As SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge topic for this month is Series, I have decided to list a series of reading notes on romances and other reading that has been sitting on my TBR shelf for many months.
Reading Note 1: Impulse Reading. There is too much impulse reading in the world. Just because a book is a new release, or has just hit the bestsellers list, this is no reason to dive straight into reading it. Sometimes, a book needs to wait. This is why I love SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge. I don’t think of books that have been on my TBR as languishing, as much as they are maturing while I get to them. There are many books that I have read long after their publishing date that have not aged well due to their time on the TBR, or due to the long wait until I have come to the end of a reservations list. I have become accustomed to waiting for books. As a librarian, I never feel that I can read a book that has reservations on it before the actual borrowers who have been waiting in line. This inevitably means that I need to wait until the reservation list diminishes (not a particularly easy thing). I also do not like the pressure of reading to a deadline. This also means that I miss the review flood, and I often find myself writing about books long after they have been released. The subsequent notes are all of books that have been waiting on my shelves, or that I have waited for patiently through library reservations.
Reading Note 2: Cry laugh. Over the years, I have found myself moving further and further away from reading male authors. They don’t appeal to me. I love my fiction to be filled with heartfelt emotion and somehow – and this will be a gross generalisation – men’s novels feel cold and observant, removed from the joy and exhilaration of emotional writing that I love reading. The authors whose works I have tried to read in the past year seem to be more about how clever they are as a writer rather than how well they can tell a story and I feel as though I am being talked down to as a reader. Is this the author as mansplainer perhaps? The exception though is David Sedaris. His writing fills me with emotions. I don’t know if it is partly due to our shared 2nd generation Greek diaspora experiences, his absurd sense of life, elves, language, family and Summer. All contribute to my love for his writing. After 42 weeks on reserve, I finally got Sedaris’s Calypso on audiobook from the library. The first time I listened to Sedaris on audiobook, I was laughing so hard that I had to pull over from driving as I couldn’t see the road from my tears. With Calypso, I had to pull over and park the car as once again, I was crying. But this time, it was in sorrow. Sedaris’s slow revealing of his sister Tiffany’s life and suicide and his own relationship with her, cut me deeply. Calypso. Such an innocuous story in his series of essays of life unravelling with his surviving four siblings. To quote him upon discovering the turtle he would feed was being fed by many others:
“I felt betrayed, the way you do when you discover that your cat has a secret secondary life and is being fed by neighbours who call him something stupid like Calypso. Worse is that he loves them as much as he loves you, which is to say not at all, really. The entire relationship has been your own invention.”
At first I thought “Huh. is that it? This whole book is named for one nothing sentence like that?”. But nothing Sedaris writes is innocuous. I continued listening but that story bothered me. I went back to my inner My-Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding father and looked at the Greek root of the word. Calypso, “καλύπτω”, to cover, to hide, conceal and deceive. It is like Sedaris is telling me that my relationship with his writing over all these decades is a lie and that it is stupid and it is a relationship which is my own invention. It is a relationship I have not with him but with the deception that are his stories. I don’t believe him though. I think that his book instead is acting against this. He uncovers, he reveals, he declares. He declares his own (in)actions in Tiffany’s life. I have to leave my thought here. It might, with time, have more clarity. But for now, I’m unsure of how to move this note forward.
Reading Note 3: “Cooking isn’t creative…it’s masochism” – Charlotte Lamb. The Proposal is Jasmine Guillory’s second book in a loosely connected series. I had two queues to wait for this one. Firstly, I needed to read the first in the series, and secondly, both books had reservations on them. I really enjoyed her The Wedding Date and its fun stuck-in-a-lift-fake-wedding-date premise. It promised a lot for her follow up. The Proposal has also got a great premise in that it takes the Grand Gesture proposal, shows it for its creepy falseness and propels the heroine and hero (certainly not a grand gesture man) into a meet-cute that builds up into great will-they won’t-they tension and once they do, is-it or isn’t-it a serious relationship. I loved most of the book. My only complaint is the inordinate amount of eating and food preparation that is described in this book. In some instances, the food scenes moved the plot forward, but in others, it just sat there, waiting to be eaten for no purpose at all. I found the food motif in this book interesting because her sex scenes, enjoyable and fun, are definitely not as graphic as some of the contemporary romance fiction. Perhaps all the food eating is a metaphor compensating for all the not quite detailed sex. I’m not sure. Metaphor or not, the eating did my head in. If the meal in the story is there just to plump out the pages (did you see what I did there), I just prefer to read a shorter story.
Reading Note 4: /rant. Jennie Stallard’s Boyfriend by Christmas promised me a romance but instead I got surprise chick lit (is it just me or it this a trend???). Though there was no queue for reading this book, I have waited for several months before I felt I could post about it. And hold onto your hats as it is about to get sweary in here. If you don’t like some blue, then skip to Reading Note 4. If you are looking for a mashup read of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Geordie Shore, 10 Ways to Lose a Guy and Sex in the City this is the book for you. It’s a niche audience and I am not in that niche. Raunch culture, drunkenness, horny hookups and sexting are not my reading cup of tea. I do like that British romances and chick lit have heroines sleeping with dudes other than the hero, so this is not a prude reaction. Puritanism in romance publishing can get annoying, so I am on board with a female character who has happily had several partners. However, the constant drunkenness of Genie (the female protagonist because she is no heroine) shits to me to tears. Reading about a young 20-something falling about, falling on cocks, falling into walks of shames, falling into workplace crises because of poor decision making while pissed and out on the town was odious. And then there was fat-shaming, age-shaming, woman shaming etc etc etc all through the book. I just couldn’t deal with it. Large women certainly cop some outright hate. For example:
“Willow is one of those people who proves that when you call a child something, they are then destined to become the opposite. Willowy, she is not.” (p 10)
AND THIS IS ABOUT Genie’s own BFF! On her own diet/exercise struggles:
“Because I am not being single and fat.” (p 12 – author’s emphasis on the ‘and’)
On her boss:
“Tabitha used to work on a national newspaper features desk, and is very old school. She knows how to persuade a middle-aged housewife to conduct an interview about how the woman in question wished, if she were honest, she’d never had her third child because it’s destroyed her undercarriage and her husband left her for the au pair.” (p 14)
“And so, as sure as Tabitha must have stretch marks, Monday has come around” (p 91).
All I could think was fuck you Genie and your young and intact undercarriage. Fuck your lack of lightening bolt body marks. Fuck your poor attempt at humour. Fuck women who feel they need to dump on other women’s bodies to elevate themselves. Fuck misogyny and fuck female misogynists. Just FUCK! So Tabitha the boss is totally horrible. I have no issue with unlikeable characters. I have no issue with Tabitha being an unlikeable woman (because she freakin’ was!) – I certainly know what it is like to have a despotic, cruel, female bully boss that can fuck with your brain so I have no issue there either because horrible people exist and I’m fine with them existing in fiction too. But I have a MASSIVE BIG FUCKING ISSUE with anyone dumping on all middle aged women. Stereotyping, generalising, mocking and just all round being a fucking arse. So Genie, may your pelvic floor never fail you, you supple skin never crinkle on you and may your perky boobs keep perking and may they never fall into your fucking ‘pits and if they ever do, may your OTP stand by your side and love you anyway because I believe women who care about people don’t even dump on mean girls (though we do wish that mean girls would fucking grow up).
But it doesn’t end there. On Genie’s career:
“It was a good job he [her former boss] was shorter than me and losing his hair, otherwise I’d have fancied the pants off him, too. Luckily I didn’t which meant I could focus on work and not worry about work goggles spoiling my career prospects.” (p 11)
Oh! If only Genie’s prior boss had been hot, career-schmeer! Throw in the job for a hook-up, indeed. Uggh!
More on her career:
“I think when my heart got smashed up, my career gene kicked in. It just went rock solid, and I though, well, if I can’t have love, then I’ll be a career girl. This was something I could control, and it was something that couldn’t dump me, as long as I put in the work.” (p 16)
Seriously! I’ve had more heartbreaking career break ups in my life than I have had relationship breakups. Careers can’t be controlled. This was another big red flag that this book was not for me and that I needed to stop reading this book. And I DNFd it but not before I speed read the rest of the book. It really should have worked for me. I loved the structure of the story with the diary-like narrative interspersed with the blog posts. I love that there were nightclub and dancing scenes. However, I disliked the storytelling and I deeply disliked Genie.
Reading Note 5: Wearing your reading on your sleeve. Genevieve de la Mare’s I’d Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers is a delightful dip-in-and-out book on reading and the art of reading. I had to place a reservation on this book, but it didn’t take long to arrive at my desk. I loved the book art and the way this book was compiled, its contributors as well as the essays except for Maura Kelly’s manifesto on Slow Books as she peddles out the “reading = empathy” bullshit. Don’t @ me. If reading = empathy then Hitler would have been a social worker. A loss of two stars for the empathy shit.
Reading Note 6: Bibliofiends are missing out. I took Michael Dirda’s Browsings literally and just browsed through it, picking up on interesting points here and there. I borrowed this book over 4 months ago, and due to the generous loan periods that my university library provides, it sat patiently waiting for me while I read through a number of other titles. After my initial browse, I then did as the author suggested and read it in order from front to back. It is well written, lovely and just brimming with the joy of reading that Dirda experiences. It didn’t reflect my reading, but I appreciate the author’s engagement with his own choices.
There isn’t a single romance novel mentioned in Dirda’s Browsings. It brings me to think that for bibliofiends to be in complete engagement with all published fiction, they need to find books on the shelves. Romance fiction needs to be on the shelf to be discoverable. Dirda doesn’t encounter them but I think that this might just be a consequence of the shelf rather than the browser.
Reading Note 7: Call me a library bureaucrat. I am speaking with a doctoral colleague. She tells me she is teaching as a sessional and asks if I am teaching. I tell her I am not. Two years ago, in the midst of a family health crisis, I ceased teaching. I continue to work as a library practitioner in a council area far far away from my home. I tell my colleague as much and she sighs. “Oh, libraries are such quiet and content places”. I hesitate for a moment and then ask her if she is mistaking libraries for archives. I then tell her of just two of the events that have occurred in the past fortnight.
Note 7.1: A Male borrower asks to be let into the lift to access the carpark. He apologises for disrupting me and then says “I’m sure that you are doing important work looking at those books”. My insides twist, my eyes are spitting fire. Fuck yeah, you passive aggressive dickhead. Deselection of food smeared picture books is pretty high on my priorities list.
Note 7.2: It’s 10 minutes to closing, I’m swiftly working through our shutdown procedures when I see a regular pest borrower with a newly minted junior staff member. I step closer and when I hear her insisting on using an expired ID, I take over the query and refuse to process the card and the loan. She starts screaming at me. She is in my face “Shut uuuuuuppppp! Shhhhhhuuuuuuuuutttt Upppppppp!. I repeat to her “You are not permitted to harass me in my workplace, please leave the building. “Shhhhhut Upppppp!” Screaming in my face. I walk to the doors and as she storms past me she screams “You are not the Queen of the Castle” and my bureaucrat face breaks and my inner shouty Greek emerges. “You are right. I am not the Queen of the Castle, but I am the Supervisor of the Library”. I point her out of the building, the doors lock behind her, I walk back to the information desk and I start crying. I hate the public. Sometimes.
I get in my car. I am listening to an early David Sedaris audiobook. I only waited 8 weeks for this one. He is reading a diary entry about listening to his Dad in Athens, Greece where he says that his Dad speaks “Combat Greek” and in return the Athenians do too. I start laughing and crying. My Combat Greek was on show today.
11 thoughts on “Food, Impulse and the Queen of the Castle: Reading Notes 1-7”
I’m sure you’re going to shake your head in sorrow when you read that I have not read Sedaris.
Guillory’s first book didn’t work for me, but I have heard so much about The Proposal because it made so many Best Books lists that I thought I would give it a go. But now you’re making me pause. Sometimes, the authors want their characters to do something instead of merely dialoguing. You need characters to move in the space, and food is an easy addition to any scene. It also adds domesticity and closeness.
The “reading = empathy” is interesting. Many, many writers throughout the ages have written about how contemplation of the written word leads to more empathy with self and others around you, but primarily with self.
As I said before, I’m enjoying your Notes-style of blogging.
I didn’t finish two of my thoughts.
RE: Food in Books: However, pointless food making or puttering about anywhere is more distracting than anchoring.
RE: Reading & Empathy: Your comparison of Hitler as a reader or Churchill as a reader or reading by so many “leaders” excoriated by history, shows that the reading = empathy rules breaks all supposed civilizing effects. Which is all to say, I don’t know if the equation is true or not in general, but it has been true for some and untrue for others.
I’m going to reply to both your comments here:
I would never shake my head in sorrow that you haven’t read Sedaris. I would love it if you found him as engaging as I do, but I also understand his writing may not appeal to everyone I know.
Don’t pause on The Proposal. I liked many aspects of it. However, I have chronic food boredom and any lengthy description just annoys me. It is a personal dislike, and I am sure that many readers would have loved the book and the way eating was integrated into the story. When I grow up, I will only ever need to dust my kitchen.
As for reading and empathy, I think your statement that it is true for some and untrue for others points to the fact that it is not reading on its own that makes us empathetic but the sum total of our complex experiences as people. I think that engaged storytelling, rather than the process of reading, is a critical(though not the sole) factor in understanding and accepting differences in people. I have been writing about this on and off for years (here’s a post for 2012 https://shallowreader.com/2012/12/12/on-reading-intelligence-and-heroes/) and I am increasingly resistant to the reading=empathy argument as a way to promote books, reading and raising literacy levels (which I continue to believe are important and necessary). I also realise that this makes me unpopular as a reading proselytiser amongst other much more convinced proselytisers. 🙂
And Ta! re: my notes format. Now that I think of it, it is similar to writing in Twitter form but without the length restriction 😀
Never stop blogging. You entertain me thoroughly no matter what you write about. I had just discovered a huge pile of lovely books on my Kindle that I didn’t know I had before I read your bit on books maturing, not languishing. So true! I was giddy finding all those lovelies that I had forgotten to read and didn’t know I owned.
Your Genie rant was hysterical. I laughed out loud several times. I’m so glad you finished the book so I could count how many times you used the F word. So very funny. I know I won’t be wasting my time on that book, but I’m glad you did because you made not being able to sleep very entertaining. 😉
Now I need to find something by David Sedaris. Thanks for the tip!
As for your experiences on the job – I want to give you a big hug. The public can be outrageous. Thank you for your service. I’m sure there are booklovers who appreciate you in person as much as I do reading your blog online. 🙂
The whole reading=empathy is very interesting. I like to think that it makes me more understanding and compassionate toward others. Maybe there is a difference depending on what you read.
Keep thinking and writing down your thoughts. I look forward to more.
“…I’m glad you did because you made not being able to sleep very entertaining.” << Insomnia sucks. I am glad you were entertained. And I recommend David Sedaris on audiobook rather than print. He narrates his own work and he is so much better than my own head voice.
As for empathy = reading, people are complex and ascribing their empathy to their reading dismisses the impact of their whole life experiences and interactions. High levels of literacy are important to being able to function in our communities, especially in critical areas such as financial literacy and health literacy. But I will argue forever that high literacy does not necessarily make you more empathetic. I wrote about this many years ago – https://shallowreader.com/2012/12/12/on-reading-intelligence-and-heroes/ – and as the years go, my convictions on this topic grow stronger and stronger.
And thank you for the hug 🙂
Aha! I get it. Wonderful thoughts about your grandmother on that previous post. I see why you feel so strongly about the empathy=reading topic. My great-grandmother was oh-so-wise with only an 8th grade education. She was by far the best baker I’ve ever met and I owe anything I know about it to her.
You got to meet your great-grandmother let alone have time to learn from her! That is wonderful!
Working with the public – it ain’t for the faint of heart. It’s the part of the job I struggle with the most. I never remember the countless people I helped that day/week/month who had a positive, lovely library experience. Nope, not me, I remember the one asshole who came in last Tuesday. Keep your chin up.
No. It isn’t for the faint hearted at all. And I have certainly had many horrible encounters. Like you, they are the ones that stay fresh in my mind and not the lovely library experience. At least I managed to keep my chin up when she was screaming at me. My meltdown was only in front of staff.
[…] 7 in Graphic Novel form). I have previously sung the praises of David Sedaris’s Calypso (see Reading Note 2) and Richard Fidler’s Ghost Empire (see Reading Note 10). Both books rate in my favourite […]