Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meditation on 2011-2012 Romance Novel Titles

It has been far too long since I've gazed deeply into the heaving bosom of romance novel titles, as I did in these previous posts. I'm about half a year behind schedule, in fact. The good news: this means I have TWO sets of Romantic Times award nominees to draw from (2011 and 2012), in addition to the Romance Writers of America 2012 RITA and Golden Heart awards list. The bad news is that this means I really can't compare this crop of titles to previous years. However, this project is based on my whims rather than any real degree of statistical accuracy. Onward!

Methodology: I copied and pasted all the titles of romance novels into an Excel spreadsheet, de-duplicated, and searched on various keyword stems based on my previous findings and anything else that struck me as relevant while I skimmed the list. That process looks like this:

There are 677 award-nominated titles on my list (some of which are short works rather than novels), and these are my favorites (links go to covers and descriptions):

A Misplaced Cowboy, like a comma, can end up where he shouldn't be.
What an Earl Wants is responsible for an insidious earworm every time it appears.
When You Give a Duke a Diamond, which I always imagine as part of this series.
Lady Doctor Wyre is the first in the Jane Austen Space Opera series. Think on that a moment.

Best Puns: Bathtub Jinn and The Sexorcist
Head:Desk: Daring to Date the Boss and Sheikh Surgeon Claims His Bride
WTF: Reclaiming His Pregnant Widow and Cat on a Hot Steel Flight Deck

Continuing Trends:

Nobility: As usual, being of noble birth is an excellent way to get yourself into a romance novel. Dukes were the clear winner last time, but this time they were supplanted by Ladies, who featured in 16 titles [followed by Duke and Lord, each with 11, Earl: 6, Heiress and Prince: 5, King: 4, and a variety of stragglers with two or three titles]. As for Sheikhs, there were three (plus one harem). Overall, more than 10% of all the nominated titles featured a mention of one or more nobles.

Scots: After a somewhat disappointing showing last year, the highlanders were back in force! Ten titles had "Highlander" in them. In addition, there were six "Scot" titles, one "Laird," and one "Kilt."

Punctuation: I can't help it, it's my favorite trend. This year, there were seven colons (Rancher's Twins: Mom Needed); five dashes, one question mark (Not Fit for a King?), and one ampersand.

Professions of Love:

I also scanned the titles to see what people's jobs were (beyond being noble). Mostly it's the men that get actual jobs, usually in some kind of protective capacity. There were the usual cowboys (7), soldiers (7), and warriors (5), as well as assorted rangers, ranchers, mavericks, and so on. Interestingly, there was one mention of a homesteader and one of a farmer. Some of the women allowed to have professions were three governesses and one nanny, most likely so that they could be seduced against their will from their subservient positions (Seducing the Governess). However, there was also one cowgirl and one lady doctor, so perhaps there's hope after all.

Rogues (7), rakes (1), renegades(2), rebels (3), and scoundrels (2) continued to be popular, although perhaps the low number is some indication that "rake," with its negative connotation, may be falling out of favor?


Most notably, the economic downturn seems to have finally penetrated the world of the romance novel, as there was no mention of millionaires, billionaires, tycoons, or magnates. There was also only one "Boss" title.

I definitely spotted a "how to" trend among the titles I scanned. Some novels gave contradictory advice, such as How to Seduce a Rogue and Never Seduce a Rogue, but the advisory urge was strong. There were six titles that begin with "How To," two "Guides" and one featuring "Rules," as well as three "Lessons." By picking up one of these books, you could learn:

How to Bake a Perfect Life
How to Dance with a Duke
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf
How to Marry a Duke
How to Seduce a Scoundrel
How to Woo a Reluctant Lady

Gender and Power Divides:

Breaking the titles down along gender lines required a little chart-making:

Almost all categories are dominated by the female-identified descriptor, which is . . . completely unsurprising.

I also wanted to talk a little about the language being used, which implies some value judgments. Love, it seems, is usually a scandalous enterprise:

These sin-ful titles make up almost 8% of the total. Many of them are likely historical romances, but I wanted to include them before this chart:

Mixed in with generic words such as "love" and "desire" are some that suggest lack of control and powerlessness. Generally, a loss of agency is exemplified by boss romances, but is also a prominent feature of many other romance subgenres. Combined with the previous chart, we can see a focus on surrendering, possibly against your will, to a scandalous desire. Again, not surprising.


  • Werewolves and vampires seem to be trending downward, with only three mentions of each (in addition to a "Wolf" and an "Alpha," giving the werewolves a dubious victory).
  • There were six mentions of angels and archangels and six mentions of devils or "devilish," which is likely an adjective rather than a demonic protagonist.
  • There were 11 mentions of homes, houses, and homecomings.
  • The sea and sea-related things, which seemed to be trending last year, only made it to four titles.
  • There were only 9 Christmas titles listed, plus two mistletoe titles and one Valentine's Day title.
  • Unsurprisingly, titles were much more likely to feature dark* (17) than light (1) or sun (2), with various iterations: moonlight (4), starlight (1), twilight (2), midnight (5), and of course night/nightfall (13). Things were also hotter (10) than they were cold (2).
  • There was also a certain amount of blood (7) and death (10). Romance can be hard.

Based on my findings, the most popular trends across all subcategories (occupations, atmospheric, descriptive, etc.) are:

Therefore, my suggested can't-miss titles for 2013, according to my crystal ball algorithm (drumroll):

Bride of Scandal, Lady of the Secret Dark
Seducing the Scandalous Lady by Nightfall: Her Secret Bride's Lover (this plot is super complicated)

If you're an author, these titles are free for the taking. Strike while the iron is hot! Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.

Meditation Index

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reading Roulette

I've described before the feeling of never having enough time to read all the books that I want to read, even if I locked myself in a room (with snacks) and ignored the world. This year I did a much better job of reading the books I wanted to read, and next year I'm planning on keeping up the pace. To introduce more variety into my reading diet, however, I want to experiment with my TBR pile. This is where you come in. I'm asking people who read this post or follow me on Twitter to recommend one book that they think I should read/would enjoy--fiction, nonfiction, genre, picture book, classic, new release--the type of book doesn't matter to me, just the recommendation.

I'm going to put all the recommendations in my GoodReads account as "Want to Read" and select the next book I read using random.org's number generator. Because I am a creature of moods, I'm going to generate three numbers and pick each next book from the three random results. I will give each book at least 50 pages (per Nancy Pearl), after which I can decide to put it down and move to the next randomly generated book. I will report on my results here.

I already have several books on my "Want to Read" list that friends have been surprised I haven't read, such as The Handmaid's Tale and The Giver, so feel free to browse over there and see what shocking gaps I have.

Please leave me a comment on this post or @ me on Twitter, and let me know what I should read next! I will accept submissions until December 31st.

ETA: If it ends up being a later book in a series, I'll go back to the first book or the latest book I read in that series. If a book is prohibitively expensive for me (can't be acquired via ILL or purchased for a reasonable price, I will pick another option).

First Pick
Second Pick
Third Pick
Fourth Pick

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Meditation on My Ideal Book Format

It would be an unusual day if I didn't encounter a new article on ebooks, format wars, or a dire warning about the death of libraries, publishing, and print. As I've written here before, I prefer to read books on paper, but I do move around a lot and I want to be able to read everywhere all the time (yes, even the bathroom) so that I can squeeze as many books as possible into my life. I have been envisioning a comprehensive package that would allow me the tactile experience I love about print books, but also enable me to listen to same book in the car or read the ebook version in line at the grocery store, even if I haven't planned ahead to borrow the same book in three formats at the same time.

My first concept would probably be a nightmare to manufacture and would no doubt be immediately obsolete, but it made me giggle:

Drawn when I still had a car with a stick shift.
I have been idly contemplating this for a while, but what brought me back to it was a news item that Angry Robot will be giving away ebook versions of their items--at select stores--when customers purchase the print version. Why is this option not automatically made available for all newly published books? With both audio and electronic versions accessible (when they've been created) at the click of a button, having some kind of tiered pricing/package system for consumers like me should not be impossible.[1]

My pipe dream:

For a new hardback title, I would be happy to pay from $15-20 for the "base" book, which would be whatever edition I purchase first, whether print or electronic or audio. Let's say I bought a print version of Lois McMaster Bujold's upcoming book Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (hardback list price: $25.00), preordering it as I usually do through my local independent bookseller. On the eve of publication, I become so overwhelmed by desire to read the book that I pay an additional $5-$7 on top of the list price for the ebook version to be delivered immediately. I have to sleep sometime, though, and I don't finish the book before it's time to drive to work in the morning. I don't want to stop reading or call in sick, so I purchase the audio version for an additional $5-$7 on top of what I've already invested. I'm happy that I'll be picking up the print version, because I know this is a book I want to keep and re-read, but I'm willing to pay $10+ for a short-lived (format-wise) electronic and audio experience. I think it's pretty clear that my child will not be inheriting my ebooks.

Unlike a library, I don't have the money to spend on the print book and the ebook and the audiobook if they are all packaged and priced separately (around $75.00 minimum). Nor do I think that I should have to; they are the same intellectual property and the shelf-life of anything electronic is questionable at best. However, I do understand that artists should be compensated for their work, and I know that ebooks and audiobooks come with their own associated production costs. I am willing to contribute money to offset those costs and indicate that they are valuable to me.

In my vision, any of the three versions could serve as the "base" version . . . if I buy the audiobook at $15-20 and subsequently decide that I really want the print version as well, I should be able to "add it on" through my local bookstore or the publisher for a fractional cost.

I realize that I may a bit of an oddball, because I will not be buying anything from Amazon or a large retailer at a deep discount; I pretty much always pay list price unless I find something used. But I am very willing to pay that price to support both my favorite authors and local businesses, especially if I could have the format flexibility that would fit my peripatetic lifestyle. In the meantime, I'm happy patronizing the library and buying books that I've already read.

Am I completely insane? Obviously, the numbers would have to be adjusted for mass market books. I would love to have a discussion about this.

Meditation Index

[1] Entitled, internet-having, and willing to spend a chunk of cash on books.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Meditation on Reading Deadlines

I recently participated in a panel at the American Library Association conference which required me to read (or at least familiarize myself with) a large chunk of nonfiction books by a certain deadline. I am not a very good skimmer--I tend to get caught up in reading from wherever my eyes land--and I'm not a very fast reader, either. I knew I had to buckle down. What I discovered when faced with this hard deadline was amazing diversity in my procrastination methods.

With a large pile of sports books to read (most of which I actually wanted to read), I:
  • Perused the new fiction section at work
  • Perused the romance section at work
  • Perused the science fiction and fantasy section at work
  • Requested books I knew I didn't have time to read through interlibrary loan
  • Requested audiobooks, which I thought I could justify a little more easily, through interlibrary loan--even though I had a pile of sports audiobooks as well
  • Eyed the books on my shelves at home and contemplated re-reading, which I haven't allowed myself to do for several years
  • Started at least five non-assigned nonfiction books that looked interesting
  • Started and finished several romance novels
  • Started and finished Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Checked Twitter
  • Checked Google Reader
  • Checked Facebook
  • Checked Twitter again (x100)
  • Reorganized my To Be Read list
Many times I wouldn't even consciously realize I was procrastinating until another day had passed and the pile of unread books remained at the same daunting height. It would simply "slip my mind" that I had a lot of reading to do, given the weight of important tasks such as laundry. I spent more than twenty years of my life in school. I remember being able to do my homework in a timely manner. No more.

I guess I also remember working on projects the night before they were due, as a matter of course.

Should I just declare myself incapable of reading things "on time"? Please don't put me on an awards committee (I blanched when they described the rigorous selection process at the Carnegie medal award ceremony) unless I have an entire year to read fewer than fifty books. My habits of reading slowly and reading ten things at once is one reason that I don't seek out a lot of advanced copies of books; by the time I get around to actually reading them, the book has been published and any buzz has long since dissipated. However, I do actually get around to reading books that have been recommended to me, even if it takes two, three, or even more years.

I am happy to report that I did eventually get all the required reading done for my panel, so maybe I'm not completely hopeless. How did I manage it? By creatively procrastinating until the pressure was intense enough to spur me into action. This graphic seems appropriate: I've done a lot of perseveering and persavowing during the last few months. It's good to know that I can do it, even if I always take the long way around.

Meditation Index

Friday, June 8, 2012

What I Learned from Armchair BEA

I am not a "book blogger."

I read for me, I write for me. 

I don't care about giveaways.

I don't have the patience or discipline to write posts on subjects I'm not interested in.

I would like to have the patience and discipline to write more often.

I enjoy meeting people online.

I enjoy adding books to my TBR list, even though it may be years before I read them.

I'm not a book blogger, but I love writing about books and libraries.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Best of 2012

I've read books in 2012, but reviewed very few of them here, which means that I will be able to surprise you all with my favorite picks, yes? The trouble for me is finding books that were actually also published in 2012, since I tend to explore backlist books quite often (especially as I am years behind on my TBR pile). Nevertheless, here are my choices:


Young Adult
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
A Montana girls loses her parents and believes it's because she's kissed another girl. Danforth takes the time to spin out the narrative into something substantive. Longer review here.

Speculative Fiction
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
When Myfanwy Thomas wakes up surrounded by bodies, she remembers nothing of her past life. She has only a series of letters from her past self to guide her through a treacherous secret agency and the use of her own mysterious powers.

Lesbian Romance
Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker
A solid lesbian romance by my favorite author in the genre. Longer review here.

As for most expected-to-be-coveted books of the year, I am very much looking forward to the publication this month of Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars, as well as Lois McMaster Bujold's latest Vorkosigan saga book, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, for which I must impatiently wait until November!

For those interested in forthcoming books, check out this Kirkus Reviews post on the Top 10 Most Coveted Speculative Fiction Titles at BEA.

ETA: I don't know how I could have forgotten how excited I am about The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks, which is due out in September. I burned through the first book in the series and have been waiting for this one ever since I read the last page. Suvudu published an interview with Weeks that just served to whet my appetite.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA Interview

It's June, and I'm scheduled to go to the ALA conference later this month. New York City is so close . . . yet so far. Yet another year that I will be unable to go to BEA, when I will have to live vicariously through others and remember the year I went and then ran off to the airport, leaving my poor co-worker with several tote bags worth of swag . . .

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I am a reference librarian at a public library in Massachusetts. I've been blogging for more than five years, but I didn't get serious about writing reviews until about three years ago. I find that blogging allows me an opportunity to write critically, and sometimes about difficult topics, which otherwise I would not seek out. I've fallen a bit behind here lately in terms of reviewing (although I have certainly been reading); most of my recent reviews are posted over at the Lesbrary. My favorite genres are science fiction, fantasy, and romance (especially lesbian romance), but I have been known to dabble in mystery and have a soft spot for Victorian novels. I am responsible for ordering all the adult paperbacks and graphic novels at my library, so I am very interested in all that's new and popular.

2. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?

I'm currently reading Naomi Novik's Crucible of Gold, the seventh book in the Temeraire series. My favorite book so far this year was definitely Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Such a fantastic book featuring a conflicted adult female protagonist.

3. What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?

I like to analyze romance novel titles for trends. See my Meditation on 2010 Romance Novel Titles, especially if you like bar charts. I'm working on a new one for later this month.

4. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

I love romance novels, and generally I write positive reviews. But sometimes what I love even more is poking fun at books. When I read certain books, I get the best of both worlds, as when I reviewed The Master's Mistress.

5. Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?

I started blogging more frequently when I started working full-time as a librarian. I wanted to make sure that I was reading more outside my comfort zone so I could be better at reader's advisory, and (somewhat to my surprise) I ended up liking a lot of the things I was reading--urban fiction, nonfiction, and even some literary fiction.

I look forward to watching the action from my cozy, cat-draped chair! I can usually be found on Twitter @helgagrace if you would like to chat!

Image courtesy of By Resonance african furniture (http://www.resonanceonline.co.za/), via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meditation on the Joys of Reading Alone (Together)

Book Riot recently published a post called "What I Hate About Being a Reader," in which item four was "Reading Alone":
Reading can be doubly isolating. First, it is inherently a solitary practice. But there is also the secondary isolation that comes from reading’s cultural marginalization: the difficulty of finding people who not only read as you do, but read what you do. I think most serious readers have a desire to discuss what they’ve read with others, but those others can be so hard to find. The internet has been a boon for this, but I think we also know that online discussion doesn’t compare to in-person discussion.
I would like to make a case for social reading. A lot of people seem to view picking up a book in a social context as exclusionary, or even rude. Beyond the simple remedy of reading aloud, or listening to an audiobook as a group, reading can also be a social activity. Here is the radical premise:

It is possible, perhaps even desirable, to read quietly to yourself in a room in which other people are reading, and to feel like you are spending quality time with those people. 

That's right, I am talking about reading as a social activity. Imagine spending a few hours at a friend's house, reading on comfortable furniture and occasionally going for more snacks. One friend chuckles as she hits a particularly delectable passage. Another is completely absorbed in her book, which she is reading on her e-reader. A third has finished his book and moved on to one of his backups. The predominating sounds are pages turning and cats purring (it's my fantasy, so there are cats).

After some time has passed, reading time may end in favor of games and conversation. For some people, it may not end until they prepare to go home. Far be it from me to interrupt someone who is nearing the end of their book. At some point, the readers may wish to discuss books in a spoiler-free manner.  This kind of gathering--a shortened version of which could be held at a local coffee shop--would counter both kinds of isolation described above. Not only does it provide a built-in discussion group, but when you see friends reading (and enjoying) books, it acts as a forum for recommendation.

At my library, one of my co-workers hosts a book discussion group in which she previews upcoming titles and each member comes prepared to talk about the books they've been reading. A "book discussion" doesn't necessarily mean that all present have read the same book. At many of the personal book club meetings I've attended, there are usually several people who haven't read or finished the assigned book, which somewhat defeats the purpose of meeting to discuss it. Why not have a gathering in which everyone gets to read what they want to read, and discuss it if they feel like talking about it?

Suggested guidelines for social reading (conceived with assistance from friends on Twitter):
  • Limit reading aloud, even if the passages are the best ever. Mark them to share later.
  • Avoid talking. Most people like to read in relative quiet.
  • No spoilers during discussion time.
  • Bring a backup book or three.
  • Turn off the wireless capability.
More suggestions? Anyone want to read near me?

Meditation Index

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Clutching the Obsolete: A Meditation On The Stick Shift

I recently purchased a new (to me) car. It was definitely time--my old car, a 1998 Honda Civic, had finally reached the point where the cost to repair its many problems far outweighed its actual value. With the assistance of my girlfriend, I auditioned new cars and found one that seemed like an acceptable replacement. In many ways the new car is a huge upgrade over my previous car. First and foremost, it has air conditioning. It has power windows and locks! It's a hybrid! It's also a Honda Civic! It doesn't have over 200,000 miles! You can't pick off rusty pieces from its side in an idle moment! It has a USB port! It has a trunk that actually stays closed! However...


It's an automatic. I've never had a car that was my car that didn't have a standard transmission. My mother taught me to drive stick on our family's Honda Civic (sensing a trend yet?) station wagon, which was a tearful and sometimes frustrating process for both of us, but ultimately I mastered the ability to shift. Sure, I went to Driver's Ed as well, but I really learned to drive when I was in that car with my mom. Once you've stalled in the middle of a busy intersection and can't get going again, or in the middle of a large hill--unable to continue, but afraid to roll back--it all comes together fairly quickly. It takes longer for the remembered panic to fade, however. I never quite pushed the envelope the way that she did, whipping around corners in third gear, but I relished the control over my cars that shifting seemed to impart.

I discovered after leaving home that driving a stick was not really a . . . standard skill to have, especially as a woman. Demand for manual transmissions is down, as are the numbers of people who know how to drive them. Most new cars aren't even made with manual transmissions, and fewer than 7% of cars sold are standards. When I was making my car purchase, I actually did make a conscious choice between a manual Honda Fit and an automatic Civic. I went with the automatic for a lot of reasons that continue to make sense. But a certain portion of me--personified while I'm driving by my restless, useless left foot--regrets the choice.

Late, lamented
While I'm enjoying my new automatic, I also miss that tie to my mother, especially my ability to pass on the knowledge to the next generation. My toddler and I used to sit in my old car and roll the windows up and down, push and pull the locks, and play with the gear shift. These are things that will soon be as obsolete as dialing a rotary telephone or owning VHS tapes. Even though I knew I was going to have to buy a new car in the next thirteen or fourteen years, I had a romantic notion of teaching my son to drive a stick shift. Obsolete skills, like DNA, have a strong urge for self-perpetuation. A small voice argues that it might be useful someday, wherever his life eventually takes him.

Aside from the opportunity for parental instruction, I regret the fact that I am no longer a part of the club of stick shift drivers, even though my exit was voluntary. I've always loved coming to a stop on a hill and keeping perfect balance between my clutch and gas, standing still without needing a brake. I loved listening to my car and figuring out the perfect time to change gears. When I graduated from college, I got a car from my family. It was a four-speed Honda Civic (surprise!), and I adored it and promptly drove it across the country and back again. Using my car, I taught (or tried to teach) several people to drive a stick. I relish the idea that I can drive pretty much any car that's parked in front of me, once I have the keys in hand. It feels independent. I miss the feeling of control, the nuance, the fact that you are forced to pay attention to the car and not the phone or the drink.

Luckily, I have a plan. In fourteen years, I will go to Europe. I can teach my son to drive a standard and sight-see at the same time. My mother would definitely approve.

Further Reading:
Check the Manual (Transmission): Stick Shift Cars Going Away
Death to the Stick Shift (ouch)
Parents Hope Stick Shifts Will Keep Kids Minds on Driving (ah, local news)

Meditation Index

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post [2012]

Emily Danforth’s debut young adult novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, got several positive reviews in the mainstream media (I heard about it from NPR, but it also got a coveted starred review from Kirkus). Miles City, Montana native Cameron Post is twelve when her parents are killed in a tragic accident near Quake Lake. Because she had just kissed her best friend Irene (and liked it), Cameron feels a certain amount of responsibility for their deaths, as well as relief that they will never find out. She withdraws into a world of video rentals and creative activity centered around decorating an old dollhouse with scraps and pocketed mementos. In high school, she strikes an uneasy balance with her grandmother and conservative Christian aunt while pursuing her own small-town rebellions. . . and the friendship and attention of the beautiful Coley Taylor. When the sexual tension between Cameron and Coley comes to a head, Cameron ends up at God’s Promise, a conversion camp for gay teens. There, despite the restrictive environment, she begins to address her feelings about the loss of her parents and come to some kind of peace with herself.

There’s a lot in this synopsis that I’ve left out: the importance of Quake Lake to Cameron and her family; Cameron’s boy/friend; her first fling and lesbian know-it-all friend Lindsey; little details about the town and the landscape of Montana; Cameron’s friends at God’s Promise, including Jane Fonda and her prosthetic leg; the early 90s references; the process of the conversion therapy . . . the book is not easily summarized, which is one of its strengths. It’s a complex narrative that weighs in at around 500 pages and apparently could have been much longer (great interview, scroll down for a mention of a “lesbrarian”). Danforth deftly weaves the threads of setting and plot together in such a way that the book’s length feels justified--a slow burn--rather than oppressive.

The story is set in the author’s home town, and Danforth calls the work an “autobiographical novel.” It’s clear from the detail that her Miles City is grounded in the real Montana, even as she adapts it to suit the needs of Cameron’s story. The chronological setting of the book is also intriguing. It opens in 1989 and follows Cameron through her first few years of high school. This mirrors my own experience almost exactly; I graduated from high school in 1995. The internet looms large due to its absence--if only it were a few years later, the reader thinks, Cameron could see the larger community of people that awaits her outside the boundaries of her world. Lindsey provides a glimpse of that wider world, from her liberal Seattle enclave, but wider acceptance will have to wait until Cameron comes to terms with herself and finds her own place.

It’s interesting that Miseducation was blurbed by Sarah Waters; the scope of Danforth’s work sometimes recalls the narrative sweep I loved about Tipping the Velvet, although the novels have very little in common. They are both lesbian coming-of-age stories, and Cameron and Nan are similarly out of their depth as they make their way through an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile world. Danforth leaves the ending somewhat open--Cameron has done some of the work she needs to do, especially where her parents’ deaths are concerned--but the book left me with a “what happens next?” complaint. I would like to spend more time with Cameron as she continues to grow up, and I wonder what’s next for Danforth.

Grade: A

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

I spent a lot of time half-thinking the title was The Miscegenation of Cameron Post, which . . . is a completely different book. Spellcheck does not like "miseducation" as a word. Of course, spellcheck doesn't like "spellcheck" as a word, either. The title recalls the album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which I haven't thought about in years.

Book Review Index
Dead Mother: Yes

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sports I Love: College Basketball Tournament Time

It's March, which means it's time for college basketball tournaments. I'm not nearly as invested in bracketology or "being right" about likely winners as I am in watching good games and finding someone to root for. Because of its single-elimination format and the difficulty of seeding 64 (or more) teams, every game has a potential for surprise and upset. Players appear in the limelight who have never graced the national stage before. Dynasties are toppled and legends made. Announcers throw stats around. Cameras zero in on people's parents in the crowd. In terms of thematic appeal, March Madness gets a bit closer to the fuzzy-focus backstories of the Olympics than NBA games typically do. Another appeal of the tournaments (both men's and women's) is their finite nature. They're not a season-long commitment. If you want to, you can tune in and out, and pretty soon it's baseball season.

Last week, my father and I watched NCAA tournament games in the same room for the first time since . . . 1995, probably, since that was the year I graduated from high school. We watched, we rooted, we stayed up too late, we said nearly identical things at the same time. He proved remarkably accurate when guessing the home town of various corn-fed-looking Indiana University players. For me, the real appeal of March Madness is the narrative, both the one being created each year and the one that we, as fans, bring to the table. As a family policy, we root for the University of Kansas because my mother went to undergrad there, and we root for Indiana University because my parents went to grad school there and first met there and after enough years of rooting for IU you start to feel like you've always rooted for IU, although now it's easier to root for IU without reservations, since Bobby Knight has nothing to do with the team. I remember the excitement of the 1987 championship, even though I was ten at the time. I remember (more bitterly) the fact that I was under anesthesia for surgery for my broken elbow the next year and missed the 1988 title game, which Kansas won.

After years of watching, I've developed a patchwork quilt of teams that I root for (I do my best to try not to root against teams, with the exception of BYU and Duke and North Carolina), both on the men's and women's sides:

Utah: I root for all University of Utah teams and have since I was a wee lass.
Tennessee: I love Pat Summitt. I hope that last night was not her last game as a coach, but if it was, she's created a fabulous legacy.
Connecticut: I don't love Geno Auriemma so much, but his teams play solid basketball, and where I live you can see them on regular TV.
Notre Dame: Their coach is named Muffet McGraw. Plus my relationship to Knute Rockne has somehow translated into rooting for all ND teams?
Rutgers: Coach C. Vivian Stringer is kick-ass.
Stanford: Coached by out lesbian Tara VanDerveer, consistently excellent team.

Utah: See above.
IU and KU: See farther above.
Gonzaga: John Stockton went to school there (and his son goes there now).
Wisconsin: I went to graduate school there, and somehow that translates to me rooting for the men's basketball team and the football team, but that's it.

Further Breakdown:
After these options are exhausted, I will root for:
  • Anyone from the Big 10 playing someone not from the Big 10
  • The underdog
  • Whoever has better uniforms
  • Someone playing BYU or Duke or UNC
  • Whoever has a better mascot
  • Both teams
As I look at this list, I realize that it's usually more about the coaches than the kids on the team; they're likely to be consistent year after year, even if they end up moving to a different school at some point. I enjoy seeing tournament standouts in the NBA or WNBA, but I think of the teams as belonging to their coaches rather than their players. In any case, I never have any trouble finding something to root for, because that's how I thread myself into the narrative. And if I can do it with my father groaning and cheering at my side, so much the better.

Other sports I love: badminton, football, baseball, figure skating, tennis, and soccer. Consider this post an addendum to my earlier post on basketball, since that one gives a better picture of my history with the sport.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Meditation on Cautionary Sayings

"Liquor before beer, never fear. Beer before liquor, never sicker."

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailor's warning."

"Leaves of three, let them be."

Helpful warnings, couched in rhyme. Judging by the search results on Google, that first one is confusing to many people, and an urban legend to boot.

But what about sayings that are relevant to life today? We are not sailors, except on the tides of social media. We do not encounter poison ivy, because we never go outside except to get in our cars to drive somewhere and go inside again. Where are the rhymes for our times?

I've taken it upon myself to come up with some that I hope will catch on like (virtual) wildfire.

First and foremost: "Meet them online, everything's fine. Meet them in person, things may worsen." This, coupled with "Make it funny, you're in the money; if it's lame, you're to blame" should just about cover any social situation you might find yourself in.

More general advice for modern living:

"Aiming for nonagenarian? Go vegetarian!"

"Red as a beet? Don't eat that meat!"

"If it has lime, it's worth your time." (Electric Company, anyone? Anyone?)

"If the zombies are walkin', don't go a-knockin'"

"If he's flashing fang, don't tap that thang."

"Leaves of seventy-one, isn't counting fun?"

"Cat on the lap, prepare to nap. Cat on the floor, OK to adore. Cat on the 'nip, prepare for a trip."

Given five or ten years, I'm pretty sure that these too will be myths that NBC Today Health will be happy to debunk for us. 

Additional cautionary sayings encouraged in the comments.

ETA: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be, unless you work at a library."

Meditation Index

Library Day in the Life: Closed to the Public Edition

Last week, I participated in the latest round of Library Day in the Life. I posted tidbits here and there on Twitter using the hashtag (#libday8), but it took me a while to settle on what day I wanted to give an in-depth treatment. My library is closed to the public every Friday due to budget cuts, but we still report to work. What goes on at the library when there are no patrons waiting at the desk and mobbing the computers? More than the non-stop partying that you're probably imagining.

My day started a bit later than the usual 9:00 due to a dentist's appointment (loose filling, yay), but I made it into the locked building and was immersed in social media by 10:00. It's not uncommon to see people on the way in to the library--patrons who don't know we're closed, those who just want to return some items and don't know that the drop box is on the other side of the street, tourists looking for the museums, which are on the other side of the building.

When there are no desk hours to provide structure, it can be easy to fritter away a Friday. I prefer to have several projects over the course of the day, so I don't get stuck or bored with what I'm doing. Fridays are an excellent day to weed, for example, because I can work uninterrupted with my lists and my cart. I might also go through paperback donations, change a display, work on reports, and so on. However, this week I had a definite goal: purchase used video games for the young adult collection.

Over at the other blog, I recently posted a look at my library's video game collection. I mentioned that the Friends of the Library had sent me $100 so that I could fill some of the holes created by missing and billed items. I began by generating a list of all games with a missing/billed/repair status, then sorted by platform and by circulation. Several games had multiple missing copies. I highlighted a few high-circulating games for my wish list, but decided I couldn't really do much more without going to the store, since I didn't know what they would have in stock--especially in terms of Playstation 2 games. My goal was to buy as many of the games from my list as feasible given my limited budget.

I went to the nearest store, which was a GameStop. I was greeted by an outside display of relatively cheap used Playstation 2 games, several of which were on my list. I had a little more trouble finding other titles: either they were absent altogether, in a case without the original packaging, or they were priced over $15. However, eventually I was able to pull together a stack of games that rang up for about $99.

It felt a little bit like being on Trading Spaces, but I felt that nine games for $100 was a good deal, considering the cost of a new game. While I was there, I also scoped out their DS collection, since I'm planning on expanding our holdings that direction with my next order. The clerks did not win any points with me by telling another buyer that the 4GB version of a console was "for girls" (". . . or amateurs," they hastened to clarify). However, I won points with them because of my Kon wallet, and suggested that they might try the library for some of the manga and anime they were missing after the demise of Megaupload. Girls--not so stupid, after all.

After I got back to work, I was all fired up to work on my video game order, but the site was down (naturally), so I contented myself with making an Excel spreadsheet with all the titles I wanted, cross-checking holdings in the Western Mass system and the number of holds on certain items. Some games, such as Call of Duty, didn't make my list because of their M rating, but at least there are some libraries out there willing to venture into that murky territory. I passed off the used games to tech services and spent the rest of the day fiddling with numbers, checking the library's email, and checking The AV Cafe to see if it was up again (it wasn't).

And danced in my cubicle.

Links to my other Library Day in the Life posts:
A Day in the Life of a Reference Librarian
Weekend Edition
Late Shift Edition
Collection Development Edition

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: Accidentally the Sheikh's Wife [2010]

My friend Kristin (@shinyinfo) collects sheikh-related romance novels as part of her work at the Arab American National Museum, and I have been happy to send along those that come across my desk, either discards or donations that I don't add to my library's collection. I decided to read Accidentally The Sheikh's Wife before I sent it on to her.

Pilot Bethanne Saunders has been hired to deliver a private jet to her company's wealthy client, Sheikh Rashid al Harum, after picking up his fiancee in Morocco. However, once the plane has landed, it's clear that the fiancee never made the flight. Anxious to save face and conclude the lucrative business deal that the marriage was supposed to consummate, Rashid suggests that Bethanne play the role of his love interest for a short time. Despite complicating factors--her father disappeared several years ago with his father's plane and she is attempting to find out what really happened--she agrees. Mutual attraction ensues. Will these two crazy kids ever manage to get together?

First of all, let's discuss the title. Accidentally The Sheikh's Wife exemplifies a lot of what I dislike about romance novel titles. Let's call them the three Is: inaccuracy, irrelevance, and inanity. It is extremely difficult to imagine anyone getting "accidentally" married. The only romance novel I've ever read where it was almost believably done was Sanguinet's Crown by Patricia Veryan, and we are a far cry from that level of sophistication here. In addition, Bethanne enters into a bargain with the sheikh of her own volition. It is not accidental. It is not even an accident that she's the only eligible female on board the plane when it touches down in his fictitious country of Quishari,* it's the result of his fiancee running off with another man. One could call it coincidence or even contrivance, but it's not an accident. However, it may be an accident of birth that she's apparently smokin' hot. But when it came down to it (on page 182), he asked her to marry him and she said yes.

Author Barbara McMahon seems to quite enjoy the setting; she's written eight books for Harlequin with "sheikh" (or the less preferred "sheik") in the title, and another (Her Desert Family) that features a sheikh. As for the plot itself, it was slight but surprisingly non-mockable. Rashid pursues his business deal, Bethanne pursues her inquiries into her father's death, and they gradually get to know each other against the backdrop of a tiny Middle Eastern country. I am not in the position to analyze the faithfulness of McMahon's depiction of sheikh life, but it did seem a bit strange that no one would bat an eye about Bethanne's extreme whiteness, not to mention her humble origins. Instead, her potential mother-in-law was skeptical of her un-feminine choice of profession and the main obstacle was the fact that everyone believed her father was a thief.

Grade: C+

The text didn't even have that many typos, although I do have a favorite: "Bethanne didn't abuse her of the idea that she was being considered for Rashid's wife" (104). The writing was incredibly tame--there wasn't even any [spoiler alert] sex! Which was kind of refreshing, actually.

Bottom line: It's no The Master's Mistress.

*I've been inspired to start a list of fictional romance novel countries. Feel free to submit any that you know in the comments.

Book Review Index
Dead Mother: No

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Meditation on My 2011 Year in Reading

It's hard to believe that another year has come to a close, and with so many books on my TBR list still unread! This past year I challenged myself to read 50 books, and I exceeded that goal handily, so obviously I am going to have to up the ante for 2012.* As usual, I did a significant chunk of my reading in audio format. This was the first year that I read a significant number of books--more than one or two--in electronic format. I can't say I prefer  reading on a screen, but I appreciate the convenience factor, especially where review copies are concerned. I've been keeping track of books I've read using Goodreads, because I no longer have the time or energy to write reviews here for everything I read. Here is the breakdown:

Read: 62 books + one awful novella (including 19 audiobooks and 10 ebooks)
Lesbian Fiction: 12
Fantasy: 11
Science Fiction: 8
Young Adult: 8
Mystery: 5
Romance of the non-lesbian variety: 5
General Fiction ("literary" or otherwise): 5
Nonfiction: 4
Humor: 2
Manga: 2
Children's: 1

I read fewer Young Adult books this year in my attempt to branch out, and those I did read were generally SF or Fantasy. Some of the books I finished, such as Reamde and A Dance With Dragons, were real doorstops, and I read several SF works that collected 2-3 books in one volume (Goodreads estimates the total page numbers as over 23,000, but of course the audio factor complicates that statistic).

I read many first volumes of a series and failed to read the next installment, even if it had already been published (Wake, The Penderwicks, The Name of the Wind, Acacia, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Dust, Leviathan). My uptick in lesbian fiction reading was due largely to signing on as a reviewer at the Lesbrary. In that capacity I now have a monthly deadline to read books that I'd probably read at some point anyway. Everyone wins. For a full list of the books I read last year, visit my Goodreads page.

In last year's meditation on my reading year, I claimed that I would read more books that were recommended to me, and that I wanted to participate in the "Women of Science Fiction" online book group. I did in fact read several books that were out the usual way, placing impulse holds on things when I came across a review that particularly appealed to me. The online book group started well but my attention petered out quickly as my priorities wandered. It turns out that I am terrible at reading books on a schedule now that I've been out of school a few years, and the Lesbrary takes up all of my minimal power in that regard. However, I did read Cordelia's Honor as part of that group, which led me to the Vorkosigan universe in which I am still happily enmeshed.

In the coming year, my goal is to read as much nonfiction as I do fiction, not only because reading The Swerve reminded me that I love history (there's a reason I had a History minor to go along with my English major), but because I'm participating in a panel at ALA 2012 entitled "The Great Non-Fiction Readalike: If You Like This, You’ll LOVE That!" I have ideas on what makes for good reader's advisory in nonfiction, of course, but I would like to do a little more personal experimentation as I prepare.

I am looking forward to a year full of books and discussion!

ETA my favorite books of the year:

In the Woods
The Spymaster's Lady
The Long Goodbye
Cordelia's Honor
The Swerve

*Although if I counted the many, many picture books I've read to my son in the past year, I'm sure I'd be in the 200s.