A Farewell

I began this blog on July 27, 2013, almost a year ago today.

It’s been an exhilarating experience.

This blog has been full of fandoms (I have plenty),  more travel tales (and then some) than I would have guessed, and, yes, some reflections on life, the universe, and a little bit of everything.

There’s been some politics (and some frustration). There’s been robotics and an assurance that if robotics isn’t your thing, you still have the right to be awesome.

There have been a lot of words.

For one, there’s been some writing. July 2013 to July 2014 has been my most productive twelve months ever (over 90,000 words of fiction), and I couldn’t be happier about it.

And, of course, the books. So many books, from Americanah to Oryx and Crake to The Story of Beautiful Girl to the four Young Adult books that made up my “Love in YA” experiment. There have been musings on dystopia, on genre (twice), and on re-reading. There has been poetry and Shakespeare and talk of adaptations. I have written of the movement for representative literature, of audience participation and turning consumers into creators, and my 2013 reading habits, just in case I hadn’t made my love of reading clear enough.

I have so valued the experience and discipline and thrill that writing these posts has afforded me… but it’s time for me to take a break.

This fall, I will be studying abroad in France, and in order to enable myself to fully engage with my experiences there, I need to limit the amount of time I spend writing in English. As I prepare myself for this transition, I am placing this blog on hiatus.

I’m not completely vanishing from the blogosphere yet. Through the end of August, you can find me blogging weekly (on Thursdays) for the Loft Literary Center’s Writers’ Block.

But for the here and now, adieu.

P.S. Whether you’ve read one post or all 58, merci.


Hard Choices: Politician or Author?

On Saturday, I waited in line for over an hour and a half in order to acquire tickets to a book signing next weekend. For logistical reasons, the bookstore only handed out the tickets, not the books — which were included in the ticket — which means that this Sunday, I will spend another hour or two waiting in line to have a book signed that I have yet to read, and likely won’t even finish by the end of the summer, judging by the current state of my to-read list. I haven’t read anything else by this author, so I can’t even justify my folly by years of devoted, bookish admiration.

But this is what happens, I suppose, when a book’s writer is less of an author than a public figure. In this case, the book in question is Hard Choices, and the politician-come-writer is Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State… and possible 2016 presidential candidate.

If asked, I would say that I like Clinton, but if pressed, I would find it difficult to articulate why. I couldn’t tell you what specifically she did as a senator or as Secretary of State. I know she worked on a failed healthcare initiative as First Lady, currently supports gay marriage, and believes in paid family leave, although she recognizes that the United States isn’t ready for such a step on the federal level. As a political moderate harboring a patchwork of decidedly “liberal” and “conservative” positions, I assume that Clinton is to the left of me on a fair number of issues… but I’d still like her to run for president.

If Clinton decides to run, I’m confident she’ll win. From the early lists of potential Republican candidates, I can’t find one who could truly match her — in experience, fundraising clout, or that je ne sais quoi that allows politicians to capture millions of hearts (and occasionally minds). It’s high time that we have a female president. A woman in the Oval Office wouldn’t be a quick fix to the problems that continue to plague women in the United States (and to assume so is insultingly simplistic), but I think it would be a significant step along the path to a truly equal society.

At this point, we’ve established that I’d like to have a female president, and sooner rather than later. We’ve established that I’d perhaps even like for that individual to be Hillary Clinton. And yet, I am continually offended by the idea that I would ever vote for an individual due to her gender. Just because a candidate is a woman doesn’t mean I agree with her on any of the issues important to me — or that I agree with her views on any (erroneously labeled) “women’s issues.” I can name multiple female politicians just off the top of my head whom I would decidedly not vote for, were they their party’s presidential candidates.

I don’t know where exactly this leaves me, except that if Clinton is the first female president, I’m not going to pass up perhaps my only opportunity to meet her — even impersonally across a signing table. And if she doesn’t run, I have a feeling she’ll still make it into the history books. The fact that I come to fiction author signings more prepared than I will be for one featuring the potential next leader of my country, despite my politics major and actual interest in current affairs… well… let’s not read too much into that.

Genres and Jacket Descriptions: Choosing to Read Books Instead of Classifications

Recently, I read a book in the wrong genre. Or rather, I tried to read the wrong genre into it.

I don’t remember the context in which I first heard of Max Barry’s brilliant Lexicon, but the jacket blurb focuses on the special school attended by the main character, so I categorized the book as Young Adult fiction and prepared myself for more sixteen-year-old narrators.

Lexicon is not, in fact, a YA book — both in my library’s view (which shelves it under Adult Fiction) and in my post-reading opinion — but the fact that I thought it was heavily impacted my reading of the book. For one, I assumed one of the other main characters (not Emily, the one attending the school) was also a teenager at the start of the novel, instead of being at least in his mid-20s. Given that the tale has three main narrators (one of whom is older than the others) and is told in a non-linear fashion, initially reading the characters as teenagers made tracking the narrative quite difficult. The overly scattered timeline is the weakest element of this otherwise smart, compelling novel, but I fully admit that my comprehension was hampered by my expectations.

Of course jacket summaries and genre categories are often useful, but over the past year I’ve come to more fully realize their stark limitations. Lexicon is not YA… but there are several chapters in which one of the main characters is in secondary school. How much school narrative does it take for a novel to become YA? Likewise, A Tale for the Time Being (another wonderfully intelligent, beautiful book) has two narrators: a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl. The older woman is the “main” narrator in the sense that she is reading the girl’s diary, and thus serves as the frame around the younger character’s narrative. As such, this book is also classified as Adult Fiction, despite the fact that half of the book is about (and from the perspective of) a teenager. If the roles were reversed, and the teen served as the lens for the adult’s story, I imagine the novel would be assigned the YA designation.

Naturally, it can be argued that YA books tell stories in a different manner, that they focus on different narrative elements and aspects of character development, and so forth. Still, it intriguing to consider how blurred and arbitrary the distinction between YA and Adult Fiction can become — and how pre-conceived notions regarding books affect how we read them. I wonder how my experience with other books might have changed if I had first assumed they were a different (yet vaguely accurate) genre.

I also have to wonder about the people who write book summaries. Why would Lexicon‘s jacket description read like a YA novel when the book isn’t? Lexicon isn’t even the first experience I’ve had with misleading summaries. I read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park in March 2013 and adored it. Her second YA novel, Fangirl, was released September 2013, and I read the summary over and over, convinced that it would be completely uninteresting, but disappointed because Eleanor and Park had been so marvelous. Eventually, bored or procrastinating or both, I read the online preview — and I fell desperately in love with it.

Bearing this in mind, I cautiously read the description for Rowell’s Adult Fiction novel, Attachments. Again, it didn’t appear to be the kind of book I would find compelling. This time, however, I remembered to read the first few chapters… and, as I had half-expected, I was hooked. Attachments isn’t as gut-wrenching as Eleanor and Park or as obviously charming as Fangirl, but it’s quirky and funny, and I’m glad to have read it. Rowell’s newest novel, Landline (Adult Fiction) comes out this Tuesday, and I fully plan on reading it. If it weren’t written by her, I’d have completely ignored it, but I’ve come to realize that I love her writing, regardless of genre.

There are certainly types of books that I’m not interested in reading, but I’m starting to think that books with completely blank covers on unmarked shelves might not be a bad idea. We spend a great deal of time saying “I don’t like X,” and sometimes we truly don’t like X, but sometimes we’ve made X into too large a category, unnecessarily narrowing our reading habits. A genre and a jacket description aren’t the book: they are someone else’s attempt to draw a generalized, market-researched reader into the story. They try to tell us what we will like and what we won’t; they condition us to expect certain elements in the text.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t an easy way around these problems. The only solution I’ve come up with is to keep reading — and reading (almost) everything. I’ve broadened my book recommendation sources, and I’ve been pleased with the results. Takeaway for this week? Keep calm and ignore genre conventions.