juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Season of Storms (Witcher Book 8)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: fan translation
Published: superNOWA, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 218,085
Text Number: 661
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the short stories and before the other novels, Geralt goes on a quest to recover his stolen swords. Insofar as the best part of the series is Ciri, and Ciri is not here present, this is something of a letdown. There's plenty of nods to central characters and plot, but this story feels both less urgent and heartfelt. It's almost prosaic: somewhere between comedy of errors/slice of life/travelogue, the daily life of a Witcher down on his luck, resembling the short story collections more than the novels. That setup allows Geralt's personality to shine through and he is, as always, a delight; the Witcher setdressing is present, the subplots are successful, and there's even some profound, if coy, worldbuilding in the frame narrative. But without the interpersonal relationships that made me care about this series, I came away underwhelmed.

I was chatting with Devon about the Witcher series and mentioned offhand that there are eight books, the two short story collections, the five novels, and the... —and then I realized that I had never reviewed this later prequel, never even written notes for it; granted, I read it late last December, when I was reading less and a lot of my reviews got delayed, but the fact that I entirely forgot this book says something about it, I suppose.

Title: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire Book 1)
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
Published: Solaris, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 218,470
Text Number: 662
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An infantry solider named Cheris is selected to host Jedao, a long-dead traitor and brilliant general, in order to combat a heretical uprising. This has the inconsistent, piecemeal feel of a first novel: the beginning is almost deliberately obtuse (coming in familiar with the author's short fiction makes the style and worldbuilding more accessible, but patience serves just as well) where later sections are over-explained. But the experience entire is a remarkable journey. Math-as-calendar/-as-technology/-as-society is an engaging high concept, but the system's limitations and complicated cultural effects are what make it convincing. Lee's voice is an intense sensory experience, with evocative and alien synesthetic descriptions. The interpersonal relationships remind me of CJ Cherryh's uniquely implicit/explicit dynamics, where everything is tersely understated but functions on an intense, tropey level. The format, especially as a series opener, reminds me of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch: it introduces an entire world and has a satisfying arc, but is obviously the first part of a longer battle.

I enjoyed Lee's short fiction, but also found it frustrating because iteration and length limitations turned otherwise fantastic voice and concepts into repetitive worldbuilding. His first novel is everything I hoped for. The same techniques and themes are here, but they're given more space and elaboration. It's distinctive, fulfilling, and fully realized. I recommend it, and look forward to the sequels.

A pair of quotes, for posterity; I adore the language, the weird math-fantasy-science, how unsettling and evocative and strange it all is.

Read more... )

Title: Home (Binti Book 2)
Author: Nnedi Okrafor
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 218,645
Text Number: 663
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: One year after the events of the first book, Binti makes a pilgrimage home. I enjoyed the first novella in this series, but wanted more from it, specifically more complexity. This is more. It's as vivid, with equally satisfying character growth (these books would make fantastic movies, they're subplot-free and just the right length, and the world is so engaging) but Binti is working between points of intense, unpretty emotional conflict, and her cultural background is rendered with increasing complexity—it's a more complicated, difficult story. But unlike the first book, which is complete almost to its detriment, this one ends at the conclusion of Binti's character arc and leaves the plot with a cliffhanger; I'd've preferred a finished, novel-length work. But I still enjoyed and recommend it, and will read the next installment.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home (Fairyland Book 5)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: Feiwel and Friends, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 215,830
Text Number: 655
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When its previous rulers are revived, September and company must compete in a race for the crown of Fairyland. The cumulative effect of this series is what makes it successful, and the finale is all about culmination: expanding and reuniting the cast, challenging and resolving September's relationship with Saturday, and her relationships with Halloween, Maud, Mallow, and the Marquess, and, finally, her relationship with Fairyland. It's also an especially obvious travelogue, which has become the series's weakness—but here, too much else is going on for the traveling to overwhelm the plot. I've had quibbles with the series entire, and none of the books have lived up to my experience with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland—but September's cumulative journey through Fairyland has a comparable resonance, and couldn't have been contained in a single book. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland reflects that exactly, and is just how I wanted the series to end.

read last December; still not caught up on belated reviews, pls send help—interestingly, they're all finales of series, and I liked them all; I guess the cumulative feels of multiple books makes writing a review of a good book that much harder, esp. as reviews of finales almost must become reviews of the series entire, a "was it worth it?" judgement

Title: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas Book #1)
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Published: Sourcebooks Fire, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 216,160
Text Number: 656
Read Because: reading PoC, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Alex believes her family's magic has only ever brought them pain, so she attempts to cast off her own powers with disastrous results. As a premise—Latinx witches with their own customs, pantheon, and hereditary magics; a journey into a dangerous portal world; a bisexual love triangle; novel-length themes of self-acceptance—this is phenomenal. But the writing lets it down. The staccato sentences grow repetitive, and brief visual descriptions deaden the action and the magic; combined with a predictable plot, it all just ... sits there, lost potential. I wanted badly to love this, and probably would have fared better were I a visually-inclined reader, but frankly I can't recommend it.

Title: Black Powder War (Temerarie Book 3)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 216,510
Text Number: 657
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Laurence and company undertake an overland journey, only to encounter hurdles and the war at every turn. This installation begins as a comedy of errors and develops into a tragedy of errors, all without a strong overarching plot. Yet neither the misery nor aimlessness are particularly tiresome, although I did lose the thread the war a bit (my own fault—I let my attention slip while listening and I'm unfamiliar with the history). It works partially because there's still enough action to provide momentum, but moreso because the human element compensates: the precision of the lived, daily detail within the historical and fantastical setting, the way characters's personalities and values are shaped by these experiences, and, at the heart, the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire have pathos and humor and just enough conviction. This series continues to engage and satisfy me, and I can't wait to read more.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy
Editors: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Published: New York: Tor, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 352
Total Page Count: 161,211
Text Number: 471
Read Because: fan of the editors, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: 18 Gaslamp stories, about the supernatural, otherworldly, and fantastic in or concerning Victorian England. Collections like these are worth reading for Windling's introductions alone—they're lovingly crafted, insightful overviews from someone who's spent a lifetime studying fantasy fiction. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria's Book of Spells doesn't quite live up to that introduction: the intent is there, but the stories frequently fail to reflect contemporary fantasy elements (there's a remarkable lack of fairies!) and, while many touch on the industrial revolution, few use the fantastic both to express anxiety and seek escapism on account. Still, the overall quality is high and the collection is flawlessly edited. There's a good balance of grim historical accuracy (Schanoes's "Phosphorus," with its memorable descriptions of phossy jaw, was my collection favorite) lightened by fantasy of manners-touched frivolity (Kushner and Stevermer's epistolary "The Vital Importance of the Superficial" has a lovely voice); there's a few failures, but they're largely redeemed by their placement—like the irony of Blaylock's curmudgeonly "Smithfield" counterpointed by Hieber's much more complex "Charged." Datlow and Windling are practiced editors, and this is another successful collection—thematically strong, varied, above average in quality. Still, it only met and failed to exceed my expectations.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
There's a negative review of A Tree of Bones which I quite like. It critiques the way Chess and his relationship with his mother change at the end of the series. Expect spoilers.

I don't think that the series takes an interesting, bad character and turns him into a boring, good one, but there is a certain charm to A Book of Tongues, a wanton grotesquerie, amoral and rude and indulgent, which is quite fun—but it, and Chess, stick in the mind because it's not simplistic, evil for the sake of evil or plot progression; Chess is emotionally motivated and complex. As the series progresses, he can't but mature. It makes the character more tempered, and the books as well—and while that's not the same thing as restrained, it is a bit less fun. But I appreciate it in the same way do any narrative that builds a complex antagonist.

I also appreciate the relationship between Chess and Ooona in A Tree of Bones. I believe it's important to portray abusive relationships as complex, and that abuse victims are entitled to complex feelings about their abusers, and that they have the right to feel forgiveness, or not feel forgiveness, or to feel both simultaneously. I also had a worried extra-narrative whisper in the back of my head: Chess isn't a real person, entitled to any feelings at all; is his forgiveness problematic on a larger scale, a faulty example of how to be a good abuse victim and a false example of the power of healing love?

I admire this review for calling that out; ultimately, Chess's forgiveness works for me because I don't see it as simplistically as that reviewer did, and I find his mixed reaction resonant. When I reread A Book of Tongues I talked about my formative mantra that loves is not enough; acknowledging that love still exists has been equally formative for me in these last few years. I am able to carry that contradiction within me: partial forgiveness, and shared love despite hurt. To see the same reflected in Chess validating and authentic.

It certainly continues to amaze me that I found this series so affecting.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I'm waiting on posting a book review (that book review, requested by the book's author) until I run it by Devon—I read things aloud to myself to proof them, but reading them aloud to someone else always catches a lingering typo, and even if he doesn't give much feedback his general thumbs up is the final reassurance I need that I'm not, indeed, talking out of my bum, but that I have something useful to say. But for all of that, I'm surprisingly unpanicked about this review—or else worrying over it for the last few days has exhausted my stores of panic. It's hard to balance expectations against experience, and I've been self-doubting my own feelings lately (more on that in a paragraph or two), so I worried for a while whether my judgement of the book was authentic—or if it was the product of, or defiance of, expectations. Having typed and edited the thing, though—no, I think it's just about right.

In the meantime: Devon and I are officially sick. It's little sick, not big sick—a head cold mostly that's causing sore throat and stuffiness for us both. His comes on the heels of allergies and with a general propensity towards congestion; mine comes after about a week of pain, back and neck, bad enough that I took Tramadol last Friday (man, was that a good Friday), which is causing some general stiffness and muscle aches. But all in all, a little sick: stretching helps my muscles a lot (rest unfortunately makes everything worse, especially my neck), and I expect it won't last more than a few days more. I'm oddly cheered to know we are, indeed, sick, and that his allergies aren't coinciding with my physical misery. My spine has been hellish lately, so hellish as to lead to insomnia and depression; knowing that I have a head cold rather than further complications of back problems leading to sleep problems leading to full-body malaise is, in the way that bad news can be good news, a comfort.

Up until today I had brewing a post about wellness as defined by the slightly-unwell, a post which I think I'll trash rather than bring to fruition. Taking Tramadol puts my worldview into strange contrast and tends to bring out these thoughts in me—but because I've taken it before, and because I've recently been coming out of another depressive cycle, I've done plenty of thinking and writing on such issues lately. It's ground that's been recently trod; walking it again is unlikely to take me to any new destinations. Suffice it to say I've been having another crisis of worldview and belief-in-self: I have been pained, and concurrently depressed, and spending much of that experience contemplating the fact that I even as I dismiss my own problems as normal, therefore unexceptional, and I can realize that what I view as "normal" has a surprising tolerance for physical discomfort and mental suffering; furthermore I'm constantly convinced that those issues, both physical and mental, are probably fictional anyway—small complaints turned to great misery by a combination of self-indulgence and self-pity (and a hope that others will pity me too). Same old, same old, sad to say; worth mentioning mostly for my own records.

I still plan to get out of the house tomorrow, because moving does help my muscles and being upright helps clear my head, so activity may cure this cold better than rest. It's odd to be sick—because I get out rarely, I get sick rarely. The knowledge that I am is almost alien.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I think I'll start out the year by alternately reading rereads and new (to me) books. I'm sitting on a stack of rereads and sinking into them is very quiet and comforting—and with rereads there's no pressure to review, which is also sometimes a relief. But I'm also itching to talk books. Nevermind that I'm still neck-deep in Persona 3, I've been feeling bookish lately and a little more social than my usual hermitude—a coffee shop and novel reading mood, were I the kind to leave the house on my own. Instead, I blabber on books here, so a few new reads and relearning how to write reviews should scratch that itch.

I just finished rereading In The Woods by Tana French early this morning (original review), and it was a different experience this time. Murder mysteries rely on the mystery for plot and to engage the reader; it's been over a year since I read In The Woods but I have a good memory for books, and so there was little mystery for me in this reread. Instead, what held my attention was picking up on all the clues as they were dropped—solving it a step ahead of the investigation rather than a step behind. The atmosphere wasn't as engaging, but it was almost more skillful a book to be able to see every puzzle piece slot together.

The biggest impression left on me, though, was just how brutal French's novels are. The Likeness, this book's sequel, has a different protagonist and an entirely different atmosphere—more romantic, where In The Woods tends towards horror—but both are similar in what they do and how they do it: French builds believable protagonists, gives them sympathetic and intriguing backstories, puts them in idealized situations and friendships which are all the more perfect for those backstories, and then dedicates her novel to smashing that hard-won, beautiful life into fragments finer than dust. She builds beauty and obliterates it, and it is heartbreaking—for her characters, who are left in ruins; for the reader, who falls so in love with the character and the setting as to share that loss.

Depressing as that is, it doesn't too me feel unsatisfactory. Because the writing, plot, characterization is skillful—they're good novels (if perhaps not great) from an objective standpoint. But also because most books have to balance the reader's loss against his gain, and French's novels do: they are examples of "better to have loved and lost." Cassie and Rob in the first book have beautiful intimacy and repartee; Cassie in the second book ensconces herself in a hallowed sanctuary that has stuck firmer in my memory than the book's plot. That both are swiftly, brutally destroyed is heartbreaking—but it is worth it to at least glimpse at them first. What differentiates French's novels from any trade paperback murder mystery is that they have aspects like this—atmosphere, relationships, and loss—to weigh equally against the question of whodunnit. These aren't my favorite novels, but they are solidly constructed and thoughtful little books, they are much more than I expect from the genre and they are a joy—and a great pain—to read and to reread.

(Ironic, yes, that a not-review is nearly longer than the official thing.)

But for now, I think I'm onto a fresh novel before I pick up The Likeness for a reread.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Something I realized while writing my last review: when I call a book "a pleasure to read" it means more than just those words alone. The opening line of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (which is one of my brain-books, one of the works of fiction which I can point to and say: me) is "It was a pleasure to burn." To reverse that line is, for me, a weighty concept and high praise. It indicate a book worth consuming, containing, holding within oneself; a book worth saving from the flames.

As we may all have noticed, I've been reading a lot lately. I'm still playing SL, and multitasking the two isn't easy, but it's worth it—because I've pledged to read only good books.

No, really.

This month I read some truly beautiful books, including some books by Kiernan, Valente's incredible Palimpsest and a book she recommended. And I read some that were simply mediocre—but after those brilliant novels, they felt worse than that: they felt like a waste of time. My to be read list is pretty damn long and spans all sorts of books and genres, but it included a fair number of novels which I wrote down for a good reason, but ultimately do not intrigue me. Sometimes those books are pleasant surprises, but more often my whim is a better guide than my sense of obligation. Fledging fascination doesn't always leads to a wonderful read, but often it does, and sometimes, like Valente's novels, or Kiernan's; like The Story of O, Sharp Teeth, Maledicte, those books which call to me end up being, in a word, perfect.

And so to hell with obligation, to hell with the books which I hear are decent or may be interesting. I went through my TBR list, I crossed off the maybe-sos, and I filled it instead with books which intrigue me. The lore of mythpunk. The politicking of fantasy of manners. Books mentioned here, glimpsed there, brain-making books and fantasy books and barely-reviewed books and books which look to be beautiful. Some of them will disappoint me—I don't doubt that. But some of them will be wonderful, some of them have already been wonderful, and I am so excited to read.

Along the same line: if you want to recommend a book, a truly wonderful and amazing book, I'm always looking to add to my TBR list.

In somewhat more mundane book-news, I've gone back and tagged my book reviews as recommended/not recommended. My reviews are indexed here; here are recommended books and the not recommended books; they are also tagged on my Amazon profile. "Recommended" doesn't indicate the best of the best, but it does include those, and may make it easier to browse my reviews. (For those curious, there are 141 recommended to 50 not recommended, which surprised me. Some of those recommendations, however, are rather unenthusiastic.)
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Thank goodness I enjoy reading at this recent breakneck pace, because—as I knew would happen—many of my library holds have just come in. I stagger my holds, of course—sometimes putting a hold on a specific copy with a later due date, sometimes putting holds on books with many prior holds. Even so, I keep a pretty lengthy hold list, and it's at 17 18 right now (as I added another since starting this post). I was next in line on a good number of those and hanging there, and I was sure they were all going to fall on me at the same time. And of course they have. Of those 18, six books have come in and are waiting on my shelf. That, plus the book review I have left to do, the two books I still have checked out and unread, and the one more I have in the mail ... well, I have some busy book days coming up, needless to say.

While I'm on the subject of books, and therefore book reviews, allow me to rant for a moment about book summaries: how not to write them. )
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
I am sick of reading passive voice. After having a nice long run of very enjoyable books (about four of them), I am currently trying to read two novels which were sitting much further down in my to-read pile: Eragon by Christopher Paolini and The Dust of Wonderland by Lee Thomas. Otherwise entirely unrelated, these two disparate books are united by a single shining similarity—crappy, crappy writing styles.

Eragon is a case of its own. It begins with the driest possible arrangement of noun verbing noun with no attempt to show instead of tell, but then Paolini begins to break out all sorts of shiny new tricks, including metaphors so bad I had to read them aloud to the boy, a lengthy slew of adverbs including "dilligently" which just rolls off the tongue don't ya know, and passive voice—passive voice used by bards, passive voice to avoid an acting noun, passive voice just for decoration and delight. The Dust of Wonderland is artful by comparison, but it is heavy with fragmented sentences, dream sequences, italicized thoughts, and—you guessed it—passive voice. Passive voice, for no purpose that I can figure. Perhaps Thomas just didn't notice he was using it, but he sure does use it a lot.

In high school, teachers redline passive voice as a matter of course and rarely explain why writers should avoid it. Of course, no one should avoid things just because they were told to do so, but there is a very good reason to avoid passive voice: Passive voice is weak. Passive voice is passive. Remove the actor, and you dampen the action. If there is no actor, there is no reason to care about the action. Eragon chowing down on a dinner can be visceral and hedonistic, it can a way to survive in the wild mountains, it can be a social ritual; a dinner that was eaten is so entirely unimportant that Eragon didn't even need to be involved.

Sure, there's room to deviate and chances to slip up. I know I'm anal-retentive about everything grammar, but there's no reason for every writer to hunt down and destroy every bit of passive voice that slips into his text. But when it begins to creep into every page of text or clutters individual paragraphs, the writer can no longer afford to ignore the habit—because it makes readers like me roll their eyes, put their books down, and write bitchy rants about passive voice.

To come full circle, as it were.

On a related note: When and how often do you give up on a book? I'm genuinely curious—perhaps because of all the effort I put into my decisions. I used to be a strict stickler for finishing the vast majority of what I read, especially if I got past the first seventy pages. I now have an average of eight books checked out from the library at any time, as well as a long and active to-read and holds list, and a fair amount of that turns out to be shite. Because there is so much that I want to read, I've gotten better about deciding what I can't bother to read—but it's hard to decide which bad books are worth finishing. Are they only mediocre instead of painfully bad, and will they be swift and forgettable? Do they lack useful negative reviews, and will I be able to serve some sort of useful purpose if I read and review the bad book? If the book and my review will both lack redeeming factors, should I give up on the book? Worst of all, is it so positively awful that, even if my feedback might be useful, I can't possibly force myself to continue?

Most of the books I return without completing have a fair number of average reviews, such that my review will make no really difference. I've forced myself through a fair number of truly awful books merely so that I can write an educated review to warn others away. I can only think of one example of a book so downright horrible that I wasn't able to continue reading it despite my best attempts, and that was Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn—which featured prose so amateur and so slow that I found the book truly excruciating to read.

The Dust of Wonderland could use a healthy less-than-glowing review, so I may complete it. Eragon, however ... the boy took it away from me and refuses to give it back because he already hates it—and he's not even reading it. It is a book of cliché from characters to plot, and it feels like it was written my a fifteen year old boy—because it is. It also has a fair number of reviews, many of which are two or three stars. I miss nothing by returning it unfinished, and the rest of the world misses nothing by being spared my review. There are better books out there and less painful ways to spend my time.

Speaking of: I'm currently padding to my to-read list, and would I love to hear what people are reading or would recommend. All genres, all sorts, anything is a good starting place.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I am waiting impatiently on a review to go up on Amazon—reviews for more obscure books always seem to take longer. It happened with The Dreamers and The Story of O, and it's happening now with Playing—which only has four Amazon reviews to date. I suppose this is actually a good sign, indicating that Amazon does do some sort of moderation, or at least checks to see that the submission is a review for the correct book. However, I publish reviews there first, grab the permanent link for crossposting purposes, and then publish my reviews here—so I'd love for them to go up just a bit faster.

On the topic...

I've finished reading The Story of O [review], and so wanted to add to my comments on the first half of the book. Book chatter, with spoilers for The Story of O. )
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
I read bad books so that you don't have to. Seriously. That has to be the explanation for why I finish some of the books I do, books that are bad enough to make me roll my eyes or close midway through or read sections (like the one I quoted in that review) aloud to people, twice. I'm getting a bit better in putting down books that I just can't stand to read, but it feels like if a book interests me enough to pick it up and then I can, reasonably, finish it, I should, if only so that I can warn others not to bother.

Conversely, I do sometimes read great books, and after falling in love with Sharp Teeth, I wanted to put some of them out there more publicly. I've never written a list of my favorite books because I don't know where I'd start: I read across a number of genres, and it feels weird to put urban fantasy alongside Faulkner on a great books list. But like Sharp Teeth, there are some great books that I champion because they appear to be undiscovered, and that is a list I can make no matter how disparate the books themselves may be. Hidden Gems: great books from across a number of genres that have fallen out of print or deserve wider recognition. It's my first Amazon list and quite small right now, but I'll add to it as a read more.

On that topic, do you have any favorite books that no one else seems to know about? I'm always in search of good books to read, and I'm fond of hidden favorites. If nothing else, I like for my reviews to mean something, and adding the first or eighteenth review is a bit more meaningful than the hundredth. I can influence someone to read something they might not have heard of, then even better. Anyway, I'd love suggestions.

I've probably mentioned in "random fact" memes before, but it was as clear as ever in reading The Passion: My biggest pet peeve in any story is miscommunication. )

Books aside, I am not dead by a long ways but I've only been half around LiveJournal. My attention has been spread thin... I've been playing Second Life again, after a library and bookstore(!) run have a veritable library to work through, watching hours of GTA4, going through some strange moods and another spike in back pain, surviving a heatwave, and took a trip to Ashland with my parents to see two plays. I've been reading LJ in chunks and not commenting (much). If I've missed anything important, let me know! I'm trying to cut SL back to more reasonable hours—not easy, as it does suck you in—and I have a few book and now play reviews to catch up on, so I hope I shall be around more. In short, I am moody and distracted but tolerably well, things with the boy are good, and life continues apace.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
The reward for finishing horrible books is that you get to write scathing reviews of them. I point back to that review (for Lipstick Jungle) because if you only ever read one of my reviews, it might as well be that one. If nothing else, hopefully it will warn you away from what is probably the worst book I've ever read—worse even than the ones that I couldn't bring myself to finish (Sharp Objects and The Devil Wears Prada spring to mind). There's a wonderful catharsis in pointing out precisely what it was that make the book so bad I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. Thank goodness, too, I haven't had the urge to bring it up in conversation since then. Devon hated the book, and he didn't even read it—but he did hear enough of it and about it while I was reading it.

It does beg in me the question, though, of chick lit—is it more harmful than it is harmless? Because that's what Lipstick Jungle was, to be sure. I always say that I will read anything fiction, but the truth is that there are two genres I abhor and will not entertain: chick lit and romance. For some time I've maintained that this is a matter of preference, because I still read books that I would consider to be trashy or simple, easy, almost pointless reading—I just don't like those specific genres and don't read them, but they are just as valid as simple entertainment as bad fantasy and bad YA lit.

But the general consensus on Amazon is that Lipstick Jungle is a 3.5 star book, and 40% of readers gave it a full five stars. Reviewers laud it as "good risque, racy fun" and say that "the novel has a lot of 'you go, girl!' power." It is one thing to find empty, near-thoughtless amusement in a book—like the written version of television. And I can't put words into reviewers's mouths and say that they thought Bushnell's writing was skillful and nuanced. However, when a reviewer writes that she wants to adopt Bushnell's writing style for her emails (oh god) I have to wonder: to they know that the writing is crap, the characters two-dimensional, the storytelling poor? They may not think it's great, but do they think it's good, are they going to try to emulate it?

But, as I mentioned in my review, the worst of Lipstick Jungle is not the horrible writing, but rather the butchered would-be-feminist themes. What a book means—its message, its purpose, its themes—are what readers take away from the text. The themes here lack all subtlety, so I hardly believe that readers are whizzing through the book without seeing them. But Bushnell butchers these themes, substituting cheap, insulting humor for, say, any sense of wit, forward progress, or what could rationally be called feminism. So when readers call it "brilliant" and say "it motivated me," I worry. Writers have power and authority to impact their readers. The themes in Lipstick Jungle are very real, and women meet them head to head every day—sexism and patriarchal structures do not only impact super-powerful businesswomen. Bushnell uses her power to make jokes, belittle people, and forgo constructive change for a reversal of the same sexism that women struggle with.

And people believe it. They read it, they enjoy it, they don't examine it. They find it motivating and empowering—motivating and empowering to limit people to narrow prescripted generalizations. This isn't forgivable, harmless junk reading. These are no moderately interesting themes given half-hearted analysis. Bushnell choses hot topics, and does not approach them half-assed: no, she visibly, loudly does them a huge disservice through reversal and a complete lack of constructive criticism. This is bad—bad in writing, and bad also in meaning.

I haven't read any other chick lit. After my painful experience here, and after finding The Devil Wears Prada too poorly written to finish, I doubt I'll be reading more. So I can't judge the genre as a whole—but if Lipstick Jungle is in any way indicative, then I worry. I worry that we allow and accept trash because it's considered just harmless amusement, when in fact it's not harmless at all. I worry about the women that read it and eat it down without questioning it. Sure, it's not a genre that we can outlaw, and that wouldn't solve the issue anyway. The problem is not only that the literature exists—more precisely, the problem is that the readers do not question or expect better from the writing that they consume. Standing back and adopting the attitude of "if you don't like it, then don't read it" and then ignoring all naysaying is no solution. Perhaps the solution is intelligent discussion—not ignoring the genre, and not accepting it either, but rather pointing out its weaknesses and its position to harm.

Except that I already know that my review, on Amazon at least, will just receive negative reviews and slip to the back of the pile—because I'm overcritical and taking it too seriously, when it's just a bit of harmless "you go, girl!" fun. The attempts at criticism and intelligent discussion—and there are quite a few of each, on Amazon—are pushed aside, and the front page is full of praise instead for a fun and empowering read.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Some chatter about books:

When over at my parents's house, Mum and I got to talking about the lack of negative book reviews. She encountered it on Goodreads, and they were talking about it in reference to the top reviewers on Amazon. The reasoning that her discussion group had come up with: if you finish a book, it probably warrants at least three stars, an "average" rating or better. If you're taking the time and energy to leave a review, this is probably doubly true. Why put time and work, passive and especially active, into reading something that warrants neither? Especially for voracious readers, or people who write a lot of reviews—it just isn't worth it to force yourself to slog through a pile of shit just to come out the other side and give it a thumbs down.

I believe the issue is compounded by negative responses to negative reviews. Of course, this isn't always the case: an inarguably really bad book that receives a coherent review stating that the book is indeed really bad is actually likely to warrant positive response, sometimes a lot of positive response—depending, mostly, on how many people are in search of information about the book. However, few books can be classified as "inarguably bad" (One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, I'm looking at you); reader's tastes and standards vary, sometimes to a huge extent, and one person's negative review may be another person's favorite book. And that is where negative responses come from: if you say something critical about a book that other people like, the people that like the book will critique your review—often not on the basis of the review's merits, but because they disagree with its content. I can point to Cry to Heaven (which I called "enjoyable, but forgettable"). (...except for my now-glaring typo...) It's not a bad review, if I may say so myself. It's not apologetic, but it realizes strengths and weaknesses, and gives a final summary of the book as a swift read that leave no lasting impression.

However, this novel has an average 4.5 star review on Amazon, where I gave it two. It received only 4 of 14 "helpful" votes. The same is true for Good Omens ("Too light and funny for its own good," my two stars to the average of 4.5, 5 of 12 people voted the review "helpful") and a few more of my book reviews on Amazon (A Great and Terrible Beauty/Rebel Angels, Sideways). If you disagree with people, they will disagree with you, especially when they are in passionate disagreement, which is the case when you personally dislike a book that they loved. This disagreement is based on content, not on usefulness, not of style, not on whether or not the reviews is fair. And it's disheartening, as a reviewer, to put together thoughtful criticism and then have people tell you it's not thoughtful and not useful. Positive reviews are safer territory: they don't garter the same attention or disagreement—I imagine readers are more likely to go through "protecting" their favorite books than they are to trash positive reviews of the books that they dislike.

So of course the result is a predominance of positive reviews, positive reviews are often more visible (on Amazon, helpful votes push reviews closer to the first page), and once a book achieves a generally established positive rating, it is likely to continue to get more and more reviews which accord to that rating—the path of least resistance is always easiest, even here. That's regrettable, I think—the more people approve of a book, the more they will continue to approve of the book, and the voice of dissent—which is rare enough to find, since readers don't always finish the books they dislike—becomes increasingly quiet, increasingly repressed. That voice is necessary, because it keeps a book, or indeed any other media, from gaining more attention than it deserves, and because it warns readers that even though a lot of people like this book, some people do not, and depending on their tastes and standards they may be in the second category.

The obvious solution is for people to write negative reviews, but that means completing books they dislike (or perhaps leaving partial reviews, "I hated this book too much even to finish it") and ignoring the negative feedback they receive. Thinking about the issue makes me want to write more negative reviews myself. In fact, that was the only reason I finished and wrote a review of The Red Tent (complaining the whole way through). I've passed over reviewing books before (The Other Boleyn Girl springs to mind) because it seemed pointless to pull together the energy to discuss a book that I barely cared for enough to finish, all so that review would receive negative reviews—it's another 4.5'er on Amazon, and goodness all knows why, because it was a mashup of bland plot, a misplaced protagonist, and laughably bad writing. I've failed to finish books (Sharp Objects in particular, which features both excruciating writing and the world's worst pacing) which were just so painfully bad that I couldn't force myself through them—and then wished I had been able, if only to warn people away (it has an average 4.0 review).

But, of course, it defeats the purpose of loving books and loving reading if I go in search of popular texts I may dislike so I can read, hate, and negatively review them. I think the best compromise for me is to pull books off of the library shelves without research or reading reviews—it's a good way to find books that are in need of reviews, is sometimes the source of gems and great finds I would never discover any other way, and gives me the chance to try to read a variety of material, some of which I expect will be less than wonderful, and give reviews accordingly. As for negative feedback on Amazon, I've learned to ignore it or expect it. I don't know if I'll ever be able to read negative partial reviews as I should have for Sharp Objects—I prefer to restrain my opinion until I can give an informed response, and when critiquing a book, "having read it" is generally the criteria for "informed." Either way, there is always room for intelligent and coherent disagreement, and in the realm of books it is sorely needed—and if I write book reviews, I might as well be able to supply those alternate viewpoints when I hold them.

Blather aside! I am finally beginning to use my Goodreads account, and you're welcome to join or add me. Goodreads is a site that allows you to catalog your books, leave reviews, network with other readers, and join various discussion groups. It is free to use. I'm Juushika on there, as I am almost everywhere else. I will be crossposting my reviews to Goodreads, and I'll be adding unreviewed listings of other books in my library (in bits and pieces, as I own hundreds of books which are currently scattered over a dozen boxes and two book shelves), but mostly I hope to use the site to engage in book discussion. This sort of post, for example, would probably receive a mite more feedback over there than it does here—I hope I can find forums to discuss books, subjects, genres, literary issues ... the sort of discussion I miss from school, without the nervous breakdown-inspiring environment.

(My TitleHere.Net site is down because of payment issues, and while it's down, my moodtheme pictures are gone. I am brokenhearted about this, I cannot even tell you. This should have Kronk's shoulder devil and his glasses ... but instead: nothing! Sadness overwhelming.)


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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