Reading Journal Entry: Real Places, by Grady Clay

Finally, the Seattle Public Library comes trhough for me with an interlibrary loan, and Real Places: An Unconventional Guide to America's Generic Landscape has arrived. Thanks to Shaken & Stirred for the recommendation.

I'd call it less a guide than an encyclopedia.

The generic places described here (a limited selection only, alas, among the hundreds) are places that belong to all of us. Every town has a Courthouse, a Good Address, a Downtown. Most towns have Vacant Lots, Abandoned Farms, Drug Scenes. Or maybe there's no Hazardous Waste Dump, Beach, Flea Market, Lover's Leap in your town. They are still terms that belong to us collectively, defined by and carrying a ton of cultural baggage. If someone tells you they went to the Flea Market, you know what they mean.

This book isn't about places; it's about the way we define places and the way those definitions change the way we use them. Clay terms his work 'geolinguistics' which is a fantastic term I wish I'd heard when I was studying linguistics in college.

The theme is turnover. Some of the terms themselves are transitory in the short term (photo opportunity, disaster area), but almost all are transitory in the long term (Growth Areas stop growing, Vacant Lots are built up, Declining Areas become Ghost Towns). The accompanying essays are just as interesting as the individual entries, and the way Clay describes the constantly changing American landscape reminds me of the life-cycle of a forest. The cycles that neighborhoods and developments go through are just as predictable (or unpredictable) as the ecological succession of a natural landscape.

The hard-cover volume that the SPL sent me is a beautiful volume, with wonderful photographic illustrations, lovingly laid out. This would make an impressive gift for an author, anyone involved in civic planning, or anyone who ever needs inspiration.

Great Books: No Longer At Ease, by Chinua Achebe

This is the last of Chinua Achebe's works on the list. He is the first author with multiple works who I can now cross off as 'completed'. So it seems an appropriate moment to pause and evaluate.

Achebe is not just on one list - he's on a LOT of lists. Nine different 'great books' lists that go into the mega-list chose one or another of his works. Things Fall Apart is an impressive #2, second to Don Quixote, on the 100 most meaningful books of all time, compiled by surveying 100 well-known authors from around the world. Chinua Achebe isn't just a great author, he's an author's author. He's like Fred Astaire. He makes it look easy.

I never would have encountered his work if I hadn't started on this project. And I am so, so glad I discovered him. His work is lyrical and poignant. He conveys the native African voice in an authentic fashion, something rarely present in my GenWestEuropean cultural soup. I think Things Fall Apart was the best of his works that I read, but No Longer At Ease comes in a close second.

TFA told the slow downward curve of Okwanko, an important man among the Umuofia, at a time when the white man was just arriving. The demise of the traditional way of life provided an uneasy subtext for his downhill slide. No Longer At Ease tells the story of Okwanko's grandson in the 1950's, a 'modern', educated African who comes back from England determined to do things the right way. In trying to find a path between the traditional ways and his new modern sensibilities, he trips and falls. He hurts someone else, badly, and just as in Things Fall Apart, that proves an irredeemable sin. He has wounded himself. All his brave resolutions dribble out of him like water.

As the book begins, when we are introduced to Obi Okwanko, his fate is already sealed. He has been convicted of accepting a bribe and is being sentenced. There's no suspense here. It's a sad dissection of the way things have gone wrong, and a not subtle, but insightful, commentary on modern Africa.

Even if none of these rest of these books I'm reading were worth a damn, Chinua Achebe would have already made the project worthwhile. Thank you, sir.

Reading Journal Entry: Viscount Vagabond, by Loretta Chase

Loretta Chase's third work, after Isabella and The English Witch. She's still not gotten into the swing of magnificence that is her later stuff. This reads like an earlier work; the plot is a bit scattershot. It keeps jumping off in odd directions. Whorehouse - dressmakers - Almack's - it's all over the place.

It does start off with a bang, though, her heroine has been abducted by a madam and is confronted with the hero as her, ehm, first customer. Gotta give Chase credit for the innovatie introductions.

Reading Journal Entry: Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase

A five-day conference knocked out most of my weekend reading and the plane wasn't as productive as I had hoped, so today and tomorrow it's romance novels - quick, satisfying, and above all, quick.

The Seattle Public Library is beginning to get ahead of me - I'm way behind on the books I've checked out. But it's so hard for me to return them before I read them, or leave them languishing on the 'reserved' shelf. They're piling up on the 'library' bookshelf by the front door, sneering at me every time I come in or out. Like uncompleted homework.

Miss Wonderful is the same species as Mr. Impossible. Alistair Corsington is a war hero who needs to get a canal rammed through a rural area. Mirabel Oldridge is manager of the largest piece of property involved. Can the twain find a resolution to their age-old progress v. preservation debate? Can they resolve the sexual tension that draws them together, even as their opposing goals force them to opposite sides of the conflict? Find out on page 194!

Mirabel is a take-charge dame who takes no prisoners, and at 31 is actually two years older than her Hero - very rare. It's set in the Regency period but released from the typical drawing-room furbelows by the inclusion of actual conflict. A thoroughly enjoyable, competently written volume.

Great Books: Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey occupies the privileged position of #1 on the list - at least, alphabetically. Desert Solitaire is on Counterpunch's Top 100 list of "what shaped us, informed us, what was innovative, path-breaking".

It won't be on my list.

Desert Solitaire, originally written in 1968, is Abbey's lament for the vanishing unspoiled wilderness of America. In a season as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah, Abbey experienced the desert right before the onslaught of paved roads and industrial tourism.

There are moments of insight and lyrical beauty, when he explores the effect of so much solitude on his psyche, when he describes the desert fauna and flora. But those moments are swamped by overweening arrogance and contempt.

Abbey coldly dismisses the 'unwashed masses' who stay in cities and don't experience the outdoors; he loathes the tourists who do come to the park. He idealizes (while disclaiming it) primitive man's relationship with nature, then, finding a primitive dwelling carved into a cliff wall, pities the long-dead inhabitants for the 'fear' he assumes they must have suffered constantly under.

He proposes compulsory birth control as a solution for the poverty afflicting local Native Americans and sneers at two of them, teens dead in a car accident, because they had magazines instead of tomahawks in their vehicle.

While he rhapsodizes about the desert landscape and his adventure down Glen Canyon, it's clear he doesn't really respect nature. Tourists leaving tin cans behind them or carving their names in the rock are vandals. He accidentally starts a brush fire and carves his name in the bark of a tree; I guess that's different.

His contempt is so clear that it's quite the surprise at the end of the book when it's revealed that his 'real job' is as a social worker. How did he hide it, I wonder?

Just about the only redemption in this mass of contradictions is Abbey's fundamental agnosticism about the state of the universe, which pokes through now and then. He's taking the long view, deep down; in a hundred thousand years humanity will probably be extinct, animals and trees will reclaim this land, and none of this will matter.

Great Books: David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Finally finished David Copperfield,my first Dickins ever. Lush Victorian melodrama. When Dora's little dog lays down its little head - oh, the humanity!

David Copperfield is the original Mary Sue. His initials are the same as Dickens' and his life follows a similar path, with certain elements admittedly drawn from his childhood.

As a result David is a likeable, honest sort of young man who is subject to incomprehensible persecution from those around him. His father dies before he was born. His mother remarries an Evil Step Father. His mother dies. His brother dies. A fortune is gained, and then lost, and his unfortunate friends find themselves subject to the oddest kind of bad luck, gaining and losing fortunes, falling into debt, disgrace, and dishonor with peculiar frequency.

There are some wonderful characters in David Copperfield. His friend Traddles' hair might have been the inspiration for Harry Potter's do. Mr. Micawber, a sometimes father figure, is the picture of penury. Uriah Heep, the pale, redheaded evildo-er, might have been the original Ginger Kid. I haven't even gotten to the midget yet.

That said, I imagine it's of great enjoyment to psychoanalysts. First there's the gender confusion. Then there's the sublimated homoeroticism. Then there's the multiple father figures (all either bad or mad) and the multiple mother figures, not to mention the figurative angel (Agnes) vs. literal whore (Emily). Freud would have a FIELD DAY!

It is an enormously entertaining book, with just a whiff of that 'paid by the word' aura that I also get from fellow serial author Louisa May Alcott. But it is very, very long, and the prose style is going to be a barrier to most readers. The sentimentality makes this less interesting than, say, Austen, whose work presents the same challenge. Moreover some of the characters are irritating (*cough* Dora) and the whole 'I've had premarital sex, ship me off to Australia so I can milk cows for the rest of my life' thing will also frustrate modern readers.

I'm going to read Great Expectations and some other works before deciding, but I doubt this will be the best Dickens for someone to start with.

Reading Journal Entry: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee

I had the opportunity to see Edward Albee speak at the University of Puget Sound last week, so I read Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in preparation. Surprisingly, his lesser known work The American Dream is on the list courtesy of the Los Angeles Times' list of 100 Books for the Modern Person, but Woolf is not.

Maybe I'm just not up to 'modern absurdist drama', but I did not enjoy American Dream at all. I much preferred Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It is merciless. Plus, it has a plot and characters with names.

It's an evening with two couples: George, a history professor; Martha, his wife, daughter of the president of the college; and Nick and Honey, a young new biology professor and his wife. The booze flows, the bitterness flows, and it's supremely uncomfortable.

Albee spoke of the role of art in challenging society, and discomfort is what he was talking about. 'Real' art forces the audience to reevaluate assumptions. “The job of the arts,” says Albee in his online biographies, “is to hold a mirror up to us and say: ‘Look, this is how you really are. If you don’t like it, change.’”

Albee was a great speaker. I like his politics, but I can't say I agree with this premise; he draws a sharp line between 'worthless' entertainment, and art with engaging ideas.

Warning: since I know very little about theater, I am about to reference television programs instead.

I think it's obvious that there's a difference between Hee Haw on one end of the spectrum, and C-SPAN on the other. But where do you put works that concentrate on entertainment, but try to incorporate serious ideas as well?

Where do you put Battlestar Galactica, a show that has space ships and explosions and shoot-outs, but also has built an extremely relevant commentary about democracy and government in a time of war?

Where do you put Law & Order, a show that veers close to journalism in its insistence on dealing with contemporary (i.e. ripped from the headlines) situations?

Where do you put The Office, a comedy that specializes in dishing out the specific type of discomfort and horror that Albee invokes with Woolf?

I'm left with the eternal question: It's funny, but is it art?

My next assignments:

1) See the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton movie version.

2) Read some actual Virginia Woolf.

Great Books: On Violence by Hannah Arendt

Arendt wrote On Violence in the sixties, when, apparently, students were rioting in your living room every third Thursday of the month. Much of the treatise deals with how society should respond to this unprecedented upswelling of popular feeling. How can government retain power in the face of this groundswell of popular abstention from the democratic process?

Oh right, just throw money at them and they'll turn into yuppies.

As a result of the sea change in world politics, the part of the book I found most interesting was the recap of Marxist social theory and her attempts to define 'power' 'violence', 'legitimacy' etc. and the relationships between them as they pertain to governments. The theories created in a world of two superpowers just don't seem as applicable now.

One section, however, worried me so much that after reading it I had to say 'motherfucker' out loud at a high volume several times. Luckily I was alone at the time.

"The much-feared boomerang effect of the 'government of subject races' (Lord Cromer) on the home government during the imperialist era meant that rule by violence in faraway lands would end by affecting the government of England, that the last 'subject race' would be the English themselves."

Motherfucker. Motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker.

On responsibility

Thinking about Ezeulu in Achebe's Arrow of God got me thinking about how far we are supposed to enter into the world and motivations of the character affected by the supernatural.

Ezeulu takes an action which hurts his village. But the reader is informed through the internal monologue that he does not feel responsible for this action. Ulu, his god, is mandating this action.

Who is responsible for the consequences? Do we judge Ezeulu on his terms, or on our own? I don't believe in his god. Does that mean I believe that he was delusional or fooling himself? Is he a victim of his 'god', or of his circumstances, or of himself?

I've been watching an anime series called 'Hikaro No Go'. It's about a Japanese kid who is haunted by the ghost of an expert Go player (I know, I know).

On one level, the level the show asks us to take, the kid is cheating when he lets 'Sai', the ghost, dictate his moves. He is taking an unfair advantage over his opponent.

On another level, he's totally insane. If some kid tried to explain that he had different skills at different times because sometimes he listened to the 800 year old go-playing ghost that only he could hear.... he'd be committed. If he's insane, and the ghost is a figment of his imagination, then the skill is really all his and he's only needlessly handicapping himself when he plays at his 'true' level.

Which is it?

Reading Journal Entry: The English Witch, by Loretta Chase

The Loretta Chase binge continues. The English Witch is a sequel of sorts to Isabella, wrapping up the villain on that piece with a nice romance of his own. The charming, rascally Basil spent three years in Greece earning money and redeeming himself, and picks up a gently bred Englishwoman in need of rescuing by way of Albania.

The local color raises this above the level of the general category Regency comedy of manners, but it's constrained enough that Chase's talent isn't really showcased.

Great Books: Arrow of God, by Chinua Achebe

Arrow of God, like Things Fall Apart, is set among the Umuofia in the early days of African colonialism. Ezeulu is the priest of Ulu, and aribtrater of the calendar of the barvest. He's a member of the old guard. But his village is changing. Christianity has been introduced, and the white man's world encroaches.
What is this about? It's hard for me to say.

Ezeulu has conflicts with his sons - one he doesn't like, one is a drunkard, one he sent to become a Christian, one is a child. He has conflicts with the white administrators, who lock him up for a month and disrupt the rhythm of the village because he doesn't act respectful enough.

In the end his world has fallen apart but it's hard to say whether he was free to do other than he did. Does he bear the blame? Does Ulu? Is he an instrument of the God or its target?

Great Books: Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume

Yes, Are You There God? It's Me Margaret is on the list, courtesy of TIME Magazine's List of 100 greatest English language novels from 1923 to the present.

I read this when I was a kid (eight to ten - don't remember exactly) and it has really stood up to the passage of time. There's a reason Judy Blume is one of the most banned author in the United States. She deals with mature issues in a way that's accessible to kids, and some people don't like that. Because they're morons.

I have got to get this mad out of the way somehow, but the only way I think I can do that is to let it out. How stupid are people anyhow? This is a book that deals with, oh god, menstruation, and liking boys, and religion, and this is stuff little girls desperately need to know, so what the fuck is wrong with people that make this number 62 on the list of most frequently challenged books? Who thinks their child shouldn't be reading this book? Do they actually think their kid isn't going to have to deal with these issues? Isn't already thinking about members of the opposite sex? Isn't wondering about God? Will their child grow up in some perfect bubble world and burst into puberty on their wedding day? Newsflash: when Zeus gestated Athena in his head and she burst forth fully grown, that was a myth, not a parenting role model!

Note to people: stop being asshats. I hate that.

Judy Blume kicks ass. Rereading it as an adult I was kind of surprised to find out that this is a decent book with a lot more layers than I remembered. It's not just that Margaret is 12 and wants to get her period; she has just moved to a new neighborhood, to the suburbs of New Jersey from Brooklyn. Her parents don't toally get along with her father's mother (Jewish) and are completely estranged from her mother's parents (Christian). Margaret just wants to get along and fit in. But 12 is a lot harder than 11, what with a) boys b) periods c) bras d) school dances.

The writing is wonderful. Just reading the first chapter gave me the chills, the way she sets everything up. Blume just casually tosses in a mention of the fact that Margaret is an only child because her parents couldn't have any more kids. And if you notice it, that lays there underneath everything for the rest of the book, that extra bit of tension between her parents, one more in a set of immense pressures that their marriage has survived.

Further note: ha! This book has been updated. When I first read it Margaret used a 'belt'. I never got to see one of those until the magic of the internet (thanks, Museum of Menstruation!) Now Margaret uses disposable adhesive pads, the same 'equipment' a modern young person would be familiar with. It's a change that makes sense.

Top Ten Lists - updated

Top Ten Most Important books I've read (not in order):

"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Powers
Guns, Germs, & Steel, by Jared Diamond
Why People Believe Strange Things by Michael Shermer
The Naked Man by Desmond Morris
How To Win Friends and Inflouence People by Dale Carnegie
The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Elgin

Top Ten Favorite Books:

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

You'll notice there are less than ten on the lists. Well, we have standards here at Book of the Day, and when we can only remember six important or best-ever books, that's how many go on the list.

Reading Journal Entry: Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase

After all that Boccaccio I was still in the mood for romance, so back to Loretta Chase. I put all her books on hold at the SPL and am reading them as they pop up. Isabella was a disappointment; The Last Hellion kind of blah, if fast-paced.
Mr. Impossible is everything I remembered her writing to be. A hit! A palpable hit. The hero is a huge scapegrace lug recruited as a bodyguard; the neroine is a smoking hot (duh) Egyptian scholar; the plot begins with not one bang but about three in a row. Plot elements: plausible. Characters: realistic and interesting except for forgiveable over-hotness. Attraction: believable. Local color: thickly layered. Adventure: ensues.

I wouldn't be surprised if whoever wrote the script for The Mummy read this book. Victorian Egypt is a perfect setting for this kind of adventure/romance story.

Highly recommend.

Great Books: The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

And to round off the week's reading I've finally finished The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. I've been gnawing through it steadily for a couple of months and just closed the cover. It's a hefty tome, 100 ribald stories wrapped in a substantial layer of delicious literary filo dough.

The Decameron was written in the 14th century, shortly after the plague decimated Europe and about 50 years before the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. Boccaccio was a native of Florence and followed his compatriot Dante's lead in writing the Decameron in the Florentine dialect rather than Latin.

It's fitting that he used the vulgar tongue, as these stories are not for the refined. Unlike Dante, Boccacio didn't write a religious fable. He wrote about the real world. These are sexy, scandalous anecdotes in which wives cuckold husbands, friends play each other nasty personal tricks, and everyone in the end gets what they deserve.

The Decameron is a major Western classic and probably served as an inspiration for Chaucer in writing The Canterbury Tales, which echoes its structure. Chaucer's stories are told by pilgrims; Boccaccio's tales have a darker setting. His narrators are ten young men and women who have fled Florence because of the plague.

The Decameron begins with a vivid description of the total breakdown induced by the plague.

"A great many breathed their last in the public streets, day and night; a large number perished in their homes, and it was only by the stench of their decaying bodies that they proclaimed their death to their neighbours. Everywhere the city was teeming with corpses.... They would drag the corpses out of their homes and pile them in front of the doors, where often, of a morning, countless bodies might be seen..... Huge trenches were dug in the crowded churchyards and the new dead were piled in them, layer upon layer, like merchandise in the hold of a ship.... it is estimated that over one hundred thousand human beings lost their lives within the walls of Florence.... Who would have thought before the plague that the city had so many inhabitants?"

It's against this backdrop that the scandalously light-hearted tales, ten on each day for ten days, are told.

This is the stuff that cultures are made of.

An edition with footnotes explaining some of the historical references would be an important aid to those without an in-depth familiarity with medieval Italian history.

I loved reading these stories. I lived in Florence for many years (and I agree with Boccacio that it is 'most beautiful of Italian cities'). There are some landmarks that Boccacio uses that I am familiar with, such as the church where the youths make their plans, Santa Maria Novella. Nowadays it's right next to the train station.

My knowledge of Italian also let me enjoy some delicious puns; for example, 'Boccaccio' means 'nasty (or dirty) mouth'.

But anyone would enjoy them, just like anyone can enjoy reading Arabian Nights. I was really surprised that few of the people I mentioned The Decameron to knew what it was. I guess it's not really part of the literary canon in modern American education. It's too racy to include in any high school curriculum. You don't know what you're missing, you heathenish ignorant Americans. Oh wait, I'm American. And I hadn't read it either. Never mind.

And one more problem....

Galleycat points out the redundancy of this article in the New York Times about Malcolm Gladwell.

There's one more problem with it that I happened to notice - they misunderestimate Gladwell's requested speaking fee by a factor of 2. I don't know is he's getting that much, but he's asking for that much.

A little bird told me. Insert gossip disclaimer here.

Thanks to Books, Inq. for the tip.

Reading Journal Entry: The Vintage Bradbury

Bradbury is still alive, so he's the greatest competitor to the title of greatest living spec fiction author which I award to Gene Wolfe two days ago. This collection contains many of his most well-known stories, such as 'Dandelion Wine', 'The Illustrated Man', 'The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit', and the wonderful classic 'There Will Come Soft Rains'.

It's hard for me to accurately assess these stories; I've read them so many times. After the hundreth read, what seemed so fresh and joyous now seems stale. Or maybe the context of early exposure has locked me into bad associations; the 'Ice-Cream Suit' now seems to smell entirely of the safe middle-school anthology.

I enjoyed the audio collection of Bradbruy stories I reviewed late last year. I don't remember whether 'There Will Come Soft Rains' was in that collection, but I have a strong memory of listening to an audio version that gave me goodebumps.

Maybe these stories were made to be read.

Reading Journal Entry: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1

I've always been a big fan of James Tiptree Jr., since reading 'The Women Men Don't See' and 'Your Faces, Oh My Sister, Your Faces Filled With Light!' as a pre-teen. Later I discovered the story behind the name, and she's enchanted me ever since.

Doesn't she just look like someone worth knowing?

Her real name was Alice Sheldon. She masqueraded as a man to the SF community for many years, after initially choosing a pseudonym out of concern for her academic career. Robert Silverberg wrote a famous introduction claiming that the rumours about ehr sex couldn't possibly be true, Tiptree was a distinctly 'masculine' author. A couple of years later the truth came out and, from what I've heard, everyone took it with a modicum of good humour.

Her death was shocking; in 1987 she took the life of her invalid husband and then her own.

Her work has been most praised for its exploration of gender roles, and in 1991 the James Tiptree Jr. Award was created to “reward those women and men who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society” (from the introduction).

This is the first anthology created by the award team. It includes some of the winning stories and several essays about the history of the award, about Tiptree, about the field in general. The quality is uneven; there are some gems that are worth reading.

The opening story, 'Birth Days' by Geoff Ryman, is very good. Alice Sheldon's letter to her editor about her pseudnym is priceless. The essays are sometimes pedantic and unnecessary (LeGuin's diatribe on genre – so 1996) and sometimes overwritten and unnecessary ('Judging the Tiptree'). But 'Looking Through Lace' by Ruth Nestvold is very good as well.

The anthology concludes with an odd triplet, first Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale 'The Snow Queen' and then two modern reinterpretations. I found the first modern story overly didactic (she doesn't marry him and live happily ever after! Cause she doesn't need him! Cause of feminism! Get it?!) but 'Travels with the Snow Queen', by Kelly Link, was at least funny.

As a whole: almost worthy of the women whose fake name is on the cover.

Reading Journal Entry: Innocents Aboard, by Gene Wolfe

My second anthology of the week.

Gene Wolfe may be the great living American writer. He's certainly the greatest American writer of speculative fiction. Wolfe's work is wonderfully layered and complex, without ever dragging or stumbling. Reading Wolfe requires work. He does not spoonfeed his readership. Pay close attention.

Let's start with the wrappings: this anthology has a delightful cover and a great title. I actually didn't notice the pun until I'd looked at the cover several times. Innocents Aboard perfectly captures the spirit of these short works, which often feature ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The theme, if there is one, is the sense of wonder and strangeness evoked.

From the introduction I learn that Gene Wolfe is old enough to have a grandkid. This makes sense, but disappoints me, as my mental image of him is pegged at about 37 and smoking hot - a little bit like Neil Gaiman. Ah well, another fantasy down the tubes.

Inventive, clever, delightful, touching. Almost all allowed me to have that joyous moment of insight, the 'ah-ha!' moment when you figure it all out.

I'm still in awe at his craftsmanship, the way he gives his characters so distinctive a voice so quickly.

My favorite story was 'The Lost Pilgrim', but 'Queen' is the one that has stuck in my head the most.

Who wrote it?

Richard Mason brought up an excellent point. Forget fonts and cover illustrations; sometimes the publisher tries to trick the reader about who wrote the book.

There are a couple of variants on this:

1) Famous Author Presents. Publisher pays Famous Author beaucoup bucks to use his name on cover of book written by Up-and-coming Author. FA gets $$$, UA gets published, publisher makes more sales, everyone's happy except the reader who buys this book thinking it was written by FA.

For example:

Great big 'Isaac Asimov'. Little teeny John Barnes.

2) 'Collaborations'. Often books in a series, sometimes not, these are books co-written by one FA and one UA. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad, sometimes they are awful. Who knows how much time the FA actually put into writing? Judging from some of the results, sometimes it's not very much time. It's hard to tell. While it does get the UA's name out there in front of fans, if it's a bad book, is that really good for their career?

For example, I loved the Carolus Rex books by Andre North and Rosemary Edghill (also known as Eluki Bes Shahar). I hated the Bedlam books by Edghill and Mercedes Lackey.

I love the way Edghill's name is hidden in the light-colored area on the Lackey cover.

I can't deny it's been very beneficial for some authors; for example, I remember seeing Elizabeth Moon's collaborations with Anne McCaffrey soon before Moon graduated to wide success in her independent work.

Here's another great collaboration cover. McCaffrey's name on top: Jody Lynn Nye's name on the bottom.

3) Ghostwriters. Did anyone really believe for a minute that William Shatner wrote the Tekwar series? Yet, there his name is. This was probably a 'work-for-hire' written by some UA who doesn't get either his name on it OR royalties. Not a good deal for him.

Worse, in terms of 'defrauding' the reader, are works 'by' a FA who has farms out his work to other people. The reader is expecting one level of quality and sometimes a very different level is delivered. There are persistent rumours about certain very high-volume authors who shall remain nameless.

Have you been burned by any particularly deceptive book covers, or particularly egregious 'collaborations'? Please share - I'll go browsing for some more covers today.

UPDATE: Here's a great one.

WHO wrote that?

Reading Journal Entry: The Girl Who Married A Lion, by Alexander McCall Smith

This week I will be reviewing short story collections. Gene Wolfe's Innocents Aboard, The Decameron, the James TipTree Award collection, and a BradBury collection.

To start things off I read this collection of African folk tales collected and in some cases modified by Alexander McCall Smith. He does admit to modifying them in the introduction, but doesn't provide any details.

When I was a kid I was addicted to fairy tales; the local library had a long shelf stuffed full of collections, and I read every one multiple times. These were, though, European or Arabian tales (many belonged to the Andrew Lang color collection.

These collected tales are firmly African. McCall manages to capture the cadence of truly rural stories well enough to be reminiscent of Chinua Achebe (which, I am proud to announce, I have been pronouncing correctly).

There's a 'Just-So' feel to some of these stories, but others veer from the expected path. The girl who married a lion, for example, didn't try to turn him into a prince or defend him from her family - nope, she knew he was going to eat her up one day, so he needed to go. Very practical. Many of the stories had familiar morals; stand by your family, be good to strangers, don't betray your friends.

The feel was very cinematic. I loved the story about the bird who gave milk.

This would be a great gift for fans of McCalls Detective Agency series. If your mom loves those books, get her this for her birthday.

Great Book: Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

I read one too many Kafka references and finally had to bump this to the top of the list, ahead of the current crop of GBs(Dante, Bocaccio, Aeschlyus, Arendt, Achebe - thank you SPL).

It's about a man who turns into a cockroach. What's not to like?

Wait. Sigh. OK. Here's where I confront my fears of sounding like an idiot because of other people already having said everything interesting about books like this.

Kafka seems to have had some kind of wide-ranging literary influence that I, frankly, have only heard about. Kafka, Kafka, Kafka! I expected Metamorphosis to be depressing. Instead it was depressing and amusing. Poor Gregor has a job he doesn't like and a family he doesn't seem to enjoy much either. At least when he turns into a giant bug it gives him another set of problems to worry about.

The intensity and minuteness of the experience leave no doubts - this is not a dream, this is really happening. Who hasn't feared that something like this would happen to them, or that it has already happened, and that we are giant despised liabilities to our families and friends. Haven't we all felt like vermin at some point?

There was some commentary at the back of the edition I read that discussed the religious metaphors and the paralells to tuberculosis. I think the intrinsic surface message of Gregor's transformation is far more interesting and poignant.

Can a cover trick a reader?

Can a cover 'trick' a reader?

My favorite cover snark artist doesn't think so.

"The back cover billed this book as a feminist-historical-fiction-fantasy hybrid. So, I thought "what the heck!" and purchased.

About 2 pages in - upon reading the physical description of the strikingly beautiful main character, Ariane, and the subsequent physical descriptions of her strikingly beautiful younger sisters - I realized I had been tricked! This book is more a Romance novel than anything else, albeit a slightly more substantial and far more engaging read than most "bodice rippers." "

How can a cover "trick" you? It's an inanimate object!

The above is a quote from the Amazon review of this book:

Covers can trick readers as much as movie previews can trick viewers. You see a preview (or a cover) and you expect a certain type of movie. That expectation can be misleading (egregious movie examples lately being, say, Stepmom - a downer about cancer disguised as a romantic comedy).

It's pretty clear to me that the above cover is meant to evoke the feel of the Dorothy Dunnett covers. Check out the font:

My question is (back to books), when is it a good idea? Will a publisher entice more readers than they alienate? Is it a good idea for publishers to put a 'historical fiction' cover on a romance? Is it 'cheating'?

Reading Journal Entry: Crossfire, by Nancy Kress


These people make a colony on another planet, and then they find some aliens, and then they find some more aliens, and then things start getting pretty fucked up!


One of the most compelling things about this is the close-enough-to-taste near future setting. I could easily envision myself, in another lifetime, being one of these settlers.

Action + philosophy. What more could a science fiction fan ask for?

I'll definitely be reading the sequel.

Reading Journal Entry: Isabella, by Loretta Chase

Oh dear. I read this over the weekend and now I can't remember a thing about it.

Except that it was large print. Nice, large print.

I was really hoping for better from Ms. Chase!

OK, right, now I remember. Isabella is a well-dowered 26-year-old whose mother belonged to the ton before eloping with a merchant. This is the second eloping mother - I'm sending a theme.

Old scandal, appealing young female ward, mix in a titled nobleman or two, and voila! A pretty run of the mill category Regency.