Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Caring for Your Introverted Characters

Anyone who has not read the essay, "Caring for Your Introvert", from a 2003 issue of The Atlantic, should go read it right now. Introverts and extroverts alike. It's apparently one of the most popular essays they ever published, and I love it. I am very introverted and I think this essay is the best, most spot-on description of it I've ever read.

I was reminded of this article at work one day this week. A co-worker (very much an extrovert) asked me if I wouldn't like to eat lunch with the girls. When I said that I was a little tired and would rather sit at my desk with a book, she looked at me like I had two heads. I wanted to shout, "I've been dealing with people since I got here, and my phone has been ringing off the hook, and now I just want to sit here quietly and not deal with anyone! It doesn't mean I don't like you, I just don't feel like talking to you right now!" But of course, I can't actually say that, because she's really a very nice person and besides, she just wouldn't get it. I wanted to print up a copy of this article and shove it in her face.

Okay, that little rant is over. But reading this essay again got me thinking about introverted book characters. I took a wander through my bookshelves and realized that I couldn't think of too many truly introverted characters. This surprises me. I think most serious booklovers are introverts. Not to say all are, but reading is a quiet, solitary thing best suited to us introverts. And I'm guessing that many writers are introverts for the same reasons. So why don't they write more introverted characters?

Well, anyway. Here's a list of the introverted protagonists I could come up with:
  1. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. He has to be top of the list because he's probably the best-known introverted character ever.
    "I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
  2. Beth in Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Beth is an example of an introvert who is also shy. I think a lot of people think shyness and introversion is the same thing, and it's really not.
    Her father called her "Little Tranquility," and the name suited her excellently; for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved.
  3. Captain Horatio Hornblower in Beat to Quarters (and all the rest of the Hornblower books) by C. S. Forester. Horatio is described on the jacket flap of my copy as "endearingly self doubting" which sums him up pretty well. And he likes his quiet time:
    Bush, the first lieutenant, was officer of the watch, and touched his hat but did not speak to him; in a voyage which had by now lasted seven months without touching land he had learned something of his captain's likes and dislikes. During this first hour of the day the captain was not to be spoken to, nor his train of thought interrupted.
  4. Princess Ani in The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale. I love this book because it proves that an introvert can be a better ruler/leader than an extrovert. It also gave me the term "people-talker," which is great:
    "Some people are born with the first word of a language resting on the tongue, though it may take some time before they can taste it. . . . The gift of people-speaking. Many rulers do [have this gift]. And people listen to them, and believe them, and love them. . . . It can be powerful and good, and it can also be dangerous."
  5. Lena in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares.
    It was her last breakfast with Bapi, her last morning in Greece. In her frenetic bliss that kept her up till dawn, she'd scripted a whole conversation in Greek for her and Bapi to have as their grand finale of the summer. Now she looked at him contentedly munching on his Rice Krispies, waiting for the right juncture for launch time.
    He looked up at her briefly and smiled, and she realized something important. This was how it was supposed to be. This was how they both liked it. Though most people felt bonded and comforted by conversation, Lena and Bapi were two of the kind who didn't. They bonded by the routine of just eating cereal together.
  6. Valancy in The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery. Like Montgomery's more well-known Anne, Valancy is dreamy and imaginative, a home body.
    She also amused herself by picturing Barney and herself going to the dances and dinners in the houses on the islands, but she did not want to go in reality. Once they did go to a masquerade dance in the pavilion at one of the hotels up the lake, and had a glorious evening, but slipped away in their canoe, before unmasking time, back to the Blue Castle.
These are some of my favorite book characters. I guess because I like to see an introvert save the day, or succeed in life, or just figure out how to be happy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Title: Strong Poison
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Published: 1995 (originally 1930), Harper
Category: Mystery
Rating: 6.5

Lookie, I used my brain icon. It's the first time. Dorothy Sayers was actually the reason I came up with the brain. When I was creating my icons, I'd just finished reading Gaudy Night (also by Sayers). I really loved the book, but it was definitely more of a mental workout than is usual for me. I mean, the hero (Lord Peter Wimsey) asks the heroine (Harriet Vane) to marry him in Latin! And she answers in Latin. I had to look it up to see whether or not she said yes.

Dorothy Sayers wrote a whole series of detective novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. Strong Poison is the book in which Harriet Vane is introduced. Harriet is on trial for murdering her former lover, who she was *oh horror* living with outside the bonds of marriage. I guess in the '30s this was scandalous. And surely it must be a small step from this sort of immorality to murder.

Lord Peter is a rich gentleman whose hobby is solving crimes. He attends Harriet's trial and decides on the spot that he wants to marry her. So, first he must find out who really poisoned the victim with arsenic. Was it the nurse? The lawyer? The rich aunt? Or the smarmy cousin? Maybe it was suicide.

It's a really clever detective story. And I loved to see Lord Peter, who is usually cool as a cucumber, flustered around Harriet and then frantic when he thinks he may not figure out who did it before she is convicted. And he's just funny. "What a perfect Victorian you are, Charles. I should like to keep you in a glass case."

And don't let the brain put you off. If you like a good whodunit, these are great books. Busman's Honeymoon is my favorite so far.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ummm, chocolatey goodness.

For anyone interested in the best chocolate cake recipe ever, click here to go to Twin's blog. I guest posted about the yummy cupcakes I made today. (I baked! And they turned out! I'm very proud of myself.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Title: Angels Fall
Author: Nora Roberts
Published: 2006, Putnam
Category: Contemporary Romance/Suspense
Rating: 7/10

Every so often, maybe every couple months, I get this overpowering yen to read Nora Roberts. I don't think I've made it through her whole backlist, but I'm well on my way. I don't really know why I like them so much. All her characters are basically the same. It's like in every book that same character is plunked down into a different life and set of circumstances. But they're all generally really cool lives. And I have to respect a woman who has been able churn out, what, three bestsellers a year for the last 25 years or so. She must have one hell of an imagination.

Angels Fall is about Reece Gilmore. She was an up-and-coming chef in Boston when one night armed robbers go on a shooting spree in her restaurant. Reece is the only survivor among all her friends and coworkers. Obviously she's pretty messed up. The experience leaves her paranoid and a bit emotionally unstable. Two years later she arrives in Angels Fall, Wyoming. She starts to settle in, taking a job in the local restaurant and dating a writer named Brody. Then, one day when hiking, she sees through binoculars a man strangle and kill a woman. She reports it to the police, but because of her background, everyone just assumes it was a delusion and nobody believes her. Except for Brody. So she and Brody must find out who did it themselves.

Usually in murder mysteries, I never guess who the bad guy is. And in this one Nora does a pretty good job of casting suspision on all the townspeople. But it actually turned out to be who I thought it was. YAY me. I feel smart.

Anyway, this is classic Nora. I liked it as usual. And maybe that's one of the reasons I enjoy her books so much--you always know what you're going to get.

BTW, I've been thinking of starting to read her J.D. Robb books. Can someone tell me whether I need to start at the beginning of that series? Or can I just pick up any old one?

Thursday, May 25, 2006


According to Mugglenet, the publisher of Bloomsbury says that the 7th Harry Potter book will probably be published in 2007! YAAAAAAAYYYYY! YAAAAAAYYYY!

I was worried that Rowling would make us wait forever. Can't wait, can't wait! We can finally see if Snape is actually evil or not. I think he is.
Title: Kiss Me, Annabel
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2005, Avon
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6

This is my first Eloisa James. I'd heard good things about her, so I picked up this, which I think is her most recent book.

Annabel Essex is a girl on the prowl for a rich husband. She's been poor all her life and has decided that all she really wants from marriage is security and wealth. She's disappointed in this dream when she is compromised (yes, the age-old plot staple of romances) and is forced to marry Ewan Poley, a Scottish Earl who appears to be poor. Most of the book covers their journey to Scotland when the two, who are basically strangers to each other, get to know each other. And kiss a lot.

I liked this book very much. The characters were lovely and interesting, and the writing quite nice. Very smooth with witty dialogue. My only problem, and it was a pretty big one, was that there really wasn't much conflict in the book. Annabel wants to marry money. Ewan, turns out, is rich. Annabel thinks Ewan doesn't love her. Of course he does. I kept waiting for the problem that these two people were going to have to overcome, and it just didn't come. It made for a very meandering kind of book.

And the scene in the middle of the book where they stay at the farmer's cottage didn't seem to have a point or add anything to the story. It was almost like she needed to add an extra 20 pages, so she just stuck it in.

That said, I did like James's writing style, so I think I'll go ahead and order Much Ado About You from the library. It's the previous book in this series about Annabel's sister, Tess.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Book Loot

Sunday was Brooklyn Public Library's annual book sale. Look at all the books we got for $15. Yippee.

Best finds:
  • The Borrowers by Mary Norton -- A great childhood favorite.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon -- I've read my copy so much that the spine is starting to go. Plus I think I stole it from my mom. So maybe I should send this one to her. Or not. I love this book, though I couldn't get into any of the sequels.
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville -- Happy to find this one because I had just placed an order for it on Amazon and was able to cancel it still. That's $7 I can spend on some other book.
  • Pompeii by Robert Harris -- I actually already have a copy of this, but Twin loved it too and she had that look in her eye like she might steal it someday.

A library sale is one of the few times when I can buy used books completely guilt-free. I never gave used book buying a second thought until I started working in publishing. But now I know how hard it is for most authors to make a living, and for publishers (even the big conglomerates) to make a profit. On the other hand, the environmentalist in me still shouts, "Reuse, reuse!! You're killing trees!" And they're so much cheaper. Cheaper = more books = happier Jennie.

So I've made a compromise. I let myself go at library sales (I'm supporting my library!) and on dead and/or bestselling authors (Nora Roberts really does not need my money, ditto for Jane Austen). For everything else, I try to either buy new or check out from the library.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What I read

Twin has made the valid point that people who wander onto this site might want to know right off the bat exactly what sort of books I read and review here. So I'm going to explain and then link to this on my sidebar.

I read fiction, very occasionally I may post about non-fiction, but don't hold your breath. The genres I generally stick to are historical fiction, romance, women's fiction, mystery, fantasy, and young adult.

I like books that make me happy. The currently prevailing notion that "good" literature must be bleak and realistic and depressing drives me completely nuts. I read the newspaper. That's all the depressing I can take. Reading is my favorite hobby and I want to enjoy it. I don't want to finish a book and say, "yes, well, life's a bitch and this captures that so well." So screw the critics, I'll read what I like.

  1. Happy ending. Doesn't necessarily have to be girl+boy=living happily ever after, but it must a least have a satisfying conclusion.
  2. Generally I require a least some romance. Just a little will do. Doesn't have to be the whole point of the book.
  3. Likable characters. Smart characters.
  4. Originality. I hate cliched writing. I hate carbon-copy characters. Give me something fresh.
  5. Easy on the sap. Yes, I read romance. I love romance. That doesn't mean I want beds of roses and soul mates and cheesey lines. Blech.
  6. Easy on the gore. I don't like blood and guts.
  7. Easy on the scary. I'm a complete wuss about horror. Really just don't want to go there.
I'm sure I could think up more, but those are the deal-breakers. You may disagree with me, and that's okay. You should read whatever you like. But then you probably won't be too interested in my reviews. :)
Title: Sex, Lies, and Online Dating
Author: Rachel Gibson
Published: 2006, Avon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 3/10

This is the first Rachel Gibson I've ever read. And I have to say, bleurgh. I read a really funny excerpt from one of Gibson's books on someone's blog somewhere, can't remember now where. And I thought, ooh, she might be funny. Not so much.

Lucy Rothschild is a mystery writer. She starts online dating as a form of research for her next book. On one of her dates she meets Quinn, who she thinks is a plumber but is actually a cop investigating a serial killer who seems to be choosing her victims through online dating. And Lucy fits the profile. So even though he actually thinks she might be a psycho murderer, he falls in love with her anyway, because, ummm, she's so hot! Ehhhh.

The plot really doesn't hold up and the characters try to be interesting but don't quite make it. Lucy's the jaded beauty who thinks men are all rats and Quinn is the tough cop who's all about the job. They're characters, no wait, they're cardboard cutouts!

I feel mean now. So maybe I should give up on Rachel Gibson. Or maybe I just picked a bad one?
Title: Haunted Ground
Author: Erin Hart
Published: 2003, Scribner
Category: Mystery
Rating: 7/10

This is one of the first books in a long time that I read simply from having picked it up in B&N and thinking it looked good. Pretty much everything on my TBR list has been recommended to me, or is by a favorite author, or is something I've at least read positive reviews for (by someone or some source I trust). I had never heard of this book, or this author. I think I picked it up because it said it was a Booksense pick, which generally means it's a midlist book that got a lot of bookseller attention. I actually didn't buy it in B&N, because I'm poor and have made myself the promise not to buy books that I'm not sure I'm going to want to keep. I put it on hold at the library. Have I mentioned how much I love the Brooklyn Public Library? I LOVE THE BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY. 60 branches! Huge collection! Great online system! Yes, horrible public bathrooms, but hey, you can't have everything.

Haunted Ground is set in Ireland, present-day. A farmer is cutting turf in a bog when he uncovers the head of a young, red-headed woman. The police confirm that it is several centuries old (organic matter can be amazingly well preserved in bogs), and call in archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin. Through the book they uncover clues as to who this woman was and what happened to her. Threaded into this plot is the story of a local man whose wife and child have been missing for over two years. The local detective is still investigating whether they were murdered, and if so who the culprit is.

The two stories are entwined cleverly. The conclusion is very satisfying; both stories are tied up neatly, if a bit tragically, at the end. I really liked the tone of this book--very atmospheric with great descriptions of Irish settings and customs.

A good mystery, especially if you're interested in archaeology, forensics or Irish history. There is a sequel out, Lake of Sorrows. I'll put it on my TBR.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Title: Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies
Author: June Casagrande
Published: 2006, Penguin
Category: Grammar Reference
Rating: 6/10

I recently had a debate with my brother about the word "whom." I say, people don't actually use this word in speech, so it doesn't need to appear in anything but the most formal writing. He says he uses the word "whom." I'm going to laugh at him if he does. (Justin, I love you anyway.) Well, this book backs me up in the chapter "For Whom the Snob Trolls: 'Who'/'Whom' and Why You're Right Not to Care." Ha!

Usually I pick up grammar guides thinking that I'll read them through, but then put them down because they're boring. Yes, grammar is usually boring. But this book is so delightfully funny that I actually did read it from cover to cover. The author has a very pragmatic approach to language that I totally agree with: It is an ever-changing thing, and we really don't need to be killing ourselves following a ton of arcane and confusing rules.

This book goes over the most common grammar problems and sorts out exactly which rules you absolutely should be following, which are stylistic choices that you can feel free to ignore if you so wish, and rules that should just be tossed out the window. It's a very pain-free lesson. Her examples are hilarious and she is constantly making fun of copy editors (they are a seriously weird group of people).

Some highlights: In her chapter "Hyphens: Life-Sucking, Mom-and-Apple-Pie-Hating, Mime-Loving, Nerd-Fight-Inciting Daggers of the Damned," she says "Copy editors need hyphens like prison inmates need cigarettes and Karl Rove needs pentagrams and babies' blood." Yea, I hate hyphens sometimes. The chapter "Snobbery Up with Which You Should Not Put" defends ending sentences with prepositions. The last chapter is a glossary of "Satan's Vocabulary," word pairings that give people trouble, including affect/effect, compose/comprise, lay/lie, and rack/wrack.

Amongst all the jokes are some really good pointers. I'll be forever thankful for clearing up that whole lay/lie problem, because that's just confusing.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Title: Hoot
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Published: 2002, Knopf
Category: Young Adult
Rating: 7/10

Carl Hiaasen is a funny, funny man. And he can write. I've read several of his adult novels and they've all been good. My favorites so far are Skinny Dip and Basket Case. Some of his antagonists are sometimes a little too gritty and disgusting, and just plain evil (have you noticed I like to see the world a bit rose-tinted?) but, though they can make me uncomfortable, they are fantastic characters, drawn in razor sharp detail. And they are at least balanced by generally very admirable protags.

Hoot is Hiaasen's first young adult book. Like all his novels, it is set in Florida. Roy is a 10-year-old who has just moved from Montana. He is dealing with adjusting to a new home, and battling the thuggish school bully. Soon he joins forces with two local children who are trying to stop the construction of a new chain restaurant on a vacant lot, which is home to a few families of burrowing owls. The cute little owls are a protected species.

Good lessons for the kiddies, and adults too. Ecological preservation, of course, and also the importance of newspapers. A lesson I myself didn't need, as I have long had my own Clark Kent-ish role model. A brave man who battles injustice with questions and a pen, or, nowadays a laptop. :)

Hoot has been made into a movie that is coming out very soon. I hope it's good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Big presses make many books

For those of you who don't know, I work in the Production department at Penguin. We are in charge of coordinating the manufacture of books (their physical selves). So most of my job is dealing with the printers, and balancing manufacturing costs and production schedules, in an effort to bring books into our warehouse on time and on budget.

I've just gotten back from my first trip to a printing plant. We went to an RR Donnelley plant in PA, where a large percentage of our hardcover and trade paperback jobs are done. RRD is a huge conglomeration, and does most of the domestic printing for all the major US publishers. They do the text printing and binding only; covers, jackets, and inserts are usually done by a different company which specializes in 4-color printing.

The presses are really impressive. So huge. If anyone's interested, Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation of offset lithography, which is the method of printing these days. Rolls of paper (they look like giant rolls of toilet paper) run through the presses at incredible speeds. It's amazing to me how fast the presses run, and still manage to turn out clearly printed pages. Everything is automated--robotic arms shifting things around, conveyor belts with components whizzing through the place. The plant we visited produces about 240,000 books per day. And they're actually one of the smaller RRD facilities.

So, very cool trip. They put us up in this really nice inn and wined and dined us a bit. And for added entertainment, we had some drama with a coworker taking a little too much advantage of the free booze. There's always one. :)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Title: Broken
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Published: 2006, Bantam
Category: Fantasy
Rating: 7/10

I seem to be going a little nuts with the supernatural novels. It's a genre that's really taken off lately and I do like them. They're great escape books--the best ones create a believable, yet imaginative, complete world (that are way cooler than our own). They have to be full of detail, but not boring. And they have to impose the supernatural elements onto reality in a way that makes the characters bigger and badder but still allows us to relate to them.

Kelley Armstrong does a fabulous job of this world-building. This is the 6th in her Otherworld series. The first one, Bitten, my favorite, introduces Elena Michaels, the world's only living female werewolf. The second in the series, Stolen, is also narrated by Elena and introduces a whole cast of other supernatural beings--witches and sorcerors, vampires, half-demons, even necromancers. The middle books are told by other characters, but Armstrong brings Elena back as the narrator of this installment.

Elena is pregnant with her first child and very nervous about it. Being the only female werewolf in the world, she doesn't really know what to expect. She is sick of being coddled by her husband and the rest of the Pack, so she's glad for the distraction when they start investigating the theif of a letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper. The letter has somehow opened a dimensional portal, spewing zombies and 19th century serial killers.

This is a good story, but not my favorite. In my opinion, the best books in the series are those where she's introducing new narrators. Bitten introduces Elena, and Dime Store Magic introduces Paige (a witch). They're just more interesting than the sequels.

Armstrong has a website, with additional short stories and novellas that are very good.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Title: Dead Until Dark
Author: Charlaine Harris
Published: 2001, Ace
Category: Fantasy/Mystery/Romance
Rating: 7/10

I recently tried reading Laurell K. Hamilton's vampire series, but stopped because the first one was just too dark. So violent and icky. And you might say, "well, Jennie, duh, it's about vampires. They're dead people who drink blood, what did you expect?" But I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style stories. You know, nice vampires.

So a friend recommended Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series as an alternative. Dead Until Dark is the first. The premise is pretty cute. Sookie Stackhouse is telepathic, in that she can read people's thoughts. The problem is that she has trouble controlling it, so she is constantly assaulted by all the mental drivel that is floating around in the heads of all the people she comes into contact with. Can you imagine having to listen to all that? Obviously poor Sookie's social life is really difficult--especially dating.

Until she meets Bill Compton. He's a vampire who's trying to mainstream (live among humans). Bill's the first vampire Sookie has ever met, and she realizes that she can't read his mind. This is such a relief to her that she decides to befriend him. Meanwhile, a murderer is on the loose in her hometown and he seems to be targeting Sookie as his next victim. Sookie puts her telepathy to good use to see if she can figure out who the murderer is.

I enjoyed this book a lot--it's a pretty interesting mix of fantasy, romance, and mystery. Which by the way, I imagine makes it pretty hard to market. I found it in B&N in the fantasy section, which doesn't really seem right, but it doesn't really fit in romance or mystery either. I think there are five in this series; I'm going to go ahead and order the rest of them.