So your coworker actually watches television, and you aren’t entirely sure if that’s just so he has something to talk about while waiting for the coffee to brew or if he genuinely enjoys the never-ending torrent of Netflix and HBO original series. He’s a large man who rarely works out, periodically smells like Cheetos, leans apolitically liberal, and has an annoying and somewhat unmanly inflection in his voice whenever he talks with you, but he’s friendly and he tends to work pretty hard at his job—probably because he doesn’t have any hobbies to speak of except for playing video games and trying to get over the last girlfriend who moved out.
He’s been watching Game of Thrones for the past several years. He’s one of those people that started watching after the first season or so, when there were a bunch of shocking twists and some character deaths that made tabloid headlines. “It’s so good,” he tells you every other week. “You should really binge the first couple seasons. There’s so much going on. It’s super complex.”
But you haven’t seen Game of Thrones because most of what you’ve read about it online makes it seem like some sort of more normalized Dungeons & Dragons-style LARPing with a bit of pornography thrown in for good measure. Given how popular the abysmally shameless ‘nerd culture’ entertainment has gotten, you’ve generally dismissed the assembly-line production of anything even remotely resembling bargain-bin fantasy or comic books, especially if they’re fitted for the screen. The wooden acting of the main cast, coupled with the teeth-grating script have only reinforced your opinion.
As you’ve brought this up in the past, your coworker nonchalantly nods and concedes your points. Maybe the acting is a little bad, he acknowledges. And maybe half of the storylines don’t seem to really make any sense. “The girls are super-hot though,” he tells you the following week, and he seems to be right about at least some of them. “Here’s what you need to do,” he says, “you need to read the books, man. There’s so much going on. It’s super complex.”
And so he begins explaining the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire, which involves a bunch of characters who get killed, a lot of incest and rape, a couple military campaigns, some dragons, and tired explanations of tax policies in kingdoms that have never existed. His enthusiasm is enough to imply how cool it is, how well-written it is, how engaging the characters and the story are, and how it just pulls you into the fantasy world since it’s not as boring to read as something like Lord of the Rings. When pressured, however, he admits that he never finished the first book of Lord of the Rings. “It’s just some baby boomer fairy tale,” he says, “our parents were high when they read it. That’s why its prose is so pretentious.”
That doesn’t seem to make sense, so you do a bit of looking around online yourself. Turns out, G.R.R. M. is a bit of a puzzling writer. Not only does he spend a lot of time on pointless descriptions of scenery in order to rack up that page count, he also seems to let his fetishes stand out on full display. Maybe what floats your coworker’s boat are the descriptions of rape, or that one time a female character ended up with dysentery in the middle of the woods. That can’t be right, you think; your coworker is a weird guy, but he can’t be that weird. Maybe he just likes the dragons or something.
But something occurs to you. This story has a million different characters and it changes perspective rapidly across a bunch of chapters, detailing a long imaginary war across a continent riddled with valleys, mountains, plains, farmland, and various forms of industry. It’s also massively long and many fans are afraid that he isn’t going to finish it. You’ve read this before, except it was written by someone competent and it wasn’t weighed down by the infantile delusions of a perverted fantasy writer.
It was called The Civil War: A Narrative, and instead of slogging through shock-o-rama style incest orgies, you got to read about something that actually happened. Instead of feeling a bit of shame that you’re a grown man reading a series of books for teenagers, you got to rest assured that the reputation of Foote is beyond repute from anyone outside of some stuffy academics in university history departments. Plus, you didn’t have to worry about a television series spoiling any of the books for you, or get confused when the series omits whole segments of plot details that make the books a little more coherent, because the general details of the Civil War have already been spoiled by your eleventh grade history teacher back in high school.
The next day, as you talk to your coworker about how much he would like Shelby Foote’s work on the Civil War, he gives you a strange look and somewhat dismissively mentions how boring US history is and how geeky it is to be interested in it. The irony of the statement, coming from someone who would rather read about dragons and mythical kingdoms than twelve pounder rifled cannons and Antietam, would have been hard to miss.