The One In Which I Confess

I could have, and I should have, and I would have. I really would have. But I didn’t. There. Now you know. I did not like Game of Thrones.

I wanted to. I have been looking for a new series to dive into, and Game of Thrones was primed to fit the bill. When I finish a book I love, there is nothing better than the knowledge that there’s another one waiting right there in the wings, another opportunity to immerse myself in that world and meet the characters I have come to love. I’m not just looking for a good read, I crave all the trappings of a rabid fandom, too. I want to type on message boards in the middle of the night, attend midnight book releases where I may or may not show up in costume.

Trelawney. Don't say you're not jealous.

Trelawney. Don’t say you’re not jealous.

I want the whole enchilada. All of it. Game of Thrones was my next hope. Several books to read? Check. More to come? Check, check. Fans out the wazoo? Triple check. So I gave it a go. And then a second go. And now I’m done.

Why didn’t I love it? I wanted to. I really did. But this series has more flaws than I can overlook, not the least of which is an insufferable author who has as little respect for his fandom as he does for the characters he writes. When an author laughs scathingly and says he should make them wait 20 years for the next book, I lose a little interest. But it’s about more than the author.

Martin writes cardboard characters. I guess he has to because he’s going to kill all of them, but it’s hard for me to engage with one-note wonders. I hate spoilers. Hate them. I don’t even read blurbs on dust jackets. But when I finally gave up on this series, I collected spoilers from lots of sources. Turns out, some of the characters are not as one-dimensional as they seem at first. And I might have even liked them eventually. But it shouldn’t take an author 1500 pages to show me. What if Han Solo and Greedo had dropped their breadcrumbs 10 lightyears apart when they made their trail in the woods? Their dad would never have found them. Wait. Back up. Hansel and Gretel. There we go. When it takes too long to develop characters, I get really bored.

I don’t have to like all of the characters to enjoy a book. ***Spoiler*** Draco Malfoy was an irritating prat for five-and-a-half books in the Harry Potter series. BUT he was a great foil for the protagonists. His interactions with the other characters evoked something, be it laughter or outrage. He made me feel something. Heck, I don’t even have to like the protagonist to enjoy a book. I could not STAND Lincoln in Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. He was a spineless little clownfish. Every time he looked out into the world and appeared like he was about to mature a little and stand on his own , he’d dart right back into that anemone. I did not like him. You know why? Because I know people just like him! He was a real person. He made me angry. He evoked emotion. By and large, Martin’s characters don’t.

Yep, this is Lincoln. Will I ask her out? No. I'm gonna move out... Nah... Photo credit amazonaws.com

Yep, this is Lincoln. Will I ask her out? No. I’m gonna move out… Nah… Photo credit amazonaws.com

There are too many characters, as well. There were four characters whose story-lines I kind of wanted to follow. That sounds like a lot, right? But they represented less than 10% of the population of the first book. I didn’t even encounter many of them in the second book, or their chapters weren’t big enough to matter. I tried skipping the characters I was bored by and just reading the ones I liked, but that meant skipping the majority of Clash of Kings. Too much work.

There’s almost no subtlety. Martin’s bad guys are mustache-twirling evil dudes. They’ll tie that damsel-in-distress right to those railroad tracks. But there’s no hero, either. Not only will the train run her the heck over, it will cut her into three equal pieces, and it will take her two weeks to die. Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Not the first three times, anyway. Eventually it becomes predictable. Imagine the very worst thing that can happen to a character. Then multiply it by five, and you’ve got Martin’s plot-line. Basket of puppies? Don’t look now, but those puppies are going to get put in purses and carried around by rich ladies. Poor, poor dogs. Are there little babies? No, not the babies! Is nothing sacred? Martin would write them having to watch six hours of Baby Einstein before being fed M&Ms and getting dropped back off with mom and dad. There’s your plot twist. You thought it was the kids who were being punished, didn’t you?

There were good parts. I loved the Others. I couldn’t wait for them to take over the whole world, actually. I liked Dany. Her storyline in the first book was the best part. She was the one character that was truly developed, and I was taken by surprise by how things turned out with Khal Drogo. I wanted to like the dire wolves. I hear they were pretty awesome later on, or at least had a great story. But again, there was too little of any of these to keep me engaged. If anybody wants to email me the story of the wolves or what happens with Dany, I’m game. I am just not invested enough to find out for myself.

What series do you absolutely love? I’m up for something new.

Second Chances

If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Life is too short to read bad books. But sometimes the parting of the ways comes not through any fault of the book itself. This year I decided to give A Game of Thrones another go.

I started reading it a couple of years ago, I guess. It was the first library loan on my brand new Kindle Fire. If you look at my top pages and posts on any given day, you will likely see how that particular relationship ended. Long story short, I sent back the device before I finished the book.

I was content to live Throneless for the rest of my days, but the universe has ways of changing our minds. It started with discovering A Clash of Kings at the Friends of the Library book sale. Hard cover, good used condition, $2. Then over the course of the year, I found three others in the series at thrift stores. A near-complete series cost me just over three bucks. The universe wins again. I found a copy of book one (at the used bookstore, and guess who had trade credit?) and a few days ago, I sat down to read.

My original thought was that the world Martin built is more memorable than the characters themselves. My second thought was that A Game of Thrones is possibly the worst book to read during the polar vortex. I’m cold. So cold. Winter is coming? Whatever, Starks. I’ve got news. Winter is already here. I hate Catelyn already, what with her nice hot water steaming through the walls, and all I’ve got is this stupid rice sock. The snow is going to pile deeper still, and we’ll never get out, and I’m almost out of milk! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Wait. Where was I?

In the first ten pages, I was drawn into the story. I could not remember why I was able to put this book aside so easily. Oh, yeah! There it is! Now I remember! In a world with thirty main characters, it makes sense to give some of them the same name. And how’s about we toss in a nickname or three? Eddard? Sometimes we’ll call him Ned, even when the chapter header refers to him by his formal name.How about Robert and Robert and Robb. And let’s toss in a Brandon, a Bran or two and maybe some oats for fiber. I’m waiting for a Jehoshaphat to pop up somewhere. I’m just gonna call him Steve.

I’m struggling as well with the line between fantasy and reality. Newborn dire wolf pup that licks someone’s face? I’m not overly familiar with the species since they went extinct about 10,000 years ago, so maybe it was possible. No, it’s not. I’m more ready to believe that fossilized dragon eggs come to life than I am that five spoiled children have the ability to train pet wolves to advanced levels. I’ve actually trained a dog or five. There’s only so much reality I can suspend. Fantasy I can deal with; schoolgirl fantasy I cannot.

I’m hung up in the nitpicky things. Because it’s cold, and I’m grouchy, and it’s cold. But I’ll keep reading. The universe says I must. I still have hopes for it. Maybe. Except for the fact that Martin hates both his readers and his characters.

Have you ever given a book a second chance? Did it end well? I’m pretty sure this one’s not going to end well. I’ve read the jokes. “Why isn’t George R.R. Martin on Twitter? He’s already killed all 140 characters.” But I’m in, at least for now. Worst case scenario, I hate the series and resell them at the used bookstore to buy Harry Potter action figures with my windfall. Best case scenario, I find a new favorite series and languish in agony until the 6th book comes out. I’m hoping for the latter. I never pick up a book without hoping it will become my new best friend.

I Am Ashamed. I Have Cheated.

I have a confession to make. I know. It seems like I’m all the time spouting off one confession or another, but this time, it’s something big. I have cheated. For realsies. I am so ashamed.

At the very beginning of the year, I joined The 2012 End of the World Reading Challenge. The goal is simple. Read as many books as possible during the calendar year that I have never read before. And this, friends, is where I’ve strayed.

I normally manage to plow through at least a couple of books a week, so while I didn’t expect to win, I did at least hope to be competitive. Not so much, actually. I have tried to be true, to power through a book to keep up my page count. I have failed. Total number of new-to-me books read in 2012? Three. Abysmal, I know.

Maybe it’s because the books I have started this year have been bad. And that’s true. I pooped out half-way through Game of Thrones. I am quickly fizzling on A Discovery of Witches. Life really is too short to read bad books.  I’m trying to stay strong and make it through Witches because, as a  friend oft reminds me, if I don’t finish it, I’m not allowed to make fun of it. That book is a veritable craft-box of fun just waiting, so finish I will, even if it kills me. And it just might.

But as I tend to avoid things that irritate me (when was the last time I messed around on Farmville?), where does that leave me? Cheater Town. That’s right. I hear the siren song of my old familiar favorites and slide right back into their arms. Can I count them in the book challenge? Nope. Do I care? Only when I check my page count.

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Meet the Mistresses (because I don’t know what you call a male cheat-partner. The opposite of “mistress” is usually “master,” but that term may lead readers to expect a tennis tournament, and I’m not much into sports) –

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Lord of the Rings – these are a must-read. At least once a year. Do I need to explain why?

Harry Potter: See above. I don’t know how I manage to get anything done with these two phenomenal series in my house.

Gone With the Wind – A reminder of where we have come from, and how far we have to go. I can’t explain why I enjoy reading a character that I constantly wish I could smack. Hard.

The Mists of Avalon – I never read managed to make it through a single Darkover novel, but this Arthurian interpretation speaks to my heart. I don’t care how many times I read it, each time I open it, I still hope that things will turn out differently for Morgaine and Lancelet. It’s a fine example of how great ideas can transcend sloppy writing. I can’t stand any of the others in the series, even though I wanted to love them as much.

The Shell Seekers – I am a sucker for anything written by Rosamund Pilcher, but this one is the best. It’s my go-to comfort read when life gets a hairy. And I do mean comfort. It is broken-in house shoes, sweatpants, and take-out kung pao chicken rolled into a paper binding.. I saw the made-for-tv rendition. It made me want to drink.

The Phantom Tollbooth – Wordplay beats sword play any day. I missed the window for getting my teenager to appreciate this book. I feel like I have failed as a parent. But the same kid adores Roald Dahl, so maybe I’m not a complete wretch.

All Creatures Great and Small – A beautiful series that captures life in rural Yorkshire in the 1930’s. Speaks to the anglophile and the animal lover in me.

Huntress – A heroine I can so totally relate to, Grace inspires me. The biggest regret I have about sending my Kindle Fire back is that this series is only available in e-format. One day we will be together again. One day.

And as always, I’m open to recommendations. What books call your name in the quiet of an evening? What books are like old friends, the ones that take you as you are and don’t expect you to be on your best game?