The Week That Was

In which I make some attempt to keep producing blog content while swamped at work.

Goodreads:

I have mostly been ignoring bookish kerfuffles lately. They make me feel bad–about readers, authors, and books. I don’t want to feel that way. But this is more than a kerfuffle. If you don’t know what happened with Goodreads on Friday, these posts from Booksmugglers and Love in the Margins are good summaries, with links.

I’ve decided to leave Goodreads, though I certainly understand why others won’t. Many of my friends are migrating to BookLikes. I might, but I never used the social functions of Goodreads much or got many recommendations there, so I may just take the opportunity to cut back on my social media use procrastination time.

Here’s what tipped me over to leaving:

  • Goodreads announced–on a forum many members don’t belong to–a substantial change to their terms of service–one they had long claimed would not happen–and implemented the change immediately, deleting readers’ reviews and shelves with no warning or grace period to allow those readers to comply with the new requirements. I’ve been dealing with policy for too long to think this is anything but dead wrong.
  • Goodreads wants to monetize user-produced content, so they were always going to have to listen to author and publisher concerns. I get that. But having seen the way they are treating readers vs. the gentle if condescending suggestions they are giving authors (screenshots on the links above) I think they have got the balance wrong.

The worst thing about this? I believe it is a response to uninformed bad publicity–things like Nathan Bransford’s post which described snarky reviews as “bullying” (I refuse to link it) or this Salon article. Those pieces are really poorly researched and argued. I think a false picture of the extent and nature of the problems at Goodreads is getting credence in a lot of places, and a wrongheaded definition of bullying is gaining ground. Super depressing and bad for a thriving book culture.

That Review I Kept Complaining About on Twitter:

I finished it! This is the review I was writing for my college’s literary magazine. What paralyzed me (and this happens every time I agree to write for them) is that I have so little sense of the audience or what voice to use. I can’t chat about me, me, me and my personal response. It’s not a thumbs up/thumbs down, do you want to buy this kind of evaluation. And it’s not a literary critical essay. It’s some mash-up of all those things. It takes me ages to find a way to express my response in a form that seems appropriate.

I can’t say too much about it, but the books I read were two debut novels from small Canadian presses, Corinna Chong’s Belinda’s Rings and Claire Wilkshire’s MaxineThey both play with the coming of age narrative in interesting ways, and I especially enjoyed Maxinewhich is quite funny (2nd set of links to national newspaper reviews).

This Week In My Classes:

Rohan does a great series on this topic and I’d like to be inspired by her example. But this week I’m too lazy. So I will just tell you the best student lines from Friday’s class, in which we discussed four versions of Little Red Riding Hood (“The Grandmother” and the Perrault and Grimms versions, all of which you can read here, and a parody poem by Roald Dahl).

  • “Are you going to ruin all fairy tales for us?” (Yes. Yes, I am).
  • “Well, this version is less rape-y.”

I think these were from the same student, and he definitely got the point of our discussion. Another student introduced us to Sam the Sham’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” But in class, I clicked on a YouTube version of the song featuring images of a guy in a wolf mask and a seductive young woman. And in the credits, the video’s maker thanked his lovely daughter for appearing. I hate to imagine what those students think of me now.

What I’ve Been Reading, and Up Next:

In the absence of Goodreads updates and review mojo, I’ll at least try to keep tabs here.

On audio: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller. I loved Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, her memoir of growing up in what was then in the throes of ceasing to be Rhodesia. This one’s about her mother/family history. It’s good, but her mother (who really resented her first “awful book”) keeps her at a certain distance–which is part of what the book is about, I guess, but it packs less of a punch than the first. This made me think that I’ve read a number of Africa-set books by white writers in recent years, but nothing by black African writers. I need to remedy that.

On paper (yes! from the library): I liked the second Dave Brandstetter mystery from Joseph Hansen, Death Claims, even more than the first. I can see that this will be one of those series where following the personal life of the character is as intriguing as the (very good) mystery. The style, which I’d describe as “lyrical but spare,” really suits me. Here’s a bit from the opening page:

The sand that bracketed the little bay was so white it hurt the eyes. A scatter of old frame houses edged the sand, narrow, high-shouldered, flat-roofed. . . . The bay glinted like blue tile. The craft at anchor might have been dabbed there by Raoul Dufy. It was still bleak. So were the rain-greened hills that shut the place off. He drove down out of them bleakly.

The bleakness was in him.

Up Next:

I started Tom Reiss’ The Black Count. It’s one of those stories of a larger-than-life historical outlier, and absolutely engrossing so far.

I picked up Goldenboy, the second in Michael Nava’s Henry Rios mysteries, from the library.

There will be some romance in the mix: I’ve still got Meljean Brook’s “Falling for Anthony” to read, I want to finish Jeannie Lin’s Sword Dancer because SonomaLass said she’d discuss it around Oct. 1, and I used the 50% off Kobo coupon (finally! found something discounted I wanted to buy) on Emma Barry’s Brave in Heart because of Miss Bates’ review.

Also, I’ll be rereading Merrie Haskell’s The Princess Curse, which we start discussing in class in two weeks. This is a sophisticated middle-grade (i.e. ages 8-12) fantasy, its sources including Romanian folklore (dragons!), Hades and Persephone, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. And yes, that mash-up works. It’s got a great heroine in 13-year-old Reveka. And it’s got one of the most romantic romances I’ve read in a while, actually. Sometimes the un(der)stated–which this has to be–is very much more moving than the explicit.

Obviously, I am not going to get to all those in a week.

 

 

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15 Responses to The Week That Was

  1. lawless says:

    I hate to add (possibly) to your TBR list, but I have to plug DEATH TRICK, the first book in Richard Stevenson’s Donald Strachey series, which is another series about a gay PI that is set around the same time as but doesn’t seem to be as well-known as Michael Nava’s Henry Rios series or Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter series. (DEATH TRICK was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1981.) Most of the books haven’t been reissued, although I think MLR has reissued some of the later ones, and a few of them were made into TV movies for an LGBT network in the mid-2000s.

    I’m somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 through, but so far I like DEATH TRICK better than the Henry Rios book I read (THE LITTLE DEATH) and less than the Dave Brandstetter book I read (NIGHTWORK). His writing style is less noir than Nava’s, but less lyrical than Hansen’s. Make of that what you will.

    It has plot (or maybe they’re character) elements neither of them do, like that Strachey used to be married to a woman. (Picking up the last of his belongings from the house they used to share is one of the early scenes in the book. Interestingly, both Strachey’s lover, his ex-wife, her new husband and his children help pack and load them into the van he rented.) The series is also more relationship-centric in the sense that it looks as though there is a central unwavering relationship that runs through all of them. Part of the fun for me is that the series is set in the city where I used to work and which is the predominant city in the region where I grew up, so I know the geographic and most of the references to places even though I was never aware of the gay culture that existed there at the time.

    I only have a Goodreads account so I can access the free stories the m/m romance group prompts, solicits, and posts every year. I use Shelfari to track what I read. Amazon is the only place I’ve posted reviews.

    • Sunita says:

      I sort-of-reviewed Death Trick on my old blog a couple of years ago and liked it a lot. Stevenson reads more like genre gay mystery (with a romantic subplot) to me, whereas Nava and Hansen cross over more into gay fiction. If I were ranking, I’d say Hansen is the best flat-out writer, with Nava next and then Stevenson, but each of them do one thing better than the other two for me as a reader. All the Stevenson books are available at MLR books as ebooks and some if not all are available at ARe (including the first one) and then a few at Amazon.

      • lawless says:

        Thanks for the info. I didn’t realize the ebooks weren’t available from Amazon. Stevenson’s books don’t seem to be as well-known as Hansen’s and Nava’s.

        What is the difference between gay fiction and genre gay mystery anyway? I more or less know (or can intuit) the difference between gay fiction and m/m romance (beyond the gender of the writer, I mean), but I’m not sure how gay fiction gets sliced up into genres.

        Stevenson has a few grammatical tics, but I like his writing better than Nava’s. Like you, I think Hansen is the best writer of the bunch. Part of that, though, may be that I found Rios’ jadedness (in the first book, at least) tiresome. The legal stuff is accurate, but as a former lawyer myself it’s perhaps both dull and too pointed, and THE LITTLE DEATH reinforced the impression that gay life is an unrelenting and unsatisfying struggle. I’m more interested in something more aspirational than that hoping that eventually being gay or lesbian will become just one aspect of a character’s personality, not the whole of it. .

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I put the Strachey on my “for later” shelf at the library. So I won’t forget it, but it won’t add to my immediate book overload. I’d been meaning to check it out.

  2. Sunita says:

    I loved The Sword Dancer but then you know that already. 😉

    Apparently Goodreads apologized today for deleting reviews and shelves without warning, but I don’t think they’ve offered to reinstate them. Going forward, anyone with pre-September 21 shelves and reviews that violate the new norms will be warned before deletion.

    I killed my GR account back when I wrote all the posts about it, over a year ago. I feel really badly for people like Ridley and Willaful and others who have put so much of their own time and labor into the site; no one deserves to be treated like this, but they are in the group that made GR so valuable and worth acquiring so it’s beyond insulting and horrible to do this to them. My only observation, besides what I’ve said before, is that I wouldn’t pin all this on Amazon or the Amazon acquisition. GR was making sudden, 180-degree-turn decisions (role-play group deletion, anyone?) before they were part of Amazon, and they have been privileging authors over readers for a long time now.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, I saw the apology. They said deletions had only affected 21 users, but user reports seem a lot higher than that. And I’ve also seen links to new stories based on that Salon one, with no acknowledgment that there was disagreement from Goodreads users over the substance of the reporting. It’s a really good reminder that lots of reporting (perhaps especially online) on any subject is not reliable.

      The most distressing thing to me is that the idea that what readers are doing with things like “badly behaving author” or “spammer” or even “author is an asshole” shelves/lists is “bullying” now seems to be an accepted premise of the stories. I do think–from what I saw–that there was some harrassing behavior from readers, and that some readers on both “sides” of any given incident (those critical of an author and the author’s fans/friends/supporters) just seemed to enjoy fighting. But. Some authors seemed to deliberately create/stir up drama as well, and certainly some harrassed readers. The lack of acknowledgment that the behavior went both ways and that readers were not just randomly selecting authors for criticism, but highlighting books or actions they saw as problematic, is troubling. There is some very one-sided reporting.

    • Ridley says:

      I feel really badly for people like Ridley and Willaful and others who have put so much of their own time and labor into the site

      I feel like a moron for all the librarian shit I did for that site. I should’ve known better.

    • lawless says:

      I’m glad I stuck with Shelfari, though my reasons for doing so had to do with ease of use, not anything to do with the site itself. I almost never post anything to my Shelfari account other than ratings, anyway.

  3. SonomaLass says:

    Your class comments made me think of this: http://ipad.themarysue.com/themarysue/#!/entry/daughter-wants-to-dress-as-wolf-dad-dresses-as-red,50a673f3d7fc7b567062972e

    I have to re-read The Sword Dancer, and I have a trip coming up this weekend, but I will host a discussion on October 1 over at my blog. (Sunita, and otjers, are welcome to participate!) Like you, I’m trying to use the Goodreads debacle as motivation to post my reading thoughts at my own blog.

    I created a Booklikes profile, and I’m considering posting my Goodreads content there just because I can upload it all at once and give it a home. I’ll feel less guilty about the authors whose books I enjoyed. But going forward, I plan to host my own review content, and if I use an aggregating site, I will just post links or summaries.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I hope more blogs and livelier blog discussion will be one outcome of this. But Goodreads did provide a centralized place for interaction that a lot of people will miss if they scatter to various other places.

  4. pamela1740 says:

    I think I’m going to try and get my girls interested in The Princess Curse – it sounds great. If they can get over their knee-jerk anti-princess reaction to the title ;-/. That, in fact, is the curse of the Disney princesses and the way they seem to have absorbed all of the powerful princess mythology in the hearts and minds of girls during the preschool years, so that by the time they are middle grade readers many (mine at least) refuse to consider anything remotely princessical.

    Your class sounds great!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Well, if it helps, the heroine isn’t a princess. She’s an herbalist’s apprentice. She wants to break the princesses’ curse so she can get enough money to join a convent and become an herbalist–she loves learning and she wants somewhere she can be in charge. This isn’t quite how it works out, but she’s a very non-princessy heroine.

      • pamela1740 says:

        Thanks! Sounds like something they’d love. One of the hardest things about parenting, for me, is dialing down my tendency to be a total book-pusher and get over-invested in books I know they’d like. It takes a certain patience which is very tough for me to practice, just to offer the suggestion and let them pass it over for all kinds of transitory, often fickle, reasons. “I don’t like it when the animals talk.” “I only like fantasy where the animals are magic and talk like humans.” I usually re-introduce them several times, like a new food or cuisine. I sometimes feel as if the books and I are lying in wait for them, ready to spring up at the opportune time when the minds are open.

  5. Lynn Spencer says:

    Though I am not personally affected by the deletions, I think Goodreads has handled the entire rule change issue poorly from start to finish. When I learned of it this weekend, I decided to take a “wait and see” attitude toward the whole thing because I do enjoy reading some folks’ recommendations and reviews there and I like some of the site features. Recent postings on GR aren’t helping, though. I’m still at GR for now, but I set up an account over at Booklikes just in case.

    As an aside, I’m starting to cringe whenever I see Goodreads and Salon in the same sentence.

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