Monday, May 10, 2010


Since I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the program I attended in class, I thought I would write about it on the blog. One program that looked interesting was a budget gourmet type of program. I like food, and I spend too much money on it, so I thought that would be perfect. I called the number listed to register and it took two transfers to get to the person who could sign me up, and she kind of acted like it was a pain. When I told her why I was calling she sighed and said she would have to stand up and go get the sign-up sheet, and then she paused, as if I would change my mind based on the misfortune she would have to endure if I continued my request. I said nothing and she put me on hold, then came back and took down my name. I thought that they could have made it a more simple process if they wanted people to register for the program, and that her attitude was a bit off-putting. I was still going though.

I arrived early for the program and asked at the circulation desk where it was being held, and they didn’t know. That too, seemed inappropriate to me. Circulation was right in front at this library and there was a large sign advertising the program right next to the desk. Surely they are often asked about the programs and it would not be difficult to keep abreast of where things were happening in the rather small building. Luckily as I walked further into the library I saw chairs set up and handouts on a table, so I didn’t have to ask anyone else.

As people began to show up, I noticed most of the people attending were retirement age. I was expecting from the title of the program more of a mom-type crowd, but the library was not my local one and I didn’t really know the demographics of the area. Based on the handouts the presenter seemed to be expecting more of a family age crowd as well. There were some interesting strategies in the handouts about how to make leftovers stretch and how to coordinate your family’s activities to all have mealtimes together more often.

While we were looking over our handouts, the presenter began setting up her table. She had a little hotplate and had several ingredients out for the dish she was going to show us how to make, Skillet Lasagna. We were actually set up kind of in the middle of the library, rather than in a conference room, so there was quite a bit of traffic going around us. Sitting next to me was a retirement age man, we will call him Floyd, who knew everyone in the library and kept yelling out names and saying hello while people were walking by.

The presenter started by telling us what the program was about, and then remembered to introduce herself, and talked about the recipe she was going to create. She did this while working on the recipe. It was kind of like a cooking show but less organized. Also, she kept talking about budget cooking for families despite there only being a couple of people there who were of the age to still have families at home, me being one of them and I don’t have children. Finally Floyd mentioned to her that he lived by himself and he knew “Ethel” and “Sophia” did as well, so all of this would make too much food for them. She responded that he could freeze parts of it, and then went on with the program.

She didn’t do a poor job, but I did feel like she could have tried to adapt a little more to her audience. To make up for that, Floyd just started yelling out his own tips from years of single living, like that a toaster oven used less energy and who needs a full oven when you live by yourself? You can often buy spices for a dollar at CVS, and turkey bacon is just as good as regular bacon. If he gets his walk in every day why he can just eat whatever he would like anyway. Though I thought that perhaps the presenter should have tried a little harder to wrest control of the program back from Floyd, I found him more interesting than her, so I didn’t mind too much.

When the food was done she invited everyone up for samples. Since the recipe had meat in it I didn’t partake. Floyd assured me it would be easy to pick out, and even offered to do it for me, but I declined. I did however, make the recipe at home with Boca crumbles, and it turned out really good.

To be honest, I didn’t learn much about budget cooking in the class. Her main advice was based on meat and buying generic brands, and I try to buy fresh or local foods and I don’t eat meat. But I did learn some things that will be useful in running programs in the future. Knowing your demographic and making sure your presenter knows it, making sure your staff are up to date on what is going on, streamlining a registration process and maybe learning to take aside the Floyd’s and ask them to please next time let the presenter speak (though that would have taken a lot of fun out of the presentation for me) all seem like they would make for a smoother presentation. Even with all of the flaws though, I don’t think it was a bad presentation or a waste of time. Here’s the recipe we learned:

Skillet Lasagna Serves 4

½ pound lean ground beef, pork or turkey (I used Boca)
½ cup chopped onion
1 can tomato sauce (15 ounce)
1 ½ cup water
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon basil
3 cups noodles, uncooked
1 pound fresh or frozen (thawed) chopped spinach
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
½ cup low-fat shredded mozzarella (I used more mozz, like a LOT more. Yum)
Note: Spaghetti sauce may be substituted for tomato sauce and spices

1. Brown meat in a large skillet. Drain and rinse to remove some of the fat.
2. Add to skillet onion, tomato sauce, water, and spices.
3. Cover and bring to a boil.
4. Add noodles, cover and simmer for five minutes.
5. Stir in spinach and simmer another five minutes. Stir again.
6. Spoon cottage cheese on top and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella.
7. Cover and simmer 10 more minutes. If mixture gets too dry, add a little more water.

Fiction and Gaming

A few days ago I bought a video game based on a paranormal romance novel by Marjorie M. Liu. Marjorie did many signings at our store so I have read most of her earlier novels – I always read the novels of people who were doing signings so I could hand sell them. She is a talented writer and her series about the Dirk and Steel paranormal detective agency is really great if you can handle the romancey part of it. She also writes comic books and has written an X-Men novel. She is nice, and beautiful, and has a law degree of all things. So, she’s pretty much the perfect woman but is nice enough to make me want to support her endeavors and support the idea of fiction in gaming in general.

Great stories can make great games. I am a gamer. I love playing games with friends or alone. I also love fiction, especially great fiction. When great fiction and great games come together wonderful things happen. In this age of constantly evolving technology the fiction world needs to grab on to the idea that readers being able to interact in a conscious way with their world can make their world better, and make their readers love it all the more. I think librarians, who stereotypically shun video games, need to take a hard look at emerging trends in interactive fiction and be on the forefront of what’s going to come out of it.

Games like Dungeons and Dragons, though blamed for everything from suicides to murder and devil worship, encourage collaborative storytelling and require critical thinking. More recent online versions of these tabletop role-playing games still ensure that people are working collaboratively but often take the more interesting narrative aspect either out of play or out of the player’s hands. I think as librarians we should encourage the creation of games that reward creative thought and storytelling as much or more as they reward figuring out the rules and how to apply them. Fiction in games is a great gateway drug to reading, and with librarians becoming more and more tech savvy, we can be at the forefront of helping to create the next generation of interactive fiction.

Jane McGonigal, of the Institute for the Future, gave a great lecture at last year’s TED conference on how gaming can save the world. I think her premise is awesome and she is brilliant – and she just might be able to do it. As a future librarian my ambition is maybe more mundane: I think we can learn a new way to tell some really good stories.

Publishing is Not Going to Die

A couple of weeks ago we had a reading called, “Self-Publish or Perish? The Implications of Digital Book Production.” The assumption of the article was that traditional publishing was going to go by the wayside shortly and that the wave of the future was self-publishing. I am afraid that Fenton is full of crap. He makes several poorly researched points and uses logical fallacies to try to sell his opinion – that great authors are going to come out of the woodwork and self-publish their books in SPITE of the mean nasty editors who keep turning them down, we are all going to read them and be happy- voila! Thank you, digital revolution.

Fenton makes a logical leap in one of his big assumptions – that publishing books digitally will somehow result in the demise of publishers. Let me ask you – has the surge of affordable camcorders resulted in the demise of Hollywood? No, it has resulted in a bunch of crappy YouTube videos. Self-publishing is the YouTube of the book world except it has some bigger and more damaging pitfalls.

Fenton states that with today’s technology, “anyone can publish and market a book, produce it and order it cost effectively with Web-based services.” And that is perfectly true! Yet, how many of those books are ones we want to read? Very, very few.

One of his illogical assumptions is that all a publisher does is print a book. If someone is a good writer, does that also make them a good copy-editor? How about a great graphic artist? Do they have marketing skills? Do they know and understand the process of getting a book on the shelves of a bookstore? How about the legal implications of things they have written? If not, do they have the cash on hand to hire all of these people and to live on while they write? These are all things that a publisher helps to take care of or does. Yet Fenton doesn’t even mention these services, which are necessary whether a book is printed or an e-book.

Another mistake Fenton makes is ignoring one of the biggest trends in self-publishing: getting ripped off. Fenton looks at one of the good and honest self-publishing agencies, Yet a lot of self-published authors are not using Lulu, because Lulu is straight-forward about what it can provide. On demand books are hard to sell. They are more expensive than normal books, a bookstore cannot return them, and they are often terrible and full of typos. Self-publishing companies like Publish America, which claims to be America’s most prolific publisher, pretend that they are a “traditional” publisher but that THEY are willing to give your manuscript a chance. They charge exorbitant rates for services that they do not perform, like copy editing and marketing. If they did perform these services, the manuscripts submitted by several different writers’ advocacy books that did things like repeat the first 15 pages 15 times or try to write the worst novel in the world Atlanta Nights would not have been accepted.

Publish America and companies like them are ripping people off while pretending to fulfill their dreams. It makes money by charging people to print their books, charging them for non-existent services, and then selling them said copies of books that people try to hawk to bookstores themselves. It recently had a promotion in which it they would submit up to five copies of your book to Random Houses submission editors. What a great deal! You only had to buy ten copies to get them to do it! And surely, if they get FIVE copies, someone will read at least ONE of them, right? Except, if one wanted to be published by Random House, why not just send your manuscript to them yourself? Oh, because they don’t accept manuscripts from writers without agents. What did they do with all the unagenteded manuscripts that flooded in from PublishAmerica authors? They threw them away. Fenton and PublishAmerica are making the same leap here. The only “success story” Fenton mentions in his article is a woman who self-published, was noticed, and then picked up by a regular publisher. But, if the whole publishing model is coming to an end, why use someone published in the old-fashioned way as a success story?

The whole point is, despite the huge amounts of people self-publishing, we aren’t reading their books. They aren’t selling and they aren’t being reviewed. Mostly because they are bad – if they are good, they are generally able to find a publisher that will pay the author, not the other way around. The ease of producing books digitally does not make publishers less needed – just like the ease of finding huge amounts of information does not make librarians less needed. If we want to support a new model and change the way books are published we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, support smaller presses like Subterranean Press, Mercury House, or Small Beer Press. These are discriminating presses who publish very talented writers, and I like that. I like having experts wade through the slush pile and pick out some books for me. Sometimes, there is a reason for experts.

John Scalzi wrote a short play in three acts on the issue here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creatures and Crinolines!

While doing research for my reference final today, I ran into this slideshow of monster/classic fiction mashup from the Huffington Post I thought you all would be interested in. There are several on there we haven't talked about in class.

Guns of Wolf Valley

There were a few things I knew about westerns before reading the chapter and my western novel. First of all, men who read westerns read them like women who read romance read romances. They will read them constantly and consistently, they rarely read the back cover to see if they will enjoy the plot because they know they usually do. Secondly, a western can be falling apart, have coffee or weird stains on it, all in all look outright disgusting and a man who reads westerns won’t notice and will pay the same amount of money for it that he will pay for one in pristine condition. In a used bookstore, you often have to make hard decisions about which books you can put on a shelf and which you shouldn’t pay or give trade credit for. With romances you can’t really keep the ucky ones, women don’t want to read sex scenes in a book that smells like cigarette smoke and has odd smears on it. Westerns though, you can sell and sell again until pages start falling out, and then again after if you tape them back together, and the guys don’t mind at all.

I decided for my western to read an average one. Not one like Louis L’Amour or someone else who might go beyond the genre, I decided to read a comfortable, well-known but mid-list author so I could get a good sense of the genre as a whole. So I browsed the shelves at half-price books and found Guns of Wolf Valley by Ralph Cotton. I have heard of Cotton but not a lot, and I couldn’t recall anyone telling me they loved him, but I also couldn’t recall anyone telling me they hated him. Then again, western readers didn’t really talk much. Except for one who always gave me cd’s of himself singing karaoke (to play in the store ) and talked about his great personal friendships with Elvis and Johnny Cash.

Guns of Wolf Valley seemed to be very typical for a western. It definitely reinforced my idea of westerns being men’s romances. I liked it a lot better than I liked my adventure book, but doubt that I will read many just for pleasure. It made me think of the show Deadwood but I think just because of the setting. The plot is fairly simple, with a couple of interesting twists. Guy gets shot by a bunch of toughs but not before talking big and shooting several of them, thus showing him as a Superior Human Being. A couple of toughs make it out alive and the Superior Human (CC Ellis) is found by a young boy and his dog. He and his mother take him home and nurse him back to health, and she keeps pretending her husband is around, even though it’s obvious that he is long gone. She finally admits that he’s been gone for a year and she pretends he’s still there so the preacher in the nearby town won’t come steal her and make her be one of his wives.

Turns out the toughs are employed by said preacher, who really has a cult-like hold on the town. Everyone owes him money or is employed by him. If you owe him too much money he takes your woman, being that she is also a possession. Note that the overt sexism in this novel doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did in the adventure novel, being that it is somewhat period appropriate and, even if the author is sexist or says sexist things, he does not appear to actively despise women as Clive Cussler did. There are some sub-plots with the preacher and some of the people he employs, but they aren’t that interesting.

After about 45 minutes of him being awake, CC and the woman have sex. That might be an exaggeration but it was interesting to note the difference between the western and the romance novel in this case. The romance novel seems to be so much more about what leads up to the sex. In this novel, you don’t even notice any sexual tension or any real reason that the woman would want to sleep with this man, when she’s been keeping celibate and waiting on her husband to come back for a year. I mean all of a sudden they are declaring how lonely they are and doing it in the barn. She was still making him call her Mrs. Mosley! And, I hate to stereotype here, but I guess that is what would make it more a romance for a man, especially the quiet, reserved men who seem to like to read westerns. They don’t want to have to talk, or say anything, or seduce someone, they just want beautiful women to automatically fall into bed with them for no discernible reason. Which I guess makes absolutely perfect sense.

So back to the plot. Some guys arrive in town just in time to see the preacher horsewhip a couple of townsfolk, one for mouthing off and one for getting drunk. These guys have hatched a pretty obvious scam that they think is clever. They have boatloads of money that they want to put in a secure bank, and they decided to ride into an unknown town and announce this to people while holding this bag of money in plain sight, rather than put it quietly into a bank in a town they already know. Of course they need to examine the bank vault before they decide it is secure enough. At this point, they normally would have robbed the bank, but the leader gets a bad feeling and decides to wait around a bit. They state they need to meet this preacher that they have heard so much about before they can trust the bank.

Well it turns out that these are the guys that Ellis was riding here to meet, only he’s decided to give up the outlaw life and stay with Mrs. Mosley and run away to farm in Oregon with her once they figure out a way to get away from the preacher. Turns out he doesn’t like people leaving town for some reason and hunts anyone down who tries to. The outlaw guys don’t like this one bit – it turns out that Mr. Mosley used to ride with them as well, but he got caught and was just about to be executed when they left town.

Exciting events ensue, and, I don’t want to ruin the end for you, but it is really not hard to guess how it turns out. Somehow, the preacher has seen through the outlaws’ cunning ploys, and kills them all by crucifixion. A couple escapes the hold of the preacher and makes it out to the Mosley place. This creates drama, and eventually leads to Ellis going into town to confront the preacher. Mosley wins this confrontation by getting a traumatized kid to shoot the preacher in the head. As he rides triumphantly back to the Mosley ranch to begin his new life, who does he run across but the thought to be dead Sloane Mosley? Yes, somehow his lawyer got him a gun and he broke out at the last minute. This is just like the episode of In Plain Sight I watched yesterday. Make absolutely sure your buddy is really dead before you start sleeping with his or her significant other.

Of course, Sloane immediately suspects CC has slept with his wife, I am not sure why unless she has a habit of falling into bed with every male person she comes across, but CC reminds him that Sloane was the one who told them to come rob the bank here in the first place, so he can’t be mad at him if he slept with his wife. Sloane does some mental gymnastics that somehow make him decide to agree with this logic, and they shake hands and part ways, agreeing to meet up with each other soon for some more outlawing. Looks like Ellis is still going to be a loner outlaw instead of a farmer in Oregon as he and Mrs. Mosley were talking about.

As easy as this book is to make fun of, I did enjoy reading it. It was very fast paced and easy to read. And though the plot was predictable it was also enjoyable. You really wanted to see that preacher get shot in the head. I was waiting and waiting for it, Cotton made him so odious. It had a formulaic feel, but the plot was complex enough to make it interesting even though you were pretty sure the preacher would end up dead and Mosley would come back. All in all, it is definitely one I would recommend to a western reader.

Readers Advisory Lab

In the interest of full disclosure, doing this lab felt a little like cheating. I pretty much do this all the time with my friends and family members; and when I worked at the bookstore it was a huge part of the job. With the tools we have received and the knowledge gained in this class I have a new set of tools for something I have always loved doing. I still think that the most valuable way to find out what people will like is by talking to readers. You can’t read everything, and readers LOVE to talk about what they like and are pleased and proud when they learn they have helped you in your job. One of the things this class taught me was why readers often like who they like, even if the authors seem completely different, like Janet Evanovich and James Patterson. It also has given me ammunition for cross-overs; if someone has read most of their favorite adventure novels and like the quest aspect of them, I know I can send them to read an epic fantasy. I have to say, this class is one of my favorite classes I have ever taken, and I feel lucky to have been able to start my schooling learning about genre fiction with Andrea and such a great bunch of fellow students.

Person #1

My husband is not a huge reader – he’s a gamer. While the rest of us spend our time with our noses in our novels he’s got his in a computer screen or in an RPG manual of some kind. One of my goals in life has been to get him to read fiction. He is not one of those people who do not see the value in it – he has had the value of it hammered into him from a young age with both his parents and his sister all having advanced English degrees. It made him a rebel, a non-reading rebel.

To be honest, he has started reading some non-fiction in the past few years. Books about sustainable living and food mostly. But this lab gave me a good opportunity to force him to read fiction. I know in the past most of the fiction he read was fantasy, but he said that he really didn’t want to read that as much anymore. So I asked what might interest him, and he talked about things like military history and Japanese culture. He said he wanted something that he could set down easily because he’s a slow reader. Based on those criteria I thought historical fiction would be his best bet.

One of the first books I came up with on Novelist was Shogun by James Clavell. Since he was in the room while I was doing the search I mentioned that to him, and he said he loved the miniseries based off that novel and wouldn’t mind reading the book so I went no farther. We got the novel, or rather, the two volumes of the novel at a used bookstore and he is still reading it. He reads for about an hour in the mornings on the weekends while he is drinking his coffee, and likes to share quotes from the book that he finds funny with me. This gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure because I love sharing my love of fiction and have always hoped that Mark would catch the reading bug. While we were on vacation with his family last month his mom took pictures of him reading and said it was a dream come true. Now if only I can get him to eat broccoli.

Person #2

This woman is a biology student and a voracious reader. She keeps herself incredibly busy with gardening, work, and schoolwork. Now, we trade books back and forth all the time, so I am pretty familiar with her tastes. That made this advisory fairly interesting for me, because I know this is a woman who will read ANYTHING. So I didn’t really have to worry about genre or difficulty, just matching her mood. She said she had just reread all of Dickens and wanted something obsessive – a series of thick novels that would last her a while and that she wouldn’t be able to wait to read the next one. The first series I recommended was the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. It currently has 12 books in the series and I remember when I first started reading it I would race to the bookstore at 10:30 trying to get there before it closed to get the next one. She immediately brightened at that because she had heard of it but never gotten around to reading it. I also recommended the Assassin series by Robin Hobb. She got both series and started with the Wheel of Time and read up to book four. Then she was out of Wheel of Time but still had Robin Hobb, so she decided to switch rather than buy the next one. She has since read nine of Robin Hobb’s books and is switching back to the Wheel of Time now.

Person #3

This guy is a good friend and fellow science fiction and fantasy fan. I always loan him books, so I asked him if he would mind participating in this lab with me. He said no problem. I asked him what he was in the mood to read and he said, oh you know what I like, just pick something. Great, I thought. However I do know what he likes, generally, so I did some searching. He loved the Forgotten Realms Drizzt Do’urden books, and I know his life hasn’t been easy lately, so I thought some light series fiction might cheer him up. I recommended the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. A few weeks later I asked him how it was going, and he said that it seemed good, but just wasn’t really what he was in the mood for.

Grrr…I thought. Regardless, I asked what he was in the mood for. He said that he was more into non-fiction lately, and if it was something I could loan him that would be even better, because he had library fines. The most recent non-fiction he had read and liked was a biography of Obama.

Now this made me feel a bit like a cheater, because really at this point I was limited to my own shelves, which made the search a lot easier. I have a pretty extensive book collection, so usually it is not a problem to find at least one book for someone to read. The choices I came up with for him were an autobiography of Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols, Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, and all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. He immediately went for Reefer Madness. I had not read it yet, but had enjoyed Schlosser’s other book Fast Food Nation.

When I asked him about the book he said he thought it would have more about marijuana from the title and that it had a lot about the porn industry. I apologized and he said that was ok, he liked both. Then he asked if I minded if he loaned it to his mom. Weird, I said, but sure. He laughed and said it had a lot about sex industry workers, and his mom was a nurse in a not-so-great neighborhood and treated a lot of sex workers. That made me feel a little less creeped out. So, despite the rough beginning and the almost cheating, I feel like person #3 was a success.

Person #4

This woman is my neighbor and a very good friend. She has an 8-month old boy and works full-time. She asked for something very light and fun to distract her from a stressful life. Honestly, I didn’t look anywhere, I just handed her a stack of Janet Evanovich books. I know her mom and her sister both enjoy them, and it is always a plus to be able to share books you enjoy with your family and friends.
Whenever I had checked on her progress on the books, she has ho-hummed and talked about how full her DVR was or her new X-Box game. She admitted last week that she hadn’t cracked one yet. This weekend I went to Drink for a Cure at Mallow Run Winery, one of our favorite wineries that we usually go to together but she wasn’t able to make it this time. I picked up a bottle for her, and when she asked what she owed me for it I told her she owed me some reading time and to get cracking on that Evanovich. Today she stopped by and said that she has started it! She said that she is just getting to know the characters, and she is interested in continuing to read it, but hasn’t gotten far enough to say whether she loves it or not yet. She was able to find the tenth book in the series so that’s the one she started with. I can never remember which ones have which plots so I asked her what had happened so far, and she said Stephanie’s car just blew up.

She was more of a reader before getting married and having a baby, and I think that she wants to get back into reading but hasn’t figured out a way to work it into her life yet. Hopefully my bribing her with wine and guilting her with my assignment due date will help her merge her new life with her old reader self. However, I’m not sure I can call it a successful readers’ advisory if I have to ply someone with gifts to get them to read a book. I’ll let you guys decide.

Person #5

Person #5 is my sister-in-law. When she and my brother came to visit she told me she was out of authors to read. She said her favorite lately was Kim Harrison, who writes urban fantasy. The hard thing about urban fantasy for her is that so much of it has so much sex and romance, and while she doesn’t mind a little sex and romance she doesn’t want it to be the center of the story. She also suggested the first few Laurell K. Hamilton books until they started getting “raunchy” as read-a-likes for what she was looking for. We did some searching together and I ended up recommending Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and T.A. Pratt’s Marla Mason series. I assured her that there was very little sex and romance in these novels. After I said that, she reminded me that she didn’t mind some sex and romance, so we looked more. After discounting all the series she has already read we decided to try L.A. Banks as well. When I spoke to her she said that she read L.A. Banks and really liked her. She said that she knows she read some of the other authors as well but couldn’t remember which ones, and said she would keep looking for them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Successful Secret Shopper!

I feel like I’ve been absent all week from the great discussions everyone has been having. I’ve been reading them, just too exhausted to participate. We closed on our house on Tuesday and have been packing and painting and lifting heavy objects. That did not, however, prevent me from doing my secret shopper last week; it just kept me from writing about it. I apologize in advance if I sound a bit loopy – I think I have achieved the permanent high all those dead white guys were looking for in the 60s, and it’s as easy as continuously inhaling paint fumes and bleach except for when you are being told by people in suits to sign papers and eating too much Jimmy Johns because it’s the only place you have a menu for in the neighborhood. I’m kidding. There’s no such thing as too much Jimmy Johns.

For my secret shopper I decided to be a liar and pretend that I hadn’t really read much since high school – that way I would know right away if my librarian was making good choices or not. Now, I am a terrible liar, I get all nervous and never know what to say. Fortunately, that must have made me seem like an average 30-something who doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing in the library, because my sweet librarian didn’t bat an eye at my shifty and neurotic demeanor.

I had never been to the library at which I secret shopped, and the first thing I noticed was that they had vending machines. This made me happy, because that is what snacks do. But I eventually found my way to the information desk. There were two women staffing it, one of whom was working with a patron and the other was putting stickers in books. There was a patron holding a book hovering in front of the desk and, thinking she was waiting in line, I hovered behind her. The young woman stickering immediately looked up and asked if she could help me, so I guess the other woman had a different reason to hover.

I walked to the desk, nervously, and asked her if she could help me find something to read. She brightened. She looked like this picture I have of my friend Katie taken at the exact moment my mom told her she had made oatmeal cookies. The picture is currently in my camera at the other house, but I will someday edit this post to include it. She said she would be happy to help me, and that they had tools to help her find something even if she didn’t know anything I might like off of the top of her head.

That sounded really promising, so I sat down and blurted out that I hadn’t read much since high school. Getting that lie out was not easy. First of all, I am one of those annoying people who does not like asking for help. Secondly, as my grandmother used to tell me, I am full of pride and vanity and don’t really like pretending that I don’t know something that I do. I am completely ignorant about say, physics and chemistry and American Idol contestants, but I generally know how to find something to read. Thirdly, this girl was so sweet and helpful and nice and I felt like I was deceiving her. Theoretically I agree with the need to secret shop, and perhaps I would be happy to lie my face off to a librarian with a bad toupee and who thinks ladies don’t like beer, I don’t know. But I felt bad lying to her and hoped I didn’t have to say anything bad about her.

So she asked me what had I read in high school. I told her that I had really liked Dragonlance and wanted to know if there was anything like Dragonlance for adults. She said that she didn’t know much about fantasy but one author she liked was Margaret Atwood and asked had I ever read her. I lied and said no. She told me to start with the Handmaid’s Tale and wrote that down for me and put in a request for it in the library system. Then she said she really wasn’t sure if that was like Dragonlance or not, and did I want to look for some more choices. This made me feel better, because Margaret Atwood is nothing like Dragonlance, though I could definitely see why she would pick her as a good speculative fiction for adults author.

I told her that I would love a couple more choices and she told me that she had this great tool called NoveList. She said I could access it myself from the library’s website and turned her computer screen to where I could see it to show me how. She told me about several of Novelists’ features, and then proceeded to find an annotated list of fantasy series somewhere and scrolled through it, asking if any looked interesting. So really, the only thing she could have done here was asked me what I liked about Dragonlance to narrow down the search. Everything else she did was perfect.

I liked her so I quickly pointed to Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as one that looked interesting, telling her I had studied folklore in college. She looked it up to see if they had the first one and put in a request for me when she saw they did not. She then asked if I would like to go to the stacks and see if anything caught my eye. I said sure, and she got up and led me to the fantasy section, where she brightened again when she saw an apparently familiar patron. She greeted him and asked him if he would know of a series that was like Dragonlance for adults. He immediately said The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, which I agree is pretty much spot on. It’s got more complexity than Dragonlance but is still pretty much brain candy. She looked to see if it was on the shelf and, finding it, asked him if he knew what the first book was, which he did, which was there. Perfection!

She handed me the book and asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I told her no, I had lots of choices and was happy. She reminded me about NoveList but also said not to be afraid to ask them for help again. I thanked her and she went back to the desk.

I checked that stupid book out even though I literally own three copies because they are so thick the paperbacks always fall apart so I buy new ones whenever I see them at used bookstores. I have probably read that book, the first one, at least 10 times because you have to read the dumb things again every time a new one comes out if you want to have any clue as to what’s going on. This is a series that I have been reading out loud to my husband for about two years now, and we are on book 9, Winter’s Heart, which is the worst one. In case you can’t tell, I have a love-hate relationship with this series. Regardless, I checked it out because I didn’t want the librarian to wonder why I hadn’t, so it is in the passenger seat of my car, waiting for me to remember to grab the DVD I have to return as well so as not to waste a trip.

All in all my librarian did a great job. She was welcoming, knowledgeable, and used several different means of finding the right book for me. She taught me how to find the knowledge on my own but made sure I knew it was ok to ask for help too. Success!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Shades of Grey

Jasper Fforde
Shades of Grey
Published 2009
ISBN: 0670019631

Reading Jasper Fforde is very hard to describe. For me, it’s kind of like watching a French art film but getting it, or reading Flatland again but enjoying it. His latest novel, Shades of Grey, is a bit more serious than his romps into the world of fiction with Thursday Next, as odd as that will sound to someone who has never read him. The plot of this book is largely building. Those familiar with fantasy trilogies will recognize the book as the one that establishes the world and the quest. I mention this mainly because many reviews have stated that the conclusion was underwhelming; I personally don’t think these reviewers read much fantasy. The conclusion of this book is not the end; it is the beginning of a new trilogy that holds a lot of promise.

The world in Shades of Grey is a Colortocracy. The “Something That Happened” in the far distant past (our current world) severely limited the ability of people to see color. For those who can see colors, they can usually only see a few shades of one. So, the hierarchy is first of all established by what color you can see. Purple is the most desired; if you are a Purple you are pretty much set for life. If you can’t see colors at all you are a Grey, and are fit only for manual labor. Within your color you are placed by how much of your color you can see. If you can see a lot, you can be made Prefect or work for National Color, and enjoy a position of authority. If you can’t see much, better make sure to earn a lot of merits so you’ll be able to marry someone with a higher percentage than you and keep your lineage out of the Grey.

Eddie, our main character, sees Red very well, but he isn’t old enough to have taken his color perception test yet, so he isn’t quite sure of his percentage. Eddie needs to learn humility for questioning one of the Rules of Munsell. Munsell was a prophet who created rules for everything, and his wisdom is what these people live and breathe. Quotes are speckled across the book, like rule number “ Juggling shall not be practiced after 4:00 p.m.” or number “ The cucumber and tomato are both fruit; the avocado is a nut. To assist with the dietary requirement of vegetarians, on the first Tuesday of the month the chicken is officially a vegetable.”

As silly as these rules sound, they are enforced rigorously. Change is fiercely discouraged, and, though Eddie did not technically break a rule, his trouble making has gotten him and his father sent to a backwater town on the edge of the boundary for him to conduct a chair census. His crime? Figuring out a more efficient way for people to stand in line.

This “queuing problem” has not only sent him out to the Fringes, it has endangered his half-promise (meaning he is promised, she can still change her mind) engagement to Constance Oxblood, who would be a great catch for a promising and ambitious young man like Eddie Russet. But then he meets a pretty young Grey named Jane, who flaunts her disobedience of the Rules and all those who enforce them. The things she shows him will change Eddie’s life forever.
This is just scraping the top off of this plot. Fforde’s details are always exquisitely rendered in every line of dialogue, and despite the excessively strange world that he creates he manages to keep exposition (the enemy of all speculative fiction) to a minimum. Randomly, some facts about the world he creates include:

• The only map that survived the “Epiphanic event” was a Risk board.
• Technological achievements have mostly all been purged due to the government imposing “Leap-backs,” thus people must make do with less and less technology all the time.
• Communication after curfew is only had by banging Morse code on the radiators.
• Curfew is at dark as the people in Eddie’s time have pupils the size of pinpricks and believe there is absolutely no light in the darkness and are terrified of it.
• National Color mines troves of items from before the “Something That Happened” period to produce artificial color that everyone can see.
• Spoons are extraordinarily valuable, as making new ones is against the Rules.

Despite the weirdness of the plot, the level of cleverness is never overpowered by the ridiculousness of everything. Maybe that’s Jasper Fforde’s biggest skill: pushing the boundaries of ridiculousness farther and farther, until you are just sure that eventually it’s gotta give and explode and there will be ridiculous all over you – and then you’ll say, “This is a very silly book,” and put it down. But that never happens. Instead, like Voltaire, he uses the absurd to push back at the world a bit, show the silliness inherent in our rules and policies, and the danger inherent in obedience to authority.

ETA: On Amazon I found a link to this PDF "Cheat Sheet" for the book. It gives a better summary of some of the people, places, and things in it than I have.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

Midnight Robber
Nalo Hopkinson
ISBN: 978-0446675604
Published: 2000

I found Nalo Hopkinson several years ago through nothing more sophisticated than browsing the shelves. I had just read a science fiction novel by another Caribbean-born writer and really enjoyed the cadence of the dialog. So I was thrilled when I stumbled across Midnight Robber; Nalo Hopkinson’s second novel, a New York Times Notable book of 2000 and a finalist for several different science fiction awards.

Nalo Hopkinson was born in the Caribbean but has spent most of her adult life in Canada. If you spend time following science fiction awards, scholarship, panels at conventions and anthologies than you may have heard of her, if not – good luck. Her fiction is infused with the language, culture and style of her hybrid island culture, and one of her goals in Midnight Robber was to imagine what if technology had developed without so much western culture and influence behind it? What would language be like on a planet that had been colonized by the people of the Caribbean 500 years ago? What, in fact, would people who had been colonized themselves and came from a post-colonial time period do when they were put on a planet with other sentient life? But all of those are just background questions to the main story, which is based on a girl and a legend. The girl is Tan-Tan, and the legend is of the Midnight Robber.

Tan-Tan was born a privileged and wealthy girl on a privileged and wealthy world, one of the many Nation Worlds prepared and maintained with nanomites, massive amounts of tiny particles that built everything there was, analyzed everything everyone did, and kept everyone safe and protected. Granny Nanny, or the Grande Nanotech Sentient Interface, knows what goes on in the houses, minds and bodies of nearly everyone on the planet, except for a few religious nuts who run a pedicab company. It’s time for Carnival, and that means sightings of Tan-Tan’s favorite Carnival character, the Midnight Robber. Brandishing weapons, a cape, and an elaborate sombrero, the Midnight Robber stops people in the streets to tell them in a lyrical symphony his tale of woe, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and exile from his land that led to him having no choice but to become a bandit. If passersby enjoy his tale, they give him coins or small gifts. Tan-Tan has made up her own Robber Queen to play by herself or with her house’s eshu (computer) and her nurse.

When Tan-Tan’s selfish and power-hungry father, Antonio, commits a crime of passion, the only options the town has to choose from are life imprisonment or exile. Using a bit of hacked nanny-song (Granny Nanny’s version of programming), Antonio manages to take Tan-Tan with him in his exile to New Half-Way Tree, the prison planet. Lush and ripe, the planet is full of strange and dangerous plants, bugs, people, and species. Learning how to live on a planet full of hard labor and criminals without connection to her eshu ends up being the least of the hardships Tan-Tan has to face on her way to becoming living legend.

At the beginning and woven throughout the novel there is a narrator, telling Tan-Tans’ story to what seems like a single person. Spread throughout the story the narrator tells folk-tales about Tan-Tan the Robber Queen in the sensual, lyrical speech Hopkinson created for this novel. She has an essay about the process on her website, where she says linguists call what she has done “code-sliding,” kind of like hacking languages:

I realized after a while that I was using a Trinidadian mode of address for emphasis/irony and a Jamaican one to signal opposition; the latter coming at least in part out of my recognition of the ways that Rastafari has created "dread talk" as a language of resistance. I'm fascinated with the notion of breaking an imposed language apart and remixing it. To speak in the hacked language is not just to speak in an accent or a creole; to say the words aloud is an act of referencing history and claiming space. The people of the Nation Worlds in my novel have done that, have left Earth to a place where they can make their own society. Their speech, written and spoken, reflects the reasons they've made that journey.

I don’t want to give too much away about the rest of the story because it is such a wonderful book, I want everyone to read it and fall in love with Nalo Hopkinson and buy all of her stuff and make her rich. The appeals are easy to name, but they might not work for all readers. One of the things I love the most about it is obviously the language, but some readers I know find it distracting and hard to comprehend. Here’s a sample from the beginning:

It had a woman, you see, a strong, hard-back woman with skin like cocoa-tea. She two foot-them tough from hiking through the diable bush, the devil bush on the prison planet of New Half-Way Tree. When she walk, she foot strike the hard earth bup! like breadfruit dropping to the ground. She two arms hard with muscle from all the years of hacking paths through the diable bush on New Half-Way Tree. Even she hair itself rough and wiry; long black knotty locks springing from she scalp and corkscrewing all the way down she back. She name Tan-Tan, and New Half-Way Tree was she planet.

This dialect is only used during speech and the first-person narration, but still some readers may find it too difficult. Another appeal is plot. The plot is so strong, heart-wrenching, and so beautifully told that I don’t really want to tell you most of it on this blog. I just want to talk about how pretty the words are and convince you to discover the plot for yourself.

Lastly, science fiction is a genre that while it has a lot of characters of color, most of them, as Hopkinson puts it, have been “white-washed.” There may be lots of diversity in science fiction in terms of color, but not as much in terms of culture. My favorite example is from the best science fiction show EVER Babylon 5. In the pilot episode the head doctor on the space station was strongly African, and the second in command Asian. In the first regular episode, after the network had made their changes, the head doctor was African-American but light-skinned with a more European profile and the second in command was changed to someone who said she was Russian but had no accent. Trying to be representative of different cultures apparently just bores a mass audience to tears – so they give the form without the substance. This book does not do that. It is heavily steeped in Caribbean culture. Some people like that and some people don’t, and it is not always the most comfortable question to ask. So…I think it is an appeal, because I find it fun.

Sorry this was so long, but I keep thinking about more things to say. There are definitely some things in this novel that might steer readers away from it – bad language and some violent (ie not romantic) sex scenes. But it is a brilliant novel by a fascinating and talented woman and it deserves a lot more recognition. So, buy it for your libraries!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Your Scandalous Ways

Your Scandalous Ways
Loretta Chase
Published 2008

So, I have to admit. I haven’t really read many romance novels. I mean, I’m not exactly like ewww…sex or yuck, stupid girl emotions– it’s just my escapism has always focused more on a galactic scale than a personal one. You know, I usually like my life just fine; I worry more about the planet, or the state of education, or how the gov’ment is corrupt. That’s why I like science fiction and fantasy- that brand of escapism allows me to live my own life, which I love, but in a different universe – cause I never felt like this one was that hot. It doesn’t have dragons.

Regardless of my reasons, my romance reading has been limited. When I would run out of suggestions for romance readers at my bookstore, there was one website I knew I could count on, easily my favorite out of the many, many romance readers’ websites: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The reviews are witty and interesting, and I had faith that I would be able to find something tolerable if I followed their advice. And I was right. They love Loretta Chase and now I do too.

The book I read was called Your Scandalous Ways, and it features the requisite romantic scene with flowy locks and tangled sheets and deep looks into each others’ eyes on the inside of the cover. The main characters’ name is Francesca Bonnard and she is a courtesan and is not ashamed of it. She was cheated on by her British, noble, fancy-pants husband who divorced and humiliated her when she retaliated in kind. Shamed and friendless, she stole incriminating letters from her husband and fled to Venice and decided love was for suckers. From then on, she was a courtesan to the rich and famous, living a glamorous life and eagerly writing letters to her husband each time she gained a new, higher-class lover.

Enter James. James is a world-weary agent for the British government, and wants nothing more than to return to England and marry a sweet, innocent young maiden. You know, the kind of girl romance novels are usually about. Before he can do that though, he has one more mission: get the letters proving Francesca’s husband was a spy for the French from Francesca. James is the only pro who can do this because the tool he employs the most is not a set of lock picks or a sword. If you know what I mean. He seduces the ladies. The tool is his…penis.

So he is looking for the letters, the husband sends a madwoman to look for the letters as he is thinking of trying to worm his way into being prime minister, and Francesca really doesn’t care about the letters – she just keeps them to flaunt them in her ex-husband’s face. She and James battle wits and wills, as – of course – neither is used to dealing with someone who is as seductive as they. It makes for an amusing read.

I liked Francesca more than I would have liked a traditional romantic heroine. An odd thing though – a lot of people were offended by the idea of her being a prostitute, even people who don’t mind steamy sex in their novels. One Amazon reviewer even said that she likes her heroines innocent and wide-eyed before they meet the hero because that way they feel they can identify with them more. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I like to see that a lady knows what she likes. But, it is something to think about when recommending this book.

I think that my favorite thing about it was the dialog. Chase just knows how to make things laugh-out-loud funny–not what I expected from a historical romance. For example, when Francesca jumps into a canal to distract a villain and climbs out with all of her clothes clinging to her:

“You’re creating a diversion all right,” he said, “You’re wearing a shift that’s soaked through. You might as well be wearing nothing. And everybody’s looking.”
“That will never do,” she said, “I’m a harlot. They must pay to look.” (252)

There are many other instances, but this is the one that woke up Mark when I busted out laughing in the middle of the night. The great thing is, a lot of fans say that they don’t see as much of Chase’s “zing” in this book as in others. So I have some zingier titles to look forward to.

Though I did like the book a lot more than I expected, it wasn’t perfect. The villains were cartoonish, with absolutely no depth and no illustration of their motivations. They never really make clear why Francesca stole those letters or how she knew about their existence. Also, the ending is sappy. But I still think this book would be a great recommendation for any historical romance reader, or even as a cross-over for a historical fiction reader looking for a beach read.

Appeals are easy to name – characters are a big plus because women will like this heroine, though a smart librarian will ask a patron if they mind the heroine being a courtesan before recommending it. Setting is another appeal. The story takes place in Venice in 1820, and the canals and salons of the romantic city are well-realized and idealized. Can sex be an appeal when it’s a romance novel? There is a lot of sex in this book. It is not for someone who likes “sweet” romances. Though it has its flaws, I think the best recommendation I can make about this book is it made me, a non-romance reader actively expecting to dislike it, like it, and want to read more.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker
Published 1897

I decided to read Dracula as my horror classic for three reasons – first, a friend had loaned me The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula by Tim Lucas and I had really enjoyed it. Second, vampires are extremely popular in fiction today, and being better informed of the source material is always a good idea. Third, I like the vampire myth. I find it interesting how Dracula and other vampires used to be the ultimate predator of virtuous young women, and now they are the prey of young women, be they virtuous or not. It’s intriguing how our culture turned that myth on its head so abruptly and completely.

In Dracula by Bram Stoker, Jonathon Harkins leaves on a business trip, his first as a solicitor, and is gone far longer than he should be, while in Whitby his fiancĂ©e Mina battles her friend Lucy’s strange sleepwalking and weariness. When Jonathon returns from Transylvania he is a shattered man, full of self-doubt and fears of madness. Meanwhile, one of Dr. John Seward’s patients is decidedly odd for a madman, and keeps going on about serving his master. When Dr. Seward finally summons his old friend and teacher Dr. Van Helsing to try and determine the cause of Lucy’s strange illness the meat of the novel begins, as the characters realize that they have to struggle not just for their lives, but for their souls.

Dracula was for me, everything I could want in a horror novel. It was scary without being gruesome, it was full of tension for the safety and well-being of the protagonists, all of whom were extraordinary and likeable. It was fast-paced while maintaining that broody, descriptive atmosphere that typifies the horror genre. The epistolary form, which often gets on my nerves, was perfectly utilized in this case as the characters use their letters and journal entries to form a cohesive picture of their enemy. It added to the tension prevalent throughout the novel as it gave it an immediacy not always present in third-person narration.

Although the “fighting for their souls” bit seems almost cheesy now, I don’t think it was when this was first written. It had a fresh feeling to it, and was scary. The idea of no matter how virtuous you were, another creature having the ability to take control of you and make you do unspeakable things, without even the release of death to look forward to, was communicated in a more horrifying way by Stoker than I can.

When reading about Dracula we can’t forget that this is the novel that redefined the vampire. Before Stoker they had been considered barely above zombies – shambling and grotesque creatures who feasted on blood rather than brains. This novel was brilliant enough to change the entire world’s concept of what something was. That’s no easy feat. Dracula also provided the inspiration for the more likable vampires of Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbo’s novels – slowly giving rise to the hordes of pretty vampire novels that sparkle and shine at us today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic

Raise the Titanic
Clive Cussler
ISBN: 9780425194522
Published: 1976

***Disclaimer: This annotation contains spoilers.

When I chose the genres I wanted to read for this class, I decided to choose mostly genres I very rarely or never read and then a couple that I loved. The adventure genre falls firmly into the first category. Though I have read a few, like apparently The Da Vinci Code, it is definitely one of the ones I am least familiar with. Since I have a limited knowledge of the genre I decided to go with one the authors Saricks saw as a cornerstone of adventure, Clive Cussler. I picked Raise the Titanic because she said it was his first book; I have since found out that she was incorrect. That's not terribly important, but I will be more careful to verify her information in the future. Keep in mind that the book was published in 1976, before the Titanic was found in 1985.

Raise the Titanic starts with the US government’s search for the elusive, ultra-rare element byzanium. The government needs this for its super-secret think-tank’s super-secret missile defense system. This is not a real element, before you go to look. Completely made-up. Apparently, there used to be a lot of this made-up byzanium in Russia, but it was all mined by an American working for a French company in the early part of the 20th century and then vanished.

It is eventually discovered that this byzanium made its way into the cargo holds of the Titanic, and thus begins the meat of the story. At this point we have already met the main character – Dirk Pitt – but this is where he begins to take on a more active role, in salvaging the Titanic. We also get a closer look at some of the characters involved in the sub-plot, Gene and Dana Seagram. Gene is involved in the super-secret Meta Section think tank, and Dana works as a marine archaeologist. They are having marriage problems because Dana likes her career and is a “liberated woman,” and Gene thinks that she should have his babies. That is the sub-plot. Again, this is written in 1976.

They eventually find the Titanic and are able to begin the process of raising her to the surface, but then there is a murder on one of the submarines involved in the salvage. Who could be responsible for this? In 1976? Why the Russians of course! They have two spies involved in the mission, and Dirk decides to take on the job of smoking them out discreetly. While raising the Titanic in the middle of the ocean. Oh, and a hurricane is coming.

Drama ensues, they raise the Titanic, try to tow her to New York and the tow line is cut right when the hurricane hits. Russians board during the eye of the storm and it looks like Dirk is lost at sea, oh no! The Russians, of course, make Dana get naked to try to shame the American men into doing what they want, but luckily Dirk shows up to save the day before they have to look at her too long, even though she enjoys the attention, being a liberated woman. He managed to sneak a bunch of Marines aboard, and the day is won! They weather the hurricane, one of the worst on record, in a ship with holes in it that has already sank once, make it back to New York, and oops! When they cut open the cargo hold there is no byzanium there, just gravel. But don’t worry! Dirk finds it in a grave site instead after a few pages. The end. Oh, subplot – Gene Seagram goes literally insane and Dana sleeps with Dirk.

The conventions of this book are very much in line with the characteristics of adventure; there is one dangerous situation after another, there is a happy ending (except for Gene losing his mind, but he didn’t like Dirk Pitt so what good is he?). Dirk Pitt is very much a central hero what with being able to do everything perfectly, all the women wanting him, and all the men wanting to be him. The setting is incredibly important to the story, as it should be with adventure novels. The mood was hard for me to pin down, as I was so irritated for the majority of my reading time, but I honestly didn’t find it terribly dark or menacing except in the prologue, so it may have a lighter tone than a lot of adventure novels.

I think what I enjoyed most about the storyline was the blatant misogyny. Thinking about all of the precise reasons it irritated me kept my interest up, and it gave me a starting point for conversation when asking friends and family if they enjoy Cussler. I am not being sarcastic here; thinking about the role of women in adventure novels and my apparently limited knowledge of the women’s movement in the 70’s was a lot more interesting than watching Dirk Pitt go around being perfect. I didn’t even know what we were up against, and I want to reiterate my support for the awesome feminists who made novels like this a faux pas today.

In spite of my distaste, I think I can name some appeals. First of all, it is very light reading – easy to read. This is not a book heavy on specific technical jargon. While it does have some, it is very easy to understand and explained comprehensively and concisely. Also it has a very masculine appeal. This is a book in which men are very good at things and it features a community of men who are very good at things. Dana Seagram is picked to do one thing, talk to the press, not because she is good at it but because they are less likely to yell at her. Because she is a woman. Another appeal is the setting. The Titanic is interesting – it was supposed to be the toughest ship ever built and it was beautifully appointed and filled with wealthy important people, yet it sank anyway.

I can only hope that Cussler gets better. This is one of his early novels and it is entirely possible that he improves. A lot of people seem to like him, but like my husband said, this novel seemed more like the caricature of an adventure than an actual adventure. But then, maybe that’s what people like. Reading this novel has actually opened my eyes quite a bit, as I know how popular the man is, yet I cannot wrap my head around the idea of this book being enjoyable. Has anyone else read and enjoyed it?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Craziness and Hijinx!

Wow! I slept in on the wrong day. All my virtual friends are scrapping over this Macmillan vs. Amazon battle of giants.

Apparently, Macmillan wants Amazon to charge more for its ebooks. So Amazon got mad and pulled ALL of Macmillan's books. That includes Tor Books and St. Martin's Press - Robert Jordan and Janet Evanovich, respectively.

I would really love to weigh in on this more right this second, but unfortunately I have a gaggle of real friends who are going to be showing up at my house at any moment to go to a beer tasting this afternoon. I have to say, I would rather follow this debacle than go to a beer tasting at the moment, and I'm not sure if that makes me a hopeless loser or part grown-up. For now I'll just link to some of my favorite people's opinions.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, who is published by Tor.

The Haydens at Making Light. This blog is run by Teresa and Patrick Nielson-Hayden, who are both editors at Tor. They often have Tor writers and other editors in their comment section, which is the best part of their blog (as they freely admit).

John Scalzi, another Tor author.

Agh! I have to get ready! I hope it will all be resolved by the time I get home. This is like Jerry Springer for publishing geeks like me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Santa Olivia

Title: Santa Olivia
Author: Carey, Jacqueline
Review Date: January 28, 2010
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 352
Price (Trade Paperback): $13.99
Publication Date: 5/29/2009 0:00:00
ISBN: 978-0446198172
Category: Fiction

Jacqueline Carey’s departure from her usual elegant world-building and florid prose is surprisingly successful in her first foray into urban fantasy.

Loup Garron is not your average girl, especially in this army-occupied town that lies in the buffer military zone between US and Mexico. Her father escaped a genetic lab that had successfully crossbred humans and wolves - producing human weapons with incredible strength, dexterity, senses, and most importantly, a complete lack of fear. Loup’s ancestry is a closely kept secret, as her inheritance of these abilities makes her a resource the occupying army would love to exploit in its war against the unseen enemy, El Segundo. When their mother dies, Loup’s brother is unable to care for her on his own so she is placed in the church orphanage with the rest of the town’s unwanted children. Quickly deciding she needs an ally to warn her when she should be cautious, Loup decides to trust the other kids with her secret, and when one of the group is brutally attacked they realize they have their own secret weapon. Faced with continual injustice, bound by ever-increasing rules and regulations, not knowing whether there really is an enemy the army is there to fight, they decide to bring to life the myth of Santa Olivia. However, possessing superhero qualities is not enough to save her when the town faces the ultimate betrayal of their only hope, and Loup has to make a decision that will decide the course of her life and the fate of her people.

Carey's new prose style may be quick and dirty, but somehow that does not make it less sensuous - and sensuous prose combined with a breakneck pace makes for a thrilling read. Though the main character is not as well-fleshed out as she could be, the secondary characters make up for it by being complex and unique. Loup’s lack of fear makes for interesting and unintended consequences, especially in her relationships. The erasure of human rights throughout the novel in the name of national security draws easy parallels with current events. Santa Olivia may not be what fans are used to from Carey, but it will leave them wanting more.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I thought some of you might be interested in this: Frederick Pohl's blog has a post up about he and Isaac Asimov's childhood friendship through science fiction fandom. It's really more about Asimov than about their friendship, and really not more information than you could get from any one of numerous biographies, but how cool to read about him through Pohl's eyes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Reading and Non-Reading World

This is my first class in this program. I am still a little breathless that I am taking a class where not only do I get to read fun books and write about them, but the purpose of reading these books is to hone my skills at helping other people find books they want to read. And that I have to read good books and advise others for a grade.

Ok…breathe Carri, breathe…Ok.

See, I used to manage a used bookstore in Kokomo, and my absolute favorite part of that job was helping people find things to read. I wrote a blog post about it on the bookstore's blog. Now that I haven’t worked there for almost two years my skills might be a little rusty, but I’m really looking forward to practice.

My name is Carri Genovese, and as I said this is my first class. I graduated from IU Kokomo about four years ago with a Humanities degree and several minors. I live in South Broad Ripple (or Meridian Kessler, depending on who you ask) with my husband and two cats. We love our house and our neighborhood, sadly though, we are renting and should really probably buy a house because it’s cheaper and that’s what grown-ups do, so I am currently in the process of visiting lots of houses we can afford in neighborhoods I don’t like as well as mine. I left my job as assistant manager of a great local costume shop, Costumes by Margie, to start the program, so I am currently unemployed. I don’t mind it too much, but I will have to get a job soon so that my friends stop making housewife jokes.

My reading habits are eclectic, but I do veer heavily towards science fiction and fantasy. I love reading women like Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Parker, and I also enjoy non-fiction like Malcolm Gladwell and other social psychology type books. I love finding and reading wacky non-fiction books on random subjects I know nothing about. My collection includes books on abandoned mine shafts, winning carnival games, people who live in the tunnels beneath Las Vegas, and old time medicine shows. I am compelled to buy field guides to imaginary creatures whenever I see them. I love folklore, and really any aspect of story-telling, be it through fiction, graphic novels, video games, or any other medium. I believe strongly in free access to information, another reason I am excited about the program.

My husband and I role-play with a group of friends on a weekly basis, so I spend some time reading role-playing books to try to get a leg up on the GM. Mark writes role-playing games so one of my favorite things is finding books that will help him in his research. And then I get it for him, and he doesn’t read it soon enough, so then I read it and tell him the important parts.

Things I do that aren’t reading – I like camping and hiking, especially difficult trails that make you watch where you put your feet. Since I quit smoking in August, I’ve recently discovered that I enjoy exercising now that I can breathe. I’m trying to be a runner but I’m scared of ice. I was doing much better in September and October. I am a strict vegetarian but I’m not pretentious about it, and I really like bread and good cheese and good beer. I have a great respect for people who make things, like gardeners and engineers and seamstresses, and every once in a while I enjoy trying a hobby that grows from one of those, but it usually doesn’t last. I own gardening tools, a sewing machine, knitting needles, and a circular saw; I haven’t made anything from any of them but I might someday. I love spending time with my friends and family, laughing, and board games.

I am really looking forward to starting this program and specifically this class.