Staff Musings

February 25, 2008

British Book Month

Filed under: Fiction & Literature — carricee @ 11:11 pm

For some reason I’ve been absolutely steeped in British fiction lately. Not only am I reading Elizabeth George right now, before that I was reading Jasper Fforde and the car book (that’s the book I read aloud to my husband in the car) we just finished was Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s really a coincidence, but it’s been a lot of fun.

Let me say a few words about Jasper Fforde. It’s really hard to just say a few words about him though, because his books are so full of action AND they are freaking hilarious. These are definitely books for readers. They are mystery/science fiction/satirical novels about an alternate England that needs a literary police force, both one inside of fiction and in the real world, where time travel is a way of life, where evil multinational corporations control almost everything, and croquet is a violent, competitive sport often resulting in death and severe head injury.

Thursday Next, the main character, is a Literary Detective. Her adventures are made all the more hysterical by her no-nonsense attitude. She won’t blink an eye at any of the ridiculous things that happen to her, which include learning to work inside of fiction from Miss Haversham (who, when she’s not doing her role in Great Expectations, likes to race cars), dealing with an escaped romance novel hero who wants to take over the world, trying to cheer up Hamlet, being the target of an assassin named the Window Maker, and helping her brother take care of resurrected 15th century saints.

These books spoof almost everything you can think of. The government, the media, bookstores, corporations, sports, even Shakespeare! I’ve read two of them and listened to a third one as an audio book. Though I usually enjoy reading a book much more than I enjoy listening to the audio book, for some reason with these I enjoyed it just as much. It may have been just because they are so packed full of action I didn’t have time to get bored with things I usually skim past.

We have a few in the store, come by and pick some up. Check out his website and see for yourself how funny the man is. We have them in general fiction, mainly because he covered so many categories we couldn’t really figure out where to put him!

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February 21, 2008

Elizabeth George is Awesome

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense — carricee @ 12:37 am

It’s not often that I get so involved in a mystery that I nab the next book in the series before anyone else can get to it, but that was before I discovered Elizabeth George.

Now to be honest, I am technically familiar with her. I listened to the novel A Traitor to Memory on audiobook once when we had a copy at the store. See, I like to perform the public service of listening to all of the audiobooks we get in that I can to make sure they don’t skip. Aren’t I a great employee? Now obviously I knew after listening to this that the audiobook was great, but I don’t usually connect how I experience an audiobook with how I experience a book that I read myself. It’s more like listening to a radio play or something. Just because I like Prairie Home Companion doesn’t mean I want to read Garrison Keillor’s novels.

Oh, how wrong I was. If only I could go back in time, and instead of just nod appreciatively at the end of the book and scour the shelves for something else to keep me occupied on my ridiculously long drive back then…well then I guess I wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading her now!

The Lynley mysteries are just amazing. Not only are they good mysteries, they contain a depth that you rarely find in the genre. Everything you can find in the most pretentious literary fiction you can find here. This isn’t Law and Order; the characters, including the cops and not just the victims, are fully fleshed out and make you care about them. And I think that’s what I like so much about them. I do read quite a few mysteries, but usually I read them as a way not to think – if I’m tired at night and don’t want to get involved in something, but just want something to help my brain stop shouting at me so much (SHUT UP, BRAIN!).

Elizabeth George doesn’t beat you over the head with platitudes like a lot of litfic writers do, nor does she introduce you to a dead body and have people run around a city doing nothing but drinking coffee and talking to shady characters until they solve the crime. Nor are the murders so gruesome that they make me want to never, ever read her again, which is a good thing. Her characters consistently have issues they have to deal with apart from their jobs, and they show growth throughout the novels. They make assumptions based on their own experiences that are incorrect, they have to deal with real people in bad or good situations, their lives conflict with and coincide with their cases in the most inopportune ways. They observe society through the patina of their jobs, and at times they are callous, but most of the time they manage to make some really amazing connections about human life through the events they observe; in fact it’s so well done that I’ve actually marked passages to show to friends who are going through similar issues.

I do have to warn you, her books are set in the strange and wondrous country of England, and her main character is some type of fancy-pants lordy guy. But I promise, he doesn’t act like it. Though she’s an American, she does a great job of communicating the class issues and divisions that are still present there – but if you as a reader aren’t familiar with the society structure it may be daunting, I’m not sure. I was rather surprised she was American when I read her biography on her website; I just assumed that she was British since she wrote British mystery novels. I should have known that didn’t matter from the hugely ridiculous list I made of Scottish historical romance writers I made at the store today for our customers! I doubt many of those writers are from 17th century Scotland.

Her Inspector Lynley mysteries were actually made into a show for the BBC! That eliminated any doubt of British cred I thought might have just been my American public school ignorance (for Brits, public school here means exactly the opposite of what it does there). You can get them on Netflix! I just added one to our queue, though we’ll have to wade through Lost, Black Adder, Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, Memoirs of a Geisha (me), and 28 Weeks Later (um…zombie-lovin’ husband) before we can see it.

If YOUR Netflix queue is also ridiculous, why, you should just stop in at the bookstore and pick them up in novel form! Then you can tell your family how different the show was from the book when you finally get it. That’s always much appreciated and an appropriate fannish response.

February 18, 2008

Negative Reviews and Dark Alleys

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 8:14 pm

So sometimes when I am bored, or waiting around for something, or thinking about books, I read reviews of some of my favorite books on Amazon. Now, I don’t usually read the good reviews of books I’ve already read – if I like them, I already know why they are good. Instead, I like to read the bad reviews.

And it’s not like I’m going in there reading the bad reviews for a scholarly discussion in my mind. I’m not looking for valid viewpoints that are contrary to my own, or a point to make me think with a little more objectivity about the quality of the book. No, I like to read them because I am SURE the people who wrote them are incredibly stupid and it’s about the closest I can come to watching Jerry Springer or professional wrestling without cringing (much). I love reading people’s negative opinions and declaring (in my head) how wrong they are – it’s probably similar to how fashionistas look at my clothes and think how pleased they are that their clothes only have the holes that they paid extra for.

But also, I honestly think that a lot of people who write negative reviews on places like Amazon are mostly doing it for the wrong reasons. Personally, if I don’t like a book, I just don’t recommend it and don’t read any more titles by that author. Everyone has different tastes and different ideas of what makes a book good, and just because I think all Ayn Rand books are nothing but narcissistic diatribes doesn’t mean that they aren’t meaningful and valuable to a lot of narcissistic people. So who am I to go on a public website (meaning one that people besides my friends, Hi Katie! actually read) and say nasty things about a book that someone has worked their fingers to the bone on? Most of the time, negative reviews on reader generated content sites come from people with bad attitudes and too much time on their hands, in my opinion.

Let’s look at an example! I have already raved about Patrick Rothfuss‘ debut fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind. It’s a fantasy epic that’s cut from a little bit of a different cloth than most. It feels fresh, fun, sad, and both gritty and idealistic at the same time, which is quite a feat. On top of that, Pat seems like a great guy, is clearly intelligent and a wonderful speaker; he loves to connect with his fans, and he understands his fans – since he’s been a fantasy reader and a fan for most of his life.

His Amazon reviews are actually pretty amazing – in fact, there are only 2 one-star reviews compared to 173 5-star reviews. And what do these people have to say? What about the book made them hate it badly enough to actually spend the time to sit down, click their way over to Amazon, sign in, and compose something negative about something someone else has poured their heart and soul into?

The first guy seems to be mad that the book is too long. Apparently, he can’t tell how long a book is when he picks it up – I guess he thought all the pages at the end were pictures, coloring pages, or pornography. Really, I think he’s one of the people who was upset about the next book in the series being delayed a year, because he complains that he won’t remember the book by then and won’t have time to reread the 900 pages.

Wait, what? 900 pages?

The hardcover edition of this book is 662 pages long. Admittedly long, but it is, after all, a fantasy epic and I believe that the word epic has long in its definition. If I recall correctly though, the ARC, or advanced reading copy given out to booksellers and reviewers (which I read first) was around 900 pages. So, this guy didn’t even buy a copy of the book, he got an uncorrected proof for free, and then drags down Pat’s rating by complaining about its length? And, the last sentence of his review is, “Sorry bud, get an editor.”

That’s why you should read the book AFTER it’s been edited! That is so awful to me. I just don’t get it! That guy is SO STUPID! I’d be throwing chairs at him on Jerry Springer. Jerry would have a broken nose and a concussion trying to stop me. The audience would be cheering and that guy would be cowering in the corner, holding his 900-page ARC in front of his face for defense. THEN he’d appreciate it.

The sheer audacity of giving a ONE STAR review to a book that you LIKED, that you got for FREE, because it was too LONG, except you didn’t actually read the fully edited SHORTER version because likely you’d have to PAY for it, is astounding to me. It makes me really, really angry, but in that righteous anger way that almost makes you feel good about yourself.

The other one-star reviewer at least didn’t like the book. I can’t say I understand that, but it is better than liking it and giving it one star. However, the reason they didn’t like it, they said, was because there was no climax. But they said that right after they admitted that they did not finish the book. How do they know it didn’t have a climax if they didn’t finish the book, you ask? I don’t know. But it makes me angry.

I know that there are legitimate reasons for some negative reviews – if it is inappropriate for the age group it was marketed towards, if it has bad grammar, if it is truly poorly written – and I do look at reviews at times when I am considering purchasing a book. But somehow, it seems like the dregs of society have moved from the dark alleys and street corners, from the daytime talk shows and reality shows, to Amazon’s one-star review section. It seems to be a place people use to feel superior, to say to a writer, “I can affect you, I can make your day a little bit worse.”

But then, really, am I any better if I go there and point my finger and laugh, or fume and write about it on the bookstore’s blog while I’m working? Probably not, especially since I look at them in order to find things to jeer at. But I doubt I’ll stop doing it. Hey, I have to read them, ordering books is part of my job!

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