I’m in my mid twenties, so I grew out Eddings etc a few years ago, Martin is an excellent writer, and his Ice & Fire epic is wonderful - more Historical Fictional Epic than fantasy epic, and very adult; full of anti-heroes, and apparent heroes that actually die when they go against the odds.
I’m not a big fan of any “genre” fiction but I used to feel that at least Imaginative Fiction was, well, imaginative. So I found myself listening to him a while ago on the Ipod and kind of got suckered into continuing – I’m not sure why. He is in desperate need of a good editor and Ice and Fire long ago veered into shaggy dog tale territory.
I liked the characters and multiple POV, but couldn’t help but feel the whole thing was just a monstrous waste of time - especially when he unnecessarily split the last book in two.
It’s been a very long time since I came across some “fantasy” I’d say was well written. Shame.
I’m a very easy consumer, I guess. His characterisation and storylines sucked me in, and I kept reading more. And WANTING to read more. To me, that is sign enough of a good storyteller; but then I’ve never gone out of my way to read classics or lit-literature (if you understand what I mean?)
I’m afraid I grew up on “lit literature” (quite like the phrase - sort of an eye-rolling equivalent of “art for art’s sake”) So fantasy and sci-fi were always something of a guilty, escapist pleasure. I can be a fairly fast reader and I devoured all kinds of stuff in my teens and twenties: while I was studying Milton I was reading Stephen R. Donaldson during bathroom breaks. But eventually I got tired of the repetitiveness of the genre and put it aside. (The latest Donaldson makes me cringe.)
Until the Ipod came along. I love to go for walks and listen to audiobooks. But in part because of too much training in close reading of “lit lit”, I can’t bear to listen to most carefully, creatively written fiction. I find myself wanting to skip back to the beginning of a sentence to parse and savour it (Geeky I know I know.) The better the writing, the more I want to see it on the page. There are exceptions: old favourites, plays and epics written for the ear, and authors like Dickens - who was after all just writing stories for a mainstream audience. On the Ipod, Iâ€™m mostly looking for an engaging story that will make me feel like a kid being read to in bed on a sick day. So fantasy can fit the bill again and I started to listen to the sadly unabridged Song of Ice and Fire (Eiron finally gets back to the point!) Like you, I liked the characters and complexity. I especially enjoyed the first book and got hooked. But he just goes on and on and on and on and onâ€¦and on. And with all the new characters it started to sound like a genealogy text after a while. And for me at least, dropping most of the good characters from the latest (half) book because he couldnâ€™t be bothered to edit was a pissoff.
That said, he sucked me in too and I kept listening. And I did feel what most genre fiction wants us to feel - a desire to see what happens next. So I agree he is a good storyteller in a way and I suspect Iâ€™ll listen to the next book when it comes out. But for most of my reading it will be have to be litlit from now on. I prefer books that make me want to savour whatâ€™s happening now - in this sentence. I donâ€™t give a hoot what happens next. That may just be part of getting older – learning to savour the fleeting moments. What happens next (well maybe not quite next) is death.
Apparently Martin isnâ€™t the only one who goes on and on andâ€¦
Just recently I started reading Song of Ice and Fire - and I got hooked immediately. I wouldn’t want to judge it before having read at least vol. 3, but being in the middle of vol. 1 I can say that it’s the first fantasy novel in a long time that really gets to me (and I’m a fantasy writer myself ).
I find that a lot of writers go on and on and on. I’m a lover of Tolkien - devoured LOTR in a month when I was about seven, but gawd is he verbose
I grew up on a mix of both - fantasy fiction is very simple sometimes - but then isn’t any genre fiction? A well done fantasy has psychological complexity, suspense etc etc, and you could say that about any fiction genre. I must admit that I like to turn my brain off when I read, probably because I spend a lot of time reading for academia, and cannot be arse with something that requires a certain level of effort. Thusly, my personal library is an embarassing mix of Fantasy of varying levels of…credibility?
Dickens, Hardy, and most Bronte stuff bored me to tears when I was 15. I enjoyed Austen and Thackeray though.
GRRM is absolutely fantastic, although I do agree that the latest book was a bit slower than the others. I read the Dune series at a similar time to Song of Ice and Fire, and realised that the most significant difference between the authors and their styles of writing is that Herbert writes stories to express himself, while Martin expresses himself through his stories - which causes his stories’ deeper truths to be more interwoven and harder to intellectually comprehend (as opposed to… visceral, “gut” comprehension) in comparison.
I understand reading (and writing) literature for its artistic merit, but don’t believe that there is anything that raises it above “genre” literature written to entertain and enlighten a wider audience; they are simply different styles, each with their own creativity, intellectuality and readerbase.
Don’t get me wrong, I love long forms. I’ve reread LOTR – not to mention Paradise Lost – several times in my life and never found them long. But especially in the latest book, Martin’s length seems (and I’m very tempted to say IS) pointless.
As for the difference between “literature” and most genre fiction, we’ll have to agree to disagree, Rodomont. Good lit has a focus on form that makes a huge qualitative difference – it leaves an attentive reader with more than a sense that he has been entertained or even that she has been “enlightened”. It is an opening on a different mind, a new way of thinking, a richer language. Ideally it has a beauty and strangeness that challenge and fascinate. Genre fiction can certainly achieve this, but it is almost more by accident than by design. That does not mean that genre lit cannot be great, but by following and playing with a pre-established form and aiming at as wide an audience as possible, it self-limits the possibility of literary “greatness.”
“LitLit” is a taste aquired with difficulty, experience and wide, close reading. It is a conversation between authors who have thought long and deep about form, language and life. It leaves you subtly changed for having lived for a while in someone else’s mind.
The very best literature can do both - it is layered in a way that its surface can grab and entertain a wide audience but it’s depths can challenge the most assiduous reader. But there can only be so many Shakespeares, and Martin is most certainly not among them.
Some of you will of course think me an intellectual snob for thinking this. But good literature requires real effort on the part of the reader, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the time and inclination to explore it. If that means I have to suffer the scorn of people who feel morally superior because their tastes are “democratic” and they feel it’s wrong to state a strong opinion for fear of seeming “poncey”, so be it. I’ll survive.
Well-said, Eiron, but often we equate “literature” with “imagination” and thus exclude prose nonfiction. Autobiography, biography, journal, diary, travel, essay, journalism, and history all possess aesthetics and methodology, yet many define literature only as poetry, drama, and the novel.
Genre snobbery is pointless, but in the academy it determines who gets power and money, such as it is. In publishing, good nonfiction rarely outsells bad fiction. Somehow, “making it up” remains far more privileged than “getting it right” or “telling the truth.” But great nonfiction also has form, language, beauty, and strangeness. Start with Boswell’s London Journal or Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
I completely agree, Howarth. I’m only focusing on fiction because of the thread context. In fact most of my current reading is non-fiction, in part because for me it is now the best source of good new ideas for drama. My studies involved reading thousands of plays - there was a time I could feel that I’d read every major English Drama ever written: one advantage of focusing on such a short form. That’s not true any more so I focus on going to the theatre to learn and do a lot of my research with non-fiction. To give you an idea, this week I’m plowing through Marvin Minsky’s The Emotion Machine, which is nothing less than a redefinition of what it is to be human according to recent AI work and neuroscience. What could be more inspiring for a writer?
this made me laugh because I tend to see the scorn going the other way. I have no problem with liking LitLit - I just get annoyed at people who scorn anything that could be classed as science fiction or fantasy, simply because it IS science fiction or fantasy.
I like some art cinema, but I get very annoyed at people who belittle mainstream movies. I like classical music, and I also like indie/clever stuff, but I cannot deny the pop genius of things which I would personally class as light fluff.
Funny you should mention Shakespeare. My understanding is that he was very much a popular culture, genre-oriented kind of guy. I’m sure he’d be delighted to know that he is now considered Great Literature, but that wasn’t his primary goal at the time.
Of course it makes perfect sense, Inkling. It is by far the reasonable, understandable, majority opinion and is largely a given throughout the culture. I’m the one who’s a complete freak for defending the right of the small, even oppressed minority of people whose tastes are more - how shall I put it? - differently abled. The days when the majority of people felt oppressed by a poncey intellectual minority who had restricted access to “higher” culture are well dead and gone. Nowadays, people who like complex litlit, “classical” music etc. can’t see them selves as an elite - except occasionally within the protected walls of academia. In the real world, we know we’re now just another subset of geeks with no power at all, except perhaps over ourselves. So quit picking on us!
And like I said, I read scifi and fantasy too. Hell, given the time, I’ll read anything except Dan Brown.
Katherine, re. Shakespeare: Like I said, the best do BOTH. And no one sets out to write Great Literature. Shakespeare’s a ripping read and yet his best work shows an attention to detail, complexity of characterization, beauty of language etc etc that make Martin- and just about any other popular modern writer – look like the phone book. He wasn’t trying to write “lit” he was aiming his immense rhetorical skill at having fun with words and ideas. And the result was also no less than a redefining of the human. But you’re right: he was also hugely popular and populist. Now that’s a good trick and what every writer should at least aim at in his/her own small way.
I think it’s a different direction that he’s taken before, but I wouldn’t call it pointless until we see where he’s going with it - which unfortunately won’t be until the next book, because of the nature of the fantasy epic genre.
Entertainment and enlightenment were bad choices of words But I certainly believe that there are a multitude of methods of creativity and communication through the written word not limited to the Lit-lit subcategory of fiction, and that writing itself doesn’t have to be obscure and difficult to get into in order to be worthy.
That said, I do believe that the Lit-lit category generally attracts the more creative writers and genre fiction attracts the businessmen, but my point is that both styles have the same potential for great works of art.
And as for setting structures to which your creativity is constrained, I suppose then that you aren’t a follower of the school of thought that the most creative works are products of creativity within a constraining structure?
Back to “enlightenment”, I’m not really able to describe the feeling I get when I read Martin, or Herbert, or Pratchett, or listen to The Pixies or Tom Waits. It is probably due to a failing in my ability to express myself, but the best phrase I can find is emotional resonance. What these good, popular works are able to do is, instead of titillating your mind, leading you on a complex emotional journey to a place of new experience and a deeper understanding of human nature itself.
While reading Lit-lit is an act where you are often very aware of the mental process that is going on (and that is half of the fun - being almost an observer, watching as the words melt into your brain ), the process of a what a good genre book does is much more primal and often goes unnoticed, which is why (I think) people are often confused as to why they read some of the things that they do. (Such as you continuing to reading Martin, or me reading Rowling )
Certainly, for someone such as you, where the English language is a cornerstone of your very existence, a Lit-lit book caters for a lot of what you desire from reading - that feeling of, as you said, “a conversation between authors”. But just because the “majority” find an affinity with genre titles doesn’t mean that they’re worth less to them than litlit is worth to you.
I hope I don’t sound as if I’m being condescending or anything like that, because I certainly have no right to - you’re entitled to your opinion as much as I am to mine. But I am enjoying this discussion
I don’t think I have any more to contribute to this discussion other than a wholehearted agreement with the phrase ‘emotional resonance’. That alone probably accounts for the popularity of the majority of what might be called populist works - due to their shear accessibility it is that much easier for people to identify with certain types of work.
Now whether one calls that ‘lowest common denominator’ or ‘appealing to common humanity’ is something a matter of personal preference, I guess.
I loved George RR Martin in my late teens and early twenties. Fevre Dream made me want to learn characterization and plot; A Song For Lya also made me want to learn characterization. I must have read Dying Of The Light half a dozen times and came away heartbroken each time; I’ll always think of it as Martin’s Casablanca. The Wild Cards series was fun - the first eight or so volumes, anyway. I hope that with the superpower genre now popular in film and TV, some producer might adapt the premise. Haven’t tackled Ice & Fire; I went off fantasy epics a decade or so ago.
I’m not sure I’m a fan of Martin, but I’ve been grabbing his Song of Ice and Fire novels as soon as they hit the shelves. I find his vision a bit bleak, but I want to see how it all ends. Also, the man knows how to create a world. I’m not too keen on world-building in my own work (I’m not going to waste fifty pages explaining to you how it’s possible to cross the Atlantic on a maglev train in the year 2112, as it’s not really relevant to the story I want to tell you), but I love it when another writer does it right. I won’t get into whether or not Martin’s work is great literature; I’m not really qualified to do so, being a long-haired metalhead who hacks for a living and idolizes Alexadre Dumas, pere.