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Friday, April 24, 2009

Reader Question: Why won't you read George R. R. Martin?

I suspect that this question was meant partially in jest, but I see fit to answer it. For the record, I know that this question is directed at GRRM's fantasy series, and not his other writings, which I have had the privilege to read. So I will direct my answer to the intent of the question.

There are a lot of reasons why I have yet to read George R. R. Martin's fantasy series. Some of them, or perhaps all them, the questioner will probably not like (or already knows about):
  • I have too many books on my review list.
  • I have too many books in my reading list for college courses.
  • I don't like being pressured into reading books because it ruins the reading experience for me.
  • The work is over-hyped by the people who like it, which also ruins the reading experience for me.
Perhaps the first one isn't a great excuse. After all, I should probably attempt to work in books that aren't sent to me for review in order to keep things fresh. And, if we're to knock that off, then we can drop the second one as well, since it would no longer be relevant. That leaves the last two.

My biggest problem with reading books recommended to me is that too often it feels like I'm being bludgeoned to death with the entire prospect. This isn't always so, but a lot of folks with a professed love for a particular writer or series have a tendency to really drive home their desire to get you to read the same work that they've fallen head over heels for. This is not directed necessarily at the questioner, but more at the GRRM fanbase in general.

I have been told by multiple GRRM fans that I have to read A Game of Thrones. It's repeated over and over to me by these folks, even when I've asked some of them to stop and let it rest (some of them have been kind enough to stop). This creates a lot of problems for me as a reader. I want my reading experience to be enjoyable, and right now I cannot escape the reality that reading A Game of Thrones will be fraught with conflicting messages: the side of me that wants to remain unbiased, and the part of me that believes that A Game of Thrones is the best fantasy novel ever written, even though I haven't read it. I need to clear my head of all this in order to properly read a game of thrones without bias.

The same thing has happened to a lot of other books. I can't help it, but the more pressure placed on me to read something, the less likely I'm going to read it. Think of it like going to a movie that has received an overwhelming amount of hype and realizing it doesn't live up. I don't want that to happen to A Game of Thrones. I want that book to be great when I read it, not because others say so, but because I can actually see it.

What about you? Any of you out there have similar issues? Have any of you folded to pressure and had a bad experience (or a good one)?

Anywho. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to send it to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, or leave it as a comment, or send it as a twitter message with @shaunduke at the front of the message. Thanks!

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Considering that you posted this on your blog, I'm going to assume you've given me permission to discuss GRRM. I don't want to rehash old arguments, so I tried to address only the points you mentioned and spent the bulk of the post discussing my own experiences with disappointment.

    The thing I don't understand is that once a book has become over-hyped for you, how can it ever be un-hyped? Now, I can imagine a scenario in which the fifth book comes out and is pukingly terrible (yeah, I have good imagination). It would be so terrible that I would stop recommending the series fanatically to other people (although I would still urge them to read the first four books). Would such an instance un-hype it? Or do you want to wait until such a time when nobody recommends it at all to you? Is that when a book has become un-hyped?

    As much as I try to understand your point, I still don't see the point in waiting. If someone I know strongly recommends a book and I have time, I'll go check the book out and decide whether or not I like it. I can't fathom why I would wait for them to stop influencing me, because I do not expect them to ever stop influencing me. If they're influencing me now, they'll be influencing me later, even if I halt all contact with them or slit their throat at night. One of us would have to change fundamentally. I would have to raise a wall of steel and become suddenly uninfluenceable. Or the other person would have to decide to stop recommending the books (which is, in my experience, a completely reprehensible and illogical thing to hope for in a fellow human being). Since I'm not going to rely on the other person to stop enjoying the books, I trust myself to raise the wall.

    Now this still means that if enough people suggest something enough times (provided the book in question hasn't been anti-suggested, like Twilight), I'll read the book. Nine times out of ten I won't have enjoyed it as much as the person who recommended it to me. But nine times out of ten, it will have been worth it.

    There are two rewards I gain from reading books with which I am disappointed. First of all, the social aspect. I am now free to tell the person: "I did not like this book, and here is why." I am also free to say: "Well, it wasn't that great ... but here's what I /did/ like." I don't have to listen any more to these people stuttering about how much I'll enjoy it, because we know exactly how much I enjoyed it.

    The other aspect would be the literary one. Obviously if someone is worshiping an author, that author's done something right. If I'm still reading something, at least I can analyze characterization, setting description, and figure out whether the author has done something that could challenge me to reconfigure the way I approach writing. Or, in the case of GRRM, there are specific techniques he incorporates that I have never seen done in other novels. There are also techniques that I've seen done, but just not as well.

    Sometimes the social and literary aspects meet and get married. Imelda highly recommended the Pellinor chronicles to me, and although I scorned them for archetypal plot, after I had read all four I was be able to discuss them with her. I was also intrigued to realize that one of the essential elements of the plot can be narrowed down to Worldly Man Travelling with Not-So-Worldly Girl, which is a theme that also exists in my novel. Therefore I could examine the relationship that Croggon had written for those two characters, compare it with my own, and reflect on things and have loads of fun.

    But what I mean by a wedding is that now when I read Nikara, I understand where the influences come from. That alone makes it worth it. I delight far too much and finding the similarities and differences between the two.

    That's what I gain from folding to pressure. What do I lose?

    Time, of course. This probably circles back to your first two points. Why should I read something that might disappoint me immensely when I could read these books that I'm supposed to read anyway? They're not known as well, they're part of my essential livelihood, and they surely have the potential to be just as good.

    Suppose reading a book is like making a bet. You gamble your free time and hope you'll get something back. I fold to pressure so much because for every book I open, I'm gambling away the same amount of time, but since I rely on the judgment of other people, I assume that my risk is much less. I'm not like you, perhaps seeking to find the next underappreciated gem so I can raise it to the light. This is probably because I tried this approach for a while, and I ended up with a lot of books that I had to donate.

    I can imagine not wanting to read something because I'm afraid it won't live up to my expectations, but I can't postpone in hopes that my expectations will decrease. If I find it's as good as advertised, I am FLYING -- and if it's not as good as I thought, well, there's probably still something I gained.

  3. I know how you feel. Not personally about GRRM's ASoiF, because I do like them, but about others badgering you to read books... I guess once you've told them to lay off, they should. I mean, with all the books out there to read, who does it really impact if you don't read one series? Seriously? =)

    Good luck with clearing the "hype". =) & if you do ever read these, I'd love to know what you think.

  4. Carr: Generally a book becomes un-hyped when people either stop talking about it or it's so old that the discussions have changed from trying to force me to read it to simply saying "that was a damn good book." I just want people to stop telling me to read it. It's one thing to say "hey, this was really good and you should read it" and entirely another to continuously say that, over and over and over and over. And that's what everyone is doing right now.

    I don't want my reading experience to be influenced by other people. That's my problem. I want to read GRRM from an unbiased, clean perspective, not from one doused with all the discussions of why GRRM is the greatest writer ever. I do not want to be constantly looking at the book and seeing what others said. That will literally ruin the experience for me, and I might even become incredibly critical of the series as a result.

    Drey: Thanks for stopping by! If I read them, I'll certainly be blogging about them.

  5. Drey: It's a personal affront to me and my religion. If you refuse my recommendation, you're telling me you don't respect me and you don't respect God. You're also missing some 20+ hours of good reading, but that's not what bothers me. I make it personal. I wept once when somebody told me they dumped the book after twenty pages because GRRM was a Tolkien-wannabe. Literally, I wept.

    Shaun: I'm going to be waiting ... for a long, long time. xD I suppose it's harder for me to understand your point because although I'm influenced to pick up books and finish them, I never feel as though I've been influenced to change my opinions about them.

    Anyway, the conversation ends here for me. Back to my quietness.

  6. Anonymous9:52 AM

    So basically your point is: you won't read them because you're a stubborn ass. Don't try to argue this, I know you too well. You always want to prove everyone wrong about everything, just because you can. Perhaps it's to your credit that in this instance you want to wait because you don't want that bloody-mindedness to cause you to hate the books on purpose, but it doesn't make it any less ridiculous.

    I also find it annoying that you expect me to shut up about it. ASOIAF is now one of my favourite set of books, and I like to talk about my favourite books, especially with you. I also expect that as A Dance With Dragons nears completion and publication, I will not be able to shut up about it because I'm excited. By your logic, that means you won't even have a chance of reading it until long after the series is finished, and even then if I re-read, you'll probably get all irritated about it.

    It's not even like it's some kind of media sensation, a la Twilight: it's me. I recommend it because I think you would get something out of it, whether you enjoy it or not. Analysing literature is what you do, and there is a lot to analyse. There's also a lot of things GRRM does right that you *really* need to work on if you're to improve your writing (characterisation is the main thing, but there are other things you could do with learning, such as how to work with the uber-cliches).

    It seems to me like you approach this in the same way you approach critiques and debates: the recommender/critiquer/debater is just plain wrong until you actually look into it yourself and discover that, hey, they were right. So you're shooting yourself in the foot, basically. This is why I'm not your editor anymore ...

  7. "It seems to me like you approach this in the same way you approach critiques and debates: the recommender/critiquer/debater is just plain wrong until you actually look into it yourself and discover that, hey, they were right."

    No. Not really. It's more along the lines of: I don't want people to be wrong about how good A Game of Thrones is because I want to have a good reading experience. It's not about GRRM being bad, it's about him being bad because everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is telling me he's great and wonderful and that I absolutely MUST read him, period, end of story (if I don't I'm a complete idiot!). I've had experiences where this has happened and I gave into the pressure and hated the book because it was not as good as they said it was.

    It's not me being stubborn, it's me trying to make sure that when I read GRRM it is free of all the hype. I want to like GRRM. I really do, but I also don't want to read it and think "Well, it's not as good as everyone says" simply because it's been turned into some sort of "God book."

    By all means, keep talking about it. Everyone else is. Just don't expect me to read it for a while. I can't go a day without seeing GRRM plastered all over the place. It's great for him that everyone loves his work so much, but it's bad for him that his work is almost literally crammed down people's throats by folks who can't imagine a world where someone hasn't read their work. This isn't necessarily you or Carr, but I've seen people online who simply can't let it sit with "it's good." They have to get you to read it, else you're not on the same plane of awesomeness as they are...

  8. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Well you aren't, because you're ridiculously stubborn.

    And you were repeating everything you said in that post, which I dismissed. Repeating things doesn't magically make them right.

    And again, I am not just some person. I am recommending it for a *reason*. If you're too much of a stubborn ass to put aside annoyance at hype and assess a book for what you see, then you have serious problems.

  9. I think we've already established that there's something wrong with me :P.

  10. I heard all the hype about Rothfuss and The Name of the Wind. I read and it and loved it while others didn't. I heard all the hype about Ruckley and Winterbirth. I tried to read it and hated it while others loved it.

    As with anything that gets a lot of hype (movies, books, cafes, etc.), your mileage may vary. I am a late comer to the GRRM fanbase. Tried to read it about two years ago and just couldn't make it through the mid-point. I started again a few weeks back and so far, I've enjoyed it. But I had to take time early on to review the family trees and maps. Something I didn't do the first time around. That helped immensly. And after a few chapters I came to another realization. Reading GRRM is like reading Shakespeare for me. I can't rush it. I can't skim it. I need to slow waaaay down and chew each word and digest it before moving on.

    So, if you decide to read it, great. If not, that's great too. I'm not GRRM and I only have two of his books, so I'm not even a "huge" fan.

  11. GRRM as Shakespeare? That's the first time I've heard that comparison before :P.