Tuesday, October 31, 2006

BAD Writer! Using Race as Description.

Kimber had a great post on her blog a while back about use of brand names and well-known products in novels. I kind of went on a tear in the comments because I think using brand names instead of descriptions is a sign of Lazy Writing. Makes me mad every time.

Yesterday, I encountered another sign of Lazy Writing makes me even angrier: Race as Description. The book, which shall remain nameless*, featured the following gems:

1) "A few seconds later, the door opened to show him a tall Hispanic male." (p. 59)
2) "At six feet even in height, Andre was a handsome African-American man who..." (p. 68)
3) "'It's our differences that make up our strength.'...To emphasize his words, he pointed the top of his beer to indicate an African-American couple on their right. Three seats over from them was an Asian family." (p. 86)

Maybe you're wondering why I am so pissed off. After all, it looks like the author went out of her way to highlight the diversity of her characters. But, listen, race is not a visual description. "African-American" describes a rainbow of skin-tones, hair colors, body-types and features. My dad has a dark-chocolate complexion, my aunt (his sister) has red hair, honey-colored skin and freckles - both are "African-American".

Likewise, "Hispanic" doesn't say squat, except that the person in question speaks Spanish. Are they Americans of Spanish origin? Maybe Mexican? Peruvian? Cuban? Ecuadorian? Argentinian? Dominican? NewYorican? "Hispanics" can be anything from blond-haired, pale-skinned, blue-eyed European types, to dark-haired, brown-skinned people of Native American origin, to dark-complected people who routinely get mistaken for "African-American" here in the States. And don't even get me started on the Asian-Argentineans & Asian-Peruvians I've met - "Hispanic" encompasses all Spanish-speaking people, so they count, too.

And while we're on the subject of the word "Hispanic" - why would a writer use the same careless, a-cultural catch-all that Richard Fucking Nixon used to lump all Spanish-speaking peoples as a visual description? The only reason I can think of is that the author thinks that Hispanic is a race, and that race is a description. (That description of Carlos occurred before the character uttered a single line.)

Except, she never describes the white people as European-American or white. Here's a description of a person whom I will assume is white (despite, or rather, because of, the lack of any racial signifier): "A petite receptionist was dwarfed by a large brown workstation...She had her blond hair pulled up into a tight bun and was dressed in a thin light blue sweater set and a pair of khaki pants." (p. 46)

I don't get it. There's an African-American character, a "Hispanic", even a Vietnamese-American character, and yet this blond chickie doesn't at least get a shout-out to her "Polish-American" features or "Nordic-American" ancestry. Instead, the author lets the character's name, "Kristin Delinsky," say "Nordic-Polish" for her. So why the hell do we need to be told that some guy named "Carlos" who sprinkles his dialog with Spanish words is Hispanic? Or that "Andre Moore", who makes Gone with the Wind slave jokes (slave jokes! p. 123) when the heroine tells him to do something is black?

Perhaps the author is one of those people who thinks that only non-white people have a race? When she writes "man" or "woman" she means "white man" or "white woman" - everyone else gets a racial modifier. Quote #3, above, describes a crowded theater. Only the nonwhite members of the crowd get listed by race. There is no mention of a "European-American" family enjoying themselves.

I hate that shit, mainly because it paints the author as the sort of person whose default image of a person is a white person. I'm not calling the author a racist or implying that all her linens have eye-holes cut in them. I'm sure she means well - it's pretty obvious she's trying to be all diverse and multicultural and shit. The thing that makes me angry is that instead of looking around her to see that people of other races come in all shapes, sizes and shades, and that the standard Census categories for race are woefully inadequate as description of that spectrum, she took a lazy shortcut that ended up insulting at least one of her readers.

Writers ought to be able to observe or fabricate individuating details and convey those details in their descriptions. But if all this author sees is race when she looks at or imagines a person, I'd rather she didn't do us multicultural types any favors.

I once dropped an acquaintance for referring to me as her "biracial friend" in a conversation that had nothing to do with race. If that's all I was to her, if that was all she saw, I'd just as soon not be a part of her world. Race is no substitute for visual description. Name-checking the races of friends or characters does not make a person - or an author - appear multicultural or color blind. Instead, it does just the opposite.

* for copyright's sake, the book was "BAD Attitude" by Sherrilyn Kenyon


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bettie Sharpe: Uninational Woman of Mystery

Apparently, I am a Mystery Woman.

Which Ultimate Beautiful Woman are You?

You are the mystery woman
Take this quiz!

One caveat: Mystery Woman, or no, I would never wear that sort of body jewelry - or would I?


Monday, October 16, 2006

The End by Lemony Snicket

This isn't a review. Really. I haven't even read the book yet. This is just a warning. You may not see me for a week or so. I'll be savoring the thirteenth and final installment of "A Series of Unfortunate Events". I'll be reading it slowly, like a kid with a lollipop - loving it but trying like hell to resist the urge to devour the thing in one great big bite. And no matter when I finish, it will be too soon, because this is the last book in the series - a fact that both elates and depresses me.

And to anyone who has ever wondered why I hate series books, please reread the pathetic paragraph above. Then recall that I have spent years buying these books, and now have thirteen of the damned things sitting on my shelf making me coo in admiration at the beauty of a completed collection, even as I silently lambaste myself for being such a sucker.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a book to read.


Sunday, October 8, 2006

This is Not a Review, Either

What did I do this weekend? Aside from too much time spent on the more dilatory sections of Southern California's highway system, I read a little. Okay, a lot. Time to get some blogging mileage out of that reading by not reviewing that book. As with other entries, which were also not reviews, descriptions are half-assed and ratings are assigned wholly by whim.

Magic Study, by Maria V. Snyder
Synopsis:Part two of what I hope will be a three-book, and not a five-book, series finds our intrepid heroine, Yelena (see, this time, I remembered her name) once again making a few friends and many enemies while reuniting with her long-lost family and discovering still more hidden strengths and magical talents. Oh, and fighting a serial killer (-2 smileys for an unoriginal villain), and the pissed-off sister of the villain from the last book(-5 smileys for not-so-twisty plot twists that I have to spoiler tag), and a lost prince, and a(nother) sadistic soldier who wants payback because Yelena kicked his ass (-10 smileys for using a character almost identical to the B-plot antagonist of the first book).

From start to finish, this book was more of the same. Which barely slowed me down, as I devoured the thing cover-to-cover in one sitting. Like Poison Study, this book was a fun, fast read that left me wanting more. (+4.75 smileys for nicotine-like addictiveness, -1 smiley for sequel bait). When the first serving is good, why pass up seconds?

Rating: Ѱ+ (The Cyrillic alphabet is so underutilized in modern grading systems, don't you think?)

Kate R. was kind enough to give my previous Not a Review a shout out in her blog, so I thought I'd write one for one of her alter-ego, Summer Devon's books that I read a while back. In keeping with the theme of the book, all ratings and asides are invisible.

Invisible Touch, by Summer Devon
Synopsis: This is a story about an attractive woman who is cursed to be invisible to any man whom she finds attractive. Instead of incessantly whining and weeping about it, Bonnie, the heroine, does everything I'd do in the same situation, short of larceny (+1776 points for taking advantage of invisibility, -1066 points for lack of larceny). Bonnie thinks Jared is hot, so, of course, he can't see her. But does Bonnie let this get her down for long? Oh, no. Comedy and invisible hotness ensue (+1967 points for invisible nookie). Also, Devon doesn't just bring the funny (+1989 points for the funny), she delivers it steaming hot to your door in thirty minutes, or your funny is free. The scene where Bonnie used her relative invisibility to mess with the villain had me laughing out loud.

Invisible Touch was short, sweet, and tons of fun. Rating: 8 thumbs up (A fact known only by my music instructors and the owner of that Hallmark shop: I really am all thumbs).


Friday, October 6, 2006

This is Not A Review

Okay, let's get the preliminaries out of the way: I love to write. I love to read. I hate to write about reading. Still, I ought to get some sort of blogging mileage out of my book habit. So here are a few thoughts on books I've read lately. Descriptions are half-assed, ratings are assigned by whim.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Synopsis: A prisoner condemned to death gets a new lease on life as the food taster for a well-meaning military dictator. The setting is the best thing about the book. Picture your standard pre-industrial fantasy setting - the one with lords, ladies, and downtrodden peasants, but not elves & orcs. Then imagine it got taken over by fascists - the downtrodden peasants all get bread & uniforms, and if there were trains, they would run on time. (+5 Points for originality). It is against this improbable backdrop that the heroine (I forget her name) learns secrets, uncovers plots and discovers her own hidden strengths and talents...yadda yadda...finds love...yadda yadda... sequel bait (-5 points for sequel bait).

A fast, fun read. I've already got the sequel (-5 points for being a sequel) ready to go after I finish the Western I'm reading. Rating: 3.14159265 Stars

With the recent rabid fangirl drama going on at J.R. Ward's boards, I decided to post Not-a-Reviews for the books of hers that I've read.

Dark Lover by J.R. Ward
Synopsis: Clueless, beautiful, violet-eyed half-vampire chick in upstate New York has some instant attraction with gigantic glowy-eyed, leather-wearing blind vampire king. Campiness (+1 star), hoyay (+3 stars) , label-whore descriptions (-2 stars) and unabashed sequel-bait (-12 stars) ensue.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved to go to Camp! Silly, campy, quite entertaining. Rating: 82%

Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward
Synopsis: Clueless, dying Mary Sue Luce in upstate New York has some instant attraction with gigantic glowy-eyed, leather-wearing vampire warrior. Campiness (+2 stars), hoyay (+45 stars) , label-whore descriptions (-8 stars) and unabashed sequel-bait (-3,562 stars) ensue.

Every summer at Camp is always the same. You keep going until you outgrow it. While I will always have a warm glow in my heart when I see some kid wearing a friendship bracelet, I don't remember why I ever wasted so much time on the damn things.

Rating: 867-5309


Thursday, October 5, 2006

Imagined Histories: A Grand Hoax

I am simply dying to read An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin. Those who know me personally will find nothing unusual about this. I love unusual subjects. The history of the Spanish-American cochineal trade? I'm dye-ing to read it! The history of corn? I'm all ears! Class and gender hierarchy as seen in Victorian-era American furniture? I'm positively beside myshelf with anticipation. And don't even get me started on 20th Century crime scene photography...

A history of an obscure yet morbid trend in popular music sounds right up my nonfiction alley. Except, it's not - nonfiction, that is. Despite it's title, An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin is no history at all, but rather a flight of fancy, an imagined history of people, events and music that never really existed.

It is, in short, a hoax. Which is why I'm desperate to read it. There's something fascinating about historical hoaxes. From the Masons to the Mormons, historical hoaxes usually purport to reveal the mysteries of the past on a grand scale. An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin seems so minor, so low key, I doubt anyone other than historians of 19th century popular violin music (all two of them) would care whether it was true or not. I wonder what motivated the author to write it.

I have always wanted to write fiction, to entertain people with improbable yarns spun out of my woolgathering and daydreams. But someone who writes a fictive history and then tries to pass it off as fact must want more. He doesn't just want the goodwill of his audience, he wants their belief. And that is a much more intimate, and dangerous thing.