- Circuits of the Wind, Volume 1 by Michael Stutz
- Circuits of the Wind, Volume 2 by Michael Stutz
- The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell
- JSA, Volume 4: Fair Play by Geoff Johns and various
- Circuits of the Wind, Volume 3 by Michael Stutz
- The New Teen Titans Archives Volume 1 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
- Astronauts in Trouble by Larry Young, Matt Smith, and Charlie Adlard
- The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence
- Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
- Why I Became a Muslim by Ian Nisbet
- Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations - Watching the Clock by Christopher Bennett
Before going much further, let me give thanks to our Cephalopod founder, the Armchair Squid. The preceding sentence is not to be construed as suggesting the Squid himself is a cephalopod (or some sort of worship; I don't even particularly like sea food). He is clearly a lemur.
That's about as jolly as this one's going to get, folks. This month has not exactly been one for the record books, and that's even before I reached Why I Became a Muslim. I've referenced before how I formed a Reading List from among the books I've acquired over the years, the priority order as it were. Sometimes even this List and my selections aren't good enough to keep me reading the best of my own material. There are several books in the above bullets that weren't even in the List, and although this is always bound to happen, part of the reason why is the Good Reads Curse.
The Good Reads Curse is derived from the giveways the site always has available. What you get from these giveways is a combination of what you've signed up as a matter of chance for winning, and sometimes, as I've learned, otherwise. I've ranted before that a lot of books should never have been written, and a lot of writers should seriously reconsider the idea that this is their calling. This is not a popular sentiment in a blog community filled with writers, not in the sense that bloggers are writers, because they have to be (then again, some of them cede vast tracks of Internet to images), but bloggers who either are already or hope to be published authors of some extraction.
Anyway, what I mean to say is, a lot of what I read this month was writing that should probably have never existed. Starting with the Circuits of the Wind cycle and certainly including Why I Became a Muslim and also Watching the Clock, this stuff was just not very good reading material. I quit reading Star Trek books a long time ago expressly because of that, but thought I'd given space and discerning selection enough to have gotten around that. (Hopefully I can still be proven wrong.)
Circuits is an especially painful effort to lump in this travesty of words, because it was obviously a passion project. But the writing simply was not good enough to support the passion. The ambition was not met by skill. And even one of these three volumes could have been more than enough. Much the same can be said for Mockingjay, by the way. I've explained elsewhere why I've read the Hunger Games books at all, but I just don't want to do so again.
The main subject of my wrath should already be obvious. Why I Became a Muslim is downright insulting. It's a parody, it really is, of all the prejudices anyone could have against Islam as a whole, written from the perspective of a sincere convert. One who does such a bad job of expressing himself that he has more or less made it even easier for anyone who doesn't understand the religion in the first place to think it all the more vile.
That's what bad writing can do. Good writing can accomplish so much, but I don't think that people realize how bad writing can do just as much. A bad movie, like Plan 9 from Outer Space, can simply be reduced to an object of derision. Good movies can find the same fate, but there are certainly plenty of movies where it can be universally acknowledged that they are bad. Bad writing, though, in a book, can have so much more damage.
That's what I mean when I say that books have to be acknowledged as different from other expressive forms of entertainment. Bennett wrote Watching the Clock, as I've often noticed in the past with bad writing, almost as if he wasn't even writing from the perspective of writing a book so much as trying to copy some other source material (which I assumed was children's cartoons and bad porn, a combination to frighten any good parent). A writer has a great obligation to do more than just string along sentences and thoughts. They need to know how to put them together.
Because if they don't, it shows, and that's what's most striking about Why I Became a Muslim. This is a explanation of his beliefs more than how he reached them. Even describing his early years Nisbet can't explain how he reached the conclusion, only to state that he did and then propound the version of what he learned. It's enough to make anyone scoff at Islam rather than embrace it.
This was far from his intention. Ostensibly, he began writing it to explain to a son he believed he'd never see again why that was. He instead presents no discernible consideration for any of the developments that led to that predicament. It was enough for me to temporarily believe that all Muslims are exactly like that, and that's all anyone needs to know.
Bad writing...! I came into this post fully believing that I was going to go on a screed against a large segment of the world's population, one that by Nisbet's reckoning has taken its entire stance against everyone by the conviction that it's simply got everything figured out and has for a long time, ever since Islam's founder set down the original record. And yet even a casual scholar will know that Mohammed struggled for years to establish the beginnings of his new faith (there would be no acknowledgement in Islam's own culture about these early problems otherwise). It didn't happen overnight. Yet to hear Nisbet tell it, that's exactly what happened, and because that was the case, Islam is, was, and always will be right about everything.
If only that were the end of it. But Why I Became a Muslim is filled with that kind of writing. I will give Nisbet the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's merely the writing. There are many Muslims who believe in their faith in exactly that way. Sadly, they all seem to be suicide terrorists. And alarmingly, before his conversion Nisbet was in fact learning all sorts of things that might turn out to be useful for just such a cause. Clearly he doesn't seem to have considered that. And yet I have. That's the world we live in today, unfortunately.
I'm not condemning all of Islam. There's just no point in that. But I am condemning bad writing. I hope some day I never have to read it again, or those who perpetuate it will be more willing to see where they've gone wrong. Because in most cases, bad writers never want to hear that.
And that's the worst of it.