Tag Archives: Bibliophile Confessions

A Fine, Fine Line…

Dear readers, I think we all know that I am a huge fan of romance novels.  I’ve explained my love of the genre one or two times here.

But sometimes it’s the things you love best that can also trouble you the most.  And since we have created a space here within the warp and weft of the Internet to talk about books, I thought I’d use this space to talk about that troubled relationship.

romance-novel-facts-ftrNow, as I’ve said before: I realize that romance is a genre built on fantasy and wish-fulfillment.  I no more expect verisimilitude from my romances than I think James Bond is a real guy, or that we can build dinosaurs from the DNA found in mosquitoes.  As I’ve said previously, romance novels are a space where we get to talk about issues of gender, and where we can support the healthy expression of desire and the individual quest for a happy ending.  They created a space where the social norms could be transgressed, and where women were given the space, the time, and the support, to discover what it was they wanted, and to go for it.  More and more today, we see the inclusion and recognition  LGBTQ community, as well.  Non-heterosexual romances are becoming more and more prevalent, and I, for one could not be happier.

But for all that the genre is subverting notions of gender and power, it is also sanctifying other social structures and power dynamics that really, genuinely worry me.  And I think it’s worth being aware of these things if we wish them to change–in real life, and in the world of the books we read.   I am not trying to chastise anyone for liking a particular book/genre/plot/etc here.  You are free to read whatever you chose, and have the right to enjoy any book you enjoy.   But I think, as readers, it’s worth questioning the things we see in books, and ask if we can do better.  So here goes:


A few leading questions here…why are romances with non-white leads called “multi-cultural romances”?  Why are most of the small towns in “small town romances” only (or predominantly) populated by white, Anglo-Saxon people?  What reality is this reflecting?

c6ba144e4ec12cc26af733c4aaf65c2fThis is a very, very old problem in literature, specifically in American literature, than can be traced back to the myths and realties the 19th century (and earlier, to be honest), which we can discuss at length later.  But, to be brief, there are two assumptions at play here: first is the Victorian (classist)  assumption that marriage was only for white (wealthy) people.  Therefore, a love story that doesn’t involve white people (and usually financially secure white people) becomes  somehow ‘other’.   Secondly, a lot of romances seem to be striving for a more harmonious community, not by showing how people of different backgrounds can work together and appreciate difference–but by obliterating difference all together.

Now, I realize that there are plenty of places in the United States where racial/ethnic diversity is not present.  In some cases, that is the result of immigration and demographics and not necessarily reflective of any prejudices or discriminatory policies.  But the inability of the romance genre to reflect the diversity that exists within American society at large–or to place books that do in a separate genre category–is a problem.  And if we are going to be dealing in wish fulfillment and fantasy, I would so much rather embrace the idea of people from different backgrounds, be they social, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, or any other, living together and respecting their differences than I would a world where those differences didn’t exist at all.

Nothing I can say will sum it up better than this blog post by Tom Pollack, who is one of my favorite authors of 2017, so here is the link.


The “Cinderella trope”, where a girl who is not fantastically wealthy is ‘rescued’ by a man who is, is so well-established that I didn’t really need to describe what a “Cinderella Trope” really was.  And it is true that, generally, women are more effected by poverty than men.  But money doesn’t give anyone the right to be a jackass.

...Or to sky down a money hill. That is dangerous.
…Or to sky down a money hill. That is dangerous.

So often in romance novels, a hero’s wealth…and let’s pause here and acknowledge that it’s almost always the hero who is the independently wealthy character.  The “self-made man”.  The utterly improbable rags-to-riches twenty-something billionaire.  There are stacks of books with titles like “The Millionaire’s Baby”, or “The Billionaire’s Secret Baby”…and it is taken for granted that the millionaire/billionaire in question is the male character in the story.  Which is, in itself, a problem.

However, as I was saying, so often in romance novels, the hero’s wealth is used as a justification for really anti-social behavior.   Because he is rich, he has been given tacit social approval to boss people around, to control the world around him, and to treat people as essentially less than himself.  This is a trope as old as capitalism itself…think of Jane Eyre and Rochester…for all his talk about their essential equality, Rochester is not above using his wealth and power to manipulate Jane–and while Charlotte Bronte wasn’t afraid to talk about some of the class issues in their relationship, it’s significant that this behavior is still going on in romances today.

What is supposed to be remarkable about these stories is that a wealthy, entitled man would deign to notice a non-wealthy woman, who can humanize him.  On a larger scale, these books tell us that there is a human, emotional side to capitalism that will reward those who are good and smart and kind of heart (and dangerous assumption in and of itself).   But what this trope also does is equate wealth with the kind of privilege that allows for–and applauds–the manipulation of others.  They also tell us that wealth is a (if not the reward).  Would Pretty Woman be as memorable without the spending-spree montages and the opera visit?  If it was just about a man buying a prostitute, would it be considered a classic romance film?  Would Christian Gray be as alluring if he weren’t fabulously wealthy?  I don’t know.  But equating success with wealth, and not with personal fulfillment is dangerous, in fiction or in reality.


Dear God, save me from the Alpha Males.

In real life, if any of us heard a story about a man shoving a woman against a wall and kissing her without her consent, I sincerely hope that we would all be deeply troubled, at the very least.  So why, when this kind of behavior is placed in a romance novel, is it so often posited as a good thing?

Often (perhaps too often) in romance, we see the glorification of the Alpha Male–the guy who takes charge, who gets what he wants, who doesn’t need others’ approval to seek out his desires (often, he is also quite wealthy, as well, which makes all these other things easier and more socially acceptable).  But here again, I find myself asking, over and over again….if I hadn’t been previously told by the book that this man is a hero, would I find his actions acceptable?  And over and over again, I find myself saying no.

Real heroes respect bodily and emotional autonomy.

From the 1921 adaptation of The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres, an enormously popular rape fantasy story
From the 1921 adaptation of The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres, an enormously popular rape fantasy story

I don’t think that will ever be turned into a bumper sticker or anything, but if I had to chose one of the best markers of a hero, in my personal book, it would be the ability to respect a heroine’s boundaries.  I’m not saying we have to have prolonged negotiations, or bring back historic courtship rituals before our characters are allowed to hold hands.  But more and more, I am worried that we are returning to the themes of the “rape fantasy romances” that became super-popular in the 1970’s, where women were only allowed to experience pleasure and desire after a man forced it on them.  While those themes are not as explicit in today’s books, every time I see a hero “grab” a heroine, “slam” their mouth against a heroine’s, or “crush” them in some kind of embrace, I  cringe.  Because this behavior is often a result of a hero’s privileged position–usual wealth or social standing–and his personal desires overriding the heroine’s right to bodily and emotional autonomy.  And that isn’t right, in real life, or in a fictional world that is supposed to offer us the chance of a better world.


Saturdays @ the South: Reading Rules

There really weren’t any pictures that encompassed “reading rules,” so here’s a picture of a stern looking dog reading, instead.

Recently on the library’s Facebook page, our excellent Archivist posted an article from blog favorite Book Riot about reading rules. This wasn’t a recent article from Book Riot, but it was new to me and so I read it with the usual alacrity I give to things bookish (i.e. a lot). While I didn’t find it to reveal a great deal about the personality of the writer, or myself (as indicated in the title), it did get me thinking about my own reading rules.

I definitely have reading rules. I always have, even though they’ve changed somewhat as I’ve grown and changed with my books. When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader (OK, that much hasn’t changed) but I was a fan of purchasing books nearly to the point of being a book hoarder. The library was always a part of my life, but it was mostly for research and standalone books. If a new book came out in a series I was reading (particularly The Baby Sitter’s Club) I was there, allowance money in hand, only to go home and read it in 2 hours and carefully place it on my shelf with the others. Now that the library is a larger part of my life, and since my reading tastes are so varied I couldn’t possibly purchase even a fraction of the books on my to-read list, I’m definitely more of a book-borrower than a book-buyer. A few other of my reading rules have changed, but for now, here are my own personal reading rules:

I have no rules about reading outside. Clearly this cat doesn’t, either.

1) Always document reading. This is particularly important rule for me now that most of what I read isn’t purchased, which means I don’t have the luxury of wandering through my bookshelves to reminisce about the story, characters, etc. This is also gives me recourse when I read a plot summary of something that sounds vaguely familiar; I can check to see if I’ve read it before. Book journals and lists have helped me in the past, but as I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a pretty aggressive user of Goodreads to track what I’ve read and what I want to read. While the book journals are comforting and often adorable, there’s something to be said for a searchable book database that can tell you not only what you’ve read, but when you read it as well.

2) Books must remain pristine. This is one with which I’m sure many people won’t agree with me. I’m not a dog-earer (though I was in a past reading life) and I’ve never been a spine-breaker. For me, books are a totem, items that aren’t necessarily sacred, but deserve an exorbitant amount of respect. I have paperbacks I’ve read multiple times that look, at least from the outside, as though they’ve never been read. For me, a well-loved book doesn’t have to look that way (another reason not to judge a book by it’s cover). I know in my heart (and on my reading list) that the book is well-loved and that’s good enough for me.

3) Certain bookmarks for certain reading. I agree with the Book Rioter about this rule. Some bookmarks just seem made for certain books. I’ve previously mentioned my “Travel by Book” bookmark. This is used specifically for the travel memoirs that I love reading. I have a “Celebrate the Season” bookmark with some adorable cartoon penguins that is reserved solely for the reading of Christmas books. Library books get an embroidered bookmark I purchased as a kit in a London gift shop as it’s thick enough for me to notice when it’s still in the book, so I don’t accidentally return it to the library.

4) My books and books that are not mine remain separate at all times. It’s not that I’m some sort of purist about my books versus other books and never the twain shall meet. I’m just very persnickety about making sure that books end up back with their rightful owners, be it the library, a friend who was kind enough to loan something to me or books that I’m weeding from my personal collection and are going to donate. My library books have their very own spot next to my bed, and unless I’m currently reading one of them, that’s where they stay until they go back to the library. You get the idea…

Perhaps you have your own rules about reading. Reading Rainbow has delightful rules about reading that I think are worthy of everyone following. Or, perhaps you feel I take my books too seriously. (I am a librarian, after all!) I suspect, however, that if you’re a reader of this blog, you have some of your own rules about reading and whether or not they agree with mine, they deserve to be followed. And for your reading pleasure, here are some books about and/or written by people who tend to take books as seriously as I do:

2383088The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I utterly adored this novel, largely because the author had so many beautiful passages about books as objects and books as portals to the soul. The story itself, about a woman who is personally invited to take down the memoirs of a well-known author who is gravely ill and the secrets she reveals, is gripping in its own right and has a beautiful, Gothic tone that makes the book lovely and atmospheric. The main character also works in an antiquarian bookshop. This book is essentially a Meta book-about-books and what the process of writing and reading means to different people. I have no doubt that both of the primary characters have their own rules about reading.

2296526So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

This book isn’t so much about reading rules as it is about rediscovering a passion for reading. Nelson sets out with a 52-week plan to read a book a week for the entire year and record her experiences with those books. What results is a deeply personal account of the intersection of books with our lives and relationships. Warning: her bookish enthusiasm will likely increase your to-read list substantially.

1945739Into the Looking-Glass Wood: Essays on Books, Reading and the World by Alberto Manguel

Novelist Manguel puts down his thoughts on books and reading and how they have affected him in crucial points in his life. His essays talk about childhood reading experiences, how his world is shaped around language and how it’s used (he’s multi-lingual) and how reading affects his humanity. These essays are deep, lovely and utterly delightful. They gripped me as much as any plot-driven novel simply because there was so much thought and feeling behind them.

3206714Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This is a book about reading, the pursuits of a lifetime passion and how they can engage our lives in unusual, unexpected ways. This book has literature, details about typeface (put together in an interesting way one would have previously thought impossible) and a global conspiracy that integrates the technological world with more traditional forms of reading in a way that shows how both can be necessary and enlightening. (Oh, and many of the covers glow in the dark!)

3645849Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicolietti

This book puts together two of my favorite things, books and food, and in a passionate, delightful way. Nicoletti has a deep-rooted understanding of how books and food can bring people closer or enliven them and seeks her own adventures as such by cooking the dishes that appear in the literature she’s read. From Emma’s soft-boiled egg, to brown butter crepes from Gone Girl to a clam chowder inspired by Moby Dick, nothing is off-limits so long as it involves both food and books. This is my kind of read! (And no, I don’t have a reading rule against eating while reading.)

Till next week, dear readers, I hope your reading, whatever rules you may apply to it, gives you pleasure and comfort. Happy reading!

Noir and Protest

download (4)I’ve said it before–I love noir fiction.


161c052a2e6d1d578f3bcec6f6ee7218I love everything about it–from the original hard-boiled, cynical detective novels, like Sam Spade, to the films of dim, foggy streets, shadows, and moral conundrums, like The Maltese Falcon.  Part of it, I think, is because I am an intensely wordy person (which, I am sure, comes as no surprise here), and the fact that noir fiction, traditionally, manages to cram so much meaning, emotion, and significance into the shortest of sentences is a marvel to me.  I also love the traditional noir hero (and the occasionally heroine, too!) whose heart is usually made of solid gold, but who has been so beaten down by the heartlessness of the world that they end up standing outside it–and, often against it.  There’s a reason why noir protagonists are private detectives, assassins, vampires (no, seriously), and generally loners–there is no place for them in the world, so they have to stand outside it and find a way to challenge it alone.  And while I enjoy the mysteries that make up the plot of many noir novels, I love the deeply personal character development that comes from the character’s almost mythical quest to take on all the darkness of the world around them.

So when I saw this article published in Electric Literature, titled “Noir Is Protest Literature: That’s Why It’s Having a Renaissance” I was thrilled.  It’s absolutely true that noir fiction is having a renaissance–from True Detective and Breaking Bad to popular authors like Charlie Huston, Denies Mina, and Adrian McKinty…but I never really thought about why.

Nicholas Seeley does a magnificent job pointing out that noir fiction has always been a form of protest, first and foremost against the traditional Anglo-American crime novel where a detective of some sort restores order to society that has been disrupted by a crime, and isolates and excises the evil from society.  But, especially in the years after the Second World War, the idea that evil could be expunged seemed ludicrous, and noir fiction directly confronts this.

Noir stories gave the stage to criminals and their motivations, which range from unspeakable passions to a firm conviction that their particular crime serves a greater good. A detective may pursue such a criminal, but noir reveals the line between them to be a product of chance and circumstance—if, indeed, such a line exists at all.

crimefiction2But even as noir rejected ideas of the world as it “should be” in favor of the world as it really was, it still remained the domains of very traditional heroes.  As Seeley notes, “Classic noir presented worlds of corruption and inequality, but it was still primarily inequality between white men. Women remained cutouts…Racial and sexual minorities fared even worse: they were cast mostly as set dressing, or as villains, tempting innocent white people into depravity.”

Thankfully, admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it, and, with the resurgence of noir, there is the potential for making it the truly subversive, defiant genre that it can be, taking on not just issues of white-bred corruption, but themes of race, sex, gender, and class identities.  Once again, to quote Seeley:

Light can slant harshly though Venetian blinds in most any neighborhood on the planet; tough-as-nails private investigators can come in any gender identity or color of the rainbow; doom-driven crooks can ride from first kiss to gas chamber with a member of the same sex as easily as the opposite.

So, in honor of this fantastic article, which you should definitely read in its entirety, and in honor of the wonderfulness that is the noir genre as a whole, that I’d offer you a few atypical noir novels to get you started down your dimly-lit and dangerous path into the world of noir fiction…

2672653The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of DeathCharlie Huston, as I mentioned above, is a stupendous noir author, who brought the genre into the realm of the paranormal, as well as into the world of blue-collar works.  In this book, habitual slacker Webster Fillmore Goodhue finds  his teaching career destroyed by tragedy and, without any other options, joins the Clean Team, a company assigned to clean up some of L.A.’s grisliest crime scenes.  But when a dead man’s daughter asks for his help, Web finds himself in the middle of a war between urban cowboys and rival cleaning teams that forces him to make the first–and perhaps the most significant–choices of his life.  Huston was actually my first real entrance into noir, but he remains one of my favorite because he’s just so good: he conveys the voices of his diverse and varied cast with pitch-perfect accuracy, and brings the seedy, grim world they inhabit to life so vividly that you really want to wash your hands while reading.

2403661The Song Is YouMegan Abbott was one of the first female authors to tackle the hard-core noir genre (the sensational cover art alone immediately recalls some of the mid-century’s best noir pulp novels), but she remains one of the best, because she doesn’t back down from very modern themes of sexism, violence, and class prejudices.  In this break-out novel, she re-imagines the infamous Black Dahlia case of 1947, as Hollywood publicist Gil “Hop” Hopkins finds himself confronted by a friend of Jean Spangler, a woman who vanished in a presumed murder two years previously.  Driven by guilt (and by the fear of blackmail), and by the persistence of a female journalist on the case, Hop descends into the underbelly of Hollywood in search of answers to Jean’s disappearance–and, inevitably, about himself, as well.  Abbott gets the historical details here to a “T”, but brings a modern sensibility to her work that makes these books feel at once familiar, and endlessly new and inventive.

2698306Black Noir: The sad truth is that there are very few detective novels written by (or, for that matter, about) African Americans.  NPR has offered some theories why, which you are welcome to read, but the fact is that, even though there were authors, as early as 1900 in the case of Pauline E. Hopkins’s tale “Talma Gordon”, they weren’t getting the same audiences or publicity that white authors were.  This anthology marks an attempt to rediscover some of the crime, mystery, and noir fiction composed by African American and Black writers from the 20th century.  While there are some well-known names here, like Walter Mosley and Chester Himes, this collection also gives readers the chance to meet new marvels like Edward P. Jones (whose story “Old Boys, Old Girls” is stunning) and Eleanor Taylor Bland, and is guaranteed to give them a chance to realize the real potential for noir fiction going forward.

Saturdays @ the South: A Bibliophile Confession Gets Graphic


Last week, I waxed about on and took a walk down memory lane over Susie Derkins because she was the first female character I encountered in my young reading life that was complex and relatable. In reflecting over last week’s post, I also thought it was significant that some of the most memorable of my early reading experiences, the ones that shaped my views of what reading could be were brought to me through a medium that many don’t even consider “real” reading. I learned valuable lessons about reading through a comic strip, a medium that is more pictures than words. Yet somehow, those experiences with comics still left an indelible mark on me and my future reading life (not to mention a lifelong soft-spot for stuffed tigers).

Calvin reading
Yup, this pretty much sums up my childhood Sunday mornings. Thank you, Bill Watterson!

I feel like this would be the perfect time to perch myself up on the soap box and talk about how comics are good for kids, good for readers, just plain good. And they are. There are studies that show kids reading graphic novels and comics are still engaging their minds in the complex thought processes in order to understand the text no less than they do in picture books. Librarians have often pushed for graphic novels in the collections as it has been used a successful method to engage reluctant readers. There are even those who believe that readers who have a difficult time comprehending text can gain confidence by reading graphic novels and comics because the images reinforce what’s happening in the text and aids comprehension. Therefore, this would be a great opportunity to talk about graphic novels and how they are amazing segues for people (both adults and children) who simply don’t always think in linear terms, about how the artwork represents a story in and of itself and can lead to an appreciation of so-called “higher art”. This would be a great time for all that except for one small problem… I have the hardest time reading graphic novels.

What is a graphic novel?
See all those curvy lines? They make my orderly reader-self VERY uncomfortable. Image from Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

For me, it may be that for a long time, I associated graphic novels and comic books with topics that I had no interest in, such as superheroes or galactic battles. So when I was a kid, I went straight for traditional books and never really “learned” to read graphic novels. I’m also very much a linear thinker; I think in terms of cause and effect and in step-by-step processes to reach a goal (no matter how many steps there may be in that process). So as an adult, with linear thought processes and linear reading experiences, I’ve found myself somewhat cut off from the ever-expanding world of graphic novels, despite their now having extensive content that does interest me.

Similar to our blogger-in-residence Arabella (who apparently linked minds with me this week on the topic of graphic novels – seriously this similarity was completely unplanned), I have made some attempts to rectify this in recent months because now I feel like I’m missing out on something. There are just too many graphic novels out there with amazingly cool concepts, characters, themes and stories for a bookworm like myself to remain segregated from this wealth of possible reading material. I’ve started with things similar to what I know and are familiar with, including books that are more like compiled comics, hearkening back to the bound Calvin and Hobbes collections of my youth. This has at least gotten me back into the groove of reading panels and words together. Also, much like my recommendations of easing past metrophobia, I also started with graphic novels designed for kids. Soon I hope to break down the barriers leading into some more content-heavy graphic novels.

If, like me, you’re looking to start somewhere to test the waters of more graphic formats of books, here are some options that might guide you:

3496473Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson

This may be intended to be a graphic novel geared towards children, but this book is AMAZING, regardless of your age. Hilda is a little blue-haired girl who encounters magic in her intrepid adventures to explore her world. Pearson has turned Hilda into a series which are all equally amazing. This is a great introduction to graphic novels as it’s straightforward in terms for story, but visually detailed and engaging without getting too disorienting in terms of varying format. And if you get courage from this series, you might want to give Luke Pearson’s adult work Everything We Miss a try, because that looks pretty amazing, too.

3699749Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand

This book is decidedly adult, dealing with themes and language that children should not really be entertaining, but it’s also decidedly funny in an absurdly poignant way. If you’re a fan of The Oatmeal, this collection will most likely appeal to you. This is more on the comfort level of those whose forays into comics have been, like me, largely the Sunday funnies. But while most of these comics are episodic, some of them have storylines spanning pages, which means you have to get a bit more involved than the usual 4-panel strip to hit the punchline, so you’re getting a bit more practice in reading in a longer graphic format.

3654366Step Aside Pops by Kate Beaton

Beaton also writes comics, so this is less of a graphic novel and more of a bound collection of comics. However, Beaton’s illustrations (which are wildly detailed and yet still “cartoony” black-and-white sketches) easily have as much detail as some graphic novels, so it’s a good way to ease into detailed illustrations where there’s a lot going on, but in a familiar format. Her comics are often historical or feminist-based but they are all pretty hysterical. Plus, they have the added side-benefit of making you feel smarter for reading it because she takes actual, historical situations as material. So you either feel smarter for having recognized the historical characters, or feel smarter for now having the most basic introduction to talking about that historical situation.

3453223Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Based on the brilliant website of the same name, Brosh’s book is a collection of wildly poignant essays that manage to be laugh-out-loud hysterical while being exceptionally heartfelt. These essays are more text punctuated by absurd images, but there are some graphic novel elements here as well, particularly when it comes to dealing with incredibly deep subject matter in a visual way. Her depiction of clinical depression is easily one of the most spot-on, heart-wrenching, genius depictions of the disease in literature to date. It’s worth picking up this book for that alone, but there’s a lot of great stuff in here and this could easily be someone’s foray out of “comics” and into other more graphically based books.

18594409Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

I’ve talked about this book before, mostly because it was an incredible reading experience. This was the first “official” graphic novel I read (even though it’s technically a graphic memoir). This takes the graphic format away from the episodic and into an extended narrative told with pictures and words. Chast’s honest and open discussion of the last few years of her parents’ lives is amazing to read and experience. Be prepared to laugh, cry, question and more.

I hope this tentative dip into the world of graphic books is helpful to easing you into the graphic novel format. For me, I feel like it’s built my confidence up enough to tackle something like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series or Scott Snyder’s Wytches sometime soon. If you’ve had some great (or not-so-great) experiences with graphic novels, we’d love to hear about it in the comments! Until next week, dear readers, I hope you’re able to ease your way into something out of your usual comfort zone.

Bibliophile Confessions: It’s Not You, It’s Me…

So, having waxed lyrical about the television show Lucifer and the graphic novels that inspired the show, I decided it was high time that I put my proverbial money where my proverbial mouth is…and read a graphic novel.


I chose, not surprisingly, Lucifer: Book One.*  Though the character of Lucifer was created by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman comics, the Lucifer comics were written by Mike Carey, who turned Lucifer from a supporting character to the hero of his very own series.  This book is a 400-odd page collection of Lucifer’s adventures, beginning with his comfy retirement in Los Angeles, running the trendy piano bar Lux, with his companion Mazikeen by his side.

Lucifer_Vol_1_1When a vicious new power arises, wantonly fulfilling wishes and granting human desires, however, Heaven begins to fear that the balance of power may be disrupted.  Unwilling to get directly involved, Heaven instead dispatches a high-ranking angel named Amenadiel to request Lucifer’s assistance.  If he complies, and defeats this new foe, he will be granted anything he might desire.  When Lucifer inevitably makes quick work out of this new foe, he is granted his wish–a letter of passage, allowing him to travel to any world he might chose.  And thus, the stage is set for a whole series of mayhem and adventure.

The Lucifer series was–and remains–enormously successful, regardless of the television show.  These are startling imaginative, beautifully illustrated adventures that pull you into the story within a few short panels…that is, once I got used to reading them.

I don’t know if this is the case for all new graphic novel readers, but I found my eyes moving more in reading this book than in most traditional novels I had read.  In part, this is because graphic novels are read left to right and top to bottom.  This panel might make it a little easier to understand:

Courtesy of Anina Bennett: www.bigredhair.com

Inside those panels, dialog is read from top to bottom.

It can actually get pretty tiring on the eyes, especially for those of us not quite used to the format.  Moreover, there are so many pictures to look at, so many colors on the page, and so much detail, that reading a page can take a pretty long time–especially for those of us prone to going “ooooh” and “aaahhh” at colors easily.

Even this page, perhaps one of the most straightforward within Lucifer, has so much more detail than a traditional novel that I was mesmerized:

From http://comicsalliance.com/lucifer-book-one-review-mike-carey-vertigo/

Seriously–this graphic novel dashes around like Lucifer himself–delighting in breaking the rules and defying all your expectations with each new tale.

But, for all that, as much as I appreciated the creativity and the artistry that went into each panel, as much as I found the story lines compelling…I am not a graphic novel reader.

I think part of it is that I have grown so used to imagining my own characters and settings that I found the graphics to be more of a roadblock than a part of the action.  The panels made the reading experience a hectic one for me.  However, for visual-based learners, I can see where these elements would be a huge draw, and an enormously entertaining reason to keep reading.

I also realized, in the course of reading, that I really like narratives.  I love the descriptive passages in traditional novels, and the discussions of what a character is thinking and feeling, outside of what is being said between characters.  And graphic novels don’t provide those kind of details as explicitly as traditional novels.  They require you to read facial expressions, analyze the lettering in the panels, and deduce the  subtext in ways that most novels don’t.  And, to be honest, I am not terribly good at subtext in real life, so I’m fairly hopeless at it when reading.

So all in all, it’s not you, Lucifer.  It’s me.  I truly enjoyed my foray into graphic novels, and I can utterly see the appeal.  For readers who respond to imagery over words, for more intuitive thinkers, graphic novels are wonders, and I couldn’t recommend them more highly.  But, while I’d be happy to try more graphic novels in the future, for my verbal, logical(ish) brain, I think I might be sticking to more traditional novels…for now, anyways.

*The link to this book will bring you to the website for the Boston Public Library.  All Massachusetts residents are eligible to get a library card and order books from the BPL’s amazing selection.  Ask at our Reference Desk for details!

A(nother) Saturdays @ the South Bibliophile Confession: Unread Books

Image: Chicago Tribune

Psst…Are you alone? I have a secret to tell you.

Come closer…

Closer… I need to whisper this one.

Are you ready for this? Here goes:

harry-potter-audiobooksI’ve never read Harry Potter. Seriously, any of them. I know, I know. It’s become a beloved classic not just for children, but for adults, too. This is one of those book series that’s merged itself into the fiber of our reading culture. Sure I’ve seen a couple of the movies which has kept me versed on the character names and the basics, but I’ve never so much as cracked the spine of the first book.

Honestly, i’m still not 100% sure how they got by me. My best guess is that when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone first came out, I was too old to reach children’s books, but still young enough not to want the stigma of reading a kid’s book when I clearly has moved on and matured past them. (A stigma I’ve happily shed and encourage others to do so, as I’ve already discussed here on the blog.) Then, when the books completely exploded and started becoming a genuine phenomenon, I was too much of a contrarian to want to ride the bandwagon just because “everyone else was doing it.” Thus, the dear wizard boy has never ended up on my book shelf and somehow continuously gets relegated to the deep end of an ever-expanding “to read” list.

I’m sure this is a sensation that most readers have at one point. You’ve either let slip that you’ve never read something only to hear gasps or be met with stunned silence and weird looks. Or you’ve hidden this secret deep within the recesses of your heart, ashamed that you’ve never quite had the gumption to pick up what “everyone” seems to be talking about. I fall short of lying about never having read the book, but I will not pass judgement on those who have, because this is apparently a very common phenomenon that’s been reported on by the Huffington Post, the Telegraph, The Federalist, (who quotes the delightful poem by Joseph Bottum called “Reading by Osmosis” about this seemingly universal issue) and even the more popular-based BuzzFeed.

'Books of the Century' "Hey they're all in the pile of unread books by the bed!"
‘Books of the Century’ “Hey they’re all in the pile of unread books by the bed!”

These lists are surprisingly similar and focus largely on classics, which tells me that people aren’t necessarily hiding a reading shame, but a shame about not having done schoolwork at some point. There’s an assumption that certain books must have been read in school and surely we must have read them, no? I’ve actually been in some very interesting conversations, however, when people start comparing these school lists. Whether the “classics” have been read or not, it’s very interested to see the differences in curricula across the country and what some schools consider classic vs others. It wasn’t until the London Telegraph published an article at the beginning of this month, that they started taking into account kids’ books and more popular books. This list includes none other than the Harry Potter series (at # 12) and while it’s a survey of UK residents, I think it’s interesting that this more recent survey considered “non-school” reading as well as “classics.”

One day, I will fill my Harry Potter knowledge gap and will likely enjoy the experience. When that day comes, I look forward to being able to connect with a new group of people, and possibly connect with my usual circle of readers on a deeper level. If you’re looking to fill your particular reading gap or maybe you just want to finally finish that reading assignment from 10th grade, the South Branch (and, in fact, the entire Peabody Library) can help you out with that:

3706122Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: This is one of those books people can probably fake having watched one (or several) of the many film or TV adaptations (just don’t call is “Alice in Wonderland;” it’s a dead giveaway you haven’t read it). But many of those adaptations conflate this book with Through the Looking Glass. If you really want to know what’s what, you can read them both.

Moby DickMoby Dick by Herman Melville: A Classics group favorite that was elucidated by one of the library’s favorite lecturer’s Prof. Theoharis of Harvard. Even if you missed the lectures, I highly encourage giving this book a(nother) try. Most people just don’t realize how funny Melville is, even amidst all the transcendental angst.

2927319War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: This one seems to have made it onto every list I mentioned, but with the popularity of the new miniseries on TV, maybe it’s time to give the original text a go. Plus the South has a shiny new copy of an excellent translation so the book might feel fresh and new, even though it’s just new to you.

2224920The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: When I decide to fill this particular reading gap of mine, at least I’ll know where to find it!


If your reading gap consists largely of classics, consider joining the Library’s Classics book discussion group, which is coming up on its 10th anniversary. However, just like you should never be shamed by what you have read, you should also never be ashamed of what you haven’t read. Everyone’s lives take different paths, and that includes reading lives. Till next week dear readers, I’m off to read again (but still not Harry Potter…. not yet).

A Saturdays @ the South Bibliophile Confession: When book lovers don’t love your book back…


I’m guessing by now that readers of Free For All recognize that we here at the blog love books, and reading and clearly, we love talking about books. For a while (OK, still, but we’ve managed to control ourselves recently) blogger-in-chief Arabella and I couldn’t stop talking about Susanna Clarke’s wonderfully magical tome, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and its equally wonderful and magical BBC television adaptation. So imagine my reaction when in my bookish wanderings on the Internet and on a podcast I happen to love, I found people who didn’t love Jonathan Strange.

Yup, that was pretty much the reaction.

I understand that an 800+ page book isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea and people who don’t have the time or the patience for such an undertaking wouldn’t find it enjoyable. I had reasonable expectations that not *everyone* would love the book as much as I did and there are plenty of people to whom I wouldn’t have recommended this book, no matter how amazing I found it. But the people I discovered who didn’t like this JS & MN were bookish people,  people whose opinions of books I respect and admire, people who have similar taste in books as I do! So what happened? Where did we go wrong?


While some might consider my reactions odd, there are perhaps a few of you who sympathize with the brief moment in which I went into a sudden, gasping paroxysm, mentally screaming Blasphemy!, it’s natural to become attached to something about which you feel strongly, and just as natural to want others to feel the same way you do. So what to do when you find yourself at odds with someone over a favorite book?

We’ve offered some bookish counseling on what to do when books turn on you and when they offer unsatisfying endings. We’ve guided you through love triangles and encourage you to freely indulge in romance and other genre fiction. So I think the time has come to offer some tips on what to do when your fellow book lovers don’t love your favorite book in return:

Breathe– This is generally a good step for any stressful moment (and yes, books can cause stressful moments) as it allows you to take a beat and regroup.

Remember the good times – This goes for the book in question and for your relationship with the offending bibliophile. There were reasons you love this book; relish those (also see the next step). You may also want to re-read the book to bring those memories flooding back. There are also reasons why you originally valued the opinion of whoever it is you happen to disagree with at the moment. Maybe they led you to some great reads or you’ve shared many books in common in the past. It’s good to remember why you’ve come to value that person/blogger/voice’s opinion in the first place.

Never defend; never excuse – There’s no need to defend your book choices because, as we’ve already discussed here on the blog, you have the right to read whatever you choose and the right to enjoy whatever happens to ring your individual bell. Just because someone else doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean that your enjoyment of the book should be diminished in any way.

Don’t forget empathy– While someone’s dislike of one of your favorite books may feel like an affront to your very soul, remember that there may be books you don’t like that cause contention with those who respect your reading opinion.  Remembering this affronted feeling can help you understand the other side of things. A dear friend and I enjoy many of the same books, but are consistently at odds about J.R.R. Tolkien . She adores him and I have no good things to say about what I’ve read of him. We just consider this difference something that keeps our friendship interesting . After all, how boring would life be if everyone agreed on everything?

Move forward – This  can be difficult if you consider a book you particularly love as part of intellectual and/or emotional makeup, but finding new common ground with your fellow book-lover shows that you have the courage to accept someone’s difference of opinion and still find other ways to consider his/her input valuable.

The truth is that books and reading are intensely personal experiences, so it’s perfectly natural to find attachments to them. Brian Kenney recently encouraged the revival of libraries as places for books and reading recommendations (amongst all of the other wonderful things libraries do) in his Publisher’s Weekly “Libraries” column. Part of his reasoning was because of the power of reading; he said “When a reader engages with a text, her own experiences interact with the narrative to create something entirely new. This is what makes reading so rewarding: we each create our own distinct versions of the books we read.” This means that even the people who share a deep love for the same book, may still do so for different reasons. Part of the reading experience is being exposed to different points of view and those points of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, can broaden your horizons and bring new perspectives to your reading. You never know, you might even find new reasons for enjoying one of your favorite books!

This week, dear readers, instead of recommending new books, I recommend you re-read your favorite book and rediscover why you love it (or maybe find more, new reasons to love it), so the next time someone doesn’t love your favorite book back, you can still hold on to why that book is so dear to you in the first place.