neadods: (reading)
I'm not normally much into chick lit, but there are books that I've read and particularly enjoyed. When someone on the f-list asked for recommendations, I thought maybe someone here would be interested in a top post.

Cheating at Solitaire by Ally Carter
The Adultery Club by Tess Stimson
What Happens in Paris (Stays in Paris) by Nancy Robards Thompson
The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne
Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee
Invisible Lives by Anjali Banerjee
The Frog Prince by Jane Porter
All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz

Anjali Banerjee is a recent discovery of mine, and although the plots tend to be the same (see also The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani, but skip her For Matrimonial Purposes, which falls apart in the last three chapters) they're fun little reads.

There was also one about a hairdresser that I reviewed for Once Written that was lovely, but now I can't find the book and I don't have time to go through my back resolutions to see the listing. Beyond the Blonde by Kathleen Flynn-Hui (Hmmmmm.... many of these books were for Once Written. I may have to give them an email, see if I can start reviewing for them again.)

Adultery Club is a British book. I still can't believe that I actually looked up a book that I saw advertised in the tube... and bought in an airport... and liked. That's so not me!

Skip The Right Address and anything else by Carrie Karasyov & Jill Kargman: they're just rewriting classic chick lit and dumbing it down. You're better off reading Sense & Sensibility and Rebecca in the original.

Also, Julia Quinn, Mary Balogh, and Jill Barnett are pretty solid go-to writers in the romance category; their characters aren't stupid and their plots are either relatively solid or (in the case of Barnett's delightful duo Dreaming and Bewitched) unabashed crackfic.
neadods: (reading)
I originally started this post with a little demure "this is for the fanficcers, I wouldn't presume to tell the pros how to write" but y'know what? A great reference book is a great reference book and I'm not good at being demure anyway. Do media-oriented writing? Run thou out right now and purchase Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box. Go ahead, it's Thursday, you've got those print-out Borders coupons in your email, that'll knock a few bucks off the suggested $15 retail.

That said, I'm going to address the rest of this to the fanficcers while the pros snicker at us from the bar. Hopefully while thumbing through their surreptitiously purchased copies.

I first found out about this book from [livejournal.com profile] susanmgarrett, who recommended it herself as a Wicked-cool read. It's something any fanfic writer should read. It's clever, it's engaging, and I'd marry it if it were a man. I've got a healthy ego and 25 years of fanfic under my typewriter ribbon so I was pretty sure I didn't want to marry it, but I am in awe of Susan, I had a Borders coupon, and I'm always up for clever, engaging books, so I picked up a copy.

I started on Chapter 2 (Great Episode Ideas). By the second paragraph, I'd picked up a highlighter. By the sixth page, I'd added red pen under the highlighter for a really significant bit. ("A great story idea challenges a character's weakness or strength - it forces a character to overcome or at least face one of his flaws, or turns one of his virtues into a risk factor." Emphasis added via Bic.)

I don't usually write a full review based on 1/10th of the book, but -- Damn! Just daaaaaamn, based on this chapter alone, what a hell of a book! Worth the price of admission right here, "Great Episode Ideas" is a fast read, it's a funny read, but most importantly, it strips down the plotlines to their bones and clearly states how to build those bones back into unique skeletons upon which to hang the plot, using as illustration examples from shows ranging from The Andy Griffith Show to Lost. He also talks about what wouldn't work and why it's a horrible idea, and even tosses in examples of how showrunners have successfully smashed the rules of their own shows. (Note to self: Netflix Deep Space 9's "Far Beyond the Stars," which I've never seen.)

After all the book reviewing I can articulate why other people's plots work or not, but ask me about my own plotting and it would either be "they left this loose thread I could tie up in a short missing scene" or (these days, at least) "I want to see how fast I can strip the characters down and stick 'em together in different combos like legos." Plot is a very weak point for me, and Epstein has given me much to chew on, such as this particularly favorite part from page 48: It's the flaw or the strength that makes it a story. (If Hamlet were in Othello's shoes, and vice versa, neither play would happen. Clever Hamlet would spot Iago's treachery in a moment, and decisive Othello would kill the usurper the moment he got back from Wittenberg.)

Want your stuff to sound more like the show you're imitating? Find out how the creators are actually building it.

Alex Epstein also has a blog, Complications Ensue
neadods: (disgusted)
Banned Book Week is over, but the nonsense marches on. By now, most of the people on my f-list have probably heard about the guy who not only got his daughter out of reading Fahrenheit 451 in class but wants it banned from school. The reasons: It's got cussing in it, a Bible is burned, and it says bad things about "our firemen." (What, that they DON'T actually burst into people's homes and burn them to the ground, inhabitants inside, if there's a book present?) That one's showing up on a lot of the news/news parody shows as well, because people just can't escape the delicious irony of someone trying to censor a book about censorship.

But how many of y'all have heard about the school that banned the display of banned books because - get this - it might encourage the kids to read them? The Schools Superintendent is directly quoted as saying "We are not going to send a message to kids encouraging them to read ‘banned’ books... I don’t think we should tease kids into reading a book by trying to say, ‘there might be something juicy or controversial in this book'."

After all, just because some folks think that there IS something juicy and controversial in a book is no good reason to read it and think about the matter for yourself!


ETA: And in a related note [livejournal.com profile] ginmar - a liberal female veteran - has plenty to say about that glurge email about how rough the troops have it vs us soft pinko liberals, by editing the original text:

You go out to lunch, and complain because the restaurant got your order wrong.

Well, yeah, what else are you supposed to do?

He or she doesn't get to eat today.

And his commander gets court martialled. Commanders may do lots of shitty things, but they won't be commanders long if they do the kind of shit to soldiers that some of them do to prison----Oh, wait.
neadods: (reading)
Assorted things that might be of interest to the f-list:

For the Classy Literature Types:
Chaucer Hath a Blog, and now an emo Danish prince with family issues has an LJ at [livejournal.com profile] haml3t. Read, and weep with laughter. (cheers to [livejournal.com profile] mtgat for finding this!)

For the Less-Than-Classy Lit Types - Dr. Who
I read Steve Lyons' Doctor nine tie-in novel Stealers of Dreams while at M*W. Excellent stuff. The blurb on the back sounds like the standard "Bad Gov't Limits Imagination" plot, but this isn't a retread of Farenheit 451 via Hard Times. Major props to Lyons for bringing in the darker side of letting your imagination run away with you instead of taking the shallower (and far too often trod) easy path to resolution. Plus, excellent characterization on the Doctor, Rose, and especially Captain Jack. His author's note points out that he wrote this before he'd seen any Jack to work with, but he gets the character dead on.
neadods: (tardis_calling)
I'm taking a step away from reviewing the mystery books to indulging my latest obsession doing the same for the new Who tie-in novels. First up: Justin Richards' The Clockwise Man and Jacqueline Rayner's Winner Takes All.

But first, a note on the the books themselves. BBC has been taking notes from the Harry Potter phenomina and releasing the books as smallish hardbacks with color art printed right on the covers, rather than the classic paperback style of the Target books or the New Adventures. On the whole, I think it's a good choice as it makes for a sturdier package at an only marginally higher price. (With thick paperbacks going for $6.99 here already, it's not that big a jump to pay $10 for a hardback.) At the moment there are 6 Doctor Nine books and 3 Doctor Tens, with Amazon.co.uk's publishing schedule slightly ahead of Amazon.com's. I do not know if they're planning more Nine books; that probably depends on sales. There is at least one Ten available for English pre-order.

The thing that struck me most was how aggressively British they are. There is absolutely no attempt to tone the language down for the American market (which I think they were starting to do with the Target novelizations.) This isn't just extra "u"s and "e"s and single quotes instead of double ones, this is full-bore Brit slang used in both the character and narrative voices. I think BBC decided that if so many copies of Terry Pratchett and Harry Potter were going directly from Amazon.co.uk to USA addresses, there was no reason to soften things up anymore. This is an BRITISH show and proud of it, by George! Rose isn't going to just go to the market for milk, she's going to pick up a double-pint of semi-skimmed and if the Yanks don't know what that means, they'll just ruddy have to ask someone who speaks proper English!

And so, on to the books.

The Clockwise Man
The first of the new series tie-ins. According to the book, the plot goes like this: In 1920s London, the Doctor and Rose find themselves caught up in the hunt for a mysterious murderer. But not everyone or everything is what they seem. Secrets lie behind locked doors and inhuman killers roam the streets. Who is the Painted Lady and why is she so interested in the Doctor? How can a cat return from the dead? Can anyone be trusted to tell - or even to know - the truth? With the faceless killers closing in, the Doctor and Rose must solve the mystery of the Clockwise Man before London itself is destroyed...

According to anyone who's seen enough Who, the plot goes like this: Standard Plot #5 (Aliens bringing their drama to earth with reckless disregard for human life) mixed up with Standard Plot Complication #7[D] (Tardis unavailable [stolen]).

It's certainly got everything you expect from slam-bang Doctor adventure. Aliens fitting imperfectly onto Earth? Check. Robots? Check. Conspiracy? Check. A little bit of silliness from the Doctor? Check. Plucky companion alternately helping and needing to be rescued? Check. Quirky subordinate characters? Check. Frankly, it's not a half bad standard generic Doctor adventure, if one of the cheesier, more predictable ones.

The problem is that it is a generic Doctor adventure. With a few global search-and-replaces done on the Dr's signature wardrobe piece and the companion's name, this could be anybody's adventure. The cover might have Nine and Rose, but there's nothing in the text to stop it from being Three and Liz, Four and Sarah Jane, Five and Nyssa, Seven and Mel, or possibly even Ten and Rose. And that was a disappointment to me. It's the different portrayals and character interactions that make each adventure unique.

Justin Richards has also written The Deviant Strain (Dr. Nine), The Resurrection Casket (Dr. Ten), and edited multiple info books like Doctor Who: The Legend Continues.

Winner Takes All
My dissatisfaction with the previous book only made this one shine the brighter. Winner Takes All is set mainly on Earth in modern time, so it is solidly rooted in the specific characters of Nine, Rose, and Mickey. And Rayner takes them and runs, giving each one some lovely character interaction. And not just them; she adds in a beautifully depicted supporting cast, particularly the resentfully daydreaming young Walter-Mitty style teen and the town thug.

But she doesn't forget the plot, which moves at a sprint. It's best described as "Dr Who and The Last Starfighter," since it's about video games being used as warrior recruitment. But it's not just a retread with Eccleston standing in for Robert Preston - there are quite a few plot twists thrown in, both to keep the action moving and to allow for character moments that flesh out the thrills. There's also a lot of humor, which not only works in character, it lightens up what would otherwise be a surprisingly dark, violent book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and felt that it really came across like I was watching one of the episodes, with the perfect blend of action and horror and humor. If you're looking for something that portrays Nine in all his Ecclestonian guilt and glory, this is the book for you.

Jacqueline Rayner has also written the Ten tie-in novel The Stone Rose, available in America on May 13 and available via Amazon.co.uk immediately.
neadods: (Default)
Dear Author of a new series:

You are writing mysteries, not potboiler romances. Please keep lines like "her laugh bubbled up and surrounded us like soft, warm casmere" and "The voice had that timber of authority that all male voices do" to a strict minimum. The first is so purple it's ultraviolet, while the second is... well, let's just say I've met some men you obviously haven't.

You are writing mysteries, not "a week in the life of." People asking obvious questions like "who benefits from a murder" should not take 150 pages to happen. I understand that you are trying to establish your characters and to write what you repeatedly refer to as "woo woo" with gravitas. That's no excuse for forgetting that there's an actual murder mystery going on. (PS - It's going to have a lot more gravitas the moment you drop "woo woo" out of the character's vocabulary.)

You are writing mysteries, not political op eds. When your character has a date and is touched by a studly man, everyone understands that she's all warm and fuzzy about it. Adding in the clause "although that would drive the feminazis crazy" was gratuitous, jarring, and to me offensive. Why throw that statement in when it has nothing to do with the plot or the character building? And if you're going to sling words like "feminazi" around, why not aim it at someone actually in the book, since you have provided several gold-digging and ballbusting women, rather than out into the vague void of theoretical people your character otherwise never addresses or thinks about?

There are things you get right; enough of them that I will be reviewing the book and, to that extent, praising it. But you better believe I'm going to mention, and take points off for, the above.

Amen!

Jan. 18th, 2006 08:56 am
neadods: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] daemonnoire has been doing a series of reviews of banned books (Good stuff, go read it.) Today she's nailed Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" dead to rights:

I know I said that I would read all of the books in the Banned Book List, but I'm sorry, I just couldn't force myself to read the whole of this drivel. I was embarrased to be seen reading it. This is not erotica. It is not porn. It is not one woman's exploration of the range of sexual kink. It is Anne Rice indulging in her need to write about people getting spanked. ... This book shouldn't be banned because it is explicit and sexual. It should be kept away from the public because it sucks.
neadods: (Default)
No, really! "The first self-playing audiobook" (read: you can't upload to it or download from it, you can just listen to the single title burned on it.)

I can think of a dozen problems off the top of my head, starting with them being more expensive than a regular book on tape and ending with the ability to load 10 books on one iPod for the price (but 1/10th the space) of 10 PlayAways. On the other hand, if the price drops, they're not a bad idea - good for luddites who don't want to learn a full MP3 player device or don't have a computer, and those big simple buttons would be excellent for the vision impaired or blind. The earphone plug is sized for universal jacks; this can be used with not only any earphones but also with cassette adaptors in the car.

Since the website itself suggests ways of trading and passing them on, I can see PlayAway clubs springing up if these things catch on - and since they're available at Borders, they will be seen and have a chance to catch on.

Gaiman has licensed his Anansi Boys to one of these devices, as have David McCullough, Dan Brown, Stephen Hawking, and John Grisham, so there are some good geek titles in among the popular pap (Busting Vegas, Getting Things Done, 7 Habits, etc.) So far, only copyrighted books are available, which makes sense... but if you really want those things to fly off the shelves, I'd think they'd use the time-tested bestsellers (which conveniently don't need copyright fees) - Pride & Prej, Great Expectations, and most certainly the Bible. If there's one thing that would REALLY take off in that format, it would be the Bible!

ETA: The more I think about this, the more I realize that they're going about their marketing all wrong. They need to do two things, and I swear these would take off like a rocket:

1) DROP THE PRICE!
2) Market Bible versions to churches - I can't count the number of people I know who would love a stand-alone audio Bible - and market literary classics to schools and colleges. I think it would be a lot easier for students to get through the recommended "reading" when they can listen to unabridged classics as they commute, walk around campus, exercise, eat, etc. While I'm all for the love of the printed word, sometimes it's just easier to find time to listen. Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Great Expectations, Pride & Prejudice - those school standards would make up enough bulk sales to float the rest of the line. (And the students would have something that they could sell back, a la used texts, at the end of the year. "Gimme $5 and put a battery in it, it'll be fine.")
neadods: (Default)
In addition to some of the usual Christmas fare, I saw three movies over the weekend.

Ishq can be reviewed quite quickly: a near-fatal stabbing, two rape attempts (one serious, one "for show"), deportation, crooked cops, and two suicide attempts. Bollywood certainly has some... interesting... standards for romantic comedies.

The two I really want to talk about are Pride & Prejudice and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Both are based on time-tested books, both are remakes of beloved earlier versions, both take liberties with the plot, both have some odd directorial choices.

And both kick ass.

I'm a heretic. I don't think the Colin Firth P&P was the greatest thing ever filmed. )

As for Narnia... it's better than I ever imagined as a child, and on the whole very faithful to the book. Which means it inherits quite a few flaws, because frankly? As literature, the Narnia books SUCK. And I say this as someone who's adored them from childhood. (Aslan's right - when you're too old you get kicked out because by then you can see all the flaws.)

The problem with adapting Narnia is that you're taking a book with a very patronizing tone, a slow and simplistic plot, next to no description, and some major special effects that have to be done perfectly or there's simply no point in doing the project at all. So I think on the whole the directorial choices were excellent. Without adding stupid subplots for the sake of subplots or significantly changing the story, Adamson (how appropriate a name!) kept major characters from being dropped halfway through the book, upped the action, and added not only personality to the children's characters, but some background as well. In the book, the Blitz gets one line. In the movie, we get to see not only the danger but the stresses that the war was putting on the family. I love that Peter says things like "we were sent to get away from the war" and "Edmund, take the girls back so they'll be safe" - sensible and realistic ideas that never crossed their little imperial heads in the book.

Much of Narnia is left to the reader's imagination - the battle is told mostly in past tense as Lucy heals people, and the coronation gets half a sentence - that it is quite an accomplishment for Adamson to make those scenes so immediate and so beautiful and so fitting.

And the special effects were glorious! The phoenix and the centaurs put Harry Potter to shame. Aslan was as magnificent as anyone could dream (and Liam Neeson was the PERFECT voice!) Jadis was suitably inhuman and regal. And it is seven kinds of wrong how hot I got for James McAvoy's darlingly bashful Mr. Tumnus.

Frankly, my only complaints are tiny ones. With all the fantastic effects, why did all the faun and centaur ears have to be so obviously rubber, and lifeless rubber at that? Give 'em a little animation! And the stiff, swollen, no-neck dresses they put on Jadis made no sense to me at all.

But such tiny, tiny nitpicks. LWW kicked booty at the box office, and I hope to hear that Prince Caspian has been green-lighted. Quick, while these kids are still young enough to reprise their roles!
neadods: (Default)
Okay, enough whining and back to the books. Stanford apparently got bored of Dickens (what, no Oliver Twist?) and has gone on to Sherlock Holmes. Rather typical for them, I got the "Sign up starting November 10!" postcard two days ago. Signup is still open for newsprint copies of three short stories (Scandal in Bohemia, Speckled Band, and Final Problem) plus the entire Hound of the Baskervilles. Although the delivery times ran from "awful" to "really awful," I will admit that I eventually got every single copy of the run of Hard Times.

Speaking of books, I was originally going to run this as a New Year entry, but instead am going to do it as a holiday service for folks looking for that last present:

Low Cost, Reputable Sources of Books
Dover Publications Not only do they have a lot of clip art and craft books, they have low-priced versions of many classics in their Dover Thrift Editions section.

Barnes and Noble Collector's Library I'm still in love with these little hardbacks. For $6 or less, you can get a well-made classic. Order online or look in the rack stuck near the checkout lines at any brick-and-morter B&N. For parents, there are copies of Wind in the Willows, the Alice books, and Secret Garden. For fangirls, there's a very nice edition of Phantom of the Opera. For Austen nuts (and there are plenty of us out there!) there are pocket-sized editions of everything she wrote, some illustrated. For anyone who's been following my education/science postings, there is also an unabridged Origin of the Species.

Book Closeouts The "Overstock.com" of books; a place to pick up overrruns or remainders at dirt-cheap prices. A good place to pick up hardbacks at paperback prices.

Speaking of which, Overstock.com has a book section Prices are not as good as Bookcloseouts.

Booksfree If you don't know what book to get a friend or loved one, how about getting them a membership in this subscription library? For $8 a month, you can offer them 2 books a time out of the sizable collection mailed directly to their door. Perfect for people who have outread the local library or who have trouble getting to one. If you have a grandparent on the list who likes books but has trouble reading these days, there is also a separate BooksFree audiobook subscription service.

Alas, I cannot recommend Zooba. I joined Zooba and BooksFree the same day. I'm on my second shipment of Booksfree books, while Zooba has yet to deliver anything.

And if you want to give the world a gift of books, there's always Bookcrossing. I've already started releasing Christmas-themed books.
neadods: (read)
I've just become aware of Paperback Swap, which I'm mentioning for the purposes of reference, but I'm not sure I'd endorse when there's already Books Free.

The basic idea is that you post a list of paperback books that you're willing to send out into the world. For every x number of books that you send out (at your own expense), you get a credit to ask for books that other Paperback Swap members have listed, which they will mail to you.

It's a nice thought, but a rather hit-or-miss proposition. You can't earn credits until you show good faith by mailing things out, but you won't have the opportunity to mail things out if your books aren't already on someone else's wishlist. You don't have to pay a monthly fee to join, but you do have to pay for postage.

There is a similar LJ community with fewer rules at [livejournal.com profile] the_bookswap. Scroll down, they've got a large blank header. Doesn't look like a lot of action, but the idea is right and communities always need help to launch.

Which reminds me - I'm putting up a Conant Collection on [livejournal.com profile] 4goodcauses Sunday - 8 Susan Conant dog mystery books, to benefit Noah's Wish.


If anyone is interested, I'm going to do a mass post at the beginning of the year collecting all the low cost/no cost/charity/swap book locations I know of. Please feel free to mention any I've missed so far, and please feel free to pass on the site to anyone doing the 50 Book Challenge, bookswaps, whatever.
neadods: (books)
I'm getting to the point where books are almost becoming meaningless commodoties, seen as numbers instead of stories - so many set aside for this purpose, or donated for that purpose, this many left to read, that many in the reviewing stack. And yet, my soul shrivels every time I find myself without something to read. Got to have a book at all times!

Which is a pointless prelude to pimping some book resources.

Book Crossing I'm going to have to start paying more attention to this; they've been branching out from just letting books out into the wild to ornament exchanges and other activities. But the basic point remains - log a book on the website, mark it as a free book, set it out where it will be picked up, and hope that it travels around. The literary "Where's George." One of my resolutions is to start regularly releasing books for Book Crossing, at home and when I travel. With my stores, one every other month wouldn't be a hardship... except for picking and logging the book!

Zooba This looks like an interesting hybrid of Booksfree and traditional book clubs.

Books Free is the Netflix of paperbacks - sign up for a flat fee, make a queue, get books in the mail and mail them back. Book clubs, on the other hand, are all about buying; join with 5 books for a penny, get their selection at their price automatically mailed to you every month. Now, I was a member of Quality Paperback Book Club, and the fact that that damned choice kept showing up - often before the deadline to say "I don't want that" - was the biggest pisser.

So Zooba eliminates their forced choice and does it this way - you make your own queue out of their selection of hardbacks, paperbacks, and proprietary omnibus editions. Then for the flat fee of $10 a month, they ship you a book off the list. You can buy extra books every month (for another $9.95) or not. Even though you're not getting anything for a penny, I see two big advantages - everything they send you, YOU chose, and the fee doesn't change, making it easy to budget. It looks like a pretty decent range of choices, although for some reason they don't have any listing for Mystery. I guess the Mystery Book Club won't share.

Speaking of Booksfree, I see that they have also opened up a new sideline - audiobooks. Unfortunately, this is not combined with the current paperback service; it doesn't look like you can have one queue with both paperbacks and audiobooks. Bummer. And I still wish that they had the "save" function that Netflix has... when a book comes out in HB, it would be nice to be able to advance-save the paperback edition in your queue. It does look like they're allowing the saving of some paperbacks, though.

ETA Come to think of it... considering my read-vs-like ratio for regencies, it would make a certain amount of sense to join BookFree just to test-drive fluff.
neadods: (Default)
Book Stuff
[livejournal.com profile] daemonnoire is doing book reviews, one by one, of all the books on the banned book list. Links are provided so you can go back and read all the reviews so far.

The Sunday NYT Magazine had an article on "literary darwinism," which basically maps the urge to select the best mate and pass one one's genetics onto classical books. As a science it ranks right up there with the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon... but as a party game, it's also right up there with the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. (Example given from the article - Mrs. Bennet is frantic to marry off her daughters in order to ensure that her genetic legacy continues another generation. This shows both the strength of the game - okay, a new way to look at P&P! and the weakness of it - if that was the only reason, then why would she be upset that Lydia was boinking Wickham?)

Personal stuff
Ask me how pissed I am that my new subaru is in the shop for $350 worth of general repairs. No, don't bother, you can guess the answer.

This is why faith-based charities can't replace secular ones
According to NBC, Members of the Southern Baptist convention refused to hand out drinking water donated to Wilma victims. Why? Because Busch donated the water and they'd put their logo on the bottles. It wasn't a question of thinking they were cans of beer, everybody knew it was water. That didn't matter. Just as the mere titles of banned books make the very list unreadable, the logo made the water unclean. Tim Bridges, pastor of the Clewiston church, said the Anheuser-Busch logo - an eagle inside of a capital "A" - was offensive... "I didn't want to send out a mixed message... All that was said was that First Baptist Church people would not be the ones handing it out." The Southern Baptists say that the report was misrepesented by bloggers but also say that Bottles of water are not necessarily a guarantee at these sites. And that "I would have no problem giving the people the (Anheuser-Busch water) if they were thirsty but they were not thirsty."

If you're wondering why I'm making a big deal out of this, substitute some of my usual hot-button issues into the above sentences in place of the word "water." "All I'm saying is I'm not the pharmacist who's gonna hand birth control out." "The anti-cancer vaccine sends a mixed message." "If kids needed other sex ed than abstinence... but they don't."

This is why I hammer constantly on feminist and church/state issues. You might think that your own beliefs, chastity, gender, etc., keep you distanced from what happens to "those people," but you're only a disaster away from becoming someone on the other end of the same attitudes.
neadods: (Default)
This started out as a generic "why are so many 'novels' these days really novellas?" and then it suddenly mutated. (It also lost a little coherence, so this isn't as polished as many of my rants.) Because as I framed the argument, I realized that the shrinkage of reading material wasn't happening to all sorts of books, it was happening to one genre.

Chick Lit. And by extension, cozy mysteries, which are predominantly written and read by women.

Furthermore, chick lit (and to a lesser extent, cozies) are marketing themselves with distinctly cartoon cover art. Art that's less involved than the average graphic novel or anime sequence (unless we're talking Pokemon).

What, we need to make things simple and stupid for the little women out there?

I'm going to start with a cover rant, because there's such a wonderful example of what I'm talking about. Deborah Donelly writes a cozy series about a wedding planner who ends up solving bridal-related crimes. Her first book, Veiled Threats, has full-cover watercover art of a woman in a wedding gown, with a gun on a table pointed towards her. Her second book, Died to Match,, is also full-color art, of a woman in a bridal gown holding up a skeleton mask, standing next to a body outline. Subtle, but pretty, and the themes of murder and mystery are present.

Book #3 (May the Best Man Die) though, shows a cartoon bridesmaid in a shortie santa skirt looking stupidly bewildered at a prone cartoon man. (This time, Amazon won't let me link directly to the cover art.) The book after that shows a wide-eyed cartoon woman in a bridal gown in a very Marilyn pose, trying to hold her skirts down as she jumps, using her veil as a parachute.

We've gone from dignified women with a touch of creep about them to caricatures showing a lot of leg and looking dimly befuddled by the predicaments they're in. Why, precisely, is that supposed to attract me into picking up the book?

Carrie Karasyov & Jill Kargman (more on them in a moment) had a photograph of a cotured woman holding a handbag on the cover of The Right Address, the title obscuring her face. Their second book, Wolves in Chic Clothing also devolved to cartoon characters, but you never see their faces either. It was bad enough that Phillipa Gregory's covers show their subjects from chin to knee, as if anything that made them look like individual beings was verboten, but at least they're pictured as people. The Devil Wears Prada, Everyone Worth Knowing, Wolves, and dozens of other chick lit books reduce their cover girls to faceless cartoon characters. (Oh, just typing that line gave me the wiggins!)

It wouldn't be so bad, if the contents weren't becoming equally dumbed down. Much as I like the Undead and... series, the "novels" are really novellas. Even printed in 12-point type with 1.5 line spacing, there are barely 250 pages to each one. Karasyov and Kargman, who are building a career out of rewriting classic women's literature as Park Avenue social climbing, can barely milk 300 pages out of their inspirations. The Right Address is Rebecca - only 80 pages and several subplots shorter. Wolves in Chic Clothing is so heavily drawn off a plotline from Sense and Sensibility that they've even named a character Willoughby - but again, it clocks in at precisely 80 pages (and a lot of charm) less than its progenitor. (Someday Karasyov and Kargman are getting a rant all to themselves because of this.)

I'm not actually saying that every book for women has to rival Harry Potter and the Doorstop of Doom in weight and page count. But c'mon - if you're going to rip off classic literature, try not to embarass yourselves by underestimating us, eh? It's not like y'all are the only two who've read the works of Du Marier and Austen.

But most of all, I want to know why we're being subjected to cover art that denigrates both content and reader. Those covers on such skinny books make it look as if we're going to be moving up to Dick and Jane any minute now.
neadods: (academia)
Points to Saccio, he made me laugh during the lecture on As You Like It. After quoting "Sweet Lovers Love Spring" (which of course put the Barenaked Ladies version earworming again), he said that it was about "having sex before we're old and ugly and impotent and dead." The delivery was just *perfect* and I had to laugh.

Also some food for thought in this lecture. Aside from explaining what "to give a maid a green gown" meant (Okay, I'm slow, I didn't get it on my own!) he went into a very interesting digression into the importance of fairy tales to Shakespeare. Not for the obvious ones like Midsummer & MacBeth, but for quite a few other plays that I hadn't cottoned onto. As You Like It, with the three sons, only one of which is truely noble in character, the one who slays the dragon in the guise of Charles the Wrestler. Lear as a perverse Cinderella - Cordelia loses her father('s love) and her two horrible sisters take advantage of all. There were others, but those are the ones that stick. Hmmmm.

I wonder if I can go somewhere with the notion of As You Like It and Young Goodman Brown as opposites of each other - in one, you go to the woods to become finer; in the other, the woods creep with evil. I'll let that one marinate in the back of my head. There's space now that a Batman pumpkin I've seen (the animated Batman, no less) has made the next installment of My Life Among the Apes start to gel. That's going to be an actual story with an actual plot, and will be needing beta readers in a bit. (Set in the animated Justice League universe, heavy on J'onn and Batman, not slash, anyone interested in being beta in a week or two?)

In the rest of life, I'm feeling blown off by my doctor, who said "migraine for sure" but had no advice on how to isolate food problems, if that's the problem, or how it might tie into my usual fall allergy, or what. All he really did was try to fob me off on a gyno and tell me that my health care plan is driving away doctors, in a tone of voice that suggested he was next.

And in keeping with my new budget plan for buying books (attempting to give myself a certain budget rather than going for months and then having booksplosions), I've been to B&N where I picked up their mini Oliver Twist and A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro. The Shapiro book is so new the ink is practically wet; with the 20% discount I got both the bitty Dickens and the full-sized Shakes for slightly less than the full price of the Shakes alone.
neadods: (disgusted)
I've now read two books for RtE but cannot find a way to write the review without going off on a long, angry tangential rant, because both books have one huge problem - the male authors have written a female main character that this female doesn't recognize as a member of her species, much less her gender.

There's a movie example. That Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson wild west thing? Hi-freakin'-larious... while I watched it. Then I stayed for the credits and realized that Chan's Indian "wife" didn't even get a character name. She was "Indian bride." That appalled me enough to look back at the rest of the movie and realize that while she was the woman who SAVED THEIR ASSES MORE THAN ONCE, was always left to sleep in the woods while the boys bonded in a hotel or was left behind on the trail as they ran away like chickens and finally was literally handed from one man to the other and liked it.

Written by a man, folks. If a woman wrote that, it would end with scalps drying in the Nevada wind.

The first book was just like that - really funny until I started framing the review in my mind and started going "wait a minute." Wait a minute - how come it's this woman's "purpose" to rescue this slobby guy - He's a damned adult, he can rescue his own ass! Wait a minute, if every *guy* can see what potential she has, how come she's insecure enough to act on it until a guy shows her the way? Wait a minute, if she's so smart, how come everyone else plays her like a violin? Wait a minute, why do all the hilariously humiliating things happen to her? Wait a minute, why is this woman ballsy enough to argue a case weighted heavily against her client and win, but so determined to be "nice" that she can't tell her fiancee that he's asking her to eat food she not only doesn't like, she's violently allergic to?

Wait a minute, there is no way I can tell a genre with a primarily female readership that this is a funny book without warning them that the humor is totally at their expense.

The second book was doing a LOT better, and even when you take into account what I'm about to say, it has a great plot and the men are written well. Since it's about intrigue in the Catholic church there's good reason why the cast is 99.99% male, and that works fine.

But then he has to throw in the love interest. She's a female reporter who doesn't deal well with restrictions. She's been kicked out of so many good jobs that she's so desperate to get back into a solid career that she'll be easy to manipulate with the temptation of insider access.

Now, as a trope, the stupidly ambitious reporter doesn't bother me. That said reporter has become the ghost writer for a renegade priest as her ticket back to fame doesn't bother me.

That she sleeps with the priest bothers me intensely, and it has nothing to do with Catholic celibacy. I'm sorry, author, but only a guy is that casual about sex, because every woman knows that if she bangs her source, SHE HAS INSTANTLY AND PERMANENTLY DESTROYED ALL CREDIBILITY. It's the double standard, author dear: as far as the wide world is concerned, a man who fucks around is manly, while a woman who fucks around is a desperate whore. Any realistic female character would at least *worry* that the secret would get out and ruin her. This one didn't notice that she was shooting herself in the foot.

And damnit, otherwise you had a great book there.
neadods: (Default)
For those who never find the time to read, [livejournal.com profile] menikoff has found [livejournal.com profile] bigcomfychair, which posts a chapter of a famous (noncopyrighted) novel once a week. They're currently closing up The Count of Monte Cristo.

That community was inspired in turn by Classic Novels in 5 Minutes, which is a listserv which will send you an installment of a book you've chosen out of their collection at regular intervals. (For Shakespeare's sonnets, it's one a day, while Dickens is done in monthly chunks.)

There's already an LJ feed for the site that's reprinting Pepys at [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary. There's also an LJ community that's reprinting Dracula on the dates mentioned in the letters and journal entries in the book - ie, if something in Dracula was dated August 20, then on August 20 that chapter goes up. (I'd put the link in, but scary things happen when you search on dracula as an interest, and I can't find it.)

For those who prefer a hard copy, Stanford has yet to announce what (or if) they're doing for the next Dickens project. However, Barnes and Noble has the most adorable little hardbacks for $6... you'll find them lurking near the checkout or on their website under "Collector's Library" - a little over 50 titles in miniature hardback editions (roughly 3 x 5) that are well priced and well-made... and just the perfect size to drop in a purse or a bag. I'm fighting to not (re)buy the entire works of Austen just because they're so gosh-darn cute. If you've got a literate kid who you want to start on something with more heft to it than most kid's books, The Secret Garden, Wind in the Willows, Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, and Jungle Book are all titles in the series - the right size for a kid, the right price for a parent. For students who already carry a lot of texts, there's a Huck Finn, Moby Dick, Silas Marner and Uncle Tom's Cabin that won't break the bank. For fannish purposes, there are sturdy, reasonably priced copies of Dracula and Phantom of the Opera. There's also nonfiction, including a Descartes and Darwin's Origin of the Species.

Barnes and Noble appear to be getting into publishing in a big way. They also have two John Bellairs omnibus editions out for Halloween.

If you don't mind dialing the quality (and the price) way down, there's Dover Publications, which has a hit-or-miss collection of Thrift Editions of classics averaging $2 a book. (A combination of Collector's Library and Dover is how I've been picking up the texts for the "classes" I'm doing.) They're paperbacks on newsprint, but if you want a crap copy of something, especially for a single use, better to start there. Why pay extra?
neadods: (Default)
AUGH! Department:
Montgomery County schools are supposed to be some of the best in the state. So when the fishwrap prints an article about a Mont. Co. 8th Grade class given the list of 100 most-banned books and asked to work with their parents to pick one to read as part of an assignment on society, book banning, and censorship, you'd think "how cool," wouldn't you? After all, it's impossible to protest all 100 of the books, right?

Of course wrong. Although last year there wasn't a peep out of the parents, this year soon after the list went home, the principal sent out this message: "It has come to our attention that an eighth grade outside reading assignment contains material that some families may find controversial. In response to the concerns that have surfaced, the assignment will be replaced."

*headbang*headbang*headbang*

If that wasn't bad enough, when reporter Marc Fisher pressed the principal as to how many parents complained, the response was "less than five." Fisher found two. Two parents out of a class of 30+. And what did one of the parents say when asked why she protested? "There were titles on there I did not need my daughter exposed to... They were really undermining my role as a parent."

Titles. Not text (remember, the parents help pick the book), titles. She objected to her 14-year-old daughter even knowing the title of books the mother objected to. Because we all know the very BEST way to prepare kids for adulthood is to leave them ignorant about huge chunks of of the world and then toss them in to sink or swim.

Bolly Books
Am taking a break from forensics and mayhem to indulge in a little more Indian exploration. For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani started out amusing enough, but then sank like a deflated souffle, unable to continue the cute. I have higher hopes for Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. If nothing else, she gets major bonus points for the line, "It had been the beginning of a cruel summer, spent with my head in the fridge and my heart in the garbage disposal."
neadods: (Default)
Feels like Monday, doesn't it?

Two things of general interest.

#1 GO SEE WALLACE AND GROMIT! I laughed so hard I had tears on my glasses and my sides ached. The sendup of old horror movies mixed with Aardman lunacy makes this the Best. Movie. Ever. I'm trying not to think why they put a Christmas short with a Halloween movie (this makes as much sense as the shudderingly bad summer movie that is being released at Christmas for reasons unknown), but that's a small quibble.

One little note, not a spoiler if you know your old movies - there's a scene in the local chapel. Hard as it will be to tear your eyes away from the characters, take a good look at the first stained glass panel you see in the background.

For those of us in mourning over the fire that destroyed the Aardman Productions warehouse, go see and remember - the important things didn't burn.

#2 Washington Post prints list of 10 books most banned in 2004, with the reasons why. Banned book week may be over, but read a banned book anyway. And keep an eye on your local library. There were 458 challenges to books in 2003. Last year, there were 547.

Strike back. Read a book.

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