Sunday Lowdown #125

WEEKLY HIGHLIGHTS

Cupcakes & Machetes recommended that I watch An American Werewolf in London (1981), which was bloody and full of frontal male nudity, which you just don’t see in films anymore. And I have to say, the special effects folks didn’t make their werewolf sexy. He was pretty terrifying! An excellent movie for my Friday night horror watch.

Not long ago I interviewed Rebecca Frost. Did you start following her blog? Her posts really get me thinking. Though lots of writers include a blog element to their website, many just answer basics like, how long do you write, do you have a schedule, where do you write, etc., questions I don’t find inspiring but would be helpful to a young writer. Frost gets me thinking as a consumer of books, as a human in a community of literature . . .

For instance, in her post about perfection, she notes, “The other day I read a comment (about a knitting pattern, but it still applies) where someone said ‘If I’m paying $X, I expect it to be perfect.'” What are reasonable expectation when you pay for something like a book?

When Frost writes about how to encourage a writer, she has clear ideas shaped by her father, who simply read her work, and listened to her read it aloud every single day. Going away to college changed that relationship, so recorded herself reading and sent it to him, adding, “Somewhere [my dad] has 6 CDs of a Rebecca Frost original audiobook.” My heart! These posts lived in my brain all week and changed some thoughts I had about reading and writing. Click the links to go join the conversation.

THIS WEEK’S BLOG POSTS

I knew lots of folks would read my review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel because they enjoyed it so, but I was fairly “ho-hum” about the plot. Surprisingly, many readers forgot that a large part of the first half of the novel (I stopped around 50%) is about Arthur, the actor who dies in the first couple of pages. Giant flashbacks of his life trying to get acting work and his wife, Miranda, creator of the comic book Station Eleven. And then how he cheats on Miranda. We even get her history with her boyfriend before she meets Arthur. When someone tells me a book is a post-apocalyptic pandemic novel, and it’s got a great scary start with a mysterious flu taking over the hospital, I don’t except to read a novel about infidelity set . . . before the pandemic.

Because most readers loved St. John Mandel’s book, True Story by Kate Reed Petty didn’t get as much attention, but suffice it to say it’s another book that looks at sexual harassment and violence against teen girls, but with a twist on the theme — we don’t know if the assault even happened.

Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey gave us a chance to look at books we’ve enjoyed that use a well-known story (anything Shakespeare, fairy tales, etc.) and rework the plot. Do you know of a good book that was a retelling of a famous tale? Head over to my review and leave a comment!

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG POSTS

Don’t you just love it when you find a self-published book that’s like a secret treasure, and you, a dragon-of-a-reader can add it to your hoard? Just kidding! I’m about sharing books, not hiding them away! Olivia Hill’s Ultra is a science fiction novel about three women who are part of a government experiment, complete with Area 51, Project MK Ultra, and a hotel called the Ali-Inn. Get it? Review Tuesday.

Susan Rosenberg was a political activist sentenced to prison for helping transport a moving truck loaded with weapons, explosives, and fake IDs across state lines. When she is convicted, her sentence is longer than any given before, and she’s sent to a new, experimental prison that nearly breaks her. This memoir will be reviewed Thursday.

BOOKS ADDED TO THE TBR PILE

Owned Books on TBR at Beginning of Year: 242
Owned Books on TBR Today: 223

Thanks to Sugar & Scream for their recommendation of a horror/historical werewolf novel! Thank you to Lou for her recommendation of a comedic novel free on Project Gutenberg.

34 comments

  1. That Rebecca Frost blog sounds good value, but I don’t really think I can add one more thing to read – and think about – into my life now. However, I was interested in your question, from her blog “‘If I’m paying $X, I expect it to be perfect.’” What are reasonable expectation when you pay for something like a book?”

    Well, I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect certain things. Physically, I expect it to be well made, at least as appropriate to the price. If I buy a cheap paperback edition I expect less of course than I expect from a hardback or trade paperback. Then, I expect the publisher to have done a good job, which includes good proofing and editing. I don’t expect typos, for example, though one or two can be forgiven! But, in terms of content, that’s a matter of taste. If I don’t like it, it’s my look out.

    The Susan Rosenberg book sounds interesting. I presume she is not related to THE Rosenbergs?

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    • I know I left a huge comment on Rebecca’s site, because her thoughts about perfection, humans, reading, and money were intriguing to me. When she put it in terms of something else, like a yarn pattern, my thinking shifted. Also, we commented quite a bit on where money goes when you have a publisher. Is it to editing? Marketing? The writer? The owner?

      Susan Rosenberg, to my knowledge based on reading her memoir and a quick Google search, was not related to THE Rosenbergs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s weird that people who have read Station Eleven recommend it as specifically a post-apocalyptic plague novel, because that’s not really what it is. When it first came out, I remember NPR talking about it’s shifting timelines, and while I don’t usually like novels like that they convinced me to give it a try. I ended up loving it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, there’s so little about the killer pandemic. I was set up wrong when I read an early scene with several folks who were in the play (Arthur has just died) who are at a bar. The chapter ends ominously, stating that within three weeks, the only one left alive was the bar tender. Dun dun DUNNN!!!! And then travelling orchestra.

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  3. I pay my $30 or $40 for a new book and take my chances. Obviously second hand is much better value – 10% of new price for the same text, and only occasionally missing pages or badly glued spines.

    I’m going to have to find a library copy of Station Eleven just to see what you’re all talking about.

    Looking forward to your Rosenburg review, I don’t know what I would have done if the opportunity for serious revolutionary action had been offered to me back in those heady days.

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    • $30-40 for a new book. . . that hurts my head to think about. Most books here are about $15-20 if paperback and $25-30 if hard cover. Some publishers charge the same price for an e-book, but most are around $10. Audio books vary depending on length. A second-hand store wouldn’t sell a book with missing pages, and it’s actually illegal to sell a book with the cover removed.

      I think the Rosenberg book would speak to you, Bill. I get the vibe you would have helped her, as passionate as you both are/were about the people’s rights.

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  4. I think that all I really feel like I can expect of a book when I buy it is that it has been proofed well. Stories that feel half-told or not properly thought out do always irritate me and make me feel like I’ve wasted my money, but normally other people are raving about how clever and artistic those books are, so everything apart from good proofreading is a matter of personal taste.

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    • I like the quote Rebecca includes from Neil Gaiman, who says no matter how many times your book has been proofread, when you open copy you’ll see a typo on whatever page you open. It’s like a writer’s curse!

      I change my opinions about proofreading based on who published the book. If a marginalized author with killer ideas has his/her/their best friend with an English degree proofread the book, and I find typos, I’m not too mad. I know what they’re up against. But if I buy a hard cover book from a big press, I want that book PERFECT. Rebecca’s post made me really think more about the people involved. I find it very easy to forget the whole world is run by…..PEOPLE. Other PEOPLE make decisions about my health care, other PEOPLE choose how much we can pollute the world, other PEOPLE are in charge of a country, etc. Scary if I let my brain go down the rabbit hole.

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      • I’ve seen in some places that it’s possible for books from big presses to receive far *less* attention than smaller presses. I don’t know enough about the publishing world to go all-out and say “It’s totally about profit,” but there are definitely cautions for authors that signing with one of the Big Five doesn’t necessarily mean top-notch treatment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I loved reading Tom Robbin’s “memoir” Tibetan Peach Pie in which he talks about how he was wined and dined and taken to spas, etc. when he was first publishing, and now they’re like, “Have you started a blog? No more dinner for you!”

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  5. I’m way behind in my blog hopping so haven’t got to read your interview with Rebecca. Will make a point of doing so now – it sounds far more interesting than most author interviews I see.

    You’ve also got me thinking about my expectations when I buy a book. Top of my list would be that it has been proof read (sadly not always the case). For historical fiction I also expect that it has been checked for authenticity of language and dialogue – If I find anachronisms, it makes me doubt the credibility of the author

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    • That’s true about historical fiction, Karen. I know fact-checking is a whole job, and I wonder how much big presses do it. I would image they have someone, but I know that in recent years, the business of creating and selling a book is more on the author (they’re expected to do a book tour, and have social media, etc.) whereas all of that was handled by someone else in the past. Based on the folks I know who have published books, it sounds like editors are more for “Well, what if X happened instead?” and “Y is really hot right now! Can you make it more like Y??”

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  6. Your question about expectations… I’m sitting here wondering, DO I have expectations about books? I echo other comments about proof-reading for errors. But other than that… are hopes the same as expectations? I don’t think so. I HOPE the characters are believable, no matter the plot. And I might have an expectation that a second novel from an author I loved the first time would make me as happy as I was the first time around. Which is probably unfair. But I’m not gonna throw a fit and write a 1 star review on Goodreads, LOL. Maybe since I’m such a heavy library user I am not personally offended if an author disappoints me. OH, I just thought of an expectation. I don’t want a contemporary writer to be a sexist, racist, homophobic douchebag. Dead writers get somewhat of a pass depending on the times they wrote. But I think I’m pretty good at picking out my books to avoid those, ha ha.

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    • I think hopes are different. I know Goodreads can be ruthless (The Story Graph is kinder). I’ve read people say something was a waste of money because they hated ONLY the ending. I’m in the same boat as you — when you use your library, it’s easy to forgive a book you don’t enjoy. I know me in the past would have been very angry about a few books I own that I just couldn’t finish because the author’s plot/characters is/were irresponsible, but the me of today has to let that go. I pre-order a book to support an author I like, that person releases a bad book, I have to let it go. I could have gotten the library copy. Mostly, I’m buying self-published or out-of-print books. I STILL need to write my post about why I largely do not buy books!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. As someone who forgot about Arthur in Station Eleven, I wonder if our own experience in a pandemic has effected how we remember the novel? I read it pre-2020 but thought about it a lot last year because I recalled it as an overall hopeful book about a world and a people that rebuild afterward. That’s become my strongest connection to the book but maybe in an alternate universe I would remember Station Eleven as that book about a cheating actor?

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    • Ooooh, that’s an interesting point, Karissa. I definitely think our context/environment makes a big difference when we read. For example, whenever I had a professor hyped about a book by a living author, I tended to get hyped too, thinking I was dumb if I did not. Now, I re-read some of those books and wonder, “What the heck was special about this at all? This book makes no sense!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, that’s definitely a thing too! And I think it works the other way too. I can think of books that remind me of a particular person or place and so I love them for that memory even if the book itself wasn’t amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Ooh, American Werewolf in London is a SOLID horror movie! 😀 It’s such a good one. Mr. Moth and I were watching something recently that paid homage to the scene on the moors but I can’t remember what it was for the life of me. Love the practical effects in that one. Speaking of practical effects, have you ever seen John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)? It always comes to mind when I think of awesome practical effects. 🙂

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    • No! I have not seen The Thing. That’s a great recommendation, though. I’m going to see if it’s on Shudder or available to rent from the library.

      I know C&M was saying she also likes An American Werewolf in Paris. I also like that one! Have you seen it? Do you enjoy it? I was surprised to see the parallels between Paris and London, though I must confess London’s werewolf is waaaaay better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nice! Hoping you’ll enjoy it when you get to see it. 😀
        Yes, I like American Werewolf in Paris too, but definitely like the first one more. And agreed, London’s werewolf was sooo much better. 😛
        I usually think practical werewolves look soooo much better. I always really enjoyed the design of the werewolves in the movie Dog Soldiers. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • It looks like there are a few different covers. After you asked me which books I taught in my domestic fiction class, and I included the short story “Caveman in the Hedges,” I looked the author, Richter, up to see what else she has a grabbed her two collections.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I was just talking with someone at work about horror movies. He couldn’t believe I knew next to nothing about them. I told him because for the last twenty years I’ve been watching movies with my kids. I wonder if I will ever watch one again? Maybe a psychological thriller… nothing gross.
    You know, I remember so little about the parts of Station Eleven that took place before the pandemic – it’s the second half of the book I remember best. Or even just the way it ends. I did love it, though.

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