Monthly Archives: June 2014

Of Lovecraft and Sexual Rampages

Yesterday I visited Classicon, the annual pulp/paperback show coordinated by the Mid-Michigan Antiquarian Book Dealers Association (MMABDA) and the inestimably excellent Curious Book Shop.  I took so many pictures that I have no recourse but to split them between a few separate posts.  This is the first of three, titled to elicit maximum prurient interest and, ultimately, maximum disappointment.  Enjoy!

Antiquarian book shows are the stuff of dreams–provided your dreams feature genre fiction, decades-old erotica, and at least one weird dude hitting on a widow by telling her about the time he pooped himself in class.  (I think it was poop.  It might have been barf.  It was something that came out of his body, at any rate.  By the way, he followed the anecdote up with: “Anyway, what’s your name?” which impressed me, because I wager most people would have done the introductions before the poop story.  It takes a special kind of visionary to do it the other way around.)

(Jeez, where was I?)

Right, so.  The show was great.  Here are a few of the things I saw there.

Dirty Magazines
There’s a real dearth of proper men’s mags these days.  We can probably blame the Internet for that, as well as the recent fad of trying not to be such a drooling, slack-jawed ass-banana.  Fortunately, fans of obviously fake war stories and the problematic fetishization of foreign women can still get their fix.

ImageAs fun as it is to picture a bunch of topless women stampeding through the jungle, flinging their poo and calling to perspective mates with distinctive pant-hoots, I suspect the term “sexual rampage” more aptly describes what invading armies do to the people they invade, not the other way around.  I do like how this magazine included a story about people attacking cars for spare parts just because they could work the word “strippers” into the title.  Bravo!

ImageIt says something about our society that I can’t tell if the army is rescuing women from rape, or rescuing them by raping them.  Either way, I’m sure it’s a harrowing and not-at-all-made-up story.  And hey–at least they’re doing it “with safety.”

Image“China’s present day pirate queen”??  I think I’ve just found my new career goal!

 

Dirty Books
Pulp erotica isn’t rare.  Pulp erotica that actually delivers, however…Image“The fourth floor can’t be all that torrid if they’re doing it under the covers,” you say.  Well, hypothetical pervert, you’re exactly right–there’s not that much sex in this book.  In fact, having flipped through a number of similar tomes, I can reliably state that there’s not much sex in any of them.  Perhaps the authors need to review the definition of a tease

ImageThanks, TEEN WORKS.

That said, I did find one book that actually delivers more than it promises.

Image“Three’s a Crowd,” it says, and yet there are four women pictured.  Bonus!

Pulp Oddities
Then there are the bits and bobs that can’t be otherwise categorized.  For example, here’s all the proof you need that I am a twelve-year-old boy in a twenty-seven-year-old woman’s body.

ImageYes, yes, I know what “dick” means in this context, but the part of my brain that regulates laughing at things for ten minutes straight simply doesn’t care.  Anyway, look at that detective casually punching that dude in the chin.  That’s definitely something the other kind of “dick” would do.

ImageMore truth in titling!  If I woke up from a nap to find Satan putting a bunch of rats on me, that would, indeed, be “weird.”

At this point in the proceedings, the owner of the Curious Book Shop, who had seen me perusing several weird fiction publications, asked me if was a Lovecraft fan.  I said that I was.  (The truth is slightly more complicated: I love most of Lovecraft’s fiction, funny purple prose and all, but am really grossed out by his personal beliefs.  Dude once wrote a story wherein the twist wasn’t that the love interest had Medusa hair, but that she was part black.  Cthulhu give me strength… -_-)

Anyway, as it turned out, the book shop owner was a Lovecraft collector in his younger years, and he showed me some of the really special stuff he had in a paper sack behind the counter.  Stuff like this:

ImageThat, friends, is a book from Lovecraft’s personal library at his home in Providence, Rhode Island.  The sticker on the inside cover, which you can’t read because my cell phone camera isn’t that great, says “Ex Libris Howard Phillips Lovecraft.”  Stuffed in the book is a real photograph of H.P. and his muppety face, as well as an original clipping from a Rhode Island newspaper announcing a second collection of stories by their native son.  I was pretty darn excited about this, though I thought I kept it in check.  Only later did my husband inform me that most people reserve that kind of squealing and frothing for a One Direction concert.

What is wrong with me?

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Weird Finds: Puberty Books of the Damned

Last weekend, I went to an estate sale with my mom.  Between disappointing the host by not needing baby stuff and disappointing the host by not being able to cook, I managed to find a real gem: two ancient TEEN WORKS puberty books gathering dust on a book shelf.  The host gave them to me for free, which just proves that she doesn’t know a good thing when she sees one.

The TEEN WORKS books were first written in the 1960’s and were sporadically updated through the mid-1980’s.  They are outstanding–and by “outstanding,” I mean “alternately hilarious and deeply depressing.”  In this post, the first of an occasional series, I’ll examine why.

What If You Fall for a Nerd?
Some of the “information” in these books is legitimately heinous, but I thought I’d kick things off with a funny one.  Geek culture is so hip these days, it’s hard to remember a time where nerds were feared and shunned.  Thankfully, TEEN WORKS is here to remind us.

Image

“I’m the amateur philatelist your mother warned you about.”

Sweet Jesus, look at that nerd!  He’s got a book!  And a pen!  And you just know his shirt was buttoned all the way up three seconds ago!  That young lady better run before he uses his magnifying glass to, um…examine…something.

Lest you think that picture is just an empty hypothetical, TEEN WORKS hastens to provide you with the narrative behind the image.

ImageLook there, behind you!  It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a guy who pays fractionally more attention to necklace clasps than might be considered typical by mainstream society!

Nothing about the bus stop scenario seems particularly shriek-worthy to me, unless Horace Stevens (fantastic name, by the way) was carving a crude effigy of Tom Selleck into his bare thigh at the time.  The only thing about poor Horace that makes my skin crawl is this:

Image

I try not to swear on this blog, but a “jaunty little salute”?  Horace–what the fuck, man?

Anyway, now that you’re thoroughly smitten with this salute-throwing maniac, you need to figure out how to proceed.  And thank God, TEEN WORKS has your back on this one, too.

ImageI love that you’re supposed to ask yourself if your friend has a point, as if “green plaid shirts” might just be a valid reason to reconsider a relationship.  Also: radio-controlled airplanes and bugs are objectively great.  If your friend can’t understand that, it’s time to sever, dude.  You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.Image“Settling” is a real thing that happens, but the notion that dating a nerd is the ultimate compromise of your personal ambition is pure 1980’s.  Glorious.

All right, enough about Horace Stevens.  Let’s get into the really vile stuff.

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Mysterious Stranger Danger: The Troubling Case of the YA Love Interest

A boy in a horse mask

Pictured: Google image search’s definition of a “mysterious stranger.” (from channel4.com)

EDIT: Because there has been some confusion on this point, I want to clarify that this post is not meant as an attack on individual authors.  Rather, it’s a criticism of the social milieu that allows “aloof, mysterious boy” to be a major selling point in literature aimed at teenaged girls.  Within the context of the stories themselves, these boys may or may not be as distant or scary as the marketing claims.  The marketing may, indeed, run completely counter to the author’s intention.  That’s a given.  However, I believe the way literature is marketed says at least as much about our society as the literature itself.  I’ve edited the post to make that point less ambiguous.

I finally got a library card last weekend!

I know what you’re going to say: it’s more than a little shameful for an alleged writer to have traipsed about for nearly a year without a library card.  In my defense, I was working through a massive backlog of Kindle purchases, and there was no room on the docket for additional books from the library.  Also in my defense, the library’s like, a whole ten minutes away.  Who has the time, am I right?

At any rate, one of the first things I did when I got my card was comb through the electronic catalog in search of Young Adult fantasy novels.  I’ve been writing one for a few months now, and a familiarity with the field never hurt anyone.  As I went through the listings, though, I began to notice something.

Check out these blurbs for popular YA fantasy novels:

Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead….” –Amazon summary for Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Hmmm.  I’ve yet to read Divergent–from what was shown in the movie trailer, I gather it involves a totalitarian society, a boy with tattoos up his back, and teens getting classified by the worst substitute for the sorting hat this side of an unexploded bazooka shell–but I’m willing to take the blurb writer at their word when they say that Tris’ life is “brutal.”  One wonders, of course, how a child fighting for her life in a brutal police state would have time to feel “drawn” to a boy.  Ah, but that’s YA, isn’t it?  You need a little romance to hook the teen and pre-teen girls who make up the bulk of your audience.

But wait…what’s this about the boy seeming to threaten her?  That doesn’t sound like fruitful soil in which to plant puppy love.  The last time I associated with a boy who both “threatened” and “protected” me, he suggested I stop seeing my friends and told my parents I was too emotionally unstable to survive without him.  Maybe that’s just the marketing, though.  I doubt Ms. Roth was aiming for anything so sinister.

Ever since her sixteenth birthday, strange things keep happening to Seraphina Parrish.  The Lady in Black burns Sera’s memories.  Unexplainable Premonitions catapult her to other cities.  The Grungy Gang wants to kill her.  And a beautiful, mysterious boy stalks her.” –Amazon summary for Wander Dust, by Michelle Warren

Hang on: a mysterious boy stalks her?  That’s not a recipe for romantic tension; it’s a recipe for winding up locked in a rotting attic with a maniac who rubs doll clothes on his nipples.  I know people who have been stalked, and there was nothing exciting or fantastical about it.  If, instead of being “beautiful,” said mysterious boy weighed three hundred pounds and was constantly whittling tiny swords while staring Seraphina directly in the face, I guarantee the story would end with a call to the police instead of a grand adventure.  Hey, marketing team: maybe reconsider using the “beautiful stalker” angle to drum up interest in a novel.

When Emariya Warren learns enemy forces have captured her father, she’ll do anything to save him. Anything. Even marry a mysterious prince she knows nothing about in order to rally the strength to arrange a rescue.” –Amazon summary for Cornerstone, by Kelly Walker

Again with the “mysterious.”  I don’t know of Emariya and the prince end up together, but I rather hope they don’t.  Young women need to understand that “mysterious” doesn’t always mean “fascinating, with a greater depth of feeling than the shallow boys at my middle school.”  At best, “mysterious” means “shy,” or “in the witness protection program.”  At worst, it means “I have exhaustively cataloged more than seventy ways to make your skin into an infinity scarf.”

Kara needs an ally, or she might not survive Ourea’s monsters. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe.” –Amazon summary for Lichgates by S.M. Boyce

All right, I’m getting annoyed now.  I understand that a love interest sells novels, but does it always have to be the same love interest?  And does the love interest have to be so instrumental in the female protagonist’s personal journey?  Society has already convinced many young women that they cannot be complete without glomming on to the closest be-penised thing they see.  Why use marketing to play into that dysfunctional world view?

Well…because it sells books, of course.  But I like to think we humans are capable of taking the high road every once in a while.  Surely it would be preferable to offer an antidote to all the boy-craziness, to lure intelligent girls with the promise of an equally intelligent protagonist who succeeds or fails on her own merits without worrying about what some dumb (potentially unbalanced?) boy thinks.

Because here’s the thing: when a male protagonist has a love interest, she’s usually treated as an added bonus, something he gets as a reward for facing his demons and blowing up the secret jungle base or whatever the heck.  When a female protagonist has a love interest, he is usually presented (by the marketing team if not by the author) as a necessity, someone she needs in order to complete her mission.  Pepper in the wildly incorrect notion that boys show their interest by stalking or remaining aloof and mysterious, and you’ve got the ingredients for a pretty pathological view on love and what role love should play in a young woman’s life.

I apologize for this heated scree.  If it caused you any undue distress, you know who to blame…

…the Farmington Public Library.

Accidental Beowulf

I have here, in my hot little hands, quite a lovely tome.  It is the newly released version of Beowulf as translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’m not actually supposed to have it.

Beowulf: J.R.R. Tolkien Translation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beowulf (not to be confused with the much-lauded Wishbone adaptation, Be-a-Wolf) is a tenth century Anglo-Saxon poem about a Danish hero who kills three monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon.  It’s got so many of the elements of a modern adventure story–blood, guts, mothers–that you forget to be annoyed by how many extraneous H’s there are in people’s names, or how the demonym “Geats” sounds like a combination of “goats” and “yeast.”  It’s just that exciting!

As to how I accidentally obtained it…

Several months ago, I traveled to the University of Notre Dame to watch a National Theatre broadcast of Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein.”  This had everything to do with my love of Mary Shelley’s original, and nothing whatsoever to do with a certain B. Cumberbatch running around rather less than clothed.

Benedict Cumberbatch's bottom

Nothing to do with this whatsoever, and I resent any insinuation to that effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While in South Bend, my friends and I visited a Barnes & Noble.  In a forgotten back corner of said Barnes & Noble was a clear plastic box labelled BEOWULFTolkien.  What about Beowulf and Tolkien?  Well, there was some fine print there, but my ADD-addled brain wouldn’t allow me to read it.  Thinking I was entering a raffle, I immediately wrote out two slips (one in my name and one in my husband’s–he loved me for that) and stuffed them in the box.

Three months later, a man named Austin called me from South Bend and asked me to come pick up my book.  It transpired that I hadn’t entered a raffle at all–I had pre-ordered a forty-dollar book.  Two of them, actually, thanks to my doubling up on slips.  On top of that, I would need to drive to South Bend in get them.

I live in Detroit.  South Bend is three hours away.  When I explained this to Austin, he kindly offered to hold the book for a week to give me time to drive down.  Austin was a sweet guy, but he clearly underestimated the realities of the starving writer lifestyle.

A zeppelin.

Sure, dude. I’ll just jet on down in my gold-plated zeppelin and pay you in platinum ingots!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I wound up paying an extra $3.50 to have one of the books shipped to Michigan, and here it now sits, safe in my lap.  And it is a beauty.  Its dimensions are pleasing, its weight is handsome, and the paper-grain on the jacket is a sensual experience the like of which has not been seen since the closing of the last Roman bath houses.  I love it no less for being a completely accidental acquisition.

So: books and butts!  Overall, a very productive trip to South Bend.

Benedict Cumberbatch's bottom

“Beowulf is one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature to the fact that it is the oldest surviving epic poem of Old English and also the earliest vernacular English literature!” -Benedict Cumberbatch, “Frankenstein”

Weird Finds in the Value World Book Section

Ah, Value World.  It’s like a garage sale without the garage.  Salvation Army without any standards.  Your crazy Uncle Leroy’s attic without the decomposing corpse smell.  Though I am a Value World devotee (my family has been shopping there since I was in pre-school), even I have to admit that it’s a bizarre establishment.

That includes the book section.

Islam: Religion of Peace or War?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This “hard-hitting” religious pamphlet was with the magazines.  So which side do the authors come down on when it comes to a faith shared by hundreds of millions of people?  In case you couldn’t tell from the explosion behind the word “ISLAM,” I’ll give you a hint: it’s the bigoted and grossly reductive one!

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, at least the title strips away the facade presented by the smiling woman on the cover. To be honest, I’m really fed up with books about parents dying, and I’m not sure a super self-referential title is going to change that. Still, props for originality. Well done, book.

A bundle consisting of several wildly unrelated books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now you, too, can own The Quran, The Giver, and Roald Dahl’s The Witches all in one convenient bundle!  If you can get the packing tape off without shredding them to pieces, that is.

Captain Nemo DVD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join Captain Nemo and his young wards (child slaves?) as they battle against some really abashed-looking sharks (the one on the right looks like it’s apologizing for tooting.) But wait! Before you dive into the magical world of Nemo, take a look at his picture on the back of the box.

Extremely Caucasian Captain Nemo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, yes, Captain Nemo, just as Jules Verne described him: Caucasian, towheaded, and wearing a blindingly white turtleneck.

BONUS: The Most Patriotic Truck in the World

My husband and I encountered this beast on the way home from Value World.  If you find the man who owns this truck, you will have found a man with more patriotism (or dedication to extremely ironic vehicle detailing) than sense.

World War Champions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look, dudes, I’m as relieved that we won the World Wars as the next guy–but it was quite a while ago.  Surely the time for gloating has passed?

Mericah!  Undefeated World War Champs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Undefeated in World Wars I & 2, true. But there was this silly incident a bit later–rhymes with Schmietnam?

Jack Bauer picture on the side of a truck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sources confirm that this is indeed a picture of Jack Bauer from 24. And…there’s nothing I can say that’ll top that. Good night, folks!

Rebel Without a Clause: Let’s Break Some Writing Rules!

For four years, I taught SAT/ACT essay writing.  It was ball-achingly dull.  Standardized tests, you see, require a very specific, very rigidly-formatted style, the type of writing you’ve had tattooed on your cortex since sixth grade.  The hook.  The thesis.  Three body paragraphs offering supporting evidence.  The conclusion. The arrival of a team of paramedics who attempt to resuscitate you after you shoot yourself in the face to avoid ever again having to write something so boring.  I didn’t love teaching it, and the kids didn’t love learning it, in part because it bears so little resemblance to any of the writing you see in the real world.

Think about it: when was the last time you read an op-ed piece that went like this?

Recent scandals within the VA health system have shocked American sensibilities.  Eric Shinseki, the United States Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, should step down.  He should do so for the following reasons: he is incompetent at his job, he needs to give someone else a chance to lead, and he has dumb taste in shoes.  I will now expand upon these points with concrete supporting evidence.

Or a novel that began like this?

Margaret had grown weary of her quotidian existence.  She was weary for the following reasons: her boyfriend had dumped her, she had too many student loans, her IBS was acting up…

Et cetera, et cetera.  I understand why we all learn this style growing up.  It’s tight, cogent, and easy to understand.  It emphasizes the need for concrete supporting evidence (a need that loads of adults and the entire Fox News team have yet to internalize.)  It prevents our nation’s middle school students from trying to argue in favor of euthanasia by writing about the time they ramped their BMX bike off a sick jump (that’s a thing middle schoolers do, right?)  In short, it’s effective, if desperately, desperately boring.  Fortunately, as we grow older, we learn how to bend the rules to make our writing more engaging.

But just how far will the rules bend?  Surely some writing rules are sacrosanct–never to be broken under any circumstances?  After all, professional writers are always rattling off lists of definitely-dos and absolutely-don’ts.  Those lists must mean something.

Well, no.  Not really.  Your writing needs to make sense and keep the reader interested, but everything else is surprisingly flexible.  Here are some of the rules that popular authors have broken, are breaking, and will continue to break for the foreseeable future.

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