The Puzzle of Manhood: “Big Little Man” by Alex Tizon

Alex Tizon’s Little Big Man: In Search of My Asian Self, a blend of memoir and cultural criticism, explores the question of how to be(come) an Asian-American man when Western ideals of masculinity and stereotypes of Asians are so often opposed.

The book caught my eye when I was browsing my library’s e-collection. What pushed me to borrow it was reading Lia Silver’s Prisonerwhose werewolf hero DJ isn’t the usual alpha (stereo)type, and is also, like Tizon, a Filipino-American man. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence. I thought Silver was deliberately playing with/against romance’s alpha hero archetype, and writing an Asian hero (rarely seen in genre romance) might have been part of that. Reading Tizon’s thoughtful account of his struggle to define himself as a man in a culture whose ideal of “manliness” often makes him feel excluded, I thought a lot about genre romance’s own narrow vision of what it takes to “be a man.”  Continue reading

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Romantic Elements: Mary Stewart

I just finished Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic; earlier in the summer I read Airs Above the Ground. I enjoyed both very much. (My favorite thing about This Rough Magic was the dolphin. One of my favorite books is Madeleine L’Engle’s Ring of Endless Light, so give me a dolphin and a bit of romance and I’m yours!)

I liked the romantic elements in both books (you could call Airs Above the Ground a marriage in trouble novel, or at least a marriage the heroine briefly fears is in trouble novel). And I know many romance readers love Stewart and cite her as one of the authors who led them to romance. But I’m wondering why that’s the case, because the romances in these books are very much romantic elements and fairly minor, under-developed elements at that. (There are certainly Stewart books where romance is a bigger focus). I’m not sure I found them romantic, but paradoxically, perhaps, I enjoyed the romance despite that.  Anyway, I have some random thoughts about why, and since I know a lot of my readers have read Stewart, I hope you’ll jump in with your perspective in the comments. Continue reading

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Old Favorites in a New Light

My back to school treat: a new fountain pen and pen case.

I’ve made it through the first two weeks of Fall semester and my first three weeks as department chair (or, as I now refer to it, “brush-fire fighter”) more or less intact. But I’ve ended my workdays too tired to read much.

So I turned to old favorites in formats less taxing for my tired brain than text: Hope Larson’s graphic adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time  and the audio book of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, read by Juliet Stevenson. Here’s what I learned from experiencing these books in a new way.

Continue reading

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August Reading and September New Leaf

My holiday was great: a few relaxed days at either end with my parents (lake, porch, lots of reading time); a few days in Scotland (loved it!); and far too much time on planes and trains (I like trains, but they eventually palled). On my return, I parachuted right in to my new role as department chair, which along with preparing for teaching has kept me very busy for the past two weeks.

I’ve been in school one way or another as long as I can remember, so September always feels to me like the start of a new year. I’d like to get back to writing in-depth posts, especially on specific books I’ve read, so that’s my blogging goal for this fall. This post, however, will be a quick rundown of the reading I did in August. Thanks to vacation, there was a ton. I won’t be able to keep up this pace in September.

Lots of Romance! (Is My Mojo Back? Sort Of) Continue reading

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Recent Reading: Summer Break!

This is probably three posts’ worth of stuff, but I’m dumping it all at once because I’m about to go on summer vacation hiatus and I’m too lazy to schedule separate posts. I tried to provide good headers so you can scroll to bits that might interest you.

Reading Formats

I said that after finishing David Van Reybrouck’s Congo I was ready for some light and fluffy reading, and I was. But even though holding that big hardcover was a literal pain at times, I found myself wanting to pick up another big paper book. I think there’s something about that physical form that signals my brain immersive reading ahead. My eyes strayed to some of the fat, neglected tomes on my TBR shelves, but I restrained myself for now because I’m about to leave on a trip. I’ll be slipping a Mary Stewart paperback (This Rough Magic) into my carry-on bag along with my loaded e-reader and iPod, but no Big Fat Book for August.

Unless it’s digital. I’m thinking a train to Scotland might be the perfect place to give Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings another go. I have the whole Lymond series as ebooks, bought with a Kobo 90% off coupon (I still don’t know how it miraculously worked on Penguin books), but I wonder if I wouldn’t find it easier to lose myself in those long, complex books on paper.

Given these ponderings, I found Maria Konnikova’s New Yorker piece on “Being a Better Online Reader” fascinating (h/t @anacoqui). It’s a thoughtful, balanced look at recent studies of digital reading: it does seem to get in the way of “deep reading” (links, scrolling, the lack of the physical cues we’re used to, and even multiple columns of text may work against focus), but we can likely teach our brains to adapt.

Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention.

It’s something I keep working on, and it’s reassuring to know both that I’m not alone and that there’s hope!

I Read Romance and I Liked It!

Yes, at last my romance mojo seems to be returning (maybe I just need to jump start it regularly with some hefty non-fiction?). Continue reading

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