Reading for Plot. And Character. And Other Stuff.

This has been a really busy fall so far, and I haven’t had much time to read, let alone blog. So now I am going to make some tenuous connections between things I’ve been reading and thinking and call it a post.

Recently I picked up some mysteries from my favorite bricks-and-mortar bookstore. They have a small but nicely-curated mystery section and I usually like what I find there. A. D. Scott’s A Double Death on the Black Isle, the first book I tried from my stash, sounded like just my thing: the series is set in Scotland in the late 1950s, and features Joanne Ross, a newly single mother who has left her abusive husband and taken a job at the local newpaper–both frowned upon in her religious small town. (It’s actually the second in a series). Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its promise, and if I hadn’t paid $15 for a trade paperback, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it. Why didn’t it work for me?

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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.

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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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