Why does this make me nauseous? (Books for women)

Hyperion is starting a new brand, Voice, aimed at women. WTF?! What follows are some incoherent grumblings about this idea:
51% of the US population is female. This is the majority. Why do we need a niche book brand?
From the NYT article: “People are overwhelmed by choice, and what they want is someone who is self-selecting for them.” Again, WTF?! I absolutely don’t want someone self-selecting books for me. I prefer to ask for recommendations from trusted sources, or dabble in first lines at the bookstore. What I don’t want is to be herded to the backroom where all the women’s books are. Imaginary conversation: “Oh miss, put that [Moby Dick] down. That’s a man’s book. You would be more interested in these bodice-ripping romance novels or sappy love stories in the corner.”
From the NYT article: “When I go to a bookstore I’m looking at a million books, and I’m not quite sure where to go unless I get a recommendation of a friend. But I can look at all of the books that are published by Voice and see it as somewhat of a guide for women.” A guide for women. Because all our tastes are quite similar, right? And Voice is just like a friend whose opinion I trust. Gak. The whole bookstore should be considered a guide for women.
What I don’t want: book segregation by gender. I know what I like, thankyouverymuch.
What I want: good writing, gripping stories, characters I care about. I’d love to see more females producing and consuming this stuff. Or perhaps I am ignorant of the masses of feminine talent hidden in the stacks? Where is my next Paula Fox discovery?

Writing hacks: How to start

Scott Berkun slams writers’ block as a sham: “It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s its fear of not writing well; something quite different.” He then outlines several “hacks” to get you started writing.
Some of my favs:
* Write about how it feels not to be able to write
* Make lists of ideas
* Whiskey
* Rummage through old ideas

Nick Hornby’s thoughts on how to read

Great advice for readers-– if you’re not enjoying it, put it down!
“If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity – and there are statistics that show that this is by no means assured – then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits.”
“Dickens is literary now, of course, because the books are old. But his work has survived not because he makes you think, but because he makes you feel, and he makes you laugh, and you need to know what is going to happen to his characters.”

Is the OED useful?

The sheer volume of volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary solidifies its reputation as a weighty reference guide. But is it cost-prohibitive at $300/year for online access or $2,000 for physical copies? I feel well served by free services like Merriam-Webster or dictionary.com to satisfy occasional disputes over meanings of words (e.g. “fraught”– Who knew you could use it without the everpresent “with”?).
Using my old friend BugMeNot, I gained access to the OED site and poked around (greenhs/greenhs was the user/pass combo that got me in). The cumbersome, ancient interface looks 1000 years old in internet years. Despite having the same graphical elements on each page, the entire page refreshes as you move from word to word. You’re given a scrollbar on the left to peruse words before and after the word you’ve searched, but this function doesn’t dynamically keep pulling in more and more words as you scroll, you’ve got to click to refresh the list once you’ve reached the end. Usability of the pay-to-play site aside, I’m not so keen on the content of the definitions. Final rant– why can’t these dictionary sites wise up to the beauty of feeding out their Word of the Day on RSS?
I suppose the real star of the OED is the earliest usage examples. And perhaps those historical records are worth the subscriptions by word geeks with spending money.

Midnight’s Children

Why does everyone love Rushdie so much? I’m giving into the hype again and trying him on, but it is not smooth sailing so far. 100 pages in and it’s a struggle to convince myself to pick it up and keep reading at the end of the day.
Basic premise is autobiography of a man born on the day of India’s independence, a glimpse of life in India in the 1940s, concern over Pakistan’s creation & England’s power subsiding.
As if you couldn’t sense it coming, I’ve stranded this one. Not finishable in my current state of impatience.

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Never Let Me Go

Devoured this story in a cross country flight. This was my first taste of Ishiguro, I was lured into the work by the seductive display at the Mission branch library. Easy, facile writing style; excellent use of foreshadowing or clue dropping or seeding of the story. I imagine it to be extremely difficult to write a story set in a “current” setting with a couple crucial details changed without sounding hokey, but he pulls it off.
The story is written from Kathy H.’s perspective, as a carer and future donor. The story revolves around the golden age growing up at Hailsham with Ruth & Tommy. The children were clones, thus bred to donate organs and to care for those who were undergoing organ donation prior to “completing” (e.g. dying). They are encouraged at Hailsham to explore their art, to compete to see whose work gets chosen by Madame for the mythical “Gallery”. This is a coming-of-age story, with a twist. Kathy & Tommy always have a connection, yet Tommy & Ruth end up as a couple. Years later, Ruth reveals her worst action was to keep them apart when they were clearly meant for each other.
The title comes from a song on Kathy’s cassette tape long lost (all lost items end up in Norfolk) then rediscovered in a 2nd hand shop by Tommy & Kathy in Norfolk during the road trip with Ruth, Chrissie & Rodney to find Ruth’s “possible” (e.g. possible model for her cloning).

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Advice for authors

Nineteen tidbits of advice for aspiring authors from marketing guru Seth Godin. Sad to note that 58% of adults don’t read another book after high school. And this is my favorite piece of advice:
“Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.”

A conspiracy of paper

Historical fiction is tricky, but Liss pulls a rabbit out of a hat on this 18th century tale on the beginnings of the stock exchange in London. Spun as a memoir by one Benjamin Weaver (nee Lienzo), ex boxing champ of England then turned thief catcher/detective, it takes place in the early 1700s and traces the seemingly unrelated murders of two men (Ben’s father and Sir Balfour), while luring Ben back to his Jewish roots in Dukes Place. Liss does well to insert historical details (riots, rotting flesh, Bevis Marks synagogue*, coffeehouses, fear of national debt) along with dialogue that doesn’t drag with old timey speech and dialect.
*Special note on Bevis Marks–I visited London during the weekend when historical buildings were opened to the public and was able to visit the synagogue. Over 300 years old and still in use, with a tiny courtyard and intricately detailed decor, I sat within meditating on life and other sundries and had an overwhelming sense of spiritual currents flowing through me. That experience will stay with me although it now smacks of bland new-age nonsense.
Recommended by The Max

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Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants

It is my biggest fear that I will try to write a fantastically funny book re: me, and end up with a wispy, lame-ish, mediocre work like this one. Jill was a writer on HBO’s Six Feet Under, and took it upon herself to explain her life via this book. Yawn. As much as I appreciate the ladies who write, it saddens me to read an entire book that’s supposed to be funny without once smiling.
Skip it.

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Apex Hides The Hurt

Colson is back on track with this book– back to the level of The Intuitionist. I am thoroughly enjoying the playful nature of the subject matter– a nomenclature consultant is hired to rename a town. The musings on names is delightful. I am also struck by the description of people who are “other”– because the main character is black, whenever he encounters other black characters, they are simply described as “man” or “woman”; but when encountering whites, it’s “white man” and “white girl.” I like it. It reminds me that 99% of every other book is written in the other vein. And it reminds me of how my parents describe people– I’ve always been struck by their insistence to clarify that someone was a black guy, versus just being a guy. Hopefully this is a generational tic that will devolve out of use.
Now finished, I am well pleased with the entire story. The question of Freedom vs. New Preospera vs. Winthrop for the town, and the ultimate choice by the consultant (Struggle). His limp. His amputated toe b/c Apex really did hide the hurt as his toe got more and more infected. I like the way Colson teases out the story, parses out piece after piece, mentioning the narrator’s “precondition”, “incident”, even the considered names for the town. Lucky (new founder) vs. Albie (Winthrop old founder) vs. Regina (mayor). Muttonchops the bartender & the housekeeper who wages war on the consultant’s hotel room. The fact the nomenclature consultant remains nameless throughout.

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Who knew the true story of Warren Harding’s presidency could be so sad and interesting? Warren went from being an aw-shucks editor of the Marion, Ohio newspaper to being maneuvered into office (first Senator of Ohio, then President) by Harry Daugherty, the conniving and scandal-inviting grafter. The question of Harding’s black ancestry is raised more than once (and denied). Once Harding is President, he takes his responsibilities seriously, and begins learning about the world and its ills, arguing for civil rights, labor laws, global disarmament. His theme is very much discouraged by the old guard, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, the perpetual presidential-office seeker. Harding’s friends begin taking advantage of their newfound privileges immediately, transferring the Teapot Dome oil reserves from the Navy to the Dept of the Interior, where rights are handed over to a civilian in exchange for $250k. There is also scandal involving bribe-taking for booze makers during prohibition, and a Veteran’s Hospital graft scheme.
Throughout the story, the events are recreated by one Nan Britton, Harding’s young lover from his hometown of Marion. She describes stalking him from an early age, contributing a poem to the paper, bicycling by his house, spying on him in his offices. In her twenties, she follows him to Washington where he has just been elected Senator. Right before Harding embarks on the journey across the country (where he will end up dying in San Francisco), Nan becomes pregnant.
The author notes that in 1931 Nan Britton published a best-seller, “The President’s Daughter,” telling about her life with Harding and doing her best to salvage his reputation. Royalties from the book opened a home for unwed mothers. Her book contains quotations from several of his speeches, including this from a July 21, 1923 speech shortly before his death: “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask– what may I do for my country?”
Harding seems the forgotten predecessor of People’s Presidents such as Kennedy and Clinton.
Recommended by Old Bean

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