Thursday, July 8, 2010

Task 27: Words

I like to read historic fiction novels. The Amelia Peabody series is one such example. It's by Elizabeth Peters and revolves around a strong-minded woman in Victorian England and her family of Egyptologists and reluctant detectives. They're filled with mystery and grandeur and coy loves scenes, it is Victorian England after all, and best of all, mostly take place in Egypt amidst tombs and pyramids and excavations. I secretly wanted to be an archaeologist when I was younger because I was so enamored by Egypt and ancient cities and cultures (though, most of the "interesting" old civilizations are located in extremely hot climates so I doubt I would've lasted long in the field) so these books appeal to that side of me, as well as the side that appreciates an affected style of writing that suits the genre and time.

Only the book on the bottom right is part of this series, she has several others hence the other books.

General fictionalizations of historic events and people just appeal to me. I started reading the Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George and the only reason I stopped in the middle of the 1152 page novel was because I moved and the book got packed up and I didn't get around to finishing it, though, I kind of know how it ends. Mythology and history appeal to me because they're just such excellent fodder for stories. The Ottoman Empire is a new(er) interest of mine. We never studied it in school so all I know comes from independent reading and the most intriguing aspect of it, of course, is the harem and women of the sultan and pashas. There aren't that many well written factual books on the subject, I've searched for them and the best I coud find were basically just text-book style writing; bare facts and deductions. I like there to be some flair in the sources I read. Which is why I could never study history because a lot of the books are just too dry for me. Though, my friend who studied it in college and peripherally in grad school has a knack for finding the interesting from a pile of boring. Like, did you know Chairman Mao would never brush his teeth? He would just drink green tea.

This is why historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine. It has all the interesting aspects of history and events that happened in the past, along with a creative twist. The Sultan's Harem by Colin Falconer was another example of this and the first harem-related fiction I read. It was all about Hurrem Sultan, the conniving concubine that got the sultan of the Ottoman Empire to actually marry her. No one knows her motives for sure, there are no sources that detail this but the creative liberties the author, along with reasonable hypotheses, took with the tale were both engrossing and on some level, believable. I picked up another such book yesterday, Harem by Asli Sancar.

Within the first 20 pages I realized this book was possibly the worst book I've ever read. There is no subtext, no deeper writing, and no style to speak of. The characters' thoughts and emotions are splashed about like it's going out of style and the prose is not only stilted, it's boring. There's nothing redeeming about it, it is simply a badly-written book. I used to have a thing about reading books all the way through no matter what but in recent years, I just stop. There's no reason to waste my time when the author can't even be bothered to employ writing techniques you learn in middle school (i.e. showing not telling; allowing the actions and feelings of a particular event or character come through organically by way of description, rather than just throwing it in the reader's face straight off the bat. That's lazy writing and a sure example of someone who has no business writing a novel), and frankly, it kind of makes me angry that the person managed to get this edited, sold, published, and distributed when it's evident there's no reason for anyone to read it.

This might sound cruel but it's just what I think. Not everyone can be a writer. For the love of God, I write in this thing everyday and want to be a published writer one day but under no circumstances do I consider myself a writer. Being a writer is too big a deal for me to ever take it lightly or not treat it seriously.

I will probably give this Harem book a few more chapters but really, I've made up my mind.

Which brings me to task 27, read Anna Karenina. You're supposed to read the classics in high school. Well, since my high school was run by crazed Marxists who believed happy endings were bourgeous (this has irked me for YEARS. I like happy endings! Who cares if they're trite? When it comes down to the bare bones, books and movies are entertainment. Why should I waste my time watching something that will devastate or upset me when I can be happy? Why would I write something that's horribly depressing when I can lift someone's spirits? They're escapes from reality after all. Give me one person that would rather escape a dreary life by subjecting themselves to something like Waiting For Godot, and I will show you a sociopath). So we read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale, a painfully large helping of Brecht and Beckett (GAH!), and okay, Madame Bovary by Flaubert which is counts as a classic. And in 9th grade we read George Orwell's Animal Farm and Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities which I do appreciate because there are always so many references to Madame Defarge even today and without that book, I would never get them. In French class we read Sartre and de Beauvoir (both of whom I'm kind of turned off by because I have enough crazy in my head without having to take in account various theories of life having no meaning), and Camus and Malraux. At the time, I squirmed and complained and whined and as a result, still have a certain block against the French, but at least now I can see that it was literature. Not any I'd seek out on my own but recognized literature.

I decided to embark on my own education in terms of literature because reading The God of Small Things in IB English just didn't cut it for me. This is partly why I joined a book club in Boston, I can make new friends, enjoy a night out, and read current literature, and why I decided to have reading Anna Karenina as one of my tasks. Except, Anna's kind of boring me. The story is interesting and I'm not having trouble over the names as most people seem to, I got used to them, but it's just very slow going. It doesn't take 18 pages to explain why a woman would be mad that her husband is sleeping with the nanny. But though I've stopped for now, I kind of want to see this book through just to understand why it's so lauded and why it deserves the title of classic. Why does something count as literature? To me, it because the combined efforts of story-telling and the actual story make for a memorable read but I can't even begin to comprehend why Galileo would be considered a classic play. If it's groundbreaking subject matter sure but um, the heliocentric theory was introduced waaay before the play.

In between, I have other books I want to read to. I recently read 1984 and I really liked it (as opposed to Animal Farm), and I have Stranger in a Strange Land on deck as well. I admit, that's mostly because of the Iron Maiden reference, though really they're referencing the book and not the other way 'round! I've recently gotten more in to sci-fi, and I already had my tendency for the supernatural, so I have a couple of Stephen King novels in my future as well. I tried reading IT in high school but lost interest but I really enjoy his short stories so I think The Dark Tower series might be a better fit for me.

Yesterday I also got The Flea Palace by Elif Safak which is apparently my mom's friend's (the one who accompanied us to see her and Mercan Dede in Belgium) favorite.

I truly do love reading books. I have since I was little and I don't know if it's the fact that it was high school and annoying teachers that affected my dislike of every book deemed quality literature and classics then (I seem to have an attitude for every book they assigned. But come on! HAPPY ENDINGS ARE BOURGEOIS? WHO SAYS THAT? And to a teenage girl for crying out loud!), or just that I didn't like them. I always felt like kind of poseur because all writers refer to other writers, classic ones at that, and I've never read Hemmingway or Faulkner and I didn't care much for Catcher in the Rye. Maybe I'm not pretentious enough, I mean, my favorite authors are Roald Dahl and Christopher Moore and rock stars that hit rock bottom and publish their exploits. Nobody would call them class literature but... I might. I think Matilda is a classic kid's book (oh yes, and there are the many sub-genres of kinds of classics; kids, American, European etc.) and that everyone should read Lamb. But, if it helps me feel less like someone posing as "writer" then I will take my time and get to the books that have been deemed classic.

I promise, I still will have opinions on them and I won't like them just because they're well known. Ahem, Satanic Verses; couldn't stand the ratio of 30 metaphors: 1 page. But I do have The Ground Beneath Her Feet waiting on a shelf back in Boston. See, in terms of books and writing, I'm willing to give second and sometimes third chances.
As for my book club, I'll be missing the next two dates but I will be reading the books because I want to see if Margaret Atwood is actually a good read with Lady Oracle, rather than the kill-myself-authoress. Not to mention Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin which is a reimagining of Lavinia's life; the second wife of Aeneas from Virgil's Aeneid. It's Greek mythology reimagined, starring (my favorite) a heroine, and I was never as familiar with Aeneas' story as with all the other Greek heroes so I'm looking forward to it and maybe doing some pre-reading as well! My boyfriend is actually bringing the book with him when he comes to visit me here in Istanbul.

Anybody have any other suggestions?


  1. ooooosh. guess you can mark me dark and twisty (but hopefully not a sociopath) - "godot" is one of my all time favorite plays and i to read "god of small things" in high school but loved it and re-read it almost every year... i guess i have a thing for the tragic.

    that being said, if you feel that you can trust my advice now that i've outed myself. i love david sedaris' essays (mostly comedic though very rarely with a happy ending) and zadie smith is one of my favorite authors ("on beauty", "white teeth" and "autograph man" are all books i have found comfort in re-reading a few times.) another favorite is "prodigal summer" by barbara kingsolver. (side note: i really hate that i have to use quote signs because this comment box won't let me use italics).

  2. Haha naaah, everyone has their own tastes and preferences and that's what makes us all different.

    I love David Sedaris and I keep forgetting about Zadie Smith so thanks for the reminder, I'll definitely put her on the list.


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