Archive for the 'musings' Category

a thing we figured out

this weekend i had the pleasure of talking about A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD with some people who read more genre fiction than literary fiction. a bunch of them were finding it a bit of a slog, because “it’s so sad! the guy just stands outside the library because he doesn’t have the right clothes—” “and then there’s that whole thing with the fish?!” “right, exactly.” totally valid points, but i’d never considered it a “sad” book. even though, yeah, it is pretty grim at moments.

i was astonished that i’d never had a conversation before about the overall tone of the book. when i talk about it with most customers and other booksellers, we talk about the PowerPoint chapter, or the way the narrative spirals around in terms of both time and character, or who liked it BEFORE it won the Pulitzer, etc. i wouldn’t say that GOON SQUAD is any grimmer than most of the other books on the shelf, and significantly less grim than some. and i’ve read (more than) my fair share of genre fiction, and i mean that is not exactly cheerful stuff either, so… and then i realized something:

in genre fiction, people are sad because the world is maybe going to end.
in literary fiction, people are sad because life sucks.

talk about yer different ballgames.

on favorite books, or: i am verklempt about ANGELMAKER

note: so recently i got an advance (VERY advance) copy of Nick Harkaway’s forthcoming (not until March 2012ish, DO NOT HATE ME PLEASE) novel ANGELMAKER. i have been informed i am allowed to talk about it, so here goes nothing. full apologies to the author, i am embarrassingly emotional in this post and Nick i am just going to pretend that you never read this. k thx bye.

what does it mean to have a favorite book? not just a book that you enjoy, a book that you think other people should read, but an all-time favorite book? what makes it special? aside from good writing and awesome characters and yadda yadda yadda. i was contemplating this as i read ANGELMAKER, because it has joined GONE-AWAY WORLD as an all-time favorite, and i was trying to pinpoint what it is about Harkaway’s books that makes me insane with glee. and here is my theory.

we all live with the knowledge that the world is broken, in myriad ways. and what art does, at the most basic level, is to point out the breaks in the world. some breaks mean more to us than others, which determines in turn the art that we find interesting, relevant, compelling. and every artist (and author specifically) approaches these breaks differently. some just want to show us the breaks, because they think maybe we haven’t noticed and/or truly appreciated exactly how broken these bits are. some have thoughts about how we could/should think/feel about the breaks in question. some even have thoughts on how we could maybe make things less broken. it’s all about viewpoint, perspective, and what you do with the knowledge. how you get past it, or around it, or through it. how we live with the brokenness.

and sometimes an author’s perspective on these breaks lines up so exactly, so perfectly, so movingly with our own perspective, that we experience that great and awe-ful feeling of YES! THIS!. and that is what makes a book our favorite. and that is why so often we return again and again to a certain author, whose vision so neatly dovetails with our own. and this is why it is notoriously chancy to recommend your favorite books to others, because really we are all very different, and that’s as it should be, but it makes favorite books a truly personal thing, and it’s always a bit of a shock when we find that people we think we know well feel differently about the world than we do.

that is my theory. i know, i’m ridiculous. i will now stop theorizing and give you more specifics:

GONE-AWAY WORLD is one of my all-time favorite books, and now ANGELMAKER is as well.

i’ve been pretty vocal about my love for his first book, THE GONE-AWAY WORLD, but to recap: i had a friend write the words of the first page all over me for the bookrageous calendar. my pitch goes something like this: OH MY GOD IT’S SO GOOD. it’s this post-apocalyptic, political, funny, clever, adventure-ee, crazy story with a huge twist about three quarters of the way through that i swear to god i didn’t see coming, not really, and also there are ninjas and mimes and you should really read it, i think you’ll like it.

articulate, right? i know.

so, understandably, i was very excited for the new book. and it delivers, and how. it’s completely different — it’s set in our world, in our time, and features among others a kick-ass batty aging British MI-5 type (oh Edie Bannister! i may never get over you) and the son of a gangster named Joe Spork who would really just like to be left alone so he can make clocks, thank you very much, and tells the story of how they save the world. yes. excellent. i think you’ll like it.

weirdly enough, or: some thoughts on Google+, or: just call me Polyanna

note: i do believe — although i could be wrong so don’t hold me to it — that G+ is open to most, if not all, pre-existing Google users. if you are a Yahoo fan, though, i don’t think you can get an account yet. but i could be wrong. it’s hard to tell.

my enthusiastic foray into Google+, rather than producing the burnout that a lot of folks are talking about (ZOMG TOO MANY SOCIAL MEDIAZ WHICH ONE(S) TO KEEEEEP), has actually revived my interest in my other social networks. Tumblr has never lacked for my love (I LOVE YOU TUMBLR, TUMBLR I LOVE YOU, LET’S NEVER FIGHT OK) but i’ve had some epic frustrations with Twitter (see here here here and here) and Facebook.

but as i groom my Circles and poke at the workings of +, i find myself jumping over to TwitBook more often than i have in months. it should be the opposite, right? what’s wrong with my brain!

i think it might be that Google+ is still new and shiny. people are fiddling with it and figuring things out, and in the meantime the artists and creative folks i’m following are, in particular, taking full advantage of the fancy sharing features. and it reminds me that people are doing, and talking about, interesting things ALL THE TIME. the trick is to filter out the extra (and of course what is extra changes from day to day, or minute to minute. sometimes you want a funny cat video and sometimes you want to rant about politics, sometimes you want both; that’s the beauty of the internet). maybe a particular network is going to do it for you, and maybe it’s not, but in any case i now remember why i got on here in the first place.

talking about things i would rather not talk about, take 2

about a week ago, i received an inappropriate email at my work address from someone i have never met in person, and in all likelihood never will. it was in response to this sound-byte of text:

“alina’s book-excitement also coaxed me to greenpoint, brooklyn, where me, her and wesley stace (aka john wesley harding) played in a basement of WORD bookstore, which is a rad independent joint run by very hot-looking brooklyn chicks.”

i’m sure you can figure out which part of that quote was in question. it was not hugely inappropriate, but it was also not innocent. at the time, i just hit Archive — better, i thought, not to reward it with a reaction. better to just ignore it. i figured the sender would get the message.

and maybe they did, but it’s been bugging me ever since. i can’t seem to let it lie. two things today brought it bubbling back up to the surface, enough so that it woke me up in the middle of the night and forced me to write this post. one was a conversation with a friend in which i explained the concept behind the upcoming Slut Walk NYC (august 20th!); the other was seeing a post make the rounds on google+ in which a user thanked others for calling out an inappropriate commenter. (i’d link to it but that’s pointless since it’s still in testing and lots of folks don’t have in yet.) suffice it to say that the user made the point that the digital space can easily become a space in which inappropriate behavior, usually disguised as joking, becomes the norm, and she appreciated that people were being sensitive to it early on in the life of this new social network.

i am telling you guys about this because i feel like it’s important to point out that, whether it’s a sound-byte about how someone is hot-looking or an outfit that is revealing or whatever, there is a difference between inviting attention and inviting harassment. they are not the same thing. it’d be nice if people would err on the side of caution, rather than the side of “well what did you think would happen, i mean really!”

that’s all, i guess.

you give love a bad name (or: sexual politics in romance novels)

note: credit for the title goes to ali the wonder room-mate

so yeah, i read romance novels. YOU KNOW THAT ALREADY. and the more i read, the more this one particular trope makes me nervous. i’m not a finger pointer by nature, so i’m just going to paraphrase/reinterpret for you. the trope i am referring to comes in several guises, such as:

  • punishing kisses (which gave rise to this short-lived project)
  • he would pleasure her ruthlessly
  • he loomed over her, trapping her between his powerful thighs

and you guys, THOSE ARE REAL WORDS FROM REAL NOVELS, but the point is that there’s this weird unacknowledged dominance/violence trope. unacknowledged being the operative word — it’s never actually addressed, and we are otherwise to believe that this is a potentially loving and entirely consensual relationship. and yes, these are current novels! not some crazy written in the ’80s women-can-only-be-submissive bodice-rippers! sure, some of them are set in historical time periods, but now that i’m looking for it i’m finding it across the board — paranormal, contemporary, regency, you name it.

why does this bother me? because i can’t help but hear “she was asking for it” in the subtext every time i read these kinds of scenes. acknowledged and consensual dominance/violence is one thing (for this done right, see also: Coin Operated and that episode of Buffy where she and Spike have sex for the first time, you know the one i am talking about). but the kind of dominance/violence apparent in the examples above is a vague, “manly”, she-is-so-beatiful-that-she-is-driving-me-to-this impulse that is, i guess, supposed to be sexy but ends up just feeling creepy. if you are punishing a woman with kisses (however laughable that might seem), you are saying that she needs punishing for … being desirable? if you want a woman “helpless with desire, begging for mercy” in your bed, you’re saying that she needs to be … controlled until she submits? are you creeped out yet? because i sure am.

i don’t know. maybe i am unreasonably obsessed with sexual politics of late. what i’m trying to figure out is why an author would use such a loaded, misogynist trope. is it just careless writing? or is it a deliberate choice? and if it is a deliberate choice, why not have your characters acknowledge and/or examine the inherent violence in their feelings? as it is, the second i hit one of these i stop reading the book. because if i’m going to be a smart bitch reading trashy books, to borrow a phrase, then the books sure as shit better be smart too.

nota bene: any romance novel i have reviewed on this site is guaranteed to be “punishing kisses” free, btw. i don’t blurb the ones i throw at walls.

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