Kicking A Habit

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-31 12:00:00 No comments

One of my big problems as a reader is finding new work to get excited about, especially in science fiction and fantasy. I tend to wait a few years for things to shake themselves out before diving in, because way too much of what's blasted out onto shelves just doesn't seem worth the trouble. (An easy rule of thumb: Almost anything with a major book award attached to it can be safely skipped with minimal FOMO.) But at the end of the day, the responsibility for just flipping up my nose remains squarely on me.

For some time now I've been entertaining a few guidelines to myself about how to be less uneasy about new releases. One that's bubbled up and which seems workable, but at the same time strangely distasteful to me, is to read more but also give myself permission to jump ship quickly. If I'm a fifth of the way through a book, and nothing's happened that makes me want to keep reading, then I should cut my losses and move on.

The reason I squirm at the idea as a rule, rather than as an exception, is because I know there are many books out there that didn't completely click for me until the 90% mark. But I also have to be conscious of how few such books there are actually out there. Most of them are written with the intention that by the time you get to, say, the 20% mark, you have some degree of investment in them that you're not going to be talked into postponing indefinitely.

A lot of this stems from another, deeper problem I know I have, which is that I'm terribly picky about reading. I hate this, because it goes against some of the very advice I give others, which is to read as widely as you can. I don't like the idea that I've "paid my dues" by already doing that; it's something that's meant to be a lifelong process. And maybe I could excuse that by saying the things I do read tend to come from far and wide, just that I only tend to take the top two or three things from any one individual bucket. But I'm not happy with that justification either.

The problem gets most severe with fantasy and science fiction, for a variety of personal-criterion reasons. By the time I left college, I felt like the big problem I had with both of those fields was that the things that I found most interesting about them were to be found in only the tiniest sliver of works with the label. In that sense they were like any other big container: there are tons of "Westerns" out there, and tons of authors of Westerns, but after Charles Portis and True Grit (or Larry McMurtry and Lonesome Dove), it gets harder to find things that truly feel like they stand out or have something to deliver apart from the mere presence of the label.

One of my little self-appointed missions for the 2017 holiday season, and 2018 generally, is to break that habit. I want to try and find authors that got me as excited about current SF&F as my gateway drugs did: Stanisław Lem, Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delaney, etc. But I also need to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, because it's not doing me any favors to be that much more out of touch with what's happening around me in the moment.

Tags: authors reading science fiction