?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
14 February 2010 @ 05:10 pm
[Books] Rouse, Turner  
Book I Have an Issue With: At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, by Wade Rouse

I love essays, particularly funny ones. Find me a book of them and I will happily hand over $12 for the privilege of reading it. And this one starts off really well, because there's a raccoon attack. Raccoons to the head are funny. It's a basic rule of writing, right up there next to "show, don't tell." The premise is promising, too: Rouse moved from the city (more on this later) to rural Michigan (with his long-suffering boyfriend Gary) so that he could pursue a career in writing. Fish out of water! Raccoon attacks! Seriously, how could this be bad?

Well. It isn't entirely bad. But it isn't good, either. For one thing, when he's not wearing a live raccoon as an exceptionally angry hat, Rouse isn't actually funny, and that's a book killer. In this kind of memoir, you're basically sharing the brain of the writer. He has to show you all his random warts and neuroses or there's nothing for him to write about, but he has to be able to make you laugh with him (or at him - that also works) or, well, you're just spending your time with some random jerk's warts and neuroses, and you could do the same thing by getting stuck on an elevator with a guy from Marketing. Every other flaw this book has (sliding focus, sudden random religious tangent in the middle, shrieking intolerance, race issues, playing gay stereotypes up to the point where I expect him to start typing with a lisp) would be forgivable, or at least mostly tolerable, if Rouse could make you laugh. But he can't, or at least he couldn't make me laugh. He couldn't even make me smile, except in the first chapter, and a guy can't get attacked by a raccoon every day.

But my second issue is the one I will always remember about this book. See, okay - you know how sometimes you'll make an assumption early on, and it will be so ingrained that you'll never question it, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, until finally something leaps up and forces you to? And then you can feel your skull being rearranged, all, "The Fiddler on the Roof ISN'T set in 1970s Canada! Which probably means Canadians aren't vicious anti-semites, and I should probably stop worrying that these Quebecois are going to kill me!" (Yes, I was very young when I made the assumption, but it lasted for years. I still sometimes have to take a deep breath before I out myself as a Jew to someone from Saskatchewan.) I had a minor case of this in this book. See, I read the title and made the obvious assumption. And then, several chapters in, I discovered that the city in question is St. Louis. Which. Um. I live in Los Angeles (or, okay, near it, but that's pretty much what everyone who lives here does). It's a pretty big city. But it isn't the city. The only city in the United States that gets a definite article is New York City. Chicago is a city. Houston is a city. New York City is the city. And St. Louis, which is the fifty-second largest city in the U.S., ranked just below Wichita, with a population of 350k, most definitely is not. When I realized that the city of the title was St. Louis, that was my laugh-out-loud moment for this book.

(Note: Yes, I am aware that this is not universally true of everyone in the United States. In rural areas, as I understand it, the city is whichever one you drive to for shopping. But everywhere I've ever lived, New York City has been the city, and it would never occur to me that anyone who wrote that in a book title would mean anything else.)



Books I Love: The Thief Series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia), by Megan Whalen Turner

Now. I am hoping that most of you have already read this series and are eagerly, even desperately, awaiting the next installment (due March 23, so if you haven't read these, now is the perfect time to start). But I have this sneaking fear that some of you have not, and obviously it is my personal duty to correct that. This series is incredible, with amazing characters and world-building and plot and action and one of the weirdest romances I personally have ever encountered in fiction. (For serious, this is a romance - you know, when I see romantic relationships in fiction, I generally try to recast them with my fannish favorites, but it is hard for me to think of even a single popular fannish pairing that might fit with this romance. Okay. I can think of one. But that's it.) But, actually, that's not what I want to talk about when it comes to these books.

Here are two additional reasons, besides awesomeness and the ability to make your heart sing, that you should read these:
  1. Stepping it up a notch. If you've ever written or wanted to write a series, in fan fiction or original fiction, you should read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. This is one of the few times when the second book of a series is an order of magnitude better than the first (and the first is really damn good). And the thing is, it's that way for a reason.

    The author took some serious risks when she started The Queen of Attolia; she didn't let her characters or her situations stay static. She looked at what she'd done and said, hey, that was good, but how can I move from that? How can I get these characters to where I need them to go? And then she took the steps she needed to take, and let me tell you, those were some drastic steps. But they work, and they take the series from amazing to sublime.

    Megan Whalen Turner could have rested on her laurels. She totally did not. This is how you write a series, people. (Or you can take a different road and make your sequels into an endless series of bondage scenes and holidays, which I call the Whips and Presents Method. Not my favorite, but it works for some people. You can also just keep writing the same story with the same plot and characters, changing the proper names as necessary to fulfill your contracts; I think of this as the Grimes Method, and it also works for some. But I'd rather you went the Turner route.)

  2. The Queen of Attolia. The character, I mean. When I was a kid, I read everything. (No, really, everything, including many things I should not have. My mother used to take me to a specialty children's bookstore, hand me over to an innocent employee who had no idea how difficult her life was about to become, and say, "If you can find something she hasn't read, I'll buy it." She spent the next few hours sipping coffee somewhere, and I spent the next few hours saying, "I've read it.") I especially loved books that had fantasy elements. But I was bothered by the fact that they were always about either a) people randomly selected by fate for greatness or b) people born to be great. I knew I would never find an amulet that granted half wishes or a sand fairy, and I knew I wasn't the secret ruler of the desert tribe or the last Old One.

    So I wanted to read a book about a person who became great, who had no special abilities or special item but still used her ordinary abilities to achieve an amazing goal. I looked and looked for that person and never found her. And then I did: Attolia. Turner doesn't spare her at all - Attolia is definitely the person achieving her goal has made her into. She's not kind. She's not fun. You would not want to play croquet with her, and you would not want to turn your back on her. But she is great, and she's great because she decided to be. She fought for it and keeps on fighting for it, using all her intelligence and all her determination, because that's all she's ever had to fight with. I love that. And I love that there is one person in the books who loves it, too.


 
 
 
Caminando, desaparezcomargueritem on February 15th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
"The Fiddler on the Roof ISN'T set in 1970s Canada! Which probably means Canadians aren't vicious anti-semites, and I should probably stop worrying that these Quebecois are going to kill me!" (Yes, I was very young when I made the assumption, but it lasted for years. I still sometimes have to take a deep breath before I out myself as a Jew to someone from Saskatchewan.)

...

*blinks*

Okay.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV bluethefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:16 am (UTC)
I thought I'd already told that story here, so everyone would be bored by it again! But since that line is confusing out of context, here's the story:

When I was four, my mother called me in to see Fiddler on the Roof on TV. I didn't understand it, of course, but I liked the singing, and she explained the plot. Just, either she didn't mention the key word "Russia," or I didn't hear her. But she did mention wheat, and the only place I knew of where they grew wheat that wasn't in the U.S. was Saskatchewan. So I assumed the events she described happened there - she took pains to emphasize that it was based on real events - and I also assumed they happened in, oh, 1970 or so. Because she said it was long before I was born, and that was long before I was born, to me at that age.

I was really alarmed when we went to Canada a few years later, like, did no one notice that we were going to a land of NOTORIOUS JEW-HATERS? I looked at all the people I met, wondering if THAT VERY WOMAN was involved in doing Bad Things to Jews! Or that man! But it never occurred to me to share my concerns, so they went unallayed until much later, when I went to Quebec with my father (who grew up across the border from Montreal). We were driving in, and I was pondering my usual Fiddler on the Roof conundrum, and suddenly I realized: pogroms were not in Canada. They were in Russia! (I had learned that in the interim without ever connecting the dots.) Which meant - probably Canadians were not actually going to kill me! Or even hate me to any special degree. It was a great relief.

In retrospect it's amusing how long I just accepted my four-year-old conclusions, but it's also educational to me now that I have a kid, to remember that what he hears may not be what I think I am saying.
Imaginary Researcher: San Francisco #2 - kaleys_iconshannahrorlove on February 15th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
Because the polls aren't on Livejournal: Eddie Izzard was correct when he said everyone calls San Francisco 'the city.'
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV brownthefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
Whereas I totally had never heard that. I am educated! Thank you.
(no subject) - hannahrorlove on February 16th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7 on February 15th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - hannahrorlove on February 16th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - nextian on February 15th, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - hannahrorlove on February 16th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
when regiment is gone: Mapmaker by Semyazakindkit on February 15th, 2010 02:15 am (UTC)
I would tend to see "the city" as just a generic term, in distinction to "the country" and "the suburbs." It would have to have capital letters or something to make me think a particular city was being referred to. (Also, and perhaps contradictorily, people for a large, large area around Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I live, refer to MSP as "the cities." As in, "Jane moved to the cities" and "Mary and Bill's kids come up from the cities every Christmas." Everyone knows which cities are meant.)

By the way, if you count the metro area, which is reasonable because many U.S. cities have far outgrown their original boundaries, there are considerably more 350,000 people in St. Louis. Well over 2 million, in fact.
the cold geniusangevin2 on February 15th, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)
St. Louis proper is small because a) it's an independent city (i.e. not part of the county) whose boundaries were established in 1876, and b) because a lot of the city's white population left in the fifties and sixties (hence the enormous urban sprawl). The relationship between the city and the county is highly fraught and fairly complicated and has a lot to do with race and racism.

Also I agree with you on the phrase "the city," but then, I live in St. Louis and thus bristled a tiny bit at the OP. ;)

Edited at 2010-02-15 02:23 am (UTC)
(no subject) - kindkit on February 15th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:24 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bluevsgrey on February 16th, 2010 12:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
Stasiastasia on February 15th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
... I clicked on Post Comment before reading Hannah's comment, but that's what I was going to say. San Francisco has, as one of its names, "The City". Really. There are hats and everything.

New York, for me (and I was born there, I still have family there, and I still say I'm from there, even though the last time I lived there was when I was 6), either New York, Manhattan, or The Big Apple. It wouldn't occur to me, if you said you were from 'the city', that you meant NY.

However, I'm amused by your frustration with the first book. Essays are a difficult style to pull off. I've never found a book of essays that was consistent enough to make me happy to buy all of it. Well, except for anything by Thurber, but, well, I'll read anything by the man who wrote The Night the Bed Fell on Father. *grin*

I agree with wanting to read about someone who becomes great, who works for her success rather than has it handed to her because she's Speshul or Majickal. (Not that I won't read those stories as well, but I get tired of being excluded.) One I've found is Keladry of Mindelin, in Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small quartet. I do like most of her books (I like that she has strong girls AND boys), but really, I'm a Kel fan.

Um, on a last note - did chicken happen?

Stasia
peeps wanna see peeps boink: nycmusesfool on February 15th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Huh. I've lived in New York my whole life, and nobody I know who is from here calls it The Big Apple. That is very much a tourist/marketing term. We always call it "the city."
(no subject) - stasia on February 15th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stasia on February 15th, 2010 07:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - deepbluemermaid on February 15th, 2010 07:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stasia on February 15th, 2010 08:02 am (UTC) (Expand)
macey muse: going placesmacey_muse on February 15th, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)
Have you read the 'Daughter/Servant/Mistress of the Empire' trilogy, by Janny Wurts & Raymond E Feist? Because Attolia sounds a lot like Mara of the Acoma to me~

*notes down 'Megan Whalen Turner' for future reference*
macey muse: going placesmacey_muse on February 15th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Also, to me, obv, the City is London, more specifically the London financial district. This despite living in Edinburgh which is /also/ a capital city (despite how adorable and tiny it feels to me ♥). I mean. that district in London actually is officially called 'the City', it has a tube line and everything!

/london bus icon now doubly-appropriate!
(no subject) - macey_muse on February 15th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stasia on February 15th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - macey_muse on February 15th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cofax7 on February 15th, 2010 06:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stasia on February 15th, 2010 07:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - deepbluemermaid on February 15th, 2010 07:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - macey_muse on February 15th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
Coooooookie!ldthomps on February 15th, 2010 02:23 am (UTC)
Radio buttons are tyranny. :D

Aw, see, I only ran into NYC as The City when I moved to Pennsylvania from Michigan. Until I would have thought of the term as generic, like country mouse, but even though I lived 2.5 hours from NYC and was closer to Philly, if someone mentioned the city I knew they meant NYC. OTOH, now that I live in Boston if someone used it that way it wouldn't scan.

Also unless someone gave me context I'd think that the industry were the music industry. And I don't know why.

Um! I am Interested as to how your Fiddler assumption came about! *eyes Quebec*
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV Katamari Damacythefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
Radio buttons are tyranny.

THAT IS WHY I LIKE THEM. *displays iron fist*

Um! I am Interested as to how your Fiddler assumption came about! *eyes Quebec*

I explain it here in detail. Short answer: four is too young for Fiddler on the Roof.
Sophia: Serious Academic Facesophia_sol on February 15th, 2010 02:23 am (UTC)
To me, "the city" is just not a phrase that gets USED. People talk about various cities by their names (or short-forms thereof), and not by that vague terminology. Though if I WERE to hear the term used, I would assume it referred to whatever city was closest at the time. It is completely foreign to me, this idea of calling NYC "the city" and assuming everyone would know that NYC (or insert major-city-of-choice-in-my-country here) was the city being referred to.

And although I don't hear the phrase very often, if I were to hear someone say "the industry" I would assume they were referring to the industrial sector. So things to do with steel and coal and so forth. It actually genuinely surprised me to see that the first two possible answers in your poll were for the entertainment industry; to me, that's not even an industry, much less the industry!
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV bluethefourthvine on February 15th, 2010 04:01 am (UTC)
It actually genuinely surprised me to see that the first two possible answers in your poll were for the entertainment industry; to me, that's not even an industry, much less the industry!

If I heard "industry" without the article, I'd think of the industrial sector: coal and steel and so forth. But the article changes it for me, totally. The mysteries of language!
(no subject) - sophia_sol on February 15th, 2010 04:06 am (UTC) (Expand)
misspamela: NCIS: LL Cool   - shorikuraimisspamela on February 15th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
People refer to the Boston Metro area as "in town" a lot, but if someone up here mentioned "the city," I would think they were talking about Boston. Even in my own state, I would assume Boston, given that our cities are...not so much with the actual city-ness.
pkaipkai7 on February 15th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
So I wanted to read a book about a person who became great, who had no special abilities or special item but still used her ordinary abilities to achieve an amazing goal.

You've convinced me. :) I'm going to place an order on Amazon.
Calligrafiti: beguilecalligrafiti on February 15th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
I suspect that anyone moving from "the city" to Saugatuck, MI, would be moving from Detroit or Chicago. (Or, perhaps NYC, but someone from NYC has a lot of rural options closer than southwestern Michigan.) Anyway, while I'm sure it's lovely, St. Louis isn't my first thought when I think of The City from which new Saugatuckians might have migrated.
trapped in ambyr: Purpleambyr on February 15th, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
When I lived in the Bay Area, "the city" was San Francisco. Now that I live in DC, "the city" is DC. (I don't think anything was "the city" when I lived in North Carolina. I'm not convinced there's any metropolis in the state deserving of the name.) I cannot imagine a time when I would say "the city" and mean New York.

In the past I have, umm, tended to assume that people who say "but 'the city' means New York!" are 1) New Yorkers and 2) pretentious and probably to be avoided. I will try to grow beyond this assumption.
Polyhymnia: geekyof_polyhymnia on February 15th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)
I think this is interesting, because to me (and I'm from just outside DC, lived there my whole life), DC is never "the city" and always "downtown".
(no subject) - ambyr on February 15th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elishavah on February 16th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sequinedfairy on February 15th, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
sooo many copper potsthecomfychair on February 15th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
hah, St. Louis is my hometown, and most people I know from there call it "the city". But then again, I've always referred to the nearest city as "the city", no matter if I was living near St. Louis, Chicago, or Detroit. I think of it as a more generic term than as always referring to a specific place (like New York City).

edit: also, I actually haven't read The Thief series, but I think I'm going to check it out now!

Edited at 2010-02-15 05:23 am (UTC)
London Clockwork: rise up george and wake up arthurpolaris_starz on February 15th, 2010 03:17 am (UTC)
Spoilers for the Thief Series
I love the Thief series. Love. My joy when King of Attolia was published was unbounded. I was extremely disturbed the first time I read them, back when there were only two, because I fell in love with everyone in The Thief and then some of them died and then Gen got his hand cut off, which frightened the hell out of me. Stuff like that almost never happened to the heroes in the stories I read! But that is, again, what makes it good. I love the interplay between gods and humanity in those books, and the whole complicated mythology Turner created, and the difficult choices people make -- everyone is sympathetic or at least understandable, even the antagonists. In conclusion, anyone who has not read this series should READ IT NOW.
minnowminnow1212 on February 15th, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)
Attolia, yay, yes! I love it when someone else has read these. There is also some good Yuletide fic from 2010 and years past.