Sunday, 10 May 2015

My FAQ of a Book Nerd

I just read some stuff I was really conflicted about and it got me into ranting mood, so I'll make a post that'll allow me to rant. :D Heh.

I'm lazy today so I'll be borrowing gifs that fit the mood.

If you're a book lover, you probably get at least some of these questions too. Some are easier, some are harder to answer. If someone is not that much of a reader, and in my case, a writer, some things are just hard for them to understand and sometimes it doesn't help, not matter how precisely I try to put it. Some get it, some don't, but they all usually go around the same questions.

The first one comes when they walk into my room and see my bookshelves.

Why do you have so many books??

I've never counted my books actually, but it's safe to say there's at least 300 of them. I know a lot of book lovers have way more than that but it still appears to be a lot to ”normal” people. I read a lot and I buy what I can. Most of them are cheap ones I tend to spend quite a lot of time looking for in second hand stores and antiquaries because well, I'm a student.

I have many books because I freaking love books. A big part of my life revolves around books. If I have to choose my favourite form of telling stories, it's books, that's why I write as well. I like to own books, because I like to go back to them and sometimes even write on them. I also like to be able to lend them to people I recommend those books to.

But why would you spend so much time on something that isn't real?

I'm kind of sick of this particular question and defending what I love. Books are not some ”imitation of life” for me which I use to get away from ”the real world”. They're not there to just fill my spare time. Books are in the real world, they are life to me. What else would they be? Our minds are in the real world. Books are filled with stuff real people made up for their own and other people's enjoyment. Stories are not some alternate dimension and reading does not make people ”turn away from the reality” unless they're already doing that to themselves in every other area of their life.

For some reason this is really hard for some people to grasp. Books get labeled as ”not real” and ”not important” and readers are ”escaping their real lives”, even though playing football isn't any more real or important than reading books and still people get to love it without their sanity being questioned constantly. It's a totally made-up game. Both have internal rules which have no effect on ”the real world” outside themselves, except how well someone plays/writes and what they can achieve with what they do. But their ”craft” only has impact on itself and the people who enjoy it for its intrinsic value. Why do people still insist that it's different? Neither books nor football can end poverty as far as I can see. People just like them. That's why they're real.

Running around chasing a ball isn't any more productive than sitting around flipping pages. But neither is really about that. It's about what people feel dammit. Why do people think it's SO different whether you excercise your muscles or your brain?

Oh, I didn't know you liked *insert a book title*.”

Actually, I hate it.”

What? Why would you keep a book you hate?”

I rarely get rid of any of my books, so you might not be able to draw accurate conclusions about my taste if you look at my shelves. Someday I'll probably have so many books I'll have to get rid of the ones I don't read but for now it's all under control. However, some people find it really odd I'd keep a book I dislike. I understand that, but here's why I do it.

I'm not just passionate about stories. I don't just care about the books I like, I can't just put away a book I dislike and never look at it again. I'm a writer, which means I'm also passionate about the craft itself. That's why I have a very practical reason to keep books I don't like, and read them untill the last page: I can learn from them. It improves your writing a lot to analyze why you don't like someone else's writing. That's how I build my mental framework about the craft, not just why I like something but also why I don't. The better the framework is, the better my writing will be, because I'm a very intuitive writer. It doesn't help me to follow intructions, or outline my work, I have to build every principle organically. Once I've internalized them and they become solid, they will guide my writing even when I'm not thinking about them. Especially if you're a very intuition-driven person, it'll help you overcome obstacles and edit your work, if you understand and can afterwards explain how you did it, even when that's something you're not conscious of during the process.

The other reason is that I want to be able to quote the books accurately, if I'm talking about them. I don't have a very good memory for very ”trivial” details but I want to argue my point precisely. So yeah, especially if I passionately hated a book I couldn't get rid of it. This is not ”mindless hating” of someone. I think hating can, and is supposed to be intellectual. Hate is not a feeling you shouldn't feel when arguing why something is good or bad, as long as you're fully aware of why you feel that way. It just means you love what you do.

Actually this is something I still have to work on. I have a habit of being either too objective: Prefering to analyze why someone wrote what they wrote, not if it's good or bad. Or being too positive: Prefering to analyze from the point of view that makes the writing look best. But a writer needs to have solid opinions on the craft and follow them. Books need to be good from the point of view of what the book's goal is. Changing the perspective from that is not going to magically make the book better. Bad writing is not supposed to be excused, otherwise, how would anyone get better at it?

Okay, but why don't you just get an e-reader instead? Why do you need physical books?

Well, why don't you just download pictures of your action figures?

I like to collect books, you like to collect X-men. They mean something to you. When you look at your collection it can save a crappy day.

I find books aesthetic. They tell something about me to anyone who sees my room. Physical books are the way I came to know books. It still means something to me to be able to open a physical book. It awakens my writing spirit. They are symbols for my ideas. If I don't have energy and my head's a mess I only need one glance at a bookshelf and I'll remember why I write again.

If you prefer e-readers that's awesome. If you don't that's awesome. Just let me be awesome flipping the paper pages.

Not that I wouldn't get an e-reader too. It could be a good way to read books I'm not yet sure I want in my shelf.

But why do you read main-stream books??

(Alternatively, when it's about writing, some people also like to condescendingly say ”Oh, you write genre fiction.”)

Okay, first, I don't tolerate elitism well, so this question pisses me off. Sometimes it comes from people who ”only read the classics” or ”only read non-fiction” or ”only read post-neo-giga-modern-rococo-indie-furry-epics” but sometimes it comes from people who don't even read.

Seriously, the genre or the status is not what makes the book good. The genre does not define the book. It's just supposed to give you a sense of what to expect. If you can't stand violence, don't read action thrillers. If you're intrigued by magic, read about magical worlds. So yeah, the genre gives you an idea of whether or not you like the stuff the book deals with but it doesn't tell you anything about whether the book is good or not. It tells you nothing about how well written it is, if the characters are good, if the plot is well constructed, if the setting is organic. In other words, the things that good fiction is ultimately about. At least I often find myself enjoying a book that is about stuff I don't generally have an interest for. A great writer can make pretty much anything interesting.

Also, because of this, writing a book that doesn't fit in any genre is not in itself an acomplishment or make it better than a one that does fit into genres. You could just throw so much weird stuff in for its sheer weirdness that it would be impossible to categorize it well but that wouldn't make it any better than the next traditional high fantasy.

And the status. Popularity tells you even less about the book. It's not something the book is. It's something that happens to the book. It has happened to great books and it has happened to crappy books. Popularity doesn't mean a book is good, because it's often due to reasons other than the book as a book: all the circumstances, the marketing, what is popular right now, etc. But that's why it also doesn't mean the book is bad. Popular books and unpopular books have just as good chance at being great.

I have no reason to decide I must hate a book, because millions of people like it. I read best-sellers and I read books few people have heard of and I find great ones along both ways. I decide, not the majority nor the minority.

Ok, but why do you read fantasy? Why don't you just read about stuff that actually matters?

Well, it's not like I only read fantasy or anything but... Anyway, I think none of the fictious stuff has any natural quality that makes it matter more than another. Only the reader can give meaning to it. I understand why some people feel like a historical novel about WW II is more grounded in reality than a sci-fi book about Martians, but actually it's only a question of individual taste and perspective.

Okay, so let's say there's a book about this Jew, who'll do everything to save his little sister and trying to do so, ends up being sent to a death-camp. However, he never loses hope, and with help from a few allies he meets at the camp, some of them make it through alive. The war is over, and nothing will ever take away the horrors they faced or bring back the people they lost but the survivors will keep on surviving.

Then there's a book about this Marsian, who'll do everything to save xyr little sister and trying to do so, ends up being exiled in a space ship that is not supposed to survive. However, xe never loses hope, and with help from a few allies xe meets at the ship, some of them make it through alive. The exile is over, and nothing will ever take away the horrors they faced or bring back the people they lost but the survivors will keep on surviving.

Then there's obviously a book about this girl from district 12, who'll do everything to save her little sister and trying to do so, ends up participating in the Hunger Games. However, she never loses hope, and with help from a few allies she meets at the Games, some of them make it through alive. The Hunger Games are over, and nothing will ever take away the horrors they faced or bring back the people they lost but the survivors will keep on surviving.

These are obviously not ”the same book”. Each of them could be an original and rich book series (and obviously one of them is). My point is that what is being told in each one about the human nature, is similar. That's what makes books believable, pro-found and relevant to us. It doesn't matter which cover you prefer for these same forces. These forces won't dissapear from the world so they won't dissapear from fiction.

Ok, I think that cleared my mind for now. :D Hopefully I didn't state anything in more black-and-white manner than I intended.

I'll probably get back to reading now.

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