We had a very nice trip to Colorado. It was good to get to go beyond the Outer Ring freeway for the first time in 3 months.
RRW is going on hiatus for a while. I am finding the internet an increasingly unpleasant place to be in the current environment. You’d think when your world has shrunken to the extent ours has that having a window into a bigger world would be helpful. But there’s too much chaff to find the wheat, at least for me. Being outside, talking (virtually or otherwise) to people, spending time doing productive things, just seem like better options. I have Fall2020 classes to prepare, for which I can access help that doesn’t come with complaints and angst as part of the package. I am knitting. I am reading, fitfully. I am writing, slowly. We cleaned up our bicycles and have been tooling around the neighborhood and campus. Rowing in the basement is better than I expected (and the treadmill is bearable). The tomatoes are coming in thick and fast. The kale hasn’t turned bitter yet. It’s very hot and humid, but that’s STL in July for you.
I don’t know how long I’ll stay away; probably at least through the summer and maybe until after Election Day. Stay safe, everyone, and good luck getting through this.
It’s the last TBR Challenge post of the year and I’m actually on time. Before I get to the review, though, I want to thank Wendy for organizing the challenge and encouraging us to participate in it in whatever way works for us. This is the first year I’ve managed to fulfill every month’s post (eventually) as well as stick to the categories for the most part. A few weeks ago Wendy was up in the air about whether she would continue, since the number of romance bloggers has dwindled considerably. I didn’t get a chance to weigh in but I am so glad and grateful that she has decided to keep going. Plans for the 2020 Challenge are posted at her blog and I’m absolutely in for the year. Even though I don’t read as much romance anymore, I still enjoy being on the fringes of the community and keeping contact with romance readers and old friends, and I won’t be running out of TBR possibilities any time soon. So thank you, Wendy, for continuing to center romance blogging and reviewing. And if you’re not blogging but you’re on social media, you can join and contribute through those platforms as well.
On to the book. I have a few Lovering titles in my TBR but they’re dwindling because they are the perfect reads when you want a book set in a charming place which features characters who feel down to earth and realistic. The Boys of Christmas is no exception. Mattie has left her controlling, psychologically abusive boyfriend Simon and is figuring out her next moves when she receives an inheritance from her great-aunt Millie. It’s a big, rundown, somewhat scary house in a Dorset village rejoicing in the name Christmas Steepleton (and if you think that’s unlikely, I suggest you look at a map and check out village names in England). And it’s Christmastime! She decides to down to check out her new acquisition, accompanied by her supportive friend Toby.
The weather is as forbidding as the house, and just as cold, but Mattie and Toby make do and set about planning a last-minute Christmas celebration. Mattie is also occupied with meeting the condition of her inheritance, which is to sprinkle Millie’s ashes over “the Boys of Christmas.” Now she just has to figure out who they are. Unraveling this mystery introduces her to a variety of village residents and visitors, and spending her days with Toby deepens their friendship. Toby gently chivvies Mattie into acknowledging and returning to the person she was before Simon drained her of her self-confidence and cheerfulness.
While I was pretty sure I had most of them backed up in local folders, I downloaded every last one of them just to be sure. I wound up with 620 books, and I wasn’t sure how many I’d already read (Harlequin titles tend to run together). My first pass at the list got me down to 516 books. Then, as I would peruse the covers looking for new reads, I realized I had read more of them that I initially thought, so I went through and struck off a few more.
My next move was to get rid of author backlists if I didn’t like a book I’d read or was sure I was done with their work. As a result of these purges my last TBR read was #466.
But I’m still culling. A recent and very persuasive review by Miss Bates (Kay) sent me to see what I had by Maisey Yates in the TBR. I only had one book from my Harlequin purchases, surprisingly, and it was a novel in a Harlequin connected series in the Presents line called The Santina Crown. I’ve enjoyed some of Harlequin’s themed series, and I bought a number of these. But when I started reading her prequel novella for the series, The Life She Left Behind, I had trouble with it. It’s well written and it features reunited lovers, which is a trope I enjoy and which works well in a shorter format. But the hero is an Arab prince (named Taj for some reason) and I realized that I just can’t read Sheikh or Fake Middle Eastern Royal Hero books anymore. I’m probably also going to balk at books that glorify men in the military or the police, unless maybe if they are Regular Joe kind of guys (I’m pretty sure Janice Kay Johnson has written a few of these).
As advertised, I’ve deactivated my main Twitter account. I kept it for the year I was off Twitter because the other two times I killed my accounts someone immediately grabbed the username. But Twitter will have to become something entirely different for me to return, and since that is unlikely it doesn’t matter to me if @ProfNita is swept up into Botland.
I’ve also deleted my Goodreads account. Longtime readers and friends know about my love-hate with Goodreads and my hesitance about going back. It’s been a much better experience this time and I’ve enjoyed a lot of my interactions. But as usual, I have negative visceral reactions when Someone Is Wrong on the Internet, and it sucks up my time and energy to fight my inevitable desire to correct them. It’s a stupid trait but not one I’ve been able to eradicate. I love talking to people about books, but the people I most want to talk to aren’t the only ones I wind up interacting with or paying attention to.
Thanks to Laura Vivanco I just read a post by Meljean Brook that describes my condition exactly, because it’s apparently her condition as well:
Twitter has a constant stream of info coming at you from people who really do have a lot of interesting and important things to say. But I wasn’t doing a good job of prioritizing my own mental health and needs.
(And ha, this was explicitly demonstrated to be the right move, because I deleted my Twitter right before the plagiarism/ghostwriting scandal erupted, and although I of course followed it…not having a Twitter account that is connected to so much of romancelandia made it all much easier check in on the few people I still follow, then go. So I was informed but not obsessively checking, and it made a huge difference.)
I have done this exact same thing with Twitter (especially before the recent Horrible Redesign) and I do it with GR too. There are key public groups whose discussions I can compulsively read and with which I am mentally arguing on a too-regular basis, and I don’t seem to be able to stop. They’re not as bad for my well-being as rabbit holes and kerfuffles of the past, but they’re not good either and they distract me from producing rather than consuming. I’m so much better than I was, but I’m still not where I want to be.
I thought about deleting my Goodreads account today. GR is the last social media platform I participate in, and I’ve been active there for the last couple of years. I returned to it when I started reading a lot of literary fiction again; I swore off the romance and related genre discussions quite a while ago, but the lit fic reviewers and groups didn’t seem to have the same kinds of recurring kerfuffles (NARRATOR: they do, just not as often). But they have their own idiosyncracies, like focusing to an obsessive degree not just on group reads of awards longlists and shortlists, but also choosing to spend lots of time and energy debating the worthiness of the books on those lists.
At first I found these discussions informative and mildly amusing. Having been buried in the romance genre for more than a decade, I hadn’t really paid attention to the proliferation of prizes in the lit fic world. But my goodness, they have not just multiplied but become much more prominent in terms of promotion through newspapers, magazines, and blogs. (#notallmedia, of course; the LRB, TLS, and NYRB don’t seem to care much about which books win prizes, but they’re in the minority.)
What isn’t different is the extent to which GR readers and reviewers depend on ARCs for their reading. Just as much as genre bloggers and reviewers, they try for Netgalley and Edelweiss, as well as obtaining ARCs directly from publishers. And there are a lot of small publishers in lit fic who are increasingly important to the health of the book industry in terms of innovation, creativity, and as incubators for new or new-to-English authors. This creates an intimacy between publishers and readers which is more similar to the relationship between authors and readers in romance than I’m comfortable with. One of the reasons I stopped reviewing romance novels and requesting ARCs was that I wanted to increase the distance between the author and/or publisher and me and decrease the distance between the book and me. I still don’t take ARCs, but when I review and discuss books at GR I know that authors and editors may be listening in. Which is absolutely their right, but it makes me think twice about what I post.