Sunday, July 31, 2005

I read books

I read. A lot. I just finished Harry Potter and I thought it was pretty good. I haven't read any Terry Pratchett, mainly because he has a ton of books and I feel intimidated. He is one of those authors who I always mean to read, but never get around to it. He's a bit peeved at all the attention that the Potter franchise and Rowling are getting.

From the BBC:
Author Terry Pratchett has complained that the status of Harry Potter author JK Rowling is being elevated "at the expense of other writers".

Pratchett, one of the UK's most successful novelists with 40 million books sold, said the media ignores the achievements of other fantasy authors.

I think the same thing is going on right now with IRL racing and Danica Patrick. The other racers (who actually win) are getting peeved because Danica gets all the media attention.

And I can understand the complaints of these people. They've paid their dues, worked their asses off and someone new comes in and gets all the attention (deserved or not).

Pratchett also has beef with how Rowling distanced herself from the genre:

He also expressed surprise at Rowling's comments that she only realised Harry Potter was fantasy after the first book was published.

"I'm not the world's greatest expert," he wrote. "But I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?"

Look, I read fantasy (generally grouped with science fiction), I LOVE fantasy novels, my bookshelf is full of them and I tend to agree with Pratchet on this.

I think the whole Potter mania isn't all about the books, if that makes sense. It's a culture thing. The Harry Potter books have become a water cooler phenomenon. You feel like everyone has read them, so if you want to keep up, then you have to read them too. I don't believe it was a good marketing campaign as much as I think it was word of mouth.

Once a bunch people started buying the books, then the media covered that 'hot new kids book' story. Then people saw that story and went out to see for themselves. Then they told people that the TV was right and that these books are pretty good. So more people bought them. And more. And more. And more. Then the media covered those stories, the lines waiting, the fact that kids are reading and not watching tv. It just snowballed; it became a benchmark of the times.

Pratchett is trying to point out that there is more to this genre than Harry Potter. Pratchett's point is, if the only fantasy author you know is JK Rowling, you're missing a much bigger picture. And he is kind of lashing out at the media for ignoring a very popular genre by only focusing on Rowling. There is always a big hoopla for politcal or sports books making it on the NY Times best sellers list. But fantasy books have gotten to the top of the list before, and not just Harry Potter. The Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan and the Dragonlance series by Weis and Hickman generally debute number 1 on the Times list. There are generally huge lines to meet these authors when they do signing tours and Pratchett is just pointing out that these guys never get their 15 minutes on the local news.

There's always been a bias (not really the word I want, but it fits) against scifi/fantasy books. Besides Tolkien, none of them really get their due. Take the book Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg. This is a great book that no one knows about and it happens to be one of the greatest books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I'm going to steal a review from amazon.com to make my point:

Undeniable proof that SF isn't considered serious literature

Robert Silverberg's "Dying Inside" is one of the great classics of SF literature. The protagonist, David Selig, is a telepath whose rare talent has brought him no pleasure. He leads the life of an outcast, a voyeur, with his gift as his keyhole. When his telepathy deserts him he is left stranded-

(Pauses). (Sits silently, head bowed). (Finally, sighs forcefully). (Prepares to whip self to indignant frenzy).

This world just isn't fair. You know that, you don't need me to tell you. But every so often an injustice so flagrant and so heinous occurs that I need to grab the nearest passerby and scream it at him. You're here, and I'm mad, so put down that mouse and listen. Have you read this book yet? Have you read "The Catcher in the Rye"- you know, "the coming-of-age story against which all others are judged," etc., etc.? Go read them. I'll wait- done yet? Good. What do you think? They're both excellent, aren't they? You really feel the turmoil and pain and angst of both Caulfield and Selig after reading them. So why has this book attracted only a handful of reviews, while "The Catcher in the Rye" has attracted- let me check- over 1000 reviews? Why does "The Catcher in the Rye" appear on all the "100 Greatest Novels of the Century" lists while "Dying Inside" doesn't? I'll tell you why- look at your copy of "Dying Inside," and look for those damning scarlet letters "Science Fiction." That's why. "The Catcher in the Rye" is serious literature; "Dying Inside" is science fiction. Never mind that David Selig is as vividly realized as Holden Caulfield, that the prose of "Dying Inside" is as smooth as silk and as scorching as a brush fire, that "Dying Inside" is to middle age what "The Catcher in the Rye" is to adolescence. One is "truly one of America's literary treasures," and one is not. There ain't no justice, is there, Larry?

Personally, I like the Potter books, I think they're really good. At the same time, I've read better, a lot better. But I like the books for the fact that they are introducing kids (fuck, and adults for that matter) to reading. I think that's their best quality. They can be a stepping stone towards a life long love for books (and not just scifi/fantasy).

There's ton great stuff out there if you like the Potter novels but don't know where to look to next. This is my list and by no means is it complete.

I think the Ender's series by Orson Scott Card or the Redwall series by Brian Jaques would be great places to begin post-Potter reading. I also loved the Wizard of Oz series when I was younger. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are an excellent writing combinatio and the Dragonlance saga is their calling card. I actually started out with their Deathgate Cycle, I would recomend both series and reading Dragonlance first (they are almost completely unrelated, but one character may or may not pop up in both series). The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and a Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin are two of the reasons I scoff when people mention how long the new Harry Potter book is. Wot and SoIaF are considered 'high fantasy,' meaning they are more in heavier and more on the adult side. And by adult I don't mean sex (though Martin can get pretty graphic), I mean, as I remember my sister saying, "Wheel of Time is just a bit more more in depth than Harry Potter."

Alright, well, if you made it to the end of my little post here, congrats! This took me about an hour and a half to write and I'm sure only a few people even know what I'm talking about (sup Sorrels) so thanks for indulging me.

And remember Reading is FUNdamental (the NBA it's FAAAAANTASIC!)

15 comments:

Eoghan Irving said...

Fantasy and Science Fiction have never been considered to be "serious" literature, and honestly I doubt they ever will be.

But after a certain point you really just have to say who cares?

Honestly the majority of what I read (whether science fiction or non-genre) isn't "serious" literature.

I'm long past the point of feeling like I have to apologise for it. I think often science fiction fans worry just a little too much about what others think of them.

Ben said...

I feel the same way, and I may have come off as apologizing for my taste but that wasn't my intent. My main point was that there are great stories out there that are often overlooked (Dying Inside is just one).

I'm not sure if fantasy or scifi will ever be considered 'serious literature', but I do think some stories will be considered 'classics' one day (if that makes sense).

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FantasyFootballHelpers.com said...

Dear Ben Cox --- Nice blog! I was looking for Fantasy Football Player Rankings related info, but stopped for a minute when I found you blog! It is great! I am book-marking it and will come back! I haven't seem a blog quite like I read books! Anyway great blog, but no Fantasy Football Player Rankings info here; I am out! Thanks...

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