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Book Meme

I haven't done one of these for a while, so here we go, nine questions about books:

1. One book that changed your life?

Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje.

I found Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter when I was twenty, and I'd published a few things, but I was (and still am) criminally under read. I always will be, I figure. But at the time I was even moreso, and the things I had seen done in fiction, it was fairly traditional stuff. Then came Ondaatje, and he had this book that was beautiful, passionate, tragic, and filled with just about every kind of prose that I had ever seen. All jammed together into this slim book about a musician that was just achingly beautiful. Made me reassess the whole way I wrote.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I don't re-read so much nowadays. I tend to open a read book, flip to a section I liked, read that, close it, and that's about it for re-reading. There's just so much out there to read that I haven't, you understand, so all the books I have re-read are from my teenage days. Waylander, by the sadly now late David Gemmell, was one of those books. It was all about an assassin seeking redemption, and a bunch of soldiers holding a fort, and dying. I don't know that there's much more to say, really, except that Gemmell knew how to kill a main character.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

The Book of Surviving Desert Islands, obviously. Where's the amazon link?

Actually, I'd maybe take Don Quixote, because I bought the Edith Grossman translation, recently, because it promised me a modern language. I tried the old translation of Don Quixote twice, but I just suffered with it. On a read through the first ten pages, it seems all good, but you know, I reckon being on a desert island would really force me to read it. Or I'd have a lot of toilet paper.

4. One book that made you laugh?

You know, I'm going to go with Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The friendship of the demon and the angel is just great, and I do have a real soft spot for the book. I'd probably goes as far as to say it's my favourite thing that either of them have done.

5. One book that made you cry?

Well. I'm sure this'll be embarrassing. But I cried in Dragons of Spring Dawning when Flint Fireforge died. I was, like, thirteen, but that's no excuse.

6. One book you wish had been written?

You know, isn't that what I'm for?

If people go imagining their own books they want to read, I'm going to find it real difficult to sell shit.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Lord of the Rings.

Look, I know it's three books (four with The Hobbit, so lets include that (and yes, I know it was originally meant to be one book)) but I've got to say it: I hate those fucking books. I hate Hobbits. I hate how you spend page after page meandering through the woods, and then the moment a big fucking demon appears, it's half a page. Maybe one and a half pages. I hate the way women are represented in it. I hate the way there's a whole kind of servant/lord relationship in Sam and Frodo. I hate how it's written. I sometimes imagine waking up in the morning, and somehow, over night, Lord of the Rings had been banished, shot into space on a rocket, and everyone who learnt to speak elvish with them. I think of this as the Utopia, because of course, there's more than one rocket, and I'm ruling the world. Sometimes I wake up from this daydream, and a week has passed.

8. One book you are currently reading?

I am currently reading Maureen McHugh's collection, Mothers and Other Monsters, and it's really quite superb. (Which reminds me, I haven't done a fifty books challenge thing for a while, have I?)

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

I bought a copy of the Mahabharata about nine years ago. The William Buck translation, though truthfully, I've not read any other. Anyhow: I swear to you, one day, I will read it. Or at least try. Once.

Taken from Clare Dudman.


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Aug. 6th, 2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
We had a couple of similarities there, namely an Ondaatje book changing your life and wishing LOTR had never been written!

Somebody else mentioned crying at the old Dragonlance stuff but that was for Sturm...
Aug. 6th, 2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
I was more cut up about Sturm dying than I was about Flint, I have to say.
Aug. 6th, 2006 11:30 pm (UTC)
sturm only became cool when he died. i disliked him for most of the two books, but in the final quarter of winter night he became pretty cool--and i loved how they had his death resonate.

but flint was one of my favourites.
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:03 am (UTC)
I was always more of a Sturm fan. Why are Dwarves always Scottish?
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
why're elves always uppity?

(you do know they're making an animated film out of the first book, yeah?)
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, I knew that (probably from angriest's blog actually). I'll watch it - it might be a great sort of thing for my eleven year old brother as well.

And dwarves are much more typecast than elves, in my opinion. Flint, Bruenor and Gimli (to name three characters from three different books and settings) are practically the same person.
Aug. 7th, 2006 03:12 am (UTC)
i tend to think i won't watch it, myself. not unless someone tells me its absolutely brilliant, and even then, maybe not. there's really no way to express to you how much those books meant to me as a kid--the idea of seeing them on screen kinda fills with me revulsion.

i think there's more of a similarity between gimli and bruenor than flint, but it's much of a muchness, really. i see your point.
Aug. 7th, 2006 03:38 am (UTC)
They might do a nice job of it. I quite often find that that type of thing - a long book with lots of plot but very little interiority or conceptual interest - works better as a film.

They weren't that big a deal for me as a kid, to be honest. Liked 'em, liked the Elmore cover art, came to despise them in a short while, have since moderated my position, but they really didn't change my life ;-)
Aug. 7th, 2006 03:49 am (UTC)
DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT was the first book i ever really connected with. i bought it in a bookstore because my mum had that notion that kids should read, y'know, and everything i had read before then was not my kind of thing. i came close to really connecting with a book called SPACE DEMONS, but in the end, didn't. then i picked up this book and, well, suddenly literature was all different. i must've read it six or seven times.

so you see, it is the book of my childhood. heh. you can't make films out of that.
Aug. 7th, 2006 03:39 am (UTC)
Don't think it was from my blog because it's news to me.

I would so watch that. Hopefully they don't louse it up.
Aug. 7th, 2006 03:59 am (UTC)
Feel slightly guilty saying it, but I hope there is an endless future of animated versions of the fantasy books I read as a kid. What with the Ghibli Earthsea and all that. In fact, Peake, Leiber and Moorcock would all be so great as animations (and, as an aside, I've often thought Gormenghast would make a superb backdrop to a puzzle-oriented computer RPG).
Aug. 7th, 2006 07:55 am (UTC)
OMG just found their official website - Keifer Sutherland is the voice of Raistlin? That's kickass!!

My inner 12 year-old is very keen now.
Aug. 7th, 2006 12:11 pm (UTC)
Aug. 6th, 2006 11:31 pm (UTC)
which ondaatje book was it for you?
Aug. 7th, 2006 07:00 am (UTC)
In the Skin of a Lion, it's a winner!
Aug. 6th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
Actually Lord of the Rings is one book: the publisher split it into three parts.
Aug. 6th, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
yeah, i did know that. late night moment, i guess.
Aug. 6th, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
Once, I was sitting at this guy's house at 1 in the morning (I didn't know him very well) drinking beer, and we were talking about fantasy and science fiction novels, and after I proclaimed that I hated Lord of the Rings books, he said, "Ok, you need to finish your beer and leave."
Aug. 6th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
people are fucked up bout those books, man.
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:03 am (UTC)
There is a wonderful series of memoirs by an American named Helene Hanff - she wrote 84 Charing Cross Road, which may or may not help you - and in one of them she talks about when she was an 'outside reader' for one of the big publishing companies. This was back in the 40s, I believe. Basically her job entailed reading through the drafts of books they were considering publishing and giving her opinion. One of the books was Lord of the Rings. She hated fiction - absolutely hated it. So when she started reading about Bilbo Baggins and his eleventy-hundredth birthday or whatever it was, she nearly had a coronary.

When she turned in her bill for reading, it was the standard x number of pages at x dollars per page PLUS an additional $50 for 'mental anguish'. She writes that they paid up without comment.
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
you know, i think i might buy those memoirs, just for that.
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:05 pm (UTC)
If you can find them, they are really well done. I believe the one that story came from is called 'Underfoot in Show Business' and tells all about how she grew up & moved to NYC with plans to become a playwright - and never did. She wrote a lot of the Ellery Queen episodes, and other TV stuff as well once TV came along. And nearly every chapter has a nice little kick at the end :)


Aug. 7th, 2006 01:07 am (UTC)
It's fun imagining an alternate genre of fantasy since 1950 or so, if LotR had never been written. I don't mind betting it would still be full of dreck imitating someone else though.

LotR is a big enough book that its absence from the global consciousness could even go as far as changing things geopolitically. I'm sure the recent films have much changed the way children (and impressionable idiots) think of enemies in war.
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC)
I've always loved imagining the hypothetical alternate fantasy where Lord of the Rings crashed and burned while Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books became an international sensation.
Aug. 7th, 2006 01:44 am (UTC)
Although it's brilliant, Gormenghast lacks the narrative thrust and sympathetic protagonist necessary to be a major hit (you could say that about LotR, but it'd be slightly tongue in cheek).

Scary as it sounds, Moorcock is probably a more credible alternative as "the basis of all modern fantasy". Much as I'm fond of his work, I think we'd all be weeping if the Way of Moorcock ruled. Or maybe Robert E. Howard. Argh.
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
i think we should have gone the way of lieber. if THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR had caught on... well, i'd be happy.

i tend to think you're right about moorcock, but it's not as if he isn't popular right now. a lot of the 'new' weird is the child of 70s moorcock, i tend to think.
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:11 am (UTC)
"a lot of the 'new' weird is the child of 70s moorcock, i tend to think."

Absolutely - and he often is both openly acknowledged as an influence and he writes a positive review of the work. It's only a matter of time before those ideas begin to pall this time around, although in fairness (and in my opinion) most of the New Weird stuff out there is better considered and executed than the large part of Moorcock's output.

As far as Leiber goes (one of my faves) if I had to pick the single defining characteristic of his work it would be that it never (never?) strays into self-serious territory. Their aren't too many other fantasy writers of any hue who can claim that, not even the consciously humorous ones.

Aug. 7th, 2006 02:22 am (UTC)
i'm not quite sure what you mean by self-serious territory--could you elaborate a bit more for me?

leiber was quite an author who a lot of his own personality/life snuck into his fiction. his problems with alcohol, for example, are there--and in more than one book. his interest in theatre. indeed, OUR LADY OF DARKNESS is basically about leiber after having given up the booze after, i think, his wife's death.

but he was fantastic. really. he deserved a bigger audience--it depresses me that there are people who might never have read him.
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:30 am (UTC)
Hmm. There is no doubt a better term, but what I mean is literature that regards its value as more than just entertainment.

For example, Pratchett I would describe as occasionally self-serious because their is a clear sense that the books are intended, at times, to be morally edifying.

Likewise with Moorcock there may, from time to time, be a stultifying aroma of "this has artistic merit" in his work.

On the other hand, Jack Vance's Dying Earth books would sit outside self-serious territory in my estimation.

Perhaps I'm not best qualified to comment, of Leiber having only read (and re-read) the Fafhrd/Mouser stories and other than that a couple of novellas. Maybe he had his self-serious moments.
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:42 am (UTC)
i've not read everything of leiber's, but i've read a fair bit, and he didn't seem to have the morally instructive elements that you attach to pratchett, there. (and rightly so, i think.) however, i do think he viewed his writing as an art, and not just entertainment--it was meant to entertain, certainly, but i think he saw it as an artform. there's a moment in OUR LADY OF DARKNESS where the franz weston/frizt leiber discusses a work for hire book he is writing, and the little extra bits of effort he went to. he notes how most readers will not notice it, but how to him, leaving them out made him feel as if the job was not done properly.

so i think leiber did see his work as an art, and approached it so, but i haven't come across anything that was him saying, 'i'm being important here,' or the such.
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:54 am (UTC)
There are shades I guess. Example: Pale Fire (which I know you've read). No doubt there that Nabokov's authorial persona radiates the knowledge that he's the cleverest man on the planet (or at least top ten), and that the work is revolutionary in concept and brilliant in execution, but that doesn't make it self-serious in the way I want to express, not least because it has that element of self-reflection, as Kinbote the Zemblan's awkwardnesses are at times a parody of Nabokov, the Russian immigrant.

Perhaps the works of Leiber's you're talking about that I haven't read, which draw on his own experiences, are a similar case?

And then with Pratchett, you have the smugness of moral conservatism, infuriatingly redolent of the common-sense-of-John-Howard even if it is politically more correct, and with Moorcock the sense of the "project" of progressive art in the 60s/70s with its eyes fixed on utopia with ever so little peripheral vision.
Aug. 7th, 2006 03:10 am (UTC)
yeah, the leiber/nabokov comparison is fair enough, i think. there are a lot of similarities between the two, actually, in their writing--their styles are very similar, i think. but yeah, that's about the level i'm talking about.

pratchett i don't read anymore. haven't for years. it got to the point where you'd read one, you'd read them all, really.
Aug. 7th, 2006 02:03 am (UTC)
though, i got to tell you, i have the best idea for a comedy right now. the moment i get a spare day, i'm going to write it up.
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