Of reading tastes and importance of giving the finger

There was, once upon a time, a period in my life where I was acutely embarrassed about my love of sci-fi. Let me elaborate, put that pitchfork down.

I studied English Language and Literature back in the day, like a bunch of other aspiring authors. At the time I was  convinced that I am never, ever going to be a writer, because reasons. I also brought with me to uni a burning passion and deep respect for sci-fi. This is what I wanted to do in my life, I decided. Editor of a sci-fi publication, despite the fact there were but a handful in my country. This was before the Internet exploded into the Behemoth of today and anyone can blog and publish to their heart’s desire, so my dreams involved buildings full of books.In my younger days I cleaned out our local library with the ferocity of a wolverine and because the librarian seemed to like me, pushed for inclusion of MORE! SCI-FI! on the shelves. He was indulgent and let me pick some books. Happy times.

When I came to university, full of joy and wonder and a pressing need to prove myself, I got my orientation lecture, my free pen, directions to the Student Offices and a quick cold shower.

“Science Fiction,” I was informed by the more ambitious of my peers, “is not something a serious scholar should be reading. Robots and spaceships, indeed.” There was a scoff as well.

Surely, there are a lot of people here who feel the same as me, I reassured myself. After all, sci-fi is so amazing! The themes are timeless and important and there are strange and unusual planets on which these themes can be explored.

Yeah, no. There were some of us, but we were few and far between and seen as the equivalent of a Happy Meal in the eyes of the others. It was slightly more acceptable to read Harry Potter, for reasons beyond my ken, but sci-fi was right out.

In the less fashionable parts of Europe, half my lifetime ago, you were supposed to be literary. Stick to the classics. Or, failing that, to acceptable modern authors. Enthusiasm for the likes of Phillip K. Dick was dismissed as not really trying. So I turned my interests to modern prose and modern poetry, because it seemed like a good compromise and peer pressure was my weakness. I didn’t come to university from high-school, mine was a technical school. You tinkered with electricity and sometimes, if you were not very talented, things went boom.

Things went boom a lot in my hands.

I was desperate to prove to everyone I can be just as much of an intellectual as the people from posh high-schools, so I tried to read high-brow books. I read Finnegan’s Wake, for god’s sake! Yes, for real. The whole thing. No, I haven’t the slightest what it’s about.

This pressing need to prove I was as good as anyone else, led to me forgetting about sci-fi for a bit and got pretty good at the things my university wanted me to be good at, such as dissecting what the colour of Hemingway’s socks means for the narrative voice in the The Old Man and the Sea.

And then, I fell in love. The man in question as brilliant as he was good-looking, the kind with flowing locks and poet’s eyes. He, unfortunately, also had a girlfriend, so I was doomed to intellectual conversations and sharing cheap biscuits. It is enough, I assured myself, to be in the presence of greatness. He also had a very firm ideas about sci-fi. “Oh, little robots, eh? Ha-ha, how quaint. Not exactly serious literature, now, is it? Stick to Joyce, my girl, you’ll go far.”

I felt a churning in my stomach. At that time I interpreted it as queasiness for being in the presence of someone whose bones I wanted to jump, but in retrospect, I think it was my deep desire to give the man in question the finger. I also discovered in that moment I really, really hate Joyce.

Soon after, I found an assistant who was more than happy to give us free rein on one of the papers we had to produce for her subject. “Anything?” I asked, slightly suspicious of this Christmas gift that came early. Nod. “Like, for real? Even sci-fi?” Nod.

I was a happy puppy. The paper was done in three days, because sleep is for the weak. I carefully chose the prevailing themes in sci-fi, gave examples, analysed parallels with the works we were reading this semester, and generally had a good time writing the paper. The tutor was happy, gave me a good grade and sent me on my merry way.

The next day I blew half my monthly scholarship on a sci-fi anthology and decided everyone else can go suck it, including my failed attempt at a romance. I also didn’t eat anything asides from beans and pasta for the rest of the month, but it was worth it.

I mean, I still had to read the things the college chose for me, but it was the principle of the thing.

Then someone told us to read Margaret Atwood. Four years later, people were reading papers on The Exorcist and it was No Big Deal.



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