Just some things I’ve been kicking around.
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I really enjoy the Sunday Links posts at Like Fire. They tend to have a speculative fiction slant, but range far afield. Many, like the most recent, link to various award short and long lists and recommended books lists. Careful, you may find yourself in even more TBR trouble. The Commonwealth Book Prize list has a lot of harrowing- but (and?) intriguing-looking titles; I’ve been meaning to try more African writers . . . .
The Poetry Friday posts there are great too.
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I can’t remember who tweeted a link to Matt Haig’s list of “30 Things to Tell a Book Snob.” I count myself a recovering book snob (like alcoholics, I think, we’re always “in recovery” and never “recovered”). I especially liked this point:
2. Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.
The amount of bad writing in genre fiction and bad (or non-existent) plotting in literary fiction is often over-stated, but I agree that writers aren’t let off certain hooks by virtue of the genre they’re writing in. (Aside: must we call any set of rules “fascist”?).
I had more trouble with these two:
13. The only people who fear people understanding what they are saying are people who have nothing really to say.
14. Books are not better for being misunderstood, any more than a building is better for having no door.
Maybe I’m misreading this, but it suggests to me the view that “difficulty” is always something to be condemned, and that strikes me as prejudiced and wrong. I don’t think most people who write “difficult” books are hoping the hoi polloi will misunderstand them; rather, they’re trying to achieve certain ends. (“Misunderstanding” isn’t the word I’d use here, in any case, since any book can be understood in multiple ways).
Boundary-stretching, avant garde art is often regarded as “difficult” and resistant to understanding or interpretation. But if people didn’t make such art, art would never change. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with writing for a niche audience (unless, you know, your goal is to make a living at it). I’m not really a fan of the avant garde, myself, but I don’t think it’s snobbish to support its existence. I’m happy to have Ulysses in the world, and glad I read it, even if I’ll probably never pick it up again. The problem comes in when people who read or write “difficult” books think they’re better than others because of it.
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I think I need my own personal “Rules for Reading” just to remind me not to get sucked in to trying things I won’t really like and focus on things I will. I got started after my Lenten Book Fast, with lessons like “I don’t have to read every book by my favorite authors” and “I don’t have to read every book in a series.” My latest is “if a book has gif reviews at Goodreads, run the other way!” Huh. These are all negative. I need positive rules too. Prompted by discussion on my last post, the first might be “If people talk a lot about the heroine, check it out.”
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I am happily reading mystery series right now, and embarking on the lengthy Vorkosigan Saga. But whenever I see a book at Goodreads or Amazon with a series title after the book title–you know what I mean? One Hot Bad Boy (Wounded Alphas #1)–I think blergh. Is this hypocrisy? I think it’s because I don’t know what a “series” in romance means anymore. It could be:
- A traditional loosely-connected series set in the same “world,” where one sibling/ducal fratpack member/spy after another gets his or her own book, and a reader can skip around without feeling lost.
- A series with an over-arching suspense or paranormal plot; even if there’s a separate romance in each book, the reader will be confused by the overall plot unless she reads them all in order.
- That hot new fad, a trilogy or serial featuring the same romantic couple.
In theory, I’d read any of those, but I want to know which one I’m committing myself to before I start so I can decide if I’m up for the demands it will make on me as a reader; it can be awfully hard to tell. I would love to see more stand-alone romances, but I’m not holding my breath.
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Stuff I’ve read recently but not blogged about (links to Goodreads review if I was moved to leave one):
Mystery: Started a re-read of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books with Case Histories on audio); Malla Nunn (50s South Africa), Andrea Camilleri (Sicily), Jason Goodwin (19th-century Istanbul), and a classic, E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case.
Non-fiction, also on audio: Beryl Markham’s memoir, West With the Night (some beautiful writing and great story-telling but also colonialist attitudes galore); Ariel Saber’s Heart of the City (couples who met in New York public spaces; I assign readings on the value and design of public space in my composition class, so this book seemed made for me. I enjoyed the couples’ stories but the public space theory wasn’t really integrated).
Romance: Jessica Hart’s Promoted: To Wife and Mother (awful title, lovely romance with an older–40 and 47–couple whose real-life problems are somewhat like those in Ruthie Knox’s Big Boy. The best writers for the Harlequin Romance line remind us of something romance seems too often to forget: attraction and lust aren’t just a matter of abs, biceps and twitching cocks or curves and wet panties; they involve the line of a jaw, the set of a mouth, the sound of a laugh, the turn of another’s mind. Hart is one of the best).
What I’m reading now: Isobel Cooper’s No Proper Lady, on my wishlist for ages and snagged on sale (in this case, the blend of historical and paranormal romance is working for me); Zadie Smith’s NW (lacks the sheer exuberance of White Teeth but some interesting formal experiments; she’s great with London voices, I think). And I’m finally going to start reading Gaffney’s Wyckerley Trilogy, in order I think, so that the iconic and controversial To Have and to Hold is not my first experience of her. Jackie Horne’s post (spoilerish) on To Love and to Cherish and Sunita’s comment here provided the kick in the pants I needed. I’m still planning on a summer discussion of these books.