Armchair BEA 2015 – Introductions

Oh, right! It’s time for Armchair BEA. If you have no idea what that is, don’t worry about it. (Thanks for the reminder, Tasha!) Anyway, today’s the first day of Armchair BEA, and the topic is “Introductions.” I picked the following five questions from a list.¬†I’m fairly certain the purpose of this whole venture is conversation, so feel free to chat with me in the comments below or on Twitter. ūüôā

1. Why do you love reading and blogging?

I have to separate these, because lately, I love reading a whole hell of a lot more than I love blogging. I suspect that most of us strange beings who practice consistent reading habits would agree that we just¬†are readers. I am¬†a tall; I have light brown hair; and I read books. My identity as a reader is both visible (because I carry books everywhere) and invisible; I could never pass as a non-reader. I don’t know how to interact with the world except through books. I am a reader.

Blogging, though, is hairy. I mean, when I can forget that people are eventually going to read these words (and interpret them however they wish, and I suspect that’s the sticky part), I enjoy the act of writing about the books I read, and I like re-reading my posts from years past. I love the relationships I’ve been able to form through this blog¬†with other bloggers and with authors (mostly on Twitter). But I’ve been finding it very difficult to force myself to write past the fear of proving myself unworthy of my little niche in this community. So, you know, writer’s block.

2. What is your theme song?

The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Given my answer to the last question, I suspect you’re not surprised by this answer.

3. What does diversity mean to you?

The world just is a diverse place; it has to be in order to survive. In nature, the more diverse the ecosystem, the more it thrives, and any ecosystem that is thrown off-balance by too much homogeneity, too much sameness, eventually fails. I agree with certain aspects of the push for more diversity in books and in romance, but I worry that the constant repetition of the phrase does nothing to point attention to and celebrate the diversity that already exists in these communities. Writers are there, writing stories about non-dominant cultures, characters who don’t fit the dominant mold of rich, white, cis-gender. Those writers have been there, writing their stories this whole time. Perhaps it’s time we all paid attention to them and started reading their stories. Perhaps it’s time we celebrated their tenacity in providing some much-needed diversity within a system that has pushed for homogeneity to its own detriment for years and years.

Is that a controversial answer?

4. What is one book everyone should read?

Oh, come on. I can’t pick just one. Here’s a list of five, presented without comment:

In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
Middlemarch – George Elliot
The Year of Magical Thinking РJoan Didion
A Lady Awakened РCecilia Grant
About Last Night –¬†Ruthie Knox

5. What is your favorite genre and why?

Romance, in most of its forms. Love is at the root of most human interactions (of the good ones, at any rate). And rather than giving a backseat to love stories or using them only to further a plot point or to bring some human relevance to a story about a disaster or whatever, I prefer a genre that places them front and center, that elevates the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and grace that are at the heart of the best sort of love. And I’m not opposed to a well-written sex scene, so there’s that.

The ethics of blogging – Armchair BEA 2013 – Day 4

It’s day 4 of Armchair BEA, and today’s discussion topic focuses on ethics in blogging — how do we, as bloggers, navigate ethical waters?

I’m having a difficult time contextualizing ethics and blogging in general. ¬†It’s hard to imagine that there’s a universal ethical code that could be applied to something as diverse and traditionally uncontrollable as the Internet, and it’s equally hard for me to imagine myself conforming to that universal code.

I do have a personal ethical code, however, and it governs my interactions on the Internet just as much as my daily interactions in face-to-face land, though there are a couple of subsections that apply only to my Internet life.

  1. Be kind. ¬†I put this one first because I think it’s the most important and because it’s the one I have the hardest time achieving. ¬†Sometimes I just don’t feel kind. ¬†Sometimes people annoy me or say ridiculous things. ¬†Sometimes books are bad. ¬†Sometimes I’m just tempted to use my wit to cut. ¬†I try to find a balance between my natural impulses towards snarky humor¬†(I don’t want to suppress myself, after all) and my natural horror of hurting other people’s feelings. ¬†When I manage that balance, the result is kindness, I think.
  2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and follow through on every promise. ¬†Again, this one is a bit of a struggle. ¬†The thing is, I want to be all things to all people, even though I know it’s impossible. ¬†I want to do all the things. ¬†I want to volunteer for every job and keep all those balls afloat and all those people happy by being practically perfect in every way. ¬†You can easily see how things go awry. ¬†While I totally suck at managing my time in my real life (and consequently totally suck at following through on all those promises), it’s easier to succeed on this point on my blog. ¬†If I request or accept a book for review, I read and review it (on time), though I use my own discretion in deciding whether to write about it here on the blog or just on Goodreads.
  3. An “honest review” means you actually have to be honest, even if you didn’t like that book. ¬†Sometimes it’s difficult to square the need for honesty with the need for kindness. ¬†The thing is, if I hate a book, I don’t think it’s unkind to the author to say so honestly whether here on my blog or on Goodreads. ¬†There are a lot of books I’ve hated, and even more that bored the pants off me, and I don’t see the value in pretending that there are only OK, good, and excellent books. ¬†That said, this kind of honesty requires sufficient explanation to be useful. ¬†What help is it to anyone to say, “I read this book. I didn’t like it.” ¬†If you state exactly what you didn’t like about the book, however, along with an honest accounting of the things you did like, your review becomes something like constructive criticism.
  4. Err on the side of caution. ¬†Sometimes I buy books, sometimes I borrow them from friends, and sometimes I receive them from a publisher via NetGalley or directly from an author. ¬†I like to think that the method by which I obtain a book does not have an impact on how I feel about that book, but who knows? ¬†Maybe I’m so flattered at the few direct inquiries I’ve gotten from authors that I plop my rose-colored glasses on when I open their books. ¬†It doesn’t take that much extra effort to tack on a disclaimer when I receive a book for review, so I do it. ¬†I’d rather be unnecessarily nice about the whole thing than be accused of misleading readers.
  5. Stay true to the point of the blog.¬† I started this blog to write about books, to force myself to be a better reader by paying more attention to what I was reading and what it all means, in the grand scheme of things. ¬†I didn’t start blogging to sell books or promote the publishing industry in general. ¬†While I know that readers, authors, publishers, bloggers, agents, etc. are all part of an interconnected ecosystem and that, therefore, this blog is not an island unto itself, I personally feel more comfortable about the whole business when I stick to reading books and writing about them.
  6. Be careful about copyright. ¬†I’m not a lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV), and I don’t want to have to talk to one about my little blog. ¬†So I try always to post images that are my own or that are part of the public domain or wiki-commons (and I follow the latter’s advice on citation). ¬†In general, I use embedded videos on YouTube whenever I want a multimedia experience. ¬†For book covers, I link image URLs from Goodreads. ¬†Sometimes I have an idea of something that I really want to put in a post (most of the time I’m just winging it), but if I can’t find it on YouTube, Goodreads, public domain or wiki-commons, I won’t risk using it.

Given that I’m a hobbyist blogger toiling in obscurity and neither spending nor making any money on this blog, I kept my ethical code recounting very simple and very personal. ¬†Every situation is a little different, but I suspect that bloggers who approach ethical questions with the impulse to try to do what’s right will generally find their way.

On literary fiction – Armchair BEA 2013 – Day 3

It’s day 3 of Armchair BEA, and today the topic is literary fiction:¬†What books have you read this year that would fit into this category?¬†Is there anything coming up that you’re particularly excited about?What authors/novels would you recommend to someone new to the genre?¬†Are there any misconceptions or things that you’d like to clear up for people unfamiliar with literary fiction?¬†What got you started into this kind of book?¬†Name a novel that hasn’t received a lot of buzz that definitely deserves it.

I ranted yesterday about my reservations with distinguishing between¬†literary and¬†genre fiction, so today I’ll (try to) content myself with answering the question. ¬†I don’t read a lot of literary fiction — some years, I don’t read any.

What is literary fiction, anyway? ¬†It’s a non-genre genre, and perhaps it’s best defined by one thing that it isn’t, and one thing that it is. It isn’t¬†genre fiction, and it is (must be) identified as¬†literary by an accepted critic whose merit as judge and gatekeeper¬†everybody who is anybody approves. ¬†It tends to be written by men (for a variety of reasons, including: books by women tend to be sidelined as chick-lit or the slightly better-named women’s fiction, and most reviewers bestowing literary status are men and may be less inclined to review books written by women, though probably not for nefarious reasons… in our culture, we tend to assume that books written by men are for everybody, but books written by women are for women and thus are not mainstream), and I suspect the idea is that the books that are touted as¬†literary¬†fiction today will end up being the classics of tomorrow. ¬†I wonder how many of them will actually make the cut.

So why don’t I read more literary fiction? ¬†I like good books, and I recognize and appreciate quality writing where I find it — why wouldn’t I read a genre that is vetted for quality? ¬†Honestly, it’s¬†Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ fault (everything is, actually). ¬†I know, I know –¬†Tess is a classic and bears no resemblance to modern literary fiction. ¬†The thing is, having spent the better part of a decade reading the classics, that sea of venerable men and a few worthy ladies, I’ve come to associate¬†literature with sexism/misogyny. ¬†Tess is just a fine example of it, even if Hardy was being ironic (and I’m not entirely convinced that he was). ¬†So I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid misogynistic literature and cultivate a more feminist library. ¬†I’ve been a lot happier, in general.

I know — I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I’m terribly wrongheaded and all that — I know! ¬†But I’m just being honest, here. ¬†It’s probably a temporary thing, but for now, that’s where I’m at. ¬†Have any of you gone through anything like this in your reading, where you purposely avoid an entire section of the bookstore because those books make you angry? ¬†Did you grow out of it after a while?

Lastly, these books are probably not considered literary by the gatekeepers at the NYT, but they certainly struck me as being more literary than otherwise.

Blogging and genre – Armchair BEA Day 2

Well, it’s day 2 of Armchair BEA, and today, there are two topics:¬†Blogger Development & Genre Fiction.

I’m certain I’m imposing my own insecurities on the question, but I have to be honest and admit that the very notion of assessing my development as a blogger makes me feel a bit inadequate. ¬†The truth is that I consider this blog to be a hobby, a thing I do because I enjoy it, not because of any external pressure to perform. ¬†Even if no one read this blog, I would still write it. ¬†With that starting position, I feel very little compulsion to promote my blog, and if I drop off the map for three weeks because I’m unbelievably busy, I don’t feel at all bad about it. ¬†That’s not to say that I don’t take this blog seriously — quite the opposite — but I don’t measure success in terms of popularity or marketability. ¬†I have a job, and this blog isn’t it.

That said, I have developed quite a lot over the past year. ¬†For one thing, I’m a better reader than I was. ¬†For another, I’m a better writer. ¬†Best of all, this past year of blogging has helped me to chip away at my habitual reserve, to make some friends (never easy for me to do), to say some true things and put them out there for all the world to see (should the world go out of its way to find my little corner of unreserve…), to try new things. ¬†It has been a fantastic year, but these successes can be measured only on my peculiar scale.

Abrupt subject change:¬†I’m all about genre fiction! ¬†To be honest, I think all fiction can easily be categorized as genre fiction of some sort or other. ¬†I know folk have a strong inclination to distinguish¬†literary¬†fiction from the sordid¬†genre type, but this inclination seems like misplaced snobbery to me. ¬†All fiction is the work of scribbling human hands to explain some part of the human experience. ¬†Maybe that explanation comes in the form of alien planets or vampire stalkers or amorous dukes and barmaids or neurotic narrators recounting their entire misspent lives; the connecting thread running through each of those stories is the humanity of their authors. ¬†(In case you’re curious, I did just lump¬†Children of the Mind,¬†Twilight,¬†Any Duchess Will Do, and¬†In Search of Lost Time into one category, Aristotle be damned.)

Some authors undoubtedly write better than others, some come closer to achieving a real art, some have more skill at using the lies of story and narrative to tell a truth about who we are as humans, but when we assign categories to writers, we hobble ourselves as readers and limit the artistic reach of those writers.  (We also inflate the egos of those writers and critics fortunate enough to be the gatekeepers of literary quality.)

I suppose I should scramble down from my soap box now and talk about the kind of stories I most want to read.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story. ¬†When I was in elementary school and junior high, I read whatever I could get my hands on: library books, school books, my mother’s books, etc. ¬†I didn’t precisely have a favorite genre because I was just obsessed with the written word and all the knowledge it contained. ¬†The first book I read that truly took my breath away was Cynthia Voigt’s¬†Homecoming. ¬†In junior high, I discovered fantasy books, and I read¬†The Hobbit and tried to read¬†The Lord of the Rings¬†(I didn’t succeed in reading it until I was 20 and had achieved something like patience); I read Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony, and a bunch of truly terrible¬†Dragonlance books. ¬†Then I read Jean Auel’s¬†Earth’s Children series (books 1-4) and W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neil Gear’s The¬†First North Americans¬†Series. ¬†Then I read¬†Les Miserables and discovered that what I liked most in all those stories I’d read was any inkling of the redemptive power of love. ¬†Strange as it might be, it was a short skip for me from¬†Les Miserables to romance novels, because that’s where all the love stories hide.

These days, I read romance novels almost exclusively.  Some of them are terrible, and some of them are incandescently wonderful.  I highly recommend each of the following.

Introduction – Armchair BEA Day 1

May has been an uncommonly busy month for me, but it’s finally starting to calm down. ¬†Good timing, too, because it’s time for Armchair BEA! ¬†What’s that, you say? ¬†It’s a way of participating virtually in the Book Expo America currently occurring in somewheresville, USA (I pay a lot of attention, you’ll note). ¬†I had a blast participating in Armchair BEA in 2012, and I’m looking forward to having even more fun with it this year. ¬†It all starts with an introduction:

1.  Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 

Hello_my_name_is_sticker copy

So, this type of question provides an obvious beginning to an introduction — after all, who does an introduction without first providing a reference point? — but reference points tend to stress me out. ¬†How much context is appropriate to provide? ¬†I suspect the average person doesn’t spend any time analyzing such a silly, everyday question as ‘who are you, and why do you blog?’ ¬†Then again, there’s a reason this blog is called Reading with Analysis…

Anyway, I’ve been blogging here for a little over a year. ¬†I started the blog because I needed something for my brain to do, an outlet for my creativity, and because I know very few people IRL who read romance novels, and I wanted to find some way of talking about books without enduring my friends’ well-meaning side eyes and eye rolls. ¬†In the past year, I have made a few book friends and have greatly increased my general happiness quotient by talking about books to people who aren’t all judgy. ¬†It’s fantastic.

2.  What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 

I’m having a difficult time determining my favorite book so far in 2013, so I’ll just highlight the book I’m reading now. ¬†Also, I’m loving it, and you should all read it when it comes out.

Cover image, A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

Don’t let that cover fool you into thinking this is just another silly boy meets girl, they instalust, they boink, and something happens, so they angst about it a bit, but it turns out to be nothing, so it’s happily ever after type of story. ¬†It isn’t. ¬†The writing in this book is incredible; I feel less like I’m reading a story and more like I’m making a friend. ¬†Seriously, you need to read it. ¬†(A Woman Entangled will be available on June 25.)

3.  Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you. 

I’m wary of opening up a, “hey, let’s talk about religion” thing here — that never goes well — but this tidbit is really the only surprising thing about me, other than what I shared last year: I’m very involved in my church. ¬†I sing in the choir, chair the board (though we Episcopalians call that position Senior Warden, and we call the board a Vestry, but when I first joined my church, I thought the term ‘warden’ was restricted to penitentiaries or insane asylums, so….), and serve on the social committee. ¬†That last is actually the secret thing most folk wouldn’t know about me. ¬†I’m so painfully awkward in person, it’s difficult to imagine that I might have an interest in anything social. ¬†Surprise!

4.  Name your favorite blog(s) and explain why they are your favorite(s). 

In no particular order, my favorites are:

Beauty in Budget Blog¬†– My friend runs this blog, and I love reading her reviews of drugstore and higher end makeup items. ¬†Every day that I don’t look like a transient, it’s because of something I read about on this blog. ¬†(When I do look like a transient, it’s because I’m lazy.)

Via Lucis¬†– I’ve got a thing for architectural photography, and Via Lucis provides a dose of beauty with every post.

Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books РI get excited every time I get an email that a new post is up at this blog, which contains a fairly eclectic mix of posts on books, art, life, movies, television shows, pop culture, cocktails, etc.

and Reflections of a Book Addict¬†– Kim, the founding reviewer at Reflections of a Book Addict, and I are reading besties. ¬†We have remarkably similar taste in romance novels and often read books together. ¬†My favorite thing about her blog, however, is that she and her fellow staff on the blog read books from a diverse mix of genres and styles, and there’s always something interesting appearing on the blog.

5.  Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read? 

My favorite post is Women and silence…and romance novels. ¬†I’m quite proud of a few others, but that one really stands out to me.

Stay tuned for more Armchair BEA posts this week (and an overdue review post, hopefully later today)!

Armchair BEA 2012: Best of 2012

Hello folks! ¬†It’s day 2 of the Book Expo America in NYC, and I am, once again, participating virtually via Armchair BEA. ¬†I’m not in an armchair, though. ¬†I do all my blogging perched atop a giant blue bouncy ball. ¬†It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re bouncing like a little girl.

My “chair” and messy desk

Today’s topic for participation is: “Share some of your favorite books so far this year, and/or the the books being promoted at BEA that you hope will end up among your favorites for the year!” ¬†I’m going to interpret that to mean any books I’ve read this year, regardless of their date of publication.

I should have kept a better account of what I have read so far this year. ¬†By going through my Nook library (and trying to recall the few paper copy books I read this year), I’ve come up with 59 books read so far, but I might be missing a few, and I’m not counting in that number any of the nonsense I had to read for school or any of the re-reads that I did.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I have posted a few times–here and here and here–about Elizabeth Hoyt and how very good her books are. ¬†My favorite is The Raven Prince, probably because it is the one that I arbitrarily chose to read first. ¬†(A friend once told me that one’s favorite Tom Robbins book is whichever book of his one read first. ¬†So my favorite is¬†Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, and that friend’s favorite is¬†Still Life with Woodpecker.) ¬†The Raven Prince is a delightful blend of whimsical fairy tale and earthy love story, and I loved every bit of it, even the parts that made me blush. ¬†In fact, I loved it so much that I’m reading it again now, even though I just read it a month ago. ¬†It’s just that good (and my memory sucks that much).

Cover image, A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare

I love to laugh, and I really dig it when a book makes me laugh out loud. ¬†There are books that are designed to make you laugh (I can’t read Laurie Notaro’s books in public… ¬†That stuff is ‘privacy of my own home’ reading to me. ¬†There’s just too great a chance that I’ll laugh until I drool or pee on myself…) and there are books that are not exactly humorous books but are hilarious regardless as a byproduct of great writing. ¬†Catch-22 is one of these, and so is¬†A Week to be Wicked. ¬†Romance novels are often funny (unintentionally), but this one has sparkly dialogue and wit that are a perfect balance to the emotionally compelling aspects of the story.

Cover image, Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

I participated in a workplace book club in February and March of this year at the same time that I was finishing up school and starting this blog. ¬†It was a great experience all around, but mostly I was appreciative of the opportunity to read a book that I would never have picked up on my own. ¬†To read more of my thoughts about the book, check out my posts here and here. ¬†My favorite thing about¬†Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock is that it did not insist on a happy ending. ¬†In southern California, where I live, race relations are generally pretty good (comparatively), but that’s not really the case across the entire country. ¬†I loved that Margolick had the moxie to tell the real story, not the story that we all wanted to read.

So that’s my shortlist of favorites for 2012 (so far). ¬†I’m looking forward to reading some more great books through the second half of the year, and I’m looking forward to the terrible ones as well.