Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reviewer Responsibility?

In the blogs o books lately, there has been a lot of talk about reviewers' responsibilities--to their readers, the author, the publisher, and themselves. It all started (at least as far as I was aware) when KatieBabs published this post about an online reviewer who can no longer get free books from the publisher because they don't like the tone of her reviews. Here's the excerpt of the e-mail republished on Katie's site, which was sent to the reviewer (one Emmy) via the review site she writes for (separate from her livejournal account):

As I mentioned to you sometime ago, a number of authors have written me requesting that I do not send you their books to review since they didn't appreciate your style of reviewing. Recently the publishers have gotten in on the action and several of them have written within the past couple of weeks requesting that I give their books to other reviewers. Basically what they have said is that they will not give their books to a reviewer who trashes them. Their main objection is the tone of your reviews and I'm paraphrasing here - your reviews come across as extremely snarky, not just in the reviews themselves but in the comments following the reviews .... they don't have any issue with reviewers posting negative reviews of their books but they feel that your reviews are unprofessional. The bottom line is they are not prepared to offer their books to a reviewer who calls stories she doesn't like "craptastic" "suckage" and makes reference to gouging her eyes out, is disrespectful and cruel, especially following up on reviews she has posted of stories she doesn't like. Some of us have problems writing reviews on books that we don't like for whatever reason. As you know, I hate writing negative reviews but I do them more frequently now and I always have to find the right words to use and try to be helpful. So we have a problem with few options. Since I'm rapidly running out of books for you to review I could do what I did originally when you agreed to post your reviews here - I could cherry pick your reviews from your Live Journal and suggest the ones to be posted here. Obviously I can't select those from some publishers, which makes it difficult. Honestly, I'm at a loss here. I like you on a personal level, I enjoy our discussions, I think you're funny and we have fun together and I don't want this to affect our relationship. I don't know if you have any other suggestions of how we can work around this.You'll probably be angry when you receive this email but I have no option since basically I have been given ultimatums by several publishers who supply the books to be reviewed.

Wow. That'll knock a girl down a peg. So basically--or at least as Katiebabs argued--Emmy is being blackmailed into changing the tone of her reviews or she will no longer receive books from the publisher.

Then Bbexlibris posted an entry asking what makes a good review. Although this doesn't seemingly have anything to do with Emmy's problem, it actually does--the publishers are refusing to lend her books because they don't think she writes valuable reviews. They want her reviews to be "helpful," or something. But should reviews, of books or movies or anything, really be helpful? Should they be entertaining? Most reviewers (re: yes, I mean myself) don't get free books to review from publishers. But if you do get copy from publishers or authors, do you enter into some sort of unspoken contract with them not to be as harsh?

There have been more posts discussing this topic, my personal favorite being the one on RomanceNovelTV--basically the equivalent of STFU. "Criticism is not a one-way street," Marisa (the author) says, so don't dish out what you can't take.

I think this is a great point, and why doing reviews on the internets is different from doing them for, say, the New York Review. Also perhaps why it's better. In ye olde timey days, you got reviews from newspapers or magazines, and some were more prestigious than others. Did those reviewers interact with publishers and writers? They probably did, to a certain extent, but they couldn't get too buddy-buddy with them due to journalistic integrity and all that; and the reviewers definitely didn't interact with the masses of readers that authors and book sellers were hoping to sell books to. Basically, for the Waldo Lydeckers of the world (he was a critic, wasn't he?), criticism was a one-way street.

With the interwebs, you've got a completely different situation. Writers, reviewers, readers, publishers, and editors are all on Twitter or on blogs, talking to one another, reading reviews, commenting on websites, and basically communicating to an extent they never have before. If you write a review, be it harsh or favorable, chances are not only higher the author and editor will read it, but respond to it.

Does this improve reviews? Do you think reviewers are selling out if they pull punches just because they know the author of the book might read their review of it? Is it even a reviewer's job to be "helpful" to a writer in improving his or her books?

Personally, there are only two kinds of reviews that I really love: ones that lead me to great books, and ones that add to my understanding of books that I've read. Neither instance requires wit or a snarky attitude, or being helpful to the author for that matter. Someone who writes a review that is meant to show off their own cleverness and intelligence more than discuss the book being reviewed (something that happens in academia all the time, just fyi), tends to scream to me "Frustrated Novelist." Then again, one does want one's reviews to be interesting so that people will read them....

It's an interesting conundrum. I'm not going to promise my reviews will never be snarky, but I do have to admit that every time just before I hit the submit button, I ask myself, "What if the author reads this?" It's not so much pulling my punches as watching out for my karma--what goes around comes around.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Symbol or Fraud

A painting is a symbol for the universe. Inside it,
each piece relates to the other. Each piece is only answerable to the
rest of that little world. So, probably in the total universe, there is
that kind of total harmony, but we get only little tastes of it.

~Corita Kent

The Chasseur in the Forest by Caspar David Friedrich

From Booking Through Thursday:

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

First of, your husband isn't an avid reader? How does he live? (LOL--kidding) I definitely believe that writers in the past--and the not-too-distant one, at that--used symbolism deliberately in their novels all the time. That was the style, not just in writing but in the visual arts as well. For example, Caspar David Friedrich is probably the most well-known German Romantic painter. He painted what most people today think of as "pretty landscapes," but his paintings were more than just scenic views. They were full of symbolism, expressing Friedrich's religous, philosophic, and political viewpoints. A Chasseur in the Forest is a painting that's all about the Napoleonic Wars and the expulsion of French troops from Germany. The lone figure is a French dragoon lost in the impenetrable forest, which symbolizes Germany. His ultimate fate (and the fate of the French army), death, is represented by the black crow on the tree stump--a symbol often used by Friedrich for death. Other symbols Friedrich regularly employed were colors to represent God or theological ideas, ships to represent human souls, and ruined churches to represent death (Friedrich was kind of obsessed with the whole death thing).

Mademoiselle Lange as Danae by Anne-Louis Girodet

Friedrich wasn't the only artist to use symbolism in his work, and symbols weren't used to only represent religious concepts. When the newly-married courtesan Mademoiselle Lange didn't like the portrait Girodet painted of her, he replaced it and hung a painting of her as Danae in the Paris Salon, instead. Danae is a mythological figure often used in allegorical paintings depicting courtesans, because Jupiter lured her into making love to him by appearing in the form of a shower of gold coins (don't ask me how that works, it's just the story). In this painting, Girodet was not just implying that Mlle. Lange was a prostitute, selling herself for the gold owned by her rich (and old) husband, but that she was cuckolding him (see the huge cock on the left staring at Mlle Lange's genitals?) with a young and handsome actor--you can see his portrait in the Bacchanalian head underneath Danae's seat, with gold coins stuck in his eyes. There are loads of other symbols in this painting, all of which were immediately apparent to the Parisian public, and all of which were completely insulting to Mlle Lange, her husband, and her luvah.

How could all these symbols, which seem relatively obscure to us today, be readily apparent to people at the time? Because viewers in the 19th century were trained to read the symbols in painting, just as I'm sure they were trained to recognize them in literature. Now, I have been known to say that art historians make stuff up, I admit; but by that I mean that some of our educated speculation is backed up by less proof than other theories. I don't know much about literary theory, but I imagine it's the same way. English teachers don't just pull this stuff out of their ass; they rely on things like letters, contemporary criticism, rough drafts, and so on to give them clues as to what the writer intended when he or she wrote the work. Sometimes, admittedly, they take this a bit farther than hard, irrefutable proof would support; but that's the fun of it. If I wanted to justify my every idea with irrefutable proof, I'd become an archaeologist. Or a police... person.

Most people today, however, are not trained to recognize symbols (unless they're part of a completely anachronistic profession like me :P). That doesn't mean that modern literature still doesn't use symbols--Animal Farm is obviously not just a story about animals that live on a farm, and The Great Gatsby isn't so much a novel with a traditional story as it is an allegory or modern American myth. Both books are full of symbols, like the T. J. Eckleburg billboard that symbolizes the eyes of God looking into Tom's soul.

However, the proliferation of symbolism in literature--and really all the arts--is only a fraction of what it used to be. Why? Because we no longer view the world in a symbolic way. We don't see spirituality in nature as Ralph Waldo Emmerson did, God in the power of Niaga Falls as Thomas Cole did, or think witchcraft causes bad dreams. Our world today is one of realities (so-called) and science and facts, not of symbols, signs, and mystery; and neither, for the most part, is our literature. Perhaps it's anachronistic to force people to continue thinking in those terms when they study art or literature, but that is the way the people who created those works understood the world they lived in.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Proof That I Do Write Creatively... Or At Least I Try

A few nights ago, I was really bored, so I decided I would go through some of my older posts and start retroactively tagging all of them. The bad news is, I got tired of doing that after about 10 posts (out of five-ish years of blogging). The good news, I found this little gem, which was supposed to be a first chapter to a book whose purpose, plot, and premise I do not recall at all. This is as far as got with it. However, I thought the excerpt was cute. It's about a messy, anti-social vampire named Steve and his annoying friend who is trying to get him to date. Voila:

Chapter One

The sun was just setting when Steve woke up to the refrain of Bach’s 5th Symphony, playing shrilly and slightly off-tune from his phone.

“Yessssssssssss?” he growled into the receiver, keeping his face half-buried in his pillow. There was a short silence until the phone rang again, this time right into his ear, and he realized he had forgotten to push the “talk” button.

This time he lifted he head off the pillow and snapped, “Yes, what do you want?”

“A little grumpy, are we?” a familiar voice teased on the other end—Tom, Steve’s terminally cheerful friend.

Knowing he wasn’t likely to get out of this conversation without Tom stating his peace, and then some, Steve sat up in his bed and placed a hand on top of his aching head. It had been a tough weekend. “Why are you calling me so early?” he demanded, his voice still rough from sleep. He could see the golden reflection of the sunset on the wall as the sun sank behind the tall skyscrapers covering the city.

“You hadn’t left your apartment for the last decade until two nights ago, and I know it didn’t go well, so I decided you needed some cheering up in the form of… women!”

It took Steve several moments to process this information. When it finally dawned on him what Tom was saying, he pushed aside the covers and got out of bed. Knowing Tom, he was probably standing outside his door at this moment.

“First of all,” Steve ground out, reaching for a pair of boxers, “it has not been a decade since I left my apartment; and secondly, I don’t need cheering up. Even if I did, I don’t need you to procure female companionship for me.”

“I beg to disagree, friend,” Tom returned, sounding like he should be in either a laundry commercial or The Music Man.

“I’m disconnecting my phone. You will now only be able to contact me via e-mail.” Having pulled on a pair of black jeans—the closest thing to him on the floor, and somewhat clean—Steve walked out of his bedroom, through his living room and to his front door. He glanced through the peephole, and sure enough, there was Tom, grinning at him while holding his cell phone to his ear.

Without a word, Steven hung up and pulled open the door. “There had better not be a stripper behind you.”

“Would I be so crass?” Tom shut his phone and stepped past Steve, into his apartment. He gave his friend’s living room a long, despairing glance and said, “So I see you’ve been cleaning the place.”

The room was not only cluttered, but filthy. Bookcases crowded for space on every available wall, stuffed with books layers-deep. In front of the bookshelves, cardboard boxes were stacked waist-high, and in front of the boxes, on the floor, the end tables, the coffee table, the top of the television—basically any flat surface—were piles of books, puzzle boxes, stacks of clothes, swords and other assorted weaponry, hats, papers, and CD and DVD cases. Where there wasn’t a pile of something, the surface was covered with a layer of dust, a tissue, or a liquor bottle. The black leather couch was the only clear space in the room.

Steve shut the door and turned back to face the room. He swept his hands forward, palms out, and a wind blew through the apartment, pushing the dust, tissues, and the smaller bottles to the back of the room. “Happy now?”

“You don’t have to clean up on my account,” Tom replied. “Now, about this woman thing… I have an idea.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Online dating!”

Tom looked at him as if he had just announced he’d invented electricity. Steven rolled his eyes and walked to the kitchen.

“Aren’t you even interested?” Tom asked, following him and sounding not in the least defeated.

“I can’t say I am.” Steve reached into his refrigerator and pulled out a beer bottle, passing it to Tom.

“But you love computers, and you hate leaving your house. It’s perfect.” Tom pulled the plastic wrap off the top of the bottle and paused to take a long drink while Steve took out his own bottle.

“What’s the point?”

Tom put his bottle down on the kitchen counter with a thunk. “You’re depressed. I understand that. But you need to get out more, see new things, feast on some pretty pieces of flesh.”

Steve thought about this as he took a drink. “Have you done this?” he asked, looking at Tom cautiously.

“Of course! I just had a date last Friday with this amazingly delicious woman named Karen. A lot of them won’t put out on the first date, but of course my natural charm overcomes their objections.” Tom grinned and picked up his bottle again. “It’s so easy. You just put up a picture of yourself and a profile on the web, and women flock, my friend.”

“I’m sure,” Steve muttered. Tom was given toward over exaggeration.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Zombie Quiz

Another reading meme from The Book Zombie:

1. What author do you own the most books by?
Well, I'm not going to count them.  But off the top of my head I'd say Christina Dodd and Lisa Kleypas, since I tend to read them obsessively and they've both written a lot of books.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
I own three copies of Treasure Island.  Why, you ask?  I really have no idea.  I like the book, but I don't like it that much.  I also own 3 versions of the story on DVD.

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
The first one didn't bother me, but the second one really did.  That might be because I've just spent the last 5 hours grading essays, though.

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Haha, I have to pick one?  Hmm, Mr. Darcy is probably number one in my heart.  But there are really so many choices....

5. What book have you read the most times in your life?
Wellllll, I don't know.  It comes down to The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart, Here Comes the Sun by Emilie Loring, and The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith.  The one that I've read the most of all of those is probably Here Comes the Sun, since I've read it at least once a year since I was 7.  That book is crazy, y'all (not really).

6. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
I loved this book called The Ghost Wore Grey by Bruce Coville when I was younger (I've always had a thing for stories involving the supernatural).  It was about a ghost from the Civil War who recruits two pre-teen girls to help him do... something.  It had this great line in it:  "What a hunk!  Too bad he's dead."

7. What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
There are so many to choose from.  Probably Dark Thirst by Sara Reinke.  That was book was terrible.

8. What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Year as in since January?  Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles has probably been my personal favorite so far.

9. If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Lord, I don't know.  In all honesty, I'd probably make them read Giorgio de Chirico's Hebdomeros, because I'm evil like that, and because I could use it to create my de Chirico zombie army.  Alternative reading assignment would Nadja by André Breton.

10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
When I start reading "literature," I'll let you know.

11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Well, I'm reading Drood right now, and I think it would make a great movie!  But you never know with that.  I used to really wish The Vampire Diaries would be made into a TV show (head writer would be Joss Whedon, natch), and now they ARE making it into a TV series, and I'm completely convinced they're going to fuck it up.  I heard the other day that they're changing Stephen and Damon's last names from Salvatore to Witcombe, or something really dumb like that.  WTH?  Stephen and Damon are from Italy, why would you mess with that (very important, trust me) part of the plot unless you're a total d-bag?!?!  Anywayyyy, /rant.  People are trampling on my childhood memories yet again. *grumble grumble*

12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Ha, just about any romance novel.  I really don't want to see most of that stuff on-screen.

13. Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
No idea.  I can't remember stuff like that (at least, nothing's springing to mind at the moment), although I have dreamed about Giorgio de Chirico, who is technically a writer.

14. What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
Um, just about every book I pick up is considered "lowbrow" by some person.

15. What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Difficult how?  I'd have to say trying to read Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire in the original French was pretty damn difficult.  I'm amazed I survived that semester, in all honesty.

16. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I've never read anything by a Russian author, so I guess the French win by default.  Yay for them.

17. Roth or Updike?
I'd rather gouge my eyes out than read Updike again.  As for Roth, I honestly have no idea who that is, unless you're talking about the lead singer for Van Halen.

18. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
I've heard of David Sedaris.  I think I might have read one of his books.  So I'm going to vote... Sedaris.

19. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare FTW.

20. Austen or Eliot?
Austen, duh.

21. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I still have not read Tolkien.  And I have to admit I haven't read the entire Austen catalog, either.  I know; I feel bad about it.

22. What is your favorite novel?
Jane Eyre is my favorite novel of all time.

23. Play?
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen--that play is amazingly good, full of drama and yet very insightful about gender roles and the way the sexes interact.  And the female lead has a great last scene.

24. Short story?
Don't have one.

25. Epic Poem?
Oh, yes, what is my favorite epic poem???  Well, I would say Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Byron, but I never actually finished it.  Or The Odyssey, except I never actually read it, just watched the miniseries.  Or The Epic of Gilgamesh, except I have also not read that.  So I suppose one can conclude from this that I don't read epic poems.

26. Short(er) poem?

Strephon kissed me in the spring,

     Robin in the fall,

But Colin only looked at me

     And never kissed at all.

Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,

     Robin's lost in play,

But the kiss in Colin's eyes

     Haunts me night and day.

--Sara Teasdale, "The Look"

27. Work of non-fiction?
Hmm, I only read non-fiction for work.  I don't really have a favorite, since I don't read it for enjoyment.

28. Who is your favorite writer?
I really couldn't say.  I hate just about anyone's writing if I'm not in the mood for it.  LOL  Probably LJ Smith if I had to pick one writer.

29. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
This question is funny to me, because I don't think there are many contemporary writers who are "rated" (by whom?) at the same level as Charles Dickens was in his lifetime--just to use an example.  I think Nora Roberts is really overrated, if you want to know the truth.  I have never seen the appeal of her books.

30. What is your desert island book?
Taking just one book to a desert island would be a torturous decision.  No matter what it was, I would get really tired of it.  I guess I'd pick Robinson Crusoe, because if you're ever going to connect with a guy who's stranded on a deserted island, it'd be then, amirite?

31. And ... what are you reading right now?

Drood by Dan Simmons

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Monday, April 20, 2009

A Letter to Wilkie Collins

From The Book Zombie (via buckeyegirl31--thanks for the idea!):

Time for another very cool mini-challenge. This time around Shannon from Flight Into Fantasy would like for us to write a letter to one of the characters from a
book we’ve been reading. It can be about nearly any topic we want, and
any character we choose.
The book I'm reading right now is Drood by Dan Simmons (and considering how long it is, the book I will be reading for a loooong time to come will be Drood), so I'm going to write a letter to the narrator of the tale, Wilkie Collins--author extraordinaire, laudanum addict, and close personal friend of Charles Dickens.

Dear Mr. Collins,

It may seem rather abrupt and rude to begin a correspondence thusly, but I would like to state first and foremost that I have read both your and Mr. Dickens's novels, and enjoyed neither; although The Woman in White did not, as my mother has stated for herself in reference to Mr. Dickens's literary efforts, "Made me want to kill myself." Therefor I was surprised at the relative clarity with which you wrote your manuscript on Mr. Dickens's obsession with the man named Drood, to be published 125 years after your and Mr. Dickens's death.

Your relationship with Dickens is quite curious, as you two seem to be very close friends; yet you find Mr. Dickens to be a careless companion, selffish, narcissistic, a terrible father, an even worse husband, and possessing of very little moral virtues. You also do not think much of his writing. It might be said that in your interpretation of Mr. Dickens's character, at least the one that you present here, he has absolutely no redeeming qualities. I wonder, then, why you spend so much time with him. Even if I were not aware of history and Mr. Dickens's failure to achieve immortality--outside of print, at least--I would guess that he is in for a Bad End.

During the course of your manuscript, you often address yourself to the readers of the distant future--this, obviously, would be myself. You wonder if we speak a language similar to your own, or if we have stopped speaking English altogether. You may be surprised, and undoubtedly relieved, by the fact that this letter is written in your English; but the truth, sir, is that I have led you terribly astray. We in the future do not speak as I am writing here at all; instead, we have been taken over by machines that instead speak in a code of ones and zeros. When we do bother to speak aloud, everyone speaks either French or Spanish. I am so, so sorry.

On the plus side, your novels are still in print and largely known to the general public (although many of them believe you to be a woman). I cannot wait to get back to your narrative of Mr. Dickens's self-destructive activities, and thus will conclude shortly, but allow me to say this, Mr. Collins: as bad as Victorian England is, the future is always potentially worse... or better.



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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Vampire Knight

vampire knight first edition cover

I'm about a third of the way into my second manga in my uber-scientific and methodological study of vampire mangas, and so far, Vampire Knight is full of win.

The story takes place in a boarding school called Cross Academy, named after it's president, Mr. Cross. Cross adopted a young girl named Yuuki (sometimes spelled Yuki) after she was rescued by the vampire Kaname from another, evil vampire. Kaname clearly has the hots for Yuuki, but he can't do anything about it because if he drinks her blood, she will be become an "E-class" vampire--the lowest of the low on the vampire totem pole; basically a mindless monster that sucks people's blood. Meanwhile, Yuuki has developed a close relationship with Zero, another orphan Cross adopted after he was rescued from a vampire. Unlike Yuuki, however, Zero didn't emerge unscathed from his vampire attack. He also clearly has the hots for Yuuki, not that he'd ever admit it.

So far this manga is extremely addicting. The English translations can get a little wonky and difficult to understand, but the illustrations can be really beautiful; and every chapter so far is successfully adding more and more layers to the story and characters. The heart of the story is the love triangle between Yuuki, Zero, and Kaname. At first I have to admit I liked Zero, but now he's getting on my nerves with his constant whining and pouting. Plus Kaname is much better dressed. ;-)

I would definitely recommend this manga. Look for updates as get farther into the series.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paris Nocturne

"I have two loves: going to Paris and Paris." --Josephine Baker

Eyes open in the middle of the night, staring at the blurry image of the moon through the window. A sudden desire for walking along wide boulevards, exploring the Louvre, and taking hours to eat dinner grips me. Memories of sitting in a park sketching, the posh neighborhoods around the Arc de Triomphe, the winding medieval streets around the Paris Opéra, the not-so-posh outer arrondissements, eating pain au chocolate in the morning and being trapped in a McDonald's in the afternoon; drinking wine because it's cheaper than water, walking along the river at night amidst pink streetlights and embracing lovers. I could see the Louvre again, the Jacquemart-André along Boulevard Haussman, and the Musée d'Orsay. I could rummage through the mysterious book stores full of non-romance novels, finally settling on a French translation of Agatha Christie because I'm desperate. Perhaps while using my now-very-rusty French to ask for a good restaurant, I'll meet a man open to a flirtation... or several.

If I got up now, at 4 AM, and packed my bag, I could be there in 15 hours, possibly. Do I have the money for a plane ticket? A hotel room? Can I take the time off?

No. I close my eyes, trying to ignore the moonlight and the wanderlust and voice in my head telling me to go. It's not wanderlust so much as a desire for a single place, for the only city I've ever loved. A desire mostly put to rest, except apparently for unusual waking moments at 4 AM.

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Now playing: Sarah Vaughan - April In Paris
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Prince Alix has been sent to the kingdom of Tryfyn to collect a princess for a bride-finding contest being held by his brother, Emperor Jahn of Columbyana (he's the one looking for a bride). While Alix is at Tryfyn, the king gives Emperor Jahn an exotic gift: a woman from a distant land who can read people's souls. She's also a sex slave and covered in blue paint, kind of like Ancksunamun from The Mummy. Or a smurf! If anyone besides the man who owns her touches her, he or she will be marked with the blue paint and immediately killed by her guards.

Prince Alix is attracted to the blue lady (whose name is Sanura), but he doesn't dare do anything about it because he's the straight arrow sort. Unbeknownst to anyone but himself, his brother, and Sanura, however, Alix has a dark side. Literally, there is another person inside of Alix who calls himself Trystan. Whereas Alix is very logical, calm, and always does the right thing, Trystan is his "id" personality, taking and doing whatever he wants. And like Alix, he wants Sanura.

This book was an enjoyable, quick read, although I did have several problems with it. I love the character of Alix; but strangely, his evil alter-ego, Trystan, was really boring. Like totally vanilla. Once Trystan takes over (you knew he was going to), the book starts to drag considerably. There are also several subplots going on that are totally pointless. I do not need to know about the bad guy's love affair with the unattractive psycho maid, nor about the princess who plans to use her wiles on the Emperor but never even meets him.

Essentially, even though the book is less than 300 pages, it could/should have been a lot shorter. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the last 50 pages, which really, really, reeeeaaalllly drag. Once Trystan/Alix and Sanura make it back to the Emperor's palace, I wanted a big, quick finish to wrap things up. What I got was no confrontation between Alix and his brother and an overly simplistic, throw-away conclusion to the other loose ends of the plot.

For the most part, though, this book was a good read. Even though Trystan and Sanura have no chemistry whatsoever, Alix and Sanura do. There were also some great plot twists along their journey to the palace that made the story move along really quickly. I just wish the author was a little more creative in her handling of Alix's alter ego and the conclusion of the book.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why Romance is More Popular Now than Ever

Adam & Eve by Gustav Klimt

As Jimmie Cox once wrote, "Nobody knows you when you're down and out." Since so many people are down and out these days (and getter downer and more out), there has been a growing interest in things that not only survive but prosper in a tough economy: Hershey's Kisses, lipstick, and romance novels, just to name a few.

Lately, there's been a spate of articles on US News & World Report and other sites about why romance novels are enjoying even more sales than usual. Yes, why indeed. Let's analyze these winners for a moment, shall we--what does Hershey's chocolate, McDonald's, lipstick, and romance novels (which USN&WR rather inaccurately refers to as "bodice rippers") all have in common?
  1. They're relatively cheap. Or they can be (I still think $8 for a mass market paperback is too expensive, but admittedly that doesn't stop me from buying them).
  2. They all satisfy some basic need (McDonald's and Hershey's is food, so that's obvious; lipstick for beauty/fashion; and romances for love).
  3. They all make you feel good... well, except for McDonald's. Then you only feel good if you get the kid's meal.
Earlier, I mentioned that "bodice rippers" is an inaccurate term for romance novels. Not only that, but it's ridiculously outdated. As most of you probably know by now, I'm an avid romance reader, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever encountered a bodice being ripped in a novel, romance or otherwise. I'm sure they were being shredded like nobody's biznas back in the day, but nowatimes not so much. There are also people who refer to romance novels as porn for women--well, there are excellent erotic romances and there is definitely an audience that appreciates hot love scenes //eyes shift from side to side//, but I would say that is not the main attraction of romance novels at all.

Okay, kids, Bible quiz: what is one of the first things Adam does after he's created? He realizes he's lonely! The need for companionship, love, and to connect with another human being is one of the most basic needs we have besides food and water. Romance novels not only provide extended escapism, like movies, but an escapism geared toward humans' most basic desires: sex, love, and acceptance. I'm not necessarily saying these desires are more easily fulfilled when a person has money--not at all. As Jimmie Cox pointed out, the friends he made when he "bought bootleg liquor, champagne and wine," were not real friends at all. Rather, I'm suggesting that these desires become more glaring when you can't go out and get manipedi or a Dooney & Burke bag to make yourself feel better.

So is it any wonder that romance is one of the most universal themes in storytelling, let alone that it thrives in a bad economy? And do we really need any more articles analyzing why people enjoy romance novels? No, I don't think so--instead of analyzing, why don't you just give into your curiosity and buy one, hm?

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Now playing: Good Charlotte - Something Else
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the TV

Well, it's April, which as far as I can tell, means it's time for new shows to start premiering on TV. Y'all know how I love new shows to distract me from the mind-numbing drudgery interspersed by moments of sheer panic that is my daily life. Taken all together, I have come to this conclusion: network TV is killing itself.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I was immediately attracted to this show because it's based on the mystery novels. Not that I've read this series, but I like mysteries, especially mysteries with female detectives. This series takes place in Botswana and centers around a woman named Precious Ramotswe (Precious? bleh) who is the first woman--supposedly--in Botswana to open her own detective agency. She has no detecting experience, but she is very smart and clever and naturally curious.

The show's premier was insanely long and very depressing at the beginning, when Ramotswe's father dies. Then it takes her about an hour to actually have a case after she opens her agency. Once she finally does start getting cases, it was a little difficult to follow which case she was solving when. There was a strange dichotomy in the cases for me: on one hand, you have the relatively light-hearted matter of Ramotswe (I refuse to call her Precious) trying to figure out if a man is actually a woman's father or not; then on the other hand, you have the ultra-serious case of a child being kidnapped, which is actually not even her case. They didn't quite balance out for me.

However, the second episode was much better. Ramotswe still doesn't have many clients and is struggling to make ends meet, and she still has a mixture of serious (a guy pretending to be a dentist) and silly (the search for a stray dog) cases; but the balance in the second episode between the cases worked really well. Also, we got more insight into the characters, whom I'm beginning to love. My favorite character is Ramotswe's INSANELY uptight secretary, Grace Makutsi. In the first episode, she seemed kinda psycho and really annoying, but by the second episode her personality seems quirky and endearing, instead.

Another character I love is Matekoni, an automechanic who towed Ramotswe's old "van" in the first episode. He is really sweet and totally crushing on Ramotswe, not that she notices (she's recovering from a nasty marriage).

So I'm really enjoying this show so far and definitely recommend it, even though I have two issues with the logic of the plot:
  1. Why does Ramotswe need a secretary? She barely has enough work to keep one person busy, let alone two.
  2. Why doesn't she charge her clients a deposit? So far she's had two clients she did work for who never paid or threatened to never pay her after she was finished. Charge them a deposit for god's sake.
Parks and Recreation

My mom and I were really excited about this show because my dad works at a park, and my first job was at a park (well, technically my first job was at Dairy Queen, but I'm trying to erase that episode from my mind). It wasn't exactly lawl-worthy, although I did giggle at certain parts.

The show is essentially like The Office, only the office in this case is that of a local government instead of a paper company (i.e., it's populated by a bunch of idiots). Poehler's character is the Michael Scott of Pawnee, Indiana's local government.

My mom said she didn't like the show because she was annoyed that it was Poehler's character who was the idiot, and because the jokes about her were mean-spirited. I can see her point, although I think the main problem with the show is that there's no "normal" character the audience can connect with--a "Jim," if you will. Try to imagine The Office (especially early Office--like the first season when it was almost painful to watch) without Jim and I think you'll get my drift.

The show might improve after a few episodes, but I really don't care enough to see if it does or not at this point.

Harper's Island

Have I mentioned I love mysteries? I think I have. Harper's Island is about a bridal party that is systematically killed off on an island off the coast of Washington (state, not district). I was really excited about it because Christopher Gorham is in it! Yes, sexy sexxxxy Christopher Gorham, who was Henry on Ugly Betty and Jake on Jake 2.0. But even Gorham isn't enough to save this completely lame show. It's super-cheesy, but you can't even enjoy it's cheesiness because it's also insanely predictable. I can't believe Eleventh Hour was replaced by this show--and I hated Eleventh Hour.


Then there's Dollhouse. I know, this isn't a new show, but it has really grown on me in the last few episodes. In fact, I would venture to say it's pretty awesome. I'm even able to ignore how boring Dushku is now (aren't you proud of me?).

This week's episode was GREAT. There's a spy in the Dollhouse, and it turned out it was... oops, can't tell you. Anywayyyy, there's really more than one spy, but we don't know who the second spy is yet. I'm voting for De Witt, the director of the Dollhouse. She's clearly ambivalent about the direction of the Dollhouse, hates her job, and is the only person who can program the dolls without anyone else knowing.

Some more things I learned from this week's episode:
  1. English people consider fencing a form of foreplay;
  2. Tahmoh Penikett is really hawt (oh, wait, I already knew that);
  3. The NSA has "plans" for the Dollhouse. Ooooh.
Alas, according to recent reports, Fox is planning on cancelling the series and not even airing the series finale (which I assume has already been filmed?). This is clearly a ploy to make fans of the show buy the DVD. Very annoying, Fox.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Devil's Bargain

If you've been following my blog, you probably already know I'm a big Jade Lee fan. Typically Lee writes historical romances that are placed in Shanghai and deal with the collision between European and Chinese culture (no big surprise, as Lee herself is half-Chinese). This book, however, is a romance set in Regency England, so it's a little out of Lee's typical ouvre.

The book is okay. The plot is based on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale: a poor minister's daughter, Lynette, goes to London hoping to find a wealthy husband; only to discover that she will be trained in the //ahem// wifely arts by the roguish Viscount Marlowe. He will literally sell her to one of his rich friends, thus gaining enough money to get himself out of debt.

What will happen when the scandalous Viscount meets the innocent Lynette? I just don't know!

Overall, I liked this book, mainly because I like Beauty and the Beast. Marlowe is very beasty because he only comes out at night, and during the day Lynette has to deal with his mysterious servants (both of whom she naturally wins over with her kindness and innocence *smile smile smile*). I liked Lynette's character, even though her emotional breakdowns sometimes seemed nonsensical. Spazzing out over whether or not you can pick out your own clothes? You've got bigger problems than that, honey, hate to tell you.

The big negative point in the book for me was actually Marlowe. His character and personality never seemed well-defined. Also, he is the most un-roguishly roguish viscount I have read in a novel in recent memory. To present just one example, he cries. A lot. I'm not saying guys can't cry, but 1. I'm pretty sure roguish viscounts don't cry, not unless it's absolutely necessary for advancing the plot; and 2, this guy cries like every 20 pages. It's odd. But on the plus side, he's not completely despicable, so there's that. But there just wasn't any chemistry between Marlowe and Lynette. How is she supposed to reform the wicked viscount if he's not wicked, hmmm?

The Devil's Bargain is an okay book. I wouldn't tell you to go out and buy it immediately, but if you like twists on Beauty and the Beast, you'll probably enjoy it.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Humans are Dead

From harmony0stars:

What does it mean to be "human"? Is it possible for a machine to be "human"?

This question reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee. It takes place in "the future" and is about a shy girl from a rich family who gets a pleasure-bot. And no, it doesn't provide that kind of pleasure... necessarily. Get your mind out of the gutter!

So, where were we? Oh yeah--well, you see, in this future, there are a few very expensive, humanesque robots who are programmed to specialize in certain entertainment features--dancing, playing music, etc. Silver, the 'bot Jane gets, specializes in music. The robots are not supposed to have souls or feelings, but they are programmed to respond to and learn from their human overlords owners. In the end, this turns out to be inherently contradictory, and let's just say Silver gets re-programmed.

The question of whether or not machines can be human always seems to come down to two things: do they have feelings, and do they have souls. As if humans are the only animals on earth that have feelings or souls?! As harmony0stars pointed out in her post on this same subject, humans tend to overrate themselves, even among our own species. It wasn't that long ago that Thomas Jefferson was pondering whether or not American Indians had souls (he was certain that African, re: black, people didn't). Nowadays, I think most people would agree that all humans have souls, along with animals and even plants--or at the very least that they all have an animating consciousness.

The next question then becomes, can humans create something with a soul? The answer of course is yes: we create little babies all the time. And unless babies don't have souls, I think that counts. Of course machines are another matter entirely, but I think this is the sticking point because the idea that scientists could create something as or more intelligent than we--humans--are is terrifying. Like a super-charged Hitler or Ted Bundy. But this fear has nothing to do with the actual machines; it has to do with their creators and whether or not they have any morals. A creation run amok, just like Frankenstein's monster, is a reflection of its creator (actually, Frankenstein isn't the only tale with this theme--the myth of Pygmalion goes all the way back to the Ancient Greeks and deals with similar issues, except in that case the "creature" is a statue brought to life). Writers like Tanith Lee who create cautionary tales of humanoid robots and artificial intelligence aren't cautioning us against robots; they're asking if the people parenting this next step on the evolutionary ladder are responsible enough to be good parents. And I think we all know the answer is typically NO.

And in honor of this question, I think it's time for a music video:

The Humans Are Dead by Flight of the Conchords

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Library Love

From Booking Through Thursday:

I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led
to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do
you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you
go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of
the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older,
darker, quiet, cozy libraries?

Our public library has actually just been completely remodeled. It is huge now, has a lot of computer terminals, and an art gallery. I am super-excited about it.

I love libraries. Free books??? Oh hell yeah. I seriously doubt that in the current economy (not to mention the fact that a lot of brick and mortar stores are closing now because of online sales and digital books) bookstores serve any threat whatsoever to libraries, especially as library collections become more digitized via Google Scholar. Libraries are really much more adaptable to the new technology because their purpose is to provide books and materials to the public in a simple, accessible, and free format. I think as bookstores start closing, libraries will take their place as meeting and hang-out places. Two of the public libraries in our public system already have full cafes, three have mini-coffee bars (basically a huge thermos of coffee or hot water), and even our university library has a coffee bar and bakery.

In a world of constantly shifting cultural touchstones, it's comforting to know that libraries are here for the duration.

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This Tuesday, Cupid premiered on ABC. It's a recreation of a series that was on ABC in the 1990's. Both are about a man who says he's Cupid, the god of love, and that he has to get 100 couples (that's 200 people) who are soul mates to find true love with one another.

The original Cupid was a good show. It starred Jeremy Piven as Cupid and I remember certain episodes very vividly. For example, in one show, Cupid/Piven figured out that a beautiful woman with a sucky (& handsome) boyfriend had found her true love... but the guy wasn't her boyfriend, it was an unattractive nerd. At the point he gave up because he said beautiful people always date other beautiful people, never people who were less attractive than they were.

The original Cupid asked serious questions about love and put them in a context of a dramady (even though dramadies didn't actually exist back then). The new Cupid is more overtly about romantic comedy. It opens with the current Cupid (played this time around by Bobby Cannavale) helping this guy named Dylan change the New Year's Eve sign to read "Holly I'm here." You see, Dylan met Holly for 20 minutes in Dublin and fell in love with her right away; but she had to fly back to New York. So Dylan has now flown to New York and is trying to find her.

Anyway, Cupid/Cannavale is arrested for this stunt, and because everyone thinks he's crazy, he falls under the care of psychiatrist Claire. Her specialty just happens to be relationships, although she doesn't seem to believe in love too much, so why is she counciling people about their relationships?

After a few months, Cupid is released from the funny farm and returns to his job at a bar called Tres Equis. Claire still has to keep an eye on him, though, so she tells him to show up at her singles group therapy sessions (letting someone who claims he needs to get 100 couples together to visit a singles group? Is she crazy?). Cupid uses this opportunity to promote Tres Equis as the hot new singles bar, and to spread the word that Dylan is still looking for Holly.

After group therapy, the whole gang goes down to Tres Equis for mariachi karaoke (note to all you guys out there: mariachis are always full of win). Dylan and a repressed reporter chick sing a duet; and after 2 days together, as she writes a story on his search for Holly, they fall in love. But then Dylan meets Holly (!). Which woman will he choose???

This show was pretty good. It was more lighthearted than the previous one, but that's fine. I definitely got my warm fuzzies at the end, so that was nice. There is a mysterious part of the show where Cupid doesn't remember Psyche (if you aren't familiar with this myth, look here). Is the psychiatrist Claire Cupid's Psyche? Does he not remember Psyche because he's not really Cupid? Questions.

If you like romcoms, I'd definitely recommend you checking this show out. It has quirky characters, storylines full of charm, and yet it isn't too cheesy or cliched (it is a little bit, but that goes with the territory). The first Cupid was absolutely great, so this one is certainly starting out with promising material.

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Well, I finally saw it. I know you're happy for me.

I love this series (in book format) because of the characters. So I was pretty excited about the movie. Overall it was... okay. Kind of at the same level as Highlander for me. Not that I dislike Highlander. (I won't say how many times I've seen it, as that might discredit what little authority I have, but let's just say it's been more than once. Voluntarily.) But like Highlander, I think Twilight could have been a lot better.

In case you've been living in a cave and have no idea what I'm talking about, Highlander is about a group of immortals who cut one another's heads off and have an orgasmic-like "Quickening" in which they absorb the other immortal's power. Oh, you wanted to know about Twilight... that's about a shy human girl who falls in love with a vampire and I can't believe you didn't know that.

So the movie was pretty hilarious. I'm actually kind of bummed it was such a success, because this is exactly the kind of thing I'd enjoy torturing people with by recommending. ;) Kristen Stewart has "teenage angst" down to a science, I'll give her that. None of the teenagers look like actual teenagers, the special effects are terrible, and it's way too long.

But none of that really bothered me too much. What did really bother me was Robert Pattinson, aka Edward. He is not how I imagined Edward at all. Creepy stalker much? Lordy lordy who thought it was a good idea to cast him in this role? Actually, he reminded me of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause--he would have been great in that movie! This one, not so much.

Uhg, seriously, what is up with that guy? Okay, message to RPatt: I know that for some guys (if you're a total pussy), playing Edward as he's supposed to be (re: a gentleman--you know what that is, right? RIGHT?) might be seen as a threat to one's masculine integrity. But if that's the case, the least you can do is play him with some dignity instead of going for the total creepazoid factor.

On to the special effects--HORRIBLE. I was so disappointed with Edward's sparkliness; it just looked like he was covered in sweat. I was really looking forward to the sparkly skin, too. And the running through the forest made me lawl.

And I think this is the perfect example of what is wrong with this movie (besides weirdo RPatt): the running through the trees was kind of cheesy even in the book, so why in the name of his holy Edwardness would you put it in your movie, especially when you clearly don't have the budget to do it anyway? Why not take all the good things from the book, throw out the not-so-great things, and then throw some imagination into the mix? There is a total lack of imagination in this movie. I mean, the vampires don't even have fangs. I want my vampires to have fangs, dammit! You followed ye olde rule of bad vampires dressing in ridiculously flamboyant outfits (that's where the term "vamp" comes from, fyi... not really), so why not the fangs?? Hmm? Why. Not. the Fangs.

So the movie was okay. I think I might need to watch it again, actually. Maybe it's better the second time around...? I'm glad I saw it, anyway.

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