Did not finish (and wish I hadn’t started)

by , under books

(Note: This is NOT A REVIEW though it starts out like one. It’s a rant about my motives, with added twitter conversation. I hope it doesn’t descend into whining.)

 Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

My, I so wanted to like this book. Love it, even, as various reviewers did (yes, I read reviews before starting an unknown book, don’t mind spoilers and hate surprises), but it’s the Little Red Reviewer who I identify with completely here: I wish the novella was more of the compelling stuff (Demane’s demigodhood, his relationships, his family, the relationship between the demigods and regular humans, why science has been forgotten) and less of how much the caravan brothers stink from not washing, their festering wounds, their habits of drinking until they puke, and their general bitching and complaining.

Gritty, that’s probably the word for this. Tell it like it is, don’t paint it over with romantic rose-colours. My problem with that is that it often means “write only the nasty things” — my usual gripe with gritty/grimdark.

I’d have thrown the book against the wall (metaphorically; it was an ebook) much earlier than I actually did if I hadn’t been afraid I was disliking it for all the wrong reasons. True, the language was disconcerting, AAVE (learned that term for it a couple of days ago from Kai Ashante Wilson himself) mixed with highly technical vocabulary, but that was functional and it wasn’t what I crashed on, it only made it difficult and I don’t usually mind difficult. What I crashed on was the grit and gore. What I was afraid I was crashing on, so I kept reading stubbornly to prove it false, was my own racism. Twitter friends helped me see that it probably wasn’t. (argh, Twitter, why is it so hard to find out how to embed an entire conversation?)

(Apparently zeborah and felixplesoianu replied to that but Twitter history is a wayward thing and it was already beastly to find and copy the conversation below. I think it was about diversity in all literature rather than in one book, so yes, a book with only black characters adds to diversity because black people are underrepresented in books in general.)

So then I decided to stop reading and posted this, just to remind myself:

My other half can skim and skip in a book, but I can’t — especially not in a new book where much of the understanding might come from what comes before. And especially not in this book, which seems to take off in a wildly different direction towards the end. I’m not sorry I didn’t try — the Little Red Reviewer calls the end “incredibly gruesome” and the credibly gruesome earlier stuff was already more than enough for me.

I’m still in two minds about my motives, though. I’m a white woman and it turns out that most of my favourite books have been written by white women. On the one hand I feel a kind of obligation to expand my horizons, on the other hand I’m tempted to say “heck, I’m reading for fun” and read what I like. But isn’t it lazy (a character fault) to read only what I already like and never challenge myself? And isn’t any liking ultimately a political decision? I try to find out for myself what I like and not to be influenced by the consensus among my friends about what is “right” to like. I do take recommendations, but I reserve the right to say “sorry, this isn’t for me”, though there are situations in which I keep trying and trying and trying, like the Miles Vorkosigan books.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps clearly isn’t for me. I must say that I didn’t know Kai Ashante Wilson was a black man until I looked him up (I sort of assumed he was black, but I don’t read his first name as conclusively male) and I don’t know if I’d have known by the writing — after all Grunts, which this immediately reminded me of, was written by a (white) woman. So that’s probably not the reason; and there are lots of books I do like in which most or all of the characters are not white (A Stranger in Olondria comes to mind), so that’s probably not the reason either. I wish I could admit that it’s (only) the grit and gore, as I’d probably have done immediately if the writer had been a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri. But now disliking it feels like I can/will only read about people like myself (though there aren’t many, perhaps not any, books about people exactly like me) and liking it would feel like cultural appropriation. Anything I can say about it feels like I’m sticking my nose in things that are none of my business.

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