The Ironic Lack of Intimacy in First Person

As often happens, I had a conversation with my husband about a book I was reading and I interrupted myself. I realised that I not only wanted the main character to succeed, but that I also liked her and could describe her personality. This struck me as notable because the book is written in first person present tense. A few years ago, that would have made it difficult or even impossible for me to enjoy the book. I’ve since become inured to it as a style choice, which may be why I don’t notice other people objecting to it anymore. But I do recall that other people dislike first person, whether in present or past tense.

While I’m aware that not everyone who dislikes first person perspective (FPP) does so for the same reasons, I wonder if there might be a common, undiagnosed problem. After contemplating for a few days, my brain tossed up the term “a lack of intimacy.” I tend to perceive FPP protagonists as samey and I often don’t like them, or at least I’m quicker to condemn them for their actions and slower to sympathise. They just feel so… detached from my reading experience.

Isn’t that a weird thought?

Articles and books on writing that cover perspective choice call first person things like intimatedirect, but also limited. The limited nature was possibly my biggest complaint back when I had trouble enjoying The Hunger Games. Katniss just missed so many things that were going on.

In an example like Huckleberry Finn, I certainly recognise the perspective as intimate, but one of the reasons for that is that it’s also conversational. The average YA novel with FPP doesn’t feel like the protagonist is talking to a reader. At worst, it feels like navel-gazing. Self-centred self-narration, like my toddler vocalising his actions because he literally likes the sound of his own voice. As if maybe the reason such a book was written in first person is because that perspective was easier. At best(?), it feels like listening to someone clever talk to themself. Why am I here? is something I have honestly thought while reading FPP before.

Maybe the best way I can really explain it is that for a person who dislikes reading first person books, the experience is akin to being forced to listen to someone recount an incredibly long dream. It’s full of vain little thoughts, meandering asides, in-jokes that only the speaker/author would get, and in the end might be so personal or so predicated on inexpressible feelings that it doesn’t even make sense.

That is not an intimate conversation. That is a selfish speaker and a bored, disengaged listener.


To DNF or to Power Through?


I’m used to having unpopular opinions. It can bother me when it feels like the thing I love is being misunderstood, or on the flip side when I feel the thing is VILE and it is instead much-beloved.

Movies and most particularly video games are easy to stop if I hate them. But books feel different. I’ve always liked books best, for one thing, so they deserve more consideration on the whole. I seem to go through stages, where DNFing a book is easy and I employ the surrender option often so that I can try new things with less stress or get through a tall stack more quickly and with less pain.

But when it comes to things I have to review or rec to someone, I feel like I need to get as much information as possible. In the case of NetGalley ARCs in particular, I’m new enough to feel like I should try to like everything, and still feeling my diligence when it comes to finishing. I have heard of other people who DNF as they need, as well as those who abuse the privilege and backlog 50 or 60 ARCs as if they’re just free candy.

There is one ARC I have that I thought I would like and it’s a Request Now title. But… to say I become quickly disenchanted with it would be putting it mildly. Rather like one saying that one does not wish to eat fetid entrails from the fresh corpse of a diseased sheep. But my opinion seems to fly in the face of a cheering fanbase, five-starring all over the place.

I suppose my opinion is unimportant when the dilemma is “Do I finish this so that I can feel less guilty about the one-star review I know it’s going to be” or “Do I cut my losses and write a brief review?”

DNFing is not an easy choice in any case. Some readers never DNF as a matter of principle, which is fine as long as they don’t use that to project and judge other readers. Others DNF without stress. I don’t really know where I fall on the spectrum.


A Whole New World – DNF

Liz Braswell’s A Whole New World is such a waste of potential. As with any book that has more than one attractive cover–I particularly like the style of the reprint covers for the series–the contents being less attractive is a major let-down. But it’s also a waste of a fun idea. The series is called “Twisted Tales” to reflect the concept that each book is basically a Disney animated feature film book adaptation with a what-if plot twist. The twist for the first book, based on Aladdin, is that he never got the lamp.

I’m assuming that Jafar did get the lamp and his reign of terror simply took place sooner. I didn’t get that far. For a long time, I had better things to read, or higher priority books like ARCs. I did suffer through the saccharine prologue about Aladdin’s unrealistically sainted mother a couple of times. It holds hints of the book’s many, many failings, but I didn’t want to dump it based on that alone. Fans of Renaissance Disney have this weird inclination to imagine the dead mothers of protagonists as idealised women who are perfect the way that a poorly written Yamato Nadeshiko is perfect: flawless, meek, and selfless to the point of lacking even healthy self-interest. The idealised Disney mother, if she’s ever alive, is written in such a way that she is quite obviously doomed to die, probably beautifully. It’s kind of gross. Dehumanising a character and thinking it poetic.

One thing the prologue has going for it is that it’s original. It has pathetic, incredibly forced callouts to recognisable things in the Aladdin franchise (comprised in my view of the three movies and the animated series) like Rasoul and Aladdin’s mother decides to get him a pet. Because when you don’t have enough money to eat, a pet is a thing you want. But it’s still more like fan fiction and less like a straight up novelisation. After the prologue, the book becomes a novelisation.

A breathtakingly dreadful novelisation.

Although I can see where quoting the movie verbatim would be irritating to some readers, I would have preferred it. Some lines of dialogue sound like they were in the movie, but since I grew up watching it, I could correct the changed lines in my head. They weren’t as good as the original lines, nostalgia notwithstanding.

Action was streamlined to the point of being outright removed, and I felt more like I was being told about the movie by someone who had both barely watched it and had hated what they did watch. In the movie, the guards who chase Aladdin during the song One Jump are ugly bumblers, but they’re still effing ARMED and he’s running. This communicates to the audience that they are a threat.

Braswell chose to remove all tension from the chase and instead reduce it to the same adverb-heavy navel-gazing as every other part of the narrative.

​He scooted around Rasoul and managed to duck past the rest of the guards as they grabbed at him ineptly. Ten of them weren’t worth one of Rasoul–thank goodness. He was the only one Aladdin needed to worry about–and he knew the streets almost as well as the boy did.

This is the only mention of the guards who are not Rasoul. All of Aladdin’s dialogue during the chase is broken up by heavy breathing and too much thinking. He gets injured, which did not happen in the movie and cannot be chalked up to the “twisted” what-if that the book is supposed to deliver.

At this point, I was fatigue-y and in a lot of pain, so I’d asked my husband to read to me so I could maybe fall asleep after a bit. But I couldn’t fall asleep when every few sentences I had to stop him to ask if the book actually said that or if he was bamming me. His disbelief was about as constant. Why is there an allusion to prostitution? Because there was a visual reference in the movie? That could come and go without comment because it was a visual reference. Written references are far more overt, and they have to be justified. The small moment of kindness when Aladdin gives his bread to the tinier orphans becomes this overwrought drama with waffling contradictions about how street rats treat each other. “Oh we look out for each other!” And then he thinks, “I know what it’s like to be picked on by the bigger kids who stole my food!” Which is it?? Honour among beggars/thieves or everyone for himself?

Then there is the research fail. It’s painful. If any research of Middle Eastern countries went into this book, it must have come from the back of a cereal box. Baklava! Turban! Effendi! Dates! If Abu hadn’t been in the movie, I’m sure the author would have felt it necessary to add a monkey on her own initiative. Braswell apparently has an anti-monarchy streak in this series, and it looks like woefully uneducated American revisionism, because this is so obviously not her culture. Aladdin made a random mental observation about the fat sultan playing with his toys instead of seeing to his people. …which… no.  This was what ultimately drove both Hubby and me to just stop trying and DNF. He literally handed me the book and said, “Reading this is making me uncomfortable.”


The Addiction of Acquisition

Is it more fun to buy books than to read them? The same amount? Sometimes when I’m too fatigued or muddled to read or do much of anything, I start looking through my TBR and often find myself adding to it.

I have more than one type of TBR list, too. I have a huge list of books that were given to me or bought from library sales. Over a period of years. My mother-in-law cleaned out her garage, so I have some of those that I haven’t read yet. I was given a treasure trove of lovelies for Christmas, and I haven’t read them yet. My father-in-law loves me and gave me a shiny box of science fiction and fantasy classics that holds pride of place safely out of toddler hands. The one I’ve probably made the biggest dent in is what I’ve bought from Better World Books, and even then I’m sure I have at least a hundred more to read.

And that isn’t even touching on my Goodreads TBR, which contains books I don’t even own. Or my Kindle Wishlist, which is obviously made up of only those kinds of books. Sometimes I’ll go through it and see if anything has been marked down.

Is it because the potential of a new book is so exciting? Particularly if there’s a sale (and there are always sales), you buy low-priced indie books, or of course my favourite: the library. It’s a low or no cost experience that gives you all the butterflies of starting something new.

Knitters like to acquire yarn. Apparently there’s a phenomenon wherein a knitter will have bought or been gifted more yarn than they could ever use in a lifetime. That’s me (and many many others) with books. I have this rosy ideal that there are people out there who reread and stay on top of TBRs under fifty and actually read new books the week they come out. Is this you? Can you teach me? I’m still trying to read stuff that came out before I was born. There are classics I still need and want to read.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to important priorities like ARCs that need reviews (my personal policy of never failing to review is going to kill me) and books that friends have asked me to vet for them. Vetting is one of my favourites. I do all the research–if it’s a retelling, I go back and reread the original. I look into the author and when I read the book, I do it in the mindset of the person for whom I’m vetting.

But when it comes to my own interests, I am a snail. I’ve had The Love Interest for a month, and it’s one I was dying to get. If it weren’t for NetGalley, future me would probably be reading Mask of Shadows while Christmas shopping. And adding more books to my list. If I had a superpower, it would be the supernatural ability to read seven books in two hours. …Originally, I was going to say, “stop time,” but then I’d never start it again. So there’s the world saved, I guess.


Baby update – 35wks


I thought I posted this yesterday, but apparently I dreamed it.

Nick and I listened to Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, and it was quite an experience. I suppose it’s on the shorter side, but we still went through it in about two sessions of sitting, both in the evening. Every time I’ve seen Trevor Noah interviewed or any of his stand-up, it has struck me that this man has a powerful insight to share. Just about any time I hear him speak, I come away with something valuable–a fresh perspective, a desire to better myself in knowledge or the practise of compassion. When we weren’t listening to the audiobook (it’s something we did together, and I wanted to keep it in sync), I went back and reread what we’d heard in the Kindle edition. I loved this book.

Yesterday was a good day to hear the second half of the book. I had my 35 week OB appointment, which was my first one ever. It’s not as boring as my last appointment was. I’m apparently not rushing towards the finish line, which is kind of cool. This is the most pregnant I have ever been! I feel like a first-timer all over again. If I make it to Sunday, I am dubbing Jackson “The Patient One.”

My cold/flu (whichever it is) is still very much in evidence. Sometimes it knocks me out like a tonne of bricks, and other times I swear I’m almost better. Then I’ll run a fever and throw up. I checked the calendar–it’s been almost four weeks. This thing better pack its bags before I do.


Bad Cover Representation


I’ve been buckling down to finish this 5-book ebook bundle for a series that I have lots of feels about. HOPEFULLY I’ll be done and have it reviewed before I die of old-age, but who knows. Pregnancy fatigue also knocked me out for hours today…

Some of my feelings on this series are positive, and the negative ones all have to do with disappointment. Without getting into specifics, the covers and titles make promises that are not fulfilled. Sadly, this reflects badly on the entire series, which is almost unfair. ‘Almost’ because I assume the titles were under the author’s control, but I know covers tend not to be. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t actually apply to books in real life, either. The POINT of a book cover is to help a consumer judge whether or not they want to buy it.

Particularly when one is talking about an entire series. Twilight themes its titles by using terms for celestial events, or in the case of the first, at least a time of day. The covers have a small, very recognisable palette and share the same style throughout. But how well do they represent the content?

From a target audience and marketing perspective, the brief titles and minimalist design say “YA” and “drama.” The use of red contrasted with black can mean romance and/or horror, and the theme naming suggests supernatural elements. Twilight is a paranormal YA romance with a pensive tone and heavy atmosphere, which primarily uses drama for conflict.

The level of quality is not a question that can be answered by the cover. If you love Twilight but hate the covers, that doesn’t change the fact that they do tell you what kind of book you’ll be reading. If you love the covers but hate Twilight, the same applies. The question was, how well do the covers represent the content? The answer is, quite well indeed.

You can browse the list of examples on TV Tropes’ Covers Always Lie page in the Literature section in search of covers telling lies, but they are not necessarily bad representation. Since I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, I’ll make one up based on something Hubby said on the subject using the plot of Assassin’s Creed 2.

The covers are all whimsical cartoon renditions of a boy in Renaissance Italy, always depicted in or in front of a bank. For example, sitting at a desk covered in paper and stacks of coins, or in mid-pratfall dropping an armful of ledgers in the street as he’s tripping over his own feet. Every title contains puns on accounting or banking terms. But the story is about a young man whose family is murdered in the second chapter of book one, driving him to go on a decades-long journey of graphically depicted murderous revenge. His father simply happens to have been a banker who worked closely with the Medici family–the boy himself was never even interested in joining the family business.

In that imaginary example, the covers say “Middle Grade” and “comedy.” The consistent setting and props tell us he will be deeply involved in financial matters and stay in a fixed location while depicting a fairly regular daily life that probably won’t show off much historical detail or accuracy, and the naming suggests that nothing dark or serious will occur. But this is obviously historical fiction with a mystery component intended for an adult audience, with a nigh atramentous atmosphere, lots of death, and exploration of complex themes. People would buy these books for younger readers and be distressed if not pissed.

Bad cover representation absolutely affects a reader’s enjoyment. …and I just thought of an example: the first two books in Moira J Moore’s Hero series. But I already made my point, so I’ll just link to them on Goodreads.


Book logging


Listening to: X Gon’ Give It to Ya – DMX

My support network is a little ragged, so I have always liked keeping track of what I’m doing with an impersonal app. They don’t always last. But it’s a good practise when I can actually do it. Right now, it’s mostly just using Books Wing for reading. It’s got a nice icon, and it does pretty much everything I want it to, even if I can’t (don’t know how to?) input backdated stats.

I’ve been going way less insane on books this year (regarding reading them, I still buy too many and I’ve been given more than ever before) so I have actually done anything other than read–I’ve seen movies this year! I even played Fallout 4 at all–but it’s still my primary leisure activity.

Because I read so much, I don’t really remember everything I read. Sometimes I finish a book, and then I can’t recall it a week later. Either my memory is getting poor, or I’m reading too many books to remember much about all of them. Writing is an aid to memory, so I started keeping summary notes every reading session.

Within reason. On days when I read for two minutes before someone mistakes my book for a sign that I want to have a long conversation about shit I don’t care about, I keep my summaries back until I have managed a significant number of severely accumulative pages.

This morning, I actually had an hour of uninterrupted time (!!!) to read, and I used it. Then I lay in bed with my phone in hand, struggling to summarise the last 97 pages. …wow, that’s 25% of the book. I think it’s the third fourth of it, so it’s also when lots of threads are coming together and major changes happen, so I guess I was struggling for good reason. I actually stopped just so I could write a summary.

Anyway, it was challenging and fun. I play it sort of loose, so I sometimes add in my own comments. Eventually, I may find that I’m keeping an all-out book journal. Whether I do or not, I’ve already achieved my goal with this idea: I remember much more of what I read, and I have a reference/journal to reflect on.