Monday Morning Stepback: Male pubes, the point of book reviews, feminist sci fi, and Kotex

The weekly links, opinion and inanity post

Links of Interest (where if it’s new to me, it’s “news”):

First, I am having a contest, which closes Tuesday at midnight EST, for a copy of Carolyn Crane’s Mind Games. Open to all. Just comment to enter.

Congratulations to blogger and quilter extraordinaire Phyl for winning the Avon/Harper Collins “It Happened One Season” contest.

What is the Purpose of a Book Review, and are Book Reviewers Writing Anything Useful? from Michelle Kerns at It’s amazing to see literary fiction reviewers only now grasping basic things about book reviewing that genre readers have long understood (for another example of the same, scroll down this page to the Media Bistro interview). (Of course, we genre reviewers have our own set of reviewing traps.)

From the NY Times Well Blog, a report on a study that will warm any philosopher’s heart, Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.

“We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you’re happy, and if you go into the existential depths you’ll be unhappy,” Dr. Mehl said.

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

Aarti of Booklust asked “Do You Fall for the Hype?” (hat tip Janet Webb). An older post (3/14) but worth catching up on for the 58 comments, Aarti is not thrilled with the growth of the “blog tour” phenomenon:

Yes, I like getting free books, but I don’t like to feel as though I have unwittingly contributed to pushing a certain book on someone else. I don’t like to feel that I have to review a certain book by a certain time so that everyone hears about it all at once. I prefer hearing about a book because a blogger wanted to pick that book up at that time, and wanted to read it. Not because she had to read it at that time to meet a deadline. I don’t want books forced upon me in that way.

The Sexist is wondering, What Do Men Do With Their Pubic Hair?

My Friend Amy is asking about Literary Identity, The Weight of Recommendations, and More.

There are times as a book blogger or recommender of books that I wish I had a more defined sense of taste. The truth is that I enjoy a great variety of books and feel antsy whenever I think of fitting into one niche or genre. At the same time, I often feel without roots or a strong sense of like minded community in the book blogosphere.

Sandy at AAR is Calling in the Angry Villagers: 10 Cliches We Can Live Without (with dozens of additions from helpful readers.)

The F Word on Justine Larbalestier’s Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century

Daughters of Earth opens the door to a selection of feminist and women’s science fiction writing, then puts these examples in historical and literary context through critical essays written in a broad and accessible tone. These essays sprout hundreds of branches, tantalising the reader with glimpses of the history of US women’s speculative fiction, the development of science fiction as a genre, the development of feminist ideas, feminist critique and the relationship between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’ writing.

I’ve got this book on its way to me. Can’t wait to read it!

American Book Review published an article (PDF download) with 40 responses to their question about what makes a bad book bad. A variety of colorful responses from academics, many of which will have you gnashing your teeth. I loved it. But for this blog, I thought pulling out quotes about romance would be interesting. I think someone could write a paper on the necessity of a certain conception of “Romance” for the construction of the definition of the bad book.

Genre books aren’t bad. They are the paradigm of good books. If any writing can be justified, romances and Westerns and mysteries and pornography can, being like the stain on a napkin, exactly the size of themselves. Hasn’t everybody on occasion wished for badder books? Roland Barthes famously remarked that he wrote books because he didn’t like the books he read. When younger I thought he must be talking about the books reviewers called bad, but later I realized books like that rarely inspire anybody. Is badness, at bottom, more like incompetence or like evil? Ronald Sukenick once confided to me his ambition to write books no one would know how to judge either bad or good. I feel that. … I dream of the book so horrendous it denies me peace, tracks me down in my haven, and compels me to vomit rejoinders. (from R. M. Berry, FSU)

Another comment, on Women in Love (a book I have always despised. One of the best things about an article like this is finding other who people think the same books are overrated that you do) :

“It’s like someone put a gun to Nietzsche’s head and made him write a Harlequin romance.”

From Christine Granados, Texas A & M:

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (1992) comes immediately to mind. I think of it as a romance novel for men, his trilogy included. Like all good romance novel writers, McCarthy uses clichés and derivative characters to sell millions of copies. He gives men a romanticized view of manliness. McCarthy wraps his characters in half-truths and idealized anecdotes, much like Jackie Collins does, only his are about the Lone Star State, the border, and its cowboy myths.

From Carol Guess, Western Washington U.

Heather Lewis’s second novel, Notice (2004), is a work of genius. Underrated, rarely discussed, the book belongs with contemporary classics. It is perhaps the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, and among the most compelling. It illuminates the state of female, specifically lesbian, subjectivity under contemporary American regimes by deconstructing genres that have failed to capture women’s experiences: pulp, noir, mystery, romance. It subverts these genres, yet never falls prey to the directives of political correctness.

Finally, a comment that hits a little too close to home, from Christian Moraru, U North Carolina Greensboro:

Let us face it: yesterday’s “bad” books are on today’s syllabi. Think, for example, about the whole sentimental tradition, about romance, or about the “paraliterary” genres.

The Guardian Books Blog follows up with, What Makes a Bad Book Bad?

I really enjoyed this Media Bistro audio interview with Laura Miller, critic and author, about reading and reviewing. She talks about the difference between reading with enthusiasm (typical of children) and reading with understanding (typical of reviewers). This is such an interesting interview, because you have a reader, Miller, advising authors of literary fiction to write protagonists who care about something, desire something, and do something and that “the bedrock of readerly engagement is storytelling”.

Wow. So, you need plot and character to engage readers. Who would have thunk it?

Inspiration: Mark Athitakis has a quote about American writers from Nadine Gordimer that is going on my office door.

We all know about DABWAHA, but did you know that there is a literary Tournament of Books modeled on March Madness? There is! But instead of books winning by popular vote, they advance by the vote of one judge per matchup. It is in its 6th year, sponsored by The Morning News.

I loved the Kotex ad making fun of tampon ads, and like everyone else, found it predictable but dismaying that it was banned for using the word “vagina” by three networks, and that two networks wouldn’t even allow the use of the euphemism “down there”. My favorite lines: “How do I feel about my period? … I like to twirl, maybe in slow motion … and I do it in my white spandex. And usually, by the third day, I really just want to dance.”

Me too, sister, me too.


Shit is hitting the fan at my uni. Our president announced his resignation last week (effective in 16 months) and while it still looks like philosophy is in the clear, other departments’ fates are tragic. I don’t want to say more about it now, in case students are reading this (it’s not official at this point, and I don’t want to panic anyone unnecessarily). But I will have something to say next week.

One bright spot is that I had my annual review at my other job — where they have had to eliminate 100 positions — it went well, and my job seems secure for now.

About health care: I am thrilled with the passage of the health care bill. Yes, it has a LOT of problems, but take a step back and look at it philosophically. When I started out in bioethics in 1999, I organized a summit of state and regional health care leaders in Florida. At that time, none of those experts predicted this would happen — in fact, they insisted it never would. As a country, we have moved from thinking about health care the way we think about automobiles (really important to have, but not society’s problem if you can’t afford it) to thinking about it more like education (something necessary to partake in the equality of opportunity the US promises, like public education). I think the passage of this bill signals a recognition in the US that health care is more than a privilege for those who are lucky enough to have jobs with coverage, or who meet criteria for Medicare, Medicaid, or VA benefits: it’s closer to a right, something that should not be denied to any US citizen. I hate the many concessions Obama and the Democrats made, to big pharma and to the anti choice agenda in particular, but this is what reform looks like. The passage of a bill isn’t reform — we can’t literally overhaul health care in the House chamber — it’s the working out of the details, which will happen gradually over the long term. I don’t think we can overstate the importance of the shift this bill represents.

In romance news, I finally broke down and got a category subscription, my first ever, to Harlequin Blaze on audio. Bracing myself for more references to “wet panties” than any human being not employed in a nursing home should have to hear in her lifetime. Have I just entered a new circle of romance fandom?

This week on the blog

I’ll review the Meredith Duran, Written on Your Skin, that I promised to review last week, and also a Harlequin Blaze.

Also, a post on “Vampire Romance: Dead or Undead” which collects bits of analysis and trendspotting I have been gleaning via interviews with experts in the genre.


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