Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Duck Award of Excellence

This post is pure diatribe. Pure, beautiful diatribe.

The Duck Award of Excellence
It's unfortunate but true: a lot of good literature doesn't make sense. It's like to be considered good a book must have attempted to make it as difficult as possible for their readers to understand what they are reading. I'm half kidding because I absolutely love painful old-school stuff like Shakespeare but Shakespeare has a good excuse for being difficult to understand: it's old. If it was difficult to understand then, everyone would have left the theatre frustrated and sent him to the guillotine (it was very violent back then). Many books that win awards are not very friendly to readers, though they may be doing all sorts of wonderful things like pushing boundaries and dealing with important subjects. But if I'm not enjoying a book, which doesn't mean it has to be a happy story or that it can't educate me on something, then what's the point? If I wanted to be educated on important topics only, I would just watch The Onion News. Seriously people. Many of the books I really love have not won any awards, or at least not the really important ones, like Christy, The Dwelling PlaceFortune's Rocks, I Capture the Castle, or fantasy book series like Dave Duncan's books, or CS Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia which do not necessarily have the most amazing writing in the history of the world, but they are the kind of stories that you get lost in. And there is nothing quite like getting lost in a book. Often I find I can't trust those little awards on books at all, I'll get all excited reading a book with an award, thinking, "This book can't possibly let me down, it won an award!" And then find myself feeling horrendously betrayed by the awards people when the books just plain sucks. Sadly, awards just can't be trusted. I believe the awards people are corrupt and give awards in exchange for bribes and personal favors (like those little kazoos in party favors or doing their laundry). I think there should fake awards for crappy books to warn readers. They could have a sticker with a picture of a duck on crutches and call it "The Duck Award of Excellence" and hope the authors don't notice the mini crutches. Only readers would secretly know it was a courtesy sticker that meant not to waste their precious reading time on such a lame book.

One such book that would win the Duck Award of Excellence would be Twilight. Twilight is the type of book that I want to commit libricide on and throw in George Orwell's memory hole. And yet eventually I end up reading anyway just to see what all the hype is about. I am grateful for books like that. They teach me important life lessons, like vampire and werewolf boyfriends really complicate your high school life, and that as long as you have a good story you can be a pretty mediocre writer and still sell books like hotcakes. Mmm hotcakes...? (Apparently hotcakes are really pancakes, I guess someone decided their pancake was so hot they should change the name). I'm proud of myself though. It was hard at first, but eventually I was able to get over the not-so-great writing and get into the pretty-okay story. Then there is Harry Potter. I <3 HP. I personally blame Harry Potter for putting a serious deficit in my book reading endeavors. If I did the math it would look like this:
(HP1 x 7)+(HP2 x 6)+(HP3 x 5)+(HP4 x 5)+(HP5 x 5)+(HP6 x 4)+(HP7 x 3) = 35 potential books I didn't read because I was busy reading one of the Harry Potter books.
But I'm not going to do the math because I wouldn't want to embarrass myself. I'm not saying the writing is the best writing in the world, but I have yet to read anything before or since that grabbed me quite like Harry Potter did. The primary audience of Twilight is tween girls. Period. But Harry Potter has a much wider audience, girls and boys, old and young alike, and it doesn't matter how many millions of tween girls make Twilight ludicrously popular, we all know when tween girls are grouped together their intelligence level actually decreases by 5000.26%. They've done studies (check it out "Tween Girls: The Decreasing Intelligence Level Phenomena.") But why, I ask you, are Christians so afraid of Harry Potter? Whenever a Christian I know says they are against Harry Potter, I want to say, have you even read it? It's like the most anti-evil, fight-the-good-fight, encourage-good-morals-in-children book ever. And I usually do, I usually say just that. 
Random Christian: "Harry Potter is bad."
Me: "Have you even read it? It's like the most anti-evil, fight-the-good-fight, encourage-good-morals-in-children book ever."
Random Christian: "I have no idea what you just said."
Me: "Obviously it is too far above your intelligence level and I should simply pity your lack of imagination."
Random Christian: "You're stupid. Stop talking." 
Really? Is that really necessary?
I understand being wary of anything that has witchcraft in it. If you are a Christian and you are not wary of things that have witchcraft in it you should go to church RIGHT NOW just to make sure you and God are still okay. But figure out what it is you are judging before you judge it or you just come across as self-righteous. When I have children I'm going to force them to read Harry Potter as part of their secular AND Christian education, on mere principle alone, not because I believe it has some secret Christian message in it like sneaky Mr. Lewis has, but because when I make a point, I really go all out, no matter who it hurts. Then, when my children start to hate me as well as Harry Potter because they are being forced to read it, at least it won't be because they think it's demonic. I have an idea, why don't we just condemn everything fun in the world regardless of whether it is wholesome or not and then wonder why non-Christians think we are boring? But we have the joy of the Lord, right? Yet I can only imagine non-Christians must think if we really did have the joy of the Lord we wouldn't hate awesome things like Harry Potter. At least if I wasn't a Christian, that is exactly what I would think. If I'm lucky some day some Random Christian will go out of their way to condemn my books because my books will have things in them that make you use your imagination, like fairies, or worse, unicorns. And then some day they will find out that the author is in fact a Christian too and won't they be humiliated! ... Or not... probably not.

Now, for those 35 lost books I didn't read becuase I was busy reading Harry Potter, I would like to have a moment of silence to express my deepest, most humble apologies. (...Insert moment of silence here...) I'm sorry Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Joyce and Oates. Forgive me for reading Harry Potter when I could have been reading you. Sadly, I will continue to need your forgiveness as I purposefully read other things just to procrastinate reading you. Harry Potter has contributed almost as much to my ignorance of modern fiction as my obsession with only reading books by authors who are now very much dead. I sit in my writing class and listen to people talk about living, breathing authors I have heard of but have never read, many of them I have never even heard of, and then try to sooth myself by remembering all the classics I have read, yet cursing myself for reading so many fantasy novels. Not only are fantasy novels usually long, they are also usually part of a series that I have no choice but to continue reading whether they are good or not. For some reason we like to encourage imagination in children like it's the best thing ever, and then somewhere along the way we are forced to come to terms with reality. Some sort of dramatic shift takes place where encouraging imagination in grown-ups is forbidden and flights of fancy should be tethered down. I say let your fancy take flight! Let your fancy fly down the street and carry off on the wind frail, little, old ladies and lap dogs! Yes, 'tis a new era. An era where even the Harry Potter movies are over. 'Tis the time to put aside Harry Potter and find new adventures in books, hopefully a few that I don't have to be ashamed to announce I am reading in class. But it won't change anything, not really. Other books might be good but they will never make me feel like Harry Potter made me feel. Books that make us feel that way we find only a few times in our lives and when we do we have to hold on to it, let it carry us off with some little old ladies and lap dogs and enjoy the ride.

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