Read Bad Books

Why do Targaryens make terrible stockbrokers?

Their assets always end up in a fire sale!

I am no longer sure I’d call anything George R.R. Martin writes “good.” He burned some bridges with this leal reader with Winds of Winter. I finished a real-life Ph.D. with ADHD in less time than it has taken GRRM to write one book. I’m more than fine with HBO scripting the only conclusion to a Song of Ice and Fire to ever see the light of day. At least it means that there will be a conclusion. There is, however, still something disheartening about getting most of the way through the book GRRM wrote instead and realizing he only covered the first half of 300 years of Targaryen history. Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before Game of Thrones (a Targaryen History) is an epic monument to paid procrastination and GRMM still couldn’t even finish it? Really?

That is…disappointing. Especially given the fact I am listening to the prequel on audiobook, and it is 26 hours long! I’ve been encouraged by my neuro-ophthalmologist to rest my eyes when I don’t need them for work because their ability to focus together continues to decline. Thanks, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Listening to GRRM’s words instead of reading them makes certain quirks of his writing almost painfully apparent. (I wonder if his editors were equally burned by this point and so desperate to ship anything new of his that they only gave Fire and Blood a minimal once-over?)

Three-quarters in, I’m not sure from a literary standpoint whether Fire and Blood is actually well-written.  It overuses words. Like, seriously overuses them. Like “overuses them so much that it has become a game for my Partner and me to take a non-alcoholic drink every time he uses the word ‘leal.'” (GRMM is obsessed with loyalty, but our ‘drinking’ game has to be non-alcoholic because I’m pretty sure we’d both die if we tried to use alcohol during the playing of The Leal Deal. GRRM has singlehandedly ensured that even this girl who is dysautonomic has consumed many more than her recommended liters of water daily this week.) It also has an annoying habit of setting up mysteries that are never resolved. “What was in that letter” will never be known to readers. I’m fairly sure GRRM knew what was in the letter – it’s his imagination after all – so would it have killed him to tell us? What does playing coy accomplish in a one-off?

I am not sure, for these reasons, whether what I’m currently reading is actually good. I am sure, however, that admitting I’m reading it is, at least, not embarrassing. That is not true of many of the other books I have read over the years.

Many of the books I read in 2018 were objectively bad. They had trite plots. They resolved serious supernatural issues such as the demolition of a major metropolitan area with too few casualties to be realistic and too few psychological repercussions for their “impervious to anything” heroines to evidence real understanding of mental health. They set up unrealistic expectations about how hard a real marriage is to maintain during traumatic events such as the aforementioned swaths of urban destruction.

But, unlike the Fire and Blood of Westeros, they also weren’t triggering. Because they weren’t realistic, I could safely read them on a plane to the 9th Circle of Hell and know that – while in real life I was scant hours from facing my own dark night full of terrors – the book I was reading to “relax” before battle wouldn’t further compromise my mental armor. And, given that I tend toward female-protagonist ass-kicking urban fantasy as my preferred escapism, I could ultimately be assured that – unlike in the real world – the fictional bad guys would face justice in the end.

I had enough self-respect last year not to force myself to read “good” books that I knew would further trigger me. I didn’t, unfortunately, have enough self-respect to admit that I read “bad” books. I made one attempt in 2018 to attend a trauma survivors’ peer support group. That attempt lasted just long enough to learn the group was not open to accommodating chronic illnesses. It didn’t turn out to be much “support” after all. The group’s lack of accessibility was its most glaring flaw. In hindsight, though, it had another flaw that I have only recently realized as I figuratively wade through rivers of red alongside the fictional survivors of Aegon The Conquerer.

I always struggle with self-esteem and a bully-in-my-brain as a result of living for so long with undiagnosed ADHD and enduring abuse too often justified by the fact that I – and my sibling – are neurodiverse. I was also pretty much at the end of my mental rope in 2018. I wasn’t in a safe space to show off my literary worldliness. Yet, the group answered bonding “icebreakers” with subtle one-upmanship that made me ashamed of my preferred form of self-care.

At my very first meeting, the group leader asked us to share the books we were currently reading. She went first and claimed a book of award-winning feminist poetry – complete with recitation of the many awards it had won – in a tone better suited to an assistant professor of classics wooing Manhattan’s elite at a fundraising dinner than to support group. Her choice set the tone. The next few women proceeded to list equally serious, weighty tomes about politics, social justice, and feminism. There was no way, when it was my turn, that I could admit to what I was actually reading. I risked being called a bad feminist at best, or mocked at worst! I scanned Goodreads until I found the last “impressive” book I had completed and claimed it instead. The others responded favorably, I felt I’d passed some sort-of introductory test, and we moved on.

I was too ashamed to admit I was currently reading only escapist urban fantasy for the same reason I was at the support group: trauma! I was dealing with the abuses of the 9th Circle of Hell. I had recently been formally diagnosed with yet another life-altering chronic illness with no time to properly mourn that fact since the 9th Circle of Hell took precedence. I had a lot going on, and I didn’t have a lot of light in my own life in 2018. Yet, I was still ashamed of the fact I couldn’t manage to read the “right sort of fiction” in the middle of it all.

I wish now that I had been proud of the fact that I read bad books. I wish I had proclaimed we didn’t need ponderous tomes of poetry or political treatises to be ‘woke.’ We were all there because we’d survived trauma. We would likely do enough to further social justice by simply adhering to a mantra of “do as we wish had been done to us instead of as was actually done to us.” Acting the exact opposite of what I expect from Hell has served me well enough in being “good” so far.  I wish I’d also admitted that I didn’t really have the mental capacity to be any further ‘woke’ at the point that I had attended that meeting anyway. I needed more ways to temporarily shut my eyes, in fact. Bad books let me briefly tune out the horrors of the world. (They were/are also quite handy as a replacement for sleep as needed.) Since we were discussing being ‘woke’, I also wish we all – including me – had thought beyond our own image long enough to remember that brain fog, executive dysfunction, and poor sleep all make it hard to read books at all. Reading bad books is a form of self-care for me, but for others whose blogs I have read, even bad books are just too much on their bad days. Not being a “reader” doesn’t automatically equate to being ignorant. 

I always answered successive icebreakers with a “look at me, I’m smart” cover response in line with the group norms. Then, of course, I had to leave the group anyway. It’s not very leal of a trauma survivors’ group to not be accessible when trauma survivors are more likely to live with chronic illnesses including autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and even cancer as a result of the long-term physical consequences of trauma. Thus, the issue of implicit intellectual judgment eventually became a moot point anyway.

As I’m traversing 700+ pages of fictional trauma in 2019, I wish that I had had the guts to admit my own truth in 2018. Maybe it would have helped someone else who was embarrassed to admit that reading “good books” is a bit too triggering, too confusing with brain fog, or just too physically much for their current health. Maybe it would also have been lealer to myself to admit that – alongside being an advocate for others – I should first be an advocate for myself. Some people can read “good books” as a source of physical or mental self-care in their darkest days. I can’t. However, I remain as intelligent on the days I read “bad” books as on the days I read “good” ones. Heck, I might even be acting more intelligently. I do read good books, but it takes a certain amount of self-savvy to admit that it isn’t always good for me when I do.

GRMM’s claims to fame are hyper-realistic depictions of medieval violence and uncertainty alongside fantastical dragons. There isn’t a trigger I can think of that isn’t present within just Fire and Blood, even before considering the Song of Ice and Fire novels. I have no doubt that if a trigger has somehow been forgotten in volume one, it will show up in volume two (assuming GRRM gets around to writing it.) Fire and Blood is dark. Everything about Westeros is dark. There is no way I could have managed detailed descriptions of the physical and psychological manifestations of fire and blood in 2018. I still sometimes find it challenging in 2019.

I will read everything GRMM writes; I’m a captive audience despite my earlier grumblings. However, I will only do so when I feel otherwise safe. I already respected myself enough to recognize that I deserved self-care when I was dealing with real-life events in the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 that seemed cruel enough to fit in Westeros. I guess I’m working in 2019 on also respecting myself enough to admit that publicly?

Be it known: breezy urban fantasy is my go-to during bad mental health periods. I save dark, political and/or painful reads for when nothing terrible is currently happening in real life or inside my own mind. I make up dumb jokes and games to insert levity into twenty-six hours of fantasy horror to avoid inadvertently dredging up any personal horrors as I read (er, listen.) But, if I can’t quite draw upon these tactics to adequately manage reading something “good,” I will just read something “bad” instead. If anyone – as I did in 2018 – could do with explicit permission to admit the same – you have at least mine. I hereby proclaim it is okay to read bad books alongside – or instead of – good ones. (I will leave to my readers to determine into which category GRRM’s burned books fit…)  

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

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9 thoughts on “Read Bad Books

  1. I relate a lot to your post. Especially the mental health aspect part. I find myself reading weird books that contradict what people my age should be reading. Same with my imagination. You keep reading what you want to! Even though he may say leal a lot *takes a shot* 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post! I went through a ‘GRRM is awful’ for writing books that trigger and engage me in varying degrees, depending on my current mental state, phase. It was followed by, ‘humanity is awful’ because GRRM’s characters remind me of so many I’ve encountered in life, and ring entirely true phase.

    Then, you clued me in on some of GRRM’s tangents of no return, and I decided the HBO series is superior. Even though it evokes the same triggers, only more visually. Heh. Finally, I decided it’s fascinating, but only when I’m in a secure place emotionally, and I ignore the elements HBO wisely discarded.

    As far as books go, there’s no such thing as a universally good or bad book. Its value lies in the mind of its reader/listener. The story is a journey in an imagined world. What’s gleaned can become part of your passage. Some people ‘travel’ in the literary ‘verse only to brag about their trip on returning. Others ‘travel’ because they enjoy the scenery. 💜💜

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love your humor. ❤️

    Sounds like that trauma group was NOT a safe space, so prolly best you weren’t entirely honest. Fine line between being true to yourself and opening yourself up to needless wounding, especially with people who wouldn’t ‘get’ it anyway.

    I once had a winery tour guide encourage us to go ahead and drink our wine with ice cubes; if that’s what we preferred. During the tasting he also encouraged us to blurt out the first things we tasted – even if it made no sense or we were afraid to sound ‘dumb’. He said the wine snobs who tell you this or that is ‘the only way’ are ruining wine enjoyment for everyone. He was pretty passionate about his distaste of wine snobs, LOL. I loved that guy. So refreshing. Made for a fun time, that’s for sure.

    No one likes a snob. Wine, literary, or other. And I had to look up leal. But I didn’t even finish college; so there’s that. Maybe that’s why I prefer loyal to leal. I think it sounds better phonetically!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grammarly is convinced leal is not a real word. It won’t even let me add it to my personal dictionary because it thinks I’m trying to replace “real!” It is apparently not a common word to not even be in its dictionary…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read “good books”. Sometimes. But I much prefer “bad books”. And I hate George Martin for not finishing the Game of Thrones series. I don’t have HBO, so there’s that too. So now I read half the story and will probably have to wait till after eternity for the other half to be published. But I made a promise to myself that I’ll never buy another book that’s part of a series unless the complete series has been published. I’m not falling for that again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not one to march to the drum of conformity. I’m learning to take pride in my ability to take care of myself when I need to. This includes reading mindless romance novels. They relax me, they make me feel warm and fuzzy, they allow me to believe that within the confines of those pages happiness is attainable. Shallow? Maybe. Do I care? Nah. I get this one life, and what I do with each second it more or less up to me. I used to be embarrassed but now I realize it’s an excellent form of self care for me. My bf says I like everything wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end, and to him I say…why yes, yes I do. That’s what makes me, me. Be who you want, read what you want, be unique, be colorful, let people know who you are. That’s my way-overstepping-my-bounds (when you never asked) advice for today. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I learned a couple of years ago to say, when conversations about art are brought up, including music, novels, tv, movies, paintings, etc. to say, “I like a lot of crap.”
    Self-deprecating, yes, which isn’t always the best place for me to go, but WOW the response i’ve received has so far has always been positive. It seems to relax everyone around me and almost give them permission to confess to their so-called guilty pleasures.

    And a couple of times it’s shut down the type who was getting ready to expound on their depth and hi-brow/intellectual taste, along with either strongly implying or outright calling out stuff that has a reputation for being considered the “crap” of which i’m generally so fond. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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