Friday, November 27, 2009

RAview: World War Z

To kick off Thankfully Reading Weekend with a bang, I finished Max Brooks' World War Z. I only had about 50 pages left, so I thought this would be a confidence-boosting way to start my first challenge.

I'm not that into zombies and even less into blood and gore, but a persistent friend convinced me to read World War Z. She was right! Although the book is a fictional oral history recorded 12 years after the zombie war, it is primarily about the world politics, military tactics, and practical details of the effects of mass panic, exodus, and death on the world's environment, economics, psyche, and day-to-day life.

The storyline is also a draw--the oral history format will appeal to some and turn others (even huge zombie fans) off. The book can even be compared to Daniel Defoe's fictional A Journal of the Plague Year, although readers should be warned that, having been published in 1722, the language is much different and more difficult than Max Brooks'. Defoe uses the same detached tone of looking back from the future at a horrific time and making a fictional narrative feel real with specific "facts" and practical details.

Certain science fiction readers may appreciate World War Z's military tactic details, as will Tom Clancy fans, although the structure of Z does not make for a tremendously fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat read. The Booklist review on Amazon compares it to Studs Terkel's nonfiction The Good War.

Of course, it's also a book for zombie fans (and I won't begin to recommend those since I don't read them. There are a ton of lists online--e.g., see the Monster Librarian), but, as I like to say, my focus is not the plot.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankfully Reading Weekend

I'm trying out my first reading challenge. Thankfully Reading Weekend has no rules and no prizes--just a plan to devote some time to reading the Friday through Sunday after Thanksgiving and connecting with other reading bloggers--so it seemed a great first try!

On my overly ambitious TBR pile are World War Z (almost finished), The Handmaid's Tale (my first Atwood), Cherie Priest's Boneshaker (my first steampunk), and Anita Diamant's Day After Night.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Publisher marketing vs. appeal

Last week at The Book Smugglers, Ana blogged about "genre exhaustion." Wicked dukes and duchesses, covers featuring pastels, frilly bodices, and cursive fonts--Romance can be overbranded. In theory, this is supposed to help readers find books they like ("Oh, this looks like that one I just read...must be good, too!"), but I find it confusing and intimidating. First, it nullifies what little ability I have to remember the books I've read without this blog and Goodreads (The two images above are two of the less-than-10 romances I've read), and second, at first glance they all look borrrrring and the same--the sheer number intimidates me, and I have no idea what to pick.

Ana also takes issue with marketing:
The idea is “if you liked this, then you’ll love THIS too because it’s the same.” I see a lot of this, especially in the marketing materials we receive with ARCs and review copies (”This book is X meets X! Fans of X will be pleased!”). It is useful information to have for reviewers but I can’t help but to roll my eyes sometimes.
I've recently heard a similar complaint (though can't remember where) on this "It's Harry Potter with zombies and a dash of Philip Roth" marketing, but this kind of talk is akin to Readers' Advisory language, i.e., it should be a helpful tool for readers. The trick is to separate marketing speak from reviews, a bookstore's shelftalkers, and good book advice from a friend or librarian. How much can we trust the publisher's copy--sure, they're trying to capitalize on recent best sellers, but they're also familiar with the books and trying to put them in the hands of readers who will love them.

Romance is an extreme example, but generally I think this trend is based in good ideas. Publishers just need to start thinking beyond the plot when they're making connections between books.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Horror & romance in the same RA class?

I follow RA for All, a blog by a Readers' Advisory librarian and RA teacher at Dominican University, and was recently struck by a post on Genres of the Emotions.

Becky writes that she teaches Horror, Romance, Women's Lives, and Gentle Reads all in the same class because these genres are all about mood and people read them primarily because of the way the books make them feel (even though that feeling is very different among the genres). It's about the reasons people are attracted to these books...what they get out of the books and what motivates them to continue in a genre.

Her students write annotations at RA 763's Blog. Some of the books they read for this segment of the class include Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job, The Secret Life of Bees, and Meg Cabot's Size 12 Is Not Fat.

Now I must get over my fear of reading horror to see for myself--maybe I could try A Dirty Job. Also, I wonder if Thrillers could fall into this camp, too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

RAview: Jill Nelson's Let's Get It On

I would call Jill Nelson's Let's Get It On women's fiction or chick lit. It's a sequel to Sexual Healing, in which three single Black women friends open a spa that also sells safe, women-focused sex from hot male sex workers.

Both books are quick reads, employing lots of dialog and first-person narrative chapters from various characters. Sexual Healing focuses on Lydia and Acey, and Let's Get It On pays more attention to Wanda and Odell (a partner hired to manage the sex workers). I thought the characters were better established in the first book, and I found Lydia and Acey more likable and relatable than the primary narrators in the second installment.

Story line themes in Let's Get It On include politics and parody (e.g., the President is trying to pass "No Child, No Behind," which would outlaw sex except for procreation to build an antiterrorist Christian army), the Black social elite, Martha's Vineyard high-class island lifestyle--golf, clam bakes, etc.--and the historical lineage of white supremacist groups.

Details of clothing and dialect are used to portray characters. There are also detailed sex scenes, and details of running a small business. The tone is generally light and humorous, righteous, proud. Language is not particularly distinctive, but it does help with characterization, as the narratives from Odell, Wanda, and Lydia are written in their manners of speaking and thinking (e.g., from one of Lydia's sections, while a stranger's loose dog is humping her leg: "Frankly, the spectacle of a Yorkie creaming on my leg, not to mention my cashmere sweats, takes me past disgust, fear, and anger to homicidal rage and self-preservation...I'll beat the little pooch's paws with my pocketbook until it lets go and topples into the ocean, hopefully to die an unnatural death being ground into shark chow by the rotors of the ferry.").

Setting is relatively important. Martha's Vineyard as an elite vacation town helps define the character cast. The new spa franchise they open in Let's Get It On is on a boat just off the coast, and nautical themes play a role. Also, good food, drink, and company (which is easily associated with a place like the Vineyard) helps forward the book's themes of relaxation, pampering, and sexual satisfaction.

As far as readsalike go, nothing in my personal library jumped out at me, and I'm having little luck searching around online. Brenda Jackson's Solid Soul is on my TBR list, so I'll get back to you on that one.