August Reading: Arty plagues, hilariwrongness and the Romance Wanderer

I’m in the middle of a book right now that makes me gleeful, so I will squee all over the place when I’m done. First: August. My August reading ground to a halt for the first two weeks, after I caved into the temptation of buying one of the cutesy sim games I love. Ah well. It was a decision.

Fantasy, SF and Related Genres

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Everyone’s read it; I just got around to it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This lives in roughly the same space as The Passage by Justin Cronin: set up a genre-type situation, but instead of focusing on action and how-to-survive logistics, explore how this upheaval affects the individuals living through it. Station Eleven follows a network of people, all connected through an aging actor, in the lead-up and aftermath of an extinction-level plague. Not remotely as bleak as The Road! Yay! (Few things are!)

It’s also about how art makes life worth living for some people; much of the action follows a traveling orchestra and Shakespearean drama troupe after the apocalypse, and the title refers to a self-published graphic novel written by one of the characters. This style is not for everyone. The combination of genre trope (plague/zombies/whatever!) and artypants (feelings! sentence fragments!) tends to infuriate people on both sides. For me, it is candy. Bring it on.

Unwritten, volume 3 – Continuing. It mocked me from my currently-reading queue in Goodreads. I read it at 1-2 a.m. while waiting out a bout of acid reflux, so I lack coherent opinions for reasons that are not the fault of the book.

Romance
My deep ambivalence with romance-reading continues. I swear there’s a subgenre that I will love out there somewhere, that isn’t gross about slut-shaming or “competition” between women and that doesn’t populate itself entirely with tired or insulting stereotypes. It’s the genre/form most concerned with characters’ motivations and feelings, and I care about those things and want to see them developed in stories. I am not giving up. I will rove at random through the halls of Romancelandia until I find that niche.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy – I do not understand titles, part 8,000. I feel like that title could be anything? What do I know. Anyway, I pre-ordered this because I loved Understatement of the Year and the rest of Sarina Bowen’s college hockey series. This one was fun. More rowdy and less angsty/sweet than UOTY, but along the same lines generally: oh no I’m in love with my best friend also there’s hockey (I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I understand it, which is more than I can say for most sports). The characters are a bit older than in UOTY, which helps, too.

Premiere: A Romance Writers of America® Collection by Various Authors, edited by Sylvia Day
I am still looking for more auto-buy romance authors, who fit styles/ideas that I like and whose catalogs I can go on and buy and read for ages. A sampler like this seemed like a good way to try out a bunch of stuff. And it is just that. It covers a range of popular subgenres, like urban fantasy, Regency and contemporary, although 90% of them star gorgeous straight white people with no real problems, and you could play a drinking game with interchangeable tiny blond heroines vs. interchangeable blue-eyed slabs of manchest. (There is one token inspirational, one token M/M, and one token “cute, but not model-hot” match, which I would have greatly enjoyed were it not for the rampant slut-shaming.)

Romance is what it is, I guess – they write what people want to read. I’m not saying it has to change; I’m saying this is not really what I’m looking for.

I have to say, though, what is with tongue-claiming? Tongues, OK, claiming, OK, but three or four times the authors refer to tongue-kissing as “claiming.” I was reminded of the face-rub cats do to smear their scent glands on things. Or I guess the 6-year-old’s gambit of “I licked the best cupcake, so it’s mine!!” Uh…not so hot. IMO.

Primarily, I was struck by my lack of buy-in with short-form romance. I like slow burns and character establishment over time, and there just isn’t room in a short to do either of those things. Several of them pulled it off, but some were more like “oh wait I love you smooch the end.” So that’s a thing I learned. I’d still recommend this as a sampler platter, because it covers a lot of ground between several subgenres and tones. My wandering continues, but I had a good time exploring the options here.

Writing & Publishing

How Not to Write a Novel – 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman – This is a book about plot structuring and prose style illustrated by humorously over-the-top examples – that’s its main selling point. Oh, the advice is good, but if you’re looking for a seriouspants discourse, you are in the wrong place. If you are looking for intentional badness and a kaleidoscope of send-ups in the service of making a bunch of good points, go here. (Side note: It assumes traditional publishing in its narration – “agents will pass your book by” etc. Self-publishing is brushed past in a sidebar. If you are offended by that angle, skip it.)
Nonfiction

We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines – Borrowed from my husband, who is a slightly more classic ’80s-child nerd than me. Back to the Future was not my primary childhood jam. My primary childhood jam was The Last Unicorn. (Girl nerds: still a thing!) Still, BTTF is one of my dad’s favorite movies, so I watched it dozens of times as a kid.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechtel – Another impulse to try and keep up with the times. The haters are dumb, but we knew that. The book is good, troubling and bittersweet.

TBR at beginning of month: 139

TBR at end of month: 140

3 books bought in August that I have not read yet, though one is a reference book that I will probably skim at best.

Here’s the problem with trying to chip away at my TBR pile: my pattern of late has been “buy book, read book, buy another book, read it, continue to ignore TBR pile.” A good chunk of August consisted of books that weren’t even on my TBR list last month. The quest continues.

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