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!