Thanks to John.
Yesterday, I received two books from him that we had spoken of about a week ago. The first is George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I must confess that I am very particular about the books that I read. Recommendation has mostly been banned from my life after having read two of the stupidest books ever written (which I refuse to comment on any farther) recommended by individuals I adore and trust. When someone says, “you should read…” I typically have half a second of debate as to whether I like this person enough to bluntly refuse or if I need to change my identity. I just don’t do well with recommendations.
But John is to me like a favorite, witty uncle. He is not only one of the most brilliant thinkers I’ve seen in our culture, but he is also one of the most complex persons I’ve ever known. I’ve been telling him for several years that he should write a book. And in spite of my automatic fight-or-flight kind of response to book recommendations, I had to detach myself for a moment and consider the source. John does not seem an easy man to please. I don’t mean that he is difficult, but that he has high expectations. I know this, because I’ve spoken with him about my own music and writing, and have felt like a squashed toad afterward. He commands excellence. And in spite of my fear of being disappointed by another dud of a book, I had to admit to myself that most of the things he has shared with me (music, stories, photography, et cet.) have thrilled me and challenged me. So I set aside my book recommendation face and I listened as John told me about these two books. I didn’t think either one sounded particularly spectacular, but I thought John sounded particularly fascinated by them. For that reason alone, when I told him I would check at the library for them, I meant it.
But he sent me the books instead. The old softy. John has such a great heart. He is so generous. So loving.
But I digress! I began yesterday with A Game of Thrones. It was a great day for reading, since it was stormy and cold. The first chapter did not overly impress me. There were a couple of sentences that jumped out at me, and I thought, Yeah; he’s got some stuff! But as I read on, I realized quickly that Martin’s writing skills were only a piece of his brilliance. The plot of this book is so thick and complex, I’m not even sure who the “good guy” and “bad guy” are supposed to be. I don’t mind. I find myself looking at the characters much more critically–not to criticize them, but to understand their choices. It is closer to reality in that regard than anything I’ve ever read: the idea that people aren’t totally evil or totally good; but that they make choices for personal, emotional, political, familial reasons, and they face the consequences (whether good or ill) of those choices. Honestly, these are some of the most complicated characters I’ve ever met in fiction. I love them.
So I am about 200 pages into the book. I admit it’s a little heavier than I typically like my fiction. It is definitely R-rated material in some places, but never overly so. The masterful writing, the complexity of the characters (and thus, the complexity of their relationships to one another and to the world around them [aka: the plot]), the development of cultures, and the incredible storytelling (which, yes–is different than “the masterful writing”) greatly overshadows anything that could be counted “offensive.”
Ironically, it is the other book that John was really pushing for me to read.