Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Recommending Nothing.

This morning bought an email from ASif, the Australian speculative fiction review site. They're doing a recommended reading list in the Locus fashion and were offering me the chance to participate, which is very nice, really. I mean, who doesn't like being asked to participate? I love being asked to do things. Sure, I might have to turn it down, but getting asked sure beats all the other options in this area.

The problem, however, was that I've got nothing to recommend. A very large reason for this is simply that I didn't read much of anything for pleasure last year, and what I did read wasn't Australian. In fact, if I were being quite honest, I'd have to say that I don't really read much Australian speculative fiction stuff at all anymore. Maybe a book here and there. Some short fiction if it catches my eye. An author if he/she begins to do things that sound interesting. Part of my desire to review the Aurealis Award finalists was because I wanted to check out what was being called the subjective best of the year. I was just curious, mostly, and I like to keep up with what's going on round me. The Snapshot in April was part of that. That said, I've had fuck all time to read for pleasure. I've got a copy of Kaaron Warren's The Grinding House from May and I just haven't opened it and it's not a slight on Warren or her stuff, because I like her work most of the time. I even like the cover of the book, so I'm all good there.

But I won't read an Australian book just because it's Australian. It's a bit of a ridiculous idea, really. There's support the local scene, which I do, and then there's support the local scene, which I do not. The second of those is the idea that you buy everything put out, that you read all the Australian work, that it is, somehow, your duty as a suffering independent press author to do this. At the same time, you should read other things. Read till your fingers bleed, but read the local world first. I don't actually reckon anyone does this, but when I first entered the scene, it was the impression I was given. I did it for a couple of months, till my shit meter was filled for a lifetime.

All the Australian work I read this year didn't grab me in the way that fiction must for me to recommend it. This doesn't mean that I didn't encounter well written, well crafted work and that I cannot recognise this, but rather that I didn't find anything fresh or new, which is what I need to recommend it. I didn't get that snap of energy I get when I find something I really dig. This is an across the board thing with fiction, by the by, so if you think I'm slagging on the local scene, you need to chill. For example, a couple of weeks back I was standing in a bookstore with S., and we were talking about Jeffery Eugenides The Virgin Suicides, which I'd read a few years back, but which she had not, and was considering. It's not a bad book, really, but its flaw is that you never connect with anything going on. The dead girls, the loss of innocence in connection with learning about life... you're distanced for it. There's no connection. It's just pretty words. Now, for me, that stops me recommending the book, and I said so to S. To recommend a book, a short story, anything, I've got to have that snap that makes me keep reading. And I mean makes me keep reading. Whatever that connection in my brain is, however fiction and me link, to the point where I have to keep going back, this is what I need to recommend it. This connection doesn't always happen the first encounter with a work, either. It took me a second attempt to get into Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, for example. I'd just begun reading it at the wrong time, the wrong place, and I wasn't connecting with it, and a part of me nagged at the back of my head that I was missing something, so I restarted. I don't always get that restart inkling, however. I read Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys over Xmas and, y'know, once was enough. I'd seen this all from Gaiman before. There was no connection, such as with some of Gaiman's earlier work, and I didn't hate the book, but I'd been there, done that. It was just the same old footsteps. So, in case you think I'm slagging locals, I'm not. This is how I judge fiction. There's a lot of work out there, so I don't feel the need to find excuses on why I should read a particular piece--which is often what, "I'm reading an Australian book" is. When someone says that sentence, it's easy to notice how they're not mentioning the author, the genre, anything about the book itself. If you're doubting me (which is fair enough) ask yourself how many times you hear anyone local say "I'm reading an American book". Just because a book is written by an Australian--or American or anyone--doesn't make a book unique or special or anything like that. That's just some author's nationality and a nationality doesn't make a book better or worse.*

And with that said, with the majority of the fiction I read this year, I was bored. I was especially bored with things published this year. There was nothing fresh. No snap. No energy. Maybe it was just what I read, maybe not, but it is quite clearly not for me to say. I can only judge what I encountered.

Which was not much. So, no recommends outside what I've already said.

* It does occasionally make a subject matter, however. And a subject matter can make a book more interesting or not to the individual.
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