Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Changes in tastes

I smooshed my car last week.  No, really...fact, not fiction.  It nearly made me cry.  My Hyundai Sonata that I purchased a mere seven months ago, and that was in beautiful condition, got the front all messed up.  Some lady was driving in front of me and had the audacity to stop in order to yield to the flow of traffic, and her car turned invisible and yanked out its tractor beam and MADE ME hit it from behind.

OK, that last bit might have a skosh of fiction in it.  So sue me; I'm an aspiring fantasy author.  It's what I do.

Luckily I'm old and crotchety enough that I carry good insurance.  I've been dealing with the same company, in fact, for longer than our kids have been on the planet, in part due to their amazing customer service.  The insurance company's amazing customer service, that is...not the children's.  Anyway, I got started with them back when they only served military officers and senior non-comm's, and they've always had the same strong service philosophy.  So...All gushing aside, anyway, they made it easy yesterday; I drove my car over to the body shop, they looked at it and said, "Nope, it's not safe to drive," and the good folks from the car rental company sent a driver to rescue me.  I'm now driving a rented Toyota Camry that's mine to use until my Sonata is all recuperated and healthy again. Which will hopefully be very, very soon.

From the outside, the Camry is virtually identical to my Sonata, except that it's gold instead of silver and there's no cool shark fin for satellite radio on the top.  According to the manufacturers' specs, the similarities run through nearly every dimension.  The two cars are less than an inch difference in wheelbase, overall length, and width, and they're identical in height.  Head room is close, leg room is within a few inches.  The engine is a little different, and boy, can I feel it.  Have you seen the commercial where a guy, who actually looks quite a bit like me, is driving a Sonata making all sorts of happyfaces?  Yeah, that's me when I drive my car.

I love my car.  The Camry, despite its similarities, doesn't feel right. I mean, they do the same thing, serve the same purpose, have the same parts even, but they're not the same. 

Wasn't always that way.  I once owned a truck.  In fact, I bought it brand new when Dodge's idea of putting a great big powerhouse of a V8 engine into a mid-sized truck was still a new thing.  For many years, I drove it proudly, and other trucks just didn't feel right.  Cars certainly didn't feel right.  I loved my Dakota.  Funny, isn't it, how my tastes have changed over the years.

My tastes in books are kind of the same story.  I've always had authors that I loved reading, and authors that I felt pretty ambivalent with, and authors whose work I really just didn't enjoy.  Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example, was always in the first group; at one point, I owned and had devoured nearly every Darkover book that had been printed.  I felt the same for Isaac Asimov's works...didn't matter the subject.  He could be describing a far-off civilization in a make-believe empire, or discussing real, modern(ish) conundrums in astronomy...didn't matter.  I ate it up.  Piers Anthony was an interesting case.  I absolutely loved the Adept series and the Incarnations set, but I couldn't stand the Xanth novels.

Here's the thing...they all use the same parts of speech.  Every author uses nouns, verbs, adjectives, and yes, even adverbs, to create sentences which then coalesce into paragraphs which, over the course of several chapters, tell stories.  In Piers Anthony's case, it's even the same fingers on the same typewriter.  The cars I mentioned above have the same parts, the same dimensions, different feelings...books have the same parts, same dimensions, different feelings. 

Fast-forward to today, and I'm thinking I need to go back and re-read all of what I read once upon a time.  I just finished a Darkover novel, and...I don't know how to say this...MZB is a grand master, MZB is a grand master, MZB is a grand master...whatever, I didn't like it.  Sorry, MZB.  But I've run into other like/dislike things recently.  I didn't much like The Eye of the Needle when I was younger, but I enjoyed it greatly last month.  Other books that I might have enjoyed when I was younger, didn't make it through the first disc. 

I could probably analyze the difference if I wanted to get that technical.  I don't, though I have made a quick observation.  I recognized, for example, the same sentence structures in the MZB book that I've been going through ripping out of my own book.  It used to be the way I wrote...long flowing sentences that I wanted to think carried a lyrical air.  Problem is, I've spent too long lately immersed in a world where "terse prose" is praised.  N.K. Jemisin is a great example of this...her "voice," to use the standard writer-ish term, is very concise. I like it...both to read, and to write. 

It's funny, then, how our tastes change over the years.  And, at the same time, it's sad that my car isn't repaired yet...they had all last night with it, after all.  "Patience" is my middle name, so long as you don't look at my birth certificate for verification.

Yours patiently,

(PS...sorry for the multiple posts.  I just can't get the extra random spaces out of it)


  1. Hmmm. Could the difference in taste be attributed just a tiny fact to the fact that reading has changed to listening? I saw that "first disc" statement!

    Listening is not reading. If there is another reader between you and the book, how much meaning is changed by their voice and emphasis?

  2. Thank you for your comment! You're absolutely right; the act of listening is different from the act of reading. I've noticed, myself, that when listening to a story read by a performer, you get the words but you don't get the punctuation. Yes, something is missing.

    That said, I try to listen to a couple of audiobooks every month. It increases my exposure to prose, albeit in a handicapped way. I do still read the old fashioned way, and the MZB comparison was made through actual reading.

    Once I become wealthy through my writing and don't have to drive to a job any more, I promise to dump the audiobook habit and go with just reading! :-)