I just finished This Census-Taker by China Miéville.
It’s a short book–novella-length, which seems to be a thing recently (thank you, e-books)–and it’s actually haunting. It’s stuck with me since I finished it on Friday.
The story begins with a boy running down a hill from his home to the town, which is strung on a bridge between his hill and another hill, his hands held up as though they’re bloody, even though they aren’t. He thinks they are. He tells the people in the town that his mother killed his father, but then he thinks his father killed his mother. Someone killed someone else.
And that sort of uncertainty of detail is a theme of this novella. If you want to read something that is a textbook example of the limits of first person narration, this is it. The kid is nine (maybe, he thinks he was nine when this happened), despite the occasional (and really, really well-executed) switches into third or second person, he is the POV narrator. He’s writing his story years later, so between the unquestioning experience of a nine year old and the haziness of memory, the reader is dropped right into the middle of the world, with no explanations or info-dumps or any orienting at all.
I know there are people who hate this kind of thing. I love this kind of thing. I mean, it drives me crazy but in a really good way. Explanations–not all of them, but quite a few–will completely take out my suspension of disbelief. Please, dump me right in the middle of the post-apocalyptic wasteland and let me work out what the hell is going on myself. I want to piece everything together, and if you want to leave some loose threads, I am totally cool with that.
It makes me wonder if this is the sort of thing you have to basically be China Miéville in order to get away with–like, his agent and editors know what he can do already, so he has a certain amount of leeway in terms of leaving loose threads and not answering questions. On the other hand, this is the first Miéville novel(la) I’ve read, so I don’t know the answer to that.
Anyway. Good book, if you’re like I am and enjoy elliptical, unanswered question-y stories that will stay in the corners of your brain for a week afterward.
Speaking of books, my theme for the year–I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions anymore; I come up with a theme sometime in February and try and live it–is “fuck should when it comes to things you do for fun.”
I have an enormous stack of unread shame (phrase credit to Jason), both virtual and physical, and about half of it is stuff I’ll never read because it was part of a Humble Bundle. Or it was free. And this is a problem. On a number of levels, the first of which is I don’t want to die before I read all the books I want and frankly, that is going to happen because there are always books I want to read and the best case scenario is that I don’t die while in the middle of reading a really good book.
The problem I am currently trying to focus on is that somewhere along the line, I got into this habit of not reading anything because I had to finish my vegetables. Said vegetables being symbolic, and actually being the books I had Not Yet Read But Should. Because they were there. And I paid money for them. Or, you know, got for free but still.
But, I suddenly realized around the beginning of February, if I actually bought that Humble Bundle (or other bundle; I got an amazing deal on a bundle of writing books and got something like 15 books for $5) for three books, and paid what I wanted for it, for charity no less, why do I feel this obligation to read the other stuff? I used to buy CDs all the time and only listen to, like, five songs on repeat.
I also realized that I will, eventually, die.
I mean, I knew this. I have, in fact, done it before; I know this is inevitable because there are only so many times you can, like, avoid it. So, related to my wild tangent above, life is too short to read boring books. Even if I bought them full price and not for charity. I mean, seriously, the author got paid; I’m not cheating anyone by deciding thirty pages in that this book is not for me.
I read for fun. It is one of my favorite things to do. Making it into a chore is just … unkind.
Thus, fuck “should.” I don’t have to read it just because it came in the bundle. I don’t have to finish it just because I bought it (though, you know, maybe the library is a better option for those Hmmm, that sounds interesting books … like This Census-Taker!). If I have 40-odd books on my iPad but I want to re-read the Hunger Games trilogy, that’s what I get to do. (Um, guess what’s in my bag right now?)
In other news, I was listening to Writing Excuses and they mentioned the giant insect pit scene in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. And for whatever reason, I woke up at 5:00 this morning with that scene stuck in my head, and so I spent the morning thinking None of it matters anyway, we’re all going to be eaten by giant bugs in the mud …
I also saw Deadpool a while back, and while I get the criticism of Vanessa as being the typical “awesome geek girlfriend damsel in distress,” I want to point out that we have that character in a movie with Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Angel Dust, and Blind Al–so there’s room for her to be the awesome geek girlfriend damsel in distress. Unlike Black Widow, who has to be All the Women because she’s the only woman, there are a variety of ladies to get excited over in this film if Vanessa doesn’t work for you. (I actually liked her a lot–sex worker but it’s not a Thing, she and Wade are best friends, International Women’s Day … )
Frankly, my biggest complaint with Deadpool was that they didn’t have the entire climactic fight scene scored to “You’re the Inspiration.”
I gotta tell you, though, the last two movies I’ve seen in a theater were Deadpool and The Hateful Eight. I could use something with less blood next time.
(Civil War theme music begins to play in the background ….)
And I suppose that’s all my news that’s fit to blog, unless you want a play by play of my eight year old son handing me my ass in both Super Smash Bros and Splatoon–the only reason I won a round of Super Smash was because he played a new character (to him) and had no idea what the combos were. Or something. I take what victories I can.
1 [back] Plus, the narrator tells us that his boss told him once that “You write three books.” One of those books is only for you. And this one is his, so.
2 [back] That said, I finished the book and went looking to see if this was part of a larger universe, because it felt like a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in a dystopian magic realist novel (I got such strong Isabel Allende vibes off this thing, holy cats), and give me more of that.
3[back] I tried King Rat and, I think, Perdido Street Station and just couldn’t get into them for whatever reason; I kept hearing how amazing a writer he is, though, and when I read a review of This Census-Taker I figured I’d give him another try. I’m now trying to figure out which books of his are more like This Census-Taker.
4[back] And an earworm of Weird Al’s “Word Crimes,” specifically the bit about its vs it’s, what the actual hell, brain?