… In which I ponder why Romance has a bad rep and rant just a little.
In today’s paper I read a book review for a book I will never read. It’s by a male, and I imagine the book is doing/will do fairly well since it’s being reviewed in major papers. It’s described as a “sweeping, romantic novel.” In the brief description of the book describes the main characters, “once married and now divorced, who encounter one another after decades of mutual avoidance. The fight that ensues–and the subsequent fall to their deaths from a rocky ledge–occurs in the novel’s opening pages.” (ABQ Journal, Sunday, June 7, 2015, Book page)
How is that at all romantic? Apparently the story then proceeds in flashback to how this couple became a couple and what happened. The author of the article even calls it an “ill-fated romance.” Yeah, I’d say.
Look, if you like to read stuff like this, more power to you. You’re allowed to read anything you please. And the author is allowed to write anything he pleases. But seriously, don’t call this a romance or romantic. That would be like calling Psycho a romance because Norman has feelings for Marion. I could name the book in question a family saga or relationship drama, but not romance.
I admit I like my endings happy, or at least satisfying (I love a worthwhile tearjerker and am not above killing a few characters myself. I’ve sobbed more than once while writing some of my books.). Give me the endings I can cheer for–in movies: The Avengers, Notting Hill, Shawshank Redemption, Jurassic Park (which I just watched again on Friday–great film, great characters), The Princess Bride; in books: Harry Potter, To Kill A Mockingbird, Bewitching, Ready Player One. Call my tastes plebeian; I don’t care. I’ve read my share of literature and seen most of the highbrow films too. I don’t enjoy them. There is enough horrific stuff in the real world that I don’t have to have it in my entertainment. So help me, if Game of Thrones doesn’t give me that satisfying ending at the conclusion of the series (the books first, and then the TV show), I will be more than angry. Right now I don’t care how many characters have been killed because I trust the author will give me that ending that makes all the suffering worthwhile (Hear that, George?)
It’s called reader expectation. I know what I expect from my fiction. That’s why I avoid books like the one I opened this blog with, or what used to be called Oprah books, or those about which everyone mentions a surprise ending (Those books/movies are the ones I always go to spoiler website to “cheat” because I won’t waste my time on an ending that will piss me off. [Are you listening, George?] And no, it doesn’t spoil the experience for me. I always read the end of a book before I finish it anyway. And there’s a study that says spoilers actually enhance the experience.)
Enough. I know I’ve written about this before, but that book review just set me off. Again. Back to my deep breathing exercises.
I told you this would take more than one post. Here is part two.
So continuing with my list of books that changed my life, again in no particular order or preference:
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett—I know The Secret Garden is on everyone else’s list, but mine was Princess. It was so wonderfully tragic and melodramatic. I read and re-read this book a hundred times when I was a kid. It sparked my Anglophilia despite my Hungarian background.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—This book had so many fascinating facts and ideas that spoke to me as truths. The 10,000 hours idea, the way gifted children are tested, the way they play hockey in Canada and Czechoslovakia. I quickly went out an bought his others books, Tipping Point and Blink. Funny thing is that the book belongs to my daughter and when she moved out so did the book. Come to think of it, I need to go to the bookstore. Be right back.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—I didn’t read this book until I was an adult, and the first time I “read” it I was listening to it as an audiobook when I had to drive to Denver by myself. I only picked it up because it was one of those classics I had missed in my education. OH MY GOD. I was kicking myself by the time I arrived home. I loved the book. I went out the next day and bought myself a copy and read it (I didn’t feel right writing “re-read it”). I have since taught the book and grown to love it even more, so much so that when my dog chewed up a brand new copy that I was teaching from, I kept it alongside my old falling-part copy.
The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn—This book along with Bewitching (see previous post) is the reason I believe Romance can be sublime. Again, it was the first book in a long time that made me laugh out loud and cry. A wonderful experience all around. I hope someday to put my readers through something like that in the books I write.
The Wizard of Oz and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum—The movie just doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t. And the next books were better. I lived in Oz in elementary school. I remember reading Glenda of Oz on a camping trip with my best friend. We read by flashlight in our tent. It was an adventure to read an adventure. And it helped wake my love of fantasy.
And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie—I have always read mysteries starting with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew (Hmmm, they should make the list somewhere), but Dame Agatha is simply the queen. I have read many mysteries since reading her entire collection, but none have ever come close to the brilliance of Poirot, the hidden depths of Miss Marple, the spunk of Tommy and Tuppence, the other-worldiness of Harley Quin, and the ones that star no one in particular. A translation of one of her books was the first complete novel I read in Hungarian, and I have several German translations too. They got me through my year abroad and helped teach me the language at the same time. The Secret Adversary was the first book I downloaded on my Kindle too. Nobody does it better (whoops, wrong franchise).
Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling—Really? Do I need to say anything else? I’m working on reading it in my second language right now. I had as much fun with these as my twins who waited for their Hogwarts letters when they turned eleven.
Hmm, still not done with my list. How about some honorable mentions before one last big winner: Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (I should just write the Song of Fire and Ice series, but more people will recognize GoT); Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the first book in a long time that had me completely engrossed; Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare—while technically a play, it meant so much to me as a teenager; I’m over it now, really, and my favorite Shakespeare is Taming of the Shrew, but R&J were the teenage thing; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; No, David by David Shannon, the first book that my youngest could really enjoy.
I suppose I should stop. There may be a part three in the future, or at leas a list of honorable mentions, but time to move on. But one last book first . . .
13 (And yes, I like the number thirteen). A Matter of Convenience by Gabriella Anderson—The first book I sold. It started me on this crazy, rollercoaster of a heartbreaking career that I don’t know why I still pursue. That’s a lie. It’s the stories. It’s always about the stories.
Books I’m reading now:
Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Aszkaban by J K Rowling
Just because I have written Romance, why would you think I have an opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey?
I know the phenomenon that has hit the big screens this weekend. I remember it when it hit the book shelves a couple of years ago. I can’t give you an opinion on it. Why? Because I have neither read it nor seen it, and I have no plans to change that status any time soon. Usually when a book hit phenomenon stage I will pick it up. I figure that’s my job as a writer. I need to be familiar with the phenomena. That’s why I first picked up Harry Potter (back when there were only two books out there). I became a huge fan. Yes, sometimes the run-ons bothered me, but the book was so much more than that. I became one of those people who lined up at midnight to get the next volume. (Thank God I had children so I could use them as an excuse. I even made them dress up for one.) That’s why I read TheDaVinci Code (loved the concept, hated the execution). I read The Hunger Games for the same reason. And Twilight. And then came Fifty Shades.
I didn’t read it, and I won’t. And here are the three reasons I won’t:
First, it’s just not my thing. Yes, I read and write romance, but BDSM is not my thing (I have a friend who calls herself the queen of vanilla sex. If she’s the queen, then I’m the empress.). Neither is erotica. I won’t read it. Sorry. I know I’ve excluded a lot of books from my reading list with that pronouncement, but I don’t enjoy it, so why should I subject myself to it? I will fight for your right to read and write anything you want, but in the same way, you shouldn’t force me to read something I don’t want.
Second, I’ve heard, and, mind you, this is not my opinion because I can’t give one, never having have read it, that the writing is terrible. Not just bad. Worse. This from reliable sources, friends, people I respect. My nerves become tied up in knots when I read bad writing, so I don’t want to put myself through that.
Third, I know it started as fan fiction for Twilight, and I’ve read (and seen–talk to me about the things I will do for my youngest daughter) that book. I am a fan of plot. I reached page 295 (or so) of the novel and yelled out, “Finally, something happens.” I know there are people who loved Twilight, but I wasn’t one of them. I like action, movement, not self-reflection or self-awareness. I read far too many books where the characters have so much angst and carry so much baggage I don’t believe in the happy ending. I don’t enjoy books that have so much introspection that I need therapy afterward. Thus if Fifty is basically Twilight with a twist, I don’t need to read it.
And there you have it. I truly don’t like to give an opinion on something I haven’t judged for myself. I know what you’re thinking: For not having an opinion, I sure can write a lot of words about it. I truly can’t say Fifty Shades is terrible or trite or wrong or abusive or mommy porn or whatever the heck else has been said about it, but I can say I won’t be finding out first hand.
Books I’m reading now:
Just about to start How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove. Still have a few more chapters to go in my last RITA book.
In which I discuss voice and tone in the novels I enjoy (Yes, I mention Harry Potter again) and write, Edgar Allan Poe, Asimov, King, and my short story collection. It’s on sale now.
When I write my novels, my tone and voice are light, despite the possible high body count in the plots. I just don’t like dark, dark, hit-me-over-the-head-with-pain novels. I want my novels to have laughter, characters who don’t dwell on events until they are crippled, that end with the reader cheering for the protagonists. If you think about it, the Harry Potter books had high body counts (growing larger with each year), even episodes of sobbing (at least on my part), but I never felt my soul being dragged down as I read. I always felt uplifted (Yes, even through the tears—SPOILER [really, you haven’t read the books or at least watched the movies yet?]—When Snape killed Dumbledore I knew there was a reason, and even though my heart broke with Dumbledore’s death and funeral, I trusted JK Rowling to give me my answers in the next book. I was right. Book Seven was a killer, yet with every death I recognized the fight for good and that sacrifices had to be made. Geez, a long enough aside for you?)
So why bring this up? Because I like my short stories twisted. Think Edgar Allan Poe. His “Cask of Amontillado” is my all time favorite short story, but I also like his others (“Tell-tale Heart,” “Hop-Frog,” “The Black Cat”). My favorite story in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot is “Liar!”, and while I love “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (and the movie too), “The Breathing Method” is the novella that made the biggest impression on me when I read Stephen King’s Different Seasons.
So, again, why bring this up? Well, Preternatural is a collection of short stories I wrote that are entirely different from my novel voice (Well, sort of. I’d argue that “April Fools’” is long enough to have that light tone but just wait until the ending.). These stories are twisted, sharp (not as in smart, although I hope that too), dark, surprising, and well, different from my normal stuff. Thus the name GS Anderson on the cover. After Robot Guy read them, he turned to me and said, “I’m scared of you.”
They are short. Very short. The longest one is just under three thousand words. The shortest is a fable of forty-four words, but the average is around one thousand. Twelve in all, they entertain. If you like twisted.
And Preternatural (ebook only) is on sale now at Amazon and Nook for $.99 today through Sunday.
Please pick up a copy. Read them. Then think about writing a review of the book. Seriously, it’s only a buck.
I am a huge Harry Potter book fan. I liked the movies okay, but the books are what I return to over and over again.
So a few years ago when I was traveling in Germany, I picked up the German copy of the first Harry Potter book. Why I didn’t buy more I’ll never know–probably because I didn’t have a lot of room for books with all the clothes I had to bring and all the souvenirs that came home with us on that trip–but only one book came home with me. I read it as soon as we reached home. And enjoyed it. (Although I have two gripes about two translations–one: while Schnurrbart can colloquially mean a cat’s whiskers, it threw me right out of the story to picture a cat with a mustache; two: Ein Junge überlebt does NOT have the same effect as The Boy Who Lived). So my goal became tracking down a complete set of Harry Potter in German.
Okay, you’d think–go to Amazon and order. Well, I don’t want them as ebooks (I have no problems with ebooks, but some books I must have in tangible form), and since the first one I bought was paperback, I want them all in paperback. New, not used. The paperback versions cost between $40 and $50. I understand the cost of importing, etc, but really? For a brand new unsigned, not rare paperback? Because of my upbringing (immigrant parents who were the products of war, poverty, and communist takeover), I have a very strong frugal bone that I try hard to overcome. Often with little success. I have a really hard time spending money on frivolous things (On the plus side, I live with very little debt. House mortgage, that’s all). So the quest for Harry Potter in German became a real adventure.
I thought acquiring the second book in the series would be easy-peasy. My mother and niece were traveling to Hungary. They had a four hour layover in Munich. Airports have bookstores. I asked my mother to go to the store and buy me book two in the series. I assured her that everyone in Germany speaks English (and that’s true for the most part. When I was there, no one let me speak German. They all spoke English to me. I was quite depressed about it. I know my accent has become terrible over the years, but I have no chance to practice here at home.) and Harry Potter was ubiquitous enough that any bookstore would understand Book 2 in the series. She couldn’t do it. For whatever reason, my mother couldn’t handle going to the bookstore and asking, and my niece was too shy to carry out the task herself.
Now the story could have ended here. My mother simply could have said, “I didn’t get it.” I would have dealt with it. Not that big a deal. But no, my mother involved my cousins on my mother’s side who live in Karlsruhe. These cousins are two of the nicest people anywhere. They would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. I can’t ever repay their kindnesses toward me–how they entertained me in Budapest when I was a student abroad, how they hosted my entire family when we traveled to Europe a few years ago. They always go above and beyond. So when they heard I wanted this book in German, they pledged they would get it for me and send it to Hungary to my aunt’s house where my mother was staying, so my mother could pick it up there. Now,these cousins aren’t readers, and don’t understand the worldwide impression that HP created. When they went to the bookstore to get the book, the store didn’t have it. They had #1, and #3-7, but happened to be out of #2. So they left the store and called me to tell me that, see, your mother wouldn’t have been able to find the book even if she had tried, but they could have the book store order the book for me and they would still send it. I immediately said, no, this wasn’t that big a deal, but I believe I mentioned above that these cousins go above and beyond. They wouldn’t hear of me not having this book if I made a special request, so they ordered the book. Interestingly, the bookstore received it the next day because it was already on order (Yes, HP is that big a deal). So they picked up the book and sent it to their parent in Hungary. The guilt I was feeling by this time was enormous. I blame my mother (don’t we all?) for having told these cousins about my quest.
Meanwhile my mother, who is getting up there in age, wasn’t feeling well on her trip. Her blood pressure was elevated, she was feeling stress from having to watch my niece, and so decided to travel home with my niece instead of staying for the two more weeks she had planned. (Don’t worry, Mom is fine now; the blood pressure thing has been taken care of; the good news is that with the levels she reached, if she didn’t blow an artery then, she never will). The book, of course, arrived after my mother left.
So my book, which was supposed to be a time killing task at the Munich airport, was now sitting in my maternal aunt’s house in Hungary.
Fast forward to this spring. My paternal aunt (also Hungarian) decides to travel back to Hungary for a visit. The two sides of the family know each other, if only because they have the emigrants in common. My maternal aunt is willing to get the book to my paternal aunt, if the paternal aunt is willing. Well, it was pretty smooth from there. The book was delivered, and HP#2 in German is sitting in my paternal aunt’s house…in California. My mother lives about 60 miles away from her, which means a good hour and a half drive or longer in SoCal, a drive not taken lightly at their advanced ages. My mother does not have the book yet. And I believe I mentioned that frugal bone I inherited above. Even when she does get it, she won’t mail it to me because we shall be visiting at some point, so she can wait until we get there. Save some money.
I never thought collecting a series could be so complicated. I suppose if I tweak a few of the details, it might make a grand farce. Meanwhile book #3 was easy to acquire. A dear friend traveled to Germany with her husband on his business trip and brought it back for me. She doesn’t speak German either and was able to find it without difficulty. It’s now sitting on my table. I can’t read it though. Not until I read book #2 first. There are rules, you know.
Books I’m reading now:
A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
A Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (and yes, there’s a reason I’m reading this now; stay tuned)
I’m just going to put it out there. I love spoilers. I like to know what’s going to happen before it happens. I can enjoy a book or movie if I already know the ending. It doesn’t bother me in the least. Sometimes the spoiler is the deciding factor if I’m going to watch a movie or read a book at all. If it doesn’t have that satisfying ending, forget it. I will especially forgo any book/film that has a “clever twist” ending (in quotes for a reason because I like twists). Those irritate the crap out of me, i.e. girl’s dad is dying, she promises to take care of him, she meets someone, dad gets mad and sicker, but it’s the boyfriend who dies tragically and suddenly, dad realizes how selfish he’s been, she needs to live her life, etc.- blech. (Hey, I’m allowed an opinion too. If you like those stories, fine. I applaud you for sticking up for yourself, but I don’t have to like them.). By the way, satisfying doesn’t mean happily ever after. Second Hand Lions starts with the death of the two uncles, but I love it. And Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury) has a higher body count than a lot of novels, but it’s wonderful and life affirming.
A study at UCSD showed that knowing the spoiler/ending increases enjoyment of the work (the link is to an article about the study, not the study itself). I agree. Look, we all know romance novels make up the biggest segment of the fiction market. Every romance ends with the couple forming a relationship. Every single one (If it doesn’t, then it isn’t a romance). Guess what? That’s not what the readers read for. Romance readers love what they read. Could part of the reason be they know the ending? Yes, I read my books backwards. I always (ALWAYS) read the last few pages at the beginning.
I think this enjoyment explains re-reading as well. I often told my students they need to read assignments twice- the first time just for the plot, the second for understanding. If you follow my blog you know I am currently re-reading George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. It’s better the second time through. I know what happens; now I can concentrate on details and characterization. It’s so much richer this time. And I probably don’t have to tell you how many times I’ve read Harry Potter. In fact the saga of the German copy of Chamber of Secrets will be an upcoming blog. But each time there’s something new to enjoy and grasp. Italo Calvino said, “a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” That sentence presumes reading things more than once. There are many books I won’t ever re-read or couldn’t get through the first time (and that’s okay too; I’ve blogged here on taste before). But the ones, books and movies, that I revisit several times are my classics. I find new meanings, nuances, and truths I didn’t on the previous viewings.
And it’s easier to get to deeper understanding if you know the ending.
Don’t worry. I try not to spoil endings for others. People can be touchy about the subject. But if I ask you for a spoiler, I really want it. I want to see the journey more than the end. Maybe you should try it a couple of times and see if you notice any difference in your reading.
I’m torn. If a book intrigues me, I love to find out it’s a series. I don’t mind waiting for each book to come out. That was part of the fun in the Harry Potter series. The anticipation for the next one. Re-reading each one before the next came out. Speculating about the plot. And how much fun we had getting the midnight release. I’ll never be able to read those books again for the first time.
Sometimes, however, reading a complete series can be too much. The reader has to slog through recaps so that new readers aren’t lost if they start with book two or three. And frankly, I miss stand alone books. I’m willing to follow an author even if the books aren’t connected.
I recently read a series where the author’s voice was amazing and sucked me in, but I didn’t like the story enough to get lost in them. I still read them all (I guess we’d have to count that as a success for the author), but I found myself criticizing rather than enjoying. By the end the list of things that didn’t work for me was long, and yet I wanted to finish.
And then there are the series that don’t finish. It happens a lot in publishing. An author’s numbers aren’t good enough, so they drop her, or her editor leaves and the new editor doesn’t want to keep her. With self-pubbing, the possibility exists that the author might finish the series on her own, but on the other hand, one has to move on as well.
If you’re the type of reader who likes to wait until a series is complete to read it, you’re in luck. My Time of Transition series is now done. The three books, THE WISH LIST, AS YOU WISH, and WISHFUL THINKING, are all available now. Spread the word. I could use your help in keeping this world alive.