Monday Morning Stepback: Teaching Romance, Blogger Fragmentation, Kitchen Redo

The weekly links, opinion, and personal updates post:

Links of Interest:

Some of us are having a good discussion over at Katherine Beutner’s blog about romance pedagogy and scholarship. Click over to see what DA’s Robin, author Jeannie Lin, author Carolyn Jewel, moi, Eric Selinger, and others have to say.

Author Lionel Shriver, in the Guardian, “I write a Nasty Book and They Want a Girly Cover on It“, another take on the Franzenfreude, with a focus on book covers, titles, and marketing in general (via @redrobinreader, who weighed in herself here):

When my novels are packaged as exclusively for women, I’m not only cut off from a vital portion of my audience but clearly labelled as an author the literary establishment is free to dismiss. By stereotyping my work’s audience as self-involved and prissy, women-only packaging also insults my readers, who could all testify that trussing up my novels as sweet, girly and soft is like stuffing a rottweiler in a dress.

See also The Franzen Kerfuffle and the “serious Reader’ at PW (via @superwendy):

To me, the questions raised by the kerfuffle over Franzen’s reviews gets at something I’ve long watched with relish, covering this business. Within the industry there’s a feeling that anything that gets anyone reading is good, yet, filled as publishing is with people who love books, people who think books are important, people who think they’re not simply churning out popular entertainment but also high culture, there’s an intense jealousy about what becomes popular.

Tess Gerritsen also weighed in, writing a direct response to the article by Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult that started it all:

You really don’t need the New York Times. You don’t need Michiko Kakutani or Janet Maslin or three whole fricking pages in the Book Review. Because you have something far, far better: readers who actually buy your books.

Finally, check out this discussion at Jennie Crusie’s blog and a lengthy comment from Crusie here. (thanks again to Robin!):

One of my profs said, “Jenny, you write so well. Have you ever thought about writing literature?” I said, “No,” because it was easier than explaining that literary fiction is just another genre, not God’s Library. The people who say, “I write for the canon” have forgotten or never knew that the canon doesn’t read. People read. Fiction is not beautiful writing although that’s wonderful; fiction is storytelling. It’s putting narrative on the page that moves and transforms people, and because there are many, many different kinds of people in the world, there are many, many different kinds of fiction.

Kindle 3 reviews are popping up. Here’s Sandy at All About Romance with a very concise review and Jane of Dear Author getting her geek on with not just a detailed K3 review, but a second review dedicated to the Kindle cover with integrated light. I love my Kindle, and am so spoiled by the comfort and feel of reading on it that I will not read paper unless there is no alternative.

The Fall Quarterly Conversation is out, and it reviews two books I intend to read:

1. J. M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature edited by Peter Singer and Anton Leist.

2. The Novel: An Alternate History Beginnings to 1600 by Stephen Moore.

Moore’s analysis of so many previously unheard of (to me) early novels, carried out over nearly 700 pages, collapses the centuries between this or that novel—such that the books written about are simultaneously of our time and the time of their creation—and dismantles the long-taught divisions of genre. We see that the history of the novel that older British critics (and critics from other countries who followed them) came up with is mistaken. The hoary tale that the novel began with Defoe, Swift and Richardson, going on to Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, and so on, is a fabrication that has robbed us of experiencing, or even knowing about, a wider world of literature than English fiction, and a considerably older heritage of the novel than previously posited.

Author Pam Rosenthal has posted a discussion of the paper she gave at IASPR this summer, The Queer Theory of Eve Sedgwick at the Edges of the Popular Romance Genre.

For fun, When a Book Makes Sweet Sweet Sex to a Computer, The resulting Offspring is a Blog. A short funny video on “what is a book”.

Another funny link, from Media Bistro, Roald Dahl’s report cards, now appended to the end of a newly released Penguin edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My favorite: “This boy is an indolent and illiterate member of the class.”

2. Blogger Fragmentation

One of my favorite blogs, The Reading Experience, is kaput. But Daniel Green’s comment about what he plans to do next gave me pause:

Maintaining a single blog no longer seems to me an adequate way to cover all of the subjects, and address the various audiences engaged by those subjects, that interest me as a critic, although I continue to find the medium itself entirely adequate for writing about literary subjects. I hope not to fragment my attention so thoroughly that readers find the multi-blog approach incoherent, and I certainly do not intend to burden readers’ attention with posts in competition with each other, but the old practice of alternating briefer commentary with longer reviews and essays with shout-outs to other blogs has come to seem counterproductive.

I have noticed this fragmentation happening in Romanceland. Keishon started a mystery blog. KMont started a food blog, as did bloggers from Dear Author and Smart Bitches. In a slightly different case, some bloggers, like Katiebabs and MagdalenB, have started professional blogs/websites for their author identities. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have five blogs — one for my cv, one for bioethics, one for my course in ethics, one for my kids, and this one — most of which are skeletal at best.

Is this the way it is going? Are we at the end of the multipurpose blog? Is the occasional blogging detour no longer legit? What do you think?

Personal Update

There’s lots going on but the two main things are (1) my kitchen is being redone, beginning Wednesday. Floors, cabinets, lighting fixtures. appliances, even a fancy dancy desk/bar/book shelf thingy. We are major trend buckers in not having hard wood, but rather, ceramic tile installed. We thought it would be fun to see how many seconds it would take in winter for our bare toes to freeze to the floor.

Our house is an open floor plan — and by that I mean, it was built in 1930 like all the other houses in Bangor (referred to as “the Bangor box”), but in 1958, someone decided to knock down all the first floor interior walls, leaving only a chimney in the middle. So, you have to walk through the kitchen to get to any other room. Needless to say, I am terrified. Luckily, my mother lives up the street, so we won’t starve.

And (2) The blog redesign looks like it is finally going to happen. I don’t know how this will affect things for readers, but I apologize in advance if there are any problems.

On the Blog this week:

Post: “We are all mean girls now”
Review: Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Post: On Historical accuracy
Review: (mother and son joint review) The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Review: The Dragon’s Bride by Jo Beverley and/or Match Me If You Can, Susan Elizabeth Phillips


16 responses

  1. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my K3, my first e-reader. I’m foreseeing 2 problems by purchasing this: 1) I have great luck with finding books early. Ebooks are rarely released early. 2) I want all of my books in the same format, so it’s going to be expensive buying ebooks that I already own in paperback. Thus, I’m asking friends to buy Amazon gift cards for as gifts to support my craziness. :)

    I look forward to your book reviews this week as I have read all of them.


  2. I agree with Tess Gerritsen,

    “Because you have something far, far better: readers who actually buy your books.”

    I can appreciate the discussion of literary vs all other. but don’t let the discussion dissuade non literary writers from pursuing their dreasm. At the end of the day, I climb into bed with a cozy romance … and watch Tess’ Rizolli and Isles on TNT (may not be PBS but still good entertainment … plus it brings back fun memories of my brief residency in Boston).


  3. First, I have long admired Cheryl Klein, and providing the starting point for that great discussion of romance scholarship is another reason to do so. (Also, Robin obviously remembers more from grad school than I do, though I do remember her).

    Second, I thought of you when I read this piece on teaching the humanities to prevent home-grown jihadists (I guess because it cites Martha Nussbaum). I think it is pretty nuts, though I’d love for national security concerns to keep us in jobs. But I also wondered if the split it draws between a technical and a liberal/critical education isn’t at the heart of the increasingly annoying Franzen kerfuffle. I think that people who are dismissive of readers of “escapist trash” and who insist on the exclusive value of reading “literature” might see genre reading as a kind of “technical” or utilitarian pursuit. Its purpose is simply escape or pleasure; it doesn’t involve any thinking (certainly not critical). Anyone who spends any time in the genre-fiction blogosphere would know that is nonsense, of course.


  4. Blog focus is one of the things that keeps me from regularly linking to my own blog when I’m posting on other people’s. I have two (only two! I feel like a blog dieter), one for professional stuff, and one for personal stuff. I don’t have one for romance reader or lazy-aspiring-writer stuff, even though a good bit of my mental energy goes there (for better or worse).

    I’m not sure if a personal blog is passe at this point, a good number of friends read mine, but those are personal friends. That and facebook keep me from having to write and call people with the same news, over and over. My professional blog is neglected and active by turns, because it’s a space for me to work out concepts. I don’t have a lot of followers, and I’m not sure I’d want any more followers since it’s a messy sandbox of half-formed theories most of the time (when it’s being used at all). Once my ideas are fully thought out, I publish them elsewhere or just put them into action at work. Since neither blog is aiming to get more followers, I might not be the best person to weigh in on this subject.

    As a blog-follower, though, I tend to read blogs that are very topic-specific, unless they’re run by personal friends. Especially if it’s a group blog, it needs to be topic-specific. And if a blog exists to be part of the professional or critical conversation (uh, like this one is), I think it needs to be pretty focused. A few personal detours are nice, knowing your kitchen is being remodeled makes you seem like a “real person” (now I want to call you Pinocchio), but I expect everything to circle back to romance and ethics, because that’s why I follow you. Because you make me think.


  5. @Vi: At first, the lack of availability of early ebooks really bothered me — and still does, especially when they are not even available the same day as the print release. But there are pluses I never considered that outweigh that annoyance, like the many many free ebooks made available on the Amazon site. enjoy!!

    @katiebabs: You would want one on WTFuckery!!

    @Liz: Thanks for the links! I was so put off by the titles of that Globe and Mail piece that I never even clicked on it when it started showing up in my reader.

    I also wondered if the split it draws between a technical and a liberal/critical education isn’t at the heart of the increasingly annoying Franzen kerfuffle.

    I think you may be on to something here. So “literature” is art for art’s sake. But “genre fiction” has a purpose, like gold or TV watching — relaxation and enjoyment.

    I also think the values themselves which are supposed to be met by literature are considered higher values than whatever values can be met by genre fiction.

    @Kim in Hawaii: I actually signed up for a Gerritsen reading challenge on Goodreads, and after reading that article, I am especially happy to be reading one of her books.

    @Jocelyn Z: Your point about Facebook taking the place of a personal “weblog” is a good one. I think that is what has happened to those personal blogs.I notice that people use FB like they used to use personal blogs — pics of kids, updates about what they are doing, artsy photos, political commentary, links to things of interest, etc.

    I agree on the focus. Like most bloggers, I feel an egotastic need to talk about myself, which cannot be met on Twitter. So I confine myself to one spot per week — the last slot on the Monday post. I figure people can just skip it if don’t care.

    But aren’t blogs a good place for working out half formed ideas? It;s more exciting to “put something out there” than to noodle around in your private hard drive. Yet nothing hangs on it — you aren’t being judged, or committing yourself.


  6. Your roundups just get better and better. I missed all the franzen stuff. Your synopsis and pull quotes are helpful. I feel so plugged in now!

    I didn’t realize you are that married to your Kindle! How cool.

    I can’t believe you’re still doing your kitchen. Godspeed!


  7. I have got to keep my book blog about my book reading, otherwise I’m afraid if it didn’t keep in focus, I might not stick with it. That blog is a goal for me to finish something, as well as keep up with it. I tend to be bad and not sticking with things like that, or not finishing, or even not initiating things that are important to me.

    That being said, I wanted to do a separate food blog in part because I wanted to share it with my sister (besides the fact that I’ve had a growing love of food blogs and cooking in general these last few years) – and I just do not want to share book blogging responsibilities with anyone. I am afraid of letting a book blog partner down, whereas my sister knows what I go through every week to keep life from ripping my family and I a new one and understands if we can’t meet up one week to cook. Too, the two subjects, for me personally, just didn’t seem to gel. Christine over at The Happily Ever After has managed to combine both very nicely, though.

    I seriously doubt I’ll be adding any other online passions in the form of blogs though. If I did, something I’m already doing – I also admin a dwindling reader message board – would have to go.

    I so need my kitchen redone. And our master bath. The roof too. Homeowner dream come true? Yes and no.

    Good luck in implementing your new blog design! I’m sure any possible wrinkles will smooth out nicely. Can’t wait to read a lot of your posts this week.


  8. Personally, as someone who’s a reader and not a blogger, I’d rather read a somewhat less focused blog than have to hop between several different blogs. Usually what attracts me to a blog is not just the subject but also the tone and writing style, and I’m interested in reading the blogger’s thoughts on a variety of topics. If a specific post doesn’t interest me (and I’ll admit that some of the philosophy posts here are not for me) I can always skip it.

    I do think that one place where there probably should be a division is between a personal and professional blog, if one has both, especially if the latter is highly specialized.

    One reason I don’t blog (other than laziness) is that I’d rather not do so in several different places, but I’m not sure that Israeli current affairs, food, romance novels, figure skating and photography would be a good mix. :D

    Good luck with the redesign of the blog – and the kitchen!


  9. @Meri has a good point about hopping around. My blog-reading habits have changed a lot since I started using Google Reader. Since I’m only going one place for everything anyway, I think I appreciate a focused blog more than I used to. The ones that are very topic-specific always stay in my que, the ones that wander I tend to cut because I feel like they add to “Google Reader Bloat”.

    I could avoid this problem buy not feeling the need to read every goddamn thing in my que, but I’d need a personality transplant to do that.


  10. Your kitchen. Their estimate on the time to get the work done? Double it. Plan on four huge things going wrong that no one suspected because they didn’t have the walls open yet and who knew why they plumbed things like that? One for mistakes on the orders, one for fuckuppery on the deliveries and another for Murphy for he loves a challenge. Start knitting slippers now, or buy everyone two pair because the dogs will chew one of every pair and you will spend the winter shuffling around on one red slipper and one blue. Own it and start a fashion trend.

    I love Crusie and Gerritson for those comments. I liked them before, but those comments made me want to be their creepers.


  11. I have often wondered about splitting my blog up between romance and other books, but at the end of the day I decided that I actually read across a variety of genres and therefore my blog should reflect that. At one point I had a separate craft blog, but then I joined them because I ended up focussing only on my reading blog and never actually doing much on the craft blog. These days it doesn’t matter so much because I hardly ever do any craft anyway!


  12. @Marg:

    I have often wondered about splitting my blog up between romance and other books, but at the end of the day I decided that I actually read across a variety of genres and therefore my blog should reflect that.

    When I changed this blog’s name, it was in part because I wanted to review some other kinds of books without violating some explicit promise made by the banner! I think at the end of the day, you have to decide what matters. Blogging what you want to, where you want to, a strong value for me. But so is having a good sized audience. So I try to balance my eclectic reading habits with readers’ expectations.


    I tend to be bad and not sticking with things like that, or not finishing, or even not initiating things that are important to me.

    Me too. I am amazed I still write this blog. I tend to get very obsessive about something for a couple of years and move on. But blogging has stuck!

    I do think mixing food and books is more of a stretch than mixing different kinds of books, and I completely understand wanting to do something with your sis.


    Your kitchen. Their estimate on the time to get the work done? Double it. Plan on four huge things going wrong that no one suspected

    *weeping* Here’s how it looks right now:


    @Jocelyn Z.:

    My blog-reading habits have changed a lot since I started using Google Reader.

    Mine too, although I think I actually read more blogs, but fewer posts, if that makes sense. Headlines are very important.

    @Carolyn Crane: I am not only married to my kindle, but am thinking of committing bigamy by marrying a second one.


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