rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
The thing with being ill for a long time-- and I had the flu for basically the entirety of September and am not completely recovered-- is that as you regain energy you start to want to do something difficult, just because it is so long since you've had the capacity to do anything difficult. Consequently, I find myself very seriously mulling over the idea of reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

Now, for many people this would be a substantial time investment, but not difficult, as such. Just long. But the last time I read anything significant by Martin, Dying of the Light, two hundred and fifty-four pages took me just under seven hours and left me with a splitting and lingering headache. It was entirely worth it, or I wouldn't be considering doing anything of the kind again, but it was one of the more difficult books I read that year. A Song of Ice and Fire is very famous and has gotten to the point where I feel culturally behind in not knowing anything at all about it (except that the TV show sounds as though it has more visual depictions of sexual violence than I am really down with watching), but the main reason I am interested in trying to read it is that I have been thinking on and off for years about why Martin is so difficult for me, and I think I've finally gotten it and can maybe therefore fix it.

It's not, as I initially thought, that Martin thinks perpendicularly to the way I think and that therefore I don't understand why anybody in his work does the things they do. That, as I've known for years, is C.J. Cherryh, whose humans make less sense to me than her aliens, and Martin and Cherryh really aren't all that alike. I have problems parsing sentences in Martin which are simple landscape descriptions and have nothing to do with characters at all.

It is, I think, and this is why I'm writing this up, literally to do with the way in which I sensorily relate to texts. To expand: there are visual readers out there, who picture the events of a text the way that they would watch a film, and there are varying degrees of that; there are auditory readers, for lack of a better term, for whom the cadence and sound of the words encodes something about the way they relate to the story, and there are varying degrees of that. There are probably many other sorts of reader, and if you are one of them I would love to hear about it.

But I, as I have mentioned before, am a kinesthetic and structural reader. I interact most easily with a text when there are lots of touch-words and words which define the extent of spaces and smell-words to give me an internal idea of the book as a chain of connected locations in which characters relate to each other. And also, independently of that, I have a mental image of the structure of the book as an overall thing; I picture it internally as rather like a free-form glass sculpture, swooping in here, curving out there, changing color there; this structure incorporates the plot and the characters and the relationship of the plot to the characters and the themes and the pacing and how well the book holds together as a thing in itself, as well as several other things (and I am not consciously sure what some of them are).

Ninety-five percent of all writers don't include enough touch- and smell- and space-words for me to rely primarily on my kinesthetic sense of a book. They just don't. People don't tend to write for that. Sometimes even people who demonstrably see the world that way don't write for that-- I wrote about this when I was discussing C.S. Lewis's Perelandra, a book which proves to me beyond doubt that he primarily thought about things kinesthetically, but in most of his other works he's trying (very sensibly) to communicate mostly to other kinds of reader, and why not. I myself as a writer am not writing primarily for kinesthetic readers, because no one else would know what the hell was going on.

Consequently, with most books I am dependent on my structural sense. Now, this can cause some weirdnesses with how I think about books versus how other people think about books. The most easily explicable way I can think of to explain this is that Tanith Lee wrote a series of books, the Secret Books of Paradys, which are set in an alternate-universe Paris at various points in its history. Each of them has a title which begins with 'The Book of', so you have The Book of the Mad, The Book of the Damned, etc. Each one is themed around a color, and uses no words related to colors other than the one it's themed around, so that, for instance, the orange book describes a lot of shades of orange but does not contain the word white. Each book develops an emotional and intellectual cathexis around its color, a knot of ideas that summarize what Tanith Lee thinks and feels about that part of the spectrum. I think that's a wonderful conceit, and the principal issue I have with the series is that some of the colors are much more well-written than others. Yellow, now, yellow is great, and red is damn good, and orange is a stone-cold masterpiece because it's not only good on its own but is as it should be a thematic mashup of the red and yellow books. But blue, and this is particularly annoying for me because blue is my favorite color, is too short and really underthought and doesn't have half the cool ideas attached. My personal mental shorthand for Tanith Lee's weaknesses as a writer is 'there are things she doesn't devote enough time to because she doesn't like blue', meaning that she's let her dislike stop her from exploration.

So I was describing these books to somebody at some point, pretty much as I've just done above, and the person said "Well, are these a series?" and I said of course they are, I just told you, and the person said "No, do they have a plot that runs through all of them? Do they have characters in common? Is there an order in which I should read them?"

And I said, give me three days to track them down and reread them and I'll get back to you about that, because I didn't know.

I've read each of them five times, counting the tracking-down-for-that-person, but that still just isn't how I think about the series. The structure of the series is color-themed, so it's a sphere (like a color wheel, only in three dimensions and with black and white added), and that means I had entirely forgotten whether there is supposed to be an actual order to them because a sphere starts anywhere, and I didn't know whether individual characters are part of the things that blend the edges of the colors together between the books or not. (It turns out that you can, in fact, start anywhere, and that the setting is in common but the characters aren't.) It's not that these books don't have good characters, either-- the characters are great, the heroine of the yellow book is one of the best heroines in fantasy and she now sums up a lot of what I think about the color yellow. If I reason it through from first principles given the ideas that are at play in that book, I assume her name has to be Jehanne because of stuff about Joan of Arc. But I can't actually remember off the top of my head. She is in my memory the person, poor thing, whose life keeps on going so yellow, and who deals with it admirably, and that's the important bit.

Now, the fact that I naturally read structurally this way, that this is how my brain works, has some advantages and some disadvantages. It is very, very difficult to surprise me with a plot twist. I saw it being built in, or at least I saw that there had to be room for a swoopy thing going down here or the whole structure would fall over. Honestly, a lot of the time this is frustrating because it removes a lot of suspense and excitement.

I treasure books that have managed to surprise me with plot. The most recent was Patricia McKillip's The Bards of Bone Plain, which used the fact that a twist was obviously coming, and that I as the reader saw it coming, to make me think I knew what it was. This is more complicated than it sounds, because the real twist had to have exactly the same setup and fit into all the same story-spaces as the fake twist that McKillip was making me expect; she laid out all the clues for everything well ahead of time but successfully made me look at them from entirely the wrong direction, and I remain impressed by that. Again, I assume that the wonderful three-dimensional characters whose journey in that book I recollect very clearly must have had names and hair colors and heights and all that, because most characters do. In another few rereadings, once I'm no longer distracted by watching her build the framework, I may have all that straight. But good structure is so distracting! It is what I will pay attention to first. I'm much better at remembering things like character names in books that aren't doing intentional work on that structural level.

This is why I cannot remember one single name from the entirety of M. John Harrison, who is one of my favorite writers, and whose work I find exhilarating and comforting beyond my ability to tell. He's not just doing interesting things on that structural level. He tells jokes in it. Good jokes. Like, in one of the Viriconium books, there's a chapter which, gradually, over the course of the whole chapter, starts using quotations and the length of the sentences and specific images and rhythms to turn itself into a bastardized version of T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'. It starts out really subtly and it gets more and more blatant, and the story has been a kind of Arthurian-Fisher King pastiche anyhow and you sit there going really? really, we are doing this? Really? And then, just as it's gotten as far as it can go without copy/pasting the text of the poem into the novel, the chapter ends. Now, this is a book in which each chapter has an epigram, and all of the previous epigrams have been made up by M. John Harrison and credited to some fantasy name with an epithet or other, you know, by xyz the Exploding Wizard, that kind of epigram. The epigram for the chapter immediately following the text which devolved into T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'... is from T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'.

This is brilliant-- it's a cribsheet, because if you don't know the Eliot poem, you should at least be able to catch that this is different from all the other epigrams in the book, and if you go look up the poem to find out why this epigram is present you will be given the key to the previous chapter-- but also because, to those of us who were familiar with the Eliot and had already noticed, it's this sly demure you-caught-me yes we were going there textual acknowledgement that the Eliot is entirely intentional, but perhaps just a tad out of place in the environment of this particular high fantasy novel, in which epigrams are usually penned by exploding wizards. The timing of it all is perfectly done. I laughed so hard, both because it was funny and out of sheer delight that somebody would plan and execute something like that. M. John Harrison is full of this sort of thing, it happens multiple times per book, and it is why I insist that he is one of the funniest writers I read and one reason his work is so comforting to me.

But M. John Harrison has also taught me something, namely that while I love it beyond reason when people write things aimed at a primarily structural reader such as myself, it's just as possible to lose your audience of other kinds of readers when you're doing that as it is if you're writing primarily for, say, kinesthetics. I know this because when I talk about M. John Harrison, and when I read essays that other critics write about his stuff, those critics, and the people I talk with on panels, and the friends I talk to about books over lunch (except a couple who are also structural readers), well, we are pretty much literally not talking about the same books. And when I say we aren't talking about the same books, I mean that the plots are not the same. Characters do not act for the same reasons. Different stuff mattered. We both read the same text, but. It's that big a gap. I feel a little weird about which side of that gap I'm on, too, because I'm the lucky one: I have never read an M. John Harrison novel which did not have an ecstatically happy ending. Granted I haven't read all of them. But, for me, he is one of the great masters of the eucatastrophe, and when I say that to people, they say well what about xyz event which happened which was really bleak, and I'll say yes, that happened, certainly, but it doesn't matter because the weight of the book comes down on this other thing over here which invalidates that because of the thread leading back to... and by this time I am gesturing with my hands in midair trying to show the shape of an imaginary glass object which represents my visualization of the book, and saying helplessly that I know it has to be intentional on his part or he wouldn't have used the metaphor about waves and wings on p. 217.


There is one of his books I can explain in a way which I can get to make sense outside my own head, and I am going to, just because it bothers me so much that there is this gap. I think this book deserves to be far better known for the cool thing it does in the deep structure, and I only know one other person who read it the way I did, which was [personal profile] sovay, and reading it this way was the reason she handed it to me in the first place, so.

M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart is, on the surface, a novel in which a first-person narrator describes the fortunes and misfortunes of a man and a woman, Lucas and Pam, who were caught up in some kind of magical event while they were at university, and the mysterious things that happened to them because of it. There's a hidden history of Europe involved; there's the question of whether magic is real at all; there are romantic gestures and breakups and makeups and marriages and cancer and allusions to alchemy. On the surface, it's a kind of novel you get every so often, along the lines of Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 or some of John Crowley, where the history of the occult illuminates the character relationships and occasionally comes boiling out of the subliminal to maaaaaaybe affect larger events but, until endgame, not in anything other than a plausibly deniable way. And then there is an instance that is not plausibly deniable, and then the book is over. A lot of the reviews expressed that they thought it was a pretty bleak ending, because there's a death of cancer and there's a sudden death in a car crash and the narrator's life looks as though it suddenly accumulates a lot of awful stuff happening right at the end for no apparent reason.

The thing is, in actuality, every single relationship between a man and a woman described in the book is a metaphor for what is going on between Lucas and Pam*. That is what the magical event did to them. Literally every other two people in a male-female pair, even people who walk by the narrator on the street when he is wandering around by himself ruminating. They are signs for Pam and Lucas, symbols of the emotional exchanges between the two of them. It's amazing how thoroughly Harrison packs this in without it being obtrusive and distracting. It's just there, and so, when the narrator says that he does not understand what's going on in Lucas's head, you can figure it out by checking on what's going on in the head of literally any male character interacting with any female character nearby. The entire novel is the single psychodrama, repeated in miniature again and again. That's the supernatural thing, that these two are more than real, so they echo everywhere over and over, echoes changing somewhat, but not blurring or diminishing.

So I noticed that, and the act of noticing it, because it is a feat and a half of writing, caused me to ask the central, necessary question: if every single relationship in this novel is the central one, and the narrator is married, i.e. in a relationship with a woman, then that must mean...? And we're shown that the first-person narrator knows every thought that went through Lucas's head during the initial invocation, and that must mean...? But the narrator is demonstrably not Lucas because they have scenes together later, and yet, we are never told the narrator's name, which means...? Just what is the narrator's relationship to all of this? How does he know what he knows? Who is he? What is he, more pertinently?

And then it all clicked and it was so cool. The narrator is Lucas's principal, original reflection, the one who split off first, who was separated from Lucas by the initial magical incident. The narrator's life has been everything Lucas wishes his life could have been, has been Lucas's idea of the perfect life, but they remain two people on either side of a barrier, the barrier of reality, and the only thing the narrator has ever wanted is to cross that line. At the end of the book, when the magic shows itself in full, the two of them switch places. Of course a lot of bad stuff immediately happens to the narrator. That's what he wanted and expected. It shows he's human for the first time. Also, of course his wife instantly dies-- she wasn't ever real, because Pam, well, her ideal of the perfect life wasn't actually based around being married to Lucas, so her principal reflection skipped town and did something else (to be specific, she turned herself into the Gnostic Sophia and is pretty much running the cosmos). The narrator was married to a reflection of a reflection, which disappears in a puff of logic...

It's not just a happy ending, it's a transcendent one, in which the realms of fantasy and reality cross and mingle, everyone gets what they deserve and desire, and the world is shaped anew by compassion and love. But to read the ending this way, it has to be clear to you fairly early in the book that all of the relationships are one relationship and that the real plotline is taking place in a series of metaphorical scenes which appear to be about entirely unrelated people. Because I have these imaginary glass objects in my head, and I saw without really thinking much about it that there was a short curving line in that glass shape that repeated with variations, and that the real curve of the piece was made up of the variations at the ends of the lines... I don't know. He plays entirely fair, this is all things you can put together out of the text without having to have shapes in your head the way I do, it's just that if it were me I'm not sure I'd so consistently make the inner and outer layers of my books one hundred and eighty degrees apart from one another in the emotions they express.

The Course of the Heart, in case it wasn't obvious, is one of the best novels I have ever read.

* Yes, I had to look those names up.


Anyway, so the point I'm trying to make here is that if you write very much in one mode you can lose people who read in other modes, and I believe that my problem with George R.R. Martin is that he is so strongly visual/cinematic a writer that my sense of how structure works can't find anything to grab onto. All of the tiny subliminal cues which somehow enable me to build my mental glass shape in Martin just, well, don't. I don't know if it's that he doesn't include those cues, or that they've somehow been sublimated into the visuals. I could see the structure of Dying of the Light well enough after I finished it, but it was way more like dissecting a movie I'd seen than like thinking about a book, building patterns out of a visual experience. The problem is that not being able to find those cues, whatever they are, doesn't mean I stop looking for them. It means I start hyperanalyzing every sentence, because they have to be in there somewhere, right, and also I get very twitchy, because what even is this, how, this is not behaving like a book, where is the shape of it, what.

I considered that Martin might have been building the structure of A Song of Ice and Fire at a level too large and lengthy for me to really grasp it on first attempted read, but a) I would not then have had the same exact sort of comprehension issue with Dying of the Light, since it is so much shorter, and b) I have had the experience of someone working at a macro scale like that. The first time I read Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun it was like reading a brick until somewhere in book five, at which point suddenly the whole thing made more sense and I realized I'd been trying to think of it as far too small a structure and now I can read it. I really think that with Martin for whatever reason I just cannot use whatever linguistic cues my subconscious normally grabs about structure.

So, if I do try ASoiaF again, which is a definite maybe, I'm going to try to deliberately and consciously read it as visually as I can. Attempt to build a visual image with each sentence and move on. Try to let go of looking for those cues. Actively practice not having a glass shape in my head.

And if I can manage that and still can't read it, well, it'll probably be because I turn out not to like the content, but at least I'll have gotten far enough to check, which certainly isn't what happened the last time I tried.
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Date: 2014-10-03 09:59 am (UTC)
green_knight: (Drama)
From: [personal profile] green_knight
I have saved this post so I can mull over it when I have more brain.

I'm very strongly kinesthetic myself, although I'm on the emotional end of it - characters having emotional relationships and emotional journeys pretty much *is* a story for me, and all of the other stuff just is a delivery vehicle for those.

Which led to a lot of characters thinking and talking in white rooms, which is not great for readers, not even for me a few years down the line when I no longer have the intimate knowledge of what those characters feel and how they navigate their headspaces; without the physical framework to hang everything up, writing fails.

And now, of course, I wonder how many books there are that I didn't read as the author intended, which do actually clever things that went completely over my head.

(I read the first book of the series, and did not like it - it's very grimdark, lots of people die, lots of people are horrible. And I did not like the prose, so I had to check it. And while there's a fair bit of detail, it's all jumbled. Shopping lists of what a guy wears. For me, there *isn't* enough description to build a picture from, though I can build a mental image from it.

(And then I fell into the first chapter and found it much more compelling than I remembered the books to be; I think I would have liked it much better if it were shorter, and if it kept the mysterious, haunting quality and ditched all of the in-fighting and petty spats. Also, without the rapeyness and brutality.)

Date: 2014-10-03 11:50 am (UTC)
kaberett: Trans symbol with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
This is fascinating; thank you for writing it.

Date: 2014-10-03 01:08 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
Thank you so much for sharing this. You explain the different types of literary structure so well; really, this ought to be a proper lit theory book with chapters devoted to different forms of writing, plenty of interesting and chewy footnotes, and a series of pothooks for annotation (perhaps not that last).

I love your image of the glass structure; it's vert tactile and intuitive. I think I used to be a much more kinesthetic reader than I am now. I'm not sure how to define the type of reader that I am now -- I have bits of cinematographic reading (I get precise and well-defined images of scenes, which I know not everyone does) but I also pay close attention to wording, sentence cadence, and plot structure, but I don't see the latter as a physical object, I think. It's a little bit like dreaming when you are having two different dreams at the same time.

I think that I might be more of a structural writer, though, or moving in that direction, because the things you are describing are things that are similar to what I have attempted to do in my writing (albeit with less skill).

I am particularly intrigued by what you wrote here about The Course of the Heart. I am almost interested enough to read it, but I have sworn off -- at least for a year, possibly longer -- from reading anything with a heterosexual romance in it. The structure sounds fascinating, but not enough to get over my current ban.

Still chewing -- okay, perhaps not the best metaphor! -- on the glass object image, though.

Date: 2014-10-03 04:00 pm (UTC)
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
This is very interesting! I don't read anywhere near the way you read, but I do distinctly have the sense of story as three-dimensional object, and whether or not I like a book is strongly linked to how well its structure comes together, whether all the curves run backward as well as forward. It means I tend to read books non-linearly, starting at the beginning and then skipping ahead to the end, or random chapters near the middle, going back and forth, often re-reading the final chapter three or four times before I finally get there the long way around. A good book to me is one where each re-read of the final chapter is a different experience, because its shape changes as it stretches to encompass everything that went before.

But it's very hard to explain to people who are reading for non-structural reasons, who keep demanding to know why I'm spoiling the story, that I'm not spoiling anything from my perspective; that I don't care about the in-narrative mystery of what happens, but the meta-mystery of how the author made all the pieces fit together.

Date: 2014-10-03 07:53 pm (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu

I think about the shape of stories a fair bit (indeed, I just sent a friend beta comments that said, basically, "this isn't shaped like a novel"), but I don't read at all the same way you do--as witness our different reactions to Dortmunder, and my inability to see the plot of _Tiassa_ until you explained it. So it's not just reading for structure, it's a certain kind of reading for structure--maybe it's that you're building as you go whereas I'm not sure I do that consciously while reading as opposed to in reflecting afterward?

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Date: 2014-10-03 10:17 pm (UTC)
yhlee: (AtS no angel (credit: <user name="helloi)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
This is very cool and I wish I understood it better--I have no idea how it is that I read, so I don't even have anything useful to compare it to. Thanks for sharing it.

Date: 2014-10-04 08:21 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Great post! I've never really thought about reading styles this way before. It's easy to assume that your own style is universal. I think I'm largely an auditory reader, in that a) I find it much easier to follow a book I'm listening to or reading aloud than a book I'm reading silently, and b) when I am reading silently I find it very important to have a clear sense of whose point of view a passage is from, or else what kind of narrator is telling it, so I can configure my internal-narrator-voice appropriately... but also largely a visual reader, in that I get confused and frustrated if I can't take a clear image of what's going on from the text. Akycha's simultaneous dream metaphor is very nice. I'm currently reading Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, as well as rereading/re-being-read The Lord of the Rings, both of which have very clear imagery and narratorial voice, so it'll be interesting to see to what extent my current sense of my reading style is just an artifact of my current reading matter, and to what extent it's a general thing.

Date: 2014-10-15 05:48 am (UTC)
thecataloger: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thecataloger
Here via The Radish. This was absolutely fascinating and I'm saving it to re-read because I think it will take a few times to fully understand and I want to keep track of the books you mentioned!

Date: 2014-10-03 07:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That was really interesting. Thank you for writing it. I'll be curious to see what you think of ASoIaF, if you manage to get through it. If it gives you a headache... that's a lot of headache.

ASoIaF read very differently to me than his earlier works, but I don't know if that has anything to do with the sensory modes. I agree that Martin is a very visual/cinematic writer, but to me he uses a lot of sensory detail in general, particularly taste. To a lesser extent, touch.

However, I'm not sure that he tends to literally describe how things taste or feel, but mentions the characters, say, "running their fingers over a length of velvet" or "biting into a lemon tart topped with rich cream," and I fill in the texture and flavor myself. That is, he doesn't necessarily say, "it was soft and plush" or "the cream was sweet and bland and the lemon filling was tart."

I know that I tend to think a lot about how my characters experience their own bodies, but I don't know how much that actually comes across in my writing. And it's much more about physical sensations and their perceptions of how well their bodies are working and what they're physically capable of doing than about literally where they are in space.

Date: 2014-10-03 07:09 pm (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
However, I'm not sure that he tends to literally describe how things taste or feel, but mentions the characters, say, "running their fingers over a length of velvet" or "biting into a lemon tart topped with rich cream," and I fill in the texture and flavor myself. That is, he doesn't necessarily say, "it was soft and plush" or "the cream was sweet and bland and the lemon filling was tart."

It's a very exterior approach to characters, except that he combines it with direct reportage of what characters are thinking or feeling. Mary Gentle took the former approach with her Valentine White Crow stories, but those are some of the most sensorily detailed writing I've read; she especially cares about bodies in motion, smells, and the quality of light. Also she never tells you what anyone thinks, only what you can reasonably infer from observation. With regard to Martin, I bet the technique you're describing is part of what contributes to my sense of flatness when reading him.

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Date: 2014-10-03 07:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If I give you tea and little cakes, will you come and talk books to me like that? Nothing would make me happier.

I can't read like that, but if I'm writing well enough, I can feel that I need a green curvy thing here.

There was a year I was obsessed with color spheres, the year I kept going back to Slate's and buying two or three or six more colored pencils, until I had all the colors that exist in pencils. But then I got frustrated because you can't build spectra in three dimensions in pencils, and grey-mauve doesn't fit in any linear sequence...

Do come. Please.

If it's cold enough, there will be a woodfire. And hot chocolate.


P.S. What shape is Moonwise?

Edited Date: 2014-10-03 07:21 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-10-03 12:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And please come when I am there!

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Date: 2014-10-03 07:45 am (UTC)
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)
From: [personal profile] rosefox
the heroine of the yellow book is one of the best heroines in fantasy and she now sums up a lot of what I think about the color yellow. If I reason it through from first principles given the ideas that are at play in that book, I assume her name has to be Jehanne because of stuff about Joan of Arc.

And also perhaps because "jaune" is French for "yellow". (cf jaundice)

Date: 2014-10-04 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree, and I hadn't thought of that. Thanks!

Date: 2014-10-03 08:27 am (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Yellow, now, yellow is great, and red is damn good, and orange is a stone-cold masterpiece because it's not only good on its own but is as it should be a thematic mashup of the red and yellow books.

Hey. I love you. Thank you for bolstering the vague suspicions of my first college re-read: trying to figure out why the Roman motif repeated in green-and-purple The Book of the Beast, my only explanation was that it was incorporating in both parts the blue "Empires of Azure." And indeed as I think about it, the green chapters are more metaphysically concerned while the purple chapters are driven directly by a gem-linked contagious sexual haunting (although the gender themes of The Book of the Damned are vividly absent, because this is another book). Awesome.

Also, of course his wife instantly dies-- she wasn't ever real, because Pam, well, her ideal of the perfect life wasn't actually based around being married to Lucas, so her principal reflection skipped town and did something else (to be specific, she turned herself into the Gnostic Sophia and is pretty much running the cosmos).

That is one of the specific plot things that makes me love the book, as opposed to the structural brilliance or the language (I think it is his best-written novel to date) or the fact that it causes the reader to question the existence of Patrick Leigh Fermor slightly, because you want to know who invented him in order to be able to talk about Byzantium.

So, if I do try ASoiaF again, which is a definite maybe, I'm going to try to deliberately and consciously read it as visually as I can.

I think it may be necessary to read A Song of Ice and Fire non-structurally, because I think whatever structure Martin started out writing to has collapsed by now—he's been very frank that the number of books has exploded beyond his expectations and he's had to split them and reshuffle their chapters and convert storylines from one volume to the next, so I suspect its glass shape of looking like a sneeze in the middle of free-blowing. Possibly the first three have more armature than just the storylines, but I do not remember it being perceptible when I read them

(I think I got through the fourth book and then somehow did not care enough when the fifth came out, despite its having dragons in the title. The series has a major strike against it for me in that I do not like the style Martin adopted for it at all. It differs perceptibly from his earlier science fiction work; it's a lot plainer in its vocabulary, a lot less syntactically complicated, and a lot duller, meant literally in that it doesn't ring for me. There are not as many resonances in the language as there should be. Words are there to convey one-dimensional qualities: color, texture, temperature, speed. The effect it gives me is a lot of distinct primary colors and a curious flatness, a kind of shallowness that is not the same as being cheaply written; there are other writers with whom I have this or similar problems, but it's really marked with Martin because I have read stories of his where it's not in effect. It feels kind of like he tossed a coin to determine whether he was going to focus on his cast-of-thousands plot or the way he told the story and, to my frustration, language lost hands-down.)

Date: 2014-10-03 02:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
For what it may be worth as an observation, to my mind the last third of the fifth book is where he visibly regains control of the structure that's appeared to be running away with him from the end of book three on.

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Date: 2014-10-03 10:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love it when you talk about books. Sometimes you make me really want to read the book in question, and sometimes you make me think 'Thank goodness Rush has read that, so I don't have to'. But it's all good.

I've never managed to read M. John Harrison, but this makes me consider trying again...

Date: 2014-10-03 11:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You're completely insane! And I mean that in a good way!

It's slightly disturbing that I know exactly what you mean.

So don't read aSoIaF, because structurally it isn't going to make sense to you until well into volume 3, and that is a long way to go.

But have you read Andreas Eschbach's _The Carpet Makers_ with its fascinating helix? And I know you have read the Lymond books, and there is a structural thing there that never makes sense to me, to do with why she keeps cheating on who people are, which I always think if I figure out I will know for sure which K is which -- I have solid arguments for which is which, but I am sure that this is related -- can you see that?

Date: 2014-10-04 10:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well into volume three is a long way, yes. I was willing to push into book five with Gene Wolfe, but that was mostly out of blind faith that he must know what he was doing. He did, fortunately.

I have not read the Eschbach and will get right on that as it sounds fascinating. It looks as though my library has it, too, which is convenient.

The major structural thing I've noticed with the Lymond books is that things keep slipping out of place because she has no idea whatsoever how to pace the central romance. It kind of amazes me that those hold together as well as they do, because that issue affects so, so many of the other things, and it's only because so much is going on that most of the other things can work in other directions. Like, the major death at the end of book one, that's because of not wanting to have a specific kind of rivalry plot but in that case it should have happened-- and would have worked better-- two and a half books later. Then there's a glorious bit in the latter half of The Ringed Castle where the romance actually slips into its correct place, and balances with all the rest, and everything is wonderful, and then she blows it again in Checkmate, but that time really drastically blows it and even though it basically works out all right I am not resigned. So I don't know if it will help specifically with the Ks, but ninety-five percent of the time when I notice a structural problem in Lymond I ask myself 'is she faffing about because she has no idea what to do with/about Philippa right now' and the answer is yes. Dunnett does a lot of Philippa-related fumbling. Which includes at least some of the cheating on who people are, because it takes up space she therefore does not have to use in handling her romance.

Date: 2014-10-03 01:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much for this--now at last I think I grasp what structure means to structural readers. I have tried to elicit definitions, but never seemed to get past well if it isn't Aristotle's three acts, what do you mean, and eliciting the flapping of hands and the pitying look for my cluelessness.

Though I bailed out of the first book of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, I think of him as a landscape writer--only perhaps his landscape began as a discrete series of events (some have said the wars of the roses) on which his travels begin to take him into more and more byways that seem interesting to him, and he expects to be pulling his readers after him because after all they, too, are committed to the journey.

Armageddon Rag had a tight journey.

I tend to think in arcs--long and short. They intersect.
Edited Date: 2014-10-03 01:04 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-10-03 01:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is all very interesting; reading doesn't work that way for me, but I don't really know how it does work. I don't think I would try your experiment on a work that's both long and incomplete (and, as someone mentioned, has gotten out of hand), but it's up to you!

Date: 2014-10-03 07:42 pm (UTC)
seajules: (soul food)
From: [personal profile] seajules
Wow, what a gorgeous way to read. I feel like I have caught glimpses of light bouncing off glass in some of McKillip's stuff, but mostly I don't think this is the kind of reader I am. At this point in my life, I have been trying to figure out exactly what kind of reader I am for decades, but the only answer I have ever come up with is "it depends." I love the texture of language, if it is there to be had, and my favorite authors, including McKillip, really craft their texture, so that I get fuzzy and silken and crunchy and brocade and the fraying threads of old tapestries and the lumps of clay yet to be shaped and like that, only not literally about tapestries and clay, if that makes sense. And if there are lots of descriptions of taste, those work great for me too, except when I'm nauseated and then I have to be careful about what I read. I am mostly not a visual reader, and not at all an aural reader. I have a hard time figuring out how anything sounds except the words used to describe the sounds, and descriptions of scenes often just confuse me (I have been known to watch a movie adaptation of a book and exclaim, "Oh, that's how that looks!" Which is weird, because I do often visualize things as movies when I'm writing them). Where I am visual comes back to the shapes of the words on the page, which are also a texture, so maybe I am a tactile reader, though that's not a type of reader I have heard of when the question of how people read comes up. I know it intersects with my love of poetry.

I do get structural things, but it's again the feeling of them, which I guess is really where the sense of glass in some of McKillip comes from, because it's the slipperiness of it, and particularly the more fragile sense of handblown glass than, for instance, a cut-glass vase, and the glass is only bits because there are also the brocade bits and the tapestry and clay bits and so on.

Date: 2014-10-03 08:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Connected via Sherwood Smith - FASCINATING read. Really made me ponder a few things - I listened to, didn't technically read-read, the GRRM series - first 5 books anyway. A lot of my pleasure in that series was tied up with the reader's voice, way of reading, how he paced and switched up for each character, etc. - the cadence, the rhythm, all that! But I definitely am a 'movie brained' person as well. I tried to pick up the latest book to read it (not listen to it) and I simply couldn't do it. Maybe this is why - or my brain has certain expectations when it comes to GRRM's books. I don't know. But now - I am super fascinated by how you read as I believe it closely meshes with how a good friend of mine both reads and writes, which is so unique to me (and floors me, because layers! connections! All those mystical amazing things - I don't' know how he does it! The more times I read a story (he writes shorts mostly) the more bedazzled I am. lol. Can't figure it out how. HOW. :But your post makes me consider a possibility or two.)

I will be mulling over this for days, and am adding the books you mentioned to my list of future reads, and I hope to remember to keep your post in mind as I do read them.

Date: 2014-10-03 10:56 pm (UTC)
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (some guy)
From: [personal profile] larryhammer
I am now intensely curious about your take of A Fish Dinner in Memison.


Date: 2014-10-04 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The answer is that I have never found a copy, but you intrigue me, so I'll work harder on it. Ouroboros is perfectly structured, even with the Induction because you have to have some way to get into the eternal loop, and Mistress of Mistresses is, in technical terms, weird as fuck. I always remember that The Mezentian Gate is unfinished and so don't look for it very hard but it's true that Memison is as he intended it so yeah I should look into that, thanks.

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Date: 2014-10-04 02:34 am (UTC)
chomiji: A cartoon image of chomiji, who is holding a coffee mug and a book and wearing kitty-cat ears (Default)
From: [personal profile] chomiji

So of course I rushed back to your Fire and Hemlock writeups to see whether you talked about the structure thing and the other senses in there.

Date: 2014-10-04 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm sure the way I read has changed, especially as I've come to write more, but I'd be hard pressed to say what sort of a reader I am, because it doesn't seem to match anything I hear described, though it has bits of lots of them. Maybe kinetic? I notice pacing--whether things are slow, or static, or fast paced. Sometimes I sense patterns or rhythms. But that's when I'm noticing how a work is put together ... and I seem to make a distinction between noticing how a story is put together and paying attention to the story events, whereas it seems as if you don't, which makes me very impressed with your integration--I mean, that **all** your impressions of a work can come together, and you can have this sort of gestalt impression. That's very cool.

Date: 2014-10-04 10:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This feels like you're a character in a Delany novel describing an art form that doesn't yet exist and that I don't have the right senses to perceive; it makes me feel colorblind and a bit dizzy. Do you draw? Do you blow glass? Could you make a map?

Date: 2014-10-04 10:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't draw, sadly. I have tried. I have been meaning to take glassblowing classes forever, and I really do want to get around to it. The closest thing I've seen in person to what is in my head is the work of Dale Chihuly.

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Date: 2014-10-08 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am very glad you are feeling better, especially this kind of better.

Date: 2014-10-09 03:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well now you've got me thinking, because like you, I feel kind of behind things that I haven't read ASOIAF. I've bounced off the first book twice, both times somewhere past page 100. And if someone insisted I explain why, I couldn't really say except maybe "too much description of landscape, not enough stuff happening."

Which seems weird, because everyone else seems to think they're action-packed. And I like lots of books that aren't particularly action-oriented, so that's not it.

But I am a kinesthetic person. I recognize other people by how they move more than by their faces. I'm forever doing scene-blocking in my own writing, because I need to know where everyone is standing and how they shift position and who touches someone's shoulder and what that means (dominance or comfort?). I describe textures A LOT, because I'm very tactile (goes with kinesthetic brain, I suspect). Oddly, I mention smells quite a bit, despite being anosmic myself (probably trying to make up for something there).

Huh. I've always been aware of prose allergies, but never really considered the specifics of why they happen. Now I'm going to look for this sort of thing and see if this processing you point out is the root.

Date: 2014-10-09 03:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And I realize that I'm looking on the small level rather than the large structural level you're discussing, but I suspect sensory relation to reading is fractal: what you like on a sentence-by-sentence basis is true on a chapter-by-chapter or book-by-book level.

I can enjoy some books that don't have a solid plot structure if the author handwaves fast enough and sweeps me along. But there's no question the books I like best have a clear progression that builds and reflects and back-references and seem to have been built all of a piece rather than a linear plod.

Date: 2014-10-15 06:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I just finished reading The Course of the Heart, and all I can say is that I wish to heck I could read it your way. Because the only way I can read it is bleak incarnate, and it's pretty horrible read like that. The sticking point for me is jung Ynjfba qbrf gb uvf qnhtugre. V ershfr gb svg gung vagb gur cnggrea. Pna'g qb vg.

Date: 2014-10-16 07:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's both because Ynjfba vf ubeevoyr, naq orpnhfr Yhpnf jbhyq gbgnyyl unir orra jvyyvat, jvgubhg rira guvaxvat nobhg vg, gb gvr Cnz'f cevapvcny ersyrpgvba vagb uvf bja snagnfl yvsr jvgubhg pbafvqrevat Cnz'f qrfverf naq ntrapl nf n crefba. Ur jnf n qhzo-nff xvq jub fgvyy gubhtug bs jbzra nf nyvraf be bowrpgf. Ohg guvatf qba'g jbex yvxr gung, fb Cnz'f ernyvgl vf abg whfg Yhpnf'f ersyrpgvba, whfg nf Ynjfba'f qnhtugre vf n crefba orlbaq gur cuenfr 'Ynjfba'f qnhtugre' naq Ynjfba vf hajvyyvat/hanoyr gb frr gung.

The universe the novel's men live in is not willing to be good to them until they learn to see and value women.
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