In Which We All Sit Down For A Serious Chat

Some of you may recall how, when I reviewed Sophie's Choice, I offered at least a 2/3 rating to any of the Top 100 books that included a Saskatchereference, and suggested that the authors of those books should revise their novels accordingly. I was of course being facetious. Still, every now and then I've paused to wonder how I'd feel if one of the authors of one of the books I've reviewed were to see what I've said.

Usually I dismiss those thoughts as ego-stroking, since I'm pretty confident that I actually have about five readers, and all of them are my IRL friends.

However, I always check my site stats on Sundays when I'm preparing the week's blog post. And this morning I noticed a little spike in the number of visitors on July 22. To cut this really long story short, I did some more investigating via my Google Analytics and discovered that Anna DeStefano read my review of her book.

Needless to say, I'm a little astonished. I wasn't sure whether or how to respond. I wrote my review of Ms. DeStefano's book early in the project, before mellowing to the tropes of the romance genre, and it's admittedly pretty scathing and mean.

I feel like it would be dishonest of me to backpedal, so I'm not going to do that. It seems to me that Ms. DeStefano interpreted my review as an attack on her and her readers, though, and that was never my intent. I was extremely frustrated by her novel, and expressed myself in a stylized way to convey my frustration. I don't mind her criticism of my word choices, because I was criticizing her writing as well.

Although I've never explicitly stated this before (and the engineer thing could be a bit misleading), I am in fact a woman. I'm not a man mocking women and their sentimentality, I'm just a person who doesn't like this genre, but thought I'd explore it alongside the Top 100 books. (By the way, it's proving to be an interesting contrast between my reactions two types of books that are generally thought of as inaccessible to most people, the one because it's aimed primarily at women, the other because it seems comprehensible only to the type of academic snobs who compiled the list in the first place.) When I say that I think romance novels are "erotica for people who are too shy to realize that erotica is what they want," that's exactly what I mean. I'm not saying that women who read romance novels are prudish housewives, I'm saying that as a young woman I feel like maybe other women aren't really in touch with their sexuality and their options for expressing it in our society. I have no idea who generally reads Harlequin romance novels, but a very nice young woman was reading one in the seat beside me on my flight home from Mexico this winter.

Furthermore, I promise that I read every single word of every novel I review on this blog. I don't think I've ever skimmed through a book in my entire life, and there are only a handful that I've been unable to finish. I don't think it would be fair of me to draw any conclusions about these books if I didn't read them all in their entirety.

In any case, I just want to say that it's easy to lose sight of the person behind the work. I've actually been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately, i.e. whether art is separate from the artist (for example, if Roman Polanski makes The Pianist and then gets charged with raping a 13 year-old girl, is The Pianist still a great movie?). On the other hand, I don't feel like there's much question of whether the artist is separate from the art. Meaning that while I'm not sure if great art can be considered out of context from its creator, I'm sure that the creator feels a connection to the work. So whereas I may review a book without thinking of the author, the author would be totally justified in taking it personally, and I suppose I should've thought a little bit more about that and how I feel about it before I started this project.

So now I'll throw this out to all (five) of you readers. What do you guys think about all this? Also FYI I'm going to be sending Ms. DeStefano a link to this post.

90. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children: A NovelYear Published: 1981
Pages: 463

First sentence: I was born in the city of Bombay... once upon a time.

So finally The List comes up with a book that rings more than just a vague subconscious bell.  I've never read Midnight's Children before, but I've read a couple of Salman Rushdie's other books, albeit as a teenager with little to no insight.  The story goes something like this:  I was 16 or so, I'd guess, and I was on one of my numerous trips to the library.  I'm not sure how I ended up in the vicinity of Rushdie, but of course at that age, tormented by religion, The Satanic Verses would catch my eye.  I didn't take the book out immediately, though, probably because I was already carrying six or seven others.  This is a problem I still have when I go to libraries.  Resolving to get the book next time, and unfamiliar with the concept of putting a book on hold, I ended up not being able to find it again for several months.  Instead, back at the library, one day I found Haroun and the Sea of Stories crunched behind some other books (Midnight's Children included, I'm sure, haha), and reflecting that the discovery seemed like fate, I read that one instead.  Lifetimes later, I don't remember Haroun and the Sea of Stories at all, and although I did eventually read The Satanic Verses, the thing about it that's stuck with me the most is the marvellous name of Alleluia Cone.

What all my long-winded rambling is eventually supposed to establish, is that I'd completely forgotten the density of Rushdie's prose, and the poetry of it, as well.  Going back to write out the quotations, I uncovered several unexpected parallels, and was pleased.  I'm definitely getting ahead of myself, though.

Midnight's Children is the story of India and Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact same moment as his country, at midnight on August 15, 1947.  My knowledge of India's history doesn't extend very far beyond a viewing of the movie Ghandi in grade 11, but this book makes me wish it did.  It's not crucial to understanding what's going on, but I think it's probably crucial to a good understanding, and there're almost certainly a billion things that I missed because I don't know anything about anything.  The plot meanders all over the place, from Saleem's grandfather in Kashmir to Saleem, cracking up in a pickle factory in Bombay.  My favourite bit is the Midnight Children's Conference, the group of magical children all born between midnight and 1 a.m. the night India got its independence.  I hope "magical children" doesn't sound sarcastic, because I honestly don't mean it that way.  There are riches and poverty, religion and politics.  A nose and knees, knees and a nose.

And seriously it is so good.  It's exotic, I guess you could say (though that sounds unbearably lame), and even if it wasn't, it's a nice change of pace from post-WWII angst (well... Western post-WWII angst, at any rate) and the Great Depression.  It's hilarious and bleak, and not too heavily grounded in reality.  And you should read it.

'You do it on purpose,' she says, 'to make me look stupid. I am not stupid. I have read several books.'

It is a sign of the power of this custom that, even when her husband was afflicted by constipation, she never once permitted him to choose his food, and listened to no requests or words of advice. A fortress may not move. Not even when its dependants' movements become irregular.

...perhaps if one wishes to remain an individual in the midst of the teeming multitudes, one must make oneself grotesque.

The great are eternally at the mercy of tiny men. And also: tiny madwomen.

Rating: 3/3 (read it!)

In Which We Look Back

So, as I mentioned last week, I'm just going to do a retrospective post this week, so that I can try to do some catching up with my reading. I'm still working a little bit ahead, but I have a book to read for my book club, and the next one on the top 100 list is 600 pages long. Probably by the next time I do this, I'll have a giant monster spreadsheet that'll allow me to make all sorts of neat observations and provide charts and graphs. I hope you'll all enjoy that as much as I will. Really I'm not sure why I don't have a monster spreadsheet already. Anyway:

Top 100 So Far

Hm, so it's kind of interesting to see this all grouped together for the first time (although to be honest I do already have a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books and everything on this blog, it's just not very comprehensive at the moment). According to my ratings, the books so far have been 30% good, 20% bad, and 50% mediocre. Not a bad start, but not a great one, either, and I kind of wonder whether this is a "problem" with me, or with The List. Maybe I just Don't Get It.

100. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington - 3/3
99. The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy - 1/3
98. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain - 3/3
97. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles - 2/3
96. Sophie's Choice by William Styron - 2/3
95. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch - 2/3
94. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys - 2/3
93. The Magus by John Fowles - 3/3
92. Ironweed by William Kennedy - 1/3
91. Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell - 2/3

Total Pages: 3356

Romnovs So Far

I'm going to try to get these organized in a sidebar of some kind at some point, but for the moment, there's only this.

R1. The Farmer Takes a Wife by Barbara Gale
R2. Mr. Right Next Door by Teresa Hill
R3. Because of a Boy by Anna DeStefano
R4. Highland Rebel by Tess Mallory
R5. The Single Dad's Virgin Wife by Susan Crosby
R6. In the Flesh by Livia Dare
R7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
R8. Apache Nights by Sheri WhiteFeather
R9. Twin Temptation by Cara Summers
R10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Total Pages: 3966

Other Stuff I've Read

Here's what I also read during the time I was reading these other books (I started The Magnificent Ambersons on December 27, 2009 and finished Tobacco Road on April 13, 2010).

Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
Headcrash by Bruce Bethke
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Merchant of Death and The Lost City of Faar by DJ MacHale
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

What have all you wonderful people been reading lately?

R10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

So apparently there's some interest in seeing reviews of non-Harlequin romance novels, so I figured maybe I could do one every ten romnovs (unless something like the Wide Sargasso Sea/Jane Eyre thing comes up again). If anyone wants to make requests, feel free, cuz I only have a few of these old books on my shelves. Also I should let you know that since I started working I haven't been able to keep up the same pace with my reading, so instead of putting up the next review next week I'm going to do a bit of a summary post about all the books so far, just to buy myself some time. Try not to hate me too much! -M.R.

Gone With the WindPages: 1448

Pairing: Southern belle and scoundrel
First Sentence: Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
Climax: everyone does their duty to the Confederacy, but I'm not sure how often they actually enjoy it

I discovered, while discussing movies last summer with some self-styled "movie buffs," that I've seen approximately no movies of note in my entire life, Gone with the Wind included. However, the aforementioned movie is so much a part of pop culture at this point that I'm at least familiar with that famous line: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

In fact half of the reason that I wanted to read this book at all was to see whether that line was in it. (But I won't tell you if it is or not, you can read the thousand-plus pages yourself.)

But it's worth it! Since I still haven't seen the movie (but I will as soon as I get this review finished!), I have no idea how close the adaptation is to the original story*. No matter, though, I loved the story and all of the characters, and highly recommend a foray into the belly of this beast of a book.

Must I summarize it? Scarlett O'Hara, Southern belle in and around the time of the American Civil War. Trying to seduce Ashley Wilkes, who history seems to've forgotten, because I'd never heard of him 'til I picked up the book. Romanced by the knave Rhett Butler. There's so much else that happens that it'd be impossible to give a good description of it. I'd probably hate Scarlett, if she didn't remind me so much of a friend of mine.

Furthermore, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of slavery and how it's possible for anyone to think of it in anything other than a negative way. But I guess I'm not a pre-Civil War era plantation owner? I dunno, the whole thing makes me shudder.

Making an effort to ignore that, the real strength of the book, for me, was that I fell absolutely madly in love with Rhett Butler. I'm not sure what this says about me and the kind of men I'm interested in, but oh well. Neither Edward Rochester nor Edward Cullen have appealed to me in the past, but Rhett Butler: oh God oh man.

So it doesn't matter that Gone with the Wind doesn't fit all the different requirements of the genre. I got to live in this bit of history (as described by Margaret Mitchell, of course) for a week, though in fact I was actually sitting on a beach in Mexico while I read the majority of it.

What I'm trying to say is: hot damn!

*I actually have seen the movie now, and I can say that while the adaptation is pretty faithful, it also skips tons of stuff, and I'm not sure I would've had any idea what was going on if I hadn't read the book.

She lay in the silvery shadows with courage rising and made the plans that a sixteen-year-old makes when life has been so pleasant that defeat is an impossibility and a pretty dress and a clear complexion are weapons to vanquish fate.

Aunt Pitty always felt that she needed a male protector when Rhett Butler was in the house.

"All you've done is to be different from other women and you've made a little success at it. As I've told you before, that is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!…"