Archive for July, 2010

Okay, I have an assignment for you.

If you are reading this today chances are you have read me before. Chances are also good that you know me at least a little bit. (This is not a blog popular enough to draw in many strangers, and for that I’m thankful. The one time that it did draw strangers was entirely too strange for my liking.)

Your assignment? You need to explain to me what exactly it is that I am missing in the
Stieg Larsson “The Girl With/Who” series. Every time I open up Entertainment Weekly they’ve got some blurb about how it’s a Publishing Phenomenon that the entire world is reading and loving.

I made it through two of the three books and have less than no desire to read the third.

What I saw was the bones of your typical Alex Delaware/Karin Slaughter/notasgoodas Val McDermid thriller with a Marysue Hero, a few boring stretches about Swedish arcana, and a very intensely over-the-top amount of sadistic violence described in loving, almost erotic detail. The thriller parts were passable, good enough for any beach read thriller truly. The Marysue hero can be forgiven even if it is ludicrous that every woman in Sweden (and a few in the former Soviet Bloc) wants to bed him. The Swedish arcana is deadly dull, but what book doesn’t have a bit or two you want to Evelyn Wood?

But the violence. It’s so gruesome. So grim. So lovingly detailed that I really honestly wonder about Larsson’s mental state.

I keep hoping that the runaway popularity of the series is that they are just being discovered by a wide audience who is so unfamiliar with the Thriller genre as to be wowed by a basic example of that type of book. Because the only other answer that I can see for the wildly enthusiastic reception is that people really do respond to that animalistic violence.

Is there that wide a sadistic streak in the world? Please tell me no.

You know, now that I write this out and think about it I do think that maybe I’m on to something with the genre thing. “Genre fiction” (paperback mysteries, romance, science fiction) has been so ghettoised that a lot of people just don’t read it. So when something makes an otherwise basic genre book seem literarily highbrow–written by a Swedish Journalist!–those who are Genre Naifs have no shame about consuming it. And they have fun. As most readers of Genre do all the time.

I sure hope it’s that. Because the alternative–bloodlust–is scary.

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I really distrust this maze of sending something to someone else care of a third party. So I’m just copying what I sent to Ms. Rowling today and storing it here for future reference. There’s not a lot that’s new here, but I figure if I’ve said it once I ought to say it again.

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I have been adrift all week. It’s the sort of thing that happens these days; I no longer move from “sick” directly to “well” (or an approximation thereof). Instead I pull out of the deep trough of worst disease gradually, with several days of bleak drain pulling me back while my cabin-fevered brain urges me forward.

It’s during these times that I do more reading than others. Not healthy enough to embark on a full life of my own but not sick enough to eschew life in general I borrow someone else’s stories and worlds to buoy me back to normal. I generally re-read books I know at this point, simply because it’s like walking a well-trod path. There are no unexpected deaths or unforeseen heartbreaks that are too jarring and emotionally exhausting. I can skim the boring chapters without missing anything since I already know that the business gets saved, she ends up with him instead of the other guy and the dog doesn’t die at the end. In the last two weeks I’ve reread every Maeve Binchy book written, several Sarah Dessens, two or three Susan Wiggs and chanced a new Sheila Roberts. (Sheila is as comfortable a formulaic writer as you can get. Even when the story changes it’s always three women of varying ages facing difficulty and surmounting it with sisterhood and gumption.)

I tried one new book a couple of days ago. It’s the New Romantic Comedy everyone is talking about–One Day by David Nicholls. Without delving too much into spoiler-land let me just say this. All the Books Everyone Is Talking About this summer are bleak, bleak, bleak messes peopled with unsympathetic asswankers. I wonder–truly and deeply wonder–about the frakked up senses of humour the modern book reviewers possess. Between One Day, The Lonely Polygamist, and Kraken (okay..I love Kraken..but it’s New Weird so it’s excused) all the books the reviewers have lauded as “funny” are only humourous if you are the sort of person who laughs when an old man falls down while carrying a loaded tray in a cafeteria. Sure, there’s humour in the spilling of all that food, but there’s a deeper sadness in the frailty, helplessness and loss that the fellow experiences. I’m the one who cries and then tries to help the old man, so naturally I found all of these books just blinkety exercises in digesting the grimness of humanity.

Still, I am driven by the need to now go someplace NEW. I’ve been back to Binchy’s Ireland, Dessen’s Carolinas, Wiggs’ Lakeshore. I’m better enough to dip the toe into uncharted waters–but where? I’ve been bitten by everything I’ve tried so far. And then last night (or this morning) I realised that I have never ever read Asimov’s Foundations. I don’t know why that escaped me with all the other Asimov I’ve read. Perhaps it’s my long-standing grudge against never-ending Sci Fi “series” and the endless parade of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books that glared out from shelves all my life. Regardless, I decided to rectify that major error. I also decided that if I’m in for a penny I’m in for fifty pounds, so on Jason’s advice I’m diving into David Weber’s Safehold series as well. At least in Science Fiction the bleakness is usually on someone else’s planet. And there are lasers.

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So, I’ve been doing a lot of lying around. Passing six kidney stones in a row will do that to you. Especially when they send you into RA flares. Pain begets pain.

It’s been an ugly three weeks.

I say that to explain why I’ve been spending whacking great chunks of my time on the iPhone playing iPhone games. One in particular–High School Hero–has become quite addicting. It’s another one of those MMORPGs whose chief point seems to be the mashing of buttons over and over and over.

But you do meet a lot of folks. I’ve made several pretty good friends, actually. There are a few over-30s who do the button mashing. It’s fun to talk to people around the world in between this button and that one. The thing is, though, since the game is set in High School there are a lot of younger kids who play it.

And this would be the subject of my rant.

I see kids between 9 and 15 who have iPhones or iPod Touches. Many of them have one of each. At least. They spend hours a day having cruel or sexual (yes…sexual as in “I insert Tab A Into Slot B and add moisture”) conversations. I’ve seen 11 year old kids sexting people of unknown ages.

I really am starting to wonder at all of these people who seem to not care what their precious charges are doing. It’s as though they figure as long as they’ve given their child all she could ask for materially they have done a fine job of being a parent.

I’ve talked to a lot of these kids. My group of women friends and I have found ourselves in an odd sort of missionary position completely unlike those of the sexters. We are spending hours of our days gently parenting other people’s children. Giving them advice, modeling Grace, talking them through those first injuries of the soul that hurt so much worse because they are a brand new feeling. I wonder if people realise that several women who are stricken with autoimmune disease are the ones who are teaching their children manners and kindness.

I wonder if the parents themselves know manners and kindness.

This world often makes me scratch my head.

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the one-eyed man is king.

Someone deader than me said that. And it does make sense. Because if you have just that little bit of an edge over the rest of the people you can find yourself a sort of leader by default.

I took a leadership seminar in college in the 1980s. It angered me because their idea of Leadership was VERY 1980s. All “get rich and look good doing it” sorts of plans. I’ve never thought that true leading was meant to be that way. I prefer the kind of ‘leadership’ where you take someone by the hand and help them cross the chasms in their life by walking over the rotting bridges and pointing out the good boards to step on to keep from plummeting.

And that’s why I find myself in the awkward position these days of meeting poor suffering people in the early (earlier than me) stages of dealing with chronic illness. I say ‘awkward’ not because of the people but because I feel so bad for them when in the midst of whatever Facebook or iPhone game we have they start to sing the sad ballad of chronic illness. I hear (or actually read) them saying the things I know they feel. About how everyone thinks they are crazy, making it up for attention. How they don’t understand why a pregnancy or a car wreck or a surgery or a case of the flu turned into 5 years of unending pain that no doctor has an answer for and most nurses think is an excuse to score narcotics. How it hurts all the time and the only minor escape for it all is to get lost in a cartoon farm.

I feel so sad for these souls who I know are not only living with the loss of their life but the loss of their joy.

I used to wonder myself why I was given this particular set of problems. I know everyone gets a joker in their hand at some point in this life. That is, I think, the point of this time of living within the straits of time instead of floating outside those bounds in the limitless warm sea of eternity. But now I can kind of tell that it’s partly because I’m there to gently take sore hands, aching heads and limping legs across the bridge to the place where they can again feel joy.

It’s a small task, but one I far prefer to getting rich and looking good and all those other things some people call Leadership.

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