Blog in Progress

Category: reading

David Peace, Dorothy Dunnett, and the #BFB readalong

Despite my complete failure to finish my Big Fat Book in the readalong that I initiated, I’ve taken the plunge once again, thanks to Ros Clarke’s hosting of a Summer BFB readalong. I initially decided I would read David Peace’s Red or Dead; it’s 700+ pages about Liverpool FC’s great manager, Bill Shankly. I had started the book back in the spring and read about 200 pages. I’m also currently listening to the second novel in Peace’s Red Riding quartet, which is extremely dark and depressing, so I thought a book about a truly good man would be a counterpoint. I even went out and bought the hardcover version because to me the prose style fits print better than e-reading.

I started over at the beginning, got to page 10, and put it down. Nothing David Peace writes is quick or easy reading. His prose reminds me of poetry, with rhythms and repetitions that must be savored. And listening to 1977 (Red Riding #2) while reading about 1950s Liverpool is just too much for me.

Hearing 1977 rather than reading it is both a better experience and a more difficult one. It’s better because the rhythms are so striking. The way the novels are written are as important to understanding what he’s saying as the plot and characterization, and with audio you can’t skip over the tough parts. And there are so many tough parts. This series is unrelenting in its depiction of a horrible time in which horrible people did horrible things. At times it’s absolutely painful to listen to, and I listen while I’m out walking or hiking in some of the most beautiful scenery around. The juxtaposition makes it even worse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Status update, World Cup version

I love the first two weeks of World Cup. Three matches a day for days and days. And since it’s being held in Brazil, it’s even on at reasonable times for me. I don’t watch every single match, but I’ll probably average two per day through the group stage. Thanks to family, friends, and years of watching, I have strong and weak attachments to several teams. And then there are the good teams that I want to watch. TheH is out of town for a few days so I don’t have to pretend to be a responsible adult, and the dogs love the sofa company.

I’m treating myself to a little down time because I got Paper #1 of my three papers off my desk this week. Coincidentally it happens to be a paper on football hooliganism. Yes, political scientists can, if we put our minds to it, find ways to write about interesting topics. It’s being read by colleagues before I do final revisions and send it out for review. Paper #2, which TheH finished revising before he took off for a few days, is awaiting my substantive and line edits. Which leaves only Paper #3, which may or may not need the most work from me. It should be the easiest even if it does, since the data analysis has been completed by my co-author and I “just” have to rewrite a couple of sections. All I need is the mental energy. But amazingly, I am almost on schedule, or at least not more than a week or ten days behind at this point. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

In reading news, I’ve been sticking to tried and true authors. Three of my favorite romance authors have upcoming new and re-releases, so those are queued up in the TBR for reading sooner rather than later. I finally went back to listening to audiobooks (which also means I’ve been getting some nice outdoor exercise) and I fell headlong into David Peace’s Red Riding series. I’ve owned these books for years and I’ve started and abandoned the first one several times. Finally, I downloaded the audiobook, and everything clicked at last. The narrator is excellent and he understands how to pace the author’s singular style.

These aren’t books I’d recommend to romance readers unless you like dark, depressing mystery-meets-litfic and can tolerate a non-trivial amount of grisly violence. The era wasn’t a pleasant one in Britain, especially in northern England where these novels are set, and the story arc is embedded in the era’s unemployment, police corruption and brutality, and serial murder. They aren’t fun, exactly, but they are so, so gripping. I flinched repeatedly through 1974, but I couldn’t stop listening, and as soon as it ended I went straight to 1977. I’m also about a third of the way through Peace’s mammoth biography of Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, Red or Dead, and I want to get back to that. I guess this is turning into the Summer of Peace.

Ros is planning another Big Fat Book readalong, which I’m going to participate in despite my abject failure this past spring. I don’t know if picking up a partly read #BFB is acceptable or if it supposed to be a fresh start. I have books for either contigency, needless to say.

Read the rest of this entry »

The way we read now

My Twitter feed is full of the latest attack on the books people (mostly women) read as opposed to the books they should read. A big movie is coming out this weekend and everyone wants to jump on the juggernaut bandwagon. Clickbait achievement was clearly unlocked in this case, since my media, feminism, romance, and literature twitter accounts were all talking about it.

I already said my piece on clickbait and how to respond, so I’ll talk about something else: how the way we read online may be affecting the way we read all kinds of content.  The hot new format in digital journalism is data-driven and factoid-relating. The most obvious are the new FiveThirtyEight site and Vox, which are different yet oddly similar in that they both want to explain the news rather than report it and let us find our own ways to understand it. Oh, and stupid Buzzfeed quizzes, but those are basically the internet’s version of Cosmo’s old How Good Is Your Relationship quizzes.

In our quest to have things explained to us (and people’s quest to make money explaining things to us), are we losing the ability to comprehend information on our own, by looking at the words, numbers, and pictures ourselves? Can we comprehend the raw material? Because if we can’t that’s a big loss.

Among the ways we read now, we’re much more likely to be reading on screens rather than on pages we hold in our hands, pages which used to be contained in collated formats (from pamphlets to newspapers to magazines to books), formats for which we have we have a particular spatial understanding. It seems pretty clear that our spatial understanding of digital material is different. Not necessarily worse, but definitely different. For example, you turn a page, but you scroll down a website.

Before I go on, I need to register a caveat: Not everyone can hold printed material. Not everyone can read print in the fonts it usually comes in. So this is not about saying print is better. This is about understanding the differences, some of which are not about the digital form per se (not necessary to the form, that is) but about how information in digital form is presented and consumed. The latter and the former are mutually reinforcing (causality goes both ways).

Read the rest of this entry »

The VM Reader Manifesto

Pen & ink sketch of open book

Since everyone is going around producing manifestos and statements and whatnot about themselves and their passions and their publishing ambitions, I thought I would write mine down too. It seems like a popular bandwagon, so why not hop on!

  1. I am your reader, not your fan.
  2. I will buy your book when it is finished. Please don’t try to sell it to me before then.
  3. I will not “assist the production.”
  4. I am not your editor, your proofreader, your designer, your digital formatter, or your publicist. I expect you to find people to do those jobs, pay them properly, and then put your book into the marketplace. At that point I will pay you money for your book.
  5. I will talk about the book if I like it and probably also if I don’t. If I don’t like it, I won’t seek you out to tell you that.
  6. If I find the book to be a worthwhile read, I’ll buy another book of yours.
  7. If we become friends (real ones, not the Twitter or Facebook versions), then that will be in addition to being a reader of your books. Reader and friend are separate, distinct, roles in my world. If they’re not in yours, then I can be the former but probably not the latter.
  8. I don’t care how your book is published as long as it’s good. [ETA from Liz in the comments.]
  9. If I feel duped [e.g. a bait and switch on the content] or find formatting errors and bad grammar, I have the right to return it and get my money back. [ETA from Keishon in the comments.]

That’s it. Thanks for writing your books, authors.

[Crossposted from the VM Tumblr.]

Length and form in genre storytelling: The Kraken King and other experiments

The first installment in Meljean Brook’s new serialized novel, The Kraken King, was released this week. Brie has an excellent review of it at Dear Author (i.e., I’m sure it’s excellent, but I have to admit that I skimmed it while peeking through my fingers because I want to approach Vol. 1 with as little prior information as possible). I’d heard chatter about the story on Twitter because some of the installments have appeared on Netgalley, and a couple of the commenters agreed with Brie’s positive take on the first four installments.

But the vast majority of comments on the review were negative about the book, the format, the idea of serials more generally, and even toward Meljean. That took me aback, especially the author-directed criticisms, since if anyone has earned the right to experiment with story forms because of past performance, it’s this author. She’s written very high-quality books that respect genre boundaries while exploring them to the fullest, and she takes all kinds of worthwhile risks in her writing. For me, following her to the serial format is a no-brainer even if I weren’t predisposed toward the form.

I asked on Twitter why serial stories got such a strong and often visceral negative reaction and the conversation took off right away. The most common complaint was about price, specifically the fact that buying all the serial installments usually came to more than the price of a book of the same length. There were also a fair number of people who said they don’t like reading in installments, whether these feature cliffhanger endings or not, because they want to read the whole story all at once. And the third criticism was that serials aren’t really serials but are most often a book that’s been chopped up to allow for a cash grab by the author and/or publisher; this is related to the too-expensive argument but not identical.

All of these criticisms are fair, and we certainly see examples of serials that aren’t really serials in romance, erotica, and probably other genres as well. But at the same time, these are criticisms about execution, not the format per se, and they make the instantaneous rejection of The Kraken King (by people who haven’t read it) hard for me to take.

Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 657 other followers