Bossypants by Tina Fey (★★☆☆☆)
I read Bossypants by Tina Fey because as a quasi publishing professional, I sometimes feel guilty for not reading things I know I’ll hate. I hated it more than I thought I would.
It reeks of I’m-so-special-and-I’ve-struggled-so-hard-because-I’m-an-upper-middle-class-brown-haired-white-woman. I’m an upper middle class brown-haired white woman and I can tell you, no you didn’t.
Also it’s action-packed with the hipstery racism and seemingly naïve ableism, I’m-not-like-other-girls–ism, fatphobia, and I-have-gay-friends-so-it’s-okay-for-me-to-be-homophobic mentalities that white feminism is so very rich in. She identifies as a feminist many times, but excuses sexism throughout and says all women should wear bras and get manicures (but don’t get plastic surgery or dress like a slut).
It’s also full of the tired I’m-a-celebrity-who-looks-down-on-everyone-but-I’m-different-than-every-other-celebrity-and-more-authentic-and-special attitude.
Of course, Fey regularly assures her readers that she’s guilty of none of those things because she went to public school and she’s not blonde and she’s been to bad neighbourhoods—and she just works so damn hard in her lifelong career as an entertainer with a university education.
And on top of being consistently obnoxious in those regards, the book is also boring, trite, and full of bad jokes. The writing itself is mechanically okay—its only redeeming feature.
Aug 29th, '13 | Post notes: 7
Book Review: Developmental Editing by Scott Norton (★★★☆☆)
While this book makes some helpful points about developmental editing practices, it’s rather poorly copy-edited and misses the mark in tone and scope.
Throughout each chapter, the writing switches abruptly from Norton’s advice to strangely written “case studies” of fictional developmental editors that seem straight out of a children’s textbook. The overall tone seems to miss the mark, as Norton uses clunky abbreviations and a third-person voice even though the book would be much clearer and more personal if it would just assume it’s addressing actual and prospective developmental editors and write to them directly. While this book could offer an engaging, candid account of Norton’s professional experiences, it’s instead strangely detached and passive, sometimes clumsily dropping a few tangential traces of individuality but completely avoiding relevant anecdotes. Why would Norton spend so much time composing the strange “case studies” of fictional editors rather than just frankly sharing his own experiences? That would certainly have been more helpful. Instead he comes off as dispassionate and aloof.
Moreover, despite occasionally alluding to the importance of compassionate, polite exchanges with publishers and authors, Norton’s example queries are quite blunt, and I got the impression that he’s rather contemptuous of other editorial roles. He often insinuates that copy editors, proofreaders, and typesetters are less skilled and less important than developmental editors. This is particularly off-putting given the overall shortcomings of the book that could have been remedied through better copy editing.
Norton’s guide unfortunately focuses too much on the overall layout of the book and too little on the actual details of refining the writing. Though it does make some helpful points about considerations and approaches for developmental editing and is easy to navigate, it isn’t at all inspiring. Its premise is good, and the book has few competitors, but it’s still poorly executed.
Mar 6th, '13 | Post notes: 1
Book Review: Practical Grammar: A Canadian Writer’s Resource by Maxine Ruvinsky (★★★★☆)
This is a great resource for anyone who wants a clearer understanding of English grammar. It also includes helpful general tips on researching, writing, and citing sources.
This book is very well organized. Its chapters are thematic, working logically from the parts of speech and through syntax to punctuation before wrapping up with the final chapters and writing, style, and citations. The writing is clear and accessible without being patronizing, and the explanations are plain and thorough. Each grammar section concludes with helpful exercises, and it’s easy to quickly verify your answers with the answer keys at the end of the book. Ruvinsky concisely and logically describes both basic and complex rules—so it’s a useful book for beginners and experts alike. You can read it cover to cover, and it has a pleasing continuity when you read it this way, but it’s also well indexed and works as an effective reference book to have if you’re ever unsure about a specific grammatical point.
But despite these considerable strengths, like most grammar guides this book sometimes falsely presents an absolute rule for situations that can actually be treated in different ways. It only tangentially acknowledges the different practices of major style guides, and it sometimes explains one practice as the only solution even when the issue is contentious just in Canada—not to mention internationally. Of course, this is “a Canadian’s writer’s resource,” and it makes sense to focus on Canadian conventions, but when so many Canadian writers work for companies beyond our borders, it isn’t helpful not to mention that there are international alternatives. And while the intended audience for Ruvinsky’s guide is writers rather than editors, it isn’t helpful to treat variant practices as absolute grammatical rules. If not for this tendency, I would have given the guide five stars.
All in all, though, I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in English grammar and writing.
Feb 17th, '13 | Post notes: 1
Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith (★★★★☆)
I respected this book more than I enjoyed it.
It’s very heavy, depressing, and anxiety-triggering so I took a long time reading it. It’s extremely well written and very perceptive, but I found its style difficult to palate. The narrative structure reminded me of film narration. The sentences are blunt and the syntax straightforward, but the description is poetic and the writing is very artistic. The book cycles through protagonists and tenses, giving it the feel of a series of short, vivid scenes loosely connected.
Through this almost cinematic style, NW presents amazingly vibrant images of a rough London neighbourhood and its residents. It explores themes of class, race, culture, identity, and time through a very realistic yet decidedly tragic lens. The characters are complex, relatable, and badly damaged. It leaves you feeling not so much that you’ve read a cohesive novel but that you’ve explored a series of realistic moments through the eyes of believable characters.
Through NW, Smith poses many disturbing questions and offers few consoling answers. It’s a difficult read, but it’s very sophisticated.
Feb 15th, '13 | Post notes: 2
Book Review: The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin (★★★★★)
The Farthest Shore (the third book in Le Guin’s Earthsea series) is more similar structurally to the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, than it is to the second, The Tombs of Atuan. While it lacks the strong female character dimension of the latter, it shares the wonderfully descriptive yet understated style and the complex characters and institutions of the previous Earthsea books.
The narrative this time focuses on a new character, a prince called Arren with no talent for magic who like Tenar becomes entangled in the adventures of Ged, now an older man and the Archmage at last. Arren, like Ged and Tenar in the previous books, is a fascinating and original protagonist, who is easily corrupted and quick to anger and pride, but who is compassionate and brave. With Ged, he travels to the ends of Earthsea to find a new evil (this time unrelated to the nameless ancient shadows that are the previous books’ antagonists) who has stolen the Old Tongue and its magic from the world. Their quest echoes that of Ged and Vetch in the first book, as it takes them over vast distances to an elusive target.
The story introduces us to new peoples as well, and Le Guin is very talented at creating believable, unique cultures and giving them a considerable impact on her stories in few pages. Like the first book, there are plot points that are impalpable and otherworldly, but Le Guin conveys them masterfully through her writing, and the result is an original and intriguing story that escapes the common fantasy vice of too much description.
Like the first two Earthsea books, themes of coming-of-age, corruption, trust, and friendship are important in The Farthest Shore. But interestingly, the book also offers insights on mortality and the importance of death as part of human life. Like the other books, it can be enjoyed independently, but as it fits so well with the series so far and as the previous books are also excellent, I recommend reading the series in order.
Feb 9th, '13 | Post notes: 3
Book Review: The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (★★★★★)
This is perhaps my favourite fantasy novel, and it’s among my favourite books. It shares the brilliant traits of its predecessor in Le Guin’s Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea: originality, complex characters, elaborate yet believable institutions, and a flawed yet deeply sympathetic protagonist. Its execution is equally successful, but it surpasses A Wizard of Earthsea in its imagination.
While Ged, the first book’s protagonist, figures prominently in this book (now in his middle age, after having gone on untold but alluded-to adventures since the first book), The Tombs of Atuan focuses on a very different and to me more appealing protagonist: a girl named Tenar, called Arha, who has been raised to be the high priestess of an ancient, sinister order and made the unwitting servant of the same dark powers Ged struggles with in the first book. She fascinated me as a character, because she is so unlike any other I’ve encountered. She’s vindictive and calculating yet naïve and compassionate, and she’s intensely apprehensive yet incredibly brave. She gives the book a strong feminist appeal, as she completely defies traditional female roles.
Tenar’s story is chilling, and there are much stronger horror elements to this book than there are in the first. Again Le Guin combines a fairy-tale–like third-person narration with evocative yet understated description, bringing to terrible life the vast subterranean labyrinth of the eponymous Tombs of Atuan, of which Tenar is mistress. Fascinatingly, the story fleshes out a mysterious and terrifying religion and its rituals with well-rounded, sympathetic characters. As with the first book, the characters are realistically ambiguous—neither wholly good nor evil—although the same cannot be said for the corrupting dark forces Tenar has been brought up to worship.
The plot is interestingly structured, and although nearly the entire story unfolds in the remote, tiny cloister called only “the Place” and the book is rather short, it’s very fast-paced and intriguing from cover to cover. It echoes the first book’s themes of fear, corruption, and coming-of-age, but it also provides insights on trust. It can be enjoyed independently of the rest of the series, and while I recommend the whole series that I’ve read so far, I recommend this book in particular.
Feb 7th, '13 | Post notes: 6
Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (★★★★★)
This is a great example of genre fiction with literary finesse. Le Guin is a talented author who writes brilliantly and who also develops a rich, believable, original fantasy world in her Earthsea series.
A Wizard of Earthsea takes an almost myth-like third-person narration, detailing the first adventure in the life of its protagonist, Ged, a hero who we are told goes on to further exploits. The book has an almost fairy-tale–like quality in its narration, and it’s rather short, but it also bears the intricacy and depth of a novel. It’s an interesting approach that is sometimes terribly executed (as in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust) but which Le Guin wields perfectly.
While the book hinges on key fantasy elements like magic, mages, rulers, dragons, and great academies, they are all inventively, refreshingly written. Le Guin takes an interestingly linguistic approach to magic, and the peoples and institutions she fills her world with are complex and well rounded—with none of the black-and-white, good-and-evil blunt duality common to the genre. Her protagonist is likewise imperfect, making him both sympathetic and heroic. Another refreshing aspect of the book is that the hero and most of the peoples in the book are neither white nor Euro-centric.
The structure of the plot is somewhat unusual, as Ged’s first journey is a largely surreal and disjointed one that takes him to strange lands and to the doorsteps of mysterious strangers. But despite the mystifying events, Le Guin pieces together a fluid, well paced narrative that’s difficult to put down. And amazingly, though the book is short and the narration somewhat clipped in that fairy-tale–like style, it’s beautifully descriptive and satisfyingly complete.
A Wizard of Earthsea artfully combines a huge scope with a compact scale. It deals insightfully with themes of coming-of-age, fear, and conceit, and it’s among the best fantasy I’ve read.
Post notes: 3