Saturday, May 19, 2007

John Crowley and Sara Langan

Now, admittedly I'll generally take any excuse I can get to hide in my apartment. And the rain Wednesday night seemed as good an excuse as I was likely to get. It was, after all, fairly disgusting out. But I love John Crowley's writing and KGB Bar is only a block and a half from my apartment, so I pulled on my rainboots and a jacket and off I went. Really it would be fairly sad to plan a trip somewhere for weeks and then not go because you would be required to walk a block in the rain.

I've been to KGB before, or course, but never on Fantastic Fiction night (fantasy books once a month). I like KGB fairly well, although communist nostalgia does nothing in particular for me and it's generally too crowded for comfort. They put together a wonderful set of readings and from a purely aesthetic standpoint, I love that particular shade of red. But anyway, Fantastic Fiction night. Funny because as soon as you walked in you could tell there were fantasy fans in the audience. There's a number of very particular looks. The most instantly noticeable is the man, slightly balding, with the squarish black glasses and a goatee. Then you have that one guy with the receding hairline and stringy brown hair down his back. And of course there's the girl in the fishnets, badly proportioned plaid skirt, and black t-shirt with too-long, damaged hair of that particular shade of brown that really should be dyed. There are normal looking people there as well, of course, but there was definitely that particular fantasy fan look out in full force. Also, I would later realize, that particularly fantasy fan sort of social awkwardness that seems to allow them to bond happily while discussing world building and barbarians and just makes me feel like I need another drink. But anyway, the point is that I was standing there being a judgmental bitch when the reading actually started.

Sara Langan read first. I'd never heard of her before. She seems like an absolutely lovely lady, although she should really stand up straighter and either wear a bra in the first place or wear one with a lot more support. Because if she was wearing one it wasn't doing its job. Judgy, remember. Anyway, the fact that she's so nice and charming seeming makes it a bit of shock to realize that she's a horror writer. Horror isn't my thing. I mean, really isn't my thing. It rates way below dragons and elves and fantastic quests, which is saying something. Because at this point they're pretty low on my list. Which isn't to say I would never read horror. I'd read anything provided someone I trusted recommended it to me. But it would take a lot of convincing. It just always seems to include slithering and swelling and the fetishization of horrible things. Now, I understand that it's horror writing and thus supposed to horrify. I get that it's supposed to make one feel uncomfortable. And for the record, based on the section of her book she read, I feel quite comfortable saying that Langan does that well. But it feels too much to me as if it's horror for the sake of horror. Or discomfort for the sake of discomfort. And if there's not some important point, some understanding that can only be reached in this way, then what's the point?

A brief google search for "purpose of horror" informs me that the purpose of horror is to challenge us, to force us to think differently. For this view, take a look at "Is Horror Literature?" which was the first link that came up on the google search. I remain unconvinced. Because let's be honest for a moment and admit that the reason for reading fiction, for the vast majority of us, is pleasure and entertainment. That's certainly why I read. Do I want to read books that contain something deeper, that change or expand my worldview? Absolutely. But I also want to enjoy the act of reading. And we can come up with all the justifications in the world for something but if we didn't like reading then we wouldn't do it. Thus, when I'm reading, or listening to someone read, about getting aroused while eating bloody dirt or what-have-you I don't feel so much challenged as concerned that this provides some kind of entertainment for people. Some kind of visceral thrill. And why is that? I don't know, but it's something I don't like. If anything I think the appeal of horror, the fact that people read and enjoy it, is more interesting than the writing itself.

Crowley read second. And let me just say that if I were a writer (which I am not) and did readings (which, it follows, I do not) then I wouldn't want to read with Crowley. Not because he doesn't seem like a very pleasant and gracious man. He does. He has a livejournal as well, which does nothing to change my opinion on that. It's just that he's such a wonderful writer. I don't mean in terms of plot, characterization, etc. (although that also) but simply in his use of language. In the way he forms sentences. Langan's writing was perfectly effective. She's clearly a good writer. But it's impossible, for me at least, not to compare the people reading, and in this comparison she suffers. Then again, nearly everyone would.

Anyway, Crowley has a nasal quality to his voice that took a bit of getting used to not because he has an unusual or unpleasant voice but because I, for some inexplicable reason had always pictured him sounding rather grander and more "serious." Like Nabokov, but from New England, so without the accent of course). I have no explanation for this mental...not image, I suppose, but the auditory version of such. It just was. And I actually am happy that he sounds as he does. It's much more pleasant seeming. He was reading from his latest book, Endless Things which is the conclusion of his Aegypt series. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually, though probably not in the near future. I started Lord Byron's Novel recently and have Otherwise sitting on my shelf, so those will come first. Not having read said series, I didn't know who any of the characters were, or anything about them, but I enjoyed the reading regardless.

By the time I left it had thankfully stopped raining.

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