January 26, 2005

literary trash

I went to the Berkeley Public Library today and got my card reactivated from when I was here three years ago, then walked over to the Central Library to get some entertainment. I've recently started reading Derrida's The Gift of Death, and the minute I picked it up I knew I wouldn't be able to get through it without a fair amount of trashy, entertaining scifi.1 This is how I work. I read really dense, complicated books, but I have to be able to take breaks from them. The distractions also push me to go back: enough trash makes me need substance and enough substance makes me need trash.

Looking at the science fiction shelf in the library, though, made me think about how much terrible science fiction there is in the world. Holy shit. And I don't even mean bad in comparison to people like Ursula LeGuin who are serious art-novel writers; I just mean bad. Formulaic and pretentious and gawd, is it poorly written. Not even entertaining. It's sort of depressing, because I love scifi. I love the super-brilliant stuff and I love the entertainment and I have trouble picking up new writers. If I don't have a pretty solid recommendation for someone, I end up worrying that it's going to be impossibly bad and just returning to the books I've read over and over, or to new books by the same authors.

1. I mean scifi the way it's shelved in the library: science fiction and fantasy. In terms of what I actually read for this purpose, I'd also include a fair amount of pseudo-historical fiction - the kind that's about myths, legends, and pre-history - and young adult fiction.

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