys me about them is that I am being asked to believe that these books are something special, something extraordinary, and they just aren't.

Now, I understand that I am limited by my personal taste and perspective, and most people don't feel the way that I do. But I'm discovering that it's very difficult for me to find decent contemporary fiction of any kind. Or non-contemporary fiction, even. I read Lady Chatterly's Lover a few months ago, and Good Lord, was it ever awful.


  1. Phew. That's a relief about Alice in Wonderland. I didn't like the idea of the drug trip, and the story is very imaginative. As far as the other authors are concerned, I haven't read them, but I am sure you make wonderful points. And I never read Lady Chatterly's lover--- I read the synopsis, and it just never appealed. Are you going to make a reading list of what we should read, and why? Because I think that would be nice.

  2. I was given the most wonderful version of Alice in Wonderland called The Annotated Alice - The Definitive Edition - Introduction and Notes by Martin Gardner. The whole thing has massive sidebars full of information about each and every little thing that goes on in the story. It's very interesting and illuminating. Have you seen the most recent Alice in Wonderland? I'm really fond of the female-positive messages in the movie.

    On Neil Gaiman, I can't say that I see what you mean about his schlock. I find his writing marries a beautiful fairy tale element to the real life that everyone has to live. American Gods may be one of my favorites and Good Omens tops my all time list. He and Terry Pratchett are a perfect team. If you've never read Coraline, I think that's one of his better stories as well. I guess if you're looking for happily ever after in your fairy tales (which seems like it actually might be a very new trend), then it's not your best bet. But I'm curious as to what you find obnoxious about his writing.

    Also, if you're wondering who I am, I'm Becca's friend. She told me your writing was very interesting, and she was right! If you'd rather I not post comments though, that's fine too. Just let me know.

  3. By all means, feel free to comment. It doesn't bother me at all.

    What I dislike about Neil Gaiman is very similar to what I dislike about Chuck Palahniuk. I find his stories pretty formulaic, and they tend to repeat the same exact theme. Guy has a crappy life>Someone shows up, and at first it seems good, but then they ruin his life>Guy attempts to regain control of his life. It's not even the non-happy ending, it's just that after a while, I find reading his stuff exhausting. I know i'm way in the minority there, though.

    I had forgotten about Good Omens, but I agree with you there. Good Omens is awesome, but I've read a lot of Gaiman and it's the only one I like. I love love love Terry Pratchett, so that might be why.

  4. Lewis Carrol has always been a favorite of mine, however i'm never sure if I should be creeped out or not regarding his relationship with Alice Liddell. Some of the photography he shot of her seems to border on pedobear creeptacularness to me. But then, i'm always suspicious regarding the motives of others. Which is partly why i'm a huge Palahniuk fan. : D

    To be fair, I prefer his short stories to his novels by a country mile. I don't care for the in medias res narratives that he uses constantly in his novels. Not that it isn't interesting, but because it's been done so much that i'm not impressed by it anymore.

    I've gotten to the point where it's becoming more and more difficult to find good reading material. I've been re-reading the classics for a while now because i'm out of ideas.

  5. I have such a hard time finding stuff I want to read anymore. It really is pretty depressing.