Begone Reading Slump!

  1. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. This is a wild collection of nine short stories that will wake up your imagination. One of my favorites is “The Faery Handbag,” in which a teenager’s grandmother carries a whole village in her purse.prettymonsters
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen. This story speaks to me of second chances, which is what we all need during a reading slump.41huiUO-XKL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_
  3. Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’ve read this book many times. King Arthur tales seem to have a grip on our hearts and minds. This feminist retelling appeals to me more than some of the typical accounts. mists
  4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This book never fails to kindle my imagination. When I start it, I have a hard time putting it down.hobbit
  5. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger. This series is so darned much fun. The leading character is a strong–if souless woman. She’s attacked by vampires, wooed by a werewolf, wears marvelous clothes and carries a most impressive parasol.parasol
  6. Slouch Witch by Helen Harper. Ok, so, this is probably not of the same caliber as some of the others listed here, but it made me laugh. A lot. It’s a fun urban fantasy. The heroine is just about the laziest person alive–finally, an anti-heroine I can relate to!slouchwitch
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is such a charming, but painful, expose on what it was like for Mr. Alexie to grow up torn between two worlds. The narrator’s voice is so frank and intimate–it’s impossible not to be drawn in.part time
  8. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. This is one of the most imaginative, high-adventure, coming-of-age adventure tales ever. What’s not to love?harry potter
  9. Georgette Heyer. There’s nothing more comforting to me than settling down with a charming regency romance–especially one that is meticulously researched and full of wit and charm. According to Abe Books, Georgette Heyer’s novels have out sold J.K. Rowling, Charles Dickens and James Patterson throughout the company’s history. I’d recommend starting with The Grand Sophy.grandsophy
  10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This is an epic historical romance. Great costumes, swoon-worthy heros…just what the reading slump doctor would order.goneiwth thewind

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week.

This week’s topic is Ten Books to Pull You out of a Reading Slump 

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

When I was in junior high, I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my peers. I wore the neon clothes, the parachute pants, and the jelly shoes. I listened to Michael Jackson and Madonna along with the rest of them (although I had a secret crush on the Monkees). All these years later, I still want to fit in, but darn it if my perverse nature doesn’t make that impossible.

My book blogging coterie ADORES(!) the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah Maas. I wanted to love it as much as my friends did, but wasn’t able to muster up the same level of enthusiasm as everyone else. The trilogy was entertaining enough with high adventure and epic romances. At times the language was poetic and the fictional world almost came to life for me, but…

  • It was kind of cheesy. Such melodrama!
  • And it dragged on a bit too long. I was bored by the interminable hand-wringing and the overly drawn out battle scenes.
  • But most troubling to me were the depictions of roles assigned to men and women and by the relationships between the two. This particularly surprised me because Sarah Maas is touted as a feminist author.

I liked that the books included some strong female characters. Feyre, for all her faults, was brave and determined to do the right thing. Nesta and Mor were also impressive. Unfortunately, the scope for how women can be strong or effective seems rather narrow in this world. Strength, at least as depicted here, involves facing physical threats, whether it’s starvation, confrontation with wild beasts or repulsing malignant magical forces.

The strong people in these books possess either a cruel or rude streak. Consider, for a moment, the play acting that’s required by Feyre and Rhysand in the Court of Nightmares, or Nesta’s nasty behavior as she tries to protect her little sister. The strong ones either use brutality or threats to protect those important to them. I would have liked to have seen more episodes where kindness and diplomacy were shown as strengths. Showing the kind and gentle Elain as something more than a pawn would have gone a long way to assuage the dissatisfaction I felt in this regard. The one moment of bravery she is given is so out-of-character that it didn’t work for me. The only notable example of kindness being a strength was when Feyre gave her jewelry to the creepy starving water creatures.

I personally find it distasteful when main characters use their sexuality to manipulate others. As long as humans feel sexual urges, I suppose we can’t get away from that as being a primary way to motivate some; however, if a text is being promoted as feminist, then I think it shouldn’t rely so much on its characters being able to get what they want because someone wants to fuck them. We’ve seen plenty of examples of that in books for decades upon decades. Give us something where the characters effect change through cleverness, hard work, kindness, toughness, etc. I’m not going to argue that these books don’t include examples of those things, but they rely overly much on sexuality.

Of course, much of the appeal of these books is the romance and steamy sex scenes. I love a good romance as much as anyone and can be titillated by a good sex scene. Other bloggers (here’s one) have already detailed their concerns with consent issues in these books. Given some of the troubling outcomes we’ve seen with rape trials (she was drunk or asleep; she wore provocative clothing; she was outside after dark; she was nice to me), I concur with readers who reject as unsatisfactory any explanation for the non-consensual sexual acts in these books. I believe we need to keep the lines of acceptability less muddied than they are. There are a number of troubling scenes, but Rhysand’s treatment of Feyre while under the mountain seems to be widely processed in the following manner: Sure, so and so forced her to wear revealing clothes, dance seductively for him and drink a beverage that made her black out–but he did so to protect her. FUCK THAT NONSENSE! That’s NOT ok.

The author has a fertile imagination. Surely, she could have come up with some other scenario where Rhysand could have protected Feyre by keeping her dignity intact and by allowing her some say in her treatment. What’s worse is that Feyre forgives him so quickly for all of this. If you ask me, it’s like the pathetic sentence given to Brock Turner. It devalues the crime. I also think it’s a version of a rape fantasy–watered down, yes, but upsetting all the same.

I, along with a lot of womankind, have been indoctrinated into the cult of “bad boys are sexy.” I’m trying my damndest to break free of that though. I would much rather see good boys shown as drool-worthy. Why? I suffered through a long relationship to someone who didn’t treat me right.  I didn’t recognize certain behaviors as unacceptable for far too long. There’s a lot of complicated psychology involved there, but I do partly blame the bad boy trope in romances as something that made me think being treated less than well was ok. It’s not. End of story.

Psssst…Wanna Know a Secret?

I’ve hit a lot of important milestones in my life.

  • I ate solid foods.
  • I learned to walk.
  • I learned to talk and haven’t shut up since.
  • I learned to read and do it obsessively.
  • I learned to print and write in cursive.
  • I learned to tell time.
  • I learned to read music and play the piano…and the french horn…and the trumpet…and now, in a rudimentary way, the guitar (I WILL MASTER THE Bmin CHORD IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO).
  • I learned to drive a stick shift.
  • I graduated from high school. And college. And another college.
  • I earned a certificate from a night school program.
  • I landed several jobs.
  • I got married.
  • I had kids.
  • I got unmarried.
  • I braved okCupid, tinder, coffeemeetsbagel. I didn’t end up hating all men. (Trust me, that’s noteworthy.)
  • I did my own taxes.
  • I bought a car.

All these things are great. I’m proud of what I accomplished. But, there’s one thing I’ve wanted to do since I learned to hold a crayon: write a novel. I’ve written a lot of poetry and short stories. I’m a daft hand at flash fiction. I can write an essay that would convince you to sell all your belongings and join a circus. What I haven’t been able to do (yet) is come up with an idea for a novel that sustains me past the first 5,000 words or so.

But, 40-something years later, I haven’t given up. I keep buying books on how to write novels. I read them. I try some of the exercises. The latest book in my arsenal is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird.

secrets

I was hooked by the first paragraph:

You’ve just boarded a plane. Your iPhone is loaded with all your favorite podcasts, but before you can get your earbuds in, disaster strikes: The guy in the next seat starts telling you all about something crazy that happened to him–in great detail. This guy is an unwelcome storyteller trying to convince an extremely reluctant audience to care about his story. We all hate that guy, right?

~Matt Bird, The Secrets of Story

I hope Mr. Bird is going to explain how to capture a reluctant audience’s attention and hold it. From the table of contents, it looks like he might. He includes “the thirteen essential laws of writing for strangers.” But that’s not all! He also provides “The Ultimate Story Checklist.” This should help me keep a reader’s attention after I’ve first caught it. I’m really excited about this book!

Now, if I could only come up with a really excellent idea…I’ve already scrapped the idea about the Sasquatch hunter who is allergic to pet dander.

sassy

P.S. I’m going to participate in Nanowrimo again this year. While I didn’t get far the last time I tried it, I did end up generating a lot of material that became short stories. Will any of you be participating?