Oh, the Irony

Yup, I missed two posts in a row right after my anniversary post stating that I’d finally gotten better at writing regular posts. My favorite form of humor is irony. Coming back from vacation, it’s been tougher to blog than while I was on vacation, and I’m reading at a much greater rate than I can write posts.

I did a lot of heavy literary reading while on vacation, and then read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book in my first couple days back to take a break. This book, like all of Gaiman’s work, grabs me and propels me through it, and it feels really good to read that way. When I was a kid, first falling in love with reading, all books felt that way to me. I often wonder what makes that feeling decrease.

Don’t get me wrong–I love to read. It’s just that, while all books used to totally absorb me, that now happens less often. The books that have completely absorbed me so far this year were John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, Sean Stewart’s Mockingbird, Margaret Ronald’s Spiral Hunt, Daryl Gregory’s Pandemonium, and the aforementioned Graveyard Book. All of these books “ruined my life,” in a good way–I didn’t want to eat, sleep, or talk to anyone until I finished them. Genre books, all of them.

I love literary fiction, and I’ve read plenty of literary fiction that made my heart pound all the way through (see, for one example, Matt Bell’s short story “An Index of How Our Family Was Killed“). But sometimes it seems that writing gets classed “literary” precisely because it isn’t a page turner. This seems unnecessary, and a losing proposition in terms of finding an audience. Does a book get classed genre anytime it has that pageturning effect? On the other hand, I sometimes feel I have to explain what I mean when I talk about the literary value of a genre work. What’s going on?

I spend a lot of time pondering the genre/literary split, and I like publications and presses that blur it (Small Beer Press, for example, and I have high hopes for Monkeybicycle). What I really want is to have it all from my fiction. I want great writing that keeps me up at night. I read and study all kinds of short stories because I want to understand how they work. But I feel weird when a journal or collection feels a little like eating flax–it’s supposedly so good for me, and yet sort of unpleasant.

There are literary journals that completely avoid the flax effect–Rosebud, for example. Others just aren’t that fun to read, and I have to ask myself, why is it that a book can be full of good stories and yet be no fun? (And, let me add that I don’t require happy endings or sunny subjects to call something fun).

This is one of the great mysteries, as far as I’m concerned. When I am reading a book that makes the rest of the world fall away, it’s such a relief. It makes me wonder why it isn’t always that way.


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