Ranty-pants: Judging a book by its cover

Hallo, poppinjays! Busy busy fortnight and a half here in Helheim. Slowly recovering from a severe case of ABH (Awesome Book Hangover) – the books in question being Stacia Kane’s Chess Putnam books, of course. Got a few books in the queue to very soon review (accidental rhyme, make a wish!) but today, I think I’m going to switch my usual villainess trousers for a pair of ranty-pants and step onto my soapbox. Don’t worry, it will be brief (not like the great e-reader rant of 2011).

Last night, I was finishing up the lovely Siege and Storm, the second in Leigh Bardugo’s wunderbar Grisha trilogy, when I realized that it and its predecessor featured that rarest of rarities, the gender-neutral cover. Behold, and be amazed:

siege and storm

Gorgeous, and inclusive!

Now, I realized I am a bit late to the gendered book cover discussion. Way back in May, YA author Maureen Johnson raised the issue on her Twitter, and wrote about it on the Huffington Post – which also featured a truly eye-opening gallery of cover-flips (check it out if you haven’t already seen it!). It’s not just a YA issue either – the reissue of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar caused quite an uproar a couple of months ago, and any stroll through the bookstore reveals some distressingly conspicuous design trends.

It’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s also upsetting. Gendering book covers is a feminist issue because, as the Guardian notes, female authors are the ones most likely to be negatively affected by covers featuring loopy type and a picture of a headless chick’s naked back. The unhappy truth is that some dudes just won’t read a book with a girly cover. They are yet to realize that a guy holding a book  – ANY book – automatically becomes the most beautiful guy in the… room (in the whole wide room), even if the book looks like this…

pride and prejudice cover

Actually, that would be pretty hot. I would totally buy that guy a kebab.

Anyway. The point is, whatever the reasons, gendered book covers are a thing and that sucks. I should mention that white-washed book covers are also a thing and that sucks even harder, but since I promised a short rant and really don’t fancy giving myself an embolism this afternoon, I’m not even going to touch that one. And damn it, there’s yet another problem in the form of genre cover tropes, which Chuck Wendig recently discussed. It’s bad enough that I read romances, but damn it, do they all have to have the same naked man’s torso on the front of them, advertising not only my low-brow tastes in ‘literature’ but my inherent, inconvenient, and utterly calamitous romanticism? Ugh.

Of course, it’s not all bad. There are some phenomenal covers out there, too. You’ve all had to endure my hero-worship of Joey Hi-Fi, designer of the drool-worthy covers of Wendig’s Miriam Black novels. Libba Bray’s The Diviners, the adult covers of the Harry Potter series, and basically every John Green novel are some examples of books whose covers are gender-neutral. We just need more like these, where the cover actually reflects the story being told within, and has nothing at all to do with the perceived and/or desired readership based – probably arbitrarily – on the flawed calculations of the publisher’s penny-pinchers.

Another cause for hope is the Recovering the Classics project, which is a “crowdsourced collection of original covers for 50 of the greatest books in the public domain.” And it is off the hizook. There are some bloody gorgeous covers (and you can order them as prints!). While there isn’t a large representation of female authors, and okay, yes, the few covers that have been submitted for books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women are pretty stereotypically girly, I think the idea of crowd-sourcing covers is a great tactic for ending the deluge of covers featuring cupcakes and teapots and six-packs (manly ones, not beer-y ones).

My suggestion is a lot less imaginative and, yeah, maybe a little Orwellian. I propose a return to the extreme simplicity of the classic Penguin covers:

everything is illuminated cover

The cons: uniformity, of course, an undeniable absence of visual engagement, and a maybe a touch of authoritarianism.

The pros: sleek. So very, very sleek. Also, the use of uniform covers would obviously remove any gendering or white-washing or tired genre tropes, and would force readers to select books based on the synopsis alone. We would have to be… cover-blind (sorry, couldn’t resist). And on a more personal note, these covers would also put an end to my endless quest to own every different edition of Wuthering Heights. My bookshelf and my wallet would be very grateful.

There’s a happy medium lurking in between these two extremes, probably. Perhaps, in the place of that delightfully quizzical bird, each book could feature a small illustration, so that the book cover designers don’t find themselves as unemployed as me.

And on that note – Book Cat!

book cat book tower

Oh no, Librarian, please, keep taking pictures and DON’T worry about rescuing me from being crushed by a precariously leaning tower of library books. (Rolls eyes, attacks.)

Cranky, cranky. Note to self: don’t interrupt Book Cat’s slumber to take 347 pictures with fancy new phone.

Exeunt, pursued by a bear!

Blah inspirational quote blah… Blah.

Happy New Year, everybody. Here’s hoping this one’s better than the last. I’m trying to suppress my natural inclination toward pessimism and be cheerful (ugh). It is, unsurprisingly, rather difficult. Do you remember that scene in 28 Days Later, when Jim tells Selena that “it’s not all shit” and his voice is all hoarse and Irish because he’s just been running and killing zombies and is also Irish, and his shirt is off and he’s so sexy despite being covered in zombie gore? And he holds her shoulders after she’s just almost chopped his head off, and he convinces her that life is worth living after all, even if merry old England has become a pseudo-zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic wasteland? Yeah, of course you remember. Anyway, I really need Jim to give me a little shake and a wee bit of encouragement. (Gods above, Cillian Murphy is hot, though, isn’t he? I’d fight zombies with him, if you know what I mean…)

Here’s some Eugene to keep our chins up:

So here’s to 2013. May it be full of good books, great ideas, finished manuscripts, more laughter than tears (unless they’re laughing tears, which is okay), a steady job, and sexy, sexy men. Who are also tall. And maybe also mute. Or Irish. ANYWAY.

No book review for today. I’m wallowing a bit. I feel all melancholy and gloomy. The reviews will come next time, when this new year feels less like a new pair of underwear. So you get a belated Christmas Book Cat pic:

I'm only allowing this because Christmas Sharpe has put me in a good mood.

I’m only allowing this because Christmas Sharpe has put me in a good mood.

And a bonus Book Cat with costume change!

In the words of that dithering idiot Hamlet, "O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth." Yeah. So sleep with one eye open, librarian.

In the words of that dithering idiot Hamlet, “O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.” Yeah. So sleep with one eye open, librarian.

And because it’s Christmas (or it was, anyway), and I need cheering up, and maybe you do,too, here’s Sharpe:

Richard Sharpe, hottest hottie in all the hot land.

Damn, Sharpe. That’s some first-class smoulder right there. I salute you, sir. Also, marry me.

Happy New Year, darlins!!!

Flappers make everything the cat’s pajamas

Happy Halloween! Also, sweet Samhain, if that’s more your thing. Dear readers, my personal life may be going up in flames as I write this, and there is a really good chance that I’ll start November literally living under a bridge like a really well-read troll (serves me right, I guess, after all those hobo jokes… c’mon, it’s a funny word!), but if nothing else is left to me, at least I have today. At least we all have today. The economy is shite, violent conflicts are waging across far too much of this planet, and the weather is alarmingly reminiscent of a History Channel documentary about the coming Mayan apocolypse, but today, my friends, today, life is good.

Yes, Boromir. Yes, it is.

Because today is Halloween. And it is physically impossible to be unhappy today. Here in the hellish suburb in which I currently reside, the skies are dark grey, the rain-slicked pavement is as pretty as the jet stone in a Victorian widow’s brooch, and everywhere rotting leaves, oddly beautiful in their fiery hues, serve the dual purpose of being festive reminders of the season and also making any attempt at walking in heels an utter nightmare. It’s Halloween, the time of year when we are not only allowed to embrace the dark and grim and horrifying things in life, to dress up and pretend to be someone else, to wander the world beneath that lovely old moon and demand candy from strangers who will ACTUALLY THEN GIVE US CANDY – hell, we are expected to do these things. And that is just awesome. I don’t care if you’re five, fifteen, fifty, or a hundred years old, today, just be happy. I’m going to try, anyway.

Enough yammering on, let’s get to the book, shall we? I know that’s what you’re waiting for. Today, it’s Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

The Story: It’s 1926 – what more do I need to say? It’s the heart of the Jazz Age, Prohibition’s in full swing, and the bright young things rule the world. Every Sheik and Sheba is living life to the fullest with a drink in her hand, Fitzgerald’s scribbling away, and the Harlem Renaissance is challenging established cultural hegemony with its dazzling explosion of African-American literature, music, art and philosophy. There’s also women’s suffrage, the fight for workers’ rights, and the Ziegfield follies.  In the thick of it all is Evie, sent from small-town Ohio to the bright lights of New York City to escape an awkward situation, and loving every minute of her supposed banishment. While she might not get along perfectly with her aloof Uncle Will, curator of the Museum of American Folkore, Superstition and the Occult, she adores living in the same building as her bestie buddy Mabel, and soon finds a new pair of pals in Theta, a true-blue flapper, and Hen, a brilliant pianist, both as glamorous as they are mysterious. Even the irritating pickpocket Sam and Will’s solemn assistant Jericho can’t bring Evie down – until a girl is found brutally murdered, beginning a series of gruesome killings that rock New York. When Will is called in to advise police on the odd occult symbols found at the murder scenes, Evie realizes that she might have to acknowledge the secret talent that got her sent away from home in the first place. Evie can read objects; she can hold a button and know what its owner had for breakfast, and a whole lot more. And Evie’s not the only one with a trick or two up her sleeve. Harlem numbers runner Memphis is struggling with his own gifts, trying to keep his younger brother safe and figure out why there’s a crow dogging his footsteps and why his dead mother keeps appearing in his dreams with words of warning…

Whoah. So, first of all, apologies for that monster of a plot summary. This book is freaking massive, and there are dozens of seemingly disparate storylines (that eventually converge in a brilliant finale, I might add), so a pithy summation is difficult, but I did try. Also, I’m… kind of speechless. I absolutely, positively, straight up LOVE it. This will probably come as a surprise to no one but me – as far as I can tell, everyone in the world loves Libba Bray, including ALA and YALSA. I don’t know how I missed that memo, especially because I am kind of a librarian. AWKWARD. But anyway.

Confession: I am mildly obsessed with the Roaring Twenties. This is my decade, the one I would time-travel back to if I wandered into Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (God, Hemingway was hot in that movie). As far as I’m concerned, I was born in the wrong era of history. I want to be a flapper, with rebellious shorn locks and scandalously short dresses and a talent for dancing, drinking, and dazzling the gents.

Oh, I’m meant to be reviewing this book, aren’t I? Okay, here goes: THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. READ IT. NOW.

There. Done.

No, but seriously. The story is impeccable. Flawless. I can’t think of a single thing I might have improved. The use of the supernatural felt truly fresh, when for a while it seemed that YA was to be inundated with the same old vampires and werewolves forever and ever, amen. Add to this the time and setting, which I felt was truly innovative – please more supernatural historical-fiction! – and a perfectly paced, truly suspenseful plot full of genuine surprises, thrills, and quite a few chills (I sometimes couldn’t read this book before bed, because I am that much of a baby), and you have what I like to call a perfect storm of awesomeness.

The characters are, in the words of Coffee Talk’s Linda Richman, LIKE BUTTAH. Flawed, fascinating, utterly charming, each of them felt real, complex, and vulnerable (except for the villain, who was scary bananas). Bray is a master of shifting point of views. The transitions were effortless, and each character’s perspective was distinct from the others’.

And don’t even get me started on the writing itself. Sweet baby Thor, this is what you call WRITING. The incorporation of ’20s slang was ingenious, elegantly done, and hilarious. Oh, and Libba Bray is a FREAKING POET, a queen among wordsmiths. This is prose at its best, the kind of writing that makes you stop and re-read passages and shake your head in awe and envy, the kind of writing you insist on reading aloud to everyone in the vicinity, even if they have no idea what you’re going on about because it’s the end of the world and no one has time for YA. The kind of writing that makes you want to rage at a world where books are relegated to arbitrary categories based on age when really everyone should just read everything.

Damn. And sigh.

Please please please read this book. It will make you happy. And then I will be happy.

Best line(s): The wind part of the prologue. You’ll see. Okay, here’s a bit: “The wind swoops over the tenements on Orchard Street, where some of those starry-eyed dreams have died and yet other dreams are being born into squalor and poverty, an uphill climb.” (p. 6). Man, this is GOLD.

Rating: Five out of five bob-and-shingle haircuts. Which I got. Because of this book. That’s how much I love this book. It does not look good on me, what with my Angelica Huston-esque handsome bones, but hey, I’m so happy anticipating the next book in this series that I don’t even care.

I’ll still take Heathcliff….

Autumn demands gothic romances with dark, brooding, inscrutable heroes. So I’m taking refuge in Jane Eyre (even though I kind of hate it and much much much prefer Wuthering Heights) and taking lots of moody walks through the woods behind my old elementary school. I may or may not be taking these walks in long, billowing skirts and chunky knits, with my hair all coiled up on my head in Victorian-style braids. Okay, I am. Whatevs. I BELIEVE IN MAGIC.

Now, Book Cat has some thoughts on Jane Eyre. I note he appears to have misplaced his usual elegance and wit, though he does make a good point…

HOW CAN ANYONE PREFER A DUDE WHO IS A MASSIVE JERK – OH, AND LOCKS UP HIS CRAZY WIFE IN THE ATTTIC – TO HEATHCLIFF? HOW? HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD??? TEAM HEATHCLIFF 4EVERRRR!!!

You know, while I usually detest the film adaptations of classic novels that I love, I think that in this instance, the movies perfectly illustrate the dilemma posed by great Brontë debate, and indeed, its resolution.

Because, c’mon. I mean, I think I’ve made it clear that I love me some of this:

So hot.

But even the great Fassbender cannot compete with this:

HOT! BURNING! SCALDING!!! OW OW OW–

Even Scarlett O’Hara swooned over him… sigh.

P.S. One day, my friends, we will have a legit, mature, intelligent, academic, fancy-pants literati-style discussion about this, I promise you. For now, though, just enjoy the hotties.

As they say on Spartacus…

APOLOGIES!

This cat is not Book Cat. With his freaky extra fingers (claws?), Book Cat would pwn this cat. Believe it, bruv.

God, I suck at blogging, right? WRONG. The mind-numbing mundanities of my drearily monotonous existence have conspired to keep me ridiculously preoccupied. First there was the small matter of grad school to deal with–which, by the way, I’m pleased to say is finally finished (yay, me)–and then I made the questionable decision to return to the family seat, a.k.a. Helheim, for a week. Mostly because I went to see Of Monsters and Men at the Phoenix (a-freakin-mazing!) but also because I hate fake London and paying for my own groceries. Once the high of seeing those Icelandic indie rock gods had worn off, though, I quickly remembered why the pink elephant in White-by is called Helheim, and even thoughts of Arnar banging on his drums like a Viking god of kynlíf weren’t enough to distract me from the madness of megalomaniacs, rageaholics, and sociopaths.

And then my step-father went to work and everything was cool. JOKES–he didn’t go to work, he’s a total bum. Lol. Silly you.

But seriously you guys, it’s been crazy. I’ve been back in Lundun packing up my shizz and let me tell you, thank the gods for my e-reader. I have more boxes of books that everything else in my tiny flat combined. Which would normally make me feel all uber-nerdy and self-righteous and cause me to strut around crowing “I’m a librarian!”… except tomorrow I have to carry these boxes of books down six flights of stairs because this apartment’s elevators are demonically possessed. So, a bit of cold water on that one.

So that’s what’s been going on. I have been reading, lots and lots and lots, and as soon as I’ve moved out of Crap City and back to the House of Horrors, I’ll be blogging about the books I lurved and the books I loathed, and also the books who are just going to be casual, no funny business-type friends.

But for now, here’s Book Cat, getting more writing done than me, the bumptious little bastard. Rub it in, T. Rub it in.

Those thumbs are just weird.

Cor, that cat’s got swagger.

How do you say Happy New Year in Elvish?

‘Sup, blogosphere. Been a while. Guess I can’t put off starting the new year any longer. Since we’re nine days in. Still, I couldn’t just rip the 2011 Mad Men calendar off my wall until Ukrainian Christmas, with all of its belated and desultory holiday gluttony, had finally trudged past, could I? (I’m telling you, one person should not be able to devour as many pickled beets and mushroom-stuffed pyrogys in a single sitting as I did. It was truly disturbing. And impressive.)

So I took a bit of a break from the interwebs over the Chrimbo hols. Got all ‘disconnected’ so I could ‘re-connect’ with people…yeah, right!

Yeah, right. And I'm the Elf Queen of Mirkwood.

What a holiday. Helheim wasn’t as hellish as usual, with step-Satan away on a visit to his homeland, the fiery, demon-populated pits of the Judeo-Christian concept of a punishing afterlife. Little half-brother, Idiot-Bra, is now a helpless, bed-ridden cripple due to a few months of hauling the slaughtered carcasses of innocent cows (what a puss. Shoulda chosen tofu, muthf-kka). Idiot-Bra only emerged from his cave of gleeful, Skyrim-filled convalescence to sate his unquenchable appetite for grilled cheese and chocolate milk. It was truly a Festivus miracle. (That he stayed away, not that he came down, I mean.)

So for most of the holidays, it was just me, Marmee, and Book Cat. A fortnight of secular Christmas revelry:  traditional Christmas smashing of bitter-memory-laden Christmas miniature houses (with festive Christmas hammer), a cruelty-free Chrimbo feast (for the animals, at least, ha ha), watching A Christmas Story for the billionth time and still laughing like a loon, a couple of pagan bonfires, and a Yule goat quest. Then there was the rest of it: all of the revenge missions, kickin it in the T-dot (shut up, that’s what I call it), knitting hubris, knee-crushing running, feline sartorial madness, endless TV and movie marathons (this shall forever be remembered as the Degrassi High Christmas), seeing a version of The Nutcracker that somehow misplaced its effin trepak (um, what the eff, National Ballet of Canada?), absolutely no writing at all (despite dragging every single one of my research books home in a weirdly literal example of “the road to hell” thing), and the only thing really relevant to this blog, so much reading my eyes turned into this:

The eyes of Robyn, reading

It was awesome. It was brilliant. It was the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER! (And I didn’t even mention New Year’s… holla NYC!)

So I’ll post what I read over the hols tomorrow. Which brings me to the purpose of this post, which, as usual, I have taken a zillion years to get to. The class for which this blog was created is, sadly, over (tear!). However, I find that this blog has become a part of me, as the great Garth Algar foretold it would. And while I may have cast off the sullied tatters of the old year in which it was spawned and shuffled into this pristine, shiny, and brand spankin new year with an eye to forget most of icky and accursed 2011, I will not abandon this blog. No, my friends, I fully intend to continue on with this blogging mission…quest….thing. So I’ll carry on, with only a few slight alterations. I’ll be blogging about books and book-related stuff, and reviewing and musing on what I’ve read, am reading, and plan to read – same old, except the books won’t be exclusively YA, as they were when this was a school-related blog, and there will be significantly less self-censorship. Which means more nerdiness, more weirdness, and more Book Cat. And more of whatever the hell I want. Boo-yah! 

You can’t see me, but I am totally doing my much-practised evil genius grin and accompanying evil genius laugh. If only Book Cat were here so I could do the evil genius stroking equally evil feline side-kick in lap thing. Sigh.

There. Business taken care of.

And now, in summation, here is a list of Things I Learned Over the Chrimbo Hols:

  • It’s really bad luck to wind up with Old Scratch for a step-father, but it’s slightly better luck when he cloven-hoofs it back to the netherworld.
  • Grete Samsa probably had a kick-ass Christmas while Gregor was upstairs whinging and freaking out.
  • You can never make too many “Christmas is coming” jokes while re-watching the entire first season of Game of Thrones.
  • Some people just don’t understand the need to spend hours building a bonfire on the smelly shores of Lake Ontario and then take less than a minute to jump over this bonfire. Once. Why do I even have to explain this?
  • Chocolate hedgehogs taste better than real hedgehogs (hedgehogs agree).
  • Not even the shards of a hundred thousand miniature Christmas village houses will satisfy your thirst for grandparenticide.
  • Christmas revenge is the sweetest revenge of all.
  • Toronto kicks fake London’s ass, but crumbles beneath the mightiness of true London.
  • Undoing days worth of knitting will reveal terrible, wonderful, frightening depths of profanity you never imagined you possessed.
  • A cat will only put up with so many photoshoots when he’s forced to dress up like a reindeer.
  • “Everybody wants something they’ll never give up!”
  • There is absolutely nothing in heaven or earth better than watching all three Lord of the Rings movies, back to back, in the most epic movie marathon of all, to ring in the new year. And then starting to re-read the books. For the eighteenth time.
  • The National Ballet of Canada will take a lot of your hard-won (read: scammed from Beelzebub) money and then stamp on  your beloved Christmas traditions and spit on your desire for authentic and established ballet choreography. Not that I’m mad or anything.
  • It is easier to play Vikings while wearing your hipster-y faux-fur vest and waving your umbrella sword than it is to write about Vikings.  
  • Reading is more fun when you don’t have to do it for library school.

Well, that’s all for today, folks.

P.S.

I did take down my Mad Men calendar. And you know what? All I could think was, KINSEY!!!

Paul Kinsey, where are you? Come back, I miss you! I would totally go for Ukrainian food with you, and then we could listen to jazz, smoke some Mary Jane and quote Eliot at each other!

It’s just not the same without you, Mr. Kinsey.