On the Perils of Ennui While Reading

I’m nursing a full day of general malaise from dawn hours writing fiction (which is turning into a Benedict Cumberbatch fanfic now that I think of it) and whole day feeling like I’m burning up either from the usual female ailments or my favourite nephew in the world infecting me with another flu virus. I’m still on Camp Nano so what the heck, let’s talk about books somewhere that isn’t in 140 characters.

This morning I read this article on Book Riot about “feeling dumb while reading”  and then I read Guardian’s response post on the subject matter.

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While I can’t say I feel dumb while reading a book everyone seem to ‘get’ and I don’t, I usually blame it on “its just me” attitude. Yes, it was unhealthy to be in the ardent book admiring crowd so I write long reviews on why certain books doesn’t have the desired effect on me.

Funny, I actually love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Millennium series. I get the whole noir and the crime fiction thing. I like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods although it wasn’t the best Urban Fantasy books on anthropomorphizing old gods and place them into modern world (as I actually prefer Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters books on that especially during Styxx) but I read and listen to the 10th Anniversary audiobook and without that, the story is really average.

But I don’t really feel stupid or dumb. I do frequently feel stupid and dumb all the time especially when I start reading up on something I don’t know. Like scientific calculations in Physics, Biochemistry, Nutrition.. heck anything with maths in it made me feel mentally deficient (okay, I’m really just slow with maths.. I’m quite averagely okay at it but its been years since I do a lot of equations since I changed my course from Decision Science to Biomedicine..). I feel stupid when I can’t memorize cycles and pathways and memorize its name. I feel stupid when I was in a poetry course and everyone was talking for hours about this really short poem and I don’t get how on earth you get unrelated and grand allusions based on a line of ten words. And I could go on and on with things I don’t get.

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Reading fiction to me is simple. You either like it or you don’t. I like books many normally don’t really care about. I hate books many normally love about. Everyone can like what I don’t like and vice versa. You’re not forced to appreciate it or understand it. You are not obliged to read all bestsellers, all hyped books all famous book club books or award book list etc. Unless you’re reading for your studies… just read what you want. That’s the beauty of being able to read whatever you want. Don’t make it a chore.

Oh, there’s many books I didn’t get that many love but I don’t and I don’t feel stupid about not liking them either. Although I like the story, but as a teenager I don’t really care for Lord of The Rings and Tolkien verse or his prose. They are good if you’re playing video games about it but gosh, I hated unnecessary bloated verbose and I tried reading Tolkien as an adult but I don’t feel I ever will caught the Tolkien bug. Same goes with A Song of Fire and Ice series, I tried reading the book but I end up reading the wiki version instead. Mostly because I hate unnecessary long books which was common with Fantasy genre and they didn’t seem to end itself. Same goes with Terry Brooks books. I’m sure it is a thing to anticipate worldbuildings with Fantasy books but if you write too many characters and focus on the set rule of your verse, and plot only center around the questing aspect and rather than developing characterizations, you only develop them barely enough for me to remember their names and they exist only for you kill them off in the next book or so and you recycle the plot again…. that is my case with larger Fantasy series.

I hated John Steinbeck’s The Pearl since high school. While I understand the story completely and I reread it a lot of times, I just think it was too pretentious to impose on teenage ESL students just because it was thin. Mostly because I spend my time with students who couldn’t handle the meager literary component and had to teach them in simpler words. It is a hard book for kampung kids and really, it is just as a torture watching them helpless with a difficult reading material. A story about crazy pearl hunter descending to madness and paranoia is too deep for some level of ESL okay. And it isn’t enjoyable.

I never get the hype around Pride and Prejudice. A lot of people I knew love Pride and Prejudice and I tried reading it and again, I never seem to catch the Darcy love bug. I love the movies and adaptation more but even the wet shirt Darcy scene in the tv series was meh for me.  I am sarcastic and I think the social commentary sarcasm in her book was superficial. I mean, it isn’t like it was there all the time in every page and it is the 19th century. There’s an industrial revolution going on and there’s working class and ruling class politics and there’s slavery issues and imperialism and seriously, the books devoid all that and the main focus was on romance. It is a pulp romance of its day.

I haven’t read the book version of ” The Princess Bride” and I still feel kinda meh about it. I don’t really like Dresden Files. I tried reading Dresden Files but like Anita Blake series, I don’t believe a book series should go on making a basic character recycle itself and being gifted with omni-powers and etc. It is tiring when the words Urban Fantasy seem to be commonly associated with only those two books and you’re the only one who aren’t keen about reading them.

YA books also have this “it’s me, not you problems”. It started around 2009, when I first read Twilight series out of curiosity, I only like Eclipse but I never understand why anyone would think the whole series as perfection. I mean, really, I get that it is your first book or series into the genre but YA fiction existed way before Twilight series. Then I start being active on Goodreads and Facebook around 2010 and lo and behold; Twilight, Twilight, Twilight. The craze went overboard. Everyone love the series for the sake that majority everyone loving it. It was until around 2012 with the end of Breaking Dawn Part 2 that people finally went back to being sensible again and stop mentioning Twilight thing. I mean, for the duration of the Twilight movie series mania, whenever the topic of YA books came around it ALWAYS going to go back to a Twilight discussion. That is madness and I dread the thought about the Fifty Shades adaptations and another rise of this craziness again. I can’t even read through a quarter of Fifty Shades of Gray or reach to the sex scenes because apparently it took several hundred pages detailing the life of alt-Bella/Ana through inane first person POVs. I hate shallowness and EL James abuse the notion of a personhood and BDSM portrayal.  Bad prose and attitude is infectious so I try to avoid reading about them.

I don’t get Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I’m sorry that her real story was tragic but I don’t get stream of consciousness. I tried and even I barely stand Faulkner’s. I shall reread the Woolf book again since it is for academical thing but on personal level, I don’t think it was that good. I also don’t get Ian McEwan’s Atonement and I think I got slammed because I don’t like it. But it is about personal preferences.

Heck, I don’t understand why many pretentious awards book lists and literary critics and literary fiction aficionados seems to conform to the idea that their choices of books have literary merits and others that don’t aren’t even worth to mention. If you don’t like their choice, you’re not literary significant enough to appreciate the work because known famous literary critics unanimously sing praises about that. I genuinely think this is the part where many are duped into feeling ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’ if you don’t fit with them.

I thought about that all the time and I couldn’t find any logic on it except to view it as a social study on certain subgroups and their acceptance. I mean, most and majority of the current highbrow literary criticism and literary acceptance is still as discriminative and as it was decades ago. In the west, there’s a thing called dead white men term which reflects the proportionate focus on just contribution by majority white male demographic. In Malaysia, we also have those too except instead of being white, its just being male. All national laureates in Malaysia are males since 1981. While Malaysian woman authors are not uncommon but still, we hardly see them outside the usual ‘woman-centric’ genre like YA and Romance. As if Asian authors are common in international level and it even worst if you’re writing other fiction that is not an Asian-appropriated historical novel. It is a problem and it doesn’t look good in any angle.

Whether your individual reception to a book is good or not, you shouldn’t be pressured into believing that you’re insignificant or you’re incapable or mentally incompetent enough just because you have problems in comprehending a material that many love or have literary merits. It is just niche demographic preferences. We are individuals with differing tastes. It is alright and it is okay if you love something everyone hate or hate something everyone love. Everything is to each and their own.

And stop questioning your mental capacity, just read everything you get your hands on. Now,

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