Thursday, July 28, 2005

Going through the amazon recommendation lists, I came to the realization that there's a large class of writers who have written books that I enjoyed, whom I feel no need to ever read again. I was a much more voracious genre reader when I was younger, and even as recently as ten years ago, I'd go through phases where I'd just tear through the Penn State Science Fiction Society's library, devouring old classics. That all came to an end for some reason in the late Nineties. I think I ran out of patience for speculative fiction. Oh, I still read SF and fantasy, but it tends to be the sort of SF and fantasy which could just as easily be cowboy novels, or historical fiction.

F'instance - Charles de Lint. I loved the hell out of his urban fantasies when I was about fourteen, thirteen - something like that. Read every thing he published for years, and then, blam! Wall. About the time I went off to college, I believe. I needed to read no more de Lint. It wasn't that I stopped liking his books, although I imagine that I'd react poorly to them today, given a re-naming and a blind taste test. I just had... read enough urban-leftist-dark-wish-fulfillment. Might have been about the time that Steven Brust wrote something similar...

Kim Stanley Robinson is another one - I really tore through his stuff in the early Nineties. The fading might have been me getting conservative in my old age, except that people that know me tell me that I was born old, and cranky, and as reactionary as a Victorian vicar. Maybe I just figured out Robinson, and didn't need to hear from him any more.

Figuring out a writer might be the thing. How else can you explain my having tolerated Ursula LeGuin's the Dispossessed, and loved the Lathe of Heaven, while being unable to even get forty pages into the Left Hand of Darkness? Or maybe not.

Same thing happened with Thomas Hardy. I picked up Jude the Obscure on a whim, and loved it. Went ahead and bought cheap copies of Far from the Madding Crowd and the Return of the Native, but then never got more than ten pages into the latter. I guess my enthusiasm for difficult and virtuous fiction extends about the length of a single narrative?

The common thread in all of these authors, of course, is that they're deadly serious do-gooders. Liberals. Progressive. Important, of course, at least in their own minds. Not a single one of them put a single giggle into anything they wrote, unless you count Jude drunk off his ass and near-suicidally depressed, blasphemously ranting in church Latin to be much of a hoot. Well, I did, but I'm not sure that I was supposed to be laughing...

Does Zadie Smith count? Because she's another one where I loved her first book, White Teeth, but couldn't finish her second, the Autograph Man. I'm of two minds about whether she blows the curve or not. Her books are kind of funny, it's true, but it's a bitter, straight-faced kind of funny - more of a Charles Dickens amusement at the foibles of the common man than anything joyous or happy. Smith is pretty earnest in her whimsy.

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