It’s not you, it’s me. Except it’s totally you.

I’m in a bad book mood again, and (again) I can’t decide if it’s me or the books.  On Saturday, I finished A Taste of Marrow, a novella, the sequel to the hippo cowboy novella I read and loved a few months ago.  Still happy with those books.  So then I started Mariana, a recommendation from Chastity.  It’s sort of a cross between Anya Seton and Rosamunde Pilcher, and I enjoyed it enough (I wasn’t sure I liked it, but then I kept asking John to delay dinner so I could read more of it, so I suppose I did like it.  The very end cheated, though.)  I finished Mariana Sunday night, so it was time to pick my next book.  And that’s when the problem started.

Book 1: John Dies At The End.  This is a book I should like.  Normal (okay, “normal”) guys fighting monsters, saving people, lots of action, lots of humor…no.  It felt like it was trying too hard, the humor felt slapsticky, and I didn’t want to put forth the effort to stay interested.  They made it into a movie, and I can see how it would be a fun movie, so maybe I’ll watch it first (keep your shock to yourself) and then decide if I want to go back and read it.  Maybe it’s me.

Book 2: The Palace Job. I don’t feel so bad about putting this one down.  It’s a heist novel, and I like those, but no.  The writing sucks.  Definitely not me.

Book 3: A Handful of Stars. After giving up on two books in the space of one hour, I figured I’d pick something safe.  This is the sequel to Second Star, a book I liked, so this should be a no-brainer, right?  And yet…no.  I haven’t put it down yet, but it’s not working for me.  Maybe it’s because it’s been so long since I read the first one (I read it nearly two years ago), but I feel like I’m being asked too much as a reader.  It’s either that, or there really are gaps here.  So we’re in space, which of course is fine, since the first book was about the population of a space station declaring their independence, and this book starts with a mission to an asteroid belt to start a mining operation, and oh wait – our main character went on this expedition eight months pregnant?  With twins?  And just as she’s about to give birth (early), her mother shows up out of nowhere, no warning, with main character’s 10-year-old child that her mother created from a donor egg and didn’t tell her about, and she just goes with it?  No fights?  No discussions?  And the 10-year-old is cool with meeting his mother like that?  And her husband is totally cool with it all because he’s perfect, naturally.  And she goes running around a lawless mining asteroid with her infant twins strapped to her a month after the birth.  Of course.  And I have to assume she (main character) isn’t upset about any of this because the story is told from her point of view and I’m in her head and she’s not thinking about it aside from some initial confusion…well, this is ridiculous.

Yeah, I think I just talked myself out of this one, too.  And maybe it’s NOT me.  I am going to fix this by reading short stories by Robin McKinley.  If I don’t like those, it’s definitely me, but I’m not worried.  Really.  I’m not.  It’ll be fine.

Easy choices

I gave up on a book Monday afternoon because I was forcing myself to get through it for no good reason.  Every time I tried to describe it, I described it in terms of how annoyed I was or how disappointed I was that it wasn’t living up to my expectations based on the premise.  I made it nearly halfway through and finally quit because I didn’t care.  I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care what happens in the plot (hardly anything beyond the initial premise had happened by the halfway point, so I had no expectations that anything else actually would), and I didn’t care if I never found out how it ends.  And now I won’t.

I’m rewarding myself by picking up Kindred by Octavia Butler.  She’s a treasure, or she was.  She died around 10 years ago, but her books are SO FREAKIN’ GOOD, and there’s really no excuse for why I haven’t read this one yet, probably her most well known book.  So I’m reading it now and I have no doubt I’ll enjoy it and probably learn something from it.

Offended?

There’s this book store in Corvallis called The Book Bin.  It’s pretty cool (not as cool as Browsers’ Bookstore right around the corner), but they do one thing that rubs me the wrong way.  After I browsed through the science fiction section, I walked by the mystery section and saw a big sign for General Fiction.  Oh, good, there are a couple of non-genre books I’ve been looking for.  Browsing, browsing…that’s odd.  Fern Michaels, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel – this is the romance section, not general fiction.  Why wouldn’t they just label it romance?  Are they hiding the fact that they have a romance section?  I think I’m offended by that.  Why hide romance?  So then I went looking for the actual general fiction section and oh, no.  No, they’ve named it Literature.  That’s right – we have to disguise the romance section because heaven forbid anyone thinks this bookstore carries those kind of books, and to differentiate real books, we’re going to call them LIT-er-a-ture.  Snobs.

Even the five-foot-tall TARDIS they created out of books can’t win me over now.

They just made it harder for me to buy books. Idiots.

I’m a little bit annoyed with Amazon this week.  My to-read list is a private Amazon wish list.  Any time I hear of a book I might be interested in, I add it there.  I might not buy it from Amazon, I might get it from the library or a store or wherever, but I have one place I always add books.  The list USED to have a sort feature that would let me sort by price (high or low), sort by books with price drops, sort by date added, etc.  A couple of months ago, all those sort features disappeared from the browser version of Amazon.  The only sort feature left was by priority, and since I never prioritized anything, it was not useful to me.  Thankfully, the Amazon app still had the sort features I liked, so EVERY SINGLE DAY I sorted my list in the app by price (low to high), and probably four times a week, a book on my list would go on sale for $.99 or $1.99 (Kindle version), and I would snap it up.

Then this week, the app got updated and hey – the sort feature is gone.  The only thing left is by priority.  Here’s the thing: I have over 400 books on my list.  I am not going to scroll through the entire thing looking for the items that have gone on sale, and that means I’m not going to know about the sales, and I’m not going to buy the books.  (I’ll buy some of them eventually, but not at the rate I’ve been buying them.)  I have plenty to read already on my Kindle (or at the library), so Amazon just updated themselves out of $400 a year from me.

I chatted with a customer service rep, who assured me that some sort of sort feature will be back, but she couldn’t say what and she couldn’t say when, so I’m not holding my breath.  I’m just really annoyed.

Whew

Big sigh of relief: Beauchamp Besieged was pretty good!  I don’t think I’ve ever read a Harlequin romance before, but I’m happy to say this one exceeded my expectations.  And there I go, outing myself as a snob.  I guess everyone’s snobby about something, right?  I’m just happy I can honestly tell my friend I enjoyed her book.

White lies are fine, but it’s so much easier to be honest.

Huh.  I don’t know if I actually believe that.  Sometimes honesty is harder, and often it’s unkind.  It depends.  Everything depends.  We live in a morally gray world.  I do, anyway.

From romance to philosophy: it’s a roller coaster around here!

She is mostly dead to me

I just decided not to read another book, but it’s for a good reason!  think it’s a good reason, anyway.  I read (and enjoyed) Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris about eight years ago, so I happily picked up another book by her last week.  I started to read it last night, thought it sounded awfully familiar, and then realized it’s the sequel.  It’s probably not exactly the same story as Gentlemen and Players (as John pointed out, it is called Different Class), but it’s set at the same school in the year right after that book ends, and the main character is the same and you know?  I don’t want to.  It’s another thriller with another mystery about some former student who has it in for the same teacher and while I’m sure it’s good – it’s probably good – I’m out.  Back to the library this book will go.  Instead, I will read one of the cheap paperbacks I have picked up since we got here so I can discard it before we move.  I will be practical, and I will be done with Joanne Harris. Since this will be the second Joanne Harris book I have put down in a row (I gave up on The Gospel of Loki a year ago April), she gets no more chances from me.  Except that I will almost certainly read Chocolat at some point.  I love the movie.  I’d like to read the book.

Contemplation

Some more thoughts on The Gate to Women’s Country, all entirely non-spoilery.  Or maybe less about this book in particular and more about, well, let me get to that.

I have read a large number of books that left me wanting more when they were over.  More books in a series, more information about the world that was created, more information about the characters or their families or their earlier adventures.  Sometimes I have questions, maybe a mystery was left unsolved, or maybe something mysterious happened in the past that drove a character to do something, but that mysterious thing was never explained.  I usually consider this a good thing, even if it’s mildly (at best) frustrating.  It meant I was fully engaged.  I want to know more.  The author did something right, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get those answers in later books.  I’m not always so lucky.  Robin McKinley is a good example.  Off the top of my head, I can name three books of hers, all stand-alone novels, set in three distinct worlds.  All three books were complete on their own*, but the worlds in those books had histories, the families had problems, and the books were about one event, one adventure, just one snippet of those worlds.  I want to know more about those worlds and those characters.  What was the cataclysmic event that happened to the world in Shadows before the story that was written began?  How did a world that was basically our own turn into that world?  In Sunshine, what is up with the main character’s family?  It’s clearly important to her character, but wasn’t necessary information for the story itself so it’s only hinted at, not included.  I don’t remember having a lot of questions after I read Dragonhaven, but I want more family history AND more dragons, please.

The Gate to Women’s Country falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Everything is explained at the end, even a few things that the very smart main character should have already figured out.  Some of it is explained to the main character, some of it is explained to someone else, but all of it is explained, and I find it very satisfying.  No loose ends.  No open questions (except the reader’s own questions about the future of this civilization, which are totally acceptable).  There’s clarity at the end, the kind that makes you go back and re-read the first few pages now that you’ve been enlightened.  Sheri S. Tepper tends to do that, to lay everything out for the reader at the end, to spell out the things you’ve suspected or point out the things you missed.

I don’t know which approach I prefer.  I like it when things are wrapped up neatly.  I like knowing everything there is to know about a fictional universe.  (There’s a reason I own two companion guides each to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.)  On the other hand, hinting at the richness of another world leaves so much scope for the imagination.  I find it harder to let those books go and move into something else, and I can’t think that’s a bad thing.

*I’m not talking about books without resolutions, like one by an author I really like that is billed as a mystery and that moves like a mystery and HAS a mystery in it but is really just a cover for character development so it ends WITHOUT SOLVING THE MYSTERY.

Wish me luck

I finished reading The Gate to Women’s Country today.  For the third or fourth time – I don’t remember.  I love this book.  Since I read it this time for my NOW book club, and since it was my pick, I read it more carefully and took notes.  I feel so virtuous.  And I’m excited for book club, but we don’t meet for another week (the other reason notes were important).

Happily, Elaine remembered to bring me my very own personally autographed copy of Beauchamp Besieged, so I’ll start it tonight.  I’m a little nervous.  I want to like it because she’s so nice, but what if I don’t?

Like a slip ‘n’ slide but without the rocks in the lawn

Until today, every time I have been turned off by a book, it’s been because of the plot (or lack of it) or the writing. I started reading Interface by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George yesterday, and I’m having a hard time getting into it.  I don’t think it’s the writing – I’ve always liked Neal Stephenson.  I don’t think it’s the plot – it’s a science fiction political thriller.  What’s not to like?  It did start a little slow – we got the main character’s full family history in the first eight or so pages (snooze), but the action picked up after that.

Even with something actually happening, though, I’m not that excited to pick up the book and read, and I think it might be the physical book at fault.  This has never happened to me before.  I know I’ve been reading a lot on my Kindle, but I like physical books.  I like the weight, I like the way the paper feels…and the paper might be why I’m not crazy about THIS book.  It’s smooth.  Like, silky.  Practically laminated, but smoother.  And it’s a heavy trade paperback that barely opens, so I feel like I’m using a crowbar to see the pages.  The very very smooth pages.  I never knew I could be this picky about the physical qualities of a book.

I’m 58 pages in, and I’m giving this one at least 100 pages before I give up.  Maybe I’ll get over it and maybe it’s just that I started it yesterday after watching The Crown all day long and maybe I was just tired and I’ve been working all day and maybe it’s not the smoothness of the pages at all and maybe it’s nothing and I’ll forget all about this in another ten pages if I can just find 15 minutes to focus on reading.

(But when I’m into a book, 15 minutes to focus on reading finds me.)

(Sh. I’m still in denial.)

Every city needs a Powell’s

Of course we went to Powell’s when we were in Portland last Saturday.  No trip there is complete without a visit to Powell’s.  Because I’m still trying to avoid buying THINGS, I only bought one book, but I found a TON of books to add to my to-read list, and I had a couple of interesting conversations with random strangers in the science fiction section about Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels and The Wheel of Time.  Not in the same conversation.  It was a good way to spend several hours.

The one book I did buy is Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great: Re-reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I was likely to buy it anyway (it’s Jo Walton – I like her), but I was hooked when I saw she wrote an essay on Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which was moved to write about when I read it, although I think for a totally different reason.  Jo Walton’s book is a collection of blog posts she wrote for Tor.com, and the table of contents is the best to-read list (or to-re-read, in many cases) EVER.  This may seem stupid, but I’m, like, furiously happy knowing this book exists.

Seriously, I’m a little emotional.

Authors, authors, everywhere

I met ANOTHER actual published author today.  I met her months ago, actually, but I found out she’s an author today.  She works (or maybe volunteers for riding time?) at the farm, so I see her once or twice a week.  We exchange hellos, we know each other’s name, but we haven’t said more than a few words to each other before today.  She seems shy.  Today, she was walking with me as I took Tigger to the indoor arena, and she mentioned going somewhere for book research.  Book research?  I pounced.  A little.  Nicely.

Turns out she wrote three historical romance novels for Harlequin in the early 2000s, at least one of which did pretty darn well.  She said she’s had writer’s block for a decade (writing stopped being fun and became stressful instead), and she wants to branch out of romance.

Anyway, I’m super curious, and I will be reading the first of her books soon.  By Tuesday, I expect to have a signed copy of Beauchamp Besieged by Elaine Knighton.  Exciting!

Book Club News

The SWV NOW Book Club meeting (we discussed Negroland) was really good.  Of course it was – these are good people.  We ate, we chatted, we drank a little wine, we talked about the book.  (Don’t tell my other book club, but this was more fun.)  That was on a Thursday night.  My other book club was meeting the following Tuesday to discuss Our Souls At Night, so I read my way through that, made a couple of notes, and then totally flaked on the meeting.  I didn’t remember until the next morning.  Maybe it’s a sign that I should just stop going to that one.  I haven’t been since the end of March.

Back to the SWV NOW book club and how it’s just better: our next book, The Gate to Women’s Country, was my choice, and it really didn’t take much convincing to get the others to agree to read it.

I hope they like it.  It’s one of my favorites.  If they don’t like it, I might cry.  I’ll certainly suffer from flashbacks to when my first book club didn’t like World War Z.  Most of them didn’t even read it.  Snobs.

Applying life lessons

Michelle supplied actual wisdom to this website in her comment on my post the other day, and I have decided to apply it to my life.  Life is too short to read books that don’t grab me, so I just won’t.  I did finish my NOW book club book (it was good, it was interesting, I didn’t love it), but the very next book I was supposed to read was for my other book club: Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf.  The blurb wasn’t interesting to me, and the Kindle version was $11.99.  The library had it, but it was out and there was a waiting list (and book club meets in less than a week).  Was it worth $11.99 to me if I might quit after 50 pages?  Not really.  But I joined the book club to talk about books with other readers, and if they introduce me to good books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick out for myself, that’s a good thing, right?  I would feel a little guilty going to a book club meeting without having finished the book we’re talking about, but a) that doesn’t make my opinion less valid (why didn’t I like it?), and b) no one says I have to go that month.

I took my dilemma to John.  Given these circumstances what would he do?  He would find a free download of the book or otherwise look for a cheaper way to get it, that’s what he’d do.  Smart, although not officially condoned by me.  Without going into any specifics (ahem), I did get a copy of it, and I started it with every intention of giving it 50 pages (or in this case, since it’s digital and I know the paper version is only around 200 pages, giving it 20 or 25%) before putting it down.

Who is surprised that I was hooked by the third page?

New life plan

The other day, I added 36 books to my to-read list in Amazon in the space of half an hour because of two articles on Tor.com, both about space opera novels and series.  My list has 427 books on it, and that doesn’t include the books already on my Kindle that I haven’t read or the books I own that are in storage that I haven’t read or the subsequent books in all the serieseses I’ve started and haven’t finished yet OR the ones I haven’t heard of yet that I want to read.

I am not going to live long enough to read all these books, am I?  I need to quit my job and spend all my free time reading.  That’s feasible, right?

The two articles:

From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera

Explore the Cosmos in 10 Classic Space Opera Universes

 

The pressure’s on

I’m reading too slowly this week.  I need to finish my current book and then read Negroland by Margo Jefferson for the new SWV NOW book club meeting next Thursday, and as soon as I finish Negroland, I have to read Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf for my other book club meeting the following Tuesday.  I don’t have time to write to you.  I must read!

I hate to say I don’t want to read, but neither of those books excites me.  And now I feel like a bad person.   This is good for me!  Expands my horizons!  Personal growth!  “Someone is staring at you in Personal Growth.”  Aw, Carrie Fisher.

I can’t find that clip on YouTube, but you know what?  I shouldn’t be looking for it.  I have to read!

Keeping a low profile

Hi.  Sorry.  Still here, just fighting a cold or maybe allergies or whatever.  It comes and goes, but it’s enough to keep me off my computer once work is over.  Mostly.  Today, Mindy sent me a delightful Martin and Lewis video neither of us had ever seen, and the latest story arc on Agents of SHIELD is the best since they tied in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and my third library book (the vampire one) was WAY better than the two before, so I’ve been pretty well entertained the last couple of otherwise miserable days.  (Seriously – yesterday was a 3-crisis, 10-hour workday, on top of feeling crappy.  I haven’t had a work day that stressful since I took the new position last fall.  Not fun.)

Anyway, I’m going to bed with my new book and hopes of less congestion tomorrow.

Some bad book choices

I’m in a mood.  A reading mood, but it’s not the kind of mood that only means I want to read.  This is the kind of mood that means I’m hyper-critical of what I’m reading.  I picked up three books from the library yesterday, all books that had been recommended to me or that had appealed to me on some trip to a bookstore or something.

I put the first one down after 24 pages.   All of the exposition was in dialogue between a brother and a sister, and it was SO. PAINFUL.  They clearly both remembered a thing that happened, but they had to talk through every detail in a way real people would NEVER DO.  It’s like this radio commercial I HATED in Virginia for Warman Home Care (you know, like warm and caring? UGH) where a wife says to her husband, “you know how you’re worried about your dad getting older and living by himself and how he won’t be able to take care of himself but how we can’t do it either?” and every time I heard it, I cringed because NO ONE HAS THAT CONVERSATION!  People use shorthand!  They refer to conversations they’ve had before without going into every detail.  Good writing would remember that and use references like clues to pull the reader in.  This book was like that commercial and it was so irritating.  And then the author tried REALLY HARD to make sure you knew how old the characters are now and were then.  On one page, he said straight out that one character was 33, the sister was two years younger than that character, and the brother was three years older.  Got it.  Okay.  A few pages later, the narration explicitly says that a certain event happened 23 years previously.  At that point, I did the math – brother was 13, sister was 8.  I’m with you.  Then, at the bottom of the SAME PAGE, the brother asks the sister, “so, how old were we when that happened?” and she says, “well, I was 8, so you must have been 13.” OH MY GOD I GET IT.

I quit after that.

I picked up my next book right after that and nearly put it down after seven sentences.  The main character, making dinner at home with his family, was julienning an onion.  The pretentiousness oozed off the page.  Are you a chef?  No.  Is this book about food or cooking?  No.  THEN YOU’RE CHOPPING THAT GODDAMN ONION.  On the next page, we learn he lives in a brownstone.  A page later, we learn that he’s going to his local bar, steps away from his brownstone.  Then he goes to Whole Foods with his canvas bag, which is just blocks away from his brownstone.  Guess what, guys?  Mr. Perfect lives in a brownstone.  I’m kind of glad he got kidnapped.

For reasons, I don’t understand, I’m still reading this book.  I’ll finish it tonight, and I can move on to a book where the Queen is a vampire.  I’m expecting better from the paranormal.

Quick to judge

Here’s the thing I don’t like about my book club: I think they’re book snobs.

There are at least two people who like science fiction, but not many more than that.  And I can understand not liking it (well, I can’t, but I’m not going to give anyone a hard time about it), but that doesn’t mean you should look down your nose at it.  They read The Martian sometime last year, and that has become their go-to joke when they need an example of a science fiction book they all hated.  Really?  The Martian?  That book was more science than fiction.  If you want an example of bad science fiction, I can help you out, but The Martian ain’t it.

They’re not completely against light fiction.  Most of the group liked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which is pretty light, but even then, a couple of them dismissed it as candy.  Our next book is by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is a necessary antidote to The Sympathizer, but I expect half the group to think it’s twaddle, too.

Of COURSE not everyone in the group is going to like each book, but you can dislike something without dismissing an entire genre as beneath your notice.  At the end of the last meeting, someone suggested we go around the table and say what we’re reading now, and I didn’t want to.  I’m reading science fiction, and I didn’t want to have to deal with their judgment*.  That is not a nice feeling.

I need to find (or start) an SFF book club.  I guess it’ll have to wait until we stop moving.  It would suck to start one up and then move away.

*Can someone explain to me WHY “judgment” is more correct than “judgement”?  It looks SO WRONG.

I probably could have stopped reading it

Some days something happens, and I can sit down and write about it.  Other days, maybe nothing happens, but I’m thinking about something, and I can sit down and write about it.  Today, I started writing about something, decided it was stupid or boring, and deleted it.  Then I did it again, but about something else.  And then I did it again, but about a third thing.  Considering what I do decide to post most days, that should tell you just how stupid or boring those three different things were.

So what have I got for you?  Well, I finished The Sympathizer, finally.  It only took a week, but it felt like an eternity.  That’s not to say it wasn’t good…  Tonight was book club night, and everyone had pretty much the same reaction except for a few people who LOVED it and one person who put it down after 30 pages and refused to finish it.

So far I don’t love my current book, but at least it has a plot.

That might be all I have for you.

Challenge

I went to the library today, and now I have six books to read in three weeks.  Can I do it?

Don’t be ridiculous.  Of course I can do it.  Have you met me?  I can do that with both hands tied behind my back.