February 2015 Media Round-up (Books)


Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon


  • Jesus Christ, I hated this book. Why read it, especially in light of that whole “don’t read things you don’t enjoy” rant from two posts ago? Because I am a) a masochist or b) weirdly invested in the plot1 of these books, in spite of the terrible writing. And FUCK is the writing terrible. So let’s air some grievances:
    • If you can’t come up with witty banter, it’s not really adequate to just have every other line of non-witty dialogue said either “wryly” or “dryly.” And for fuck’s sake, learn some new adverbs, or better yet, let the content of the dialogue convey whatever adverb you were going to append to “I/he/she said.”
    • Similarly, not every question needs to be asked “curiously.” That’s sort of the point of questions, right? It’s more noteworthy if they’re not being asked curiously.
    • Okay, so I get that Claire is super turned on by Jamie’s physical appearance at all times. But do we need to have her describe his hair, eyes, hands, etc. in detail every few pages if they haven’t changed since the last time she saw him? Is the particular way that hair grows around his nipples really that remarkable?
    • And the previous grievance is part of a more general grievance, namely, OH GOD EDIT YOUR BOOKS PLEASE. There is a fair amount of plot, but certainly not 1000 pages worth.
    • Ugh, the sex scenes. Above all else, the Outlander books are romance novels, albeit not in the tumescent throbbing manhood sense. There will be a certain number of sex scenes per book, because that is the genre and what probably a large portion of the fanbase signed up for when they started reading these books. So, whatever, fine, let’s say we do have a non-negotiable sex quota to fill. The sex scenes themselves could still be better written and serve more of a narrative purpose2, rather than just being these weirdly vague3 and sort of indistinguishable scenes that only feel like they’re there because the author couldn’t figure out a better way to convey the passage of time or something.

Select quote:

  • Oh, fuck no. Nope nope nope.

American Woman, Susan Choi


  • So one-sentence plot summary, for the curious: American Woman is apparently4 a fictionalized version of Wendy Yoshimura’s5 involvement in the Patty Hearst kidnapping. It’s solid literary fiction, and I don’t really have much to say about it? I enjoyed it and feel slightly smarter for having read it, but I probably won’t remember much about it in a year or so. It’s a little slow to start, too, because the opening chapters aren’t super indicative of what the bulk of the novel is like. And even the main part of the book gives the sense that we’re focusing on the least interesting time in the very interesting lives of the characters, which is sort of confirmed by what (little) information we do get about their backstories way later on.
  • I have now read all four of Susan Choi’s novels, so I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of commonality between them. And I think the main thing is that Choi is a very withholding writer, if that makes sense. She basically places you on the scene with these characters and only gradually reveals information about their backgrounds; you don’t really get a sense of who these people are or why they’re doing what they’re doing until maybe chapters later. And I guess this approach works, because it makes you keep reading to just find out what each character’s deal is, and it probably encourages re-reading, but man, it can also be super frustrating.

Select quote:

“All I’m saying,” Juan said, “is your skin is a privilege. Your Third World perspective’s a privilige.”

“And all I’m saying is, stop saying I’m from the Third World when I’m from California.”

1. Look, I just want to know what the deal with Geillis Duncan is and neither Wikipedia nor the Outlander wiki goes into enough detail. ^
2. We don’t tend to read about protagonists performing normal habits (i.e. eating, getting dressed, using the bathroom) unless something unusual happens that one time or there’s some greater symbolic purpose to describing this habit, but we can still assume that the protagonist does all of these things. Sex between a married couple who has sex regularly should fall into that category of normal habits, so once we’ve established that Claire and Jamie are banging on the regular, we shouldn’t be reading about Claire and Jamie banging unless it’s exceptional banging. ^
3. I don’t want anything super graphic, believe me, but if someone’s giving a blowjob, I should be very sure that they’re giving a blowjob, you know? ^
4. I mean, Wikipedia says it is so it definitely is, I just don’t know anything about the actual event because it probably wasn’t covered in AP US history? ^
5. Who now sells very pleasant paintings of fruit and teaches watercolor painting at community centers, which is so weird and kind of awesome, because what would be a non-weird career to go into if you were a radical (and like a bomb-building radical, not just a protestor) in your 20s and then didn’t die young or spend life in prison? ^


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