October 2006 Archives
The Great Blog Debate
Since last week was discussion week, I took time off from filling the in-between days with my own bookish drivel. I still surfed the book sites, though, and have been following a particular story with a lot if interest.
A kerfuffle broke out among several blogs over Millenia Black (The Great Pretender, The Great Betrayal) and problems with her publisher. Long story short: African-American author writes book featuring white characters, publisher rejects said book until characters are rewritten as black, author files a complaint against publisher.
We just discussed a book by a Haitian American, so Black's plight and the flurry of activity around it stood out to me. Posts have been all over the place on this: from making early predictions to suggesting Black is white. I'm just a person who likes to read and have no idea of what's true or untrue. And I'm not writing to throw in my thoughts on racism since, being biracial myself, I have my own issues and don't have to go beyond my own family to encounter it. I simply find the situation and speculation fascinating. As I see it, three distinct voices are at the heart of the brouhaha.
Black has a champion in Monica Jackson, a romance and soon-to-be mystery novelist, who has tried her darndest to bring the issue of racism in publishing to the forefront. She's posted thoughts on her own blog, Romancing the Blog, and has left numerous comments in various places discussing Black's predicament and complaint. In essence, Jackson argues against forcing an author into the African-American niche when the merit of the work should be enough to stand on its own. A noble cause and position even though the publisher's motives behind rejecting the book likely have more to do with money than racism. Yet, it's refreshing to see one passionately stand up for another in the face of knee-jerk reactions and criticism.
I really like Return of the Reluctant, and I tend to see Edward Champion as the charismatic villain of litbloggers. From his posts, I get the impression that he hates most books that are wildly popular, wants everyone to know what an insider he is, and likes to stir up controversy, both sincere and feigned. Most of the time you can tell when he's trolling for an argument, but his recent mentions of the Black lawsuit are uncalled for. He declares "The Last Word on Millenia Black" but quickly reneges with an attempt to discredit a post on her blog and out her from behind a pen name. But, I have to laugh at how he took it upon himself to call the court, marvel at his litblogger turned Columbo gumption, and remind myself that his url isn't edrants.com for nothing.
Although The Publishing Contrarian may have had good intentions by wanting to point out that there's nothing wrong with niche marketing, her message is lost because she goes about it in such an insensitive way. Whether racism on the part of the publisher is real or perceived, TPC has no business scoffing at Black's feelings about the directive to recast her characters as African American. I also love how she quotes Black's use of "nigger treatment" then adds her own aside: "I can barely type that phrase, it is so offensive, but I am quoting her." Offensive to whom? An African-American person subjected to it or a white person being accused of it? Oh, and thanks for letting us know you're quoting because a) it'd be terrible if we thought you'd actually use that word and b) we're all so stupid and uneducated we missed the quotation marks.
Misguided attempt to disprove accusations of racism aside, TPC actually lost me on a marketing point. Yes, cross-shelving sells books and I like her idea of moving Black's books around various sections. But "New Fiction, Literary Fiction—Female Authors, General Fiction, and African American Fiction"? It's been years since I worked in publishing, but I think literary fiction denotes writing that doesn't fall into a specific genre, like mystery or sci-fi. I also believe that female, general, and AA are not necessarily subsets of literary fiction. And if I'm not mistaken, Black writes suspense/family saga. As a result, her books would have no business being in literary fiction, and such bad advice provides further proof that many people connected to the publishing industry have no idea what they're talking about.
Good or bad, I happen to have some of my own advice for TPC. First of all, you ruin your own credibility when you make a harsh criticism and then close your comments because you can't take the criticism back. Use single quotation marks inside double quotation marks. And finally, your blog is currently set to turn post titles into urls, so when-you-create-long-ass-post-titles-you-create-long-ass-urls-and-there-is-no-excuse-for-having-a-url-with-256-characters-in-it.
Continuation on The Dew Breaker
I reread this book a second time, sort of. I kinda breezed through it and I changed my mind about some things, and at other times, I noticed certain elements that I hadn't seen before.
For example, even though I liked the book as a collection of short stories and as a whole novel, I didn't find the writing impressive. I thought the writing was somewhat elementary and there wasn't any elegance to it, with the exception of a few lines here and there (I'm not sure if this is what I'm trying to say). (is elegant writing necessary?) The second time I went through it, I got the impression that each succeeding story was written in a better language, but I have no evidence of that to support it.
One thing that I think should be pointed out is Danticat's use of a number of scenarios. Although not all of the stories were written in the first person, and I like the alternation of point of views, we are given a different protagonist every time, someone who is in a different or similar situation and has a background that makes their refugee story different from the next. From these, I could imagine the stories of those victims that were not included, because in a way, even if some of the characters were not tortured by this specific dew breaker, it does say something about him in the way that he committed acts of atrocity just as any other torturer did, and like he, other tortures too were able to escape and erase their past, at least partially.
Another advantage from different points of view, for example was with the first story. I like how with the first story, Ka makes a few judgements about her parents. When we read The Book of Miracles, then your opinion of Anna, Ka's mother, changes, and so on with other characters, like Eric (from Seven, who is also the nurse's exboyfriend from The Water Child).
I think Danticat managed to write something that is subtle in reflecting an accurate Haitian experience and culture. The line on pg. 71, "Whenever she went by a cemetary...she imagined him there...his tiny wet body bent over the tombstonese, his ash-colored eyes surveying the letters, trying to find his name," alludes to the religious practice of Voudoun, in their beliefs in spirits roaming the earth.
Addressing Char's opinion that the stories didn't quite connect, I think that I can see that. I thought the same thing too. I expected all the stories to somehow connect with the dew breaker, (I don't remember if he had a name). I think the more obvious connection is that the other characters, like the three men, lived in the house with the couple. The nurse is one of the men's exgirlfriend. The seamstress is haunted by memories of the torturer (and I don't think that she ever really lived near him, maybe once). I can't find the connection between the funeral singer and the torturer's life. I think I'd have to reread that story.
The Dew Breaker Discussion
Good morning, BookBlog,
I'm a little late here. I had some complications in the wee hours of the night/morning. I'd been in the emergency room since 1:30 a.m. and finally left around 6 a.m. Nothing serious, just founded worries. The doctor sent me home with Naproxin. Wow, I spent 5.5 hours in an uncomfortable emergency floor to go home with Naproxin for chest pains. I really need to catch up on sleep, but I've got classes in a couple of hours.
ANYWAY, let's talk about The Dew Breaker:
I stumbled upon this book during the summer. I was taking a creative writing workshop (I'm not a creative writing major) and one of the guys in my class who is a creative writing major mentioned this novel after we were done workshopping someone's piece for the day. He said the story had reminded him of a novel he read that was comprised of many short stories that could be read separately or as an entire novel, but that it was about a man who tortured people during the Haitian conflict (with Papa Doc?) and we get to know this man through the different short stories for they give a different perspective each.
So as I started reading The Dew Breaker, I kept thinking, "Okay, short stories, each a different one, but they don't really talk about the man..." So I realized that these stories were not so direct in referring to the torturer. I think I expected to read something that was written in a given account sort of way, perhaps more journalistic. But I thought it was great how each story linked to another in such a subtle way.
What did you think of the short stories and the substance within each? Some stories were more captivating than others, like The Bridal Seamstress. Did you have a favorite?
I've really not much time right now, so I'll go into a short discussion of the book for now and I'll pick up from it later. The Book of the Dead opens up with "My father is gone." My first impression was that her father had died. When the policeman shows up a few lines down, then I think that she has killed her father. The neat thing about this line is that it's a foreshadow for the symbolic loss of her father later in the story. Ka, the narrator keeps emphasizing at the beginning of the story how she has nothing in common with her parents, yet we see that this isn't necessarily true. On pages 13 and 18, she says that she's got a nervous tick and a way of talking or not talking during difficult situations that she inherited from both her parents. Is it that she doesn't want to have anything in common with her parents even though she mentions through out the novel that she wishes she did? I don't know why, but I got the feeling that she liked being different from them, even if she says other wise.
One of the things that bothered me of this story is how she didn't tell Gabrielle Fontaneau the truth from the beginning. Why did she have to go to lunch with Garielle's family and put herself through an embarrassing situation? Oh, and she seemed so passive. It was so annoying!
I'm not even going to proof read this because I really have to go. We'll continue.
100 Most Influential
Everybody loves lists.
In the comments of this post, Eddie, our moderator for Doctor Zhivago in December, mentioned another one. Here's a link to The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written from the book of the same name by Martin Seymour-Smith. Of course, all the titles making the list are based on the author's opinion (like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die), but it's a good resource nonetheless if you're looking for something to read.
I'm not embarrassed to admit that I've read very few from this list since it's heavy on the non-fiction. For me, many of the titles or portions thereof were assigned in high school and college classes. As for those I've read cover-to-cover, there are only five:
Although I do go through a non-fiction phase every now and then, I read more for entertainment than information or education. It's a way to escape from reality since my own imagination is limited due to an overabundance of pragmatism, so there's nothing better than a good yarn to suck me into another world.
Ask the Book Mistress #1
Everyone with a blog and a counter looks at their stats. Everyone. Some people may be too cool to care about hits or visitors, but they still look.
I obsess over our search string referrals from engines like Google or Yahoo. Hardly any are for porn and they're also not very weird. Not surprisingly, most visitors land on us while looking for information about books. A thing I think we do well, besides discuss books, is provide meaningful and ongoing coverage of a select catalog of titles.
Many of the queries we receive are easily answered by reading through our discussions. It is unfortunate when some people leave without the information they seek. In this post, I will try to help the helpless by responding to our most common unanswered search strings.
Search String: the five people you meet in heaven narrator
Today alone, we received more than 30 similarly worded searches for the above. I don't know if there was a Five People scavenger hunt going on or if a single person was in denial over not finding a satisfactory answer, but that's a lot of hits for an easy one. The book is written in the third person; there is no narrator. If your American lit instructor absolutely demands an answer, say it's the author, Mitch Albom.
Search Strings: coraline spark notes and coraline cliff notes
Neither exist because Neil Gaiman's Coraline is a children's book that anyone over the age of 12 could probably finish in a few hours. Sucks having to do your own work, doesn't it?
Search String: What Is the Point of Reading?
The point of reading is to get some point (or meaning) from what you read. If you don't get my meaning from reading the last sentence, then there is no point. Go watch TV.
Overcast, rainy, and cold. It's been a dreary day, but not a bad one. Who can complain about snuggling under a blanket on the couch with a pot of tea and a good book? I started my reread of Wuthering Heights today in preparation for November's discussion. No worries, Ana. I'm also in for The Dew Breaker as I finished it a while back.
On a lazy day, here's a lazy link. Everyone's blogging about the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die thanks to Bookslut. I might as well admit to my paltry count of 81. As I went through the list I worried that I might not break 25, but, thanks to having read everything written by Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Brontë sisters, my count swelled as I hit the 1800s section. I wonder if I get bonus points for reading some of the foreign language titles in the actual foreign language since I have 7 years of French classes and study abroad in Grenoble under my belt.
How many books on the list have you read?
Is POD the Future?
Via Books, Inq., here's an interesting article about one possible future of publishing: Printing on Demand (POD). You have to admit that there's something Star Trek-like in walking up to a computer, making a request, and leaving with a book. "Computer, collected works of Jane Austen, years 1811 to 1814, bound in one volume." Like it or not, that show has spawned a whole host of innovations. For example, I'm sure the inventor of the flip phone used to sit in front of his television thinking about how cool it would be to have a communicator. Give the geeks enough time and they'll make Roddenberry's vision of the future happen.
Although I'm all for progress and not a fan of how bookstores do business, I actually like shopping for books. POD would take all the fun out of it. Every time I'm in a bookstore, even when I know what I want, I end up purchasing several other titles found while thumbing through displays or browsing spines in the literature section. I also browse books while online shopping, but doubt I'd go through the effort of driving to a Starbucks for a suggestion from their POD vending machine. I can get that right here from my own computer, and I don't have to wear pants as I click from a list to a review to a book description.
The hunt is almost as fun as the reading. Just this past weekend, I went to the semi-annual garage sale at Wild West City ("The best of the West in the heart of the East"? Uh, okay.) benefiting a local animal shelter. I was so impressed by the used book selection that I made an excuse, a friend had been looking for a particular title, to go back again the next day. After crawling around in the mud to see every spine and elbowing my way through the other bargain hunters, I walked away with 22 near-mint books for $5, including one for my friend. I almost went back a third time for the $2 bag sale, but hundreds of unread books cluttering up Casa BookBlog forced restraint.
Despite the futuristic novelty of POD, a traditionally published book is unlikely to lose its feel appeal. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Captain Kirk gets two literary birthday gifts: A Tale of Two Cities and reading glasses. Picard keeps a large, leather-bound copy of Shakespeare's works in his ready room. Couldn't they have simply POD'ed the books from a replicator? Even future-forward movie/television visionaries don't see the book going away completely.
Hmm. Maybe that last paragraph gave away a little too much of my own geekiness and didn't help my argument. But, damn it, POD is simply not my idea of an enjoyable way of obtaining a book and maybe I'm not a "real reader" since I don't care who sees me in a bookshop. Regardless, I think it's time to crawl into bed with a "real book" and put a dent in the old TBR pile.
A Lemony Day
Today is Friday the 13th of the scariest month of the year, which aptly marks the release of the 13th book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Although titled The End (Oh, Snicket, you rogue! No alliteration for the last book?), I strongly suspect that this will not be the last we hear of the Baudelaire orphans (Or is it? Could the abrupt flatness of the title mean it really is the end?). After all, there are paperbacks to release and promote. I'm still not over the fact that some of the books are already available in paperback for $3.99 to the school market, so I'm curious to find out what the pricing will be when mass market editions hit bookstores.
When I was teaching, I read the first 12 books during an informal competition with a student to see who could get to the end of The Penultimate Peril first. I beat the kid, but it wasn't a fair fight. I bought them from Scholastic for my classroom and didn't release each one to our library until I finished it. And then he had to contend with the rest of the class over who would actually get the book. He did ultimately read them all, but had to resort to going through a few of them twice while waiting for the next. Unfair or not, at least the competition generated some buzz over reading.
Even as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the Lemony Snicket books. From a marketing standpoint, the back cover blurbs are the best I've ever seen and the next-in-series teasers creatively generate anticipation for future books. They're fast-paced and easy to read, which was also noted by my former fourth graders, and you have to be pleased at kid's sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing 300+ pages. I especially liked the digressions on vocabulary and idiomatic expressions which subtly teach irony and wordplay in a fun way.
If you haven't read the first 12 books or need a refresher before tackling the 13th, here's a link to a Tim Curry narrated video, 12 Books in 120 Seconds. Other trailers and information about the series can be found at lemonysnicket.com.
Addendum: Via Bookninja (Who cares about the Nobel, indeed! We will soon find out the identity of Beatrice.), here's a link to The New York Times article about the release, which includes a few tantalizing details.
Our 50th Book: Wuthering Heights
Since a book needs to be posted for our next discussion and no one else has volunteered to moderate, I've signed myself up for November and have chosen Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë as the selection. Although it is sort of a school book, assigned in nearly every English lit class everywhere and already heavily discussed, I chose it for a few reasons.
It is extremely rare for me to reread a book. There is so much good (and bad) literature out there that one lifetime isn't enough to devote to only a few titles. In my living room alone are 140 TBR books, and that's not including the uncounted ones scattered throughout the bedroom, the office, and the attic. I also don't keep books that have been read; I much prefer willing them to others for their own enjoyment. Wuthering Heights breaks both those rules for me. I've read it more than a dozen times and always keep a copy in my home. It's been so well-loved that I'm currently in possession of my third copy, which already has ripply pages.
When Daisy posted her list of best books ever, I couldn't come up with a comment so I didn't add my own thoughts to the thread. I constantly change my mind depending on my mood and genre phase (most recently, non-fiction featuring death but no destruction). Although I'd have a hard time settling on a list of, say, 20 favorite titles, I could start one, and I'd put Wuthering Heights at the top.
November will bring our 50th book discussion. 50 books. I can't believe our little blogging book club has lasted this long. It's very special to me, and I wanted to mark the occasion with a special book. I hope you'll join in.
The 2006 Quill Book Awards have been announced, the people have spoken, and I guess I’ll have to add Tyler Perry’s Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life to a TBR pile. Despite being a fake inspirational title by a fictional character played by a comedian, I’m sure it will be quite entertaining. Plus, I’ve always viewed Vaseline as an underutilized resource and probably will be able to put some of the book’s tips to good use.
I’ve been trying to be better about posting here once each weekday so that there’s something consistently going on between discussions. Tonight, a friend read my last post and burst out, sarcastically, "Well, tell us what you really think." I guess it wasn’t very nice of me to call The Observer’s best book pick crap. And looking over my last few entries, I suppose they’re a bit more snarky than necessary. So I think I’ll attempt to write a nice post about something nice and with an exceptionally nice attitude.
Nope. No. Can’t do it.
So, Kiran Desai won the Booker for The Inheritance of Loss and said, "I know the best book does not win. The compromise wins." She's right. Isn’t that exactly what’s wrong with the prize in the first place?
Has MSNBC posted the Quills winners yet?
Power to the People
When the 2006 Quill Book Awards were announced, I had noticed flack on several literary blogs bemoaning the People's Choice-like voting as well the additional publicity for titles from already big presses. Some simply don't like popularity. Personally, I didn't pay the announcement much attention because I'm really bad at being up on book news and mostly read backlist anyway.
Although consumer-driven voting is sort of redundant since the masses already cast votes with dollars, I'm more looking forward to the Quills now that I've had a chance to read The Observer article What's the best novel in the past 25 years? The newspaper polled "about 150 writers and 'literary sages'" and I think their pick is crap. Maybe I'm too American or don't understand post-apartheid South Africa or am not literary enough, but I found the winner, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, to be tediously boring. Tediously boring is not always a bad thing, though. I read it while house/cat sitting and it certainly helped me fall asleep in a strange bed. And I'm comforted in knowing I'm not alone in my opinion.
The Quills will be awarded tomorrow, which happens to also be the day for the Man Booker Prize announcement. Disgrace is a past Booker winner. Hmm. I think I'm more interested in what the people have to say.
Speaking of the Quills, I took a quick look at the nominees and noticed that Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is up for best graphic novel. While we've all been freaking out over its possible removal from a public library, Bechdel blogs: "Banned in Missouri? Cool."
Book Banning, Again
Typical. I wrote a post the other day dissing Banned Books Week, and then Edward Champion finds this article on a hearing to remove two graphic novels from a public library in Missouri. The titles in question are Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.
I’m not really against having a Banned Books Week; I just don’t go for its overemphasis on challenges in schools. Parents should question what their children are taught and have every right to voice their opinions on required reading. Pointing fingers, as if their concerns are akin to book burning, can easily turn into a means of intimidating them out of speaking up. Isn’t fighting the suppression of ideas exactly what Banned Books Week all about?
But there is an enormous difference between a school and a public library, a place where adults should be allowed access to what they want to read.
Although Ed’s post focuses on the definition of pornography and whether or not the graphic novels’ challenger is qualified to determine the difference between art and the obscene, what’s gotten under my skin are several irrational jump-to-conclusions statements in the article:
- "'We may as well purchase the porn shop down at the junction and move it to Eastwood. Some day this library will be drawing the same clientele,' Mills said."
- "'I don't want seedy people coming into the library and moving into our community,' Aulgur said."
- "'It's not a matter of censorship,' John Raines of Marshall said, 'but a matter of looking out for our kids.'"
I can already see the future headlines: PORN SHOP PATRONS GET THEIR FIX FOR FREE, SEEDY PEOPLE CHECK OUT GRAPHIC NOVELS THEN CHECK INTO TOWN, and COMICS DRAW KIDS TO A LIFE OF SERIAL MASTURBATION AND SEX.
Looking out for kids should not necessitate taking books away from adults. Especially since most kids, including those in Marshall, Missouri, already know so, so much more about sex than you or I ever will. Our kids’ kids will know even more. Banning two graphic novels from a public library is not going to stop that train from rolling into town.
As you can imagine, I have a lot of books. I'm not a collector and rarely read a title twice, so I keep finished ones in a pile and offer them up to whoever happens to visit. The pile has been getting bigger and I thought it might be a good idea to join a book swapping site. After checking a few of them out, though, I changed my mind.
"Eventually we will ask our members to pay annual club dues so that we can operate the club (probably between $10-$20 per member per year). But for now we are waiving the annual club dues so that you can become a member of the club for free!" Yeah, suck me in until I'm committed then make me pay for my membership. They must get their data from Amazon (although I couldn't find any direct links), so there has to be another way for them to make money.
There's a lot of bitching and moaning in their forums about points and product condition and non-receipt and disputes and ratings and and and... It also seems like some members post in the forums just to get people to look at their inventory lists. They practically beg each other to take their unwanted stuff away.
$3.99 per book you receive and they provide mailing labels, including postage, for the books you send. I was almost tempted to try it when I made the mistake of looking at the "Our Favorite Sites" page. BAFAB is the first link on their alphabetical list, an idea I find to be the most stupid book meme ever. First of all, you don't need a made-up week to buy a friend a book. Its creator writes terrible reviews fawning over terrible books. And, it's no coincidence that BAFAB weeks happen to coincide with the start of each Amazon Associates fiscal quarter. I know Bookins has nothing to do with it, but I had to close the window anyway.
You have got to be kidding me. It gets worse. And he plays the lute, too.
A Book for November?
Although only three people participated in September's discussion, I am really pleased since we covered a lot of ground. We're just getting going (again), so I'm sure it's a matter of time before more people join in. Anyone want to volunteer to moderate November?
Banned Books Week
Last week was Banned Books Week, another bookish thing I’m ambivalent about. Its point is to promote awareness of challenges to books and to help guard against suppression of free speech. I’m all for free access to books, but I’m not exactly all for Banned Books Week either.
The vast majority of book challenges happen in school districts for assorted reasons: sexual content, graphic language, being unsuited to an age group, etc. I don’t believe books should be removed from a school library, but I can’t be upset at parents who want some control over what their children are taught. One way to improve a curriculum is to question it. And it’s a good thing whenever a parent shows interest in their child’s education, even if it is an attempt at banning a book. For the most part, I think school boards handle challenges in a reasonable way. A title is questioned, excerpts are presented (although reading the entire book would be better), debate follows, and the board votes.
It’s a shame, though, when books are removed from a school library. Not all parents feel the need to control environments outside the home and some want their own children to have access to “questionable” literature. Besides, a quick way to get kids to read what you’re trying to protect them from, like a book containing explicit sexual content, is to ban it. If it’s not available at school, they’ll find it in a public library or bookstore. Rather than waste energy on having a book banned, parents might be better off talking with their children about why certain content is objectionable. Unfortunately, many either don’t have enough time or aren’t equipped to deal with certain subject matter.
Of course, censorship, when it comes to suppressing information or ideas from adults, is wrong on all counts. You could make an argument that banning books at a public library makes the world safe for children. Yet the world isn’t populated solely by children. I understand the desire to keep schools as kid-friendly as possible, but you can’t stop adults from having access to books because you’re afraid a child might read it. Outside of school, parents need to monitor their children.
Don’t like the content of a library book? Take it away from your kid. Hate the fact that porn is easily accessible on the Internet? Watch your kid’s computer usage. Don’t like the language on TV? Change the channel.
I started writing this post about my own ambivalence toward Banned Books Week. In my own experience, I have never felt like I have been prevented access to any book I wanted to read. After a quick Internet search, I couldn’t find a single current reference to books being banned outside of a school system. Some have tried and failed, but I still feel confident that the First Amendment is doing its job. I’m just not so sure Banned Books Week has anything to do with it.
My father is gone. I’m slouched in a cast-aluminum chair across from two men, one the manager of the hotel where we’re staying and the other a policeman. They’re both waiting for me to explain what’s become of him, my father.
—The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat