Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Last Weekend's Reading

This morning is gloomy and gray, and when I got my newspaper off the front porch, I was reminded of another reason I'm fond of this time of year. My neighbor's lights were on, so his house had a kind of warm glow in the murky gloom. That made me think of when I was in high school and lived in the country, so I had a very long rural bus ride to school -- for a while, it was more than an hour and I had to catch the bus before 7 a.m. At this time of year, when the days were getting shorter but Daylight Saving Time hadn't yet ended, it was still dark for much of the bus ride, and I made the most of an otherwise miserable experience by looking at the houses we passed. I couldn't see through the windows, but in places where the lights were on, the windows had a yellow glow, the way small children draw windows as yellow squares when they draw houses. The homes looked warm, cozy and inviting, and I liked imagining that they were the kinds of homes you'd stumble upon while lost in the woods in a fairytale world. Your mind plays funny tricks on you when you spend an hour early every morning bouncing down barely paved country roads in an old school bus. Fortunately, midway through my sophomore year my dad started teaching at my school, so I always had a ride to and from school and no longer had to take the bus. Still, even now when I see lights coming through a window on a dark morning, I'm instantly transported back to that bus.

I mentioned that I spent the weekend reading, so here's some discussion of what I was reading. First, there was The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. This is another one of those books that straddles the line between fantasy and literary/women's fiction. I got it from the library, and they stuck a unicorn sticker on the spine, but my guess from the publisher/imprint, the authors giving endorsement blurbs and the "other customers also bought" books on Amazon that it's published as literary/women's fiction rather than as fantasy (since I no longer have a convenient local bookstore, I can't see where it's shelved). A graduate student goes on a walk, finds a mysterious old graveyard, reads the poem on a tombstone, then gets lost when she tries to walk back from the graveyard, finding herself at a fabulous house where a beautiful woman invites her to stay and enjoy the party she's having. Our heroine finds herself caught up in the glamorous world of the fae, but the glamour starts to fade and turn into real danger. When she escapes, instead of finding herself back in her own world, she's in a world out of a fantasy novel, under the protection of a sullen wizard (who gave me the slight impression that someone was writing Professor Snape fanfic). To survive in this world and maybe find her way back home, she'll have to learn to do magic, herself.

I mostly read this for market research because I'm trying to find where they draw the line between women's fiction with magic in it and fantasy with women's fiction elements, so it was hard to just read this as a book while turning off the analytical part of my brain. I think this one comes down to being more "women's fiction" because the focus is on the experience rather than on the plot. A fantasy novel would probably be more focused on a specific goal and driving toward that while this was about what it was like to live in that world and how it was affecting the heroine. I found myself imagining the book club discussion guide questions as I read. That might make it a little frustrating to fantasy readers who want someone to do something, but then those who get frustrated with fantasy novels because they want to spend more time just reveling in the world instead of rushing about on quests might really enjoy it. I found the title a bit misleading because I expected a title like that to go on a funnier, more satirical book. This book isn't meant as a comedy. I suppose all this sounds like a lukewarm recommendation. I didn't think it was a bad book at all, and I was engrossed in it. It's a "portal" book about someone from our world in a fantasy world, which is one of my favorite things. I just didn't love it the way I wanted to, based on the title and general description. Now I kind of want to write the book I thought it would be. Too bad the perfect title for it is already taken.

Then for something completely different, there was possibly the most unique romance novel I've ever read, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. What makes it so unique? It's a romance novel whose narrator is a man with Asperger's Syndrome, and it maintains that voice throughout in both hilarious and heartbreaking ways. Don is a geneticist who lives a very ordered, regimented life based on maximizing efficiency in everything. But he's lonely and has decided to find a mate in the most efficient way possible, ruling out things that he considers dealbreakers with a detailed questionnaire. Of course, no real woman can live up to the standards in his survey, so he gets a colleague to help him sort through the "maybe" responses from online dating, singles mixers, etc. When a woman shows up at his office saying the colleague sent her, he assumes she's part of the project, then is thrown totally off-balance when she's everything he said he didn't want -- and then when he finds himself wanting to see her again. Fortunately, he has an excuse. She's trying to find her biological father, and he's a geneticist. He offers to help her test the various candidates. Along the way, the two of them have all kinds of adventures, and he finds himself realizing that optimizing his life for efficiency has left out room for things like fun.

This is a really sweet, charming, funny book that I practically read in one sitting. I'm impressed with the consistency of the narrative voice and the way that clues the narrator doesn't pick up on but that the reader does kind of leak around the edges. Supposedly, this is in development as a movie, and I think it would make a good romantic comedy, if they do it well. The lead role will be tricky, though.

The scary thing was how much I identified with the narrator. I'm way too empathetic and emotionally sensitive to have Asperger's, but I do have a thing for efficiency and routine. I like to say I don't follow a set routine, but watch me twitch if a guest in my house uses the glasses that are supposed to be used for milk at breakfast for iced tea at lunch or if someone calls me at a time designated for something else and disrupts my schedule. It doesn't hurt for all of us to remember to make time for fun.

Speaking of schedule … I think I'm back on track with the writing and moving ahead, though I did hit a minor roadblock yesterday. I've got two parallel plots going on, and while I have one figured out, the other mostly exists to get the other character in place, so I have to figure out what she's going to be doing, without making it a re-tread of what was in the previous book. I think I have that figured out now, too, and we'll see in this afternoon's writing session.

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