The Trouble With Long Books

I read for a lot of reasons. One of the stranger reasons I read is because of how much I like entering my reading into my Goodreads profile. You enter the books you’ve read, when you’ve read them, give them a rating and a review (if you want). Basic social media stuff, but that’s now why I love it; I love it because of what Goodreads does with all that data after you enter it.

I love how the data get arrayed out into neat bars and stats based on how many books you’ve read in a year, how many pages, when you’ve read the book versus when it was published, and what the longest book was that you read for that year. Basically, these are stats for a nerd, the way a baseball player might be concerned with improving his batting average or a runner might want to improve her best times. Suddenly, I want to read so I can fill my bars and I want to read a lot, all the time, even if I don’t really feel like it because I have to keep filling those bars. This is also the neurotic motivation I have for gathering Achievements for my Xbox Live gamertag, incidentally.

And hey, as long as it all motivates one to read more books, what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that when you set a reading goal for the year, and if you really focus on hitting it, you very quickly turn into a mercenary about what you’re reading. Sure, you could be reading Infinite Jest right now (which I am) and it could strike you was one of the best books ever written (which, thus far, it does) but it still only counts for one book. It’s over a thousand pages long yet it only moves my “books read” bar up by one tick. It’s over a thousand goddamn pages. I could read three average novels in the same time period!

There was one month (May 2013, according to Goodreads) where I did nothing but read Shogun by James Clavell for almost the entire month! And sure, it was one of the finest books I’ve ever read in my life and absolutely compelling, but an entire month was spent on one book! What about my bars? I have bars to fill.

Sure, there’s the fact that the graph also tracks the longest book that you’ve read, but that also has a flaw: what’s the point of reading a thousand page book if you’ve already got a 1100 pager on that graph? I have Neal Stephenson’s Anathem sitting patiently in my “to read” stack, but what’s the point? That shit only clocks in at a mere 937 pages, which makes it too long for me to stay on track with my monthly book goal, but too short to make “longest book of the year that I read.”

So, what, I’m left with the joy of reading? Maybe I want to marvel at a masterpiece of speculative fiction from a writer who cosistently delivers interesting and intelligent work that always impresses me? Maybe I just want to read something great for the joy of reading?

Fuck that, man. I got bars that need fillin’.

On A Very Certain Type Of Wolf

If you’re not immersed in “video game culture,” this post isn’t going to make any sense to you. That’s okay; honestly, you’re probably better off, because sometimes, video game culture gets pretty weird. This is one of those times.

I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinion on something. Generally, if I’m not writing about a particular topic, it’s because I haven’t researched the issue to the extent that I feel confident writing about it. Alternatively, it might be an issue that I don’t hold an opinion worth writing about either way. The health care discussion is one example of this; my opinion is cautious optimism, but I don’t argue strongly for it because it’s not a debate that I have anything new to say. There are other, more eloquent writers talking about it, so my response, if asked, would be to go read one of them.

However, sometimes there’s a topic that comes along that hits all the issues that I do care about and it seems like I should have something to say about it and I haven’t said anything. Feminism and gender issues are two of those particular issues. Video games are another.

If you’re still with me at this point, here’s your required reading to understand the Dickwolf controversy. I don’t even know how to distill it down to a paragraph at this point, but I’ll try. A comic strip that was created three years ago created a controversy that continues to this day. Its very mention is enough to create headlines on gaming news sites and blogs. Even mentioning it here makes me feel uneasy.

So why mention it at all? One reason is because of how much I’ve written about feminism already and how much I think about issues of gender equality. This is one of those issues that everybody is talking about. I should say something, right?

Except that I don’t know what to say.

It’s like watching your friends fight and it’s the kind of fight that you know is going to end the friendship between these two friends because of what’s been said. It’s the kind of argument where really hurtful things are said and it’s gone past the point of anybody really being “right,” although perhaps nobody was right to begin with. Worst of all, you can see both sides. You can understand where each one is coming from, even if you don’t necessarily agree with both sides.

In this case, one side is arguing for the freedom of speech to tell jokes without reprisal and they are defending this position. The other side is arguing that it’s not a freedom of speech issue and that’s an issue of making jokes about rape culture. The response is that the original joke wasn’t a rape joke and that the true “victims” of the joke were so-called heroes in MMORPGs, who are actually quite abominable themselves. And then came everything afterwards, when things got really messy.

So, what do I do? I feel very strongly about freedom of speech! I think the way rape is treated in our society is abominable!

And so we have this debacle. If I were to try to pinpoint where it all became so hopelessly entangled, I think it’s due to the various ideals that have been called in as part of the argument. Making it a freedom of speech issue is as problematic as making it a “rape culture” issue. It brings in a lot of material that creates a quagmire.

I don’t know. I guess I don’t have anything to say. I can see both sides. I won’t say who I am in agreement with, because people I respect and whose content I enjoy are on opposite sides of the issue. It feels like saying who I think is correct is like choosing between friends.

All I can really say is that I feel like I’ve failed both my ideals by existing in this sort of wishy-washy neutral ground. I feel like I should be supporting one side. There are a lot of wounded feelings all around. Standing on the sideline doesn’t feel right. But I don’t really know what to do.

And that’s where I’m at and why I haven’t written about it before. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care, very deeply, and I’ve followed the controversy since it began. I just didn’t know what to say then and I don’t know what to say now. The link, if you clicked it, gives you opinions from all the big names in game journalism and geek culture who have weighed in on this before me. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

As for me, I’ll just keep on watching, feeling like I should say something more substantial, but having no idea what that should be.