Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nonfiction Annotation - "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain

I chose to read a nonfiction book because, well, I do not normally like to read nonfiction. Sure, occasionally I will find something that interests me, and it usually is some sort of insider look at my rock idols, but I decided to switch it up a bit. I am a fan of Anthony Bourdain from watching his television shows for several years, and I was interested to learn that he essentially became famous because of a book he wrote while working as a chef in New York City. That book ruffled a few feathers and gained a lot of attention. So I have finally sat down to read it.

As I previously mentioned, it chronicles his time and gives an insider look at what it is like to work as a chef in New York City. However, it goes back much further than that, all the way back to his childhood and the first time he ever actually cared about what he was eating, which just so happened to be in France. From then on, Bourdain decided to fear no food and enjoy as much as he possibly could. This eventually led to him working in crappy restaurants as a dishwasher and then line cook during summers off of college, then to him dropping out of college and going to the Culinary Institute to become a chef.

The book also gives the reader an education in food, cooking, and the language and "tribe" mentality of cooks/chefs. If you enjoy learning about real life people, enjoy a good laugh and are not easily offended by the crude, you will enjoy this book.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Special Topics Paper - The feminist perspective on romance novels

“Six every second, 383 every minute, 23,006 every hour, 552,156 every day, 3,875,712 every week, 16,794,750 every month, 201, 537,000 for the year. That’s how romance books were selling in the United States in 1997” (Bouricius 1). In present day, that has not slowed down. With those kinds of numbers, you might think that every woman has read at least one romance novel, and that most women read them regularly.

While that may be true, there is also an always present argument amongst women when it comes to romance novels. What argument could that possibly be? Feminists argue that romance novels undermine women and set back their movement and that women should not be reading and writing these novels. However, as strong as that faction is, there is an equal faction of women who feel that romances are pro-feminist.

So what exactly qualifies as a romance novel? Joyce Saricks, in The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction explains that a romance novel has two key aspects:
First, the plot revolves around the love relationship and its happy ending; all else that happens is secondary. … Secondly, these stories are told in such a way that the reader is involved in the outcome of the Romance; the reader participates on an emotional level and experiences genuine satisfaction at the emotionally satisfying conclusion (Saricks 132).
While romance novels have changed over the years and with the times, one thing never changes: the happy ending. In a romance novel, as Saricks states, this means that the romantic relationship must end happily.

Even though modern romance novels are no longer restricted to a heterosexual relationship, when looking at the arguments of feminists who are against romance novels this is the type of relationship that is most concerning. For instance, “The idea of a lesbian romance becomes problematic: indeed, it is necessary to recognize ‘the heterosexism of ‘classic romance’” (Hollows 70).   The focus is on the dynamics between the female protagonist and the male “hero” in the story and the inevitable developing relationship between them.
With so many different kinds of romance novels out there, determining who wins the argument becomes much more difficult, as there are books that support each side’s claim. In her book, Feminism, femininity and popular culture, Joanne Hollows explains “It has become part of contemporary ‘common sense’ that romantic fiction is a ‘formulaic’ ‘trivial’ and ‘escapist’ form read by ‘addicted’ women” (Hollows 70). This view is shared by many feminists, as well as many people in general society of either sex.

In fact, this thought is so widespread that it has contributed to a significant amount of “shaming the reader”. Sarah Wendell, one of the co-founders of the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, explained the experience she has often heard about from her online community:
 They are embarrassed and ashamed by the reputation of the genre among those people who care about what it is you're reading. They feel awkward about the packaging, the covers and the descriptions, the bare chests and the o-face heroines depicted in lurid colors. They may not want to defend the genre to anyone, and thus hide it and keep it an intimate secret (Wendell).

I have personally been on the receiving end of this “shaming the reader” phenomenon. However, it was the fact that my staunch feminist stance was called into question in the process that really made an impact on me. Could a feminist not read romance novels without contradicting her beliefs?

One woman who believes that romance fiction is detrimental to women is Julie Bindel. In an article discussing the popular Mills & Boon romance novels, she discussed how rape features prominently in many of these novels. She also explains, “I do not believe in blaming women for our own oppression. Women are the only oppressed group required not only to submit to our oppressors, but to love and sexually desire them at the same time. This is what heterosexual romantic fiction promotes - the sexual submission of women to men” (Bindel). Bindel also quotes radical feminist Andrea Dworkin when she further explains, “This classic depiction of romance is simply ‘rape embellished with meaningful looks’” (Bindel).

It is indeed true that there are storylines in romance fiction, particularly older books or historical novels, which include the submission of the female protagonist to the male character, both sexually and emotionally. Addressing the argument defending Mills & Boon by saying that the female characters have changed with the times and become more sexually active outside of marriage and just in general, Bindel goes on to say that this new independent female character has caused the male character to become even more domineering and masculine to “keep the heroine in line” (Bindel).

Interestingly, author Louise Allen, whose books Bindel attacked in the article, wrote a rebuttal stating, “Sorry, Ms Bindel, but among the freedoms I insist upon as a woman is the right to my own fantasies. I do not read fiction I find distasteful, and I don’t write it either.” This rebuttal effectively brings up what I feel is the main contentious point in this battle, which is the right to have any fantasy, whether or not that fantasy has to do with submission to men. This same point also arises in the battle between certain factions of feminists in regards to pornography. However, that is a topic that would be worthy of another paper entirely.

Surprisingly, during this search for information pertaining to both sides of this argument, I found a rather large support of romance fiction by women, including feminists. In general, it seems that the negative connotation between feminists and romance novels is explored more in in-depth, scholarly articles, while much of the response from feminists who support romance fiction came from online sources such as author or reader blogs and news interviews. Now, this is not to say that there is not plenty of information in a scholarly article format from this point of view, as well, but an observation of where I found my particular sources. I was particularly interested in these blogs because it seemed to allow women to speak out about their true feelings, without as much worry about citing sources to back them up.

A great example of this is the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, founded by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. These women, who consider themselves feminists, started this blog as a place for romance readers to discuss romance books, as they themselves are avid romance readers. This site is now quite large, and the co-founders have written books on the subject of romance novels that are being used in courses at Yale and Princeton. They have also been interviewed by major news networks.
In an interview with Bitch Magazine, in response to a question as to why feminists should read romance novels, Wendell explains:
It’s a 50-plus-year-old industry comprised mostly of women writers operating their own businesses and producing a genre about women’s self-actualization, pursuit of autonomy, and acquisition of sexual agency for an audience made mostly of women, who buy over $1.4 billion dollars worth of books a year. No, no, nothing feminist or even subversive about that (Van Deven).

It is important to acknowledge that romance fiction is a very in demand genre that is almost entirely written by and read by women. A major goal of feminism is to bring women together and to support women in achieving equality with men. In that sense, the romance genre allows female authors to meet, if not exceed, the sales of fellow male authors.

In terms of the actual content of romance novels being controversial to feminists, romance author Zoe Archer says, “What romance novels show, ultimately, is equality.  Men are vitally important.  So are women.  And together, they can slay dragons, or stop the espionage ring, or whatever it is that needs to be accomplished—by working side-by-side, the hero and heroine both save the day” (Archer). Bouricius agrees, stating “Heroines of today’s romance novels are women who survive, who grow and change, who go through the fire and come out on the other end stronger for the struggle” (Bouricius 9).

It seems that the argument against romance fiction really comes down to the way that a person reads and comprehends the material given to them. Feminists who are against romance fiction see the content as another way that women are taught that they must be submissive to men. They think it is harmful for women to read and fantasize about what would be considered rape or abuse in reality.

However, feminists who support romance fiction see it as a way for women to play out their fantasies in a safe environment, as well as giving the reader a strong female protagonist to relate to while she goes through struggles, including falling in love, but feel that she is equal in every way to the male character. Most importantly, these women see the romance fiction industry as a place that women can become successful and where other women can support them and bond with each other.

While I do find it understandable that feminists can see some romance novels as being destructive, with the obvious sexual submission to the alpha male character in many stories, I would argue that that is merely a portion of all romance novels, and that those novels may allow a woman with fantasies in that direction to play them out in a much safer way than falling into an actual relationship of that sort. Also, it is not simply in the romance genre that that type of relationship or interaction exists.

There are so many different kinds of romance novels, for so many different kinds of people. It is impossible to lump them all together as being damaging, or even on the other hand as untalented drivel. It is not fair to the authors or the people who read them. As with any other genre, there are great works and terrible ones. However, you cannot deny the bond that romance fiction has brought between many women, as evidenced recently by the large number of blogs and online communities brought together by it. I think it is best summed up by Carolyn Smalley, a feminist and a Mills & Boone copyeditor when she says, “In so far as the heroine always gets what she wants, on her terms, in a strange way, Mills & Boon’s are feminist” (Dixon 41).

Archer, Zoe. "Zoe Archer: Another Feminist For Romance Novels." 8 June 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2012. <>.

Bindel, Julie. "Mills & Boon: 100 Years of Heaven or Hell?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 04 Dec. 2007. Web. 03 Mar. 2012. <>.

Dixon, Jay. The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990s. London: Philadelphia, 1999. Print.

Van Deven, Mandy. "YOU Read Harlequin?! ME Too!" Bitch Media. 15 May 2009. Web. 03 Mar. 2012. <>.

Wendell, Sarah. "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books." Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Web. 03 Mar. 2012. <>.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mystery Annotation - "Explosive Eighteen" by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum's romantic vacation was a disaster, and she's not talking about it. And neither are Ranger or Morelli. As if that wasn't enough, the moment she gets back to New Jersey, she finds herself in a whole mountain of trouble and for once it isn't her fault. The guy next to her on the plane never got back on after the layover, and now Stephanie finds out that the reason was because he's dead. The dead man had a lot of people interested in him because of a photo he was carrying. Turns out, only one other person saw that photo, and that was Stephanie Plum. Unfortunately, Stephanie swears it was a photo of Tom Cruise and all those interested parties don't believe her.

As if that wasn't enough, the bus that has been the new bonds office got blown up, Lula is under a potion and falls in love with a skip, and Stephanie's enemy Joyce Barnhardt forces Stephanie to let her move in her apartment and help her solve a case.

In this novel, Stephanie learns what it's like to be on the other end of a chase, and she doesn't like it one bit.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Romance Annotation - "Persuasion" by Jane Austen

I had chosen to do a "classic" in the romance genre, and who is a more classic romance author than Miss Jane Austen? I have been an Austen fan for a very long time, but the only book I had held out on reading was Persuasion. Why, you ask? Well, I had always read/been told that Persuasion was different than the rest of Austen's work and I took that to mean that I would not necessarily enjoy it as much as my favorite, Pride and Prejudice. While it is true that I did not enjoy it as much as Pride and Prejudice, I did actually enjoy Persuasion quite a bit.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the middle child of a vain and flighty baronet named Sir Walter. He and her older sister, Elizabeth, are more concerned with their social lives than about protecting the inheritance. This leads to them overspending and being forced to rent out their family estate to the Crofts. The Crofts are in-laws to Captain Frederick Wentworth, whom, seven years earlier, was engaged to Anne. Anne broke off the engagement at the time due to the influence of her family and friends who felt that Wentworth was not a good match for her as he had nothing to his name.

However, Wentworth has returned a rich man due to his success in the navy, and he has not forgiven Anne for breaking their engagement and does not know that Anne has been loyal to him all these years and still loves him. Anne must suffer through watching Wentworth court other ladies in front of her, all the while dealing with the unwanted affections of a distant cousin who the family hopes for her to marry. She does not trust him, as he has a mysterious and somewhat shady past.

Does Wentworth still love Anne? Will he ever be able to forgive her?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Romantic Suspense Annotation - "The Maze" by Catherine Coulter

I will admit, that out of all genres, I read the most romantic suspense novels. I love the mix of the romantic storyline with the often much-darker suspense theme that makes them such a page-turner. For this genre, I have selected one of the first books in a favorite series of mine, by Catherine Coulter. Coulter does a great job of providing details and insights into the killer's mind, while giving main characters and love interests that have more layers than most.

After her sister's brutal murder changed her life years ago, Lacey Sherlock is now a newly graduated FBI agent, assigned to the mysterious Criminal Apprehension Unit which is led by Agent Dillon Savich. Savich is well known throughout the FBI for creating a computer program that analyzes and helps identify serial killers. What Savich doesn't know is that all of Sherlock's training has been towards one goal: catching the serial killer who killed her sister 7 years ago. When the String Killer strikes again, this time in Boston, Sherlock is in a position to go after him personally. Sherlock becomes "bait" and comes face to face with the String Killer in one of his man-made mazes.

This is a fast-paced book that puts you in Sherlock's shoes as she deals with her feelings for her attractive boss and tries to solve the mystery behind her sister's brutal murder.


"Smash Cut" by Sandra Brown

"Into the Storm" by Suzanne Brockmann

"The Killing Hour" by Lisa Gardner

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kirkus Review - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In her first novel, J.K. Rowling takes us inside the world of ten year old Harry Potter. So far, Harry's life has not been the best, his parents died when he was just a baby and he has been living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin who treat him like a household servant instead of a family member. However, today is his birthday and something miraculous happens. Harry receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This leads to a rather spectacular showdown with his family and the realization that Harry can do magic.

Once at Hogwarts, Harry meets other students and becomes friends, particularly with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. He also makes some enemies. Harry discovers that his parents were murdered by the evil Lord Voldemort, and that he is the only person to ever survive an attack by Voldemort, which makes him a bit of a celebrity in the wizarding world. Harry and his friends soon must solve a mystery involving the Sorcerer's Stone and keep it out of Voldemort's clutches.

This first novel quickly draws you into the action and gets you hooked on the world of Harry Potter and his magical friends. The author provides an immense amount of detail, bringing this magical world to life easily in the reader's imagination. It is not often that an adult can read and enjoy a story told through a 10 year old's eyes, but Rowling manages to make the story one that people of any age can enjoy.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-590-35340-3
Page count: 309pp
Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Monday, February 6, 2012

Secret Shopper

For this assignment, I chose the Nora Branch of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library. While this is indeed my local library, it was still safe for me to use since the only times I am in there are to pick up items on hold and checking them out via self-checkout machines, so the librarians do not actually recognize me.

I walked up to the "Information" desk where 2 librarians were assisting other people and a third smiled and asked if she could help me.

"Yes, at least I hope you can. I'm hoping you can help me find a good book to read, I've basically exhausted all of the authors I read so I need something new."

"OK, what are some of the authors that you read?"

"Umm... I read Janet Evanovich. Oh and Catherine Coulter is another."

"So you like funny stories?"

"Well, yes, I suppose that would be right. But the Catherine Coulter novels aren't really funny, I guess I like the mystery stories in those."

"OK, hmm... well do you ever like fantasy or supernatural aspects in your stories?"

"Sure, I could be open to that."

"Well, have you tried Charlaine Harris?"

"No... I've never heard of her."

"She writes the books that the tv show True Blood is based on."

"OK yeah I could be interested in that."

At this point she turned to the computer and started typing. While I never saw what she was looking at, I assumed it was the catalog since she said she didn't have any of the Sookie Stackhouse books in.

"Well, since you like mysteries, have you tried John Grisham? He's very popular."

"Umm.. I've picked them up a few times but never really was interested in them."

She then took me over to the mysteries section and started pointing out authors as she scanned the shelves, such as Patterson and Grafton. She showed me where the Harris books would be, and there was the Shakespeare series so I got a few of those books. She also still handed me a Grisham book and said she really thought I'd like it, so I took that, too, even though I really don't care for him.

Overall, I think it was a rather successful trip, since I have never read Charlaine Harris, mostly because I'm not that into the show True Blood, but I had no idea about this other series of hers that actually looks pretty good to me. However, she really didn't ask me that many personal reading preference type questions and never showed me what she accessed online so that I could find some myself. She just took me to the mysteries section and pointed out some popular authors, not necessarily authors that lined up with what I told her. She was very friendly and helpful, but I think she could have taken the time to ask more questions and utilize more reader's advisory tools.