Archive for June, 2011

Great Books vs Favorite Books

First, before I start, does anyone know how to get rid of bindweed?  It is everywhere in my yard and it’s starting to kill my other plants and I DO NOT APPROVE.

(Also, remember to wear gloves when trimming rose bushes.  Yeessss.)

On to real business.

I’d say that once a year or so, I read a book that is fully satisfying, where the plot is logical and well-thought out, the characters are three-dimensional and relate-able, and, when I set it down at the end, I think, “Damn that was a good book.”

(Some examples: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger)

Here’s the thing about Great Books, though – I never reread them.  I don’t know about you, but the initial reading is so striking that I don’t feel the need to.  Once is enough for a life time.

And, to expand on that, I don’t want to.  What if the experience isn’t as good the second time around?  I’ll have ruined the experience.

Favorite books, on the other hand, ones you read over and over, don’t even have to be good books.  They just have something about them that appeals to you on some subconscious level.

For example, as a teenager, I read a truly ridiculous amount of Star Trek novels.  Trek novels run the full gambit from brilliant gems of science fiction to cracked out out-of-character messes, but my favorite was an Original Series novel called Black Fire.  (I actually found the Spanish translation while in a book store in Madrid, so I have this insanity in multiple languages.)

This is not a “good” book.  The prose is laughable, but I loved it anyway (probably because Spock spends most of the book being a space pirate).

While I read maybe one truly brilliant book a year, I read tons of favorites.  I have go-to authors and series that scratch my itches when they need scratching.

And, while this may sound terrible, I would much rather write a favorite book than a great book.  Something that people will love and cherish and read til the cover’s worn off.

How about you, Squiders?  Do your reading habits echo mine?

Writers – what kind of book do you aspire to?


Alpaca vs Landsquid: The Results (Plus the Comfort Books Theory)

Anne reminded me yesterday that I’d never truly ended the Alpaca/Landsquid/Sky Shark battle in any sort of fashion.

For those of you too lazy to go and find the results of the poll (myself included), here’s how things resolved themselves.

30% of people voted for the Landsquid.
35% of people voted for the Alpaca.
35% of people voted for the Sky Shark.

Now, I was pleased that everyone was so close, but Anne informs me that the Sky Shark should have won handily and only didn’t because Ian was strong-arming people into voting for the Alpaca, and I’ve got a Landsquid who won’t come and help me do anything because he’s sulking with a box of Cheez-Its and a bottle of whiskey under the stairs.  So.

As to the Comfort Book theory, my theory was that people’s comfort books would either be something they read very early on in life or would be something that they’d read during a difficult time period, but I don’t think I got enough data to make any sort of conclusions on that front.

When Science Goes Stale

Last night, my husband and I watched Jurassic Park.  To make you all feel as old as I do, Jurassic Park came out eighteen years ago, in 1993.  I probably haven’t watched it in a decade, but I remember being really impressed with it (I even had the soundtrack).  DNA!  Dinosaurs!  Gene sequencing!

Turns out, it comes across really dated now.  The advances in Paleontology in the past decade have been immense – now we suspect most if not all dinosaurs had feathers, and, in some cases, we even know what color they were.  Even ignoring that, which admittedly people may not be up on if they are not as big of a dinosaur freak as I am (I had to explain to two people in the last week that there was no such thing as a brontosaurus – it was an apatosaurus put together wrong), they’re using CRT televisions.  Lex gets excited about a CD-ROM.  The “UNIX” that Jurassic Park runs on looks nothing like any UNIX I’ve ever used.

I started this post with the intention of talking about science fiction and how what can seem strange and cutting edge can be old news or just plain wrong in a matter of years – I don’t know if you’ve ever read Verne or Wells, they are brilliant, but oh, the science at times – but I realized it’s not just science fiction where this is a potential problem.  I read a mystery lately where I honestly wondered why the main character didn’t just look something up on the internet before I realized that it was because there was no internet, not really, in 1994 when the book was published.

What’s an author to do?  If you’re writing contemporary or science fiction, you don’t know how the world’s going to go, and it makes no sense to second-guess everything you write, from the internet to cell phones to air travel (I’m still hoping for reliable teleportation in the next few years).  I’ve seen this go a couple of different ways: 1) set the story in the near past (i.e. the last twenty years) where things are close enough to today to be  relate-able and the technology state is known, or 2) say Hell with it and go about your business as usual.

It is a bit aggravating when something you wrote four years ago has gone out of date technologically, however.

As a reader, does it pull you out of the narrative when the science and technology don’t mesh with how you know things to be now?  As a writer, what’s your approach when dealing with technology that is here today but may be gone tomorrow or may never come to be?