Archive for: May, 2011
The weekly links, opinion, and personal updates post
Links of Interest
Over at All About Romance, Sandy writes You Can’t Review Your Friends. You Just Can’t.
Here’s the thing that’s making me increasingly uncomfortable: With Twitter bringing authors and reviewers closer than ever before, a line that used to be hard is now getting blurry.
Day by day you get friendly. And then friendlier. And then all of a sudden more matters than just the words in a novel. That’s only human nature and it’s completely understandable, but it sure as hell can put a dent in the credibility we now enjoy.
51 comments and counting on the post, including Jill Sorenson
and Lynne Connelly defending the practice, [Edited to add: Connelly makes several comments, but does not defend reviewing friends.] and lots of Twitter chatter. Commenter Diana is the first to remove the invisibility cloak that has been shielding the elephant in the room:
I think it’s safe to say that we’re talking about the Big Two review blogs here and what concerns me is that they’re REALLY not small in terms of readership and influence. Those blog owners seek mainstream media attention and are often quoted as spokespersons for Romancelandia. You can’t have it both ways, claiming to be “just a reader blog” while sitting on industry conference panels with all the attendant media hooplah.
The twitter lovefests among authors, publishers, agents and reviewers are killing credibility, at least for readers who pay attention. Claire brings up a valid question. How many would-be negative reviews are never written because of established friendships?
Responses on Twitter have been all over the map, But here’s the funniest:
Ready for your daily dose of Condescending Media Portrayal of Romance? Try Claudia Connell’s The Blue Rinse and Bodice Rippers: In twin-sets and pearls meet the ladies behind Britain’s steamiest novels from the Daily Mail.
Have any of you been the journalism school? Is there, like, a rule that if you are writing about romance you have to start your article with bad pseudo parody?
There’s enough ageist, sexist, and book snobbish stuff here to last you all week (though you know it won’t have to). Just consider, for a minute, the contrast between the journalist’s description of the attendees as blue hairs in support hose and pearls, with the picture of author (I mean, “authoress” *eyeroll*) Jilly Cooper — undated, but looking totally sophisticated, strong, and hot, no pearls to be seen.
Or statements like this:
the average reader of dreamy romantic literature doesn’t tend to set foot in Waterstone’s or download to a Kindle.
Connell meets Roger Sanderson, who has recently parted ways with Mills & Boon, and decides:
I get the feeling that Roger, who like everyone I meet is highly intelligent with a cracking sense of humour, tired of writing endless schmaltz that always followed the same formula: girl meets boy, boy behaves like arrogant brute, girl hates boy, boy shows soft side, girl falls for boy and they all live happily ever after.
Still, there’s some good stuff, like this quote from Mills & Boon author Sara Craven:
Well I’m not holding my breath for a Pulitzer Prize, my dear,’ she quips. ‘People are very snobby about the novels I write, but when you get a letter from a lady in her 80s telling you that she read your book and felt like a girl of 21 again then, frankly, I couldn’t give a fig what anyone thinks.’
Luckily, friends on the other side of the pond are not taking this lying down. Many great comments, some from people who attended the same party. (via @Mills&BoonUK)
Many are very unhappy with Psychology Today’s sexism and racism. Well, we can now add their inability to interpret data. (Via Crooked Timber). That insulting article purporting to show black women are less attractive than other women? Turns out to have been bad science after all.
This is not the apologetic and angry mea culpa I would have preferred. In my opinion, it wasn’t just “bad science”, but overt racism and sexism. However, here’s my favorite bit:
Kanazawa does not follow these guidelines in all of his publications. For instance, in a paper on race differences in IQ he not only commits several theoretical errors, but also failed to consider alternative explanations. Incidentally, in that particular paper he also assumed that the earth was flat!
Updated to add: Looks like that racist asshat may be losing his LSE job over this! If so, good riddance!
Last week, I posted an article in favor of adults reading YA, so it’s fitting that this week, we have Laura Curtis at Heroes & Heartbreakers taking the opposite view:
After much consideration, I’ve decided there are two problems for me when I am trying to read YA literature. The first is responsibility, the second is that particular brand of angst peculiar to the teenaged, developing self.
Via Teach Me Tonight, a CFP for Popular Romance and the Ivory Tower:
This seminar will take place — March 15-18, 2012 — during the annual North Eastern Modern Language Association’s meeting at Rochester, New York. Please send abstracts of 250 words and a brief biographical statement to jonathan.allan [at] utoronto.ca. Deadline for abstracts: September 30, 2011.
Kristie(j) from Ramblings on Romance is sharing some of her favorite newly digitized backlist titles. As a newer romance reader, I love getting these recs.
From the Dabbler, How to Win Arguments On the Internet Without Really Knowing What You are Talking About. God, is this on the money! One example:
DEFEAT IS NEVER ADMITTED, BUT MAY BE IMPLIED
LAYMAN: Of course God doesn’t exist. Why does your God allow children to be murdered and earthquakes to wipe out whole populations?
BLOGMAN: I must say, you seem rather angry at this God whom you don’t believe exists.
LAYMAN: I’m angry that you think I should worship a God who, if He exists, must hate me and be evil.
BLOGMAN: Perhaps it’s not necessarily all about you?
And one more:
…the National Society of Blogmen Handbook 2006 listed as ‘Five Tried-and-Tested One-Liners for Undermining an Earnest Opponent’:
(TIP: although these ploys can be used in almost any kind of debate, the novice may wish to try them first in a simple question, such as whether euthanasia should be legalised)
1) Nearly everyone gets this one wrong, but you’ve argued it a hell of a lot better than most.
2) That’s certainly how a lot of very smart people used to think – you’ve done well to get there on your own.
3) Clever… if I started from where you did, I’d probably end up there too.
4) Your enthusiasm does you great credit. I wish I still saw the world like that.
5) You’re damned close to a profound insight there.
Go back to the AAR thread, and count how many of those you see there.
From The Chronicle, a really good (but long) article on why privacy matters even if you have nothing to hide.
The deeper problem with the nothing-to-hide argument is that it myopically views privacy as a form of secrecy. In contrast, understanding privacy as a plurality of related issues demonstrates that the disclosure of bad things is just one among many difficulties caused by government security measures. To return to my discussion of literary metaphors, the problems are not just Orwellian but Kafkaesque. Government information-gathering programs are problematic even if no information that people want to hide is uncovered. In The Trial, the problem is not inhibited behavior but rather a suffocating powerlessness and vulnerability created by the court system’s use of personal data and its denial to the protagonist of any knowledge of or participation in the process. The harms are bureaucratic ones—indifference, error, abuse, frustration, and lack of transparency and accountability.
My older son’s U12 soccer team won its semi-final in the State Cup, so they play in the finals in two weeks. When he was first asked to “play up”, I posted about it, not being sure if it was the right choice. Looking back on the season, I would have to say it was. He has made great friends with the older boys, and his play has improved.
The team they face in the finals is their arch nemesis, whom they have never beaten. We are lucky to scrabble together enough players to make one team, while their opponent is the “A” team, with B, C, and D squads for backup. We’re from “the other Maine” — northern rural, poor — and they are from the wealthy southern part of the state. Of course, all of this floats over my son’s head, but suffice to say I will be cheering my head off on the sidelines.
I’m still so, so busy. I am really despairing of it, actually, but I’ll spare you my angst.
Not sure what I’ll do on the blog this week. Blogging may be light in general until RWA.
This Won’t Hurt a Bit (and other white lies) (Grand Central Publishing, May 2011) is a memoir of Michelle Au’s medical school and residency years (pediatrics and then anesthesiology). I received my copy free from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for writing this review. I’m considering adopting this book for my undergraduate bioethics course in the fall, which is comprised mostly of pre-med seniors. Au has gotten blurbs from some medical writers I admire, like Kevin Pho (Kevin MD) and Robert Coles, and nice advance praise from Kirkus (“An upbeat memoir ” written with “style and humor”) and Booklist (a “treasure of a medical memoir”), so I was looking forward to reading it. This review will be fairly critical, but it’s clear I am an outlier on this book, at least judging by early critical and audience reception.
Au, raised in New York City, is the daughter of two Chinese American physicians. She met her husband, Joe, a future oculoplastic surgeon, in medical school at Columbia, where she also did her residencies, first at Children’s Hospital of New York at Columbia and later anesthesiology at Millstein (NY Presbysterian — also Columbia).
Like Julie and Julia, this is a book based on years of Au’s blogging at The Underwear Drawer (named for the place she kept her journal). And it suffers the way so many of those books do. The immediacy, brevity, and audience connection of a blog post can make up for a lack of really strong writing, overarching themes, organization, or other literary type things you might hope for in a non-free book (this one is hardcover for $15.98 — list of $24.99– or digital for $11.99). Also, I think blog posts, because they are short and spaced apart in time, can be more artlessly and casually narcissistic than memoirs can be without grating on readers. Finally, I enjoy first person present tense in fiction, but in reading This Won’t Hurt a Bit, I found the present tense doesn’t work as well for a memoir. Unlike a fictional narrator, I know that Dr. Au exists in time and place, as an anesthesiologist in private practice, which contrasts jarringly with phrases like, “What is happening now is this: I am wearing a pair of too-large latex gloves” (the opening lines), or like “Being the medical neophyte I still am…”.
Au had a baby during residency (and was pregnant with a second when she graduated), and the book advertises itself as the rare medical memoir which addresses work/life balance. On the cover is a cute stuffed monkey in bandages, and the subtitle is “My Education in Medicine and Motherhood”. This attempt to market to working mothers explains in part the tendency of the blogging reviews to be from mommy book blogs (like Literary Mama (“a treat to read”), and also explains why Amazon notes that the customers who bought this book also bought Tina Fey’s Bossypants.
Marketing aside, I can’t imagine this book really appealing on a wide scale to working mothers. In fact, the book is focused much more heavily on the medical training than the subtitle suggests, and it’s a good thing, because Au’s writing on motherhood is not exactly groundbreaking. You would think that physicians are the only women who have demanding jobs which force them to make tough decisions about childbearing and childraising. She only gets six weeks maternity leave! She has to use her breastpump in the shower, because there are no lactation suites in her workplacel! She has to eat her Hot Pocket … cold! *eyeroll*
Reading the book, Au came across to me as a privileged woman who had no sense of this. That she is a very smart and capable person who was working tremendously hard, I have no doubt. But she was working hard at a profession she voluntarily chose, which would give her a career of tremendous social prestige and wealth, and which her privileged background helped her, in no small measure, to pursue.
For example, Au’s nanny, eschewing the incremental raise schedule she has apparently agreed on, decides to ask for a 50% raise without warning. The nanny digs in her heels, “despite being told that 50 percent of the net income of our household is already being diverted directly into her pocket (we actually show her our paystubs from the hospital)…”. Then she is fired. Now just consider this for a minute. The way the incident is described suggests that the amount of money the nanny deserves for this work, and the amount of money the nanny needs to live on, is completely and wholly determined by how much money her employers can part with. But maybe the nanny’s child or mother became ill. Maybe the nanny’s husband lost her job. We never know, because the nanny is a nonentity in this story, not identified even by race, age, or any other factor besides her gender. Au concludes, despite the fact that she is an employer who more than likely offers a low wage, no benefits and no job security, that “regardless of who is employing whom, any set of parents with full time inflexible jobs are essentially held hostage by those who are taking care of their children during the day.” Really? Only a person in a vacuum of privilege can possibly equate her own temporary inconvenience with the livelihood of a low wage worker.
When Au has a child, she describes herself as “turning into a hippie mom.” What this means, for her, is not anything interestingly thoughtful, but that her own son is “too perfect” for circumcision and that she is too tired from her job as a doctor to not co-sleep. Um, I don’t think “hippie mom” means what she think it means.
Au’s chapter on working in the pediatric emergency room is a diatribe against the people who dare to show up without a reason she personally deems legit. To her credit, Au admits that “the Emergency Room is turning me into kind of an asshole.”
For every patient who has been dragged in by his parents for sneezing twice and not being able to finish his Whopper Jr.,…
6:00pm-11:00pm One of the busiest stretches, and also a peak time for people to bring their children into the ER for seemingly no good reason whatsoever. “Hey kids, we’ve all had dinner, we’re all still awake, what you say we take a big family trip down to the Emergency Room and check out what’s playing on that little TV they have out in the waiting room?”
Au vilifies a parent who does not know what medicine she is giving her child, and a host of other patients, without once considering how they got to this place of ignorance or bad choices. She concludes, bitterly, that “parents are idiots.” But wait, when her doctor friend has a child, Au delightedly reports Ms. Female Physician’s ignorance of how to care for her newborn (“Should she just … pour water on him? Dunk him into the water like a teabag? What kind of soap should she use? Towel or blow-dryer? … Baby bathing was not covered on the Board Exam!”). I guess when you don’t know how to parent because you were too busy becoming a doctor, it’s ok.
In fairness, Au recognizes, after having her own child, that her attitude towards her ER patients was one of hubris, but never at any point in the book do I get the sense that she thinks about medicine as a social practice in a society stratified by a lot of things, many of them kind of unfair. Actually, there is one brief reference to feminism when Au gets a fellowship at Columbia in anesthesiology at the same time her husband gets one at Emory. What might be a prompt for some real reflection on gender and managing parenting in a demanding field is completely skirted when she says “really, in the end, there is never any question, and it amounts to not so much of a subversion of my own plans as a global plan for our family and what is best for all of us.” But it’s not obvious to this reader, anyway, why”there was never any question.”
When a colleague smirks that “all the jobs in medicine are daddy jobs”, she has a momentary flash of irritation, but then wonders, “really, why am I even offended? Isn’t it true?” And then she refers to herself as a bad employment bet: “I have to wonder, would anyone dare to offer me, a female physician in her childbearing years, a job at all.” I think exploring these issues might have made for a very interesting read, especially for women med (and pre-med) students.
This book might be useful reading for students looking for a first person account of medical school and beyond. Au is very forthright about her nervousness and sharp learning curve. Au has said in interviews that she hoped for an upbeat but not a naive portrait, and I think she has succeeded there.
If I were to assign this, I would absolutely have to fill in some blanks. For one thing, Au’s references to nurses come in two varieties: (1) mute helpmeets, or (2) bitches on wheels. To take one example, you would think Au was the only one on the code team, the way she describes the codes. But nurses are an integral part of responding to codes, as are other staff. In some scenes you would think there were two anesthesiologists and them alone taking care of a patient. She never mentions hospitalists, and barely mentions critical care doctors. And finally, I am quite sure every Columbia facility has, or has access to, a cracking good ethics consult service, but you would think from reading this book that there is no support for doctors, patients or families when it comes to difficult ethical issues that arise in practice.
For those not in the medical field, there are a handful of vignettes which are very worth reading: her account of being in a Manhattan hospital during the events of 9-11, her account of declaring a patient dead, and then having to de-declare, her account of having to go ahead with aggressive treatment when part of the family and the staff disagree, to name three examples. It’s a quick read, and not badly written. If medical memoirs are your thing, you might give it a try.
I seem to be sampling Anne Stuart’s books (over 60 of them, beginning in 1994) willy nilly. Back in 2009, I read her romantic suspense, Black Ice (MIRA, 2005) and did an open discussion of it (on which she commented. Squee!). More recently, I read a category, Cinderman (1994 Harlequin American). And now, I’ve read a Stuart historical. I found all of them to be compelling, intelligent and interesting reads. But Ruthless (MIRA, 2010) is a clear favorite.
Ruthless is Book 1 in the House of Rohan Trilogy. Books two (Breathless) and three (Reckless) have since been published. In an unsavory neighborhood in pre Revolutionary Paris, Elinor Harriman, tall, sensible, strong, and large nosed English miss, lives in near poverty with her beautiful half sister Lydia and her mother, Lady Caroline, whose advanced case of syphilis is a sorry prize for a selfish lifestyle of lover after lover, gambling and spending beyond her means.
When Lady Caroline runs off with the last of the family’s tiny bit of money, Elinor’s search — in a stolen carriage – takes her to the chateau of Viscount Francis Rohan, le Comte de Giverney, on the outskirts of Paris. Rohan is hosting a, erm, meeting of his club, the Heavenly Host, a “covert gathering of wicked aristocrats with too much time on their hands” whose motto is “Do what thou wilt”. As Rohan, an exile of twenty-two years from England, looks on, from his dais (!), women and men engage in orgies, devil worship, gambling, and a multitude of other sins.
Alas, Rohan is bored. So when Elinor storms in, demanding her mother back, he is “reluctantly fascinated.” Rohan “usually found innocence to be tedious, [but] Mademoiselle Elinor Harriman’s innocence was oddly appealing.” For her part, Elinor finds Rohan attractive, but quickly squashes her feelings under her moral outrage at his attitude (he has a tendency to refer to her mother as a “poxy whore”), behavior (he’s the “fiend of duplicity”) and general existence (a “heartless, soulless libertine”). Plus, she blames her mother’s insatiable lust for her family’s current straits, and feels “unclean” just being in the chateau.
This is a familiar conflict for romance readers, and it’s one I enjoy reading. I was very interested in the story, in Rohan’s attraction and growing concern for Elinor, and in Elinor’s yielding to him, and found it hard to put down. Depths to Rohan are hinted by the loyalty shown him by his servants, and his best friend, Charles Reading (whose secondary romance with Lydia Harriman is quite touching). As one motherly servant explains, “He’s a very bad boy, he is. But he has a reason.” That reason turned out to be a bit underdeveloped, and thus less interesting or explanatory than his just being a rotten jerk would be, but whatever.
Rohan decides he wants Elinor, and his own inability to examine his motives prevents the reader from asking too many questions:
I have no idea why I am so intent on debauching a young woman who will give me nothing but trouble. But then, I’ve never spent overmuch time examining my motives. I want her.
That’s ok. Readers know that Elinor is exactly what he needs to move from a state of permanent ennui to a fully engaged and happy human life. She won’t put up with his highhandedness, accuses the self-styled “lord of the underworld” of being a spoiled brat, and generally brings out the best in him.
But why should Elinor want Rohan? Well, for six years she has been “calm, practical, thoughtful.” She has taken care of her mother, her sister, and their servants without a thought to her own needs or pleasure. Rohan brings out the reckless part of her she has hidden. In the carriage on the way back to Paris, Rohan teaches Elinor what a lesbian is using the improbable method of bringing her to her first orgasm via external genital rubbing. When Rohan sees the state of the Harriman apartments, he sends furniture, food, and firewood, and although Elinor tries to refuse it, deep down she’s relieved to have someone share some of the burden. Preventing her from succumbing completely to Rohan’s charms, however, is the memory of her mother’s ruinous dependence “on the largesse of a man with wicked plans. She was not going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she was not.”
I enjoyed the heck out of this book, but there was some things that kept it from being a truly phenomenal read. For one thing, Elinor’s character. I know others have complained about Rohan being a “wallpaper rake”, and I do understand that. Rohan’s badness seems confined to pushing the sexual envelope (but not, of course, with our heroine. You know what they say. It’s not love unless it’s missionary.). But I read him, with his yards of lace, his high heeled silk shoes, his long flowing hair, his mincing walk, his dais, and his tendency to talk or think constantly about his own badness (“I have evil plans to hatch”, ” “He was not a good man.”, “He needed to remind himself who and what he was. The Prince of Darkness, the King of Hell. A thoroughly bad man.”) as kind of ridiculous. Sexy ridiculous, but still.
What bothered me more was Elinor’s wallpaper fiestiness. I don’t think I can count how many times this heroine’s actions were determined by a false choice put to her by someone else with power over her, as in this passage:
You’ve been given a chance to save your family, to protect your younger sister to aid your mother in a time of great need. You can do the selfish thing, and refuse, or you can accept, gracefully. It’s your choice.
She didn’t bother to argue. He had the upper hand, which was both unsettling and infuriating.
Her choices were not many, and they were all unappealing.
She’s often infuriated, but does, or can do, little to change her situation. For example, she pulls a gun on Rohan, twice, and you know how he disarms her? By asking her for the weapon. There was one moment when Elinor took absolute control, but it was in bed, and so left field for her inexperienced and lust-averse character, that it didn’t completely satisfy my hope for her agency.*
(*As an aside, after consummation Rohan tells Elinor that while he is ready for another immediate go, she must rest. Only in romance would a 39 year old man recover from sex faster than a 23 year old woman!)
There were also some things that felt rushed, or undeveloped. For example, Rohan and Elinor never discussed his past, or the shadow it casts on his present. And Rohan gains important information about Elinor’s late father’s estate and his heir, but doesn’t tell Elinor. At the very end, Elinor has an abrupt realization which the narrative doesn’t have space to explore … so why put it in there?
Still, I liked this one a lot — great sexual tension, interesting setting and characters, especially Rohan, snappy dialogue, sweet secondary romance — and recommend it if you aren’t tired of the rake and the virtuous-miss-clinging-to-her-dignity storyline.
The weekly links, opinion, and personal updates post
Link of Interest
But most importantly, scholars need to make everything they do count in multiple ways: those blog book reviews can become the foundation of essay reviews or serve as literature reviews for new articles. They can also act as brief and searchable notes for teaching purposes that help to maintain a critical and cutting-edge classroom. Similarly, brief critical reflections on recent articles and books can develop with time into abstracts for conferences and workshops, which can become the basis for further grant applications or new articles. The joy of reading a new primary source can be shared with others who have read it and also enjoyed it.
As an aside, I liked the post, but it’s kind of remarkable how the post traces the rise in the benefits of social media to a decline in some aspects of academic life brought on by the demise of the traditional model of the scholar-bachelor or scholar-family man, without ever explicitly mentioning women: either the implied ”faculty wife” or the women in the faculty.
Seth Godin is getting some flack for his post on The Future of the Library. Writing as if no one has yet to do it, he suggests:
There are one thousands things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.
@GleCharles had this to tweet:
Also via @Glecharles: Library Journal and NetGalley Announce Partnership for Reviewing Romance E-Originals:
New York, May 16, 2011 — Library Journal announces today that it will accept review submissions for romance e-originals through NetGalley.
Starting immediately, Library Journal will consider for review book-length romance e-originals, with plans to expand to book-length e-originals in other popular genre fiction and, eventually, novellas and original nonfiction works. This expansion of review coverage is necessary to address the skyrocketing popularity of ebooks in U.S. public libraries (72 percent currently offer ebooks, according to Library Journal ‘s 2010 “Ebook Penetration Survey”). Library Journal will use NetGalley to give editors and reviewers access to secure digital galleys of said e-originals. At this time, simultaneous print/ebook titles are not eligible. E-originals selected for review will run online in Library Journal Xpress Reviews and, in most cases, in the print Romance column—which publishes six times a year (Feb. 15, Apr. 15, Jun. 15, Aug. 15, Oct. 15, and Dec. 15).
Hopefully someone more knowledgeable (*cough* DearAuthor *cough*) than I am will tell us what this all means for the reader.
Author Diana Gaston is over at Risky Regencies sharing her view on What Is A Romance Novel, with lots of links to others’ views.
The best source for reporting on audio romance books continues to be AAR’s column Speaking of Audiobooks. This week, the topic is Audible’s Game Changer:
If you haven’t heard about Audible’s new venture, Audible Creation Exchange (ACX), have I got news for you. On May 12th Audible announced a dynamic online audiobook rights marketplace, audiobook production platform, and online sales system. Its aim? To increase the number of audiobooks by offering a place for audiobook professionals to connect and produce audiobooks. There’s much more to ACX, but what it means to us as listeners is greater selection.
ACX is groundbreaking in that it allows any professionally published book, new or old, to become a professionally produced audiobook. It provides authors and publishers access to talented actors/narrators and studio professionals who know how to deliver a well-produced audiobook. There is even training for an author if one wishes to narrate their own book.
It figures that I just canceled by Audible membership yesterday.
Ever wondered about the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance? Larissa over at Heroes and Heartbreakers gives her take.
Was Nancy Drew My first victim? a meditation on violence against women in mystery/suspense novels, by Wendy the Super Librarian, over at Macmillan’s new crime fiction blog, Criminal Element. I confess my own view is closer to Magdalen’s in the comments than to Wendy’s but I rarely read the genre, so what so I know?
So many people sent me this link. They must think I really need my confidence bolstered. Need Innovation? Hire A Humanities Grad, at a leading business blog (reporting on an article in the Harvard Business Review):
Their resumes may never make it past your HR department, but Golsby-Smith argues that people who studied literature, philosophy and the like offer key skills your organization probably lacks.
From Beauty Schooled, Enough With the Fat Hate:
Yes, there is lots of research linking obesity to serious health issues. Although it’s worth noting that most of that research is based on correlations, not causations. And there is also plenty of evidence to show that it’s not the fat itself, sitting on your body, that makes you sick — it’s unhealthy lifestyle habits like eating junk food and never exercising, which can be practiced by people at any size, as Ragen regularly and patiently explains.
But even if science steps up and finds a rock solid connection between pounds of body fat and deadly diseases — why has the “war on obesity” become a war on obese people, even children?
The Independent reports on a new special issue of Granta out this week, in Is Feminism Relevant to 21st Century Fiction?
Granta magazine will publish The F Word (£12.99) next Thursday: an issue dedicated to reflections on gender, power and feminism, in which Lydia Davis, Rachel Cusk, Jeanette Winterson, AS Byatt, Helen Simpson and Téa Obreht, among others, write wide-ranging pieces on women’s places in the world, the place of feminism within storytelling and shortfalls of the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. John Freeman, editor of Granta, feels this latter aspect is a positive outcome: “I think political movements must always critique their own legacies – otherwise they become cults. Writers in the issue are doing what’s natural after decades of believing in a cause – they are observing the victories and defeats, and taking stock of how this idea has infiltrated life and culture.”
Winterson, reflecting on the love affair between Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, bemoans the loss of romance in our post-feminist age.
I am alternately terrified and looking forward to reading the issue.
By cleaning up its reviews, Zappos is hurting shoppers as it helps its bottom line. The lowercase reviews, the all-caps reviews, the Internet speak, the subject-verb-agreement manglings, the sentence fragments, the pathetic attempts to spell chic—all of these are factors to weigh when considering someone’s opinion of low-top Chuck Taylors. Or, to be more earnest about it, our mistakes are what make us human. On the Internet, it’s important that other people can tell if you’re an idiot.
I occasionally fix errors in comments made here, if in my judgment the error makes the comment too hard to understand. I would like to fix many more, but I hold back. Now I am wondering: is this wrong? Should I get permission first? What do you do on your blogs?
At The New Yorker’s Book Bench, Are You a Reader or An Owner?, a short piece linking to Shelf Awareness, who linked to a WSJ piece in which the Penguin Group C.E.O. John Mankinson said this:
There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: Instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book. The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience. As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience.
I love my Kindle but I have always HATED with a passion the clipping, copying and pasting limit. This really minimizes the extent to which I can use Kindle books for research. As Galley Cat reports, some Kindle users at MobileRead are trying to get the limits removed.
A manifesto on Sex Positive Feminism at Feministe, by Clarisse Thorn. 49 comments make it an interesting discussion. Really long, but really interesting. I may use it as a basis for discussion in feminist theory in the fall.
One commenter had this to say in criticism:
I can’t embrace the term “sex-positive” because it does, in fact, reinforce the existence of the strawman of the anti-sex feminist.
I am sorry to say this link is evidence that there are some dead horses I enjoy beating: The Future of Book Reviews: Critics versus Amazon Reviewers” at The Daily Beast:
Ozick noted, Amazon reviewers hold two principles in common: “First, a book, whether nonfiction or fiction, must supply ‘uplift.’ Who wants to spend hours on a downer? And even more demandingly, the characters in a novel must be likable. Uplift and pleasantness: is this an acceptable definition of what we mean by literature? If so, then King Lear and Hamlet aren’t literature, Sister Carrie isn’t literature, Middlemarch isn’t literature, nearly everything by Chekhov isn’t literature, and on and on and on.”
Really? Cuz it took me all of 3 seconds to click over to Amazon, find Middlemarch and see that 123 Amazon reviews have given it an average of 4.5 stars.
Having trouble meeting your goals? From Reason, Self Control in the Age of Abundance, a report on a new website designed by an economist which allows you to make “precommitments” to your goals, and suffer penalties (like forcing yourself to donate to political causes you despise) if you fail (via Arts and Letters Daily):
The concept is fiendishly simple. StickK.com (the second K is from the legal abbreviation for contract, although baseball fans will detect a more discouraging connotation) lets you enter into one of several ready-made binding agreements to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise regularly, among other things. You can also create your own agreement, which many of the site’s 100,000 registered users have done. You specify the terms (say, a loss of one pound per week for 20 weeks), put up some money, and provide the name of a referee if you want one to verify your results. Whenever you fail, stickK.com gives some of your money to a charity or friend that you’ve chosen. Whether you fail or succeed, stickK.com never keeps your money for itself aside from a transaction fee.
I’ve been watching Game of Thrones on HBO. I have never read the books. I like it, but I don’t love it, and I think I figured out why: I feel like a bystander watching a lot of interesting events which do not concern me. Having so many different storylines, and changing point of view every scene, make this viewer unable to really have that bonding experience with any character that keeps me fully engaged. That everyone keeps telling me most major characters will be killed off keeps me at even further a distance. I like GoT, and I admire the acting and production values, but so far, at least, it is not a show that gets under my skin.
Another busy week ahead, but hoping to get some Rachel Gibson and Anne Stuart reviews up.
I’ve received an email from journalist Helen Holzer about a post I wrote in 2009, Who Speaks for Romance and What Do They Say About Us?
In that post, I quoted Holzer (correctly), but then stated that the paper she wrote for, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, did not do much romance reviewing. I was wrong about that — Holzer herself wrote a romance column for several years — and I’ve updated the blog post with the information Holzer provided.
I’m very grateful to hear from people about things I’ve gotten wrong, but it creates a bit of anxiety, too. I consider this blog just a fun hobby, but as more people use Google, and Google alone, to get information, a mistake like the one I made can spread falsehoods throughout the web as it gets copied or quoted. Luckily, Read React Review is nowhere near the point of having to worry too much about being a bad influence. When I Googled “Helen Holzer”, for example, the post I wrote did not show up until page fourteen. But wrong is wrong, for big fish and small alike.
Clearly, it’s not just vanity to set up Google alerts. It’s a key part of managing one’s online reputation, which is coming to be one’s reputation per se. Several people have landed here by riding the Google alert train — academics who would never normally read a romance blog, film directors, book editors — and I completely understand why.
Anyway, I thank Ms. Holzer for her thoughtful correction and I apologize for the error.
Now excuse me as I head over to Google to set up some alerts!
Midsummer Magic is my first Coulter, but a lot of folks got their romance genre start reading her historical romances of the 1980s. She’s published over seventy titles, beginning in 1980 and continuing to this day. Her last 15 or so books have been FBI paranormal romance thrillers. I happened to spy Midsummer Magic at my local library book sale last weekend, recognized the author’s name, and, well, who can resist this cover?
Published at the end of 1987, Midsummer Magic is the first in the Magic Trilogy. I found this to be an entertaining read, but I was never really invested in the characters or their romance. I found a lot of the action quite silly (the heroine dislocates her shoulder, but manages to have a conversation and bandage a horse’s leg before noticing), and the writing not to my taste (head hopping, for example, with sometimes as many as three points of view in one paragraph. Lots of repetition of dialogue. Etc.).
Phillip Hawsbury, Earl of Rothermere, age 26, promises his dying father, the Marquess, that he’ll go to Scotland and pick a wife from among the three daughters of Alexander Kilbracken, Earl of Ruthven, who saved the Marquess’ life 17 years prior. Hawk (Please. Did you really think he’d go by “Phillip“?) has recently retired from the Army, and would much rather continue enjoying the delights of London, especially those of his mistress, the Frenchwoman Amalie (who calls him “mon faucon“, naturellement). But since his elder brother Nevil’s untimely death, Hawk is the heir, and must do his father’s bidding.
Hawk is good looking and not very bright. His favorite word is “damn” in all its permutations, but especially adjectival. He’s a “damned son”, who made his father a “damnable oath.” “Damn Nevil” for dying! He doesn’t want a “damned wife”, but honor is a “damnable thing”. He doesn’t like “damned weak women” or his “damn miserable situation”, which he “doesn’t damn believe.” Well, that’s three pages. You get my drift.
Something odd happens when information enters Hawk’s brain. It’s like a backwards engineered sausage factory. Here’s an example. When Frances’s pretty sister flirts with him — merely by suggesting she might want to waltz one day — he thinks, “She was so eager. Lord, he would feel like a rapist taking her to wive.”
Among the Kilbracken sisters is Frances, described by her father as “Willful, too independent, a mouth that won’t be silenced, and a damned excellent animal healer.” (Yeah, that last one threw me, too. But the animal thing comes in handy later.) In case her status as spunky heroine is not yet clear, there’s this bit of descriptive prose which telegraphs her personality: “her thick untamed hair … tumbled down in a profusion of wild curls… the color of autumn in the highlands, an uncivilized blending of blond, red, and brown.”
Frances loves frolicking among the lochs and the heather. She does not want to leave home. We know things are tense for this Scottish lass when “The haggis suddenly seemed the most unappetizing concoction in the world.” In order to deter Hawk, she puts on drab clothes, an ugly cap, spectacles, and colonizes her hair into a tight bun. She walks around with a book and stays quiet. Little does she know that Hawk just wants a deferential wife so he can run back to London and Amalie. He chooses Frances, and they wed, the day after he indulges in a little engagement nookie with some random Glasgow widow. Niiiiiiiice.
The journey to Chandos Chase, Hawk’s digs, is long and tiresome for both Hawk and Frances. Haggis provides a window into their complex, evolving relationship:
Hawk said at last, “I’m rapidly tiring of haggis.”
Frances forked down an extra large bite.
Hawk studied her bent head for a moment, then said, “You’re feeling better now?”
… “Yes,” she said, eyeing her haggis with grave concentration, “I am feeling much better.”
Frances is clearly wary, but eventually Hawk must do his duty and bed her. The reverse sausage factory chugs into production again as Hawk thinks:
How did one make one’s wife ready? He certainly couldn’t caress her like he did his mistresses: it would embarrass her horribly and make matters but worse. He shook his head, wishing now that he’d thought to cover his member with cream to ease his way into her.
Hawk goes and gets the cream, and they have the first of a long series of nonconsensual sexual encounters which make this book a wallbanger for many readers. Midsummer Magic is the first romance novel I have ever read in which the development of the hero and heroine’s relationship can be charted entirely via sex lube:
ACT I: MY KINGDOM FOR A JAR OF CREAM
The hero’s point of view: (p. 136-7)
“This gives me little pleasure Frances. It must be done. Now just lie still!” … She felt the bed give under his weight. Felt his hands clasp her about the waist and pull her under him. “Oh, damn.” Hawk said. He’d forgotten the wretched cream. … He’d just have to make do.
The father’s point of view (Yes. The father.) (p. 140):
The marquess closed his eyes. Why the devil would a husband have to use cream with his own wife?
The heroine’s point of view (p. 148):
He didn’t hurt her, for the cream eased his way.
A few chapters on, treading cream, I mean water … (p. 235):
He hadn’t hurt her, after all. He’d gotten the cream.
Wait. What’s this? (p. 249)
“There won’t be any further need of the cream, either” he continued, his voice deep and certain. … “Would you like to know why we won’t need the cream anymore, Frances?” [Utterly sick of talking about the cream, she tries to leave.] “As I was saying, Frances, we won’t need the blasted cream. Why? I’m sure you want to ask me. [Uh, no, she was just leaving actually, until you slammed and held the door shut.] “Well, my dear, we won’t, because when I finally come into you, you will be quite ready for me — wet warm, and quite wild for me.”
A snag in the plans, literally! (p. 251)
Hawked looked at the fingernail of his left hand. He blinked, suddenly afraid that the nail had been jagged the night before. That was the finger he’d covered with cream and eased into his wife. … “BRING ME THE FILE,” he said. [italics and caps are mine. They so should have been in the original.]
INTERMISSION: TELL ME ABOUT IT, STUD.
Alas, all the cream in the world couldn’t make Frances enjoy getting raped. Who knew? I’m not sure why they didn’t think of this immediately, but it turns out she had to be dressed as a stable boy and forced to watch horse sex! *facepalm*
The mare screamed, and Frances knew*, deep down, that it was a cry of pleasure. She felt her palms grow sweaty, her breath grow jerky. … She felt a deep stirring, but she didn’t understand it. She felt a tension building in her belly … no, below her belly, between her legs.
(*Remember her affinity to animals?) Hawk immediately leads her into the tack room, but there is a “damned interruption.”
ACT II: ORGASM
Memories of homoerotic schoolboy days come in handy for our hero! (p. 283)
He suddenly remembered a saying that one of the dons at Eton adored repeating: Great men move slowly. Had the fellow meant in bed?
Two steps forward… (p. 296):
“I wonder if I will have to resort to the cream again?”, he said in a thoughtful voice.
Finally able to joke about the cream. True healing (p. 388):
“I believe we can safely toss that damned jar of cream out the window.”
I haven’t said much about their relationship, because if you are familiar with this sort of book, you already know that she’s a “damned little minx”, whose neck he’d “like to wring”. He’s an absolute jerk. She says a lot of “I hate yous” and “you’re disgustings,” and she’s pretty unformed.
Frances is no brain trust herself, deciding to jettison her disguise and glam it up when Hawk leaves for a tryst with Amalie, to punish him. On Hawk’s return, one sight of his newly lovely bride (although it’s a wonder he never before noticed her “high cheekbones, the beautifully shaped brows, the high smooth forehead”. Bones are kind of hard to hide.) has jars of cream dancing in his head, and she is forced to ask herself:
“Why hadn’t she realized that he would be far more interested in sex with her new appearance.”
Oh, snap! But just ponder that locution for a minute.
Still, I liked Frances a lot more than Hawk. She’s not as considerate of his obvious cognitive disabilities as she might be (she tricks him into mistaking a bolster pillow for his wife. TWICE!), but at least she does something: she decides to get the neglected stud farm in order, and in the meantime discovers a subplot involving horse stealing and fraud which I won’t go into here.
My favorite character is probably Amalie, Hawk’s mistress. She’s not only the one person who calls it like it is:
Listen, mon faucon, how can you be so stupid?
… but she actually solves the subplot mystery, and then shows up at the climax and tackles the gun totin’ bad guy, saving the day!
Amalie and Frances bond over Hawk’s idiocy. Their bonding involves having Amalie hold his arm behind his back while Frances punches him in the stomach. If only the next scene had them making eyes at each other and strolling out of the drawing room, hand in hand, but it was not to be. Instead, there is a dreaded baby epilogue. Are you surprised?
This post has two purposes:
1. To link to a great post by Laura Vivanco at Teach Me Tonight, Evaluating Books, in which she discusses the complex relationships between how much we paid for a book, how much we value it, both economically and aesthetically, and how we read (sitting up? slumped in a comfy chair?). Go forth and read.
2. To write something quick to get over the inertia that sets in when I don’t post for several days. A more substantive post to come, hopefully soon.
When You Read
Ok, people. When do you read? Reading is such a luxury to me. Sure, I read every day, as part of my job. But reading for pleasure is not something I get to do every day. I tend to do most of my reading in two places (1) the gym (on the elliptical or bike), and (2) at night before bed. When I am reading for work, I can’t take any sound distractions. But if I needed silence to read for pleasure, I would absolutely never read, because there are 3 other humans and 4 pets in my house, and they are all making some kind of noise, be it talking, TV watching, music playing, or wrestling.
I also “read” by listening to audio when I drive or walk the dogs. If a book is really good, I may actually have one earbud in while I walk around campus or grocery shop, but I try not to do that. Maybe it’s my age, but it seems kind of rude.
I can’t read in snatches. I can’t read standing in line or shopping. I need to have at least 15 minutes before I can open a book. I know a book is incredibly gripping if I take it along with me and try to get in a page here and there during the day.
Do you read in snatches? During the day? Lunch hour? In the morning?
Where You Read
Most of my reading is done at home or the gym. That thing about being rude I mentioned earlier … does not apply at the gym. I belong to three gyms (don’t ask), actually, and at two of them I want to never be approached, so I always appear to be intently reading or listening to something, even as I walk from the locker room to the equipment. I find that reading at the gym makes my cardio fly by. I prefer the Kindle 1 to the Kindle 2 for this, because the former’s buttons are easier to push when the e-reader is laying flat on the machine.
At home, I am either in the living room or in bed. Reading in bed induces sleep, but it is absolutely delicious, so there’s a tradeoff. In the evenings, I read with a drink, either water, herbal tea, wine, or something sweet, like anisette. I absolutely never eat when I read. Too distracting (I am easily distracted).
I don’t read outside, mostly because where I live it is unpleasant for most of the year. But we do have a back deck, and on the odd day (3 per year) when it is warm and sunny and the black flies aren’t out, I like to sit there and read while watching the pups try to dig out from under the fence and eat the neighbors.
Where do you read? Do you find the where and when are connected?
How You Read
Sitting up, Kindle in right hand,
left hand between my legs. Joking! Isn’t that what people think about romance readers, though?
If I am in bed reading, I usually have my sons in there with me reading, or, later, the spouse. If I am downstairs, I am usually on a couch with spouse, kids or pets. Occasionally I get irritated enough by being constantly jostled that I walk into another room and sit in a chair, although even then a cat manages to follow and try to get on my lap. No lap cats when I read! This makes me wonder if reading is a way to have some “alone time” even when I am surrounded by family.
The worst thing about reading on the Kindle is the inability to back up as easily as you would flip pages. It forces me to read in a linear way, and I read faster as a result.
I find that now that I write book reviews for this blog, I don’t get as lost in a book as easily. I’m always thinking “is this a point I could make in a review?” or “this would be a good quote for a review.” I don’t even review half the books I read, yet I still find it hard to turn this voice off.
How do you read? What do you even take that question to be asking? Lap pets, yeah or nay?
Go read Laura’s post, if you haven’t. More substantive posts to follow!