December 21, 2004
49. Thinner Than Thou, Kit Reed
You know, when I saw this book I was really intrigued by the premise. Science fiction where the premise is a dystopian future that values body image above--almost to the exclusion of--everything else. Too fat or too thin, and you get locked up until the "problem" gets resolved.
I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately, by page ten, I was rolling my eyes.
Friends, this is a Bad Book. And it's bad on multiple levels. First of all, it's preachy as hell. And I say that as someone who, initially, agreed with Reed's premise (i.e., our nation's focus on body image is destructive). When you're preaching to the choir, and the choir is yawning and rolling their eyes? You're too preachy.
Second, Reed has a love affair with exclamation points and present tense in this book. Neither is a healthy relationship. The dialogue... well... I can tell that she's trying to go for ultra realistic dialogue, but here's the thing. Ultra realistic dialogue makes for horrible prose. Rendering every vocal pause, every 'um', every 'like', does not make your writing interesting. It makes Baby Jesus cry. Want proof?
"...We pay through the nose to look better and none of it really works... And every lousy bit of originated here. It's also. Agh. Ah." The woman is grieving. She can hardly get out the words. When she does they come up like a little fusillade of hair balls. "Ack. The endgame phase of Solutions is here."This is a major dramatic moment in the book, and I spent it trying to figure out if the 'agh' was supposed to be back in the throat or farther forward. And also? 'Ack' will kill any dramatic tension around it.
Also, for a book that purports to be so body image positive, her portrayals of fat characters are absolutely appalling. Enraging, even. The character for whom we're supposed to have the most sympathy is an anorexic teenager. We're supposed to resent the people who are force-feeding her, resent anyone trying to 'cure' her. The fat characters, without a single exception, are presented as every negative stereotype you can think of--the literary equivalent of those horrible stock neck-down shots that accompany every news story about obesity. The fat characters are all utterly incapable of turning down food, they are helpless before it. When Annie (the anorexic--get it? get it? Annie the Anorexic?) is trying to flee the evil people who are making her eat, a fat girl named Kelly accompanies her (although, of course, she can barely walk and slows our heroine down). Kelly, although her life is in danger, absolutely has to stop and take the doughnuts from the sleeping guard. Because she can't resist. Because she's fat. Another fat character winds up in the custody of the evil fitness guru because his mother (whom he lives with, despite being an overwhelmingly successful executive) pushes him into a Barcalounger and flips up the footrest. And of course, he is too fat to get up by himself. I am not denying that people have been immobilized by their size, but you can't tell me that someone who clearly has no other issues as far as mobility is concerned could be turned turtle just by a recliner. This character replaces sex with food, and has some serious mommy issues. Aside from the characterizations, the language Reed uses to describe her fat characters is anything but accepting, and hints at a strong sense of disgust on her part. They don't walk. They waddle. They shuffle. The bigger they are, the less human Reed makes them, and in so doing, undermines her own message.
Finally, her worldbuilding makes absolutely no logical sense. In her world, religion has been literally driven underground by the all-powerful Reverend Earl, fitness guru. The United States government has apparently vanished from the face of the earth, and forget civil rights. All of this in a future so close to our own that people still drive cars and watch DVDs. How could anybody take a look at the world we live in and think for a minute that religion would be banished by fitness in the space of ten to fifteen years? Especially when there are increasing signs of religion combining with fitness? Who needs Reverend Earl and his theories of the "Afterfat" when we have televangelists preaching health and wealth doctrines, when you have diet books coming out that are essentially WWJE (what would Jesus eat)?
This book is so bad and infuriating, I've only just scratched the surface. It's poorly written and was, for me at least, offensive. I think I finished it only out of sheer stubbornness. And because every time I thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, it did. I read books like these so y'all don't have to. Honestly.
48. Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller
This is a book I stumbled across at work, and it was honestly something of a revelation. Miller, a youth pastor about my age and writing for my generation, manages to describe a Christianity that's worlds closer to one I can reconcile, not only with my own conscience, but with what I know about the Bible. In doing so, he turns pretty much everything I was taught as a child on its ear.
Instead of a collection of rules and steps to follow to salvation, he says, Christianity should be a relationship between a person and God. Along the way, he expresses some pretty interesting opinions on things like the radical right and their political involvement, among other things.
Of course, I don't agree with him completely. He spends far too much time "reassuring" us that he does think things like homosexuality and premarital sex are sinful--an angle that really detracts from his overall message. Still, it was a pretty inspiring and thought-provoking book. I'm definitely going to check out his other works as well.
December 04, 2004
47. Incubus Dreams, Laurell K. Hamilton
Ah yes, my resolution to never again actually spend money on a LKH book has been confirmed and strengthened.
I don't even know where to begin. Some of you may have already seen my recent Livejournal rant about this book. I simply cannot believe that ANYBODY at the publisher bothered to even look at this before it was put into print. Certainly nothing resembling an editor got their hands on it. I have never ever seen a "professionally" printed book come out with more typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors, continuity errors, etc., etc. Ever. Y'all, the 1st edition of Tribe 8 had a better copyeditor, and some of y'all understand what I mean when I say that.
So we have about 400+ pages of increasingly improbable and repetitive sex acts with various supernatural beings in various human and inhuman forms--yes, that's right, this is the book where Anita finally does fuzzy, and I don't care if I'm spoiling anybody on that fact. This is also the book where there's finally a Richard-Anita-Jean Claude sex scene--something we might have actually CARED about five books ago--and it's as dull and pointless as the rest of the book. And when you're writing a book primarily about sex, and the sex scenes are boring? Not a good sign.
That leaves maybe about 150-200 pages for the actual crime-fighting, mystery-solving part of the book. WHICH NEVER GETS RESOLVED. I am not kidding. Oh sure, at some point we find out who's behind the string of stripper murders, but do we ever meet said character? No. Does the character get caught? No. After 650 pages, do we even care? No.
I think I finished the book because of anger. I really wanted to see if it stayed as bad throughout the whole thing. And maybe there was a sliver of hope too, that maybe, maybe it might get back on track. Well, it didn't. LKH has joined Anne Rice on the shortlist of authors I used to love, but now read for the sheer joy of mocking.
I still have the tiniest, teeniest bit of hope for the Merry Gentry series, but it's dying fast.
46. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
I know, I know. I should totally lose all street-cred as a cynic just for reading this book. And to make matters even worse, I'll confess: I cried a little bit at the end.
That said, this book alternated between being enjoyable and being annoying as hell. Parts of it were very interesting, and Albom is a better writer than I'd expected him to be. What irritated the crap out of me is that the book is shamelessly, deliberately manipulative. I cried not because I was caught up in the story or because I cared a great deal about the main character, but rather because Albom punched in the right code designed to make all but the stoniest of hearts feel a little misty. And that pissed me off, even while I was wiping my eyes. If you're going to manipulate me (I'm glaring at you, Stephen King, oh friend and bandmate of Albom), at least be a little more subtle about it--or do it by writing characters that I don't want to strangle.
So I dunno. Interesting ideas, but so over-the-top in places it just makes you want to roll your eyes. I can see why it's selling so well, but jeez people.
45. Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt
This book lies in the gray area between historical fiction and straight non-fiction. And for that, I love it. Greenblatt takes the facts we do know about Shakespeare's life (which are surprisingly small, considering how much we know about some of his contemporaries) and, using what we also know about that particular historical period, extrapolates some possible incidents and relationships that went into making him the man and artist that he was. I've read various articles and reviews of the book, some agreeing with Greenblatt's ideas, some finding them implausible, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the matter either.
However, the book was thought-provoking to say the least, and entertainingly written. Not everything here is a new ground--in fact, some of the ideas he suggests I actually read earlier this year in a fluffy bit of historical fiction called Will--but the way he presents it is new, a book of what-if. Very much worth a read.