Category Archives: Reading

The Continuing Adventures of a Newly-Minted Literary Snob (AKA Writing is Hard)

I was out for a concert yesterday with a friend. He’s working up to self-publishing a book, and I’m excited for him. But I think that didn’t come through in the conversation, because I’m (apparently) a literary snob. You could see how that might mask my excitement.

Trying to be a fairly open-minded fellow, I asked why he thought that. His points: basically that I am critical of a lot of self-published work (absolutely true), and that I do admire some ‘classic’ authors — Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Murakami — a bit too much for his liking. The take-away, as the kids call it, was that if I want to read his book, I’m going to have to buy it once it’s published. Which I would have done — and will do — anyway.

I could argue that I have plenty of pop fiction on my shelves: Practical Demonkeeping, Vish Puri, The Laundry series, A Song of Fire and Ice, the Elric saga (all of them), the Black Company… I could go on, but the contents of my reading lists aren’t really in question, I suppose, as much as my attitude to writing is. It was only after a couple of days that I figured that out.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this, and talk about me — but hopefully in an honest way. I am (and have been since a teen) a self-professed writer, who writes so infrequently it’s a joke. I’ve distracted myself with lots of travel (excuse: great source material), work (excuse: gotta bring in the money), and computing (excuse: solve that puzzle).

Truth be told, writing fiction is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s more personal than donating an organ, more intimate than sex, and ultimately expository. Putting words that mean something to you on a page opens your heart to whatever stranger happens to read it. And then, if they don’t like it, you’re — by your own admission — not any good.

To paraphrase the discussion, at one point I said something like: ‘You might as well work in an office, as write transcriptions of roleplaying games.’ And I believe that, but instead of starting with ‘You’ it should have start with ‘I’ because, for me at least, writing should be terrible, hard, and pull from my soul.

I’ve written werewolf screenplays, Cthulhiana , Elric fan-fic, and many more less ‘literary’ things. If I could complete, and sell them, I would do so in a heartbeat. But somehow they’re not enough for me. Yes, there are nuggets of truth found in most written work, but to put myself through the wringer every day, I think my intentions should be to shoot for the stars, not just turn over a paycheque. There are a lot of easier ways to make a living.

So am I a snob? Honestly, I don’t know, because ‘snob’ is a loaded word: ‘A person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people.’ People will read whatever they like: Dan Brown, Harry Potter, Hemingway, Jim Butcher, and I don’t really care (some of those are on my bookshelves, and some aren’t). A lot of it is just not for me, just as Jane Austin, Bram Stoker, and Moby Dick aren’t. Of course, I’d probably struggle, if not fail, at writing any of the above.

So to my friend, all I can say is that I respect the amount of work you put in. I’ll try and do the same, and hopefully we both come out of it all with something we’re proud of.

Oh, and, I’m definitely reading your book once it’s published!

Reading List

An important part of writing is continuing to read. It helps develop style, gives you something to talk about at the pub, and of course it’s fun — otherwise we wouldn’t want to write, would we?

So, I thought to take a minute to share my current reading list with you:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. One of the reasons I got my Kindle was the wealth of free ebooks from ‘the canon’. Skipping the more traditional literature education — completely — I missed the Russian fiction. This is a lovely book, incredibly written, but I’ve been reading it for a year, in bits and bobs, and I would swear that very little has happened — although it has — and that I’ve read a ream of epaper — even though I haven’t. Maybe it’s something to do with the idea of reading Russian fiction. Anyway, get a copy from Gutenberg and see if you agree. I got my for free from Amazon, but it seems like they want to charge you for ‘delivery’ now. Sad, Bezos, sad.

Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain by Matthew Engel. Mr. Engel is a journalist. He loves trains a bit, and so do I. This is his history of and love letter to the British train and rail system. It is lovely, and I have been savouring it for a long time, because I prefer to read it on trains. It is definitely worth a look in.

Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Conflict and Intrigue, Vol. 2: Fables from the Panchatantra, Jatakas, Bidpai, Kalilah and Dimnah and Lights of Canopus by Ramsay Wood. This is Mr. Wood’s second volume of retold tales from the fables of Bidpai. It is accessible, timeless, and lovingly presented. I’ve only had it for a week, but it is the front of my reading list now. Get it before it goes out of print, and check out the first volume: Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Friendship and Betrayal.

Shadows Over Baker Street: New Tales of Terror! edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. A short story collection that mixes Sherlock with Cthulhu, this is a decent set of one-sitting reads with a couple of absolute gems. I use this as a filler book, for when I’m tired of whatever else I’m reading. Highly recommended, as I burned through half of it in a day, and then realised the great thing about short story collections is that you don’t have to finish them in one movement.

Proven Guilty (Dresden Files 8 ) by Jim Butcher. What can I say about the Dresden Files? They are not the high literature, but are fun, quick, and certainly by book 8 Mr. Butcher’s style is much better. I’m reading on the Kindle, which means when I’m travelling light and don’t want Tolstoy, I’m probably following the exploits of Chicago’s most famous wizard private investigator. Fun, easy, and good if you don’t expect too much.

So, there you have it. What are you reading?