Archive for the ‘Jean AAR’ Category

Bed, Chair, Sofa, or Floor?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

victorian-woman-reading-magnet-c11748947And no, I’m not talking about certain recreational activities.  I’m just wondering where you guys like to read.

See, I used to have this image of a “proper” reader: Someone who sits straight-backed in a chair, or lounges with dignity in an armchair, legs crossed, holding a book in two hands, serenely flipping the pages.

But I discovered early on that I’m not like that.  Me, I sprawl.  I fidget.  I cross my legs in a chair, then turn ninety degrees and hang my legs over the arms, then flop onto the floor and lean against my desk.  I do all sorts of random stuff.  And that’s only at my desk.  So I need space to move.

By and large, there are four reading options for me:

Bed

If I’m reading in bed, it’s at night.  And if it’s at night, that means a limited period of time.  Which kinda sucks if I’m in the middle of a really gripping passage, but hey – self control, right?  I also sometimes do work in bed, because I like having the space to spread out.  But when it comes to leisure reading, I find that no matter how I start off (leaning back, cross-legged, etc.), I always end up on my stomach with a pillow under my chin.

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A Reader Versus a Bibliophile

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

EscribanoI like orange juice.  I really like orange juice.  But I sure don’t make a habit of learning about the properties of citric acid and optimal growth conditions for Tropicana Florida oranges.  And I’m cool with that.

But I can’t apply the same to books.  Not the ignorance about the production of such an item, but my complacency about it.  I’m not talking about the words – I’m talking about the pulp.  The sawn, milled, pulped, compressed, printed pages glued between embossed cardboard.  That, my friends, is as far as I know about the physical shell protecting the tales I love.

Which is why I’m a reader, but not a bibliophile.  See, I throw my old books on the ground.  I bend their pages.  I don’t dog-ear them (except, very occasionally, for the really crappy ARC when I need to remember a particularly excruciating turn of phrase), but I stretch the spines.  And new books?  I treat them carefully, but I don’t bend over backwards to keep them pristine.  Just doesn’t happen.

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Through the Stomach and Into the Heart

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

poya1yj5kwvzc1I really like food, but I think I’ve become a bit inured to most food scenes in romance novels.  All the dessert-cum-sex scenes have melded together, to the point where all I can think about is the mess.  I’m not really into strawberries and champagne, so if the hero starts waving them around, my mind starts wandering.  And then you’ve got the chefs – I like them, but I think the proliferation of TV chefs, and the sheer accessibility of gourmet gastronomy, have taken away some of the luster of the professional kitchen.

The most memorable scenes, I find, occur outside the gourmet and professional arenas.  I remember very clearly the beginning of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter, when St. Vincent provides a hamper of food for the starving Evie, who proceeds to devour the thinly sliced meats and cheeses sandwiched between buttermilk bread.  There’s something equally delicate and decadent about the thin, savory layers (and geez, buttermilk bread) that conveys the indulgence of St. Vincent’s life, which contrasts heavily with Evie’s prior existence.  Plus, it just sounds good.

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“Nothing is Sacred – Even Libraries”

Friday, August 5th, 2011
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During university, I volunteered at the local library, shelf-reading and tidying books.  When I told a friend, she asked why I didn’t just volunteer at a food bank; then I’d do more good.  At the time, I wasn’t aware of the saying “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for life.”  But that’s more or less what I told her.

I believed, and I still believe, that free education is one of the fundamental rights to which each person is entitled.  And education doesn’t end in the classroom – it stretches into the home and community, and libraries are at the heart of this education.

So, yeah, I believe libraries are sacred.  That’s why it scares me that they’re first in line for the Toronto budget cuts.

At last count in 2010, the Toronto Public Library was the busiest one on the continent, with over 30 million items circulated for a city of 2.5 million people.  (By contrast, the New York Public library serves over 3 million people in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and circulated 24 million items last year.)  Torontonians don’t just borrow materials.  We buy used books, do research for homework, get together with friends, surf the Internet, and find jobs.  We take part in the homework clubs, ESL programs, book and conversation and film clubs, author readings, cultural seminars, library balls – the list goes on and on.  There’s a damn good reason we call our library system one of the best in the world – it’s because it is.

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The Big “I”

Monday, July 11th, 2011

2421311-LI don’t remember much from Psych 101, but I do remember Sternberg’s Triangle of Love.  Sternberg sees Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment as the three corners of love.  Pick any one or two components and you have various kinds of relationships; combine all three, and you have what he calls the Consummate Love.

Which is sort of what 99.99% of romance novels is about.  Except in the romance world, there’s a fourth corner: Fidelity.

Wait.  Isn’t that the same as Commitment?  Well, not according to Dan Savage, the love and sex columnist who was featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine two weeks ago.  He recognizes that monogamy is right for most couples, and that’s great.  What he doesn’t like is our society’s assumption that monogamy is right for all couples:

Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments need to look at the wreckage around them (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter)…and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat.  And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on component of it, sexual exclusivity.”

Mr. Savage doesn’t support thoughtless infidelity, but he’s asking for smarter boundaries and honesty, an acknowledgement that: (more…)

Classic Romances

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

windflowerWell, I finally did it.  I’ve heard about it for years, and I’ve seen it online for lots of money.  I’ve read jealously about people who just happen to come across it for ten cents at book sales, and how it’s one of the best pirate romances ever, if not among the best romances period.  So I finally caved in.  Courtesy of an Amazon gift card, I bought and read Sharon and Tom Curtis’ cult classic, The Windflower.

I don’t know what it says about me that I spent hours wondering whether the book qualifies as a cult classic or classic – but oh well.  Not having approached this in any scientific manner whatsoever, I’ve decided it is definitely a cult classic:

  • It’s out of print, and expensive. That means supply is low and demand is high.  You can’t find a copy on the Web for anything less than $15 for one of the original mass market paperbacks, and while it isn’t the dearest thing out there, it tells me that some people (like me) want it enough to pay heap big money for bits of recycled paper that were originally worth $4.
  • It gets extremely positive, but also very selective, word of mouthThe Windflower has had a seesaw standing in the Top 100 Romances at AAR – it fluctuated between #33 and #83 for ten years, then totally dropped out of the top 100 last year.  I’m not sure that many people now have heard of The Windflower, let alone Sharon and Tom Curtis.  I’d say that’s a sign of a cult classic, not a true classic (whose names more or less never disappear).
  • “Weird as fuck.” Okay, so Urban Dictionary is crude, but it gets to the point.  A cult classic has its enthusiasts and defenders, whether it’s “so bad it’s good,” or just genuinely “good but unappreciated.”  Actually, I think The Windflower is exceptional, not for its premise or character quirks, but because of the gifted hands of its authors, Sharon and Tom Curtis, whose prose is, I think, utterly unique.

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Romance Novel Covers: A Rant

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

coverThey’re like bad relatives.  You can’t avoid sleazy Uncle Bob or foul-mouthed Cousin Betty, because Uncle Bob married to Aunt Emily (the loveliest auntie in the world), and Cousin Betty is sister to Cousin Mark (who’s like a brother).  But you’d really, really prefer not to have to see them.  Ever.

Give a romance detractor a romance novel, and I’ll bet that nine times out of ten, they’ll look at the cover and grimace.  Hell, give a romance reader the same book, and you’ll probably get the same reaction.  So much for not judging books by their covers, but really – really, can you blame them?

Creamy bosoms and hairless tanned chests.  Serifs gone mad.  Florid colors.  And the clinches – oh, the clinches.  Shudder.

Let’s ignore the fact that they’re totally generic.  Hey, romance is a genre book, and all genre books, to a certain degree, are generic.  That’s the point, so that readers can spot them from a mile away, and go, “Oh, a romance/sci-fi/fantasy/mystery novel!”

And let’s also ignore the fact that there can be serious discrepancies between the cover models and the characters.  How many plus-sized, curvy heroines are depicted like Nicole Kidman?  Or the blonde heroes, drawn with black hair?  We’re told that black hair and thin women sell; I’d argue, but there are worse crimes, so I’ll leave it there.

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Vampires, Jane Austen, and a Trend that Just Won’t Die

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

pride_prejudice_zombiesWe see lots of weird things in fiction.  I don’t love it all, but who cares?  Authors write what they want, publishers publish what they choose, and readers bloody well read whatever piques their fancy.

So this reader is going to exercise her constitutionally mandated right to express her unhappiness over a certain literary trend.  Actually, it’s more than a trend, it’s a flea infestation, pervading all corners of the house once that single step released the pupae from the egg.  The pupa was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPaZ), the very deliberate footfall was Quirk Classics, and the spawn is the new paranormal-literary-historical mash-up that, frankly, could not die a moment too soon for me.

Human nature is partly to blame, I suppose.  Our consumer society is built around crazes; unknown forces decide, merchandisers provide, and consumers gorge, until the next hot thing comes around six months later.  The problem is when there’s a gap between what publishers think we want, and what we actually want; hence many (many many many) complaints about the fact that they  just don’t listen.

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Nook Update: It’s Great! Not.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

cartoon-bucket-on-head-sitting-on-the-fence-undecided-576x272This cartoon from Edward Lear’s Laughable Lyrics perfectly illustrates my feelings about the recent Nook Color (NC) software update: A man, sitting on a fence, with a bucket over his head.

When it comes to technology, sometimes I feel exactly like that: Blind, frustrated, and living out a giant crapshoot.  Case in point: The Barnes and Noble Nook Color, version 1.2.  Between Monday when I got the email notification to Friday, when I handed in this blog, my emotions sort of went like this:

  • Monday: Excitement
  • Tuesday: Ecstasy
  • Wednesday: Disenchantment
  • Thursday: Resentment
  • Friday: Resignation

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The Best of Both Worlds

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

booksebooks Development is a natural part of any civilization, but I think most people accept that the past few decades have blown the other millenia out of the water.  I swear, I blink and my cell phone grows another set of eyes.

However, I’m also hearing observations about trends in reverse – call it part of the back-to-basics movement.  I think it’s already in full force with our overt concern for the environment.  Line-drying, not drying machines; cooking at home vs. eating at Applebee’s; stay-cations vs. vacations.  And it crosses over into family values and education – I’m hearing a lot of calls for tough love, rather than cosseting.  (And in the meantime, our grandparents slap their foreheads and think, “Duh.”)  The recession undoubtedly played a big part; history shows that generally, in tough times, people get nostalgic and want to do what their gramps did, politically, socially, and economically.

And culturally, what did gramps do?  Well, for one thing, he listened to the radio, and if he could afford it, he listened to LPs.  A decade ago, CDs were in, cassettes were out, and LPs were absolutely dead.  Now the music aficionados are pumping their fists in the air, because LPs are Cool with a capital C.  They’re no longer relegated to secondhand and niche music stores – HMV, the biggest Canadian music chain store, carries a significant section of LPs, and artists like Radiohead and Coldplay release new albums on those crazy 33 ½” vinyls.

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