The wording of this week’s topic feels a little overly personal. Betrayal is something that has intent behind it, and, no, I don’t believe that any author has ever written a book with the thought of hurting me in mind. Instead I’m going to talk about some books that I feel I should have loved and didn’t. I mean, that does result in sore feelings, so I feel it counts.
5. Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled by Harlan Ellison. This is a tough one to talk about. I’d always viewed Ellison as a man ahead of his time when it comes to identity politics. He is himself Jewish and was always very open in his writing about that experience. He championed the black community and women’s lib (in his own, 1960s way). But what do I find in this collection? Not one but two stories that were shockingly homophobic. I’ve never been so disappointed in someone in my life. I can only hope he’s realized how wrong he was, but it left me feeling very strange afterward. I guess, after all that naysaying above, betrayed is a good word in this case.
4. The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. I have been a fan of Stephen King since I was thirteen. I mention him a lot. Whenever someone wants book recommendations of any shape or size, he’s my go-to. But this book. This frustrating non-story. It’s a mystery that doesn’t get solved, and that’s fine. I don’t actually mind that. Ambiguity can be fun. Or at least it would be in this case if the mystery were even halfway interesting. A man dies on a beach, ostensibly by choking on a steak (who eats steak on the beach? There’s your conundrum). But because the timeline is wonky, suddenly it’s a mystery for the ages. I was bored stiff. I felt completely let down. Just thank God it was short.
3. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. This was less about being let down by a specific author, because I’d never read Heinlein’s work before this, and more about being let down by a community. The SF community specifically. Heinlein is treated like the god of all speculative fiction. He invented so many trappings and tropes and sub-genres it’s dizzying. That’s great, but no one told me his work was nigh on unreadable. Or that his ideas would come off as so incredibly backwards and of their time. He was decidedly stuck in the 1940s and 50s, despite his futuristic settings. I never even finished this book because it became a battle. Ever since, classic science fiction has felt daunting to me, and I struggle to try older writers.
2. The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon. Another case of a community of readers failing me utterly. This time it’s a genre I thought I could always trust: horror. Laymon is beloved and considered highly underrated. I’d say he’s not underrated enough, and I’m shocked at the people who seem to love him. As far as this books goes, his writing style and use of language was that of an eighth grader. Actually, so were his ideas about women and sex. None of what happened is what I’d call scary so much as vaguely uncomfortable and worth a wince. I have no problem with unlikable characters, and this story’s cup runneth over in that regard, but it would’ve be nice if they’d been interesting. I finished it simply because it was the most glorious train wreck. In the end, all it makes for is a good rant.
1. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Whenever I talk about this book, I always feel the need to scream that I’m a fan of McCarthy. And I am. The Road, No Country for Old Men, Child of God. He’s a genius. The genius that I’ve seen everyone who’s read Blood Meridian insist is here totally eluded me. I couldn’t grasp it. It was a very, very long book with no rewards in it. Maybe I’m not gifted enough to penetrate the layers of this, but I was bored, and the book wore me down. By the time I had finished it, I felt crazed. I was delighted I’d done it, but I didn’t know why, because it was a one star read for me all the way. Never before have I pushed myself for something that had no goal. That’s what reading this felt like. Totally nihilistic, just like its content.
Those were definitely some of my roughest reads. You know, I feel a little better now that I’ve let that out. If you want to share yours, feel free. And as always, happy geeking!
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