Exterminate! Exterminate!

256px-Book_burning I’ve read some books I didn’t particularly like. I’ve read some books that I thought had many technical and craft-related flaws. I’ve written reviews on some of those books.

I’ve never felt the need or desire to destroy an author or their book in one of those reviews. I don’t think it’s necessary, professional, or entertaining.

I’m not writing this post because I’ve received any sort of review like this for my own work (or if I have, I’ve been lucky enough not to see it!). But I’ve read some others lately that alternately make me cringe, and make me angry. Have you seen reviews like this? Where the reviewer seems to take a sick delight in completely eviscerating the work–and by association, of course, the author? They can be cleverly written, sure. But their vitriol against the book is actually repulsive. I’m not going to do any of them the service of linking to them. Sadly, they’re not all that difficult to find.

Yes, there are probably more flawed books available now than there ever were before (although don’t think they don’t/didn’t exist inside traditional publishing since its inception). But I don’t know what can prompt a “reviewer” to write such a screed. Even if you think a book is the worst piece of drivel ever written, that opinion doesn’t give you the right to decimate another human being. You can discuss the flaws you found in the book; you can discuss why it didn’t appeal to you; you can even make suggestions for what would have improved it for you. Those thoughts might be helpful to an author in writing another book, and they might be helpful to other readers in deciding whether to read a book.

But if you’re not writing a review with those goals in mind, why *are* you writing it? If it’s to make yourself look clever and rapier-witted at the cost of destroying someone else–you’re just another online bully. And your credibility with me is a big fat zero.

Photo credit: By Patrick Correia from Northampton, MA, United States (Book burning Uploaded by mangostar) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I Can See Clearly Now

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

Well, I can’t yet, but I will be able to, soon. I had one of my slightly too-infrequent visits to the eye doctor today and I was right in suspecting that I need new glasses.

However, once you’re over *cough* a certain age, you expect this will happen with increasing regularity as your eyesight begins to get worse. The doctor confirmed what I had suspected previous to this visit but felt kind of ridiculous suggesting: my eyesight has actually improved. My current glasses are too strong.

I remarked on the apparent strangeness of that and he shrugged and said, “sometimes it happens.” So there you have it. I’m not super special, just a little bit special, I guess.

Anyway, I’m glad to learn that sitting in front of screens for much of the day has had no adverse affects–at least not on my vision. Viewed from a different angle, the verdict might also be slightly different.

Photo credit: krosseel

Best Books From My 2013 Reading List

Yes, we’re all getting a bit tired of “best of” lists, I’m sure, but I did want to muse a bit on the best books I read last year. Of those I read, I gave only five the coveted five-star rating. I generally use Goodreads’ criteria for ratings, which are as follows: 1-star: didn’t like it, 2-star: it was okay, 3-star: liked it, 4-star: really liked it, and 5-star: it was amazing.

So to get five stars from me, a book has to be “amazing”, which I interpret as I-loved-it, I-couldn’t-put-it-down, I-wish-I’d-written-this, I-would-hardly-change-a-thing.

Note that I say I would hardly change a thing, not that I wouldn’t change *anything.* Because that would mean the book was perfect, and I think that’s really too high a standard. Is there such a thing as a perfect book? I suppose that would be a good topic for some other days’ musings…

But on to last year’s 5-star reads. In the order I read them, they were:
1. Feed by Mira Grant
2. Blackout by Mira Grant
3. Deadline by Mira Grant
4. Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
5. The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

feedSo yes, three of these books, the ones by Mira Grant, were a trilogy. It’s a pretty good feat to have all three books in a series be equally good, and at first I didn’t think it would be the case. The author did something at the end of the the first book that almost ruined it for me, and I initially gave the book only 4-stars. I had loved it up to that point, but I didn’t think I could forgive the author for something that I did not think was necessary. However, I was so hooked that I had to go on reading, and after the second book, I was moved to go back and revise the first book’s rating up to five stars. These are zombie apocalypse books and not for the faint of heart, but man, they were *good.*

GateAbaddon’s Gate was the third book in a trilogy as well, and I also gave all three of these books five stars, although the first two I read in 2012. Space opera as space opera should be, I believe I said in one of the reviews. I’m not much of one for writing a synopsis of the book in my reviews–as a writer, synopses are painful things, reserved for my own books and only when necessary–so I will just say that the scope of the story was huge and engrossing and warranted the long length of the novels completely. Despite their size I devoured them.

normalsThe last five-star book of the year is bittersweet for me to talk about, because it was such fun to read and I enjoyed it so much…and then had to somehow reconcile those feelings with news of the author’s death in December. I continue to be saddened by the juxtaposition of his writings and the terrible state of mind he must have suffered. So the five stars are a bit tarnished by that sadness, but it was still a wonderful book.

I read sixty-three books in 2013, a feat which was really only made possible by the number of audiobooks I enjoyed, and one which I am not complacently expecting to meet this year. I’ve set my Goodreads challenge for 55 books, and if I surpass that, of course I will be pleased. There were a number of years when I read less because I was writing more, but I’m glad that trend has turned around. Reading helps me, as a writer, “fill up the tank,” and I think it’s one of the single most effective ways a writer can improve his or her own writing.

Influences – L.M. Montgomery

I could hardly come to Prince Edward Island on vacation without taking a few moments to reflect on Lucy Maud Montgomery and her influence on me as a writer, and as a reader.

I grew up reading Montgomery. The big bookshelf at my grandparents’ house, which offered an absolute cornucopia of reading bliss, was well-stocked with Lucy Maud’s books–not only the ubiquitious Anne, but also the Emily books and others. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Anne well enough and read her series quite thoroughly; but it’s the later Anne books I particularly enjoyed, and I think Anne of Windy Poplars is probably my favorite of them.

It was always Montgomery’s lesser-known works that were my favorites overall, though. The Emily series–Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest–they spoke to me far more than Anne did. (And before you ask, no, it’s no coincidence that my daughter’s name is Emily.) Emily is the creative one–the writer, in fact, and probably my very first introduction to the notion of the long, slow path of a writer’s life. I think having that understanding has been a great help in finding my own way as a writer.

The Story Girl was another perennial favorite (and its sequel, The Golden Road), as was Pat of Silver Bush, and A Tangled Web.

Looking back, I think the appeal of the books to me as a younger reader and teenager was Montgomery’s deft hand at characterization. These were not thrilling adventure books with complicated plots (although A Tangled Web has a beautifully complex and interwoven storyline), but the characters came to life on the page with vibrancy and color, and their problems, big and little, mattered to the reader as well. They were, overall, “happy ending” stories, but not syrupy–Anne and Emily are both orphans, to start with, and the stories in all the books reflect both the lighter and darker sides of life in the time periods in which they are set. While the Anne books are more romanticized, many of the other titles explore more realistic themes and aspects of life. They are probably, as a whole, the most re-read books for me.

It saddens me somewhat that these stories have gone out of fashion for young readers with the passage of time. But I guess that kind of sentiment makes me sound old and crotchety, so I’ll just end by saying–thanks, Lucy Maud. You made my reading life much richer, and my writing life easier to navigate.

Book Juggling and Summer Reading

I’ve always been a voracious reader. When I was younger (say, in my teens and university) reading was really my first experience with multitasking (see my previous post!). I read while I was getting dressed. I read while I dried my hair. I read while I ate (whenever I could get away with it). I read before going to sleep. I’d have a book on the go in my bedroom, one in the bathroom, one downstairs, and one in my bag. People often commented on this, wondering how I could keep all the stories straight. I wondered how one couldn’t keep all the stories straight. I mean, they were all different stories, right?

If you pop over to my Goodreads “currently reading” page, you’ll see that I’m still the same book juggler. It’s a bit misleading, really–there are more books on that list than I’m actively reading at any given moment. That’s because when I start a book and then don’t really get into it or get distracted from it, I still leave it on the list until I’m quite certain I’m not going to finish it. I have less tolerance now for books that don’t keep me interested–but I don’t like moving them into the “shelved” category until I’m sure. That means my list can get pretty long at times.

My habits have changed in one regard; I still might have four books actively on the go, but it’s likely that no more than two are physical, print books. Another will be on my Kobo, and another will be an audiobook I’m listening to. I like this; it’s tidier, for one thing, and these days, tidy is like a lovely, usually-unattainable dream. I’ve come to love audiobooks–they appeal to the corner of my soul that loves multi-tasking because I can listen to them while I do so many other things. Cleaning. Sewing. Making jewelry. Driving. Gardening. When I got serious about writing, the time I could devote to reading suffered somewhat. Audiobooks have changed that. I might even attain my long-wished-for goal of reading more than 52 books in a year. Well, I know I have done that when I was younger, but not since I became a “grown-up.” I’d like to get there again.

All this is on my mind of late because summer is still my reading season. I read all year, of course, but there’s something about summertime reading that sets it apart for me. It’s easier to allow myself to take a whole afternoon off and just read. Or stay up late into the wee hours with a book I just can’t put down, knowing I don’t have to wake up early and get kids off to school. Summer is my time to read freely, in some sense. There are some books I save for summer reading, because I know the experience will have an extra fillip of enjoyment.

My Goodreads page and my reviews on this site will tell you what I’ve read lately…what else is still on my summer reading list? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you…

Review: Seriously…I’m Kidding

Seriously...I'm Kidding
Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I don’t really watch television and have never seen an episode (okay, not a whole episode) of Ellen’s talk show, I used to watch her sitcom (the one where she owned a bookstore, and I envied her character such a great job), and, like probably everyone else in this hemisphere, am familiar with her to some extent. I checked this audiobook out of the library mainly because I was looking for something fun and funny. I was not disappointed. By turns funny, serious, quirky, silly, and thoughtful, this was a delightful listen. I laughed out loud several times, and my only gripe is that it’s fairly short and I could happily have listened to more. I think the audiobook probably has it hands down over the printed version, since listening to Ellen delivering her own jokes must be exponentially more engaging than simply reading them. If you are a fan (or even just feel generally disposed to like her and her brand of humour) you should definitely enjoy this book.

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Review: 1222

1222
1222 by Anne Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t certain at first that I was going to enjoy this audiobook…the narrator had a rather strange manner of speaking, although her voice was lovely and clear. However, this is a translation from the original Norwegian, and as the story went along (it is told in first person), I began to rather like that. It actually enhanced the feeling of *place* in the novel, which is extremely important. I also liked the irascible and cranky main character of the novel, as well. She is a very good “imperfect” character.

As to the mystery element of the book, it was well-played and intriguing. I’ll definitely be looking for more by this author.

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The 1901 Eaton’s Catalogue

One of the coolest finds in the saga of clearing out my grandparents’ house (for me, at least) was this: the 1901 catalogue from the T. Eaton Company Limited. It’s actually a reprint of that catalogue, produced in 1970, which accounts for its exceptionally good condition. However, it is a faithful reprint of that catalogue, and what I love about it is the wonderful window it opens into the past. I mean, historical/steampunk writer’s reference, anyone?

Browsing through the catalogue is a ton of fun. It’s also an eye-opener in many ways. Yes, we seem to have some weird ideas about what constitutes the ideal feminine form these days. However, this is obviously NOT the first time in history that that has been true. Wasp waists, and oddly low-hanging, ample bosoms seem to have been the ideal of the day. One would think, looking at the corsets in the catalogue, that everything north of the waist would have been pushed dramatically up…but perhaps it’s a function of artist’s license, as well. At any rate, I am prfoundly thankful that I was not shopping from this section.

It’s also kind of mind-boggling to think that almost everything in the catalogue had to be drawn by hand, from all of these household items, to flowers you might want to order.

But what really struck me as I thumbed through it today was this little section: “Paper-covered Books for Summer Reading.”

As you can see, it’s a minuscule selection, when you compare it to the sprawling websites offering books for us to order today (there are other pages to order books in the catalogue, but it’s still a pretty limited number). There’s also nothing to tell you what any of the books are about. You want to know what House of the Wolf by Stanley J. Weyman or What Gold Cannot Buy by Mrs. Alexander are about? Pay your money and take your chance.

Which brings me to my real point. These books are “Printed on Heavy Paper” and cost “7 cents each; postage 2 cents extra.” When I read that, I can’t help thinking about all those .99 ebooks out there. Comparatively, that means that they cost about fourteen times the 1901 paperbacks. (Yes, yes, I know that some folks are going to accuse me of comparing apples to oranges because ebooks have no cost for physical materials, shipping, etc.–but bear in mind that those costs are a relatively small percentage of print book costs today.)

When I browse through the catalogue and see that most other items have increased in cost anywhere from twenty to fifty times (or more!)…I really wonder how we have come to this point. It seems such a devaluation of years of hard work on the part of the writer to say that the story is worth less than a dollar. When we’ll pay two to three times that without blinking for a cup of coffee, and ten to fifteen times that to watch a two-hour movie, it seems to me that something is severely skewed.

I think we need to think about this both as writers and as readers.

Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns

Zombies Vs. Unicorns
Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, look at the dates–I devoured this book. Precisely for the reasons I picked it up in the first place…the fabulous premise, and the spectacular lineup of authors.

I didn’t love every story, of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved every story in any anthology. I liked them all, though, and I did love some of them. That’s a tricky enough task, though, and enough to get it five stars from me.

I especially enjoyed the running debate between editors Holly Black and Justine Larbelestier as they defended their respective teams (Team Unicorn and Team Zombie, respecectively) in the introduction to each story. I think this book must have been as much fun to put together as it was to read.

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Review: Zero History

Zero History
Zero History by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here’s the thing about William Gibson, I think–either you’re along for the ride, or you’re not. I find it difficult to talk about his books in the same terms I use to talk about other books. I’m often annoyed by the way his characters speak to one another–cryptically, abruptly, in non-sequiturs. I’m often annoyed by the things his characters do–sometimes seemingly driven, not by their own motivations, but by the necessities of the plot.

And yet…I’ve really enjoyed the Blue Ant books (Spook Country, Pattern Recognition, Zero History). There’s something about them that I can’t really put my finger on. It’s not always easy to describe what they’re about–or, it *is* easy to describe at least what’s happening on the surface, but they don’t sound at all interesting in those terms. There are admittedly long sections where nothing much of import seems to be happening. There are also sections where things are happening, but you can’t see any sense in them, or how they relate to the plot–or what you thought was the plot.

But for some reason, I find them incredibly engaging. I *want* to keep reading, to see what Gibson has up his sleeve, or what he’s driving at, and what’s going to happen to these characters in the end. Maybe it’s the glimpse at a world that is so like ours as to be almost indistinguishable, and yet that seems to be separated from ours by the thinnest of membranes. Maybe it’s Gibson’s writing style, although I don’t always like that–I haven’t been able to read “The Difference Engine” no matter how much I’d like to. Maybe it’s…ah, heck, I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I certainly couldn’t duplicate it. But I know that if there’s another one, I’ll be reading it.

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