Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Because what we need more of in the world is Harry Potter comics.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

John Green Update

John Green and David Levithan's fantastic funny heart-warming musical all-around-good-time novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson has made it into the top five finalists for teen Book of the Year. Mockingjay is also in there. If you are a teen, you can vote for the Book of the Year here. (Katie, as much as we love Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I think we shouldn't pretend to be teens.)

Also, John Green's next book comes out a year from now, March 2012. (A very good reason for 2012 not to be the year of the apocalypse.)

Also, watch John Green's latest video: Don't argue, just watch it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Cake Shop of Luuurve

I miss the old covers for the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. I miss the tartan skirt.  Now, unless you get used copies, all you can get are the new covers with the photographs.

Why don't I like the new covers? Angus the cat is always doing something stupid. And they are real girls on the front. What do I have against real girls, you ask? If Georgia and I had gone to the same high school, I wouldn't have liked her. Her plucked eyebrows, mean jokes, and immaturity would have made her an enemy. She'd probably be one of those girls I have to put up listening to when I go to the gym and annoys me like no tomorrow. But inside a book, Georgia is hilarious, she's my besty. With just a bit of drawn tartan skirt, I can imagine her how I want, and I don't associate her with real people. Unlike the new covers. With their shaved legs and straightened hair. Yes, I certainly have my prejudices. But I do want Georgia's skirt there. The pink number. I want it and that is le fact.

I do, however, like this cover:

Do I even need to explain why? Cake? Pink frosting? The allusion to one of my favorite jokes about being in the cake shop of luuurve?

Actually, now I look at all the new covers, most of them I'm fine with. I guess it's mostly the one with all the shoes that gets on my nerves. Or maybe I just like the original covers so much better.

(See Katie? These don't have faces either. We chicklit readers hate faces! Except for this one:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wordsworth is a boooore.

red and green

Love this cover. Book by my icon Radclyffe Hall, of course.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Do We Do with Miss Austen?

Nothing like reading Austen criticism over breakfast.

Here are some quotes from Christopher Nagle's Sexuality and the Culture of Sensibility that correspond with what I was saying in my last post. Also, if you know me and my writing, you will know I have a stake in domesticity and thus enjoy when others talk about it.

As in her other mature novels, Persuasion shows the varied aspects of Regency life mostly limited to characteristically female, domestic spaces: the country house, the family and local community, the heart and hearth. But these works do more than expose the negative effects of a narrow life and purely local or domestic perspective of the world. They also explore the unexpectedly rich means by which sensible women—that is, women of sense and feeling—can exploit these spaces through physical as well as psychic mobility, through the imagination and through active works in the outside community.

Like Alison Sulloway, one might suspect that "almost two hundred years of the reading public" were "fooled" by [Austen's] subtly crafted fictions of a putative "Enlightenment feminism"; certainly it seems as though the potentially radical implications of this fiction escaped the notice of Regency readers and their ancestors, in addition to most of our own contemporaries. But it is not just that Austen was—and no doubt continues to be—too subtle for many readers. The more important point is that, since the early days of Walter Scott's reviews, she too often has been the victim of negative appreciation, of marginalization and miniaturization. Readers have assumed that she would not say daring or provocative things—much less bawdy ones—so despite the proliferating critical attention to her popular works, she has been at least partly silenced for almost two centuries.

Literary history..., despite its perpetual interest, has never known quite what to do with [Austen].

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gimme Gimme Gimme a Captain Wentworth

Maybe you're thinking that you haven't heard from me on the topic of romances in a couple weeks, despite my promise to deliver profound insights on said genre. Let us say that I am gathering data. Reading Jane Austen, Nora Roberts, Louise Rennison—the classic romance, the traditional romance, the YA romance.

Actually, yesterday while thinking my profound thoughts, I had a small break-through on articulating said insights, and wondered if I shouldn't try to write a conference paper or something publishable on the matter, rather than blogging about it. That's how profound my insights are.

But tonight I'll share some of my less profound insights on Jane Austen with you, so you don't feel neglected.

Jane Austen is often considered chicklit, aka not-fit-for-those-who-are-not-chicks-to-read. They're just about women trying to find rich handsome husbands, aren't they? The other day, one of my (male) friends said that if Austen were writing today, her books might look something like this:

But Austen is not merely about finding a sexy Captain Wentworth with whom to settle down. She is detailing the essential minutiae of domestic life and depicting a subtle and vital emotional landscape. Romance is the canvas on which she can paint this emotional landscape.

Of course, if you are a fan of Jane Austen, that's obvious. If you aren't a fan of Jane Austen, I must ask first if you've actually read her books, or if you've just watched the movies. While I love the movies, they do not get across Austen's wit and sharp intellect. Also, it has taken me several reads of Austen's books over a period of years to come to appreciate her. I know most people probably won't give her that chance.

I hope these words have satisfied your cravings for the romance genre. If not, here is a song to tide you over until my next post:

I would like a big hunk of man, if you don't mind.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Bath Dream

As you know, I am rereading Persuasion. And wishing I were in Bath. Today I was thinking that it'd be fun to read a biography of Jane Austen* while reading the Austen canon. I'd read about the first 21 years of her life, then read Pride and Prejudice. I'd read another two years of her biography, then read Northanger Abbey. I would continue on in such a manner until I'd read the whole of her biography and the whole of her novels in the order she'd written them.**

But then I had a further brilliant idea—what if I actually went to Bath to read Austen? A trip to Bath long enough to read the six novels plus a biography might be a bit much (though not outside the realm of possibility; why not bunker down in Bath for a while?), but I could vacation there long enough to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, the two set in Bath. These would also be a good pairing since Northanger Abbey was her first novel and Persuasion her last, with rather different tones and plots, and both were published in a single volume posthumously. Isn't this a grand plan?

*Though from what I've heard, there's not a lot known about her life.
**The actual order I'd read the novels in is confusing to figure out, since they weren't published in the order they were written, and they're even seems to be some confusion on whether Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice was published first. Northanger Abbey is generally considered her first novel, but it looks like she perhaps wrote drafts of S&S and P&P before starting NA, and then NA was actually published last.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

man and woman on a star stream/in the middle of a snow dream

Spring break ending, woke up to snow, bustled off to Spokane, me and Katie Dearest singing Stevie Nicks and driving through the Palouse hills with the blue-poppy sky reflected in puddles, dropped her off at the airport.

Didn't get lost in Spokane as I went over the river to a great little shop filled with dinosaur bones and gemstones. Didn't get lost as I drove back to the highway. Took east instead of west* and quickly decided this was a bad move. Trying to find my way west I stopped for lunch and opened up Persuasion.

Oh, I am so glad to be reading Jane Austen again. The more I read her the more I love her. But I wish I were beside the ocean where I could properly read Persuasion, which is set in Lyme Regis of Lyme Bay as well as Bath (Bath makes me think of oceans even if it's not beside one). Remember riding bikes to Fairhaven and the Salish Sea when the sky was clear and the flowers were blooming?

Remember the first time reading Persuasion? When Katie and I went on ocean-arboretum adventures?

Drove back to Moscow and everything in the world seemed good. And getting home and making tea of rooibos, lavender, peppermint, and apricot-tinged Mad Hatter. And sitting on the sunny patio.

And somewhere along the way I lost my momentum. Too much thinking about jade and rose quartz and moonstone. Too much quiche. Too much empty house after an entire week of ever-present Katie, like the good ol' days. Not enough reading of Persuasion. And now the sky's a funny color, gray and yellow.

I think I'll do some shiva nata with Rhiannon.

P.S. If you don't like the inconsistent verb tenses in this post, too bad.

*Technically, both east and west can get me back to Moscow from Spokane, but I prefer west.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Classic Covers with a Bit of Sass

Here are book covers I've been noticing and pleased with of late.

Penguins Classics Deluxe Editions:

And Collins Design:

I also noticed they are making special editions of classics aimed at teens. Harperteen looks suspiciously like Twilight:

That's all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

open book

Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives
 all right. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.

—from "God is an American" by Terrance Hayes

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Terrance Hayes reads his poems "Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Fish Head for Katrina."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Romance Genre Comes to Jujubes and Aspirins

I said in a previous post that I'm doing a series of posts on the romance genre. Why am I doing this, you ask?
Because I find the romance genre fascinating.
Because chicklit is fun.
Because the romance genre is a great site in which to identify and analyze gender and sexual paradigms.
Because sex scenes in romance make me angry, get me all riled up, but I have trouble articulating what's so bad (read: sexist) about them, so I thought I should make a conscious effort to articulate it.
Because it's spring (or will be soon, if it ever stops snowing) and the world is twitterpated.
Because I traditionally read chicklit in spring.
Because I've long had the secret wish to write romance. (It began as a joke, that I'd make my living off saucy novels, and then as I figured out the formulas of chicklit I thought maybe since I know how to write romance I might as well write romance, and the idea has become more appealing the more I think about it. But don't tell my MFA people that, because their claws come out when you write genre rather than what a friend once called litwatwa.)
Because I want an excuse to read a lot of romance.

So in upcoming posts I will review various books in different subgenres of romance. Will be discussing the differences between romance and chicklit. Representations of sexualized beauty in creative writing. Cover designs. Hierarchies of literature and genre. Portrayals of sex and eroticism. Gender roles. Whatever else occurs to me.

Hope you're as excited as I am.

Monday, March 7, 2011

seeds in a rainstick


When I pant, "What now?" with my big ear to the door
of your body as in a cup filled with listening (pregnable),
and the tremble rides my whiskied vowel, what your body is
runs down my thickness ruinously and sweetly.

—from "Twenty Measures of Chitchat" by Terrance Hayes

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Show us your nungas

I don't know if Louise Rennison is as funny outside of the context of her books, but in honor of yesterday's Moscow Mardi Gras:

The Blunderboys were flicking rubber bands at us from behind our tree. And then hiding behind it as if we wouldn't know where they were. Like the Invisible Twits. Not.

I got up and went behind the tree where they were all larding about, puffing smoke from fags and hitching their trousers up. Dear God. I said to one of the speccy genks, "What is it you want?"

And he said, "Show us your nungas."

They all started snorting and saying, "Yeah, get them out for the lads."

Rosie came up behind me. And loomed over them. She is not small. She said, "OK, that's a good plan. We'll show you our nungas, but first of all we need to see your trouser snakes, to check that all is in order."

Ellen and Jools and Mabs and even woodland Jas came and ganged up in front of them.

I said, "Come on, lads, drop the old trouser snake holders."

They started backing off, holding on to their trousers.

Jools said, "Are you a bit shy? Shall we help you?"

They started walking really quickly backward as we kept walking. Then they just took off and got over the fence at the back of the park.

—from Stop in the Name of Pants! by Louise Rennison

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Love and Hymens

It is not now necessary to guard girls against imprudent love matches; for if some widows did not now and then fall in love, Love and Hymen would seldom meet, unless at a village church.

—from A Vindication of the Rights of Men by Mary Wollstonecraft

Friday, March 4, 2011

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Homophobia

Jools said, "Do you think Miss Wilson has ever snogged anyone?"...
Rosie said, "Oh, I don't know, she has a certain charm. I think I may be on the turn actually, because I thought she was quite fit when I saw her in the nuddy-pants with her soap on a rope."
We all looked at her. Sometimes even I am surprised by how mad and weird she is.
I said, "Jools, swap places with me, I am not sleeping next to Lezzie Mees."

—from Stop in the Name of Pants! by Louise Rennison

Have you ever read any of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison? Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging? They're a series of ten books, British young-adult chicklit, which came out between 1999 and 2009. I think they are fantastic. They've been cracking me up since I was 16. But as of yesterday I have taken issue with them.

The author seems generally aware of her protagonist's, Georgia's, faults. Georgia is vain, selfish, immature. The author does this intentionally and uses irony to make the reader both laugh with and at Georgia. But the author doesn't seem aware of her characters' underlying homophobia. When the characters joke about lezzies or being on the turn, there is no irony.

Georgia describes midget gems:
Little sweets made out of hard jelly stuff in different flavors. Jas loves them A LOT. She secretes them about her person, I suspect, often in her panties, so I never like to accept one from her on hygiene and lesbian grounds.

It's unexpected, these anti-homosexual jokes; it seems out of character for an author that otherwise does not seem behind the times* for this type of YA. It also seems out of character for women in general. I've never known girls (no matter their position on homosexuality) to tease each other about being lesbians. And even if this is in character for British teenage girls, that doesn't mean that Rennison needs to include it in her books, to perpetuate the problem. Are we supposed to laugh at these jokes? I'm not laughing.

*Come to think of it, the novels are behind the times in other ways, too: There's no mention of cell phones nor internet, even though Georgia is constantly on the phone. Not that technology and homophobia are comparable.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Discoveries While Shelving Romances

This will be the first in a series of posts on the romance genre. Be excited. More later on why I'm doing these posts.

It's possible I get more enjoyment out of shelving the romances at work than I should. I love it, really. And I don't even read romances. Yet.

OK, I've read 2.5 romance-genre books in my life. Here's how it started: I felt it was important for me to read a bodice-ripper at least once before I die. As a joke. So I got a cleavage-covered book, read it, and was confused. It seemed like low-quality chicklit. I do read chicklit. What's the difference between romance and chicklit? So I got another bodice-ripper, Beloved Embrace, and this was a proper one. It had pirates. And manly cravings.

The pirate romance switched between being disgustingly bad and hilariously bad. For some reason I decided to read a third romance, but it, too, was bad, so I stopped reading it half way through.

Anyway. I love to shelve romances. To organize the Nora Roberts. To wonder what appeal Debbie Macomber has. Just to see what subjects romances actually deal with. Other than heaving bosoms.

For instance, vikings. Yeah, vikings. I couldn't help but giggle when I found Dark Viking by Sandra Hill. Though when I read a blurb that mentioned "erotica and drop-dead humor," I had to wonder if it was any good. I like humor. I like the erotic. Not so hot on vikings. But would it have proper erotica, or that wishy-washy pseudo-sex romances try to give us (you know, the stuff that has members and bulging manhoods)? Well, I'll let you know how the vikings fair if I read it.

Another fun fact I learned while shelving romances is that Scottish guys are in. Who knew there was a big market for tartan romance? Here are some of the titles I've come across:

Beware a Scot's Revenge
Devil of the Highland
An Original Sin 
Sleepless in Scotland
Highland Hearts
The Border Lord and the Lady
Secrets of the Highlander

And I'm amused by the titles of paranormal romances like You're So Vein and Tall, Dark and Fangsome, but especially Eat Prey Love.

The romance Milkrun by Sarak Mlynowski caught my eye, amidst all this shelving. It doesn't look like many of the others, and on the back it says something I can get behind: "I need a man who wants to rip my clothes off, feed me pizza, then have stimulating, intelligent conversation." Mmm. Yes, please. In that order.

And then there's Nora Roberts. A prolific romance writer, but she also writes mysteries under the name J.D. Robb. I find this fascinating, that Roberts writes both in a genre men won't be embarrassed to read (mystery) as well as a genre men can't go near if they want to protect their reputations (romance). The J.D. Robb covers are all in hard lines, in sans-serif fonts, in red and black and intense colors, signals to men that this is something they'd like to read.

I have decided that I should read some Nora Roberts. I think it's important for someone in my business (ze book business) to know both their genre and their literature, to have a bit of an idea of all that goes on between various covers. So: Nora Roberts, one of the biggest names in romance. And there's something appealingly feminine in the covers of one of her latest series:

Thus, I got a copy of the first in the Bride Quartet to bring with me on a winter vacation to the mountains. Will soon let you know how it went.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I Finished Reading in February

Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery
The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African by Olaudah Equiano
The End of the West by Michael Dickman
Vathek by William Beckford
The Niagara River by Kay Ryan
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey
Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen
Vision in White by Nora Roberts, Book 1 in the Bride Quartet