Friday Fragments: Complaints Department

It’s just been one of those long, grinding weeks at work, so this is even more fragmentary than usual.

Not Ranting But Laughing

It seems yet more authors have been telling readers how to review and who is qualified to do so. I’m not linking. Even if you haven’t read this week’s iterations, you’ve seen the same arguments. Ad nauseam. Everyone from the self-published to the New York-published, New York Times bestseller can play. (Let’s be clear, though; the vast majority of authors appear to have perfectly sensible opinions about online reader reviews).

Since this issue of who’s qualified to review online keeps coming up, and since I’ve now attached my RL identity to my blog, I thought I’d go ahead and post a picture of me with my most impressive credential. But guess what this PhD diploma qualifies me to do? Teach at a college! And write literary criticism! (Actually, I’m not always sure about those things).

It is not my qualification for posting my thoughts about books I have read here or at Goodreads. You know what qualifies me to do that? I read the book. The same thing that qualifies anyone else. Suck it, writers with dumb-ass opinions.

NaPoWriM0 (or, Be Careful What You Wish For)

This is my goal for November: a policy-writing binge. I mentioned last spring to the Powers That Be at work that we really needed someone to review all our academic policies (this controls stuff like student appeals and how we approve new courses and programs at the college). So they gave me extra teaching release to work on it. I actually care a lot about having good policy, but I was kind of thinking they would get someone else to do it. It’s not easy to do well. One problem is finding time to focus on it. I know meetings are part of my job, but lately I have so many it feels like they’re keeping me from doing my real work. And the outcome of every meeting seems to be more work for me. My plan for next month is to build longer chunks of writing time into my schedule. I was never someone who did well writing in short stints here and there. I really admire people who can. I’m amazed by some of the writers I follow on Twitter and all they accomplish.

What I’m Reading/Listening To (No Complaints Here!)

Ben Aaronovitch’s Whispers Under Ground, third in his urban fantasy series featuring apprentice magician/Police Constable Peter Grant. I love these books. I love the blend of magic–and the clever magical world-building–with police procedural. I love the way Peter tries to reconcile scientific thinking with discovery of his magical abilities. Perhaps above all, I love the London of these books: modern and multicultural, but shaped by its history and folklore of all kinds. (My dissertation was on Victorian urban literature and now I teach an academic writing class focused on urban livability; I love reading about cities). There’s great real-world-building in Aaronovitch’s depiction of London, and he finds magic in its strange byways and their history.

For a taste of the voice, here’s Peter interviewing a (drunken) American senator, father of a murder victim:

“If I was to, hypothetically speaking, call you a limey or a nigger–which one would cause you the most offence?” [the senator asks].

“Was [your son] an embarrassment?” I asked.

“Do you know why you evaded the question?” asked the senator.

Because I’m a professional, I thought. Because I spent a couple of years talking to morose drunks and belligerent shoplifters. . . .  And the trick of it is simply to keep asking the questions you need the answers for, until finally the sad little sods wind down.

Occasionally, you have to wrestle them to the floor and sit on them until they’re coherent, but I thought that was an unlikely contingency given who I was talking to. . . .

“If you call me a nigger you just sound like a racist American,” I said. “And limey is a joke insult. You don’t actually know enough about me to insult me properly.”

Smart and funny and magical in all kinds of ways.

I’m also still glomming Michael Connelly’s mysteries and courtroom dramas on audio from the library. I’m on the third Mickey Haller book and I’ve listened to one of the Bosch books, too; the next is downloaded. All of this reading is making me think about how writers sustain and renew characters in long-running series. Connelly’s two series intersect. Bosch shows up in the second Haller book, but it’s a big jump forward in time from the first book in his series. A lot changes in these characters’ lives, as in Peter Grant’s, even in the few books I’ve read so far. I think they themselves do change in some ways, but they’re also recognizably the same people. And in that, I think they’re like real people. Our circumstances change, but most of us don’t have dramatic changes in character over our lives. We can just move the needle a little way.

Reading a long-running mystery series is like checking in on old friends. Some of my favorites in this regard are the late Reginald Hill‘s Dalziel and Pascoe series (Hill’s style changed pretty dramatically over the almost 40 years he was writing the books, from classic British mysteries to something far more experimental and odd, but the lead policemen remained recognizable through it all) and Peter Robinson‘s Inspector Banks (wait, there’s a TV series of that one, too??). It’s been great to find a new mystery author to enjoy. I’ve been a mystery reader ever since my childhood crush on Encyclopedia Brown.

A short break from romance reading has been refreshing, but I’m thinking I haven’t read a historical in a while. I’ve got some in mind for next week. What about you? Read anything good lately?


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19 Responses to Friday Fragments: Complaints Department

  1. Natalie L. says:

    Isn’t Ben Aaronovitch just wonderful? I find it impossible to read any of the Peter Grant books and not read choice bits out loud. One of my favorite things is the way, even three books in, Peter still only knows three or four small spells–one of my ongoing complaints about the current iteration of urban fantasy is the way the protagonist often levels up at the end of each book. I like that way that the police work is absolutely integral to each book’s plot and that Aaronovith plays fair with the reader.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      That’s a really good point about Peter. He’s not a super-specially talented world-saving Gary Stu. He has more in common with a hard-boiled detective, except he’s not emotionally closed off. I would read more urban fantasy if I could find more with such a recognizably real urban setting, both physically and socially. (I liked Emma Bull’s classic War for the Oaks for that, too.) I just got to the part where Dr. Walid says he is bringing a Halal turkey to his family’s Christmas dinner, and I thought, that’s *my* family! My sister-in-law is Muslim and she gets a Halal turkey for us. (I used to make pork roast before her time). And I don’t even live in London.

      • Natalie L. says:

        I felt like the new Jacqueline Carey had a good sense of place, too–it’s set in the area I went to college and still have family and she gets some of the weirdness of that area.

        I really love the diversity in this series and I know I’ve recommended it a lot to people who really prioritize that in their reading. It can be challenging to find urban or paranormal fantasy that pays attention to this stuff.

        I love War for the Oaks. I have complicated feels about the kinds of books called urban fantasy now as compared to when I started reading the genre 20 years ago.

  2. sonomalass says:

    I’ve got to get the Aaronovitch for my partner; they sound right up his alley. He’s reading Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series right now, which means he’ll be ready to go back to detective fiction.

    Jo Goodman’s Western historicals have been a nice change for me from English settings, although the most recent Carolyn Jewel and Sherry Thomas books were terrific. I’m also really eager to read the next Victorian romance from Courtney Milan, which will hopefully be out in November.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I won Not Proper Enough from Carolyn but I have to read Not Wicked Enough first. Just downloaded it.

      Definitely try your partner on Aaronovitch. Janine Ballard really liked them too.

      • sonomalass says:

        Not Wicked Enough was kind of a “fun” read for me — the conflict level is pretty low, so I was just able to kick back and enjoy the humor and the (as always) good writing. I got a lot more invested in the second book, and that’s at least in part due to the couple’s set up in the first.

  3. mezzak says:

    I read two UFs recently that might interest you Liz, because of the way they tell a story that is native to Los Angeles. They are not a match for Aaronovitch in story telling – the plotting is obvious and linear. They do have a lot going for them though in the world & how magic arises from it and they are interesting not just with the notion that gangs have territories but that their power arises from their control of a geographic space e.g. they mark with graffiti and the graffiti in turn becomes a power battery. The protagonists are LA gang members & the lead is a mid-30s woman who is a gang 2IC whose love interest ends up being a younger man.

    ‘Skeleton Crew’ and ‘Mob Rules’ by Cameron Haley pub Luna

  4. VacuousMinx says:

    I am sufficiently out of conversations right now that I had to stop and remember which authors were exceeding their briefs *this* week. That is a good thing! I miss talking to you all on Twitter, but I don’t miss the Inappropriate Advice of the Week feature.

    I’m really enjoying my return to Audiobooks. I listened to a Josh Lanyon fantasy novella that it turns out I’d never read. More mystery/adventure, less romance, which was fine with me, and lovely writing as usual. And I just discovered that Michael Kitchen narrates Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen zeries.

    Right now I’m listening to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, which is a semi-full-cast narration (Kushner does the main narration plus there are other voices in the multi-people scenes). It’s terrific.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I loved the Swordspoint audio! I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a production like that, but it was great. My library only had one of the Zen books. I might have to break down and buy more. I love Kitchen.

  5. Barb in Maryland says:

    Yay! Another Aaronovitch fan. My husband is strictly a mystery reader and loves a good police procedural whilenot too keen on the woo-woo. However, I had read so many snarky snippets to him that he succumbed and gobbled down all three books. And now we are awaiting number 4–it can’t come out quick enough. (“Broken Homes” is the title, due June 2013).

  6. Ros says:

    Not Wicked Enough is on my kindle TBR list, too. Also Cecilia Grant’s A Gentleman Undone FINALLY comes out in the UK at the end of next week. Can’t wait for that one!

  7. I’m still recovering from the gut-wrench of reading As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann – really wonderful. Rich and poignant and unsettling. Never has such a psychopathic hero been so sympathetic. I’ve been concentrating on lighter reads since then and currently reading/loving Wacky Wednesday by JA Rock, a book that kept coming up on my Amazon reccs and I kept ignoring – it’s great and very funny – does something very fun (and actually meaningful too) with a D/s couple that switch bodies a la Freaky Friday.

    Just typing this comment has made me realise how poor knowledge is of what’s about to be published! I don’t really know what I want to read till it’s out and being blogged about/ popping up on my Amazon reccs. I don’t buy many new releases actually.

  8. jmc says:

    Did you read the Peter Grant books or listen to the audiobooks? Although I first read the paper books, I’m terribly tempted by the audio versions available at Audible…

  9. “Suck it, writers with dumb-ass opinions.” That is all 😉 #supervillain

  10. I’m so glad you recommended the Aaronovitch series on DA a while back. A real life friend recommended them too, and the combination of recs got me to read them. I love them to bits though they are the kind of books (UF with a male protagonist written by a male author) that I’m not likely to pick up without hearing a recommendation first.

    Book three is my favorite in the series. I can’t wait for Broken Homes also.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      These books remind me a little of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth in their portrayal of a multicultural London that people take for granted (not that it is trouble-free). Also a book I loved and have successfully recommended to many others.

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