Current Distractions, September 2016 Edition

Once again, it'll be a short post this month for various reasons. It's been busy: I got food poisoning, went on a five day trip to Vancouver, and have at least two house projects that need to be worked on now. Frankly I'm just too exhausted to write anything about what I'm doing.

And I'm also not going to spend much time describing what I've been consuming as far as media goes. So here's just a list of titles/things.

  • The Knick (season 1)
  • Snowpiercer
  • The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
  • Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Word on the Street (an event)
Also I'm probably the only person who has noticed this, but in case you're wondering: yes, I know the Top 100 list in the sidebar is currently broken, and I hope to fix it soon.

Here's hoping I'll perk up a bit in time for the end of next month (and/or in time to write the reviews for the two books I'm close to finishing).

Board Members: Shelby Foote

Board Member Bios are extremely cursory surveys of the lives of the Modern Library board members who created The List, in hopes of discovering who they are and how or why they chose the books they did.

Shelby Foote | Two Hectobooks

Name: Shelby Foote

Born: November 17, 1916
Died: June 27, 2005
Country of Origin/Main Residence: United States

Sex: Male
Sexual Orientation: Hetero
Married?: Yes: Tess Lavery, 1944 (ended 1946); Marguerite Desommes, 1948 (ended 1952); Gwyn Rainer, 1956
Children?: Yes: 2
Education: Unclear, doesn't seem to have completed a degree (but eventually received an honorary doctorate)
Religion: Episcopalian

Literary Awards: St. Louis Literary Award; Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award

Shelby Foote was born in Mississippi of pretty solid Mississippi stock (i.e. his great-grandfather was a Confederate Army veteran). He grew up mostly in Greenville, Mississippi, where he and Walker Percy developed a lifelong friendship. He went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a couple of years before joining the Mississippi National Guard and US Marine Corps during the Second World War. It seems he was a bit of a rebel, because he had trouble getting in to UNC due to his history of making fun of his high school principal, and then was dismissed from the Army because he misused a vehicle to go cavorting with his girlfriend.

Foote's career as a novelist began in earnest after the war and consisted of several novels about the American South at various points in history. His fiction was never especially well known, but earned the admiration of some other writers, including William Faulkner (whose name I can't link to yet because I won't have a review of his work posted until January). I've added September, September to my reading list.

The real big break for Foote came in the form of a letter from our friend Christopher Cerf's dad, Bennett Cerf, at Random House, requesting a short history of the Civil War. Foote ended up writing an enormous three-volume history instead, over a twenty year period. I have not added this monster to my reading list, at least not yet. As a result of this work, Foote ended up appearing in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary (something I regrettably didn't watch while it was on Canadian Netflix) and was thereby catapulted to fame in his later days.

Sources: whatever I've linked within the post and also wikipedia

R43. The Boss by Abigail Barnette

Year Published: 2013
Pages: 479 (on iBooks, anyway)

Pairing: Fashion magazine writer and businessman
First Sentence: There are days that just feel off, and you don't know why until something momentous happens.
Climax: (I don't recall if there are any simultaneous orgasms in this book, and if there were I didn't write them down. Sensitive readers should avert their eyes. -M.R.)
When I came, I saw bursts of white behind my eyelids.
Neil wasn't far behind me, shoving hard, almost too hard, my eager cunt still spasming around him as he groaned and stilled.

The Boss by Abigail Barnette | Two Hectobooks

The Boss is basically fanfiction of fanfiction, and surpasses all of its source material, something I feel comfortable saying although I didn’t exactly love the book.

My memory is a bit hazy on the details right now, but here’s how this book came to be:
  1. E. L. James filed the serial numbers off her erotic Twilight fanfic, Master of the Universe, and published it as Fifty Shades of Grey. For some reason, this book and its sequels became mega bestsellers.
  2. Jenny Trout (pen name: Abigail Barnette) began, and somehow continued, to write exhaustive recaps of 50SoG and its sequels. After I read 50SoG, I was curious about how the other two books could possibly turn the boat around on what I considered a terrible relationship, and that’s how I found said recaps. I read all of them avidly, and if you’re curious about 50SoG, I’d recommend skipping the book and just reading the recaps. Warning that they’re very long, though, so if you don’t have the time, you can safely watch the movie instead. I haven’t posted about seeing it because I’ve been lazy, but I thought that the movie was fine. (I've linked the first of Trout's recaps above, and you can follow the Jealous Hater Book Club link at her site to see the rest.)
  3. At some point, Jenny Trout decided that she could do better than E.L. James, and started to write her own “light BDSM” type book, called The Boss (a great title, I must say). What I forgot to mention above is that Jenny Trout actually is a published romance author, so she really could do better. She eventually self-published the book, and you can still get the ebook for free!
  4. (I finally got around to reading The Boss, obviously.)
In the interest of full disclosure I need to reveal at this point that over the course of reading her recaps, I became a big fan of Jenny Trout.  She blogs about other stuff, too, and her writing has helped to shape my own thinking lately on things like fat shaming, body positivity, and also the romance genre.  Just know that I’m a bit biased toward her, anyway.

The Boss isn’t exactly fanfiction, despite the fact that that’s how I’ve presented it throughout this review so far.  It doesn’t have story beats that can be traced directly back to either 50SoG or Twilight, whereas anyone who’s read both of those books can very clearly identify parallels between them.  However, there are a lot of things in The Boss that read as direct refutations or reactions to 50SoG, which I’ll get into in a minute when I finally describe the plot.

Sophie Scaife is twenty four years old and works for a big fashion magazine in New York City.  The book begins when her magazine is purchased by a firm owned by her one night stand from six years before, Neil Elwood.  It turns out that the two of them have been masturbating while thinking of one another ever since, and they decide to begin a casual sexual relationship pretty much immediately.  Meanwhile, some of the other employees at the magazine are disgruntled by the changes Neil makes, and decide to do some underhanded things, which Sophie gets dragged into.  So yeah, the plot is nothing like 50SoG’s, but it sneaks in on the details.  For example, Sophie’s best friend and roommate, Holli, is a beautiful model, but she’s also Sophie’s friend, and Sophie doesn’t appear to hate her friend for no reason.  Sophie doesn’t immediately act judgey about every woman that she sees.  Neil doesn’t poopoo Sophie’s career aspirations because he’s rich.  When their relationship turns toward Dominance and submission, it doesn’t feel coercive, but is more in the safe, sane, and consensual side of the spectrum.  Sophie is never ever afraid of Neil.  Some of it, I think, is also meant as a joke, like the fact that when they first met, Sophie apparently argued with Neil about Faulkner, but doesn’t really seem to be a reader, which feels like a shout out to the ridiculous literary references in the books that “inspired” this one.

I wasn’t blown away, though.  Erotic novels will probably never be my thing. The plot is necessarily thin because Sophie and Neil are having tons of sex.  This ends up being a lot more varied and exciting and 100% better written (90% of which is just the fact that the heroine’s internal monologue never involves the words “holy cow” or “double crap” or whatever during the sex scenes) than 50SoG’s, but it was a little too graphic for my taste.  I’ve mentioned before that it’s impossible to write erotica to fit everyone’s taste, so I’m not counting that as a point against the novel.  This just really isn’t my genre.  The other major problem that I had was that I didn’t like Sophie much.  Again, this isn’t a problem with her as written, it was more of a personal reaction that I had to the character.

So I guess what I’m saying is that this is light BDSM in an erotic novel done right, and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.  Even though it wasn’t to my personal taste, it wasn’t a chore to read, and the story kept me interested, and I didn’t feel like weeping for anyone who would find the things that happen in the book romantic.

Five Years Ago This Month: September 2011

Five years ago this month...

...I was distracted, belatedly.

...I quit reviewing romance novels. I still read the odd one out of curiosity/masochism, but I'm not sorry to have given up that part of the project at all.

...I wrote about Dragon*Con. The first con I ever went to, and still by far the best. Nothing else has even come close.

...I saw Margaret Mitchell's house. And posted pictures so you could see it, too. Just not the inside of it.

Crabs - Georgia Aquarium | Two Hectobooks
Crabs! As seen at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

58. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Year Published: 1920
Pages: 362
First Sentence: On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton | Two Hectobooks


I finished reading The Age of Innocence quite some time ago, and then life got hectic and I put off writing this review for far too long.

Despite its being further up the list than The House of Mirth, and the fact that it won a Pulitzer, I liked The Age of Innocence less than Edith Wharton's other novel on The List. This one wasn't as funny or as brutal.

It's the story of poor little rich boy Newland Archer, a terrible name choice because his fiancee is called May Welland, and keeping the As, Ds, Es, Ls, and Ws straight is occasionally a real struggle here. Archer and his fiancee are rich in 1870s New York, which means they get to do nothing all day and are hemmed in cruelly by their rigid society. What I'm trying to emphasize is that it's hard to empathize with characters like this when you're coming home and reading the book in snatches after working overtime at your punishing job. Anyway, Ellen Olenska, May's cousin, appears at the beginning of the book, having fled an abusive husband in Europe. Archer falls in either love or lust with her, and the rest of the book is just hijinks between the two of them trying to decide whether to be together, and at what cost.

Credit where it's due: the ending of the book is good and even great. Wharton is bashing the reader over the head throughout the book that the repressed, judgemental, bygone society of the late 19th century was terrible, and the ending proceeds to shine a spotlight on all of that. Archer's final action is one that is still echoing in my mind all these days after finishing the book, though, which is almost enough to bump up the rating, and yet...

Maybe I Just Don't Get It but I honestly have no idea why Archer and Ellen Olenska are attracted to one another. Like seriously zero. Ellen's cool, I guess, but Archer is barely likeable. He's kind of smart, kind of a feminist, but also utterly boring. He reads books, which I suppose is a cool character trait. I think there was something "blah" about all of the characters in the book, though, I just can't put my finger on exactly why I felt that way.

I'm not sure how to wrap up this review. I didn't hate this as much as I may be making it seem. It was just too much privilege and not enough chemistry.

- - - - -
"If only this new dodge for talking along a wire had been a little nearer perfection I might have told you all this from town, and been toasting my toes before the club fire at this minute, instead of tramping after you through the snow," he grumbled, disguising a real irritation under the pretence of it; and at this opening Madame Olenska twisted the talk away to the fantastic possibility that they might one day actually converse with each other from street to street, or even—incredible dream!—from one town to another. This struck from all three allusions to Edgar Poe and Jules Verne, and such platitudes as naturally rise to the lips of the most intelligent when they are talking against time, and dealing with a new invention in which it would seem ingenuous to believe too soon; and the question of the telephone carried them safely back to the big house.
- - - - -
She smiled a little under her wet lashes. "I shan't be lonely now. I was lonely; I was afraid. But the emptiness and the darkness are gone; when I turn back into myself now I'm like a child going at night into a room where there's always a light."
- - - - -