February is moving slightly faster than January did, but that was a very low bar. As TheH says, it’s a bar the Corgis could walk over, no jumping required. It’s still mostly gray and cold and damp, with the occasional sunny and slightly warmer day to taunt us.
My Privacy class finally clicked. We’re out of the heavy theory section and reading older work on the online world as it used to be, which they find kind of interesting. And one of the examples was about free speech vs. writing violent material that can be accessed by younger teens. It was interesting. 50 Shades even came up, and I startled them by telling them more about it (and my involvement in the 50-related Romancelandia stuff) than they could ever have expected. It was amusing for all of us.
One of my weekly seminars featured a paper by a colleague from anthropology who is working on fashion and sustainability, which is extremely relevant to my interests these days. So that was another unexpected crossing of streams. We had a lively discussion; everyone can relate in some way to fashion, ecological issues, and the omnipresence of consumption capitalism. One person raised the interesting point that even among people who are focused on improving conditions and products at the local level, they opt to become entrepreneurs rather than to join with other like-minded people to improve existing labor and supply-chain conditions. Being a capitalist is still the default choice.
We returned to Maigret, but rather than watching the next episode of the TV series we opted for a 1950s film starring Jean Gabin as Maigret. It was terrific. The print had been remastered and all of the performances were excellent.
I had two library holds come in this week and finished one of them: The Story of a Goat, by the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan. I have his previously translated novel in my TBR. That one earned him death threats from the Hindu nationalists and led him to declare that he would no longer write fiction. Luckily for us he changed his mind, but he made the main character an animal rather than a human. The Story of a Goat is exactly what it says on the tin: we meet Poonachi when she is a very young kid and is handed into the care of an old couple by a mysterious stranger. The story follows Poonachi’s growth to adulthood and all of the events that transpire during her life. The cast includes humans as well as the other goats among whom she lives and whom she encounters along the way. It’s an excellent novel, poignant and yet almost completely unsentimental. It’s not a happy story, but it has upbeat episodes along the way. Murugan is explicit that this is not an allegory, and I think that’s right. Poonachi and the other animals aren’t stand-ins for humans; instead, Murugan is showing us how the life cycles of humans and animals are not only intertwined, but more similar than we would like to believe, especially in terms of the lack of control most humans have over the circumstances of their existence. It reminded me somewhat of the works of Premchand, the great Hindi writer who frequently put animals at the center of his stories. Murugan’s novel is not the easiest read, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while, and unusual in the best ways.
My other library hold is the long-awaited outside-Canada release of Eric Dupont’s 2018 novel. It was shortlisted for the Giller Prize under the title Songs for the Cold of Heart, but it’s been re-released as The American Fiancée, which is much closer to the original French title. I’ve had the Canadian print version on my shelf almost since it came out, but now I have the ebook as well and will be reading it soonish.
SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for February is coming up this Wednesday and the category is “friends.” I pulled out a couple of romance novels and even started one, but I didn’t get very far. The novel was fine but I wasn’t falling into it. I think I’m going to give up reading romance entirely for a while. I can use non-romance books to fulfill the challenge, and forcing myself to pick a romance novel even once a month is becoming counter-productive. What is the point of supposedly fun and relaxing reading that is neither? So I decided on The Hobbit, which is about friendship and which, amazingly, I have never read. Even if I don’t finish it by Wednesday I’ll write up a post.
Rohan Maitzen has a blog post in which she describes a number of issues I also have with reading romance today. The lack of editing, the fact that so many authors start publishing before they’ve mastered the craft, the overlap between Twitter conversations and what shows up in 19thC dialogue: all of these pull me out of the zone that I associate with romance reading. And the endless, endless, selling. We validate our in-group credentials through what we buy, although of course we describe it as “supporting our favorite authors and genre.” But it’s morphed from buying the book to buying coffee/tea mugs, t-shirts, buttons and stickers, and who knows what else. Does no one remember Naomi Klein’s No Logo, which came out over two decades ago? When did it become OK to be consumers primarily, whether we are reading or not? Slap that bookternet-related sticker on your water bottle or pull a “Romancelandia never forgets” t-shirt over your head and you’re good to go. Just reading a book? GTFO.
I’m diligently making ToDo lists and it definitely helps. It also helps that my days aren’t wall-to-wall appointments and deadlines.
Despite the weather I managed to walk home from work once this week, motivated by TheH who has been doing it for a while. If I can’t get my butt to the basement to row or walk uphill on the treadmill, I can at least fill up my backpack and skip the bus/train/shuttle. We’re also walking in our neighborhoods and Forest Park on the weekends when the weather isn’t completely off-putting.
I have been mulling over what to make next. I should really whip up a pair of fingerless mitts for the TheH, given I promised I’d make him a new set this year, but I’m dragging my heels and looking at sweater patterns. The very cool fashion designer of Skif is based right here in St. Louis, and their exposed-seam, asymmetric, one-size-fits-most sweater patterns are calling to me.
Only two seminars and one faculty meeting, plus the usual teaching and other stuff. I have a paper assignment due in one class this week and I’ve already received requests for extensions. Some things never change.
Oh, I do so understand your Romance fatigue. I read all the glowing reviews and my brain is saying ‘nope, nope, nope’. I get my romance fix in various mysteries, historical fiction, SFF, etc, though I still have a very small handful of romance authors whose books show up in my TBR mountain o’ doom.
@Barb: I’ve been complaining about this for long enough, it’s time to pull the trigger and take a real break. It’s not as if the books are sitting there waiting for me when I want to read them. And I agree with you that there are romance fixes available in other genres.
I have gone through these hiatuses before, where I don’t read genre romances but I still get romance storylines in other novels. It’s time to have another.
I was nodding through many of your Romancelandia comments, especially this one: “the overlap between Twitter conversations and what shows up in 19thC dialogue.”
“We validate our in-group credentials through what we buy, although of course we describe it as ‘supporting our favorite authors and genre.'”
I am really convinced that most people who are cheerleaders for the authors on Twitter don’t really buy or read their books. They’re squeeing over authors, who are their friends, as opposed to the books, which they think are great because they read them.And they are all squeering over the same five author so they can be part of the “in group.”
@Keira: Romance readers certainly buy a lot of books, but I do wonder how many people are able to buy at the $9.99 and above price points that are becoming so much more popular. And the proliferation of ARCs and the ubiquity of Netgalley access means that a lot of readers who are active on social media probably don’t have to buy them all. We also tend to have massive TBRs, which suggests a fair amount of buying without reading.
I got a lot of social media backlash a few years ago when I argued that it wasn’t enough to buy books, we needed to read and talk about them to increase word of mouth. My premise was that word of mouth is what makes books take off rather than bestseller status or just tweeting acquisitions. But given today’s environment, I may well be wrong. It may be enough just to buy and talk up a book whether you’ve actually read it or not.
We’ve always had in-groups, of course, and I was certainly part of one when I reviewed for DA when DA was one of the biggest romance sites around. And I know people felt they were excluded from in-groups then. To me the current environment feels different (especially given private Facebook groups) but I’m probably not a good person to judge.
That’s a great point about entrepreneurship and activism that your student made. Americans are very individualistic, I think, and that is probably another factor.
The Story of a Goat sounds really good, but can I ask for a spoiler? Do the goats get slaughtered? Cruelty to animals is hard for me to read about.
I can’t wait to see what you think of The Hobbit! I loved it as a kid (oh, how I cried during the sad parts) and it’s the only Tolkien I have ever felt that way about. LOTR was a DNF due to its snail’s pace and my irritation at Tom Bombadil. The downside to The Hobbit (and it really bothered me the last time I tried to read it) is that all the characters (except perhaps the spider) are male.
Thanks for linking to Rohan Maitzen’s blog. I am sorry to hear that she’s struggling with Ducks, Newburyport. I have a lot of interest it but the length and the long-sentence structure are daunting. It sounds Ike they might be daunting to Rohan too.
W/r/t the romance genre. Yeah. I had a brainstorm this week and realized what has probably been obvious to everyone who reads DA for quite a while—that I’m reviewing more SFF novels than romances these days. I feel badly over this. I don’t feel bad about reviewing more SFF and less romance than I have in the past, but I do feel bad about reading and reviewing less than half romance. It seems unfair to DA’s readers.
Part of the reason this is happening is that it’s easier for me to find SFF novels that I want to read. I’ve been striking out with a lot of the romances people get excited about these days (I keep wishing that more new romance authors would come along and sweep me off my proverbial feet, but so far the only one who has done so in the past year or two is Aster Glenn Gray). And because of these strikeouts, I’m not sure whose reviews to trust.
Anyway, I wish you a lot of happy reading, regardless of genre. I enjoy your posts on books regardless, too.
@Janine: I’m really enjoying The Hobbit so far, somewhat unexpectedly. I don’t know why I’ve always classified it as a for-guys book, perhaps because everyone in it is a he. But it’s charming and I love the voice.
There is some animal cruelty in The Story of a Goat . Most of it is offpage (goats leave the story when they are sold, for a variety of uses). There’s only one really tough scene, when one of the male goats is castrated. It’s extremely well done but tough to read, surprisingly so in some ways, because he’s not a likeable animal. But Murugan really makes you feel for him. What made the book work so well for me was that both people and animals are shown to live under similarly oppressive situations if they don’t have the money or power to exercise agency. I can’t decide whether it’s too hard a read for you, it could go either way. It was worth it for me but the sadness does linger a bit.
I don’t think you’re shortchanging DA’s readers by reviewing more SFF. One of the nice things about DA these days is that it seems very personal and idiosyncratic and geared to whatever people want to talk about, and there are plenty of DA folks who read outside romance. I noticed that when I was doing the Daily Deals.