Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Good short stories and bad fans
Last year, when I was hanging out and shepherding drunks at a technical conference, I ended up having a conversation with a dude who had a James Joyce quote tattooed on his arm and my evening went to shit. Now, I'll say again: a dude with a Joyce tattoo made my evening of making sure people didn't puke in a hotel lobby worse than it already was. I was talking about how much I love cyberpunk and SF as a whole, holding the copy of Anathem that I was rereading, and this dude plopped down in the middle of the conversation to drop a criticism about Stephenson (while admitting that he'd only read one of Stephenson's books and saying he didn't think he would find any more depth to the writing if he went further) I admitted that I was enough of a SF nerd that I might be biased and made mention of my Dune tattoo in a self-deprecating sort of way; this cockwad went on to state that he hadn't ever read much SF but loved real literature enough that he'd gotten a Joyce tattoo ("On my arm, where people can see it, because there's no courage in getting your ideology someplace where it will remain hidden," he said, cementing his image in my mind as like, seriously, the worst human being at the party.)
Instead of pulling the "you're just a fake geek girl" on me (which is hard to do when you're at a computer conference that I've attended for the last decade) this taint knocker pulled the "fake lit girl" (which he didn't realize was ALSO not a great plan, considering my BA in Literature). Our conversation proceeded to the point that I told him I was impressed he'd gotten a tattoo by someone who once said "You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you" to show to the world, and that I really liked that someone who literally wrote his manuscripts in crayon was considered such a bastion of western literature. Surprise, surprise, smug mister Joyceypants had never read Joyce's letters.
And here's what's really unfair: I hadn't read any Joyce (except some of his hilarious and explicit letters) at that point because I'd met too many Joyce fanboys who were just like this stupid Buttpimple and figured that if complete assholes liked these books this much I probable wouldn't enjoy them. There are so many people out there who feel like they need to be some kind of GATEKEEPER to keep the PLEBEIAN HORDES away from the VAUNTED AND HONORABLE LITERARY TRADITION by belittling genre fiction and implying that you're just not smart enough to understand the POWER and MAJESTY of the TORMENTED ARTIST.
People who think this way about books: FUCK YOU. Books are for everyone and everyone can like disparate things and value all sorts of writing. And for the record there's nothing wrong with the fact that Joyce enjoyed buttplay or was fixated on shit or that he wrote in crayon (he had severe glaucoma and couldn't see pen or pencil well enough later in life to write with them) but it's great to let a little air out of the kinds of shitheads who think that they're special because they like "real" literature.
Anyway. I read Dubliners this week and it was fantastic. It was simple and austere and I felt like it did a great job of transporting me to its time and place. I can see why Joyce is lauded for his descriptions and his subjects - there's an underlying tension to all of the stories that seems to speak of a world sick of itself and longing for something that it can't even imagine. And, while I've not read Ulysses, I'd like to make the point that Joyce's writing (at least in Dubliners) was incredibly accessible. There's nothing here that's difficult to understand or arduous to read through, but there's a lot that's funny, sad, and highly relatable. Don't let bullshit gatekeeper fanboys discourage you from participating in good stuff. It's a jerk move for anyone to claim that their consumption of something is better or purer or more meaningful than yours - whether that thing is literature, comic books, video games, or My Little Pony. Everyone has a right to enjoy what they want to and I'm really fucking tired of the "fake fan" mentality that chases people away.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Wordsworth Classics. Ware: Hertfordshire. 1993. (1914).