Thursday, April 5, 2012

Annotation 5 - Chick Lit

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

In Confessions of a Shopaholic, author Sophie Kinsella uses a conversational, first-person writing style to put the reader straight into the life of Rebecca Bloomwood. Rebecca is bored with her job as a financial journalist. She would rather be writing about fashion. Her obsessive love with shopping has helped Rebecca develop a good eye for fashion, no matter the price. Every purchase she makes is another investment in her future or a reward to herself for trying hard to improve her life. She also turns to shopping to feel better after being utterly humiliated, which happens to her fairly often. Her perpetual shopping without regard to her own financial funds sends her into financial ruin. Instead of addressing the situation, she decides to avoid it by ignoring calls and hiding letters. Eventually, her financial situation and ignoring her job both catch up with her in this humorous, character-driven novel.

This book was a quick read, but I didn’t particularly like the main character. I found Rebecca Bloomwood to be extremely annoying, except for the short portion near the end of the book where she seemed to genuinely take interest in improving her own life instead of avoiding her problems and whining about it. I also found the streaming consciousness writing style to be particularly difficult to take in when it led from one obsessive consumerist idea of the need to shop to another. I had difficulty connecting with the main character, as I really couldn’t understand the extent to which she shopped despite her growing debt.

Warning: this paragraph contains a spoiler.
On the other hand, I can see how this book may be really appealing to someone. The book reminded me of sitcoms on television where the humor is developed by the main characters continuously embarrassing themselves. Rebecca Bloomwood went from one embarrassing situation to another. Despite her change of heart near the end of the novel, she proves within the last few pages that she really hadn’t changed at all. The only real difference is she gained enough confidence in herself to get the guy (finally, it only took 300 pages out of 310!).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Annotation 4 - Nonfiction

How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living by Karen Karbo

Karen Karbo provides a new take on the idea of biography with her book How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living. While the book describes much of O’Keeffe’s life, the focus is on what lessons can be learned from how O’Keeffe lived her life. Enjoyers of traditional biographies should be warned that while the book ends with the end of O’Keeffe’s life and discusses her earlier years towards the beginning of the book, overall, information is not presented chronologically. It could be easy to confuse the order of important events in O’Keeffe’s life while reading. Instead, the book is organized by important lessons: such as defy, grow, and adopt. Within the different lessons learned are descriptions of how O’Keeffe lived her own life. The author’s voice is also prominent in the text, as she relates the lessons to current times and brings in examples from her own life. While the biography definitely takes a new approach, the conversational writing style and humor make it a quick and highly enjoyable read.

Needless to say, I really loved this book. My freshmen year of college I did a research paper on O’Keeffe’s life and work. As an art student at the time, I was often told my style was just like O’Keeffe’s (mostly because I love flowers and my high school teacher challenged me to paint large, so for my portfolio I carried around a 3’ X 4’ flower). I had never really taken much interest in O’Keeffe before, but I fell in love with her work. However, the essays, biographies, and her own writings did not describe her as intimately as this book. The approach of telling her life through lessons focused on O’Keeffe as a person, not just an idol or artist. Before reading this book, I never realized O’Keeffe really wanted to have children. I learned more about one of my favorite artists of all time while reading, and I really think I can look at her more as a person than just an amazing artist. No one becomes that brilliant at one thing without giving up something else.

The only negative thing I have to say about this book is I wished it had more artwork. Each chapter was introduced with a relevant art piece, in color. However, the author mentioned many photographs and other art pieces that were not pictured. I know it is probably very expensive to print these photos in a book, but I really wish a few more had been featured. For example, she talks about how beautiful O’Keeffe was, particularly when smiling, but there is no picture of O’Keeffe in the book! Despite this, I would still strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Georgia O’Keeffe.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Annotation 3 – Women’s Lives and Relationships

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple follows the lives of two sisters, Celie and Nettie. Even though they are close, they spend most of their lives separately. Celie is married off to a widower, Albert, to work hard raising his rotten children and keeping his house. For all her hard work, she receives beatings for not being the woman Albert really loved, Shug Avery. When Shug comes to live with them, Shug gives the love and respect to Celie she had never had. This relationship helps Celie to discover her own independence and happiness. Meanwhile, Celie has no idea what happened to her sister. Nettie joined a family of missionaries and went to Africa. The missionaries’ children turn out to be Celie’s natural children, born from forced relations with her step-father. Despite the bleak and bittersweet tone, this character-driven novel is fascinating. The story is told by Celie and Nettie as letters written to God or her sister. The writing is eloquent, and the use of dialect enhances the book. Even though the book begins with disturbing circumstances, it becomes a moving and beautiful story about women becoming independent, religious, and content with life.

I was surprised how much I loved this book. At first, I was concerned this was going to be as disturbing as Toni Morrison’s novels. Opening a book on what appears to be a familial rape scene is not what I expect. However, I quickly became interested in Celie’s character and life. The beginning of the novel is very bleak, but the writing slowly brings in slivers of light and hope into Celie’s life, until her whole life is sunlight. She gains confidence, courage, independence, and gains an understanding of her own sexuality through the novel. Her journey is uplifting. The story is also really well written. I must admit that I did listen to the audio book. I expect the dialect may be harder when reading, but listening to the author read the story all dialect and word choice seemed perfect. I enjoyed this book enough to suggest it to others to read.

Special Topics Paper

Literary Fiction versus Commercial Fiction: Who Decides?

As an undergraduate student studying English, I always heard that the books we were reading were from the great canon of literature. After reading many books from this canon, I began to wonder why they were so boring. I loved some books, such as Jane Eyre, but I could never understand why anyone thought Gertrude Stein was brilliant or a must read. This made me wonder, who has the right to decide what is considered literature? To examine the topic, I will discuss possible definitions of literary versus other fiction, the controversy over these definitions, how others have defined literary fiction, and who decides what is literary.

In order to better understand this problem, I began by looking at the definition of literary fiction. According to Joyce G. Saricks, in The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, “Literary Fiction is critically acclaimed, often award-winning, fiction. These books are more often character-centered rather than plot-oriented. They are thought-provoking and often address serious issues.” Writing style and exploration are both important to literary fiction. As Saricks said, “no set pattern is the pattern.” With this as a definition, it could be assumed no two literary fiction books are the same. Literary fiction books also deal with real-life, universal dilemmas that often have no easy answers. These novels are often complex, multilayered, and can be told from multiple perspectives. Literary fiction often includes award winning novels that are not exactly comforting to read. These books can include unlikable, unreliable characters, difficult topics, uncomfortable scenes, and new ways of exploring language.

Other fiction, also called commercial or genre fiction, could be considered to include everything else. Therefore, this group contains all adrenaline genres, emotional genres, and some intellectual genres. This includes mystery, thriller, science-fiction, fantasy, adventure, romantic suspense, suspense, thrillers, horror, romance, psychological suspense, and probably many more. Here’s an example of what would not be literary fiction – a mystery. The most important feature of a mystery book is the plot, and particularly that the plot fit within the expected sequence. There is a problem, there is a person who goes searching for clues to solve the mystery surrounding the problem, there are dangers and other obstacles, and at the end the person looking for clues solves the mystery and figures out who did it. Another example would be a romance book. In a romance book, the most important feature is the romance itself. The books are predictable in that the ending must be happy. Genre fiction, or commercial fiction, is supposedly focused more on plot, quick action, and sales than wording, style, or characterization.
The problem with these definitions is that classifying a book is not that simple. The definition of how these genres are separated is a socially constructed definition that is not fully agreed upon. Because defining these categories is difficult, it has caused debate. If a book can be a literary bestselling fantasy, then it simultaneously fits in both categories. This undermines the categories themselves.

Most people have their own guidelines or idea of what literary fiction is. Even editors of literary fiction have differing ideas. Marc Fitten, editor of The Chattahoochee Review, said, "Literary fiction for me is primarily based in language” (Allen). “G.S. Evans, co-editor of The Café Irreal, believes that "in its broadest sense, literary fiction is fiction that attempts to communicate ideas, concepts or feelings that transcend the structural elements of the story, e.g., the plot, the characters, the setting” (Allen). According to Alan Davis, senior editor of New Rivers Press, "literary fiction renders an experience that has not been rendered before (originality) in language (style, voice, etc.) unique to that experience" (Allen). “I’m looking for books that are distinctive and not familiar; I’m not interested in midlife, mid-Manhattan angst,” said Jay Shafer, senior editor of Chronicle (Kinsella). Even though each of these editors publishes literary fiction, their definitions focus on different aspects of the genre as most important. This demonstrates that the people who publish literary fiction cannot even agree upon a definition.

People also create their own personal definitions of what literary fiction is. Nathan Bransford clarifies on his blog that “In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.” Another blog author gives one of the most confusing definitions of literary fiction I’ve ever read. Daniel Davis Wood states that “literary fiction is exactly what the adjective ‘literary’ suggests: not a work of fiction that possesses a certain set of “literary” freedoms, but a work of fiction that makes an issue of its own nature as literature, its very literariness. It is irreducibly literary, and therefore utterly unable to be translated into any alternative artform.” Ken Gelder as quoted in “The Opposite of Literature,” defined literary fiction versus popular fiction as different in three ways. “First, Literature is created by Author-Artists; popular fiction by writer-craftsmen. Second, readers of Literature read vertically ("seriously," slowly, skeptically); popular fiction is read horizontally (for "leisure," quickly, credulously). Third, Literature eschews commercial success; popular fiction embraces branding” (St. Clair). Finally, Robert J. Sawyer points out on his blog one distinct difference: “Literary publishing is done without hopes of making a lot of money, and often in small print runs produced by small publishers.” Overall, personal definitions of literary fiction show an even higher level of disagreement, or difficulty defining literary fiction.

As part of the controversy, there are people who seem to be anti-literary fiction. “Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post, who said literary fiction had collapsed on itself out of ''self-regard and self-promotion” (Shulevitz). B. R. Myers, writer of “A Reader’s Manifest: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness of American Literary Prose,” is one of the loudest anti-literary fiction voices. He “declared that the American novel had become convoluted and self-consciously ''literary” (Shulevitz). B. R. Myers also said:

“The dualism of literary versus genre has all but routed the old trinity of highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow, which was always invoked tongue-in-cheek anyway. Writers who would once have been called middlebrow are now assigned, depending solely on their degree of verbal affectation, to either the literary or the genre camp. David Guterson is thus granted Serious Writer status for having buried a murder mystery under sonorous tautologies (Snow Falling on Cedars, 1994), while Stephen King, whose Bag of Bones (1998) is a more intellectual but less pretentious novel, is still considered to be just a very talented genre storyteller.”
This anti-literary fiction sentiment is one argument that helps to fuel the controversy.

Morpeth, Headline director of fiction, says “"There is a lot of rubbish spoken about the literary/ commercial divide. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? At what point do you sit down and say this is popular and therefore isn't literary?" (Bone). Morpeth argues “that great authors of the 19th century — Austen, the Brontës, Dickens — ‘simply wrote books which appealed to lots of people and stood the test of time. A great novel is a great novel’” (Bone). Morpeth also points out that bestselling authors are not respected in the publishing business, and she thinks they should be.

The arguments for what makes something literary fiction reminds me of similar arguments about why a book is in the literature canon. In fact, the definition of a canon seems to fit well with the argument. “In its most recent manifestation, “canon” is used to refer to those texts which are passed on from generation to generation as being worthy of study, reflection, and admiration, those works which are believed in some way to be inherently superior to others” (Buchsbaum). The definition of what is literature, just as what is literary fiction, is not easily set. Julianne Buchsbaum concluded that “it is an inherent aspect of canons that they will always be in flux, that they will never be fixed, permanent, or unchanging.” If literary fiction is defined in a way that makes it superior to other genre books, it can be assumed that its definition is a social creation and therefore will change over time.

This brings us to the big question, who decides what is literary fiction? Everyone obviously has an opinion on the matter, but what opinions make one book honored as literary and another dubbed genre fiction?

Some may believe that the audience decides. In “Fantasy Goes Literary,” Kastenmeier is quoted saying, “Writers like Susanna Clarke and books like The Time Traveler's Wife are making it easier to package fantasy subject matter for a literary audience. The audience isn't defining literary fiction as narrowly as it once did" (Bond). However, this audience is often influenced by media and only given certain options by publishers. Therefore, the audience has little power until after the book is already categorized, published, and marketed

The media helps to popularize, promote, and make known literary fiction. “When it comes to popularizing literary fiction, the wider media is also playing its part in 2005” (Elliott). Magazines and literary publications are one way people find out about fiction. “There are hundreds of literary magazines, ranging from top-name publications that have been producing award-winning fiction for decades” (Allen). “The New Yorker has been providing some of that exposure. Always a bellwether for literary trends, for many years the taste-making magazine defined literary fiction solely as realistic fiction” (Bond). Critics, reviews, and awards also create exposure for literary fiction. The media promotes and makes known literary fiction, often being responsible for literary fiction that becomes a bestseller. However, the media can only promote literary fiction that has been published. It can be assumed that the fiction may already be categorized before it reaches the media.

The publishing industry can include not only the publishing house, but the editors and agents that help to promote the books. Sarah Lapolla, an associate literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. pointed out that authors don’t always know what genre their writing is in. “When I receive queries that claim to be literary fiction, it often turns out, after reading the synopsis, that they are for genre fiction (aka commercial fiction). The flip side has happened too. I request a supernatural thriller or dark mystery and they turn out to be much more literary than the author probably realized” (LaPolla). This quote demonstrates that the authors are not the ones who decide if their fiction is literary or not, in this circumstance, the agent is deciding how to categorize the fiction. The article “Fantasy Goes Literary” pointed out that the way a book was published, or marketed, changed what the audience thought of it. Books “that are essentially SF or fantasy are being published in a mainstream way, so that readers who do not identify with reading a particular genre don't feel alienated by a publisher's use of a genre label" (Bond). This article shows that how the book is published and marketed affects how readers understand the genre of the book, therefore showing that the publisher marketing the book is deciding how to categorize the book. The article “What makes literary fiction 'literary'?: What it is, how it's different from mainstream fiction and what its editors are looking for” focuses on asking editors what they define as literary fiction. Editor Alvarado stated, "I don't think mainstream fiction … takes as many risks with character, form, subject matter, or style as literary fiction can because [mainstream fiction's] primary concern is the marketplace" (Allen). In the end, the editors say yes or no to if a book is published and how the book is marketed. Overall, it seems the power currently lies with the publishing industry to decide what is considered literary fiction. This is not the case in self-publishing, but it would be interesting to see if any self-published books were considered literary fiction.

Currently, it seems the editors and the publishing industries have the power to decide what books are considered literary fiction. They may keep their audience in mind, but in the end, the audience has little say. I expect in the future the definition of literary fiction will continue to change as each of the genres continues to merge together as authors take new risks. Since created definitions are socially accepted constructs, in the future the definition of literary fiction will likely change. As self publishing becomes more prominent, the power of deciding may move from the publishing realm to another.

Allen, Moira. "What Makes Literary Fiction 'Literary'?: What It Is, How It's Different From Mainstream Fiction And What Its Editors Are Looking For." Writer 123.4 (2010): 30-34. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Bond, Gwenda. "Fantasy Goes Literary. (Cover Story)." Publishers Weekly 253.14 (2006): 29. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Bone, Alison. "Against The Snobs." Bookseller 5178 (2005): 25. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Bransford, Nathan. “What Makes Literary Fiction Literary?” Nathan Bransford. 26 Feb. 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. URL:<>.

Buchsbaum, Julianne. "Academic Libraries and The Remaking of The Canon: Implications For Collection Development Librarians." Library Philosophy & Practice 11.1 (2009): 1-6. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Elliott, Giles. "Literary Fiction Pulls Its Weight." Bookseller 5170 (2005): 19. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Heidkamp, M. and D. Maryles. "Creating Word Of Mouth for Literary and Midlist Fiction." Publishers Weekly 238.19 (1991): 34. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Shulevitz, Judith. "THE CLOSE READER; Fiction and 'Literary' Fiction." New York Times Book Review (2001): 35. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Kinsella, Bridget. "Now, a Literary Surprise." Publishers Weekly 248.51 (2001): 20. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

LaPolla, Sarah. “Literary vs. Commercial.” Glass Cases. Blogger. 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. URL: <>.

Myers, B. R. “A Reader’s Manifesto.” the Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. URL: < >.

Saricks, Joyce G. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction: Second Edition. American Library Association: Chicago, 2009. Print.

St. Clair, Justin. "The Opposite of Literature." Science-Fiction Studies 34.1 (2007): 139-141. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

Wood, Daniel Davis. “A Clarification: Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction.” Infinite Patience. Wordpress. 24 June 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. URL: <>.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Annotation 2 - Mystery

Mum’s the Word by Kate Collins

As the first book of the Flower Shop Mysteries, Mum’s the Word is a character-driven cozy mystery story following the “sleuthing” of Abby Knight, a spunky town meddler and owner of the local flower shop Bloomers. As a law school dropout and the daughter of a police officer, Abby feels compelled to help bring people to justice as she tries to solve town mysteries as well as other people’s problems. When her yellow Corvette is banged up in a hit and run shortly after someone is murdered nearby, Abby decides the incidents are connected and she must find out who the real culprit is. Marco Salvare, a good-looking ex-cop, new owner of the local bar, and a private investigator on the side, decides to help Abby find who hit her car. However, Abby doesn’t stop here. Despite Marco and other friends telling her to stop, Abby keeps searching for clues. Receiving multiple wrongful parking tickets and nearly being hit off the road does not stop Abby from trying to discover the truth and bring everyone at fault to justice. I am sure that this book is funny, suspenseful, and engaging to the right audience, such as someone who enjoys cozy mysteries.

I really didn’t like this book. This was the first book I have read that is classified as a mystery. While I was reading, I was so bored I had to fight the urge to skim for plot. The book was so predictable! Busybody pushes her nose into EVERYONE’s business and tries to figure out everything or fix everyone’s problems. She acts like a strong character, but turns out to be weak and frightened when she is in danger. Abby pretended to be super smart and on top of it, but turned out to be ridiculously clueless when it came to the most obvious evidence. If I was involved with researching into a murder of a crack addict, I might be really suspicious if I purchased “fertilizer” from his old boss and it was a box of 3 small baggies of white, odorless powder that was not fertilizer. Hmmm. That’s a tough one.

Also, Abby very quickly figures out all the suspects for her mystery, and what a surprise, it turns out to be all of them! To lighten the mood, she has a semi-attraction to cute looking alpha male flat character that helps her. She ends up loving him when he saves her life, which is actually a known problem. People tend to fall for their saviors. Then the book ends in a happy party at the bar where everyone she knows comes to hug her, congratulate her, and give her a slight smack on the hand for meddling. The ending reminded me of the annoying movies that end with a random dance party. Overall, this book was not for me, and I think the mystery genre might not be my thing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kirkus Style Review

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

A beautiful, hauntingly sad tale demonstrates the endurance of hard truths through stunning scenery, unforgettable characters, and beautiful writing.

The Thorn Birds follows three generations of the Cleary family. When the book opens, the family is destitute and living in New Zealand. The mother, Fiona, was from a higher class and was married off to Paddy after she became pregnant from an affair with a politician. She favors her one child from the affair over her many other legitimate children. Paddy’s rich older sister moves them to Australia to work her large ranch. Meggie, their only daughter, immediately becomes attached to Father Ralph, who favors her. Father Ralph is an ambitious priest hoping to one day to be at the Vatican. Meanwhile, Meggie’s family endures hardships from the land – drought, fire, rain, dust – and struggles among themselves with father son and mother daughter tensions. When Meggie is older, Ralph’s feelings for her become a passion he cannot control. This passion is his one struggle, for he cannot love her and be a priest. Rejected by Father Ralph, Meggie marries Luke, who only loves his work and his money. The family saga follows the Cleary family through war, forbidden love and tragic death to the third generation, where Meggie’s daughter Justine struggles to find a life for herself outside of Australia.

Despite the promise of sorrow in the opening words, The Thorn Birds enticing storytelling makes it impossible to put down.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Annotation 1 - Romantic Suspense

Homeport by Nora Roberts

Dr. Miranda Jones, an expert on authenticating Italian Renaissance bronzes, has the opportunity of a lifetime. She is called to Italy by her mother to authenticate a 15th century bronze, The Dark Lady, but her trip is delayed when she is mugged outside her house. After testing the bronze, Miranda is certain that it is an undiscovered work of a young Michelangelo, but this information is leaked to the press and she is fired. Later the bronze is discovered to be a fake, and her reputation is ruined. Shortly after the Renaissance bronze David is stolen from Miranda’s Institute, Miranda is forcibly woken in the night by the professional art thief, Ryan, who is furious that the stolen bronze was a fake. Miranda is certain she could not have been wrong, so she makes a deal with Ryan – they will work to find the real bronzes together. Their trip to Italy turns romantic, as each realizes their attraction, until the death of a co-worker sends them back to Maine. Mysterious deaths of people who worked with the bronzes, as well as threatening anonymous faxes sent to Miranda, set the uneasy tone of the book. A side story about Miranda’s brother Andrew’s drinking problem, recent divorce, and attempt to pull his life together flows nicely into the plot. The Jones’ curse, the inability for a Jones to ever have a successful relationship, stands between Miranda and Ryan. While some parts of the story are predictable, the ending is unexpected. This suspenseful page-turner of art, family and romance gets harder to put down the longer you read.

I found I enjoyed Homeport more than I expected. At first, I thought it was boring and hard to get in to. The main character was mugged at the very beginning, and I found it difficult to figure out why I cared about that or how that was an engaging beginning when it made no sense. The fact that no other events like that happened for awhile made it seem stranger. After the story was done beginning (100 pages or so), the fast pacing set in, the sexy art thief showed up, and the book began to get interesting. I was shocked that sex scenes didn’t occur until after halfway through the book. It didn’t seem like too much sex, like I thought it might be, but the amount did increase as the book continued. By the end of the book, the suspenseful fast-pacing was almost annoying, and I found I kept checking how many pages left until resolution.

While I was quickly able to predict what went wrong in the book, I had no idea who the anonymous threat was. I was shocked at the end, but the shock quickly wore off due to the ridiculous story as to why this character did everything. I know I’m vague, but I prefer not to add a spoiler. At the very least, I find it difficult to believe anyone could be so jealous as to commit murders. Homeport is not one of my favorite books, but I do not regret reading it. My final impression is that the book is okay, which gives it a 2 on Goodreads.

Appeals: Fast Pacing, Suspenseful Tone, Romantic

Read-alike Books
Blue Smoke and Murder by Elizabeth Lowell
Lost and Found by Jayne Ann Krentz

Read-alike authors
Sandra Brown
Iris Johansen
Jayne Ann Krentz
J. D. Robb