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The two bloggers behind snarky romance review blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote this. I don't know if the book matches the expectations of their readers, since I don't read the blog, but it is definitely snarky and full of man-titty, swearing, and double intendres.

I also read this two or three weeks ago and returned it to the library, so I tack on my usual warning that my memory is like a sieve.

Much of the territory in the book is not particularly surprising to me, even though I don't read as many romances as most romance fans. Wendell and Tan go through the origin of the term "bodice ripper," talk about the alpha hero and the TSTL heroine, and mention the problem of rape in romances. They are more feminist and snarky than most romance reviews I have seen in the past, but they are still not feminist and snarky enough to satisfy me. I kept wanting to push them on the alpha hero and "forced seduction" and the status of the heroine, because yes, like them, I am glad of the changes that have been taking place in the genre, but I want it to go SO MUCH FURTHER. Also, I think they are much more tolerant of asshat heroes than I am.

I vaguely remember them discussing sexual agency in the hero and the heroine, but I am not sure if they mention how rarely we get a dominant woman (either in terms of BDSM or just taking the lead in the bedroom).

There's also a chapter on race and sexual orientation in romance that didn't go nearly as far as I wanted. Wendell and Tan talk about bookstore categorization and the way Black romances are usually shelved in African-American fiction, but I don't think they go much into racism in romances themselves, from Orientalism and exoticism to Magical Indians and we-sha-sha to What These People Need Is a Honky. They talk a little about the rise of gay romances, but I wish they would examine the appropriation of gay romance more closely.

I say all this, but I was also very entertained by the book. There's a Choose Your Own Romance game, there's snark at covers, there's poking fun at all the same things I poke fun of even as you can tell Wendell and Tan love romances.

So... a fun and fast read, and with more critique than other books on the romance genre I've read, but I keep wanting a much more radical critique than I get.
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This is a post for Intl. Blog Against Racism Week.

My terms, definitions, and disclaimers.

[livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc is a community for people trying to read 50 books by POC in a year, be it from IBARW to IBARW or a calendar year. I had half-heartedly committed to it when it was announced during IBARW last year, but upon doing my 2007 book write up, clearly I needed to make a more active effort (13 books by POC and 33 with POC protagonists out of 131 books read in 2007, only 6 by POC between August and December).

Why count? )

How I counted )

Finding books )

Changing my defaults )

Link )

Books read, 8/8/07-8/4/08 )
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Original post

I'm a little behind on comments, though I am thoroughly enjoying the discussion. I also wanted to clarify some points that I realized in comments and throw out further thoughts. I note that much of what I reference in terms of social constructs of femininity is a white, middle-to-upper-class social construct, and that I'm using that particular construct because the majority of romance authors and heroines tend to fall into that category (slooowly changing.... also, I do not have stats on reader demographics, argh!) and because I haven't read enough romances by and about POC to note how things are the same and different with women of color.

  1. Definitions )

  2. Problems of terminology )

  3. Alpha females )

  4. Violence )

  5. Intent )

  6. Fantasy and wish fulfillment )

  7. Romance today )
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I found "Alpha Male or Stalker?" on Colleen Gleason's (author of the Gardella vampire books) website.

I'm sure I've written about my problems with romance heroes (and shoujo manga heroes, and I would say kdrama heroes except I have luckily managed to avoid most of the bad heroes) many, many, many times already. I'm also not the right audience for that question, given how very sick I am of alpha heroes in general, not just alpha heroes who are actually stalkers.

Most of this is because I am tired of reading romances about women's fears of sexual desire and how they get over that fear by giving control up to the hero. I am perfectly fine with this in real life, but as a trope, it's horribly overused, and I would like (the legitimate and socially enforced) fears of sexual desire to be solved in another way. Preferably one in which we get to see the heroine in control.

I do think that one can have control by giving it up, but since this is portrayed in the majority of romances I have read, I'm not particularly interested in it, and I think its popularity Says Something. What, precisely, I don't know, but this is reason #345987 why I want "Romance and Feminism 201: Yes, We Know Romances Can Be Feminist, Now Can We Talk About If Most of Them Actually Are?" For the record, my current answer is a tempered "no," at least from what I've read. But my current answer is also changing as the genre changes, and getting back into romances after a year or two of not reading them has been very interesting.

Anyway, alpha males. I found myself disagreeing with many of the details in Gleason's article, though the general gist of it works: he's a stalker if he's pursuing her against her will. Of course, like Gleason, I find the problem lies in that last phrase; my definition of "against her will" seems to be notably stricter than a lot of romances' definition. Much of this is because of the prevalence of date rape, and the uses of "But she didn't really mean 'no,'" "But she was asking for it," "But she smiled at me," "But she really did want it," and etc. as a defense for rape. As such, some of the techniques Gleason details really don't work for me as a reader, though more as a question of degree. Frex, "letting the heroine cue us in." I read vagueness and mixed signals as the societal pressure on women (particularly upper-and-middle-class white women, who star in the majority of romances) to be nice and not cause conflict. Getting me into the hero's POV doesn't work if he's justifying actions that I'm finding stalkery, and I give much less weight to intent than to action. I'm sure most stalkers think their actions are perfectly justifiable, and people in general are pretty good at convincing themselves that they're doing something in someone else's best interest, no matter what that someone else actually says.

So when I read about the pursuit of a heroine in romance, I want it to be very clear that she does, in fact, welcome the hero's attention. As in, if she says no, even with a smile, I want him to stop. A little persuasion works for me further in the relationship, when the two have already established a friendship, but when it's the lust-at-first-sight scenario, particularly if other power imbalances are involved (class, gendered situations, race, age, occupation, etc.), I'd much rather the hero err on the side of caution.

Of course, this is me. And of course, this is me, now. I know that when I was younger and much more confused about sexuality in general, I did like the forceful hero more. And I am not generalizing my own experience; mine is tied into that old trope of women afraid of their sexuality, but again, that's just me.

And I'm leaving out romances that are intentionally dark and disturbing, which brings me to the current spate of paranormal romances. I do find the fantasy element a way to get around the alpha hero (though I still want more female werewolves and demons and vampires and etc). I suspect this is partially how historicals were used in the past; actions that would be slappable for a contemporary hero are ok for a medieval one, frex.

But! Enough about me. What do you guys think about alpha heroes? When do they cross the line? What elements make them work or not work?

Also, discussion about alpha heroes in dramas or manga is also highly welcome (though please no giant sweeping statements about Asian societies or psychoanalysis of the audience)!

ETA: Part 2
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Because I am having a very interesting conversation with Justine right now...

What are the romance tropes and conventions that drive you nuts? Why?

And which ones almost always work for you? Why?

And which ones are the ones in-between? I.e. if done well, they totally work, and if done poorly, they prompt chucking the book at a wall.

Bonus question: does Doomed Love work for you? What counts as Doomed (or, should I say, DOOMED)? What about love triangles/quadrangles/geometric shapes?

(Note: these aren't limited to romance novels, but to any narrative that involves romance-with-a-small-r.)

Also, please put spoilers in spoiler text! <span style="color:#333333;background:#333333">Spoilers go here</span>
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Description: After the untimely death of the great writer Octavia E. Butler, some have asked who will take her place. A panel of African-descended women currently writing genre fiction addresses this question, talking about Octavia's oeuvre and their own: similarities, differences, market forces, and the pressures to model their contributions to the field on hers. How many ways is this question just plain wrong? Who has a vested interest in there being "an Octavia," new or old? What would "a new Octavia" look like? How does her literary legacy affect the field today, and how might it do so in the future? And how does this legacy relate to this disturbing question?

Panelists: Nora Jemison (mod), Nisi Shawl, Candra K. Gill, K. Tempest Bradford, Nnedi Nkemdili Okorafor-Mbachu

This was my favorite panel of Wiscon; [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink mentions the cool factor of seeing a panel entirely composed of black women at an SF con; I agree. Also, like Mely, I hope one day that I'll be so used to seeing many POC at SF cons, on panels, not talking specifically about race, that the coolness factor will wear off.

Note: it's really odd writing this up, because I'm consulting the transcripts and noticing that my memory of themes aren't the same as the actual track of the conversation. But since this is my LJ and because the transcript is available, I'll be organizing more via theme and subject than by time things were said.

Nora Jemison jokingly introduced all the panelists as the "new Octavia;" all of them refuted the notion. I think Nisi Shawl said something to the effect of: "I am the current Nisi Shawl, not the new Octavia." All of them mentioned that their styles were basically nothing like Butler's; Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu wrote fantasy YA, Shawl said her language was not as spare. K. Tempest Bradford said she was the Angry Black Woman -- I was too busy being delighted to tell for sure, but I am certain that other audience members were just as delighted as me that she was at the con.

Cut for length )

Cultural appropriation and the panel )

Links:
- FSFWiki's page (includes transcript and links to other write ups)

(no subject)

Fri, Jun. 16th, 2006 12:59 am
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
[livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija has this great post with people suggesting their cool bits, aka, what they love reading about, and I have decided that my perfect, absolutely insane, could probably only be done by Yuki Kaori or Laura Kinsale level of cracktastic thing to read would be:

("cool bits" in blue)

During the ongoing war between a corrupt Heaven and rebellious Hell, an angel (winged, of course) falls for a demon -- let's make her an assassin -- and this forbidden love has them somehow be persecuted or whatnot (handwavy plot things go here). (also, the persecution part isn't blue because I don't care so much for that)

Oh wait, let's make them meet while she's dressed as a guy. Let's also make her the nth incarnation of Lucifer. Also, they have to meet while she's on a sekrit undercover mission to (handwavy plot thing) do something of great strategic importance in Heaven, so of course she goes in as a courtesan. Yes, they have courtesans in Heaven. What do you mean, this doesn't make sense? ;)

Also, Angel!Guy has glasses.

In the ensuing completely complicated political machinations going on in Heaven, Angel!Guy ends up disguising himself as a courtesan as well (insert handwavy plot thing), possibly to figure out what Demon!Girl is doing, which of course has to involve poison, assassination, secret passages in the palaces of Heaven, and a complex cipher that somehow Angel!Guy figures out and they use to communicate with each other. Demon!Girl gets to have much fun maneuvering in the courts of Heaven (yay, I get to make Heaven have courts and secret passages!) and of course uses fans and other such signals. I'm sure somehow Angel!Guy and Demon!Girl manage to have a duel of wits and swords, which somehow resolves in hot against-a-wall sex involving the undoing of many buttons, a head falling back against the wall, and a blowjob in which the power lies with Demon!Girl and the subsequent breaking of Angel!Guy's reserved exterior.

Naturally, something greatly tragic happens, forcing Angel!Boy and Demon!Girl to go down in non-literal flames together (you can never tell in Heaven and Hell). Naturally, they do this despite knowing that they're doomed. Magic Plot Device Fairy comes in and allows them to choose a memory wipe for both and reinstatement in Heaven and Hell, or many painful reincarnations on Earth. Of course, reincarnation option comes with the catch that neither will remember their previous lives.

Guess which one I make them pick?

This means I get to have reincarnations set in turn-of-the-century Europe, complete with bustles and corsets, along with one set in Meiji Japan in which Angel!Guy gets to wear bowler hats and hakama. Of course, all the reincarnations end tragically.

Handwavy plot device takes over, leading to Angel!Boy getting a few memories back and looking through the ages for Demon!Girl, which of course leads to love from afar with Demon!Girl not knowing (amnesia, y'know?). Also, because Angel!Boy is quietly angsty, yet nice and reserved and polite with good-manners, while Demon!Girl is quiet and deadly and cold, just a hand on the shoulder is huge. Naturally, even though Demon!Girl doesn't know what's going on, they become a sort-of family of broken people who are less broken around each other. Also, sex scene in which Demon!Girl loses control finally and illustrates the fine line between pleasure and pain.

And of course they get to learn about living and being alive together.

Before Heaven and Hell come back in the picture, Demon!Girl gets her memories back and much more handwavy plot stuff happens.

Ok, I think I got most things in except a love of knowledge and crafty things, but I suspect making Demon!Girl or Angel!Boy a knitter may be stretching things.

So that's the portrait of my id!

Tell me yours! (if you do it in your own LJ, I'd love to get a link to it so I can read it!)

Addenda

Wed, Dec. 14th, 2005 01:35 am
oyceter: Stack of books with text "mmm... books!" (mmm books)
Addenda to 15 things about books (aka, I cheat! Muhahaha!)

3a. I mention reading speed not because it's a how-fast-or-slow-I-read thing (I read faster than some people. I read slower than some people. I figure, as long as I'm getting what I want to be getting out of the thing, all is good) but because it was a very important number for me. I'd basically negotiate hours in bookstores or libraries with my mom all the time ("How long are you going to spend there?" "Four hours!" "Four?? Two!" "Three?") because I would make her dump me there whenever she went shopping, or just when we went to Taipei (they had English bookstores there!). So it was absolutely crucial to know about how many pages an hour I could read, because then I could try and pick a book that I thought I could finish in that time. This usually worked against me; I'd spend so long picking a book that by the time I started reading, I would inevitably be at the climactic good parts when my mom would drag me off screaming. I've still not finished a good deal of books because of this, though for others, I would determinedly camp out in a bookstore for several days in a row just to finish.

Also, 100 is a much easier number to divide into things that 135 or 85.

14a. (this is going to make no one ever want to invite me over to their house ever, ever again) I try not to be judgmental about books on shelves, but it is difficult. I check over bookshelves because a) I am a snoop (though I only check on bookshelves openly displayed, unless I have been introduced to bookshelves in rooms, in which case it's all fair game), b) I am selfish and want to survey to see if there's anything I want to borrow, and c) sometimes it's not even intentional, but I seem to naturally gravitate toward the shelves. They call to meeeee!!

14b. Ever since I worked at a used bookstore as a book buyer, I now have the truly horrible habit of trying to evaluate how much the contents of someone's shelves would get at the used bookstore. Not necessarily the general fiction, but if there's obscure knitting or quilting books, or random metaphysics books, or rare frsts or something, I tend to go into "acquire" mode for the bookstore even though I don't even work there anymore!

Oh my god, no one is ever going to want to have me over at their house now.

Um, yes, that's my dirty book laundry. What's yours?
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It's fifteen things about books! How could I possibly not do this?

Also, I adore reading everyone else's version of this meme, because there's so often that "Me too!" of recognition when I thought I was the only one neurotic bibliophilic enough to do it. (I have a lot of neurotic habits.)

Fifteen things about books )

Bits and pieces

Sun, Nov. 20th, 2005 09:56 pm
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[livejournal.com profile] chi_zu has interesting thoughts about global pop culture and genre in non-English-speaking countries; while I have some very shallow answers with regard to Taiwan and Japan, anyone who knows more should definitely join in! I am curious as well!

[livejournal.com profile] telophase is a wonderful person for linking to these leather lace front pants for guys. Guuuuuuuuuh. I felt like everyone should know that such things exist in the world, and that it is of the good.

[livejournal.com profile] truepenny has nifty thoughts on worldbuilding and genre. I never thought of worldbuilding/alien worlds being the requirement for sci-fi/fantasy, but I think what she says about the importance of the world makes sense. It finally makes sense to me why historical fiction hits the same buttons that sci-fi/fantasy does (for me)! Views into alien worlds, yay!

[livejournal.com profile] yhlee has an awesome Angel and Connor vid. Some commentary with some Angel S3-5 spoilage )

[livejournal.com profile] the_red_shoes links to commentary on the top 20 geek novels meme/list and creates her own list. My list and other commentary )

Interview questions from [livejournal.com profile] amphibiouswords for that meme:

Here! )

And since I am bad at answering comments these days, I will extend the interview meme suchly. Questions for everyone )

(no subject)

Tue, Oct. 4th, 2005 10:38 pm
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[livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija posted lately on strange sub-genres.

I think mine are:
  1. Super intrigue-y courts with layers and layers of subterfuge and hidden meanings. And it doesn't count if court outsiders go in and have to learn the way of the court and make everyone adore them for their forthrightness -- that's an entirely different subgenre. Learning-court-intrigue scenes are perfectly acceptable, but only if it means court intrigue continues.
    Ex. Dune, Daughter of the Empire


  2. Smart spies/assassins/thieves books with lots of nifty codes and tricks and gadgets and getaways, but not so much that there's more gadgetry than intellect. I actually haven't read that many of these (most are bits and pieces of the court intrigue books), but I should probably read John le Carre sometime, huh. I actually get more of these with movies, which is why I like caper movies and the like. Also, female spies/assassins/thieves are a bonus.

    I note that this is definitely a romance sub-genre, except the romance novel hero/heroine spies/assassins/thieves usually act so stupid that they definitely don't scratch this itch. Actually, they tend to make me want to throw something.


  3. Retold fairy tales, which isn't so much a strange sub-genre now and is rapidly growing larger. I seem to have to pick up absolutely anything that even references a fairy tale, no matter how bad it looks. Retold myths or legends rate a little lower, unless it's a retold non-Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Celtic one.

    Actually, they don't even have to be retold. If something is original but written with fairy tale imagery or with certain themes or a certain style, I will totally get it as well. Books on Faerie/Fae/Sidhe are an entirely different entity.

    Favs are the Windling/Datlow anthologies, McKillip, McKinley, Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch.

    I do know I need to read Angela Carter and Anne Sexton.


  4. Epistolary fantasy novels. Eh, at least, I think this is a favorite sub-genre, given that I've only read two books in it (Sorcery and Cecelia and Freedom and Necessity, both of which I adore to bits and pieces). I am of yet unaware if the fantasy element can be taken away and still keep me interested in the book, but I really want to pick up Les Liaisons Dangereuses and find out.


  5. Really nice heroes falling for emotionally distant and/or morally ambiguous heroines. Or actually anyone except an alpha bastard falling for an emotionally distant and/or morally ambiguous heroine. The key is to have the hero fall first.


  6. Quiet, unobstrusive girls growing up to be heroines. Eh, yes, this may be some wish fulfillment here ;). I was never as sucked in by the in-your-face outcast girl, since I wasn't even loud enough to be an outcast. I was just sort of wallflower-ish.


  7. Recs? Anyone else post theirs? I want this to be a meme ^_^.

(no subject)

Tue, Dec. 7th, 2004 11:47 pm
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I always think how it's quite interesting that there are two book camps people fall into -- those who take really good care of their books and scream if you crease the spine (that'd be me) and people who really don't care. Personally, I don't think it's some giant moral crime if you read one way or the other, although I will kill you if you hurt my Sandman series. [livejournal.com profile] matociquala has an interesting post on the physical act of reading and on loving the book for the story, not for the physical form of the book itself (she's a very hands-on reader). I agree with that in principle. It's just that I've worked in a used bookstore for long enough that most of me looks at a book for the story, for the author, for the content. The other five percent evaluates it for how much I would pay for it if I bought it for the store. Ha, I am so mercenary. Never invite me to your house, because that's what I'll do to your books. Well, unless you have books I personally want to read, in which case, I will just be salivating. Anyway. Also, after processing so many books, it was rather frightening realizing how many books are out of print. Most books have had large print runs and so are readily available, despite being OOP, but others... sigh. I've managed to hunt down most of the books that I've been looking for, but some are borrowed from the library. If I want it for myself, I have to scour used bookstores. And you never know if it'll be reprinted or not. And there's that sentimental value in having the exact edition that you read as a kid, with that specific cover art.

But mostly, they go out of print. Most people don't take good care of their books, so they get moldy, or water damaged, or pages fall out. I used to buy mass markets all the time (portable, cheap, etc.), and I still love them, except my old ones are getting to the point where some are falling apart. And yes, if I have to read something that's been dropped in a bathtub and sprayed with soy sauce and rubber-banded together because the binding's come loose, of course I will. But now I'm perpetually aware of the fact that my favorite books may go out of print and that I may never find a copy again (well, for years and years, or for less than fifty dollars, because we all love the internet), which goes a long way in persuading me to buy hardcover and to take really good care of them.

ETA: I'm horribly careful with my books usually, though I have this strange habit of crinkling page corners. And if a book really, really pisses me off, I will throw it against a wall. Yes, I'm still mad at Patricia Gaffney and Mary Jo Putney for that.

In real life news, the insurance claim seems to be going along and it is official, the other guy is at fault. Whew. I have my rental car, which caused a great deal of headache before. I don't actually like my rental car. It feels like the exact opposite of my car, which is very short, very heavy feeling, with a slightly difficult to turn steering wheel. The rental is all light and plastic-feeling, and it drives me crazy. Plus, it's an SUV. Rrgh. Hopefully I will not have to fill it up too often. Today I had to go to the towing place to sign a form to release my car. I managed to get lost twice -- once on the way there, once on the way back. I have no sense of direction. To put this in perspective -- my usual car has GPS, and I still manage to get lost. So this was absolutely terrifying, and I hated it, and it didn't help that the towing place was in a rather sketchy area. Ugh ugh ugh ugh. Stress. I'm also horribly behind on LJ because I'm getting home much later every day now.

(no subject)

Tue, Nov. 16th, 2004 11:06 pm
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Hee, I accidentally submitted a review for Rebecca Tingle's The Edge on the Sword, a YA historical, to Broadsheet even though I know full well that Broadsheet is for women writers of speculative fiction. Apparently my brain must somehow equate pre-modern times and girls with swords with fantasy. My brain is quite odd. But to be honest, historical fiction has about the same appeals fantasy often holds for me. For the shallow aspects, you've got people wearing fancy clothes and swords and kingdoms and the like, which, unfortunately often turns into derivative junk. But on a deeper level, both of them seem to be about world-building, about creating (or re-creating) a world with enough detail and facts and sensations so that I begin to fully believe that I live there, that I know that world almost as well as I know my own. I know both must have their own difficulties -- creating a world from scratch is very different from trying to resurrect a world from the past. And it must be rather nice to be the only specialist on the world you have created, knowing all the little nooks and crannies that aren't necessarily let out to the reader but are there in the background all the same. Historical fiction is subject to more nitpicking on a purely factual level (much like me sitting and having lots of fun listening to two otaku nitpick The Last Samurai. Ok, I admit, I was doing a good deal of nitpicking in my head as well). But then, having tried to create a world out of scratch in my own head before, I'm not sure which is the scarier option ;). Researching a known period, having facts on your side, is also very comforting (so speaks she who is enamoured of research). Anyhow, historical fiction and solid world-building fantasy occupy the same space in my head, apparently.

But I think the more magical type of fantasy in which the world-building isn't quite as important as the characters and the images is usually equated with fairy tale, fable, myth, and legend.

Still, no wonder I've been on such a fantasy kick after reading Dunnett. And no wonder I keep picking up YA historicals.

Called my mom today. She has been greatly encouraged by the fact that I have seemingly taken her advice and started exercising. Very minimally exercising, but still exercising. So now she has decided that since I do apparently listen to what she says, she should begin urging me to exercise even more! And to cook! *sigh* I should have know caving wouldn't make her stop complaining ;). Oh well. As my boss says, she's a mom. Of course she does this.

I keep almost getting into a big gender-role-inspired rant on why everyone keeps asking me if I cook and why everyone keeps encouraging me to cook. This is particularly annoying when people start offering me American recipes. I'm sure it is meant with the best of intentions, but to be honest, I'm Chinese. I prefer to cook Chinese food. I don't think anyone is really implying anything -- rather, they're all being quite enthusiastic about the things they like to cook, or things they find easy to cook. And I don't want to be snobby or anything. But, I mean, I've eaten Chinese food for most of my life, and the thought of cooking something like a taco salad or meatloaf or the like is much further away than the thought of cooking good rice porridge. I suppose mostly it's people of good intention not quite realizing that, to me, Chinese food is comfort food, not strange and exotic and difficult to cook. Actually, that's probably a very good metaphor for much of my life -- people tend to assume I'm a fully integrated Asian-American with great knowledge of pop culture and whatnot, which I am not, or they assume I'm a fully integrated Chinese person in Taiwan (before I open my mouth, that is... and not using the term "Taiwanese" because I'm still not quite sure if it is an ethnic label or not, and seeing as how my grandparents are from China...), which I am also not. Mostly I feel like a person for whom all things are vaguely foreign and exotic. Anyhow, back to the almost-rant. I keep wanting to start ranting on why people only seem to push me to cook, and not the boy, but luckily the boy has nipped this mid-bud and said his parents annoy him about it too. Although sometimes when I am there, it feels suspiciously as though they are urging me to cook for him, which is vaguely creepy.

In other news, I have found out that I sort of know [livejournal.com profile] fannishly's cousin from Taiwan!!!! OMG SO WEIRD!! SO COOL!! And I had no idea when I found her LJ (or she found mine)!! The internet (and Taiwan) is a very small world indeed. Actually, I attribute this more to the Taiwan factor, since apparently everyone with some sort of connection to Taiwan who has ever been in America will somehow end up connected with someone else I know with a connection to Taiwan. And if you think I'm bad, it's ten times more extreme with my parents. I used to joke that my dad would meet someone he knew every time he walked through an airport.

Randomly: Is there any sort of good "how to write book reviews" website ala all those good "how to write sci-fi/fantasy" sites out there? Nyargh, must remember not to be too ambitious, but I suppose there is no harm in trying, yes?

(no subject)

Thu, Oct. 21st, 2004 11:23 pm
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I mentioned that logging all the books I've been reading has really been changing the way I read, and [livejournal.com profile] redredshoes wanted to know how it was changing. I don't know if what I do is actually reviewing books so much as blathering on about them -- they're just in seperate entries so I have an easier time keeping track of them.

***Lalalalala! I interrupt this post to say that the bookstore had Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and the person at the register was nice and let me have my discount! Lalalalala I have new books!***

(Addendum: And someone sold their Japanese history books or something and I have a coupon for 50% off for history books and so I will raid it tomorrow when the coupon is valid and buy out all the Japanese history books on Tokugawa Japan and samurai and oh, I am so excited!)

Now that I have totally geeked out on everyone, we shall return to the original post ;).

Anyhow, I was quite inspired by [livejournal.com profile] coffee_and_ink's year end review and decided it might be fun to keep track of what I read for an entire year. Mostly it's because I have no idea how much I read, or really what or when I read. And I thought it might be fun to keep track of my reactions to everything I read in my LJ, because too often, I read a book and forget pretty much everything except a sketchy outline of the plot and a vague inclination as to whether I liked it or not. Another factor was that when I finish a book, I'm still immersed in the world and I need somewhere to displace that emotion, or I'm mad at the book, or I loved certain bits but the ending made me roll my eyes. And since I haven't made many friends in the area, and the friends I do have are far away from me and so are not quite reading the same things, I don't have anyone to tell without spoiling the book. Ergo, book blathering began.

Cut for length )

(no subject)

Sun, Oct. 3rd, 2004 01:55 am
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*sniff* Last day of work today. Very strange. Sigh, am going to miss the bookstore, but I have people's emails, and must remember, it is just down the street. And also must remind myself that I don't have to shelve books next week! Woot.

But it was very nice, and everyone said bye, and they even had a cake and a card. I feel very appreciated now. It is nice knowing that they thought I was quite a wonderful employee -- counteracts the ughness of ibanking. Also, heh, I like having my ego stroked (I told this to the boy and he responded by stroking my hair. "That's not where my ego is!" I said.). I also bought another giant load of books. I probably have enough non-fiction to last me through the year. Sigh. And then I had to return everything I had borrowed, half of which I haven't even finished yet, which made me remember that I can't just pop in there and borrow stuff anymore. Best library ever.

Then the boy and I went to see Shaun of the Dead and left half-nauseated, half-amused. The first part was great, absolutely hilarious, but then it starting hunkering down and really being a zombie movie, which is when I started getting nauseous. So yeah, that's about all the zombie movie I can take. That got me thinking: I instrinsically dislike horror. I can't off the top of my head think of any other genre that I intrinsically dislike. I mean, I am indifferent toward mystery but can be persuaded by good characters or humor or the like. Obviously I enjoy romances (depending on the quality of the writing). I tend toward scoffing at thrillers, but again, it depends on the level of characterization mostly. Also, a lack of comparing one's hero to an aging Indiana Jones helps (*cough*DanBrown*cough*). But I will not watch or read or listen to horror.

Unless, of course, the horror is extremely minimal, and even then, I dislike the horror elements (yes, I closed my eyes through half of Sixth Sense). I think perhaps the big exception to this with me is Buffy, in which case I take the scary portions, like Hush or Conversations with Dead People, because the rest of the show is wonderful. Basically, when it comes down to it, I'm incredibly squeamish (ergo the general un-excitement about thrillers) and really hate being scared. Slightly frightened I can do, but I don't want to be given nightmares or the like.

So I wonder if people who don't like romance or sci-fi or fantasy or mystery have this same sort of visceral reaction. And I wonder what it's to? The pseudo-historical settings in fantasy? The magic? The intrinsic not-of-this-world-ness? A story focused on emotions? It's strange thinking about it, because obviously I enjoy the genres and as such, can't quite bend my head around what other people would find off-putting.
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Sort of a companion post to the previous one on being a reader, sort of a response to [livejournal.com profile] rilina's post.

My book buying process is probably unduly complicated -- I borrow things from the bookstore, I borrow books from the public libraries I live around, I borrow books from assorted friends, I buy books from library sales, from assorted used bookstores, from independent bookstores, from Big Chain bookstores, from Amazon, and from assorted online used bookstores. I also have, at any given time, about ten scraps of paper floating around with lists of books that looked interesting enough in bookstores to warrant further research on Amazon, lists of books that so-and-so on LJ recced, and lists of out of print books that I need to keep an eye out for.

I'm also going to have to adjust a little now since I won't be able to borrow things from the bookstore anymore, or have my employee's discount as an incentive.

The bookstore probably has the biggest impact on new book buys for me, since my discount added with the lower price for used books means I can usually buy books for about 70% of the cover price. In the past year I've probably bought more books from them than I would like, given my own budget. Most of these are books in a certain edition that I want (Harry Potter British editions, out of print hardcovers). I also buy a ton of mass markets there. And I would be lying if I didn't say that if given an option to buy a like new book used at the store or to buy it new, I would probably buy it used, because then I have more money to spend on more books. Also, a lot of the books I buy there are out of print. Or they're books that I would have never thought to pick up in a library or another bookstore; they're books I see on buying days with interesting titles, or books in sections I don't normally browse in (aka anything non-genre).

I also borrow a ton of books from the bookstore, because it's very spur of the moment, and because I'm in there, surrounded by books 8 hours a day, and I inevitably find something interesting that I might want to read but not necessarily own.

I've been borrowing less from assorted public libraries because the bookstore has no due date, and I am very good at racking up giant fines at libraries. I feel perfectly fine paying them, because I love libraries (even more than bookstores) -- I used to spend hours in them as a kid, and probably would not have grown up into such a reader and compulsive buyer of books today without them. Also, I like the community aspect. Plus, they're libraries and are dedicated toward knowledge and learning and reading, and all sorts of good stuff like that. And they have out of print stuff!

I have a very low threshhold for book borrowing -- if it's interesting, I pick it up. The only things restraining me from borrowing everything is that I have to try to finish in three to six weeks (for library books) and I can only borrow ten books at a time from the bookstore.

I also buy a lot of books. Cut for really boring nitpicky details )
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Random thoughts sparked by various discussions on Amazon.com reviews, on book reviews in general, on the prevalence of writers on my FL, and other such things. (Not sure if I need a disclaimer, but none of this is meant to single out anyone on the FL, er, unless one of you is secretly OSC, nor is it meant to be offensive.)

It's very interesting reading my FL because so many of the people talking about books on it are people who are writing books and short stories and the like. It's a very different perspective from what I'm used to -- I'm very much a reader, and I've never felt the desire to be a writer, despite occasional adolescent dabbling. And I've spent a great deal of life reading without thinking of the author, or, if I do, I had a concept of the author as some sort of all-powerful being who was very far removed from this world. Also, being in Taiwan for eight years sort of limits one's opportunities to go to signings and the like. Going to my first signing (this year, Orson Scott Card) was very strange. I think sometimes I like that distance from the author, particularly in OSC's case, seeing as how I violently disagree with some of his personal views and his interpretation of his books.

The strangest part of it was feeling very protective of his books while reading or hearing his opinions on those books -- I mean, he's the author, he wrote them, obviously they mean something personal to him. But I wanted to figuratively grab the book and hug it to my chest and not let him tamper with my view of the book, or my experiences of reading the book, because it was my book that I had read in sixth grade and it had probably changed my mental landscape rather dramatically. I also come from the school of thought in literature that while authorial intent matters, it is not the be-all-end-all to interpretation. Sometimes I like knowing authorial intent, and I like knowing that such-and-such was intended as a homage to so-and-so, or that the author was reading Dunnett at the time, or that the author was responding to another book. Other times, I don't want to know, because there's another version of the book in my own head, and the intention of the author gets in the way of that. I don't know if my version is the "right" version, or even if there is a right version, but it's my own version, formed by all the books I've read in the past, by my own experiences, by where I was and how I was feeling when I read it.

This feeling is generally more awkward when the author is alive and says or publishes something that contradicts with what I think.

Also, as a reader, I do things detrimental to authors, like borrowing millions of books from the library, frequenting (and currently working in) used bookstores, going to library sales, etc. To be honest, when I do that, I don't think about the author's sales. Mostly I am just concerned with preserving my own paycheck, given the fact that I buy anything between 5-10 books a month. Depending. I have gone horribly over limit this month due to library sale and the anticipation of not having my employee's discount anymore. Plus, my personal goal is to read as many books as possible while spending as little money as possible, and I don't like buying books I haven't read at cover price unless I succumb to the temptation of sequels, or new books by authors I like, or sometimes just really pretty cover art. I buy books used and new, I borrow anything I can get my hands on, I scrounge for free books. I also don't think about good things like supporting my local independent bookstore instead of going to Borders or B&N or Amazon, mostly because I read a lot of genre, and half the time I can't find what I'm looking for in little independent bookstores. I do make a special attempt to get lots of stuff at Borderlands though, because I like them. I probably also contribute an embarrassingly large amount to the bookstore I work at currently.

When I talk about books in my LJ, mostly I'm thinking of other readers when I do it, not of the authors. It's actually very strange thinking about how much I think about books and read books and spend time and money on books, while not really keeping the author in mind the entire time I do it. I think of the author as a sort of brand name actually. It's so odd reading about everyone's struggles to write the next book or story, to sell it, and to realize that I'm the one sitting there reading it, that more often than not, I skim a few paragraphs of someone's hard work and pass judgment on it. I feel I read scholarly non-fiction a little differently because after writing so many papers (and the thesis) during school, I understand more what the author had to go through to compile data, to research, to present ideas clearly. I have a grasp of what had to go into every single sentence. I never really think about fiction in that way because I've never really had to take it apart and tinker with it in my head.

Anyhow, just things that randomly popped in my head these past few months.

(no subject)

Wed, Jul. 14th, 2004 05:59 pm
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Thoughts sparked by the discussion on [livejournal.com profile] kijjohnson's LJ on that old sci-fi versus fantasy thing, as well as I, Robot the movie versus Asimov books.

I was reading an NYTimes article on the I, Robot movie, which mainly discusses how the movie goes through the old action movie evil artificial intelligence out to conquer the world schtick, rather than staying with Asimov's usually peaceful and rather logical robots. (one reason why I'm not going to see the movie -- sure, make an evil robot movie, but why refer to Asimov if one is not going to stick with Asimov?)

I wonder why sci-fi is generally thought of as forward looking. Granted, there's that whole future thing, but haven't lots of papers been written about how sci-fi generally reflects the fears and concerns of the time the book or story was written? I always think of sci-fi as more now-oriented than future oriented, because so much of it is extrapolation of present day problems. In part, people laud sci-fi for being good social commentary, and isn't that by definition very firmly in the present day? Also, I don't think social commentary is limited to the futuristic setting, although in general, sci-fi seems to have been more engaged with the socio-political than fantasy. But I'd say Harry Potter does do a good deal of social commentary as well, despite the pseudo-medieval wizarding world setting. And from the commentary I've seen on Laurie J. Marks' Fire Logic, it deals very much with issues like war and its broad impact on society and on individuals.

Also, I wonder why this argument always pops up, or seems to? I mean, who cares if something is backwards looking? I don't understand -- do the sci-fi supporters disregard historical fiction as well? Obviously I am biased, since I am mainly a fantasy fan and have read little golden age sci-fi. I usually only read sci-fi if it comes highly recommended because I'm mostly interested in interiority and in character. I don't know. I just think it's a rather silly argument, given that a lot of the speculative elements in sci-fi can be given a fantasy spin (immortality, alien life forms/races, religious governments, etc.) by just switching the "scientific" rationale to a magical one (i.e. Asimov's psychohistory or whatever it's called vs. Card's idea of torches and reading heartfires).

The clinging to the social commentary thing is what gets me the most. I feel that if a book has something to say on the human condition, it doesn't really matter how forward or backward looking it is.

Grown-up books

Wed, Jul. 14th, 2004 02:13 am
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[livejournal.com profile] mrissa was recently asking questions on adult books (as opposed to YA or children's, not necessarily erotica or porn) and when various people started reading them, if they were ever restricted from doing so, etc.

I think one of the interesting byproducts of growing up basically speaking a different language than my parents meant that they had no idea what I was reading. Still probably don't. I figure that by now my mom has probably found my hidden romance novel stash back at home and sort of knows what they are, but by now I don't care as much as I did back in high school. I should also give my parents points for knowing more than they let on, but seeing as how I have yet to experience parenthood for myself, I have no idea what they know and what they pretend to not-know, and I find it rather comforting to pretend all around that there are general subjects everyone just not-does and not-knows about.

Anyhow. I think the very first adult book I read was Lord of the Rings back in sixth grade (11 yrs. old?). Previously I had pretty much always stayed in the kids' section of the library and dug out books like Gordon Korman (I should reread those and see if they're still funny), various classics, etc. Lord of the Rings was a giant, giant eye-opener. First, I used to constantly sift through all the books in the kids' section looking for fairy tales and myths and various retellings, and in LotR, I discovered that there was an entire new world, a fat world that filled three volumes and didn't explicitly retell any fairy tales or myths. After Lord of the Rings, I headed up to the adult section to look for more books like it (it's really hard to do when there are no genre categories and one is making judgments based on spines) and found Terry Brooks, and, subsequently, the genre known as fantasy.

I've never been told that I was too young for a book (although some time down the line I realized for myself that that was the case). I've never been personally stopped from reading something I wanted to read. I've only actually talked about books and reading to very few people in my life prior to LJ because, well, most people don't quite understand the excitement or most people haven't read the books I wanted to talk about. LJ's been a giant blessing because it's finally allowed me to burble on about reading and books and bibliophilia in general to people who don't think I'm nuts for reading all the time. I sort of felt invisible in a good way when I was reading -- outside of a select group of people, no one really ever knew what I was reading or what I thought about it.

Post is getting long... )

(no subject)

Wed, Jun. 23rd, 2004 12:24 am
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Ugh, been keeping an extremely weird schedule these past two days -- go home, eat dinner, promptly fall asleep on the couch. Then wake up at midnight, stay up a few hours and go back to bed. So, LJ has fallen a bit behind.

Feeling vaguely better (about homesickness, not so much the job hunt). It's hard to believe sometimes that I've been in CA for a year now, and it's been driving me crazy that I haven't been able to go home this summer. I think this may have been the longest stint I've gone without going back. I feel vaguely like that Greek myth guy who touched the earth to regain strength (name starts with an A....) who Hercules had to fight.

I also applied to Viz for a job last night, heh heh. I figure that's the one job I've applied to for which I actually, you know, qualify. Everything else feels like: I don't have experience, and I'm an EAS major, but I learn fast! Really! And I'm smart... I think... or maybe not... sigh. I would have applied to Tokyopop too, except they're down in LA, boo. Then I wonder, gyah, even if I get it, do I want to be in a small company? I suppose it depends on what I'd be doing. And the sheer coolness value of dealing with manga cannot be denied. Though, of course, there is also the possibility of burnout and never being able to read for fun again. This is, of course, assuming that I even get an interview.

I was talking to my boss a few days ago on book reading habits, and he says after voraciously reading everything he could get his hands on, he sort of calmed down a bit. I think part of this was because he had the store all the while and could borrow stuff, and after a while on the buying team, you get a little patience and realize you can wait until a like new copy with your favorite cover comes in. I thought for a little and realized I'm still in the voraciously reading everything stage. I must have shifted into high gear when I moved here and realized I actually had room for books because I wasn't moving every year (ha, yeah right, and oh how my back regrets those purchases!). But, I have two pretty good public libraries near me, and the store, and I stumbled onto lots of smart people on LJ who've read tons and tons and tons of things I haven't, and I feel like I'm scrabbling for all the books I possibly can get my greedy little paws on to keep up. In Princeton I had a milder case of this, as being in college without a car limited public library and bookstore trips. Plus, I didn't have this ocean of recs.

Gah. I feel so underread (not-well-read?). I want to read all the sci-fi and fantasy classics now, along with good feminist lit crit (I don't think I've read much... mostly I've stuck to feminist history), want to read more non-Asian feminist history, want to read more Asian feminist history, want to brush up my Chinese history and Japanese history, want to read up on Korea, on which I am frightfully ignorant, want to read any new anime/manga criticism that's come out, and wah, there are too many books! Not that that's the bad thing -- it's the too few hours that I resent.

On a brief continuation of the manga post, not only is Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers (Yoko Kamio) out, so is Hana Kimi (Hisaya Nakajo), which I was still reading in Taiwan. Has cross-dressing heroine and much shenanigans in an all boys school. Plus, pretty art. And wah, Revolutionary Girl Utena the manga is out!! (ok, it's probably been out forever, but I've been really out of it) Still no Good Morning Call, which was my first intro to shoujo. Still no non-Paradise Kiss Yazawa Ai, which annoys me because I want to make everyone read Nana so I can finally talk to someone about it. The last person who I knew read it was my Japanese teacher. But I find myself excited about manga again, now that they've stopped limiting themselves to translating all of CLAMP and other magical girl comics. I'm, heh, actually not that big of a CLAMP fan, mostly just because I never bothered to read anything past X.

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