Wait, is that some kind of meme title? Then consider this Long-Weekend Laziness or Back-to-School BS, instead. Or just Second-Glass-of-Wine Rambling.
There’s a local used/new bookstore called Pulp Fiction. It’s OK with me that they don’t take Harlequins. They don’t take kids’ series like Goosebumps either. There are tons of both types of books. Still, despite their name, they aren’t exactly romance friendly. Their list of “Books we’re always interested in seeing” includes sci fi, fantasy and mysteries. Not romance. Ohhhh, so you only like the “cool” genres. Gotcha. The paragraph on books they want ends, “Our customers are well-read, unconventional, and bright.” I find the implications of all this just a titch annoying.
Anyhoo, fifty guesses what I saw in the window when I walked by today. I’d call that at least a few shades of hypocrisy. I’m not saying readers of said book are stupid or not well-read. But it’s hardly an unconventional choice these days. And I’d argue that it is romance. Whatever, Pulp Fiction. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble selling it.
My Favorite New Blog + Grade Inflation
I keep meaning to update my blog roll, but until then, here’s my favorite new discovery (thanks to Cecilia Grant): Mean Fat Old Bat. I’ve hesitated to mention her blog to people. It’s like telling them about your favorite unknown neighborhood bistro or watering hole, where you never have to wait for a table. What if the crowds come and ruin it? MFOB doesn’t tweet, and as far as I’ve seen she doesn’t comment around Romancelandia, at least not under a name that links back to her blog. And that seems like a strength to me.
Here’s how she describes herself:
I read about 300 books a year in a wide range of subjects and genres. I’m new to romance, though, so every old trope is new to me. . . . I’m very stingy with grades. Most books, good books, rate a C. There aren’t a lot of A books in my life.
Reading her blog, it seems like being fairly new to romance and not enmeshed in the “community” frees her from any allegiance to Sacred Cows. She doesn’t feel any need to apologize for not loving a classic romance favorite, nor is she gentle on popular writers she doesn’t care for. Her reviews are smart and critical and funny. She can say some pretty harsh things about a book I liked, and I read her review thinking, “You know, that’s fair. I can totally see that. Even though I loved the book.” Go enjoy her. But leave me a table!
Her blog makes me think about grade inflation. Where does a C mean “pretty good” these days? Not in a lot of reviewland. I noticed that one of my Goodreads friends recently got a “thank-you” from another reader on a review, because she’d gotten an ARC and given the book 2 stars. The commenter said something like “I usually assume 3-star ARC reviews are really 2 and really most people won’t give lower than 4.” I think that’s true a lot of places, and it’s why early give-aways are good promo. It’s one reason I don’t accept books for review, even when offered them by authors I really like. It keeps me honest, I hope.
Grade inflation is a concern for me at work, too, as it is in all of academia. We spend time every year doing grade norming within our department (just did it again this week!), and we track transfer students to help ensure our grades are pretty much within the norm of the places our students go after they leave us. Still, sometimes I feel like I’m being far too generous to semi-competent student writing.
One offshoot of this thinking, and of my recent posts, is a resolve to talk more about and quote more of the writing in the books I review. Yes, “good” writing style is partly a matter of taste, but there are objective elements too–or at least widely-agreed upon ones. In any case, style is a big part of my enjoyment of a book, so I’d like to discuss it more rather than giving it a pass.
I have been waiting months for my library hold on Madeline Miller’s much-praised, Orange-Prize-winning Song of Achilles to come in. Finally it did. Over the past couple of weeks, I managed to get about 100 pages in. It was due back next Tuesday, and I realized I didn’t want to force myself through the rest over the long weekend. So I took it back today.
It’s hard to DNF a book a lot of people love. What am I missing? On the other hand, it’s freeing to give yourself permission not to read it and accept that your taste differs. It might just be my mood. I quite liked the descriptive writing, with its occasional echoes of Homeric style. But I found both Patroclus, who narrated, and Achilles totally uninteresting characters. I have a feeling I quit just when things were heating up, but I didn’t care enough to find out.
With this DNF, I have accepted that I just don’t seem to have the attention span for longer and/or more complex books right now and I’m going to feel free to enjoy short, “easy” ones. Here are a few recent successes:
Marion Lennox, Misty and the Single Dad and Nikki and the Lone Wolf. Seriously, could Harlequin repel new readers any better than by choosing titles like that? Ughitty ugh ugh. These are from the Harlequin Romance line, part of her four-book series set in the small Australian coastal town of Banksia Bay. They are very category-romance in that they take narrative short-cuts; Lennox is good at the form and blends angst, romance, and a bit of humor well. There are dogs, but they aren’t too cutesy. Nikki had a couple of high-drama action scenes on a fishing boat that are the most gripping things I’ve read lately. (That’s my mood, again–but at last something worked and I had a “can’t put it down!” moment. They have been much too few and far between.)
Theresa Weir, The Girl With the Cat Tattoo. Self-published novella from a romance veteran. Again pretty trope-tastical and with a pet. A pet who is a point of view character, no less. Yet it came off whimsical and fun instead of gooey and stupid to me. I think that will totally depend on your taste in humor.
Right now I’m enjoying Ruth Diaz’s The Superheroes Union: Dynama after seeing several good reviews from readers I trust. It features a single-mom superhero and a lesbian romance. It reminds me a bit of the movie The Incredibles, which was a favorite in our family (we still say “No capes!” a lot).
What all these books have in common: they are short, fairly undemanding, and light, with some humor. But also with real emotion and some serious underlying issues. Luckily, I have a lot of those in my TBR to keep me occupied until I’m ready for some heavier lifting.