Tactical Ninja - An attempt at a book review that turns into a rant about literature. Oops.
Jul. 10th, 2014
08:45 am - An attempt at a book review that turns into a rant about literature. Oops.
I'm not much cop at book reviews, at least not compared to the literate and articulate brainboxes on my flist. But I'm going to have a go because while I was in Australia I read a book by someone who is also on my flist. It was Pictures of You by tedwords.
It's a fairly short novel aimed mostly, I think, at young adults. Without giving away too much of the plot, it's about a young woman whose YouTube account appears to be being taken over by the ghost of her dead brother. As you can probably imagine, the plot thickens quite a lot from there, and it ends up being about closure and coming to terms with massive life changes and adolescence, with a twist of whodunnit in the mix to keep it interesting.
I told tedwords that I liked it. If I have to expand on that, I'd say I liked it because it was easy for me to get inside the main character and see the world through her eyes - no mean feat for a male author writing a teenage girl. It was a fairly light read for me, but as a middle aged woman a lot of the themes are things that I have experience dealing with. As a teenager, especially one that can relate to some of the many difficult situations Ashes faces, it could be quite heavy. The plot was well paced and while the character list is minimal, I still didn't guess the outcome until quite close to the end. Mostly, I enjoyed reading it.
For me, enjoyment is important. I did a year of an English Literature major way back in 1988 at university, and it totally ruined reading for me for quite a while. We were assigned worthy tomes in which we were expected to detect subtext and underlying messages and when it boiled down to it, every single one of them was about The Darkness At The Heart Of Mankind. Yes, we did read Heart Of Darkness (which I took as a personal insult to my intelligence - I mean, how obvious can you be?). By the end of that I was really over reading about horrible people being horrible to each other, and then sifting through the horribleness to find particular bits of horrible to illustrate how crappy life is and how awful we all are.
OK, I may be hyperbolising, but you get what I mean - especially if you've ever done 1st year English Lit.
So for me, there are two kinds of reading - reading for education and reading for enjoyment. I have several books on the go:
- An exploration of various theories of justice through the ages.
- A fanfic about Dragon Age characters bonking each other.
- A policy document about agriculture in NZ.
- A book by JK Rowling that is not Harry Potter.
- Reassembling the Social by Bruno Latour
I admit that Bruno only gets an airing after I've exhausted all my other options - it's a book I want to have read, but it's heavy going and written in somewhat archaic language, and it's work. But roughly 50% of my reading has to be rollickingly entertaining fluff, in which I can choose to detect themes or blithely ignore them in favour of just enjoying a good story.
This is why I am such a fan of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller books. High literature they may not be, and I know a lot of people love to hate Kvothe with very good reason, but there is no arguing that the story pulls you in and doesn't let you go till the last page, and it entertains throughout. So far, every single person I've recommended them to has enjoyed them a great deal - from my (at the time) 15 year old son through to PhDs and older folk. Because it's an enjoyable read, in which you can play with deeper meaning if you want, or not, but still be entertained.
And that's what Pictures of You is like too. That's why I liked it. No, it's nothing like the Kingkiller books, but it has that same readable, enjoyable quality.
Gosh, I wrote words about a book. I haven't done a lot of that since 1988. Wait, aren't I supposed to say something about how we are all awful and life sucks because reading? Oh wait, that was 1988. Anyone who was a teenager in the 80s may remember the overarching atmosphere of 2 minutes to midnight in which we are all basically doomed at the whim of superpowers determined to out-nuke each other, and by the way there's not much chance of a job when you leave school but here's a movie about a rich white kid who gets whatever he wants by thinking positive. You are the agent of your own destiny and never mind that we screwed destiny so you start about a mile behind where your parents did, you can be like Ferris Bueller if only you try hard enough, and if you don't make it it's your own fault. Also, AIDS - so don't think you can sex your way into fun times, you'll die if you do that...
.. Gosh. That got a bit dark. But then, that's a lot of what I recall of my teenage years, and I guess that was reflected in the literature they thought was worthy at the time.
Fact is, we don't all suck. Most of us are good people, trying our best with the tools we've been given to live a good life. But like reality TV, that doesn't make for good literature apparently.
I wonder what they teach in English Lit in the 21st Century, and how that aligns with the current zeitgeist regarding the chances of doom we all face?