Initially I was hoping to read through all the fiction I owned in chronological order of publication, but was bogged down almost instantly by Tolkien’s Beowulf (should I read every page of the commentary? I can’t say I’ve read cover to cover if I haven’t!) and then now at the thought of going through Macbeth yet again (as if I haven’t read it enough in high school, then university, and then taught it in class, ha). In fact, I still haven’t finished reading the works of Shakespeare that I have. And now I’ve gone off-track completely with manga (Kekkaishi!) and books that Jack’s had come in and I’m still making progress bit by bit through Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War (not fiction). All this on top of not having yet made it through even a quarter of Plato’s works (philosophical drama?) and the book is due soon.
Still, the wild scattered sort of reading I’ve been doing these past few months has been immensely rewarding. I’ve stopped reading for the sake of accumulating knowledge and more for the enjoyment of listening to other speakers. If I remember or absorb anything, that’s a bonus to having heard the stories of others. This approach has certainly put less pressure on myself (I used to try and remember everything) and I certainly feel more free in picking up books of all sorts. Perhaps too free, seeing as I have so many unread books due soon.
Reading through variety also leads me to draw connections to other books and I’m quite happy for the realizations I make. Recently I read Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline, and found that, compared with my recent reading, Cline’s work was disappointing on many fronts. Cline returns to his pop-drenched world to make nerd culture king, but by nerd, he means worshipper of minor trivia. The world Cline introduced in his first book was mildly fun, but in the second book the fun is over. (I agree with my pretty much every word of this scathing review. I’m not here to critique it much further except to say that I also found the Tolkien references very disappointing).
The desire to create is, I think, an innately human trait, and one of the reasons I love reading so much is because humans create wonderful things. Cline captures this wonder in his digital worlds when he doesn’t try. To his credit (or not), he tries a lot and that’s when the trivia-based realms become a bit sad. The creation of thousands of worlds all modeled to some terrifying degree of detail on another person’s life or art suggests that to be a nerd is to be entranced by the works of others without really living a life of their own. Starting from a person’s work as a reference point is fun, a springboard of sorts. Clinging onto every potential word or thought is pathetic.
I wonder if Cline’s use of pop culture as god actually proves to be the book’s destruction rather than its salvation. He contrasts the authors I’ve recently read (Sophocles, Herodotus, Plato, Sydney, Tolkien) the same way a fish dying on land is a contrast to a falcon soaring in the sky. While these authors all acknowledged different gods, I’d venture to say that the admission and submission to divine authority has a very different impact on an author’s work as opposed to submission to another human’s single life. With a set god, at least there are set rules. Some sort of moral compass independent of people’s actions. (Although in the case of the Greek gods, I suppose they didn’t have a set scripture). Seems to me that when one human life uses another human life as its raison d’être, any sort of lines in moral judgment get blurry fast.
This ties in too with my thoughts on faulty writers, people who hold forth one truth and then disappoint with contrary actions, or who write plenty of good things and then say plenty of other terrible things. The personal lesson here is that I had better not ever hold another human up on some sort of pedestal. The literary lesson though is not fully developed, because now I find more reason to continue my chronological survey of fiction. Although the pop-culture-as-god is clearly a guiding point for Cline’s work, the impact of this shifting moral compass on the story as a whole is not clear, and I’ll have to read more before I can hypothesize any further.