Where two people endeavor to destroy their friendship by making each other read things the other person will most likely hate.
Not that long ago I wrote about a very awkward encounter with a therapist who literally made fun of my reading and writing tastes in the middle of our session. I’m definitely not seeing that therapist anymore, but at least writing about it sparked an interesting conversation between me and my friend Masika. Masika and I went to grad school together, so a decent portion of our friendship has always revolved around discussing books and writing. This whole “my therapist thinks my reading tastes are terrible” thing got us talking about the appreciation we both have for genre fiction: all the writing that is generally considered "not important" enough to be literature. Sci-fi. Romance. Horror. Other things you are not supposed to have on your bookshelf when "important company" comes over.
While Masika and I share a love of genre fiction, the similarity in reading taste stops there. I actively avoid genres like horror, and I'm fairly certain Masika would rather spend the rest of her life eating nothing but stale bread than spend the rest of her life reading nothing but romance.
Masika suggested we try an experiment: rec books to each other that the other person would probably never choose to read on their own and then blog about them. Given that I have basically read nothing but YA, middle grade, romance, and writing guides for the last three months straight, I figured it might be time to re-expand my horizons a bit. So Masika launched her website Glyphs to fill with her beautiful art and writing and thoughts on reading (hint hint, check it out) and we made our first recommendations. I recommended The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee, a historical queer romance written for the young adult/new adult age demographic. She suggested 14 by Peter Clines, a horror/weird fic novel. She also suggested I try it on audiobook, as audiobooks are something I almost never, ever listen to. I reluctantly downloaded Audible and so began the first round of Don't Judge a Book by it's Genre.
Read on for the results of this first experiment, and to find out if Masika and I are still speaking.
So I may have suggested the worst possible book for Masika.
A Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue is the story of a "gentlemen" in 1700s England who embarks on a tour of the continent with his best friend/crush. I would like to state for the record that when I first suggested this book I didn't realize that Masika also hates sick lit in addition to most romance writing. UH, WHOOPS. In case you haven't read The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue, it's definitely got a sick lit factor to it. I mean, it's no The Fault in our Stars, but the characters certainly have illness of the non-flu variety to overcome. This particular book also includes a frequently unlikable and occasionally unreliable narrator. I, personally, enjoyed Monty greatly. Masika did not feel the same way. Read her comments over on her blog.
As Masika's thoughts show, my rec was not a smash hit by any means, but I wasn't entirely surprised...especially once I realized that Masika actively avoids sick lit and coming of age stories. I was surprised that Masika found the plot of this book predictable and felt that the character didn't earn his redemption--I was never bored once by the plot of this book and I felt Monty's character arced quite successfully. This leaves a lot to unpack about the different ways we read character and plot and what we expect from plotlines and character development. Good thing we're launching a blog series to examine the differences in our reading tastes.
And so Masika survived reading my YA romance rec without running into any wildlife with her car. Did I survive her horror rec? Keep on to find out...
It turns out horror novels are not all filled with blood. Also I have no listening comprehension.
Masika recced me the book 14 by Peter Clines. I hate all things labeled "horror" and actively avoid this genre in general, so this book seemed like a good suggestion for our project. According to Masika, this book is a weird fic mystery within the horror genre and would hopefully dispel me of the notion that all horror is filled with mangled body parts. Masika described the plot as such: "a dude with a boring code-monkey job discovers his hidden aspirations when he moves into a building that seems to have some of its own." Okay, there's some intrigue there. I was into that. Except that she also suggested I read this one on audiobook, and quite frankly I hate audiobooks with every fiber of my being. Nothing personal against those who love them--I just don't. But hey, a challenge is a challenge. I put on my Barney Stinson face and accepted it.
My thoughts on 14 are below, and they're actually more concise than I usually am. It's a July miracle.
How did you access the book? (Audio book, paper, ebook, etc.) How would you rate the experience? * Was a specific format recommended, and why?
Masika suggested this on audiobook. I am generally not an audiobook person but I figured I’d give it a shot. That part of the experiment sort of failed. The audiobook itself was excellent--great voice acting--but I am really just not into audiobooks and couldn’t motivate myself to finish the book in that format. I ended up reading 14 in a combination of audiobook/ebook formats.
Create a standard “elevator pitch” for this book (e.g. “Star Wars” meets Moby Dick).
Hmmm. Not sure. It reminded me a lot of a Dr. Who episode. Maybe Stephen King meets Dr. Who?
How would you rate the plot? Why?
3 out of 5. Once it got going it was great, but the pacing felt very slow at the beginning.
How would you rate the character building? Why?
3 out of 5 again. Some of the characters were developed quite well...but there were many more superfluous characters in the book who seemed all but forgotten. Like this one character named Mandy. I still can’t figure out the point of her existence.
How would you rate the setting creation? Why? Was it about establishing setting or about world building?
5/5. This was definitely my favorite part of the book. The descriptive qualities in the writing were very strong.
How would you rate the work the author did creating theme? Why?
Probably 4 out of 5. This one’s tricky. The theme work felt unfinished to me...but it turns out this book is part of a series, so I now suspect that was intentional.
How would you rate the author’s choice of point of view? Why?
3 out of 5 again. The author would sometimes switch from limited to omniscient points of view. This frequently threw me off as a reader.
What impression did this book give you of the genres it’s written in?
I think I’ve always thought of horror as writing that was filled with guts and gore. This was definitely not that at all. It reminded me that the horror genre is bigger than I give it credit for, and it showed me ways that horror can successfully merge with other genres to create an even bigger and more successful world for itself.
Does this book make you want to read more from the author?
Yes. I think I'm going to give the sequel a shot.
Does this book make you want to read more within this genre?
It definitely made me want to check out more horror writing.
Would you recommend this book to others?
Yes, I think so. I’d definitely recommend the audiobook to those who really like audiobooks. The narrator for the audiobook was fantastic. It’s too bad I apparently have the listening comprehension of a goldfish.
So, yes. I read a horror novel and I didn't die (though it is distinctly possible some characters did). I may actually read more horror in the future. I will definitely seek out more from Peter Clines, as this book reminded me a lot of a Dr. Who episode, and I'm having withdrawal now that Amazon Prime won't let me access the Jodi Whittaker episodes.
One interesting thing Masika pointed out is as we were talking about these books is that I likely missed many of the "Easter eggs" in this book, particularly the references to H.P. Lovecraft's work, and that may be why the book felt unfinished to me when it did not to her. Genre fiction is fascinating to me in its ability to build upon itself and create niches and holes for its readers through repeated expectations, tropes, plot lines, and allusions. I no doubt missed many allusions while reading 14. (Apparently the number of legs the cockroaches have means something...?) And Masika told me during the course of this process that she just straight up dislikes the "happy ending" requirement of the romance genre. Reading a genre begets more or less reading of the genre, depending on your interests and expectations, and these interests and expectations can change over time the more you read within a genre. That's something I never forget when I recommend books to students, but sometimes I forget it when choosing my own reading material. The "happy ending" element of the romance novel is something I love about that genre--but why? Did my love of happy endings lead to the love of the romance genre, or was it the other way around?
And just like that, the first round of Don't Judge a Book by its Genre is over. Now I'm off to Australia, where any blogging I do will likely be about kangaroos. While I'm there, I'll be reading Masika's next rec, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. Masika says she suggested it because this book is centered on thoughts and avoids feelings--and Masika knows how much I love a reading world mired in feelings. I, therefore, suggested she read a book that made me cry at least nine times: Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. We'll see if Masika can handle the emotional upheaval that appears every two sentences in that book. Watch this space, and in the meantime, go check out Masika's corner of the internet.
Scene from my therapist’s office the other day:
Me: So when I think about my career and all the genres I write in, like YA contemporary and YA romance and romance in general--
Her: Wait, you write romance?
Me: Uh, yeah. (P.S. I write lots of different things under different names and I ghostwrite stuff…FYI I am super crazy talented.)
Her: *Laughs nervously* I guess I’m just surprised…you don’t seem the type. Those books are so…I mean, I can’t believe you write things like that! Oh, stable boy, stable boy!
Me: *Trying to wrap my head around the fact that my therapist just mocked my career* Um, I’ve never written about a stable boy…? I like writing romance. And reading it. All kinds of it.
Her: Wow. I just can’t imagine you writing anything that shallow.
Other people reading this might be shocked that this conversation occurred. I was not. When you write in the genres I tend to write across—young adult, young adult romance, middle grade, adult romance—you get used to people telling you that your work is somehow lesser-than all the stuff piling up in the “Literature & Fiction” section at Barnes and Noble. I remember one of my friends in college mocking me for reading Holes by Louis Sachar, the critically-acclaimed middle grade novel. “Why do you read all that junk anyway?” he asked. (Here I could go into a long rant about the unfair reasons why we judge certain genres of reading more harshly than others, but many other people have written on that topic far better than I ever will. I think I’ll just hold this rant to being annoyed by book snobbery in general.)
There’s a reason e-readers took over the world, and that reason is book snobbery. Romance novels hit sales high points after the Kindle came out, and this wasn’t an accident: people were finally able to read whatever they wanted without anyone judging their covers. I’ve gotten so used to book-judging permeating the corners of my life that I just accept it these days. Honestly, I probably won’t even drop my therapist. She’s helped me make some important breakthroughs regarding my teeth grinding habit and also I already know where her office is. The process of Google mapping another therapist just sounds exhausting. Plus it’s not like what she said hasn’t already been said by at least five other people I still eat dinner with on a regular basis.
Still, a message out there to all of you who think your books are better than the ones I choose to read and write: you’re ruining reading for the rest of us. Not for me, actually—I’ll keep reading whatever I like to read, thanks. I have no problem going between that MG novel on my bookshelf and the new title from the literature bestseller list and also a book filled with people who dare to fall in love and have a pre-determined happy ending (gasp). I have a Kindle to handle the likes of all of you. The real problem here is that you’re ruining reading for the people who need to read the most: CHILDREN.
Book snobbery is no less pervasive in K-12 schools and the homes of children and teens than my therapist’s office. Actually, it’s ten times worse. “You let your students read graphic novels? But those aren’t real books, are they?” “My kid reads a lot, but mostly just Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so I’m worried.” “I hope my kid’s teacher starts teaching some real books next year. You know, classics. Maybe Dickens.” I hope no one tells Person #3 that Dickens wrote most of his stuff in serial form. Stephen King does that too, you know!
For years we’ve been telling kids what not to read. What’s not hard enough or important enough or “smart” enough. Then we turn around and get angry when they don’t want to read at all and would rather play Minecraft or whatever game I am currently too uncool to know about. It’s a mixed message that’s definitely not doing us any favors. I don’t love to read today because someone handed me a steady diet of Truman Capote when I was seven. I love to read because someone gave me a Baby-Sitters Club book once and I didn’t stop until I’d read all of them. Then I just kept going.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is this: if you’re a book-judger, you crush my soul. But more importantly, you are probably crushing the soul of a smaller human out there who just wants to read their comic book without being treated like they have leprosy. Nobody owns reading, except possibly Hachette, and even they know that people’s reading tastes are wide and varied and should never be limited by what someone else seems to be “the right reading.” In fact, they’ve made about a bazillion dollars off the idea that people like to read different things. No one in that publishing house is afraid of a stable boy or five.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write a scene where some people kiss. And possibly find a new therapist.
I bring you: some Friday book recs from the @rileyandjohannareadstuff Instagram account.Today's list includes marathon runners, hockey players who make a lot of pie, and eighteenth century rakes. What's everyone else reading right now? I have a library trip coming up, and suggestions are always appreciated. :)
Welcome to the second installment of Harry Potter and the Future of America, where we ask ourselves this all-important question about scenarios taking place in American society:
If this were a Harry Potter book, what would happen next?
(The “we” is royal, by the way. I’m literally the only person in this room right now.)
Shall we get started?
SCENARIO: A Supreme Court nominee is accused of sexual assault, and a whooooole bunch of people who want him on the Supreme Court immediately decide the accusation must be a lie. Or at least not that big a deal.
PLEASE EXPLAIN: Donald Trump nominated a guy named Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. (That’s right: “lifetime” basically means for as long as he wants it or can physically keep his buttocks in the chair.) Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward to say that he sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. A lot of people are insinuating or outright saying that she is a liar, claiming that her accusation is just a political move to discredit Kavanaugh.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT IF THIS WERE HARRY POTTER? Remember when Harry saw Voldemort return and the Ministry of Magic didn’t want to believe him, so they spent an entire book trying to discredit him and destroy his reputation? They let the Daily Prophet malign him, basically called him unhinged, and did everything possible not to fully investigate or carefully consider his allegation that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named had returned.
Well, we all know how that worked out for the Ministry. Harry was telling the truth, Voldemort was back, and they wasted so much energy fighting Harry instead of Voldemort that they didn’t even notice he was back in power until he was like five seconds away from destroying all of them in a battle so epic it required an extra movie. And honestly, would it have been that hard to investigate Harry's claims? If he turned out to be wrong, all they would have lost was a little effort and time. (And since half the Ministry appears to do nothing but sit around transmogrifying things all day, seems like they could have taken that hit.)
The lesson here is clear: when someone makes a serious allegation that will potentially do nothing but damage their own safety, security, and reputation, listen to them. Investigate fully. Take that allegation seriously. You have nothing to lose by doing so...and everything to gain.
Unfortunately, Harry's plight reminds us loudly and clearly that people in power don’t like to be told truths that are inconvenient for them. (Pun not intended.) Voldemort’s return was inconvenient for the Ministry. This accusation is inconvenient for all those who want Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. And so, if our Harry Potter palm reading is at all accurate, here’s what will happen next: those who want Kavanaugh will continue to malign his accuser and do a bare-bones investigation as best. Or they’ll brush off any potential wrongdoing as just “teenage boys being teenage boys.” (P.S., if you think sexual assault is normal teenage behavior, please do not raise children. In fact, please don’t go anywhere near any children. Ever.)
Worst case scenario? Someone who committed sexual assault and then spent twenty years hiding it will end up writing America’s most influential laws. That's not quite as bad as "Voldemort is back," but it sure isn't good.
So if you have a senator who isn’t calling for a complete investigation of these charges, you may want to call them and say the following: “Investigate these allegations. Don’t be like the Ministry of Magic.”
If your Senator doesn’t immediately know what you are talking about, they are obviously not fit to be in public office. Obviously.
We’ve clearly hit a tipping point in our country. Truth is constantly in question. Morality is debated the same way we debate Star Wars vs. Star Trek. (What, everybody doesn’t have that debate?) Fact is called opinion, and opinion is called fact. It’s a topsy-turvey world, that’s for sure.
It’s getting a little harder to see the forest of America through the trees. So I’ve decided that from now, every time we encounter a tense or difficult scenario in this country, I’m going to ask one question:
If this were a Harry Potter book, what would happen next?
Let’s try this thought experiment and see what happens.
SCENARIO: Host of second most-watched cable news show in America suggests that diversity isn't good for people.
PLEASE EXPLAIN: Tucker Carlson, the same dude who used to wear snappy bow ties and debate tax laws with Rachel Maddow, pontificated in front of an audience of almost three million people that maybe diversity is a bad thing. No, not in 1965. This happened just a few weeks ago, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eighteen.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT IF THIS WERE HARRY POTTER? Actually, this WAS Harry Potter. Remember Purebloods and Mudbloods? Voldemort tried to erase all Mudbloods from existence because he claimed they were too different from Purebloods and all that diversity of human blood and thought was ruining the wizarding world.
And we all know what happened next. Hermione Effing Granger came rolling along with all her Mudblood brilliance and helped blow them away into no existence at all. Diversity for the win, Death Eaters. They should have been so lucky to have Hermione on their team. Hopefully they all figured that out in Azkaban.
So I guess this makes Tucker Carlson Lucius Malfoy? Which also means that eventually the power he thought he wanted will become too much for him to control, and he’ll lose everything in a rather anticlimactic moment that only about half of his audience will remember.
And we’ll all kind of shrug as he disappears from our consciousness. Maybe some member of his family will appear in an Epilogue looking vaguely apologetic.
SCENARIO: President Trump says that 3,000 people who died in the aftermath of a hurricane didn’t really die because they were denied the resources and supports needed to stay alive. The whole thing is a lie, a conspiracy against him!
PLEASE EXPLAIN: It happened via tweet, as so much of our government communication does these days, despite the fact that the death toll after Hurricane Maria was calculated by a completely independent and unbiased group of people. Even Rick Scott was all "Dude, no, 3,000 people died."
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT IF THIS WERE HARRY POTTER? This is a Dolores Umbridge move. Her entire job was basically to claim that Hogwarts students were making up horrible things about the Ministry of Magic just to make them look bad. She’d call them all liars for saying that people died after Hurricane Maria and then make them all carve “I WILL NOT SAY 3,000 PEOPLE DIED” into their skin over and over for hours on end.
BUT OBVIOUSLY she would not break them. They would figure out a way to keep spreading the truth that actually, yes, people did die, and now their memories were being disrespected. Sure, some people would still believe Umbridge. Why? That's a mystery as old as Argus Finch. But Dumbledore’s Army would eventually get away from the blood-seeking quills and make sure the public saw that real truth does exist in this world, and real truth can be proven.
Anyone know where we can get a Room of Requirements? We should probably speed things up on creating that DA. Maybe it already exists over on Twitter. I’ll check.
Here come a few more book suggestions from the @rileyandjohannareadstuff Instagram account. We've covered poetry, some nonfiction, and a few serious 80s throwback covers. My big rec right now is actually a movie--the Netflix movie of Jenny Han's book TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, which just came out this past weekend. Lana Condor is amazing in it, and if you are also a rom-com lover you cannot possibly be disappointed by this film. You're welcome in advance.
I give you: a few book suggestions from the @rileyandjohannareadstuff Instagram account. I cannot recommend ALL'S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson and FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway enough. Both books kept me up until one in the morning. I suspect THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR will do the same, so maybe I'll try to start reading that one at a more normal hour.
If you follow this blog, you've probably noticed by now that my friend Riley and I love to talk about all things books. We had a great time re-reading some of the Baby-Sitters' Club books from our childhood, and we decided we wanted to keep doing some type of online book chat together. So we've taken our weekly book chats to Instagram. Follow @rileyandjohannareadstuff to see what we’re reading, what we recommend, and how many times we can squeeze pictures of Winnie (Riley's pug) and Ra (my very sedate cat) into our book photos. I'll also be cross-posting some of our Instagram posts and conversations here.
Uh...better late than never? Riley and I talked about the Ann M. Martin classic Mary Anne Saves the Day and the Baby-Sitters' Club Club podcast about it a while ago...but somehow I never got around to posting our conversation. Huge apologies, team baby-sitter nostalgics. (That may not be a real word. But I like it, so it's staying.)
I'm not sure if Riley and I are going to keep this series going in this same fashion or change things up. We definitely had big dreams about hitting up the BSC Super Specials next. But life, the universe, and everything keep happening, and lately I've been cheating on Ann with Judy Blume. So we'll see.
This blog and website will likely be offline for a bit while they get some much-needed sprucing, but during that time Riley and I will reform our plans and maybe even catch up on Dawn Schafer's life. Watch this space, as they say.
In case all six of you blog readers were wondering when the heck Riley and I were going to get around to reading book 3 in our Baby-Sitters Club marathon, my apologies. We actually read and discussed the book weeks ago, but then I went to Europe and kind of forgot about Stacey while I was standing around in the Louvre.
Anyway, Stacey! She was great, the podcast was great, we continue to worship at the feet of Ann M. Martin. This despite the fact that we, like the BSC podcasters, have no idea why "don't call me late for dinner" is supposed to be a funny joke.
Some fun facts about this text discussion:
1. Riley kept detailed notes about her reading in a dedicated Baby-Sitters Club notebook. Meanwhile, since I was visiting my parents, I dug my old copy of the book out of their attic and admired the one note I took when I was nine: my name in the front cover.
2. This entire conversation happened while I was traveling on a bus from Vermont to Boston. I spent some serious time trying not to guffaw out loud. For the record, it's very difficult to guffaw in one's head.
3. "Jack, it can't always be about the patriarchy," is hands-out down the winning line from The Truth About Stacey podcast. No contest.
4. Naturally this conversation resulted in Riley and I taking "Which baby sitter are you?" quizzes. JOIN US. Here's the Buzzfeed quiz and here's the Zimbio quiz. We anxiously await your results.