?

Log in

No account? Create an account
You Can't Do That on Book-o-Vision! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> My Website

July 7th, 2007


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
11:29 am - You Can't Do That on Book-o-Vision!
Thanks to briasoleil, I have now raised $3,000! I can't believe it!

In addition, it is the birthday of one incidentist. Happy birthday, Dan!

This means it's the perfect day to reward Dan for his winning donation. If you missed my recap of the BSG finale, please go read it, as it took me ten hours, and I hope more than ten people read it. Dan doesn't care about BSG, however. He wanted me to write about a thought-provoking book and what thoughts it provoked.

Well, I'm actually going to discuss two books, both books recommended to me by friends and bought with a gift certificate for Christmas. Courtesy of glumpish came The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford, and courtesy of alannaofdoom came Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville.

These books have next to nothing in common, but when I started to think about what thoughts they provoked, I discovered that they did share one important aspect for me. But, first, let me quickly describe them.

The Good Solder begins with the line "This is the saddest story I have ever heard," and that gives you an impression of what the book is like. First published in 1915, it is narrated by John Dowell, who's right up there with Stevens from Remains of the Day as far as unreliable narrators go, but in a very different way. He tells the story of Edward Ashburnham (the titular soldier) and his many dalliances (including the narrator's wife). Dowell inexplicably idolizes him, despite how awful he seems to the reader. It's quite a fun read (and less than 200 pages), even though months later, I barely remember a thing from it.

Perdido Street Station begins with the line "Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth," and that gives you an impression of what the book is like. First published in 2000, it takes place in a fictional steampunk universe with alien creatures (I mean "alien" in its basest sense, not literally "from another planet"). It takes about a hundred pages to get acclimated to the world and another hundred pages for the plot to really kick in, but once it gets started, it's hard to put down. It's quite a fun read (and more than 600 pages), and months later, I still remember stuff from it.

The details of these books are not what's important here. What these books have in common is that both of them surprised me with what you're allowed to do in writing.

For instance, until I read The Good Soldier, I had no idea you could write a book as one long LiveJournal post. The book is narrated by John Dowell as if he's actually telling us this story (kind of like Wuthering Heights). He goes on digressions and then apologizes before getting back to the story at hand. Pages later, he literally says he forgot to tell us something, so he drops it in right there. Better even, the story is written quite realistically as he remembers it. I didn't pick up on it, but Strega, who loves this book to pieces, noticed that the narrator totally gets the dates wrong. If you try to piece together the chronology of the book, it doesn't fit, and that's awesome because that's people. If I were to tell you a story based on my memory alone, I would surely fuck up the chronology. In fact, I do it all the time in my posts. Memory is fallible. I watched Memento; I know these things. It's only when you read books like this (almost a hundred years old!) that you remember that there are no rules when it comes to writing, and it's simultaneously freeing and incredibly scary.

Perdido Street Station is sort of on the opposite end. Whereas Dowell very consciously engages the reader and guides us through the story, Miéville doesn't. Now, it's not like I've never read a fantasy or science-fiction novel before, but I have never in my life read anything like this. Miéville creates a world more imaginative than I thought possible, and he doesn't lead you by the hand. It's risky, because for the first hundred pages, you want to quit because you have no fucking clue what's going on (kind of like Foucault's Pendulum), but it pays off. Miéville goes into great detail about New Crobuzon and its inhabitants, but he does so as if it's just this place he's describing, like Kentucky. He'll use foreign words and phrases and never explain them, expecting the reader to pick them up in context. Any time he sits there and explains what something is, it's only a few paragraphs, and he's not talking to you, the reader, he's just talking to another inhabitant of New Crobuzon. Like I said, I don't think it's so much this perspective of writing that impressed me so much but the fact that the author stuffed about fifty thousand new, original, imaginative, alien, fantastic concepts into one book.

There is actually one particular concept that would have worked very well for this post, since it actually was thought-provoking, but it's a total spoiler for the climax of the book, so I can't really discuss it.

(Also, as I flip through the book, I remember how fucking cool it is, so I have to be honest here: I could have really, really loved it if it weren't for the last forty pages or so, which kind of took me by surprise in the way they changed the mood and cast a dark light over the entire story. I still think the book as a whole is very good, but I just wanted to give that warning. You'll probably forget about it anyway because by the time you get to the end you'll be so wrapped up in the fourteen plotlines that you won't have time to worry.)

Both of these books intrigued me with the way they asked the reader to interact with the text, and I think that's always been one of my writing Things. I'm very conscious of my audience. I mean, look at me posting to the world, here. I love different narrative styles, different storytelling techniques, and I'm interested in the ways stories can be told. Perdido Street Station opened up my mind to what stories can be told. You can create whatever sort of fantastic creatures you want, and as long as you have the reader's trust, they'll buy it. As long as you trust the creature and its fictional existence, you'll have the reader's trust.

Wait, I'm going to get all John Dowell here and note that reading The Good Soldier DID provoke some actual thoughts about the way we perceive other people. The whole story is told through Dowell's filter, and you wonder what he sees in these people, and then you wonder what you see in other people, and how what you think of other people actually says about you. And then you get sort of creeped out by the self-analysis and think about butterflies instead.

In conclusion, The Good Soldier and Perdido Street Station are thought-provoking books that provoke thoughts, and you should read them.
Current Mood: creativecreative
Current Music: Nine Inch Nails - Head Like a Hole (Soil)

(15 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 7th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It's so funny! He's so self-conscious, and there are just some hilarious lines where he's A) completely unaware of the fact that he's injecting his own opinion into the events or B) hyperaware of the fact such that he points it out.
[User Picture]
From:glasseseater
Date:July 7th, 2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
(Link)
how convenient! I was just looking for thought provoking books. I will soon read them and have my thoughts provoked.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 7th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Awesome!
[User Picture]
From:beeker121
Date:July 7th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I just finished Iron Council which is by Mieville and set in the same New Crobuzon world, as is his novel The Scar. The interesting thing is while each book happens in the same world, it is in a completely different part. So you might already know about the Remade, but you still spend the first 50 pages or so trying to catch the rules and setting of the next story. I have yet to read any of his adult fiction not in that world, and I'm curious to see what that is like.

Mieville has also written a children's book called Un Lun Don that I would recommend to anyone. It's fun to read him stretching different muscles.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 7th, 2007 07:48 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The interesting thing is while each book happens in the same world, it is in a completely different part. So you might already know about the Remade, but you still spend the first 50 pages or so trying to catch the rules and setting of the next story.
That's just crazy. I mean, how much imagination does this guy HAVE?
[User Picture]
From:beeker121
Date:July 7th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Apparently gobs. Though the world he's created could easily support many more stories so I suppose that makes sense.
[User Picture]
From:alannaofdoom
Date:July 10th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
(Link)
Un Lun Dun is fantastic. King Rat, his first novel, is interesting to read because the voice seems (well, rightly, I guess, since he was) so much younger.

I'd highly recommend his short story collection, Looking For Jake. It's very broad in scope - I find that there's something, but everything isn't for any particular someone. If that makes any sense. The titular story is tied with Kelly Link's "Travels With The Snow Queen" at the top of my Best Ever list, and "Details" just has me in awe (sort of the same way his New Crob novels do: the way he can look at something and just twist it!), but I skip over several of the other stories.

Um, I'm going to go proselytize over there now.
[User Picture]
From:gymble
Date:July 7th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Hmmm. I read The Scar and found it way too dark and depressing. Not only was no one happy, the very concept of happiness seemed foreign to the world. I'm not sure if I want to try any of Mieville's other books.

Maybe I'll try The Good Soldier.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 8th, 2007 07:08 am (UTC)
(Link)
Not only was no one happy, the very concept of happiness seemed foreign to the world. I'm not sure if I want to try any of Mieville's other books.
Yeah, Perdido Street Station is like that too.

Sorry you missed Transformers. It was awesome; you should try to see it. It's what you expect from such a movie: really cool robots transforming and shit.
[User Picture]
From:latropita
Date:July 7th, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)
(Link)
$3000! Congratulations! That's awesome.

I'd not heard of either of those books, but now I want to read them. Curse you and your compelling descriptions!
[User Picture]
From:alannaofdoom
Date:July 10th, 2007 12:43 am (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah!

I agree with you on the strange turn the Perdido Street narrative takes at the end; it's interesting because it's one of the few places in the book where Mieville lets his politics show a bit more. When I read it, I loved that turn because it (and the last two pages in particular) completely changed the way I thought about the book. Even the most basic things like "who is the main character" - I mean it made me focus my attention on a completely different character, and go back and reframe the entire book from his point of view.

Have not read The Good Soldier but I will give it a shot, once I get through my immensely long and ever-growing To Be Read queue. (Just finished The Music of Razors, which was an incredible trip of a book, and since you liked Perdido Street you might also enjoy. I bought it because I found the blurb and the first chapter or so and the concept of the book really compelling; and then I was worried that the book wouldn't live up to what I was imagining it'd be. Fortunately, it exceeded expectations - albeit by taking a completely unexpected route. Um, anyway. Then I immediately tried to start reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, but the feels of the books were so completely at odds that it was giving me mental whiplash. So I'm taking a breather by rereading Neverwhere. And that's probably more than you needed to know about my book queue.)

In sum, here's guest commenter Mary Murphy, judge of So You Think You Can Dance: "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!"
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 10th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
(Link)
Even the most basic things like "who is the main character" - I mean it made me focus my attention on a completely different character, and go back and reframe the entire book from his point of view.
Yeah, it did make me rethink the book a bit. That on top of what happens to Lin rubbed me the wrong way. Like, most depressing denouement ever.
[User Picture]
From:alannaofdoom
Date:July 10th, 2007 12:58 am (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah - I'll admit to really wanting the book to be about Lin, because I found her utterly fascinating and charming. So I was very angry about that. Like, dammit, Mieville, write the book that I want you to write! No? Oh. Okay. This one'll have to do, then...

I find with all his books (well, based on a sample size of two: Perdido Street and The Scar) that they really reward rereading - I mean, I'm a huge rereader anyway, but when I know the plot I can focus in on what's happening around the edges. I must reread Iron Council but I admit to being a little intimidated, because I remember it being a more difficult book than the others. Oh, sack up, Alanna.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 10th, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)
(Link)
I really liked Lin, too. And it was like...what? I was following her character and her development for this? It was awful.

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com