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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Should I Read The Game of Thrones?

Alright, New Dork Review readers — my very literary future is in your hands. I need your help, your advice, and perhaps, your condolence. I'm teetering on the edge of doing something I never thought I'd do, of committing an act so heinous to my snooty literary alter-ego, it may never forgive me. After all, there are two types of readers: Those who read fantasy novels, and those who don't. And if I do this, I'll cross a literary bridge; and there's no going back. Ever.

Yes, I'm very seriously considering reading The Song of Ice and Fire series.

Before you stop reading and write an exclamation-point laden reply about how good the series is, understand this: I know it's good. People love it. I get it. And what's more, I know the series on HBO is good, too (though I didn't watch it).

So, given that everyone and their step-brother loves this series, I'm really curious about what all the hype is about. Indeed, I want to be back in the "in" crowd again. Though, I will say, it's a strange world we live in when feeling the need to read a fantasy series is what makes you "cool." But, here we are. And besides, we're all too old to care about what's cool and what's not, aren't we? AREN'T WE?!

And reading outside your comfort zone is the mark of a well-rounded, open-minded reader, right?

As you can see, I'm still trying to talk myself into it. Help me out. Post below and tell me why you loved the series. Help beat down the literary snob in me who is putting up the last degree of resistance.

(Or, maybe, tell me why you didn't love the books. I've heard very, very few negatives about the series — generally, the comments range from thorough enjoyment to orgasmic gushing.)

60 comments:

  1. Hokay. I can totally make this argument. I used to be like you. I was a non-fantasy reader. I didn't even read Tolkien. I worked in a bookstore, I knew about the mouth-breathers that read fantasy.

    But my manager at the time said to me, "Rachel, this is literature wearing a fantasy-shaped cloak. The driving point of the series is the characters and the plot. It is not the fantasy. It's literature that happens to take place in a fantastical setting."

    And he's right. I read the first three (haven't had time to read #4 and #5) and was completely hooked. It's still the ONLY high fantasy series I've ever read.

    I'll tell you what my manager told me. Read the first 50 pages of the first book, and if you don't love it, stop. No harm, no foul. But I think you'll do what I did. Read the first 50 pages, and immediately go out and buy every book in the series. It is that good.

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    1. Mouth-breathers = HA! That's what people from Illinois disparagingly call people from Wisconsin, too - by the way.

      Anyway - your manager's advice echoes what a couple of friends of mine have said, as well. It's "fantasy" in name alone.

      The only problem with your 50-page advice, is that if I read 50 pages, I'll be compelled by my OCD anti-DNF stance to finish. ;)

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  2. Yes, reading outside of your comfort zone is ABSOLUTELY the mark of a well-rounded, open-minded reader! I really liked this series (didn't LOVE LOVE LOVE it, but really liked it), and am contemplating a re-read so I remember all the details and plotlines before reading the fifth book (which is now a year old). It's worth reading, really, just to be, as you said, part of the "in" club, and also because it IS very good.

    Other reasons to add to your pro-reading arsenal:
    1) It is actually very low-fantasy (think much heavier on the political/family drama stories than the magic/dragons stories). Magic is only a teensy, tinsy little piece of the whole series, let alone the first book.

    2) Martin is a bit of a baller, and sometimes totally flouts the rules of fiction, such as they are. He also spares readers no detail. You will be constantly astounded by this, whether you like what he does or not.

    3) Martin is also a bit of a baller in his sheer ability to juggle as many storylines--and as many characters--as he does, and successfully. Even if you read only the first book, and don't like it, and decide not to read the whole series, as a reader, you have to admire this.

    4) Once you've read the books, you can then watch the HBO series and judge it appropriately (although it is very well-done, and mostly true to the books).

    Ok, I will stop taking up all of your comment space. Let the self-debating continue.

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    1. The idea of Martin being a "bit of a baller" is intriguing to me! I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that, but it definitely sounds like a good thing. :)

      Regarding "low fantasy," I've heard these described as very Pillars of the Earth-esque - which is also a plus in my book. Agree?

      Thanks for a great comment!

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    2. I haven't actually read Pillars of the Earth... yet? Should I have that on my imaginary list?

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    3. This series definitely has a lot of elements similar to The Pillars of the Earth, and the setting he has put together is so well crafted that even if you don't like fantasy you will enjoy this. The characters are some of the best constructed ones I have ever come across, so much so that there is not a single one of the main characters that can be called one-sided, even the "bad guys" (for lack of a better term) have something that you can admire in them, and in the words of Martin himself, "nobody is wholly evil or wholly good"

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    4. Oh, and Kerry, you should definitely read Pillars of the Earth

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  3. I totally agree,Martin is the type of storyteller who refuses to play it safe,or as Joe Bob Briggs would put it "anyone can die at any time". You can see a lot of parallels from history in these books(one of the inspirations for this saga is the War of the Roses)and he writes amazingly strong characters,both male and female.

    I wound reading the first book before the HBO series began,and went through the next three books like lightning. Taking my time with the fifth one,since it may be awhile before we get any more but Martin is one of those rare writers that are worth waiting for.

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    1. That's all I heard about the HBO series - I think, mostly from EW - that main characters kept dying. I love a story-teller who isn't afraid to shock.

      And yeah, one of my friends who's been a fan since the start of the series was practically beside herself in the years leading up to the 5th book as the rummor mill was in full effect.

      If I start now, I can probably get to the fifth one just about the time the sixth one comes out - in 2015 or whatever. ;)

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  4. The series has its ups and downs, certainly, but the fantasy element is far less significant than the political intrigue (hence the title). The first three books are definitely must-reads, but the last two slow down a lot, so if you commit, be prepared for some slogging. However, regarding your statement about being au courant, I would liken reading the GoT series to reading the LotR in the '50s or '60s. You'll have something kind of cool but embarrassing that you can get your (by then grown) kids hooked on later. Also, there's lots of sex, violence, and other juicy stuff, so you might feel a little dirty reading it, but I never felt like a fantasy nerd, for what it's worth.

    Have you read Tolkien? Or the Hunger Games? GoT is similarly transcendent of genre.

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    1. I read Tolkein in high school, but haven't read Hunger Games - which is the next "thing I need to get over it being not in my comfort zone and just read." Re, ups and downs and not feeling like a fantasy nerd: That's actually really comforting! :)

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  5. I felt this exact way about the Hunger Games, and I went ahead and took the plunge. Now that I'm done my world hasn't been rocked, but I wasn't hurt in any way, shape or form for reading outside my bubble.

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    1. That's a good way to look at it - what's the worst that can happen? There's always the "at least I can say I did it" justification. Hunger Games didn't rock your world, huh? You're in a minority there, it seems! ;)

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  6. I know this is not the point Stephen was making, but I must make sure it is clear that The Hunger Games and The Game of Thrones are nowhere on the same level. Not even in the same hemisphere. Just want to be clear that "similarly transcendent of genre" does not mean the two should be compared on any other level, especially regarding quality of writing. I've only read the first GoT, but I was intellectually captivated as well as fully entertained. I could gush (with LOTS of exclamation points and capslock!!!!!), but I will just echo what Rachel's boss said about literature in fantasy-shaped clothes. The multitude of characters is not only impressive; you will admire and despise them fully. It is not a mile wide and an inch deep.

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    1. So, you're saying that The Hunger Games is not intellectually captivating, well-written, or fully entertaining? ;)

      Ahem.

      Your comment is really, really encouraging - indeed, excitement-inducing to get started!

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  7. You could always give the first book in the series a shot. If you aren't enjoying it then skip the rest. Then it's not a total loss. I bought the first book in the Hunger Game series with the same intent. I haven't started it yet, but if I hate it then it's just one book that bites the dust, not three, or in your case, four. :)

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    1. Yeah, that's always a possibility. It's not like anyone's holding a gun to your head and making you read 4,000 pages of fiction you don't like. Right?!

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  8. I think try it if only to read outside your comfort zone, something I need to do more of too. I am considering reading this series even though me & fantasy are not the best of friends.

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    1. Fantasy and me are not best friends either, by a long shot. But it seems like, based on all the comments above, this is moving from beyond an exercise in reading outside my comfort zone to something I just can't miss because its quality is that high. Let me know if you start - strength in numbers! ;)

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  9. I felt the same as you! In the end it wasn't the recommendations and raving reviews but the excellent HBO TV series that persuaded me.

    Even if you only read A Game of Thrones to get to know Tyrion, it'll be worth it. He is one of the wittiest, rudest characters that I have ever had the joy to read about, making the book thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining - even if the rest of the book is not your sort of thing.

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    1. You know, the ravings about the HBO series are a big reason I started considering reading the books. I definitely want to read before I watch, though. Tyrion sounds like my type of dude!

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  10. Interesting. Been a long time reader here (not so much commenter) but I didn't know you didn't like fantasy! Well, to each his own as I always say.

    I feel like A Game of Thrones is really not THAT fantasy-ish ala LOTR or HP. It's more of those combined with King Arthur and Robin Hood and Spartacus or something. Weird combination, but it works, I think.

    I would suggest you watch the show. A lot of people seem to enjoy it. Maybe if you do too, you'd get a feel of how you would think of the book :) Good luck!

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    1. Thanks for commmenting! ;) No, I've never been a big fantasy fan, but as I'm learning from your comment and many others, Game of Thrones doesn't really qualify. But again, I'd want to read before watching the show - thanks for the luck!

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  11. Given my love for Lev Grossman's MAGICIANS series, I don't think I can say that I don't read fantasy anymore, but these feel like a horse of a totally different color. I'm thinking about it, too, but I sort of feel like I don't want to embark on it until all the books are out so that if I do fall in love, I won't have to wait decades for the next book. Interested to see how you shake out on this!

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    1. I know absolutely what you mean - as Rachel described it yesterday, it's "literary blue balls" having to wait for the next book, and not just in this series - ANY series. That's why I still haven't read The Passage, or Ken Follett's new (well, relatively new, now) book - waiting is the hardest part!

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  12. I love reading fantasy novels, but I wouldn't touch A Song of Ice and Fire with a barge pole as it stands at the moment. This isn't because I think it's going to be bad (actually, I'm certain I'll love it), but because I refuse to invest my time and energy into starting a series which may never be finished. It took six years for the most recent book to be completed, and the gaps in between the books have grown each time. Martin is not exactly a spry young thing and I'm not prepared to run the risk of him not managing to reach the end of the series. Even if he does get all the books written, going by his current rate of publication it's going to be another twelve years before the final book is available, and there's no way I'm going to remember what happened in book one by then if I read it now.

    There are a lot of excellent fantasy series in the same vein as A Song of Ice and Fire (light on the fantasy, heavy on the moral ambiguity) which are already completed and don't entail a frustratingly long wait. I'd recommend The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. When Martin has written the final book in the series I'll dive into them headfirst and no doubt enjoy devouring them, but for now they're not for me.

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    1. That's an interesting perspective - I guess I knew that Martin was unusual in that he took a long time between novels, but I hadn't thought of the fact that he may never finish. Do you know how many novels there are supposed to be in the series, or is it an indeterminate number?

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    2. There are supposed to be seven books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series(aka Game of Thrones)and reportedly,Martin is working on number six as we speak. Personally,I think he's worth the wait but am taking my time with number five.

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  13. I'd like to add that if you do start this series, you can take your sweet time with it. As Katie and Rebecca touched on, Martin's notoriously irresponsible in getting each next book out as promised (I'm surprised no fan has tried to pull a "Misery" on this guy) so everyone's playing the waiting game, anyway. Just show up late to that.

    I only crack them open during my daily break at work. You'd think that slow pace would throw my reading out of whack, but Martin is rather accommodating --he repeats himself so thoroughly and so often that every other chapter might as well include a section called "Previously on A Game of Thrones."

    So there. I'm saying you should read it for reasons why you shouldn't.

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    1. "...no fan has tried to pull a 'Misery' on this guy." - nicely done!

      Very glad to know it's easy to take your time with them, too - because I, by no means, would read them back-to-back-to-back. My literary snob alter ego isn't totally dead yet - and he may have something to say about that.

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    2. Your life as you know it might have something to say about reading them back-to-back-to-back. Those jerks are long!

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    3. I agree with Brenna--give the first book a shot. It's a fun read, if nothing else. I read the first two and was entertained but not overwhelmed. If you are considering the series because you want to join into the current energy around it, then the world is well-imagined, the characters are interesting, and the whole notion of the Wall and Winter are definitely cool. Literature, this is not. The world has consistent rules up to a point, and there are definitely consequences that cannot be undone (two of my bigger reservations about reading fantasy), but as with a lot of fantasy, the world itself doesn't actually seem functional once you look past all of the royal intrigue and whatnot. As an avowed science fiction fan, I readily admit that my biases get in the way of fairly evaluating this series--but I do also think there's much better fantasy out there. Tad Williams' Dragonbone Chair series is excellent if you are looking for something a bit more sophisticated. And I do agree with Katie about the dangers of starting a series that has no certain conclusion. My feeling from the first two books is that Martin is writing his world outward in larger and larger narrative spirals, a bit like (but nowhere nearly as daunting) as when Robert Jordan was in the midst of the Wheel of Time series. I only have so much time to read, and I gave up on GoT because I don't know that the story, as cool as it is, will really end.

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    4. Entertained but not overwhelmed would be a win in my book. But thanks for a thoughtful, reasonable comment. There is a little to the "keeping up with the literary Jones" (after all, that's the one and ONLY reason I read Dan Brown) idea, but it's certainly not an overwhelming factor. Like you, my major hesitation isn't that they're fantasy novels, it's that we don't know when or if they'll end.

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  14. I've read them all twice, Greg, if that helps at all. And I've not read any other fantasy other than JRR since I was 13, so... (And as good as the tv show is, it pales in comparison by quite a huge margin.) Pull the trigger.

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    1. That's a ringing endorsement if I've yet heard one. Triggering inching closer...

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  15. My son has been raving about this series for a while. I think he's starting the fourth book now. But he loves fantasy, graphic novels, grew up with Harry Potter. On the other hand, two of his favorite books from when he was younger are "The Call of the Wild" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" so I think that it's safe to say he's a well-rounded reader which makes me think I should give this series a try. Still, I've kind of felt the same was as you do. I can't sell them or bash them but I'll be watching to see what you choose to do. That might just be the deciding factor for me!

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    1. Whoa - that's a lot of pressure! I'm so close - the books are in my B&N cart, and I've had the cursor hovering over "Complete Order," just haven't quite been able to do it yet. :)

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  16. Greg, I'm probably the very last person on the planet who hasn't read this series. So, I'm with you right now in reading books; I haven't read it so I'm currently wondering if I should. If I was you - seeing this year is the Year of the Dragon and 2012 (the year of everything all Willy Wonka on everyone spiritually), take the leap of faith and read the books.

    Hey, I'm reading Margaret Atwood's 'Oryx and Crake'... and yeah, it's a weird ol' ride at the moment on page 45; but it's also reminding me of 'The Bee-Loud Glade' by Steve Himmer (which is a relief because I found that a little slow in the beginning too). Anyway, seeing I've taken the leap of faith with Margaret's work, take it with Fantasy... once you do, you'll understand something about it: there's more than one type of Fantasy and it's not all the same. :D

    Jump in, read and enjoy the ride! :D

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    1. See, I took that leap of faith with Atwood, too, and wasn't a real big fan - but I know that really has nothing to do with whether or not I'll like the Ice and Fire series. I'll be interested to hear what you think of Oryx and Crake.

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  17. In the end, it all comes down to you, and your taste, doesn't it, no matter what anyone says.

    I love fantasy, and I also have a thing for fat paperback series. I can't explain why. The boxed set of GoT was too tempting not to buy. It appeals to me.

    I watched the show first, the first season, anyway, because when I tried the first few pages of the first book, I didn't like the writing all that much, and I still wanted to know what everyone was on about. At the risk of sounding ultra snobby, the writing was...not as well written as I wanted, not as literary so much as more popular-fiction-sounding. (Yikes. Maybe I should hide now.)

    But as I will with Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth (which I've tried to like three times so far because I love the idea and can't like because the writing is amateur-sounding to me), I'll try again. I want to see what others are seeing, the political aspects, the richness of the characters. The show was good, albeit super preoccupied with sex, so now I'm even more interested in reading the books. I want to be able to let go of the snobbiness when I read and get lost in a world populated with intriguing people and driven by compelling action, as others have.

    And then sometimes I think, but is my snobbiness or preference, my taste, really all that bad a thing? I'll try anything, but I won't lower my expectations, I guess. Or rather my personal standards. So I'll read it. I may not like the writing, but if the story is compelling, I'll continue. It does really piss me off that he's taking an age to write the series, though. Sometimes those fat paperbacks could use some aggressive editing and maybe this series suffers from long-windedness, as someone else suggested. Maybe he could have finished this already... Alternatively, maybe I'll be done the series before he is, so then there's nothing to worry about.

    One more thing! The whole "should" I read this bugs me! Do it if you want to. But I won't think less of you if you don't, if you're not in with the crowd. You're still a great reader and reviewer if you never read it or finish it, as I'm still a CanLit lover even if I can't much stand Alice Munro. :)

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    1. Re, the writing - well, it's hard to imagine any series of such massive size would really be a literary powerhouse. That said, I didn't mind Follett's writing - I guess I didn't notice it as bad or good enough to be a distraction or to be worth commenting on. I just thought he was excellent at immersing readers in hi story. "Should" is meant very tongue in cheek - no, of course, no other readers should judge you on your own reading.

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  18. Okay, I've never read The Game of Thrones, but I'm going to throw my two cents in here anyway and say, Read it! I'm all about reading outside my comfort zone and ignoring that boundary between Capital "L" Literature and lower case "l" literature. I love being pleasantly surprised by books I didn't think I would like. So go for it! Besides, there's no law out there saying you have to finish the book (or the series) if you don't like it.

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    1. I'm with you on the reading outside your comfort zone - but the only thing with Martin is that there's really no "pleasant surprise" payoff. Since everyone raves about them - well, mostly everyone - if I love 'em, it'll be like "well, that's what was supposed to happen," and I don't, it'll be "well, that was friggin' disappointing." Huge Catch 22! ;)

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  19. I took the "read 50 pages and see what you think" approach and checked the first one out at the library instead of buying the whole series like I would normally do. I'm glad I did, because 50 pages was all I could handle. I thought the writing was awful, and I just couldn't get in to the story. Nothing grabbed me, and I just kept making fun of the writing and calculating how much further I had to go to make it to 50 pages. I'm usually a bit OCD about finishing books as well, but I think forcing myself to establish the limit before hand helped. That and the fact I had no desire to keep going. I've heard so many great things about these from people whose tastes are similar to mine, so I was surprised. I also didn't care for The Magicians, which I read around the same time. I don't read much fantasy, although I love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and enjoyed the Lord of the Rings although they dragged quite a bit in places. I normally go for more literary fiction and classics and don't read much young adult fiction outside of the two series I mentioned, both of which I felt were worth it. I did really like The Hunger Games. The writing isn't the best ever, but it has an entertaining story and great characters. Maybe I didn't give Game of Thrones enough of a chance, but my advice would be to just try it and set your OCD aside and aim to just read 50 pages and stop if you don't like it!

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    1. A dissenter! I like it - thanks for your input. Regarding the writing in these, I tend to think that, because we know it's not literary fiction, the writer gets a little leeway in exchange for fast-paced story.

      I'll take your advice - try it on a trial basis! ;)

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  20. I think that if you like the books you'll still be surprised, not because it's what's supposed to happen, but because you found something outside of your comfort zone that really appealed to you and that might lead to reading some other stuff outside your comfort zone (and I don't mean just fantasy), but if you don't like it then no real harm done, you just reinforced your comfort zone and will continue reading the kind of things you have been reading with probably a renewed love for them, just because you tried something different and didn't like it. So no matter what you think of the book (or books if you read the whole series) I think this can be a very enlightening experience for you either way.

    As to The Hunger Games, which somehow ended up in the same conversation as A Song of Ice and Fire, I read all three of them and found them increasingly worse, and increasingly disappointing. They could have evolved so much better, with the characters maturing instead of becoming a repetition of themselves with no real development.

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    1. Yeah, I like the idea of trying them to be a more well-rounded reading - and, as you say, enjoying something that's outside of my comfort zone. Thanks for the input on The Hunger Games - no real desire at all to even attempt those.

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  21. Yes. Yes you should read it. Why? Because it's good. It's entertaining. What better reason to pick up a book?

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  22. Oh, boy! I was once where you are--curious about the series, fearful of descending into the world of fantasy. (I'd never even read The Hobbit.)

    But A Song of Ice and Fire is good. Martin crafts incredibly complex characters and an entrancing plot. His fiction is among the best I have ever read.

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  23. I am finding this readable, but not original. I'll get through it but probably wouldn't recommend it.

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  24. For the love of all that is holy, yes. A resounding yes, read it, read it now!

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  25. SO?? What have you decided? I know I'm going to read them, eventually. I want to at least try them. I do like the show, and I do like the genre. Whether or not I'll appreciate his writing enough remains to be seen.

    God, I sound so snobbish. Yikes.

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    1. I've decided definitely "yes." Just have to find the time now! :)

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    2. Oh, I know what you mean. Though part of me is reluctant to start until he's finished the series. But then, given his track record...that could be forever! And I feel so guilty watching the show before reading the books. :)

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  26. Melody: READ THE HOBBIT!! :) (As you can tell, I highly recommend it. It's not like LOTR, but has more of a storytelling tone.)

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  27. I downloaded the sample of the first one and was interested enough at the end to continue reading. I ripped through the first book - the drama and the twists kept it ticking along at a furious pace, the political intrigue was intense verging on confusing and the characters were interesting although not all likeable. In fact very few were truly likeable. I put it down and declared that it was a damn good read.

    Then I tried to write a review about it. And couldn't. And I haven't been inspired to pick up the next book either. So make what you will of that - even I'm not sure what it really means.

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    1. That's interesting - I always have trouble writing reviews for genre fiction, too. But it's more interesting that you haven't yet been motivated to pick up the second. Sounds like a warning sign to me!

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  28. Hi Greg-
    This is Meredith, Chris' sister. We were just talking about books that he needed to read and I mentioned The Art of Fielding and then told him that he should also start on Game of Thrones. And then he told me about your blog and now here I am.
    I am the anti-fantasy reader. The only thing that I have read outside of my comfort zone was the Ender's Game series. God help you if you haven't read that series. You won't eat for the 2 weeks that it takes you to read the 5 or 6 books.
    All I have to say is Find. The. Time. I bought the first Game of Thrones book for my husband who is a huge nerd and the slowest reader known to mankind. He tore through it. So, naturally, being a middle child and having to get in on the action, I picked it up. The imagery is amazing, the novel is well written and the story (so far -- I've only read one book) isn't about ghouls and goblins. Its about families and life struggles and love and war and foreign lands all with fantastical elements to it. The only reason I haven't picked up the second is because my slow-reading husband is only 550 pages into it.
    I'm interested to hear about what you love/hate about it.
    Good luck!
    Mere

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    1. Hey Meredith! Thanks for stopping by - and thanks for your input. Sounds like your feeling echoes a lot of the others here - that I'd be stupid not to read 'em. ;) They've been in my car on BN.com since I posted this, but I still haven't had the balls to pull the trigger. Getting closer, though. Cheers!

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