I’d like to sincerely apologize to the cute nerd girl intently reading the emo-vampire epic Twilight on the New York City subway: I’m sorry for judging you. This happened about six months ago and I sniffed at you for eagerly devouring a young adult novel about a very special girl and her boyfriend, a really nice monster.
I’ve judged people by the books they’re reading. This happens a lot while riding the NYC subway. Books are that rare life accessory that says a lot about who we are. If you’re reading a popular emotional porno like Something Borrowed, it means that you believe in the power of hunky men who’ll use their hospital residency off-hours painting your living room lavender while baking a soufflé. There was the dude I saw with the hipster beard, which is defined as a heavily shampooed and conditioned lumberjack beard that DJs Sunday nights, who was reading a dog-eared copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That communicated to me that he enjoyed iconic 19th Century literature about the merciless tumult of history, and also he drinks Jameson’s watered down with too much ice and will sleep with you if you’re a fashion urchin interested in lame literary poses.
That woman reading Suze Orman just got a letter from the IRS, that man reading The Notebook lost a bet with his girlfriend, and that other man reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is confusing strategic thinking with being an a**hole. In all of these instances, I sniffed like the pretentious bastard I am. These readers probably didn’t notice me roll my eyes and return to my dreary Haruki Murakami novel about lonely men being lonely, because that’s what lonely men read when they think the reason they’re so lonely is because they’re so-o-o smart.
But I want to make amends for my superficiality. I am begging forgiveness. I feel terrible for cocking my eyebrow like a douche bouquet when my esteemed editor revealed to me she was reading the young adult best seller The Hunger Games. To everyone in my life who confessed to me they were reading His Dark Materials, earning “I read grown-up fiction” from me, I am utterly and totally contrite.
So if you see me reading on the subway, or at a coffee shop, or in the park don’t judge me by the book I’m reading. Because that book I’ll probably be reading is a series of books called A Song Of Ice And Fire written by George RR Martin. The first book in the series is titled A Game of Thrones, which is being turned into a big-budget miniseries over at HBO, a channel that had great success translating a popular fantasy series into the hit show “True Blood.”
I’m sure that Mr. Tolstoy, if he ever saw me, clucked and returned to the burning of Moscow. If you’re an attractive woman who saw me entranced by A Game of Thrones, I just want you to know that I’m only a wizard in the bedroom.
But I don’t care. I have never in my life read fantasy fiction or any kind of sword and sorcery. I enjoyed the “Lord of the Rings” movies, but let’s face it, Picard trumps Gandalf. A Game of Thrones is like an R-rated version of “Lord of the Rings.” Instead of sweet-faced hobbits, there’s a drunken, hooker-loving dwarf who’s half Richard III, half John Falstaff. Where “Lord of the Rings” presents a world where good and evil exists, A Game of Thrones basically says humanity is divided into evil and eviler, with a small rock of good being ground between the two into gravel. If King Arthur fronted a heavy metal band named “Dragon Cock of Doom,” that band would be playing in my feverish imagination while reading.
A Game of Thrones is brutal, bleak and deeply cynical. No offense to JK Rowling, but Harry Potter would end up a rotting skull on a pike outside the gates of Harrenhal in less than a chapter. A Game of Thrones is a fairy tale covered in gore. There are no knights in shining armor, just brutes wearing iron dog helmets. Maidens are savaged, innocents sacrificed, and the ratio of villains who deserve to die to heroes and heroines I desperately want to live is, like, 3:1. A Game of Thrones is not for sensitive souls, as there’s plenty of disturbing violence, child butchery, and incest. The books are, basically, about a humble family of noble birth who are cruelly abused, betrayed and tortured for 9,000 pages. It’s awesome. There is nary a shred of sentimentality in these books and the fun is rooting for the little fiery flickers of good in a reality that, much like ours, is so much cold, suffocating darkness. By the old gods of the north, I love these books.
Be kind. I’m halfway through the fourth book in the series, A Feast For Crows, and let me tell you, the ironborn of Pike are total buttholes, and the same with the Freys and those complicated but duplicitous Lannisters. The Starks of Winterfell, the central and tragic family, have a cheery family motto, which is “Winter is coming.” Man, winter is awesome. Don’t snicker if you catch me, an adult man, leafing through my nerd bible. Let us all agree that reading any book is a personal victory. Gasoline on the smoldering coals of inspiration. I have no problem with electronic books like the Kindle. Ultimately, the history of information is about dispensing more of it to more people, which e-books, theoretically, will be able to do one day. There were monks once who sneered at the printing press and smugly explained that hand-written books that take years to make are far superior to cheap paper fed through an ink-stained machine. But paper books, with their colorful covers and musty smell and lunch-stained pages, are still totems that communicate a little bit of our spirit to the world.
I am happy you’re reading, cute nerd girl. Let’s hear it for bright, populated inner-worlds.
Read more of John DeVore’s preening narcissism on Twitter.