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Strategies for the fantasy resistant

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William Smith
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 10:44 am:   

Hello Citizens,

I have a reader's dilemma. My girlfriend is an intelligent and voracious reader and we share many of the same favorite writers (Charles Dickens, Patrick O'Brian, George Simonen etc) but I can't sell her on books she perceives as fantasy even when I know she would enjoy the writing. Gormenghast has been my most disappointing failure to date.

We've talked about this and figured out that she is ok with fanciful/absurd/supernatural elements as long as there are rational explanations for what a character is experiencing. Wind-up Bird Chronicle is an example of the kind of fantasy she enjoys. I haven't read it yet but I think it's about a man trapped down a well and drawn into a series of extended hallucinations about his life and family.

It is fine by me if a writer chooses to explain fantastic elements (as long as it is done elegantly) but I don't require it. I understand that a writer toils away in a garrot somewhere, barely making the rent and that I am laying in bed escaping into an imaginary world. That is enough of a realistic grounding for me.

Has anyone ever managed to overcome this resistance? Or is it just a tempermental/ astrological difference and I should just let it go?

Will
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JV
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 10:58 am:   

I think you hook her on a book like The Chess Garden by Brooks Hansen, in which she will wind up hoping the fantasy element is real, and will be able to see the value of the fantasy element without also foresaking the virtues of mainstream fiction. Then you'd probably break down the resistance by degrees, through books like Jeff Ford's Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, which contains just a modicum of a fantastical element. Then you'd start up on your magic realists, in which the fantastical element only enters into the story after a facsimile contemporary reality has been established.

Conversely, if she likes Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, then she's willing to accept a high degree of surrealism, which would mean you'd want to keep at her through a different tactic: texts with more and more surrealism in them, until finally the surrealism merges into outright fantasy.

This process might take several decades.

JeffV
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William Smith
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 11:08 am:   

Just like the Cold War!

Haven't read Chess Garden. I'll have to check that one out.

Hey did you ever find the Rockwell Kent edition of Candide with the little naked people between the letters?

LMK because I can scan a few pages over the holiday.

Will
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 11:14 am:   

Hey Will:

Is it that she won't even try them? Because maybe you could suggest reading something that she liked that you've resisted if she reads something of yours. I guess that's slight blackmail, but since you'd be 'suffering' just as she would, perhaps she'll go for it.

If it's that once she reads the stuff she doesn't like it, then you're screwed. The more you force her to read stuff, I suspect the more she'll resist it.

JK
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WS
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 11:27 am:   

I offered a Jane Austen-Mervyn Peake prisoner exchange but she hasn't bitten yet.

It isn't force necessarilly, I just get a bit excitable and end up reading half of it aloud anyway.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 11:31 am:   

I've started working Shai into the stuff with Tolkien, Rowling, Lemony Snicket, etc. A lot of children's/young adult stuff. As she starts to like more of it, I'll trick her into reading other things before she knows it.

As it is, I've Helen Fielding and Charlotte Bronte and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

JK
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WS
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 11:49 am:   

Helen Fielding? So who is the more "tricked" in this deal? Sorry. I tease. Sounds like you are well into your cold war.

My S.O. loves the Hary Potter books which I can't figure out given her stated prejudices. I guess it's because of all the "mundane" detail of British scholboy life.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 11:52 am:   

Dunno if it's a big ol' Wisconsin boy thing, but I was also thinking the YA tack might work--since it's for kids, it's okay to be fanciful.

Give her A WRINKLE IN TIME, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
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GabrielM
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 12:27 pm:   

Agree with the YA approach. My wife loved the Pullman books. As did I. And somehow I've managed to turn her into a Kage Baker fan. Not sure quite how it happened. As with stocks, however, past performance is no indication of future results.
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WS
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

I think she hated Wrinkle... not sure if this was because of her 4th grade teacher or the book itself. Will consider Narnia.

I almost sold her on the Golden Compass series but I couldn't get through the 2nd or 3rd books myself so I didn't push it.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 01:55 pm:   

Aaah, just dump her.
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WS
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 02:08 pm:   

But then I'd probably end up with someone with a full bookshelf of Ayn Rand or something. Too risky.

Hey on a slight tangent does anyone else have "dealbreaker" titles? Books which--even if carried by someone otherwise really attractive--would make you run screaming?
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Cheryl
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 05:07 pm:   

The Bible?
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Thomas R
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 07:02 pm:   

Books which--even if carried by someone otherwise really attractive--would make you run screaming?

Thomas R: The Turner Diaries, Anthem by Ayn Rand, Beyond Good & Evil by Nietzsche, and anything by
Amin Baraka
Al Franken
Anne Coulter
Michael Savage

Although in fairness about all of these could be read for educational reasons.


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gabe
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 07:28 pm:   

Heya Minz, where in Wisconsin are you? I'm shuddering cold in Hudson, up next to the Twin Cities...

Mr. Smith, I've kind of gone through this same process with one of my best friends, except he was even further on the "L"iterary side of things. V was about as close as he'd come to 'fantastic fiction'.

Basically, I made sure that he'd sampled some of the more offbeat mainstream work. The first thing I had him read was TIME'S ARROW by Martin Amis (partially because then there was nowhere to go but up, partially because he'd read some Kingsley Amis in the past). Then I had him read some Iain Banks, some Jonathan Carroll, Glen David Gold's CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL, Gibson's PATTERN RECOGNITION, then on to bigger and better things. Tom Disch. Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius books. And on and on and on, until finally he started buying stuff on his own without seeking out my approval.

And it only took two and a half years.

--gabe chouinard
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 07:44 pm:   

I think Jeff V's suggestions might work. Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque is good and has little fantasy in it. Besides that, Edward Whittemore's work might be good (kind of historical fiction/espionage with a bit of weirdness thrown in).

Books which--even if carried by someone otherwise really attractive--would make you run screaming?

I don't think there's anything which is definite. If I saw somebody reading Rand, I would stay away. However, if that person also had a t-shirt of a lesser known band I really like (Porcupine Tree, Ulver, or others), I could still be interested (even reading Rand can be overcome). Finding somebody with similar taste in music is nearly impossible, so I wouldn't want to pass up that chance if it occured.

Others in the same category: Anne Coulter (my dislike of her is even stronger than Rand, even musical taste might not outway reading her), any of those books like A Purpose Driven Life, Dianetics.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 01:45 am:   

On the original subject how would she feel about Ruritarian or fable type Fantasies? I hate Fantasy, but I liked that part of Kalpa Imperial which was in Starlight 2. I put the book on my Christmas list. Le Guin, and Avram Davidson did some stuff like that as well. I think Le Guin had the Orsinian series and Earthsea. I haven't read it, but Randall Garrett I guess had a Fantasy series rational enough to make it in Analog.

As for books Dianetics is a good choice. I always thought it might be kooky to get copies though in case Jehovah Witnesses drop by. That and I'm kind of curious how peculiar it is in reality. That and rare or unusual religious sects kind of fascinate me in general. Not that I'd ever really spend money on that nonsense. Oddball religious/self-help works would be huge on a list of turn offs, except they're too popular. You'd end up having to avoid far too many people.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 05:33 am:   

If your girlfriend is into literary fiction, have you thought of trying out something like THE EYRE AFFAIR on her? It's heavy on fantasy elements, but it might appeal to a literary reader who otherwise wouldn't read fantasy.

If you're interested in getting her to read SF at all, I'd go with FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON. I always get people trying to tell me it's not SF (people who say they liked it yet maintain they do not and will not read SF).
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JV
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

How about the opposite problem? Getting people who only read genre to read mainstream? To me, that seems almost more insurmountable.

JeffV
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 03:37 pm:   

Just find what they like about SF and look for a mainstream work with those elements. Many SF people I know, me included, would like to read mainstream novels that immerse you in other cultures which exist. I liked Chinua Achebe pretty well, and more in that vein I wouldn't mind. If they like grand adventures they might go for the old epics or maybe Kipling.

If they like Hard Science it could be hard, but not impossible. Many of the Nineteenth century Realists were quite interested in science. As were the Neo-Classicists. Then there's a host of current literary novels about scientists or scientific missions. Not exactly literary fiction, but I bet you could get many Hard SFers into books like Longitude by Dava Sobel or A Beautiful Mind by Nasar. That could maybe lead to mainstream.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, December 13, 2003 - 03:48 pm:   

WS: "It isn't force necessarilly, I just get a bit excitable and end up reading half of it aloud anyway."

Yikes. Do you think this might be part of the problem? I used to do this to my wife in order to entice her to read a book, and one day she told me in no uncertain terms it wasn't helping.

JV: "How about the opposite problem?"

You're right; it's tougher to break genre loyalty. What success I've had has been partly because I can talk about genre with genre fans, then slide a few "mainstream" texts into the convo (sneaking DeLillo's Ratner's Star or Powers's Galatea 2.2 into a Science Fiction discussion, for example). Then you just have to hope the person's tastes will expand. I suppose a strategy the reverse of what you outline above might work, too. Never tried it that way.
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Minz
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 12:06 am:   

>>Heya Minz, where in Wisconsin are you? I'm shuddering cold in Hudson, up next to the Twin Cities...

I live in NJ these days, but I was born-n-bred in West Bend, and lived in Madison for 11 years. Good training for mocking New Yorkers who start crying when it gets below 40 (not forty below, just forty)
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gabe
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 06:46 am:   

Ooohk. Well, I started out in Tucson, AZ, so I'm a Wisconsinite that starts crying when it gets below forty....

--gabe
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gabe
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 06:49 am:   

"Powers's Galatea 2.2 "

Neal, I was just looking for this a few days ago to give to my friend Norm (another fellow that is tentatively attempting to read some SF) and discovered that it is out of print. A shame, as it's a great crossover book from lit to genre.

--gabe
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Sunday, December 14, 2003 - 07:25 am:   

Gabe, that is a shame. I'll have to write a nasty letter to the Harper Perrenial folks.

Powers's book actually brought tears to my eyes, and that doesn't happen often. Manipulative, flawed, who cares? Lovely, lovely stuff. From "I want Richard to explain me" to "This is an awful place to be dropped down halfway." Just gorgeous.
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WS
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 09:51 am:   

On breaking the fantasy barrier:
Lots of good ideas here. Of course if she ever sees this thread, I'm sunk.

On dealbreaker books:
I've spent a lot of my working life as a bookseller so I always had a singular prejudice against the "book of the moment" but here are a few titles from my dealbreaker hall of fame.

The previously mentioned Ayn Rand
The Rules
anything by Maya Angelou
anything by VC Andrews (ewww!)
Dianetics
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (I've nothing against people who have read it, just against people who come into a bookstore and ask for it, burning with a zealot's glow.)
Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke (same as above)

hmmm. There are probably more

On overcoming the literary barrier:
for horror people - Nathanael West, the ghost Stories of Henry James, Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, Wuthering Heights. These would all be germane to readers who like it grim.

for mystery: Zola's Therese Raquin (feels like the model for everything James Cain ever wrote)

Science Fiction: I think this is the toughest barrier to break (harder than light speed). Moby-Dick maybe? Poe's early SF (though it's always debatable whether or not he can be considered "literary")? Gargantua and Pantagruel? Tristram Shandy? That's it. I'm dry.

Will
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from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 10:56 am:   

"Let their be spaces in your togetherness . . . "
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WS
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 11:39 am:   

>"Let their be spaces in your togetherness . . . "

Uncannily apt. Maybe I will have to reconsider.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 02:12 pm:   

Hmm what's the problem with Maya Angelou? Granted from what I've heard I think she's likely better to listen to than read, but even as writing she doesn't strike me as being that bad.

Science fiction might be the toughest barrier, but I know SF well enough I could probably manage it. There's several authors that could work for a mainstream reader. Many or even most of the SF by Kate Wilhelm, Edgar Pangborn, Karen Joy Fowler, and Andy Duncan would work. Sarah Canary and the collection And the Angels Sing are practically mainstream themselves. Replay by Ken Grimwood I think would be approachable. Dystopian/Utopian works are kind of acceptable to the mainstream. Several SF choices come up there. From Thomas More to Pamela Sargent. And if they like Calvino/Borges type works there's people like Gene Wolfe. I don't think it'd be that hard.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 02:19 pm:   

Ack, I hate having a cold. Sorry for misreading what you meant there.

For me I read SF largely to get a sense of other cultures or societies. So mainstream that does that has appeal for me. Hence I like stuff set either far in the past or written by those from the non-Western world. I think if people read SF for the science they may have a problem, but literary writers were quite interested in science in the old days. Voltaire, Swift, Twain, and even Dante I think could have some appeal. In more recent times Steinbeck was strongly interested in biology. Large sections of The Grapes of Wrath lecture about ecosystems and such.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 11:20 am:   

WS: "for horror people - Nathanael West, the ghost Stories of Henry James, Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, Wuthering Heights. These would all be germane to readers who like it grim."

Let's not forget Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce. It don't come no grimmer.

And Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey.

Faulkner and O'Conner, too, slide in and out of genre sensibilities like a puck in a game of air-hockey.

For mystery writers who desire more than a best-seller reader's acquaintance with their genre-of-choice, one might recommend Eugene Sue (Les Mysteres de Paris), E. A. Poe (almost anything), George Lippard (The Quaker City, or the Monks of Monk Hall), Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White and The Moonstone), Charles Dickens (esp. the lovely Bleak House), and Anne Radcliffe (The Italian, a nice crossover to the Gothic).

Science Fiction, I agree, is perhaps the toughest, in part because its own generic identity marks it, for some, as inherently sub-literary. But Don DeLillo has written a SF short story ("Human Moments During World War Three") and a SF novel (Ratner's Star). I've already mentioned Richard Powers. Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins can be viewed as SF. Jack London wrote The Iron Heel. And of course, if your hypothetical reader can stomach Jules Verne, he or she might enjoy H. G. Wells, and then it's a short hop sideways to Victorian adventure fiction writers such as H. Rider Haggard, and then forward again along different generic developments.
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jeff ford
Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - 01:16 pm:   

william: I won't argue with The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, but I think the book that will turn the trick for you, so to speak, is The Prince by Ib Michael.
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WS
Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2003 - 10:40 am:   

Read and loved Mrs. Charbuque (particularly the laminated snowflakes). I gave this book to a figure painter and she got a huge kick out of it. Not sure if she has tried the painter's challenge in the book but she should.

I might have blown this one with my S.O. by telling her about most of the parts that struck me. hmmm. I keep doing that.

Never heard of that Ib Michael title but it looks fascinating. I'll add it to the list.

Jeff, have you ever read any of Gert Hofmann's books? I think they would strike a cord w/you. Parable of the Blind is about the cross-country journey of the subjects of Breughal's famous painting. Spectacle at the Tower is the most depressing and absurd road novel of all time. Film Explainer is a boy's memory of his grandfather who read aloud title cards to silent film while the Nazis were coming to power. Powerful stuff. These might be good fantasy->literary crossover titles as well.

Will
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2003 - 01:35 pm:   

Will: Glad you liked Mrs. C. And that you painter friend didn't get too hung up by the fact that the paintings dried way to fast in the story. I'll check the Gert Hoffman. Thanks for the suggestion. I have a print of Breugal's Blind Lead the Blind on my office door where I teach.

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WS
Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2003 - 02:07 pm:   

>the paintings dried way to fast in the story

I take it you got some feedback on that point?
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Catherynne Valente
Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 07:01 pm:   

If she likes Murakami you could lead her down the magic realism road--Borges, Rushdie (The Satanic Verses is brilliant) et al. For strict fantasy, obviously Tolkien is the starting point, but if she wants there to be a rational, i.e. non-fantasy reason for fantastical elements, you may not be able to get her very far. If she likes Dickens, suggest Woolf's Orlando, a foray into the fantastical. Ease her into it by hitting around the mark for awhile. Borges is a great start.

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