Or… New Classic? (Exhibit A)
The books I’ll be looking at are:
Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus,
China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station,
Carl Jung’s Red Book (There are cheaper versions out there; this one is full-size),
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One,
Anne Enright’s The Gathering.
As a note: I have only finished Night Circus and The Gathering.
Another aspect in a writer’s dedication to improve on his (since I’m referring to myself) writing ability is the importance of reading. I’ll be the first to say that between my bouts of college, I didn’t read much. When I was younger, I simply wrote what I wanted to read. I went on grand adventures, and for some reason all my characters started to sound the same: little me’s running around doing me things as magical people, as witches, as generals, as parents, orphans. You get the drift. Before that, in grade school and high school and college try 1, I read voraciously.
I have to force myself to read now. I don’t like the writing styles of a lot of writers, I don’t enjoy the shortsightedness of storytelling arcs, I have to force myself to read a lot of recommended reading. Nothing against anyone, but I don’t pleasure read. I don’t know if I can ever go back to it either. But I’m trying.
So! I have a short list of books I’m reading, books I’ve finished reading over the past semester/year, and I want to talk about them. If you’re interested, please come along.
Night Circus was an interesting take on storytelling. It presented a series of snapshots circulating around a circus and those within it, supporting it. It’s a magical circus, and a playing field between two people who are locked in some kind of wizard combat, and they fall in love with each other. I loved reading about the community in this story. I disliked how parts I thought to be important–the imaginary bits, the descriptions of fantastical rooms and acts and people within–were quickly glossed over in favor of what I’d consider mundane dialogue between people. I got the impression the author felt far more comfortable writing these parts, therefore focused on them more. I also feel the story suffered because of this. One of the final scenes of the book–I won’t talk too much about it–left me in tears, though, given the content of what the two characters were discussing. It was a heartfelt, inspired moment, and I loved it.
Perdido Street Station is compelling and odd, and it falls under pseudo-Lovecraftian “New Weird,” which I feel is a garbage can catch-all (and, if you’re familiar with Mieville, perhaps he would wholeheartedly, and happily, agree) for those writers who are bending, or creating, new genres for themselves. I’m seven chapters in, and I was initially turned off by the word use, the verb/adverb association, and the free manner that Mieville interchanged these words to describe something in a vague manner. I’ll be the first to say, though, I do the same. And likely quite often. I also decided to look up a few interviews of the guy, and one of the panting interviewers stated, “Your words seem to be perpetually at odds with each other, as if they’re fighting to be understood.” Watching Mieville’s pride at reacting to that statement, everything fit better for me. After settling down on his style, and reading about the perpetual filth of New Crobuzon, the humanity in his words really slap me in the face. One of the early chapters identifies this by one of the main characters being vulnerable to another in a powerful and unexpected way. I’d almost consider this book science fiction, but given the amount of magic and intrigue, I won’t. One of Mieville’s weaknesses (at least for me) is his character movement feels forced, and a little rushed, as if they are at the whim of the writer. Statements like, “She had to take this job, absolutely had to!” even though as a reader I didn’t find compelling reason behind it–they were doing really well before the prospect showed up?–forces me to fall into the “ah, plot,” thought process. Whim and fate and whatnot is great, but this happened several times so far, and I’m only a little in.
The Red Book is a complex thing, more of an ongoing study for me than a pleasure read. Quick overview: Carl Jung, notable psychoanalyst, who was instrumental in developing a widely used archetypal system for understanding personalities, studied the subconscious and collective unconscious, and is falling (maybe?) out of favor among psycho types, also wrote about his own communications with his subconscious through dream-journaling and meditating. He wrote a series of Black Books, and then decided to publish a Red Book, full of paintings and artful, religious calligraphy to the words. It’s a work of art (see first image in blog). Jung’s words read like the bible: full of symbol and journeying and parables and insights and religious undertones. What I’m enjoying about this book, though, is the in-depth discussion of how he developed the research, his life and influences, and the different iterations that came before this finished version. I’ve been steeped in similar parable my whole life, so the journeying isn’t exactly new (though his perspective is) but this “making of” introduction is new and extensive. And it just so happens Jung identified a lot of parallels I focus on in my latest novel, so the “research” drive is inherent.
Ready Player One is escapist literature, and currently seems like an easy-to-read throwaway story (and by throwaway, I mean, like Night Circus, the layers of storytelling are only scratched at, and not developed. It’s a walk down memory lane–as I believe was one of its intentions–and the overall environment is oddly rose-tinted in humor, despite the squalor the MC lives in. For this reason, it’s odd for me to understand the MC: a seemingly well-adjusted everyman teenager who eschews people and lives in one corner of a laundry room in an RV filled with 20 people in a stack of RV homes. His only means of escape is Atari games. Yet despite this lack of education and upbringing, seems quite well adjusted. I can’t make the jump between his squalor and temperament, but otherwise the premise, though simple, is interesting: billionaire crazy person leaves three keys to his kingdom in a WoW-esque video game that spans many planets, leaving a book full of riddles and pop culture 80’s references that inadvertently influences culture as people dedicate their lives to finding the secrets to gaining access to somewhere around 300 billion dollars, if I remember the number right. What!? The 80’s makes a comeback! I found it clever, the writing clean, and though dragging and a little self-inflative, I’m looking forward to continuing with the book.
The Gathering is a beautiful work because the writing tastes delicious. It is a beautiful work because it identifies characters in a realistic way, and allowed me to fall into them as realized people. It’s beautiful because the story felt real. Unfortunately, the story didn’t arc much. It was a series of remembering chapters where the tapestry was more important than the services going on beneath it and, for example, in real-time, the people drive from A to B, but in memory-time, the people travel through several powerful experiences. Somewhere someone referred to this writer as Joycean in style, and I see where they’re drawing the connection, but without the milk, these figs are quite dry to the taste. I’m writing about this book because it helped me recognize something about my own work: perhaps I spend too much time on tapestries and not enough time on services. I wanted these characters to do something, move, but most of the traveling happened internally. I find nothing wrong with internal conflict and development, but unfortunately the beautiful words and phrases didn’t carry the story the way (I felt) they should have.
I’d recommend any and all of these books to readers: they’re informative, and all serve as wildly different approaches to writing.