Discussion in 'Role Playing Forum' started by Penguinator, Feb 8, 2013.
Never thought of that, thanks!
Do it. Seriously. But if you're going to take risks, then I'm going to speak like a born-again type here and say: leave the fantasy ghetto, at least for a while. Do yourself a favour and go walk on some well-manicured English streets of the English language -- go and look up some classics.
By way of background, I've previously had some disdain for the whole "literary" book, principally now I have to concede from ignorance more than anything else. Let me say crow doesn't taste so bad. Delicious, in fact. (Even so: I still approach current "literary" books with some caution, because there is still a lot of pretentious crap out there.) But every book on writing, at least, says again and again that you owe it to yourself to read some of the best that English literature has to offer. There are good reasons why Conrad, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and even Jane Austen survive on our bookshelves, and it's not because they're all English language course essentials. They survive because they're beautiful reads.
I did one unit in English Literature at university, as well as in high school, so I can imagine the shivers of revulsion that probably come from suggesting you go and look at Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, or John Steinbeck. You have probably had metric tonnes of what is a load of politically-based crap pounded into you by teachers about the better English novels, with hours spent on the "masculinist iconography" or "anticolonialist themes" that supposedly exist in the literature. My answer is this: ignore the political stuff about these books. Ignore the long introductions by second-rate academics that usually precede the stories of these books. Instead, just sit down and read one of the classics, slowly, carefully, savouring each word. Do a close reading. Ask yourself from time to time why the author chose a particular word he did. I really believe that, with the best, you'll find an absolute joy of English expression, I mean really.
This'll feel a bit of an odd experience if you have the same reaction I did -- in the West, and particularly these days where George R.R. Martin produces telephone books rather than novels, many popular novels are easy reads, designed so your eyes slide over the words and then forget them, the equivalent of a McDonald's burger. Don't look at the author's life, just have a read of the story, appreciate the images and the language. Cormac McCarthy, as I've said, is great for this: The Road is just a diamond, though No Country for Old Men is pretty damn good as well, and it's not taxing on the mind to imagine things.
For myself, I know this wasn't something I could have done when I was, say, in my late teens, early twenties. I was much more interested in a cracking fast plot, in big "woohoo" moments: the Belgariad and the Elenium series by David Eddings was the sort of thing I was into back then. But I'll say this: if you can sit through a George R.R. Martin telephone book, you'll find it easy to sit through something like Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Your patience in plot terms will not be tested sorely, so long as you allow yourself to just enjoy the ride rather than eagerly flip ahead to see how it turns out.
I'll leave it to Ramza if he wants to talk about how James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway fit into this picture, mainly because he's read them and I haven't, but those two come very highly recommended as well. Joyce is reputed as one of the best authors English has ever produced -- though his masterwork, Ulysses, also has the reputation of being an arduous read unless you have some background going into it.
I don't read a lot, but I loved No Country for Old Men. Been meaning to pick up The Road, just haven't gotten around to it.
Well, they're really enjoyable for very different reasons.
Hemingway's at the extreme high end of language economy - even his longest works are extremely brisk reads just because of how damn utilitarian his prose is. "Spartan" is probably the right word - it's refined, hard, and hits like a hammer. Nothing is placed on the page by accident, it is all there precisely because he intends it to be there, and it pays off really well. If he didn't invent snappy dialogue, he certainly codified it, and the emotions that he brings to play are very, very real. There's apparently a fancy literary explanation for what makes him effective, "theory of omission," but you don't need it. You just read his books and it's there and it sticks with you - I can still tell you the old man loved the Yankees especially the great DiMaggio and I haven't actually opened my copy of The Old Man and the Sea in over three years.
Joyce is the opposite. I mean, just, the polar opposite of Hemingway. He's fluid and overlaps himself and runs in five directions and those five directions are all elaborate puns and also a Bible reference. Meaning is there, by the standards of his day some quite shocking meaning, but what really grabs you is the simple joy of watching where he'll take something. You'll begin on a thought about eggs, end on a shoe, and you're really not quite sure, in retrospect, how you got to that shoe, but you're convinced that the shoe was the only logical endpoint. What else could there be but that shoe? That being said, he gets a bad rep because everyone wants to jump into Ulysses and really has no business doing so - do you tackle the deep end of the pool before you can swim? Joyce is almost unique in that he rewards you for reading his works and the works of others, and his best books - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake are meant to be read in that order and by no means back to back. They build on each other: Portrait stands on its own, Ulysses is for the wizened man who brings a map (In this case, The Odyssey, or perhaps even the Gilbert or Linati guides), and Finnegans, despite what some English professors might assert, is where you stand upon the precipice of a vast, tumultuous ocean and you just dive in and let the waves crash over you and it's the best thing.
So yes, both are authors I hold in very high regard. That said, in terms of transitioning to the so-called greats from the fantasy/sci-fi staples, I would heartily recommend Kurt Vonnegut, who transitioned into being great from the fantasy/sci-fi staples. His idiosyncracies are not so extreme as Joyce's, his prose not so sparse as Hemingway's, but he's clearly influenced by both and, really, he's just fun to read. Poo-tee-weet? So it goes.
*checks dials* Ramza, I think we've both taken the forum pretty close to the "too adult, too serious" threshold. Should I go break out the ICBMs that contain furry cockroaches now, or give 'er a few minutes more?
I think we're okay until someone mentions Derrida without any provocation.
... WAIT, ****!
That's it, she's in the red zone. IMMATURITY INJECTION, STAT!
Here, I've rehosted a subtly altered version on imgur.
That was such a great issue.
You know, I stepped away from Hooper's for literally one hour and this is what has occurred. So there is only one obvious course of action to take in such a time..........
Join in of course
It must be done, of course, for....
FOR THE KING!
FOR THE LANDS!
Eh, you know the rest.
Yes, Batman has spent years training to become an expert in magical girls.
... There's a Zatanna joke in here somewhere.
Yes, I am aware Darkseid is misspelled in this image.