Friday, July 26, 2013

#597. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse July 2013

Here's my monthly book recap:
  • 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
And for the record, I'm currently reading Star Trek Online - The Needs of the Many (so yes, I reached the Star Trek block, though there are three more to follow).

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.


The Armchair Squid said...

LOL re: the lemur. My laughter aroused my daughter's curiosity, too. The day the squid became a lemur...

I feel your pain. And yet, somehow, all of this bad writing gets published! Meanwhile, the talented, the sincere, the devoted toil in obscurity.

Tony Laplume said...

I'd argue the majority of writers toil in obscurity, whether they're a success or not.

Stephanie said...

Good god, you read even more than I do! What drew you to Nesbit's book to begin with? It sounds really awful, but I think that about most proselytizing books. They speak to insiders, who find the words musical almost no matter the content; to outsiders it all looks just nuts. I don't think I've ever read a book by any convert about why they converted that didn't make my teeth itch. Even CS Lewis, and he's quite good at it.

Tony Laplume said...

It was a Good Reads (though people seem to prefer Goodreads or goodreads, I like to space it out) giveaways selection. Judge ye books not by their sales pitch!

Laoch of Chicago said...

There really is an endless amount of dreadful books. When I was younger I grimly read things to their conclusion (which wasn't as awful as it sounds as I read incredibly quickly) but as I have gotten older my patience level has diminished quite a bit. I now have a 3 chapter rule so I usually know within ten minutes or so whether I am going to finish the book. Sometimes this fails me as the book veers off into awful-land but it is at least a filter of sorts.

Tony Laplume said...

Some bad books are worth reading, or at least skimming, to the end. Their badness is of a kind that still has that addictive quality most forms of everything we do possess. Some bad books should be heated to 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lorena said...

"Bad writing, though, in a book, can have so much more damage."

This is so true. So many people believe ideas to be facts just because they've been published. I can understand that there is bad writing, but what I don't understand is what happens to the editors who are supposed to be so discerning and critical (!)

Sorry you've had such bad luck with your readings this month. I admire those who finish every book they start, even if it sucks. That is determination!

Tony Laplume said...

I fully hope and expect a turnaround in my readings. Perhaps by the end of August I will have reached some very good material indeed!

The Armchair Squid said...

I wish you good luck in finding better reads this month.

Tony Laplume said...

It's already getting better. Very pleased!

The Armchair Squid said...

Oh, excellent! Do we get a sneak preview?

Maurice Mitchell said...

Anyone can write random words, but it's the great writers that know how to put them together into great works. Not me. But others.

Tony Laplume said...

Squid, the last two Star Trek books have been better than the first one, and Alex Cavanaugh's newest isn't too bad, either.

Tony Laplume said...

Maurice, the sad truth is that there are far fewer great writers in history than there have been writers in general. It's the real 1%. So if you're worrying about that, don't.

The Armchair Squid said...

The Squid's annual molting is imminent and there's likely to be a lot more Trek in the next incarnation. I've watched the show plenty and dipped my toes in the comics but have yet to take on the novels. Any specific recommendations?

Tony Laplume said...

Best Destiny, which features Kirk's early years, remains a favorite. Kahless, featuring the story of the Klingon culture's greatest warrior, is another.

The Armchair Squid said...

Thank you for the recommendations. Have a great weekend.

Tony Laplume said...

I can confidently and enthusiastically add The Never-Ending Sacrifice to that list, by the way.


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