Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Arisia: Throwing Books Panel

The panel about books you threw, or wanted to throw, against the wall was lively and seemed to be enjoyed by all.

I attempted to come up with structure ahead of time, because I'm a lawyer, that's what I do, and the categories of book-throwing reasons I came up with initially (with thanks to [personal profile] veejane and [personal profile] sparkymonster at dinner):

1) Failures of basic competence / craft.

One of the panelists, Carl Fink, had an example of a book whose villain literally spent an entire chapter sitting alone in a room meditating on his evil plan. An audience member mentioned fundamental ignorance of human anatomy. [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll mentioned a book in which spacecraft were powered by a particular kind of engine that would have solved all the problems on Earth that the spacecraft were being used to escape. Genevieve Iseult Eldredge mentioned urban fantasies where the female protagonist has a law enforcement background but the author doesn't know what kind of training she would have, so you get things like "bad guy has twisted my arm up behind my back playground style, oh no, what shall I do?!" Like that.

2) Breaking the contract with the reader.

Apparently, according to the audience, there exists a SFF series that literally ends with either "it was all a dream" or "and then God rewound and started over." My example for this was Sayers' Five Red Herrings, in Peter tells a Sergeant to look for something critical, and the Sergeant asks what it is, and the book literally says, on an otherwise-blank page, "(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page.)" Which, okay, I'm sorry Dorothy L. Sayers, I admire your writing greatly, but that is deliberately and with malice aforethought fucking with your reader.

3) Pull up your pants, you're embarrassing yourself (and us).

I need a better title for this, but: your -isms are showing (examples we discussed in particular: your belief that the only thing female characters are for it to be raped to motivate men; your desire to write about only white Americans, manifested in wiping out Eurasia and Africa in events for which white Americans bore no blame whatsoever), your fixation on prostitutes is showing, etc.

(Here is the article about Piers Anthony's first Xanth book and Firefly that I mentioned on the panel; trigger warnings for pedophilia as well as sexism.)

A couple additional ones that people came up with:

4) There's nothing objectively wrong with this but it interacts with my personal tastes / triggers in a way I can't cope with.

Examples: All of the characters are so unpleasant that they outweigh any other virtues the book might have. Uh, can't remember other examples because I'm tired--gratuitous character abuse is generally an unexamined -ism.

5) The book is trying to engage with X serious topic but can't handle the weight of it.

I'm not sure this doesn't really fall under "unexamined -isms," failing to recognize that weight, but it does feel somewhat different.

6) I had an incredibly strong emotional reaction to events that the book earned but that was still very upsetting.

I don't actually remember the character death in The Stand that someone told an anecdote about, several people sharing the same physical volume and reading it in turn, and all of them throwing the book at the same point without talking to each other about it first, but it was a great story. Someone else cited book 6 of Harry Potter.

(This made me realize that for some reason the endings of the Dark Tower series (past posts) and Kage Baker's Company series (reviews) don't come to mind when I think about "books against the wall," probably because for me that's an instantaneous response, not a dawning-horror-at-the-wreckage response. Which is to say, the other book that immediately came to mind when reading the description, besides The Five Red Herrings, was Cold Fire, as discussed previously.)

We also referenced two of my favorite literary criticism terms, the Suck Fairy (a prominent cause, as [personal profile] rushthatspeaks pointed out, of book-throwing upon re-reading) and the Id Vortex (some really popular things get their popularity from the Id Vortex (Twilight, Flowers in the Attic), but if those id-tastic tropes are not your id-tastic tropes, that disconnect is often prime book-throwing territory).

There were a lot of beautiful, horrible examples, like the book that attempted to wipe out an alien species by dusting them with apple cinnamon oatmeal; the book that had been a WWII, I think, novel until the last chapter when Dracula comes in to save the day; the mystery novel in which a lesbian couple is somehow getting fertility services from someone associated with the Vatican, one of the women is impregnated with cells scraped from a relic, and at the end their son, you guessed it, resurrects some fish; and I have just literally spent two minutes staring at my water bottle trying to remember other examples, without success, so it's time for me to go to bed.

Chime in, do, whether or not you were at the panel, because this is clearly a topic ripe for much discussion and catharsis.

comment count unavailable comment(s) | add comment (how-to) | link
Tags: books, cons: arisia: 2014

Comments for this post were disabled by the author