Currently, the manga are doing more for me than the books, so I need to read more interesting books. I'm making arrangements to look at some. Books I've read include:
Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I think the better of it after having read Le Guin's afterword, where she explains that she wrote it because she had fallen in love with the Aeneid as a child, and this was her tribute to it. It's the story her heart wanted to tell.
But, my heart was given to the Odyssey. Oh, the Aeneid vastly improves when one reads it in the original. And it's vital to understand that, for centuries, it was THE book, THE myth of western civilization. And I do understand all that. But, I still just don't care as much. And, I don't care about Lavinia. Yes, I really do only know her name because Virgil mentioned it. I'm impatient with this "give the hidden woman her own voice" trope by now. It can be done well, but that's no longer enough for me. It has to resonate. Bradley's Mists of Avalon did that, despite its flaws -- and in no way replaced The Once and Future King< in my heart. Phyllis Ann Karr's Idylls of the Queen did that, and succeeded in large part because Karr looked at what was in the text and what that implied. To be fair, she had more to work with for her Arthurian women than Le Guin had for Lavinai. And, Fay Samson's Daughter of Tintagel sequence worked for me, but again, not to deny the achievement, but she had so much more to work with, and part of my delight was spotting some of the more obscure tropes she used.
Le Guin didn't have that. So, she made up her tale from whole cloth. And, while Lavinia is not a modern woman in disguise, thank goodness, she's not very interesting to me. And, she's put through some very predictable paces. (Oh no! Aeneus's older son won't let her raise her child! Whatever will our heroine do?)
But, it moved quickly, and it kept me involved enough while reading it. Le Guin writes well.
A Princess of Roumania, by Paul Park. I really, really wanted to like this book. I wanted to go on to the next in the series with baited breath and twitching fingers. I'd had some spoilers, but this didn't bother me. Okay, our entire world is a book in which our heroine is hidden. That's its sole function. And, the book is destroyed early on. Shades of Garner's Elidor.
But, Garner is a master of telling a story in a short amount of space. This is part of why I like YA books. But I digress. It wasn't the length per se that was a problem. It was the feeling of slogging through something not entirely pleasant. I was so glad when I finished this book, and I had no desire to read any more. This despite a promising beginning, magic, a well done trip to the underworld, our heroine going off script -- it wasn't enough.
Either I'm just not the target audience, which is probably given that a lot of people of very good taste liked the book, or the author's misunderstanding something of what a lot of people look for in fantasy. I'm guessing it's the former.
Regardless, while I do not object to realism in my fantasy -- heck, I insist on a certain amount -- there's what I think of as the muck-and-grime school of thought. It isn't enough to put in realistic details. Oh no. Everything must be dragged down into the mud to show that Life Isn't Pretty! Well, guess what? I know that. I don't read for pleasure to have my nose rubbed in that.
One woman on the Myhtopoeic Committee for Adult Fiction once said that, to make her short list, a book had to teach her something. This is setting very high standards, but the books that stick with me are either the kind that do teach me something or the kind of escapist trash that is a semi-guilty pleasure to read.
I don't think the lesson of A Princess of Roumania is that Life Isn't Pretty. I think it's that Life Isn't Neat. It Isn't Like A Book. And, I knew that, too. I've read plenty of books that start there and take it in interesting directions. China Mieville's Un Lun Dun comes very much to mind here.
And, for the kind of high fantasy that I think the book is setting off to be, muck or no muck, one can't say, "Oh, there's no pattern whatsoever, so my story will just have a string of events." There are works that do this, and that do it well, but... for me it's just a vast, sweeping epic of emptiness, full of events that don't add up, which could start or end at any time, which have no real moral framework and no real story.
And that's not what Park is doing. His events are not random. His heroine going off script is eminently predictable. And... I just spent how many pages reading about the heroine and her friends going around in circles? I mean, it wasn't agonizing, like the Harry Potter and the Endless Camping Trip. But, it was fatiguing and didn't get anywhere interesting.
Then, there's the villain everyone seems to love to hate, Baroness Ceaucescu. I don't find the Baroness sympathetic, sexy, or smart. I find her chillingly insane (which I could deal with), whiny, and stupid. This may be a deliberate choice on the part of the author, but I tend to be impatient with incompetence. Yes, there's plenty of it in Real Life. I am tired of how much of it there is in Real Life. Use it with Extreme Caution in fantasy, okay? One rare example of "shit just happened" that actually worked for me was the reason behind the events of the movie Strange Days, to wit, the traffic patterns of Los Angeles. But, once that initial thing "just" happened, everything else followed. Also, it was noir, not high fantasy, so the feel was going to be different.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I'm still reading this. I've gotten past the first wire fu sequence and to the second rebel council meeting. And... the magic stuff is cool, yes. It's ciniematic. Sanderson writes technically quite well, and I think I need to study what he does and see if I can improve my own writing. And, the current focal group is made up of competent people. I do like competence.
And yet, it all feels by the numbers. I admit that part of this is because I'm sick of the Obligatory Scene of Oppression, and Mistborn opens with not one, but two of these. Yep, evil system, tyranny, people whipped and killed, oh, and women raped and killed. Bad guy. Check.
Our heroine is then abused. Check. And rescued. Oh, and she's Special. And we have a Bold Rebel Conspiracy. All done technically well, and I'm enjoying it enough to keep reading, but -- still a little by the numbers, and I want something more.
Meanwhile, off in escapist trash mangaland, I've discovered The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. And, wow. Characters I care about. This manga is shrinkwrapped in Midtown Comics, featuring nudity and some violence, neither of which are glamorized. There's one sequence in the second volume where a woman is looking at photos of a corpse. Because of the context, it wasn't until I flipped through the manga a second time (going between the list of sound effects and the pages on which they appeared) that I realized the photo showed full frontal male nudity. Yep, properly done, actual nudity is less noticeable than the "Look! We're figleafing the nasty bits! Notice our figleaf" of things like the movie Beowulf.
It isn't really a novels vs comics thing, of course -- it's these three novels vs that one series of manga. I just need to read some more gripping books.
I've also been reading random volumes of other manga. There's the Kindaichi Case Files. I've read four of these, each of which has a complete tale. They're all locked room mysteries. The motive is always vengeance for a real or perceived wrong. There's a drawing room scene. It's definitely formulaic. And, I noted a certain physical feature common to all the murderers, though I think this is not true of every volume in the series.
Yet, it still works. And, I've taken notes, hoping to lift a couple of plots for rpg purposes.