Thursday, September 03, 2015

Whither The Morally Serious Potboiler?

The Guardian has concocted some perfectly geeky click-bait. Jonathan Jones says life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers, and throws Terry Pratchett into said pot. On behalf of outraged Pratchett fans the world over, Sam Jordison retorts.

"Don't I look morally serious?"

I read some Pratchett in my 20s. I enjoyed it well enough -- a shade more than I did Douglas Adams, actually. Both traded in absurdities, but where Adams flew around like a perpetually deflating balloon, Pratchett's tack was to treat absurdities with the greatest intellectual seriousness. If a world is flat, and the universe governed by sprites, etc., this is how the physics of it has to work. Add human foibles, and comic shenanigans ensue.

I might pick up another Pratchett book, before I finally join him as daisy fertilizer. Hard to say, really. Right now when I'm in the mood for the sort of thing Pratchett did well, I'm more inclined to pick up something by Charlie Stross.

He's younger, for one thing -- at this point youthful (and I'm speaking relatively, understand) writers serve the dual purpose of keeping me at least superficially informed of the contempo state-of-being, while assuring me I still retain some connection to the passions that drove me in my youth toward the person I am today. Plus, Stross is hip to the whole Cthulhu scene.

What I'm not going to do is make a case that both these guys should be avoided in favour of work less potboilery. Life is short, dammit. Read what excites you -- and let the rest of us know about it!

Charles Stross' site is here.


Joel Swagman said...

I followed the link to the Guardian article. I'm inclined to agree with the response in the letters column:

Usually if someone declares they don’t need to read something to know it’s bad, we ignore them. You gave Jonathan Jones a column. Shame on you.

(One of my big pet peeves are reviewers who haven't read or watched what they're reviewing--something I seem to be encountering online more and more these days. If someone doesn't have time to read what they're reviewing, I'm not sure why I should take time to read their review.)

That issue aside, I agree with your assessment of Pratchett. He's intelligent to a degree. He's probably more intelligent than your average fantasy writer or humor writer, but there's a limit to how much you can praise him. If someone wants to argue that Pratchett isn't the most intelligent thing you could be reading, then there's not much I can say to defend him. Of course there are much more intelligent authors out there.

I guess the real question is what constitutes a waste of time. And that's a huge question that perhaps is too big for this tiny comment box. But without attempting to answer it definitively, I'll just say this:
Something I've noticed in myself over the years is that a number of the books I've read out of pure obligation (the books I thought I had to read to be an intelligent and cultured person) I'm having trouble remembering 10 years later. Which makes me wonder what the point is of obligation reading purely for the sake of becoming well-read.

Darrell Reimer said...

At this stage in life the only books I feel at all obliged to finish are those that captivated me early on, but somehow gave me the slip in the back stretch (American Gods being the most recent example). So far as time is concerned, once the basic needs are covered the rest is negotiable.

Darrell Reimer said...

As for The Guardian, I suspect they didn't just give Jones the piece -- they commissioned it.