Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Further Meditation on Romance Novel Titles: Historical Fiction Edition

So after I got back to work on the Romantic Times Book Reviews Nominees for the 2009 RT Awards(see the previous post on this subject), I found that there was yet more material for me to work with, in the form of the "Best Historical Novels" category. It turns out that historical romance writers, with all of history to work with, have a surprisingly limited range of words when they are naming their books. I decided to see if I could use the data I collected to create a kind of "uber-historical romance title" that would fit almost any book in the subgenre.

Out of 80 titles (I left out the "Historical Biography" category, which featured 4 queens, 1 king, and a virgin, on the grounds that it strayed toward nonfiction), titles that included the word:

Scotland or Highland: 11
Wicked: 9
Lord/Lady/Laird: 8 [This does not include Duke/Duchess(3), Courtesan(2), Queen(2), Marquess(1), Baron(1), Earl(1), or Knight(1)--including those would bring the total of nobility-based titles up to 19, or about 25% of the total]
Tempt/Temptation/Tempted: 7
Mid/Night: 4
Devil: 3

Now, the Scotland count is a bit skewed, due to the "Scotland-Set Historical Romance" category, which consists of five novels, but still, I didn't even include the new Diana Gabaldon in my assessment. I think we can probably place a large amount of the blame on her for the Scots-Romance boom.

Taking all these factors into consideration, I have decided that my Ultimate Historical Romance Title, which I will apply to an as-yet unwritten masterpiece of fiction, will be (drum roll):

Tempting the Wicked Scottish Lord at Midnight

A quick check of the Library of Congress assures me that this title is STILL AVAILABLE. I can hardly believe it! I should probably get to writing TWSLM right away, but as I am on vacation, I think I will put it off until 2010.

ETA: My favorite title on this list was, hands-down, The Runaway McBride.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Meditation on Recent Series Romance Novel Titles

Today I took the opportunity to inspect the Romantic Times Book Review nominees for the best books of 2009. I thought "hey, I'll take a look at this list, and see how many of these I actually ordered. They're supposed to be the best of the best, right?" Somehow I got from that noble goal to where I am now. First of all [disclaimer], we don't order a lot of series romance.1 There's such a tremendous volume of paper published every month by Harlequin, Silhouette, and so forth that our modest paperback budget can't possibly keep up. However, Best Series Romance Novels 2009 caught my attention for another reason: titling. Often absurd titling. Out of the 83 titles listed on the page, I discerned some interesting themes, which I will attempt to enumerate here:

Children/Babies/Family: 10 ["by surprise": 2]
I was guessing that The Mistake She Made and Next Comes Love might have something to do with pregnancy, but a check of Harlequin SuperRomance proved me wrong. Just as well. I also think that the whole "by surprise" thing (i.e., The Doctor's Surprise Family) is very odd.
Tycoon/Millionaire/Billionaire/Playboy, etc.: 10
Men with money is always a popular theme. We had a discussion on Twitter2 the other day about how these wealthy people are all, inevitably, male. Even the Merriam-Webster definition of "tycoon" agrees. I did gather, though, that Greek men are remarkably wealthy (The Greek Millionaire's Secret Child and Powerful Greek, Unworldly Wife).
Christmas: 5
Always a crowd pleaser. Extra bonus: Always Valentine's Day and A Cold Creek Holiday
Cowboy/Cowgirl/Maverick: 5
Has there been any long-lasting McCain/Palin impact? Only time will tell.

There were a smattering of titles involving military men and/or rangers (4), and not as many as I expected dealing with weddings (4). There were three books having to do with a boss romance (again, presumably the boss is male), my favorite of which was The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary.

By favorite, I mean ironic favorite, because my main complaint with this list--a list that is presumably a compilation of the best that a certain genre has to offer during a particular year--is that the titles are terrible. I mean, The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary? That sounds like something I would have come up with in my course on Titling When You Only Know Bare Details About Plot. Also, the implications are kind of creepy. For a lot of the titles, it sounds as if the publisher or author (I'm not sure where to place the blame) took the stereotype of the male character and the stereotype of the female character and stuck them together. These are the kinds of titles that I hate the most, Powerful Greek, Unworldly Wife and The French Tycoon's Pregnant Mistress being outstanding examples. Looking ahead at the Harlequin Presents upcoming releases, this trend will (sadly) be continuing into the new year: Prince of Mont├ęz, Pregnant Mistress and Untamed Italian Blackmailed Innocent, anyone? And no, there was no comma in that last title. Why bother?

So, without more ado, here is my list of five favorite best/worst titles from the list:

5. The Frenchman's Plain-Jane Project. It just doesn't flow, people.
4. Memo: The Billionaire's Proposal. Experimenting with formatting, I like that!
3. Seduced into a Paper Marriage. I am imagining a paper house, paper car, paper bed . . .
2. More than a Man. I hesitate to ask in what way.
1. Anna Meets Her Match. Now this one I would actually read.

That was an exhausting review. I'm just going to take the edge off a little by reading my prized copy of The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl--once I figure out why it didn't make the "Best-Of" cut.

1I would like to say at this point that I am an unapologetic reader of romance novels, and that Harlequin has my name and address and sometimes sends me free stuff, some of which is even cool (note the title of the top left cover). Now those are some gripping titles. It's a pleasant habit I formed long ago, at the feet (or on the shelves) of my mother, and I quite enjoy it.

2Thanks again to @Tuphlos, for always posting the BEST book covers on Twitter. And thanks to @MrsFridayNext, for teaching me how to do HTML footnotes.

ETA: Go here for the sequel to this post.

Update: Apparently Canadian researchers are also tackling this important subject (thanks @jpetroroy).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Meditation on Adult Services

Yes, another library post. Perhaps the end of the year has inspired me to be particularly reflective about my job, especially against a background of inevitable budget cuts? I work as a reference librarian in a public library, which means that technically I help anyone who asks me for help (and a few people who just look lost and happen to be in my vicinity), but my passion is really for serving the adult population. I believe that no matter how awfully local schools perform, children benefit from an infrastructure (teachers, counselors, parents) that exists to support them through a certain age. I know that there are flaws in that infrastructure, but when budgets are cut, there will always be more money preserved for schools (along with public safety), because who wants to go on record as being "against" educating our children? I hear they are The Future. A lot of the smaller libraries I've spent time in clearly devote more resources to the children's department, and who can blame them? Kids are supposed to be reading, while services for adults can always be construed, if it comes down to a choice, as optional. Kids are pretty much forced to try to learn stuff on some kind of schedule, while most adults have to try and figure things out for themselves.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty after working in public libraries for several years: Adults need our help, sometimes desperately. A lot of them don't have technological savvy or access to resources they need, and they often don't have the support of government, family, or work to make things easier. In fact, they often come to us for information on how to locate and use government-supported programs (such as the Safelink Wireless program). When I say adults, I'm not talking just about the homeless, or the elderly, or non-native English speakers. I'm talking about the ever increasing number of people who find that they are directed to an online employment application when they have very limited experience with computers. People who haven't visited the library for twenty years, and just want to know how everything works because they discovered that it's a lot cheaper to get DVDs at the library than at Blockbuster. People who need to figure out how the FAFSA (now completely online) works, so they can get their kids through college. Even adults who know how to use the catalog and Dewey (they do exist!) sometimes need help. These are the people who have the courage every day, as adults, to actually admit that they don't know something and ask another adult for help.

Yesterday someone--a judge, actually--queried me about whether I still had a job to do, considering the availability of information on the internet. For a lot of our service population, the existence of the internet actually makes life more complicated--not only do they need it to perform basic tasks like creating resumes and filling out job applications, printing pay stubs, looking up phone numbers, and communicating with friends and family, they need the library to provide access for them. Why? Guess what: Not everyone has the internet at home or at work, and in this economy, the number of people who do is not likely to increase.

I know that the library can't be all things to all people--we don't have the budget for it. But we do have computer classes, adult programs, one-on-one assistance, and an excellent collection of adult material designed to appeal to a broad segment of our population. In the purest world, one with a support system for adults that does a better job of making sure people don't fall through the cracks, the library would be all about voluntary self-education and entertainment. That world doesn't exist. My goal as a reference librarian is to help people--adults, teens, and children--find what they're looking for to navigate the world, even if they don't know exactly what that is when they come up to my desk. My desire is to be as open as welcoming as possible, so they feel comfortable interacting with me, and I try whenever possible to give them the tools to help themselves in the future. This is not to say that I don't help my share of people who go on to MySpace and post their provocative pictures, then complain when the computer freezes. And while I can't really argue with any serious conviction that libraries are more important that police, fire, or schools, I can say that I am proud of what I am doing every day to help adults survive in these tough times.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder [2009]

Jessie, the protagonist of Julie Halpern's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, has a dilemma. She's had two best friends, Bizza and Char, since first grade, and she's pretty much gone along with whatever trendy thing--starting in a band, writing a soap opera, or becoming punk groupies--they wanted to get into. But more and more, Jessie realizes that there are things she likes to do for herself, like make cool skirts, or kick ass at calculus. She's afraid that these things might get her the label of "nerd," though, so she keeps pretty quiet about her actual personality until Bizza finally crosses the line with the guy that Jessie's had a crush on for years. Never mind that the guy turns out to be a total jerk, Jessie finally has an excuse to branch out. After hanging some with the band geeks, she realizes that she might have more in common with the D&D playing nerds than she is entirely comfortable with. Will Jessie have the courage to make new connections with people she actually likes, even though it might get her the "nerd" label? Of course she will.

I've spent the time since I finished this book trying to figure out why I didn't love it. Was it the predictability? The present-tense narration (which I generally, inexplicably loathe whenever I come across it)? The obviousness of the story's message? Probably a combination of all these things. I would be worried that I might be ruined for "normal" (i.e., not paranormal) YA fiction, except I enjoyed Saving Francesca so much. What I liked most about this book was actually the relationship between Jessie and her older brother, Barrett, who is a senior to Jessie's sophomore. They have a great, supportive relationship, and I often found myself more interested in his plotline (renouncing punk and dating the most popular girl in school) than Jessie's. I also think the book is right about girl-frienship groups and how they change over time (or stagnate), I just didn't connect with the narrator. Perhaps because I am already a self-professed nerd.

Grade: C+

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Meditation on the Little Blue Stripe

Ok, I don't plan for this to become a baby blog or anything, but the truth is that there is an almost-three-month old living in my house (henceforth known as Baby G), and that has a significant impact on my life in a variety of ways. Now, I've never really had the charge of an infant before, so what I know about feeding, clothing, changing, and caring for him has only been knowledge recently acquired. Today's topic is diapers. Sure, we want to do the right thing and use cloth diapers most, if not all, the time. It theoretically costs less (although the price of the diapers we use, which have to be replaced as he grows, plus the cost of constant laundry, probably make it almost the same) and fills up fewer landfills. But anyway, the point is that we use disposable diapers more often than we probably should, and that has recently become a Problem.

See, when we were in the hospital, we were provided Pampers Swaddlers New Baby diapers, presumably because Pampers has some kind of sweet deal with Bay State where they provide the maternity ward with free diapers and then we all become addicted to their magical technology. Well, that's what happened--somehow we developed a kind of strange brand loyalty to Pampers, so much so that when we thought about switching to Huggies (heated conversation conducted in the Costco aisle), it would have functioned as a kind of betrayal. For me, the reason wasn't so much for the absorptive gel, or the lovable Sesame Street characters that adorn the diaper (except Elmo, he can disappear forever as far as I am concerned), but the blue stripe technology. Now, for those of you not in the know, the blue stripe appears as if by magic when the diaper is wet. Yellow = dry, blue = wet. Easy [click on "Product Tour"].

Now, I can recall thinking something along the lines of "Pampers has probably designed these so that they turn blue upon coming into contact with the smallest drop of pee, or perhaps even on a time-release formula, whether the kid pees or not, just to make sure that we use and therefore buy more diapers." I'm cynical like that. But even these thoughts did not shake my brand loyalty. In fact, the only thing that can shake my brand loyalty, apparently, is the disappearance of this technology in the next size up of diapers for Baby G. WHERE IS MY BLUE STRIPE, PAMPERS? I have honestly had several times in the last few days when I could not tell whether the diaper was wet or not, even when comparing it directly to an unused diaper, conducting a sniff test (these diapers are heavily perfumed--another argument for cloth, but that's another post), and weighing them thoughtfully in my hand. Now, I'm thinking that Pampers has deliberately designed their diapers to be as opaque as possible about their saturation level, in order to make use use, and therefore buy, more diapers. I am still cynical, see, but now I am cynical and deeply distressed. I am an outraged consumer of really expensive baby products, and apparently I am addicted to blue stripe technology.

The issue is one of Ruling Things Out. When Baby G is crying, a series of things must be ruled out as the cause of the upset before I throw my hands up and decide he is just having a fit. Number one on the list is, naturally, "is he wet?" When it is difficult to determine if this is the case, the whole chain of rulings-out is thrown out of whack and no progress can be made in the soothing of the baby until the question is settled. So Pampers, please get on this and make sure that all the diapers you produce have this capability. Or we are going to have to take our business elsewhere, such as the evil Huggies (whose server is currently too busy to even let me on the site to verify that their diapers are covered with Disney rather than Sesame Street--the question of why diapers must be decorated at all is the subject of yet another post), figure out an optimal cloth-diaper-washing strategy, or we might just buckle down and figure out when the stripe-less Pampers diapers are wet. Let's see if their website can offer any tips on when to change a diaper:
Diapers should be changed whenever they are wet or soiled. Your baby will often (but not always) let you know. With a super-absorbent diaper like Pampers diapers, you can tell if it's wet by feeling for lumps in the absorbent material. Here are some common times for changing diapers:

* Right before or right after every feeding
* After every bowel movement
* Before bedtime
* When your baby wakes up
* When you go out with your baby
So, basically, all the time. At any given moment, you will probably be changing your baby, have just changed your baby, or be about to change your baby. That's just about what I figured, Pampers. Thanks for that.

ETA: Apparently you can get the blue stripe if you buy the (more expensive) "sensitive" version. Hmm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Review: Secret Society Girl [2006]

After I read and enjoyed Rampant, and after following Diana Peterfreund's blog and learning about her path as an author, I decided the next logical step would be to go back and read Secret Society Girl, the first in her Ivy League series. I must confess that I know next to nothing about secret societies in general, and Yale secret societies such as Skull & Bones in particular (wasn't there some movie with Pacey from Dawson's Creek or something?), but that certainly didn't stop me from enjoying this tale of a literary magazine editor who finds herself unexpectedly "tapped" by the most exclusive society on the "Eli University" campus, here renamed "Rose & Grave." Amy Haskel is outspoken and career-focused, but she still feels like she doesn't quite belong with the few other women who are selected as the first female members ever to be inducted into Rose & Grave. The sudden change in Amy's life has her at odds with her (formerly BFF) roommate, keeping secrets from her sweet potential boyfriend, and also makes her unexpected allies with a circle of people she never would have otherwise known. Pledging to join a secret society, offering its members her "love and affection, everlasting loyalty, and undying fealty" turns out to have much more of an impact on Amy's life than she expected, especially when outraged and powerful alumni protest the decision to admit women by making Amy's life (and those of her new "brothers" and "sisters") as difficult as possible. Add that to boy confusion and post-college career angst, and you've got an action-packed series opener that had me eagerly ordering the second book through ILL.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

I couldn't help thinking about the Gilmore Girls repeatedly as I read the book. Not so much the Life & Death Brigade as the whole Yale University setting, the Daily News, etc. Now that was an excellent TV show.

The book was much more about the problem of integrating women into an all-male world than I thought it would be, and less . . . Gossip Girl-y. I guess maybe it was the title that had me thrown off? Not that this wasn't a pleasant discovery, and I probably should have known better given the delicate handling of sex and gender politics in Rampant.

An interesting post by Peterfreund about the "New Adult" marketing niche that the Ivy League novels purportedly fit into. And follow-up here.

I always appreciate a well-drawn gay or lesbian character in any high school or college-centered novel. I've been reading too many YA books lately, in particular, who act as if the GLBT population doesn't exist at all.

Book Review: Give Up the Ghost [2009]

Give Up the Ghost is the first novel published by Canadian author Megan Crewe, and its title has several layers of meaning. The protagonist, Cassandra McKenna, has been able to see ghosts since her older sister's drowning four years ago. She also harbors a grudge against her former (supposed) best friend, Danielle, who engineered Cass's fall into social obscurity after a seventh-grade falling out. Now a junior in high school, Cass finds a vicious pleasure in making public the secrets that her ghost friends find out about her fellow students. Unable to trust anyone living, she searches for a way to revenge herself on Danielle, only to find that the moment, when it comes, is not as sweet as she had anticipated. The novel is also the story of the popular student council vice president, Tim, whose struggle with the death of his mother from cancer leads him to the mysterious Cass. Not explicitly a romance, the book nonetheless follows Cass and Tim as they work to establish the intimacy of a real friendship against a backdrop of grief and self-doubt, each "giving up" what has been keeping them from moving forward.

I liked that the book embraced the discussion of difficult topics, such as death and social ostracism, but I thought at times that the relationship was developing too quickly (the novel takes place over the course of a few weeks) and I didn't like that Cass brushed off one of her ghost friends (the only friends she had for the past four years) on page 54, and the character never appeared again. But I also liked that Danielle was, by the end, more than a one-dimensional character. I am curious as to whether Crewe plans to write a sequel, as there are a few plot threads that were left unaddressed. I would be interested to see what direction she takes.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Library Routes Project

Or, how did I get here from there? After reading the Swiss Army Librarian's account of his journey into librarianship, I thought I would also take a stab at it. As he says, the idea is to talk about how you became a librarian. I am thinking about this more than usual today because the library director who exerted great effort to hire me for my current job passed away this morning. She was the latest in a line of library people who were willing to take a chance on employing me even though my experience was, to be quite honest, negligible or not quite fitting the job description. Thank you, EB.

I grew up with books as my constant, familiar companions. This is still how I prefer to live, but for some reason it never occurred to me to actually become a librarian until I had started and discarded various other career paths. After an indifferent high school experience (which included stints as an inventory "specialist" and ice cream scooper), I pursued an English major and History minor. My father was an English professor and my mother was a linguist and writer, and it seemed logical at the time. After three and a half years, applying to graduate school in English Lit seemed logical as well--and heck, my two best friends were doing it, so why shouldn't I? After a year at the University of Wisconsin, choking on Literary Theory and Old English, it became apparent that I probably should have taken some time off after college, that I wasn't really keen on the whole "teaching thing" that being a professor would entail, and that at the age of 23 I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I left the bosom of the Midwest and headed east to Connecticut with a job as a Technical Writer--well, two jobs, actually. One with my mother's company, and one with my aunt's freelance company. Nepotism: working for you. I learned that I really like to edit other people's work, and I earned the highest hourly rate that I am ever likely to earn while I was a corporate drone--for a relatively short time, before budget cuts led to my layoff.

It turns out that unemployment is both financially and emotionally draining. After a grueling period of inactivity, I pulled myself off the couch and started signing up with temp agencies. Thus began my career as an Office Manager. I had a couple of truly horrible temp jobs before finally striking on one that appreciated my many skills enough to actually hire me as a full-time employee (my first job with benefits!). I moved from job to job as a kind of glorified head secretary for a series of men who were deeply passionate about their non-profit organizations. At my last non-library job, I found that I enjoyed talking to parents and organizing the summer reading collection more than I did items in the actual job description such as booking travel and collating materials for the board meeting.

At this point my loving spouse asked me (for about the twentieth time) why the heck I didn't think about going to library school. I decided I might as well listen to her, because working as an Office Manager was really starting to make me feel like my work was without a purpose (even though I always worked for non-profits with missions in which I genuinely believed). We lived in Boston at the time, and had a friend who had applied to Simmons, though she ended up choosing a different school. I applied, was accepted, and started attending classes two nights a week in addition to working 9-5. While not an ideal situation, I was lucky enough to be taking classes that affirmed my feeling that this was the right direction. After moving back to Western Mass, going to school part time, and applying to pretty much any available library job, I had the great fortune to be hired by the Westfield Athenaeum as a part-time reference librarian, despite my previous library experience: processing books as a senior in high school in order to fulfill my community service requirement, and shelving books at the UW-Madison library. Whatever my boss saw in the panel interview, I'm glad that it made her want to hire me. In the meantime, I was also filling out my resume by volunteering--both for an academic library, in a preservation department, and for a local elementary school library. All of this was with the goal of knowing as much as I possibly could about all kinds of libraries before I graduated and got a "real" job, but it turned out that my first job as a reference librarian in a public library was the one I was ideally suited to do. Imagine that! Despite only having a year and a half of part-time reference work under my belt, I somehow convinced my current employers that I was worth hiring, and I have never been more content with the direction of my professional career.

What it comes down to is that Librarian is the first career that I didn't just fall into or passively accept as the best option available. I actively chose to pursue my MLIS, I sought out opportunities to broaden my experience in school, academic, and public libraries, and now I am reaping the rewards. I find that almost every day, I am excited to go to work. I know I am in the right place, and that knowledge is immensely satisfying. Sure, as a city employee I could easily get laid off tomorrow, but unemployment isn't as scary now that I know what I want to be doing for the rest of my working life.

ETA: Link to main page of Library Routes Project.

Follow-up: Meditation on Adult Services.