Sick-O

It’s been several months since I have last posted here; I didn’t mean to leave you hanging, but I had a serious health problem the made it impossible to continue. Not only that, I was reading a lot more than usual, so I doubt I could have kept up anyway. My totals for the year have been astronomic: 12 books in January, 8 in February, 16 in March, 11 in April, 16 in May, 8 in June. Most of these books were, of course, romance novels, but there was some Terry Pratchett, Agatha Christie, Calvin and Hobbes, and some travelogues. I had a lot of time to read, particularly as I generally didn’t get out of bed until noon.

As for what illness I had – it doesn’t really matter what it was on some levels, because when you get down to it, sick is sick is sick. I can only assume that it feels emotionally similar to have one infirmity as another: the sadness, apathy, the search for a decent doctor, the worry, the money-worry, the missing-out on family events. I was fortunate enough to find a good doctor and I’m now in the final stages of my treatment; I feel almost back to normal, though I am still reeling from the intensity of the experience.

For those who must know, I had/have Lyme Disease. It stinks on ice. If you live in tick-prone areas, get naked in good light in front of a full-length mirror and memorize your moles – and do this any time you walk over bare ground, no matter the season. You could lose six months like I did; or you could lose ten or twenty years of your life staring catatonically into space. This thing is a monster that destroys your life in slow motion. Take it seriously.

I’m not saying any of this to be told ‘you poor thing.’ I hate that. I loathe it when people say that they are sorry I am in this condition – it’s nobody’s fault. If anyone feels the need to say anything, they should say ‘that sucks,’ and leave it. Being the object of pity is one of the worst parts of being sick.

 

This is ultimately a blog about what I am reading, rather than about my infirmity; however, I doubt I could be capable of doing blog posts for the fifty or so books I haven’t written about yet. I may go back and look at my absolute favorites – I have one in mind at the moment – because they’re worth the time.

Today’s book, however, is Garrison Keillor’s anthology of poetry, Good Poems. I love this book. I have never read it cover to cover, but I flit about reading poems in different sections as the fancy takes me. I’m almost certain I’ve read the whole thing.

My grandmother gave me this book in 2008, and it has been my constant companion ever since. It has gone to Europe with me, to Peru with me, to every place I have ever moved. Fifty years from now, when I’m dead, this book will still be on my shelf (or, let’s be honest, it might be by the toilet).

I was sifting through Good Poems one day in February or March and found something extraordinary. Emily Dickinson encapsulated what my life felt like in Beautiful Language.

 

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When Light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight
And Life steps almost straight.

 

I cannot tell you what I felt upon reading this poem. It was almost like falling in love and crying in relief at the same time. I was in a world of people telling me that it was too bad and that they were sorry, and there was Emily Dickinson speaking to me from her own little world. She is totally right: in difficulty, we have to alter ourselves to weather the darkness. We have to change in order to get back to the light, warm places. We have to expect failure, and to be brave in different ways – because sometimes courage is searching for home in the Dark.

I am immeasurably grateful to all of the people who have helped me through this grueling period of my life, whether it was moral, material, or medical support; I also feel a debt of gratitude to Emily Dickinson, who told me the truth and gave me hope.

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Possession

Disclaimer: the title of this blog is in place to exasperate a friend of mine. (Don’t worry – I’m on page 212 and counting!)

 

Crazy for You is another great book by Jennifer Crusie – which is why it wasn’t included in the latest splodge-post on romance novels. It has some classic Crusie hallmarks, including the funky house and the dog with character, but overall the book has a different feeling to many of her others.

The future couple has known one another since high school, and have become close platonic friends. Their romance follows a lot like the plot of When Harry Met Sally, though the heroine of the book, Quinn, starts pushing for romance before the hero, Nick, is fully ready for it. Happily ever after, blah, blah, blah.

But this isn’t your usual Crusie story, where most of the attention is on the relationship between the protagonists. Sure, that part of the story is well developed, but the book isn’t really about that.

The book opens on Quinn, a high school art teacher; she’s dating Bill the football coach, someone of considerable local fame because he keeps on winning championships. However, Bill doesn’t like it when Quinn takes in strays. One evening, she finds a puppy and decides to keep him for herself; Bill hates this and brings the dog to the pound. Incensed, Quinn tells him off, breaks off their relationship, and gets her dog back. Soon, she’s out of their shared apartment and then out of her parents’ house, into her own house. She starts to see Nick in a different light.

And Bill starts stalking her.

Bill, who was once jovial, competent, and harmless, becomes surly and secretive. He spies on Quinn, finds ways to break into her new home (including breaking a basement window and copying the front door key), continually attempts to get rid of the dog, sabotages her house, and escalates to physical violence. Bill is counting on Quinn relenting when he shows her what the obvious correct route is. They’ll get married and she’ll have boys for him to teach football to; as with winning championships, Bill does not consider the possibility of defeat, regardless of how many times she tells him no.

 

I once had a low-grade stalker, someone who sent a couple of disturbing letters to my workplace. I reported him to the police, who treated it as a minor offense – but it didn’t feel minor to me. Being stalked means that your zone of safety shrinks to you and the reach of a hammer. Feeling like someone feels proprietary over you without your permission is deeply unsettling. Going in to work suddenly seemed risky – anyone with the address and GoogleMaps could locate me from eight to four every weekday. To read this book is to understand the fullest extension of my apprehensions, what could have happened if this guy hadn’t stood down after his visit by the sheriff. I am still on the watch for a bright blue pickup truck whenever I go around town.

In Bill’s case, he had a one-track obsessive character; in my case, this man had taken lots of LSD and has since lost a high percentage of his marbles. Whatever the case, though, stalking is stalking is stalking.

Crazy for You doesn’t just scare you with an all-too-real portrayal of stalking, it also shows other brands of male possessiveness. This brings up the unavoidable question: what is a healthy level of obsession?

Crusie gives us the counterpoint of some secondary characters: Darla leaves her husband Max because Max has been taking her for granted, and the relationship between the two of them has suffered. Darla feels that Max hasn’t seen her for a long time. Max is disconsolate, but he leaves Darla alone for a while, thinking that if he gives her space, she’ll come back where she belongs; it takes him a while to realize that she is waiting for some obvious demonstration of love. Max ends up kidnapping Darla (over his shoulder) and carries her off someplace private to seduce her.

Does that feel right? I’m still not quite sure, even though Darla was happy with the end result. Nick and Quinn talk about obsession toward the end of the book:

“Look, I know it’s not right, but that’s the way it is. I watch you walk across the stage, and I look at your butt and I think, That’s mine. I watch you stretch up to take a paint can from Thea and your shirt gaps open and I think, That’s mine. I listen to your voice and your laugh and I watch your eyes and your mouth and I think, That’s mine… It doesn’t go away. You can’t talk me out of that. Every move you make belongs to me. I know it’s wrong, and I don’t care.”

“Oh,” Quinn said.

“And the problem is, Bill doesn’t even know it’s wrong. He just knows you’re his and you’re not with him.”

Quinn swallowed. “He’s never going to see the truth, is he?”

“Yes,” Nick said. “He’s going to see it, but it’s going to take more than talk. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I know it’s going to be more than you saying, ‘Bill, it’s over.’ You could say it to me and I’d never believe it. You’re mine. Just like Darla belongs to Max.” (269)

I’m still not sure what the healthy level of possession should be in a loving relationship. You can’t deny that a husband and wife belong to one another, particularly if they care deeply about their partner. But what’s the line between fighting for love and danger? I don’t think there’s a big bold line between the two; there are of course red flags and unpardonable behavior, and what’s permissible must be on a case-by-case basis. This sometimes feels like cold comfort in a world of wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

For such an unsettling book, it ends gratifyingly, with Quinn beating Bill into submission using a broken porch rail, quickly followed by his arrest. In fiction as in real life, sometimes the good guys win.

Comedy and Neuroticism

Painting by Van Gogh.

I have been known to gasp in surprise while reading a book. Sometimes I snigger when a romance novel really steps in it. It’s rare that I’ll chortle or giggle while reading, get that good full-throated laugh that makes you happy to be alive and reading that particular book.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris made me laugh out loud eighteen times. Each of the essays show you a slice of Sedaris’ life, interludes that usually verge on the ridiculous. For example, Sedaris quit smoking in Japan (because why not?), which of course meant that he had to figure out how to navigate an apartment full of electronics bent on communicating with him:

A Japanese woman we’d met in Paris came to the apartment yesterday and spent several hours explaining our appliances. The microwave, the water kettle, the electric bathtub: everything blinks and bleeps and calls out in the middle of the night. I’d wondered what the rice maker was on about, and Reiko told us that it was on a timer and simply wanted to let us know that it was present and ready for duty. That was the kettle’s story as well, while the tub was being an asshole and waking us up for no reason. (276)

The whole book is like this. It’s smart and it’s wicked, but Sedaris knows what he’s doing. Every so often he’ll sneak up on you and hit you with a perfect poignant moment. Take “Keeping Up,” which is about his partner of many years, Hugh. Hugh walks incredibly fast, which is difficult when they travel together: David ends up not looking at his surroundings but for Hugh’s back. Once, at the zoo in Sydney, David loses Hugh for a while. He thinks, ‘this is IT!,’ but then realizes what that would actually mean. He’s not good with money or logistics; and if he lived on his own, who would make judgement about extending warranties or fixing things that break?

I’ve been around for nearly half a century, yet still I’m afraid of everything and everyone. A child sits beside me on a plane and I make conversation, thinking how stupid I must sound. The downstairs neighbors invite me to a party and, after claiming I have a pervious arrangement, I spend the entire evening confined to bed, afraid to walk around because they might hear my footsteps. I do not know how to turn up the heat, send an e-mail, call the answering machine for my messages, or do anything even remotely creative with a chicken. Hugh takes care of all that, and when he’s out of town I eat like a wild animal, the meat still pink, with hair and feathers clinging to it. So is it any wonder that he runs away from me? No matter how angry I get, it always comes down to this: I’m going to leave and then what? Move in with my dad? Thirty minutes of pure rage, and when I finally spot him I realize that I have never been so happy to see someone in my life.

“There you are,” I say. And when he asks where I have been, I answer honestly and tell him I was lost. (18-19)

Sedaris seems to teeter between humor and heartbreak in all the essays; like any comedian with a bad childhood, comedy hinges on tragedy. It’s only funny if something greater is at stake.

Deluge

My hiatus from blogging does not mean that I have not been reading – quite the opposite. By my last count, I’ve read fifteen books in March – and I still have a day to go.

I’ll blitz a bunch of the romance novels in one go; these are in ascending order by when they are supposed to have taken place. Some dates aren’t given, so I had to guesstimate. I’m also including the numbers of the tropes in the books, which you can find on my master list.

 

Title: Dude Looks Like a Lady
1813: The Impostor, Celeste Bradley
Tropes: 2, 22

An innocuous widow secretly draws political cartoons for profit, under a nom de plume; a governmental operative is sent to find her and make her stop. The operative poses publicly as the cartoonist, using her pen name. Much drama, particularly because it takes so long for the spy to realize that the widow is responsible for all the hubbub. This doesn’t stop them from consummating their relationship (on someone else’s bed, no less – a servant who likely would not have been able to change the sheets afterward). Not to mention he puts her life at risk from the beginning – he sits on a trunk he knows she’s hiding in and she very nearly asphyxiates. Is that how you know it’s love?

Best quote: “She could just see the curls on his chest in the open throat of his shirt. Were his shoulders getting broader by the moment?” (253)

 

Title: Book-long Prologue
~1820, What Happens in London, Julia Quinn
Tropes: 22

You might be fooled to think that this story is about the protagonists described on the back cover – it’s really to prepare you for the next book. Who is this Sarah Gorley? Why does she write such appalling books? Why is it that handsome Sebastian uses just great adjectives and reads from Gorley’s repertoire with such passionate zeal? This one’s still a normal book about spies and debutantes, with a sudden kidnapping at the end (no better way to wring a proposal – indecent or otherwise – out of a hero).

Best quote: “…it wasn’t the sort of escapade that made sense on paper.” (123) (Oh yeah? Then what does? And what is this book printed on? So many questions.)

 

Title: A Dude Accessing His Feelings
~1820-21, Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn
Tropes: 2, 11, 16, 18

Sebastian writes as Sarah Gorley and has lots of Deep Feelings. He’s got a nasty uncle, who’s trying to marry the heroine and have babies so that Sebastian will no longer be in line to get the title. The heroine, who smells like violets and tastes like vanilla cream, is trying desperately not to marry the old letch, but doesn’t have much choice: she’s under pressure from her London relatives, and her family back in the country somewhere are living hand-to-mouth. Sebastian’s royalties solve many problems, as does the intervention of the heroine’s grandmother at the last crucial moment when the uncle takes the matter into his own hands, attempting to despoil the heroine.

Of course, this plot is stretching it already, but wouldn’t you know it? There’s some low-grade incest going on here. The aforementioned grandmother slept with the awful uncle and had a child with him; this kid went on to be the heroine’s father. So they’re all related – but don’t ask me how. I have drawn and erased so many defective family trees that I am contented in it remaining shrouded in mystery. Let’s hope nobody’s hiding any dirty genetic secrets.

Best quote: “A dead body would do less damage to her reputation than a live one.” (54)

 

Title: Resign Everything and Make Babies, You Old Cow
1824, Wed Him Before You Bed Him, Sabrina Jefferies
Tropes: 5, 6, 8, 9, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

The prize for dumbest title has to be at least shared with this book – not just because the order is emphatically reversed in the story. The hero – who wears a spicy cologne with hints of rosemary and wine and tastes like peppermint – catfished the woman he loved as a young man, initially as revenge for being thrown over but then out of love for her. She runs a school for girls and has no idea that her correspondent is the guy she feels bad for wronging. They figure out that they love one another and she gives up her school (grumblegrumble), but not before they figure out who killed his first wife. Why do the women always give stuff up at the end? How does she just roll over after spending so much time insisting that the school gave her purpose in life? What is she going to do on his estates other than pop out babies and wait for death? Is she so ready to give up teaching? Really?

Pah.

Best quote: There’s the use of the phrase ‘boxing the Jesuit’ on page 216 that I won’t dip too far into. The curious can look it up.

 

Title: Trapped and Shedding Clothes
1806/1823/1870-85, Snowy Night with a Stranger, Julia London, Sabrina Jeffries, Jane Feather
Tropes:
London – 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 19
Jeffries – 6, 10, 13, 21
Feather – 4, 10, 14

The common thread to each of these stories is #10, The Deserted Island. In each of these, the protagonists are stuck with one another in the middle of a massive blizzard – this means that they spend lots and lots of time in close quarters and find each other irresistible. Feather’s story is pretty forgettable – a female highwayman stealing so that she can run away from a bad situation; she’s got almost enough money to make a break for it when True Love appears. Of course, True Love’s name might be Ned, but under those circumstances beggars cannot be choosers. I’ve seen this done in any number of stories, and it’s only felt new once.

Jeffries’ story is slightly better – though it could easily have been a full book, with some of the details fleshed out. A second son ascended to the title after his older brother blew himself up in a drunken escapade. The survivor is wracked with guilt – he’s the expert in explosives, after all – and has secluded himself in order to feel right about continuing his work. A couple of women and a slew of children have wrecked their carriage and are rendered snowbound with the hero. The plot peaks when the boys attempt to break into the barn in which all of the experiments are conducted, a place only the master of the house is allowed. The heroine – the unattached young lady of the group – rushes down to ensure that the hero doesn’t beat the adolescents to a bloody pulp, and after the children are gone, they end up having sex on one of the tables in the dangerous barn. Woops?

London’s novella features the protagonists traveling into the heart of Scotland close to Christmastime; the two of them have to spend a night under a tarpaulin in the middle of a blizzard. She finally figures out that under the scarves and the burned face is the man who called her ugly several years ago; he deals with his guilt at surviving a friend in a house fire. She decides that she likes freezing her butt off in Scotland and marries Scarface.

 

Title: ConsentWatch
1876, Mesmerized, Candace Camp
Tropes: 10, 19, 22

I read this book and paid special attention to consent, as I felt I had been negligent on that count: I want to ensure that the books I read actually do have full willingness and participation. I am happy to say that Mesmerized, fortunately, is significantly better than normal. After the second time they kiss, the heroine tells the hero that she enjoyed it. When they do consummate their relationship, she initiates the action. So maybe it’s that I’m not reading such rape-y books as I used to?

The story itself is about the séance craze in the mid to late 1800s; even as the protagonists are looking to unmask a phony medium, actual ghosts start to scuffle up dust. Evil gets vanquished, et cetera.

 

Title: Apperation
1906, Thornbrook Park, Sherri Browning
Tropes: 11, 16, 22, 23

This love story is between a six foot tall PTSD-ridden man and a 5’2” woman who smells like ginger and oranges. He’s dealing with the aftermath of the Boer War by taking part in boxing matches; she’s back from India after her [impotent but beloved] husband’s demise. Her childhood friend happens to be the sister-in-law of the hero, so they are thrown together. The hero is a strange character: he wants an equal relationship with his life partner, advocates teaching women self-defense, but cannot stand to cry because he thinks it’s childish. Sigh. He was almost progressive.

I really liked this story, particularly because when modern technologies come into play, the narrative changes. The only point where I could truly fault it was at the end, when the incriminating bookend was found in the wrong room. If you murder someone in your study several rooms away in the heat of the moment, wouldn’t you use something a bit more handy? Of course, having the bookend in the sitting room aided detection of the guilty parties, but still. Harrumph!

Best quote: “His longing, pressing against her, was as undeniable as her own need curled into a tight coil inside her.” (227) Snigger.

 

Title: Something of Substance
1995, Charlie All Night, Jennifer Crusie
Tropes: 7, 12, 15, 22

Jennifer Crusie tends to include many of the same themes in her books – this one has a dog with character and the lack of a female orgasm during the first sexual encounter. Even though she tends to repeat herself, there is always something surprising. This time, it was a defense of unjust laws. (Didn’t see that one coming, didja?) I’m not going to say anything of my own, but leave the hero’s monologue to talk for itself:

“’One of the biggest problems this country has is that people think a law is only a law if they agree with it. And if they don’t, it’s all right to kick guys like Joe out of the service and bomb abortion clinics because there’s a higher law at work. And that’s garbage, Allie. The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change it. But don’t break it and then start whining when there are consequences.’” (270)

 

Title: Nattering
2005, Can You Keep a Secret?, Sophie Kinsella
Tropes: 10, 12, 16, 19

Technically, this one’s chick lit, but it’s still a love story, if an unconventional one. The heroine, Emma, always a shaky flier, is in a plane that hits turbulence and she suddenly finds herself spilling all of her secrets to her seatmate, Jack. This would be a funny but temporary situation if the guy she’d talked to wasn’t the head of her company, and if he didn’t know that she was feeding her smarmy coworker’s spider plant orange juice, or that she had a code for skiving off to get coffee with a friend. It would also be convenient if Jack weren’t fascinated by her. They end up going on a few disastrous dates, but there is such an imbalance in their relationship it can’t work. Finally, she corners him and demands his secrets. I like that in an otherwise frivolous book, there’s a real grounded need for honesty: it’s what makes it readable.

Some of Emma’s secrets: “The one time I tried to do the Heimlich maneuver, the guy thought I was coming on to him…I haven’t ever climbed a mountain, I don’t have a tattoo, I don’t even know if I’ve got a G-spot…” (23)

Some of Jack’s secrets: “I’ve always wanted to be an inch or two taller than I am. I…I don’t know what ‘codependent’ means. I…I have a recurring dream in which I’m Superman falling from the sky. I sometimes sit at board meetings and look around and think, ‘Who the hell are these guys?’” (354)

 

That’s it. I really ought to start reading slower.

The Value of Friendship

There are some books I read as a kid that imprinted on me in a big way. One of these was The King’s Equal, written by Katherine Patterson and illustrated by Vladimir Vagin. I read it in second grade (which you can tell because I wrote it on the inside of the cover), forgot it at school for a little while, and then snapped it back up. This book was a big step for me – a chapter book! And one that didn’t have drawings on all the pages! I liked the great sweep of the story with its satisfying finish, the sense of all being right with the world at the close.

Now, though, I read it every so often and I realize what Patterson so cunningly orchestrated: big concepts phrased in little words. I think she knew that maybe this could change people in some small way, change how they looked at the world. She knew it was – is – a great book. It withstands re-reading, and it withstands age.

First of all, you are drawn in by the fantastic illustrations. They are delicate, amazingly detailed, and they only add to the story. You can get a larger emotional scope out of the story by studying them, as the wording can be a little sparse; this, of course, is perfect for this kind of book. Just enough art so that the child is engaged, waiting for the next painting, but enough pages with words to feel grown-up. Now, I study how the illustrations were created; I wonder what Vagin might have done to achieve that luminous effect. It’s Art, pure and simple.

On a closer read, though, you realize that there’s much more to the story. On the face of it, a bad, greedy prince wants all of the wealth and power in his kingdom, taxing all his citizens into abject poverty and making unilateral decisions. However, his father the king had decreed from his deathbed that the prince could not be king until the prince had found a wife to equal him in beauty, intelligence, and wealth. The known world was combed for princesses to fit the bill, but each time, the prince found fault. The prince was on the precipice of sending his whole government to rot in prison, when, at the last possible moment, a woman appeared.

She was beautiful, she knew things about the prince that even he did not know, and she had everything in the world that she wanted. The prince was overjoyed! They could get married and he’d be king at last! The woman, however, said that the prince had just pronounced her to be more than his equal, because the prince had said she was the most beautiful creature he’d seen, that there were things she knew that he did not, and that there were many things he wanted but did not possess.

This is where the story gets interesting, and I’m not going to tell you why.

What I will tell you is that in an adult reading, you can see a whole lot more: the book is predicated not only on the necessity of marital equality but also that a king should be honorable in order to merit crowning. More that this, the book shows the importance of teamwork and how taking pride in menial duties can be a very good thing. What really got me on this reading – loud and clear as a bell – is that you are a shitty person until you are a good friend. We don’t get hit over the head with any of it: the story shows-not-tells us.

 

The world is abuzz over young adult fiction – its emotional maturity! its scope! But I’d rather not overlook truly good books for children. There is a lot that you can teach a little girl without telling her you are teaching it. You can show her what she is worth; you can show her new ways to think; you can show her empathy. But not in so many words.

Poor, Obscure, Plain, and Little

Reading Jane Eyre is like being hypnotized. Charlotte Brontë is so consistent that her writing sinks you deeper and deeper into the psyche of Jane, to the point that sudden noises make you jump. Jane Eyre makes you think in her sentence structure and vocabulary for days afterward. The effect is enhanced in the winter months – ideally January or February – so that you can truly feel the book, its isolation, its steady determination.

Added bonus: Toby Stephens.

Perhaps you don’t feel the same way – perhaps you haven’t read Jane Eyre yet. If you haven’t even heard of the plot, try the book first. If you don’t like it, try watching the BBC’s 2006 adaptation: watch it all in one go and you can still get that magical disembodied feeling. And no spoilers! You’ll have a very good idea of what is to happen anyway, because the story is cunningly put together. Not only is the book deliberately constructed, but the events of the story are often hinted at or alluded to; language that Jane uses on one occasion is closely mirrored at other times. It goes to show that not only was each word decided and reviewed, but that Brontë had mapped out her plot in meticulous detail before she started writing.

 

I first read Jane Eyre in sophomore year of high school; my mother had intended to let me borrow her copy, and I fell in love with it. It was one of those intense experiences that leave an indelible mark. There’s a before and an after, a B.C. and an A.D. In short, I still have my mother’s book, but it’s been so long that I have colonized it and made it mine. There’s tape on the inside of the front cover and now along the spine; when I’m not reading it, it stays in a plastic bag, sealed from the world. I love the picture on the front. I love the smoothness of the pages. I like that it is a cheap paperback, but one that has endured decades of hard reading.

You could reasonably say that my love for the story has spilled over into its physical carrier; hopefully, you have books like this too. A love for the contents of the pages, but also the pages themselves. The book becomes a touchstone, giving you a flicker of emotion each time you touch the spine in passing.

Jane’s character shows me how a person’s priorities can be organized; morals first, then surrender to God, followed by love. I think about this part of her often, wonder how I could emulate it. Knowing the difference between right and wrong, following the church’s dictates, and, if there is still space left, reaching out for love. I think of this every time I sift through my books.

 

And if you read Jane Eyre and still don’t see my point, read Wuthering Heights instead. You filthy animal.

Landslide

…This isn’t quite the landslide I am thinking about. The one I have in mind looks more like this:

No death or destruction, just a whole lot of material to wade through. I am so impossibly behind that it makes no sense doing individual posts for every book. Instead, each one will be addressed, rapid-fire. It’ll be like a cheese tasting of book reviews.

 

Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett

Title of Blog Post: Halfway Down a Shark

This book has it all: clueless idiots in positions of power, a critical zombie, sentient shopping carts, and Death in exile. It’s a great romp, and has the Pratchett magic: a mad jumble of semi-associated characters and events coalesce into a ball of not-quite-logic. One of the best parts is a footnote on page 51, on ‘anti-crimes,’ an action that isn’t welcome but isn’t awful, either, such as breaking-and-decorating and whitemailing (in which you threaten to disclose the benign actions of a shady character, so that he loses street cred).

Best quote of the book: “This usually led to a fierce ecclesiastical debate which resulted in Mrs. Cake giving the chief priest what she called ‘a piece of her mind.’ There were so many pieces of Mrs. Cake’s mind left around the city now that it was quite surprising that there was enough left to power Mrs. Cake, but, strangely enough, the more pieces of her mind she gave away the more there seemed to be left.” (102)

 

Memoirs of a Scandalous Red Dress, Elizabeth Boyle

Title of Blog Post: Minor Historical Inaccuracies

On page twenty, Boyle assumes that Regency dresses did not require corsets. (For those of you who do not read romance novels, the Regency period was in the early 1800s when the Prince of Wales was the de facto ruler of England.) Regency dresses have long flowing skirts beneath empire waistlines (that’s beneath the bust): this creates a willowy shape. Corsets were used to jack up women’s breasts so that a) they would have extraordinary cleavage and b) their legs and torsos would appear longer. Contrary to popular opinion, Regency women did lace themselves up and deform their insides in the name of fashion.

Aside from this admittedly minor detail, the book is run-of-the-mill: the heroine is gorgeous at 43 (and still fits into clothing she wore over twenty years ago); he’s an alcoholic with back scars who has spent the past couple of decades pining for her. He sobers up, she tells him that the kids he thought were someone else’s are actually his (gasp-gasp! twins!), and she decides to take off on the open sea with him, forgetting that she doesn’t have birth control and that being pregnant on the ocean can be a mite uncomfortable.

Best part of the book: finishing it and realizing that they advertise the book you just read in the back pages. D’OH!

 

Be Mine, Jennifer Crusie/Victoria Dahl/Shannon Stacey

Title of Blog Post: Only Partly Mexican

This one is a collection of three stories. The first is a classic Corporate Takeover (#15) in which the guy doesn’t listen and she has to browbeat him to bring him round. The second has a hero that is half-Mexican, a detail you can miss if you are speedreading. In the third, the hero knows not to press her sexually while she is vulnerable so that consent is super clear; I blacked out for a minute in pure, unadulterated shock.

Best quote of the book: “Chris had the concentration of a fruit fly and the morals of a mink.” (50)

 

Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia, Dave Wolverton

Title of Blog Post: Five Times Fast

Star Wars has one romance story in it, and someone called Dave decided to memorialize it in print. I really don’t need to say much more than that, but I will anyway. While the story isn’t particularly fluently written, it does include a whopping eight of my romance-novel tropes: 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 20, and 22. (Not bad!) Han does an excellent job of being a leading man (insensitive, fully functional even when sloshed, etc.) and Leia does what Leia does: hold the whole damn thing together. (Men, sigh.) I loved the moments Luke took to say Jedi stuff and all the zany names: Zsinj (a bad guy), Gethzerion (a bad chick), and Thpffftht (the name of a good-guy ship).

Best quote of the book: “’Stormtroopers are easy to kill.’” (192)

 

The Secrets of Richard Kenworthy, Julia Quinn

Title of Blog Post: Someone Call Maury

I read this one on my kindle, so I have fewer explicit notes. The plot boils down to: Hero must find Heroine and marry her as quickly as possible, so that she will raise the love-child of his younger sister and nobody falls in disgrace. Heroine is kept in the dark for a long time, and when she figures out what’s going on that she restrains the urge to rip out Hero’s jugular and hold his still-beating heart in her hands – and then she figures out what’s really been going on. The younger sister marries a nice guy and somehow the central romance of the book works out. This is one of Quinn’s less likely books, to say the least.

Best idea of the book: if you love someone, the sex will automatically good. (Some of my smoothie almost blew out my nose on this one.)

 

Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Crusie

Title of Blog Post: Three Dogs, Two People, One Bed

The scene opens on a woman with unfortunate hair and three dogs. Someone takes potshots at her and attempts to break into her house. A police officer moves in with her for her protection. Pretty soon, the intensity of their situation fuels their love story, and before you know it, they’ve skipped about three to five months of intimacy and they love one another. Both bad Bradleys are caught and the officer gets her yet another dog. I actually like him; many heroes have a mental capacity that is best characterized by a sledgehammer falling down a deep well. This guy has enough self-knowledge to know why he is avoiding love – and then tells the green-haired heroine about it. Granted, he yells and then stomps off, but the air is cleared.

Best word in the book: Nadir. It is both an astronomical term and one used to talk about the lowest ebb. Example: “Having prolonged dental surgery was the nadir of my Tuesday.”

 

Yes Please, Amy Pohler

Title of Blog Post: No Really, I’m a Terrible Person

Amy Pohler is the fairy godmother of comedy. She’s wicked, she’s wicked funny – and it’s generally accepted that she is lovely. Amy Pohler wrote her book to convince us otherwise. She finished college and went into comedy, assuring her parents she could waitress anywhere! (After they’d remortgaged their house, twice.) She has a nearly compunctual need to snoop in other people’s houses, rifling through the drawers. She once participated in a mean SNL skit that demeaned disabled people. She also has straightforward, harsh opinions on most drugs, driving while drunk, and her own appearance after a bad weekend. Certainly, I believe that she’s not Leslie Knope all the time, but the picture she paints of herself is honest – not mean. We are all dredging up awful parts of ourselves all of the time, biases we didn’t know we had. However, most of us are not packaging these nasty things with “World Famous Sex Advice” or lists on why phones are terrible for our lives. That’s the unhinged but brilliant Pohler edge.

Best quote of the book: “Who doesn’t love self-righteous anger? It’s great. When I yell at dads drinking coffee and looking at their phones at the playground while their seven-year-olds play on the preschool monkey bars, I feel like I am truly alive.” (66)