Reading – from stories to thoughts

Lately I have discovered that I read differently, like different things about books. Looking back I see that there has been that same tendency from my childhood, but recently I have reached a definite turning point and find it hard to read some books I would have liked – or at least finished – before. I have even left some books unfinished – unheard-of behavior for me.

As I have written here before, I was a book-eater in childhood. Everything I could get my hands on, I read. I escaped chores and playmates to read. Hid myself behind the sofa or inside the hedge to have my privacy. And if I liked a book, I could read it over and over again, tens of times. I learned to forget enough of the storyline to have it interesting on each read. But what was the thing that brought me back to my particular favorites? The point behind the story. Oh, I did enjoy the storyline, shed tears with the heroes and heroines, but I never came back to books without a comprehensive point I could understand behind the story. So, I read the whole of Gone with the Wind series, but only once – though I was enraptured by the tale when I read it; I came back to several criminal stories – but only because the plots had some point besides (like having implications on what the adult world is really like – and I was just a child), but that wasn’t very often. My favorites, as I remember them, were mostly from Science Fiction world or real classics – though I have always had a hard time drawing a line between them.

When I grew up I was re-acquainted with the world of fantasy and science fiction on a different, more systematic level; and in school I had more classics to go thorough as well (though when I compare the books I had to read in school with other people I am always surprised in how many more they had to read, that I have not and feel sorry that I have not). For a while my horizons were much wider and I could enjoy books just for the storyline, just to experience the feelings again – the pain, the fun, the romance. But slowly I have grown out of liking to read a story for its own sake. Long series with long chapters in big books tire me, even if they’re funny. I just can’t wait to hear the next part of the puzzle – but they just hang around and fall in love or have fun or something. And I have other things to do besides reading, why couldn’t they just state their point?

In the last year I have read some books with great puzzles (to be discovered one piece at a time) or philosophies behind them (different series like Robin Hobb‘s Farseer through Liveship to Tawny man; Dan Simmons‘s Hyperion and Endymion; Orson Scott Card‘s Ender series from Speaker for the Dead through Xenocide to Children of the Mind – Ender’s Game was read previously) and had really hard time with them. I was angry at them for disrupting my life as they did, I was angry for their bloatedness, the nitty-gritty irrelevant details and typical relationships in them. I respect those writers for their accomplishments, but I have found that I value my other life much more, the life I cannot have if I am submersed in a book. So, I got really afraid of all series or thick books and turned to short stories.

I had read some before, but this was the first time I really acknowledged how good they were for me and my life. If you read a short story, you get the concentrate of a book and you get it in a split time of reading a big book. You could read many short stories in one evening and still have enough time to sleep before the next working day. Or you can read one and really think of all its implications while going to sleep. Extracting the meaning is so much easier. You don’t have to read the insignificant parts about imaginary landscapes and small talk of nonexistent characters. These are brief enough in the short stories. Sure, there are boring short stories as well, or ones just wrong, but you get through them quickly and it doesn’t bother you to have spent this part of your precious time on reading it. It’s only sad that I can’t list them here as well, there’s just too many of them, but the collections I myself bought were Complete Robot by Asimov and Science Fiction The Best Of The Year 2006.

But once I realized that short stories are better for me, I could see that smaller books could be as well. I mentioned reading Sheckley in the post about my surgery – and he has grasped the right size for the books quite well. I also found Daniel Quinn for myself – something worth thinking about at least – I read two books in two nights and was not worse off at all (if I finish at 1:30, then I have 4,5 hours of sleep by morning and as it is 3*1,5h, which is the unit by which one should sleep, then I am quite well rested by morning). These serve well on making me think, yet don’t rob me of my precious time, which is divided between different important things already.

And only a few days ago I discovered that there are actually three unfinished thick books on my bookshelf. Each of these started but not read through, not taken in and analyzed as usual. OK, the Sheckley is in this list only because the book (which is collected works of Sheckley, a book I specially ordered from Amazon to let him know he has yet another fan) is too big to put into my smallish bag when I go somewhere. But Peter F. Hamilton (which I bought because of a recommendation in one of the short stories books) is bloated and too predictable to be interesting and Dan Simmons’s Ilium (which I bought because I did like the plot behind Hyperion series and hoped for something as good) suffers from the same disease that made reading Hyperion and its follow-ups so frustrating – though the emerging plot does seem to be interesting. When I read it, its interesting, but I can hear myself constantly thinking: “I don’t have time for this”.

And time, time is the point. It seems like I have finally grown up, I have finally taken the reins and started thinking about how I spend my time versus how I would like to spend it and what could I do to change it (there are always more things than you could think of!). And are those things that I list as me liking to do really things I want to do; or are those things I don’t like to do really not worth doing. It is complex and I should spend another post on how to spend and divide and plan your time, but I am most sure that reading just for fun is not on the list of things that I really really want to spend my time on. There has to be more to reading than fun. Escaping the world is not it. There can be results, changes, improvements coming from it. I can grow as a person because of it.

So here I promise – a promise my son would very much like for all the time it frees for him – I will not take on a thick book anymore (with the exception of a long holiday). I will prefer books and stories that are short and to the point. And when I encounter a book I don’t think will give me anything, I stop reading it. And when I finally get to writing that book I always wanted to write (or one of them rather), then I won’t bloat it and I won’t feel bad if it is thinner than could be or would feel proper.

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6 Responses to Reading – from stories to thoughts

  1. MDW says:

    We are frighteningly similar in some things (4.5 hours of sleep, however, is not one of them). I planned pretty much the same post. I’ll comment yours instead, you decide whether to post it.

    In my childhood, reading stories was like going on a journey with author as my guide. I was *there* with the characters.
    Going down the tunnel in the Lonely Mountain or drifting through unexplored space on a broken starship was amazing the first time. And the second. And the fiftieth too. However, once I had been dragged through orc-infested caves for *four thousandth* time – happened about when I was 23 – I simply had enough and started to ask authors – why the *hell* did you bring me here?!

    By now, reading fiction has become fight with author for me – I’m constantly looking for the moment, skipping the repetive chases, fight scenes, descriptions of alien vistas – when he or she reveals their actual beliefs, their *self* through events or characters described. And then I’m disappointed, for usually what I find is yet another middle-class american. There is room in the world for them and their beliefs too, sure, but I’d like to meet someone else for change.

    The thing is that fiction on contemporary market, whether sci-fi or not, does no longer reflect *life*. Most modern authors, especially in “epic” science fiction and fantasy are graphomaniacs who know about things they write as much as their idols, Tolkien and Campbell told them. They don’t even know real *myths*, only interpretations. There are very few authors who write with the aim to *enlighten*, to help us emotionally process the topics we encounter in contemporary world. Neither are they very honest in their writings: they do not write about world we live in or life as it is for most of us. Often they haven’t been outside their hometown. They live very ordinary, boring lives. They write about things they read in *someone else’s* book or newspaper. And when they write, there’s always the thought – will it sell? Is it going to be published?

    Of course, this is understandable – they do not have any dark designs with readers. They do not try to make us stupid or hide the real problems of the world behind a myth. They simply read Lord of the Rings or saw Star Wars, or some other “epic” fantasy and they wish to reflect it, wish to make others feel what they felt when first seeing it. But the result is the same – a formulaic Disney World ride through the Munchkin land (remember Oz?). And when they give their munchkins three eyes or dress them in leather outfits – then they consider themselves “original” or “edgy”.

    Even when author manages to write a good book, striving off from the railroad of “epic” events – it’s no guarantee that their work manages to stay off these rails in the future. When I read Hyperion, I was amazed – this was why I used to read sci-fi as a child, I was once more traveling to places I had never been before. Then, of course, came the cyberpunk scenes and I recognized the neon-lighted streets and flying cars of Blade Runner’s megapolis. These parts of the book were as well written as the rest, but at this point Simmons lost me, and I started again searching for the author, for the man behind the curtain.
    I’m reading the Endymion right now and feel it very sharply – Simmons didn’t want to write this book. It drags on and on like a freight train of pointless (albeit well-described) scenes from other books and movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the hero started to talk about what weapon should he carry on himself and whether plasma rifle is a correct word for a energy weapon or not. I was like – WTF? This from the guy who wrote Hyperion?!

    Then again, if the story has nothing *but* the point, it won’t work either – Coelho and… some other people (Rand!, *shudder*), come to mind. A good story has a point, but it’s not in author’s mind when they’re writing it. I believe that during writing nothing but the story itself should be in author’s mind. Not whether it sells or whether someone will become offended. Only the logic of the story.

    And yet, even that doesn’t guarantee a good book… Stephen King can take you beyond the edge of the Universe and still remains stuck in small town America… Maybe there is no recipe for writing at all and we just have to endure the endless queue of Dark Lords and heroic blonde kids and unerringly competent female warriors, hoping that something *else* comes along. Or maybe we should do it better ourselves.

    I probably should have posted this in my own blog…

    BTW – that book you want to write, is it a sci-fi book? 🙂

  2. liriel says:

    You should have written it in your blog and then linked it here, but it is always nice to read your thoughts 🙂

    My book won’t be really sci-fi, more just philosophical with some elements of sci-fi. Or maybe not. Depends on which of the ideas will prevail. As I said, I have a trouble drawing the line between different genres. I don’t really care of what genre will it fall into or whether someone else than my closest friends will ever read it, I just want to complete it.

  3. MDW says:

    Ei viitsi seda inglise keelde panna praegu.

    Ma arvan, et kuigi *fiktsiooni* eri Ĺľanreid ei pea eristama, on tark fiktsiooni lahus hoida filosoofilisest
    arutelust reaalsuse *an sich* kohta. Sel lihtsal põhjusel, et kui sa arutled maailma *an sich* üle, võib
    fiktsiooni sissetoomine panna sind nägema seda mida sa näha tahad, mitte seda mis on. Võib juhtuda, et hakkad kasutama
    fiktsiooni mitte näidetes vaid põhjendustes ning fiktiivsed põhjendused on midagi väärt vaid siis kui need käivad
    Fiktiivse maailma kohta.

    Ulmes olen tähele pannud, kuidas autor tihti õigustab/põhjendab oma konkreetseid sotsiaalpoliitilisi vms seisukohti neile
    tulevikuajaloo fiktiivset kaalu lisades a la “sellise poliitika järgimine on 20 000 aasta jooksul toonud inimkonnale
    vaid kannatusi” – mainimata jääb, et reaalses maailmas eksisteerib neist aastatest heal juhul vaid ĂĽks armetu sajand.

    Ulme suurim oht on selles, et seda Ĺľanrit kasutatakse tihti autori, paratamatult piiratud sotsiaalpoliitilises infokeskkonnas
    kasvanud inimese poliitiliste ja sotsiaalsete seisukohtade laiendamiseks üle terve Maailmakõiksuse ja Ajaloo, andes neile
    näiliselt palju suurema kaalu kui neil seisukohtadel oleks vaid autori enese väidetena.

  4. Pingback: robin hobb

  5. liriel says:

    Ma pidin järgi vaatama, mida tähendab an sich (mul pole ei saksa keele ega filosoofia haridust ju), kuigi ma arvasin, et umbes nii ta tähendabki – abiks link teistele: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_sich

    Ma arvan, et too raamat, kui ta tuleb välja nii, nagu ma praegu plaanin, segab omavahel tõde ja arutlust (kuigi otseselt mitte minu enda arvamust vaid kallutatud, peategelase arvamust, mis ongi vale) ja fiktsiooni ja on tõenäoliselt science’ist päris kaugel. Ma pole lihtsalt science’is piisavalt tugev, et julgeks midagi välja pakkuda. Mitte et ma arvaks, et ma kogu tõde teaks – see on piisavalt suur, et ei mahuks ĂĽhegi inimese pähe tõenäoliselt ära. Või kui ka mahuks, siis oleks ta idiot savant.

    See sinu 20 000 aastat tuletas mulle meelde raamatu Ishmael, Daniel Quinn (seal on küll 10 000, aga väga reaalset aastat). Oled lugenud? Huvitav oleks seisukohta kuulda.

  6. Kris says:

    Lohutav on teada, et ma polegi ainus, kes kannatamatult silmadega raamatut kammib ja ootab, et millal lõpuks see lahendus tuleb.. Võib olla sellepärast mul ongi probleeme pikkade sarjade läbilugemisega. Esimese raamatu loen ma läbi huviga, edasi jääb aga asi mingil hetkel soiku kuna ma lihtsalt ei viitsi oodata, et millal siis selle ebaolulise vahelt see oluline välja koorub.
    Ma just lõpetasin ka Hyperioni ja see meeldis mulle väga, nüüd aga panevad eelmised postitused kahtlema, et kas tasub ikka järgmised raamatud ka osta, ei tahaks endale järgmist sarja tuppa seisma.

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