Are there alternatives to the GoodReads cesspool?

Apparently the answer is yes. Look, I signed up for GR when it first arrived, much like I do with most every social media platform, but I quickly realized it was not the place I’d hoped for. Few real reviews (and way too many skewed toward the low end of the IQ spectrum), lots of mere “star” ratings, and too much trophy-casing (people putting up books they’ve likely not read, but look good…. like resume padding.) Anyway, if you’re in the market for something better, this article might interest you.

I started using Goodreads in 2009 when I was still in high school. I’ve used it off and on over the years, weirdly dropping off use around my final year of college, and then—inexplicably—picking it back up again to do a 52 books reading challenge in 2018. I’ve been a regular Goodreads user ever since. In good company, I’m one of the 19 million others who use Goodreads today.

I primarily use the site for cataloging—it’s my method for keeping track of the books I want to read and the books I have read. That, and the handy reading challenge counter, help me track my progress toward my yearly reading goal. But that’s about it. For book discovery, community, tailored reading recommendations, I tend to look outside Goodreads because I’ve found there are places that serve these needs better.

On the acknowledgments page

Should you thank everyone you ever bumped into or pare it all back to the basics? Depends, says the Agony Editor at Q&Q. Personally, I’ve spent the last few books paring back: simple covers, no author photo, short bio, short acknowledgments, etc. But this was an aesthetic choice after years of just following the trends. That said, I have a new and selected coming next Fall that spans 25 years of writing… A few people needed thanked for keeping me in art, food, and friendship over the years. I promise I’ll get dour and Methodist again once this is all done.

Publishing a book is truly a team effort. There are editors and copy editors and designers and publicists. And there are supportive family members and friends, first readers, and the writers who have inspired you. All of these people should be – and deserve to be – thanked. The question is whether all of them need to be included in your acknowledgements section.

Your friend is right about one thing: people do read the acknowledgements. But that doesn’t mean you’re under any obligation to pander to a reader’s expectations. How a reader interprets those acknowledgements and what they say, or don’t say, about an author is completely subjective.

On producing a page-turner

Do literary authors ever set out to write page-turners? Ms. Ninja, for instance, starts with a thriller idea and crafts it into a literary novel with sass, momentum, and cinematic potential, but much so-called literature feels like a real slog, I can see why this young person might start with the idea to write something fast-paced enough to be read in one sitting. I have written most of two novels: a literary one that revolves around guns and explosions, and fantasy one that revolves around literary tropes. I would hope either would be page-turning, given that the only way I come back to them every day is if I find the story interesting. How do people ever complete boring novels?

Pictured: Not Carmen Starnino

But my ultimate goal remained to write a book so compulsively readable that a fast reader might devour the whole thing in a single sitting: one airplane journey, or one rainy afternoon spent curled up in an armchair.

There is something singular in the escapism offered by a book that hooks you from the first pages and won’t let go. During the strange year of 2020, as I struggled to adjust to life under the ever-shifting restrictions, I found that my relationship with books shifted too. Reading went from being a pleasure and mental exercise, a joy sprinkled over the top of my life, to a form of essential escapism. Any book that grabbed my attention from the opening pages and held it until the last, that allowed me to spend those in-between hours somewhere other than my room, felt like the greatest find.

Tuesday newsday

What do you think he’s doing, right now? Actually, don’t think about it too hard. Chills my spine. It’s the mental equivalent of reaching blindly into a hole in a wall of an old house. Rusty nails, dead rats, spider colonies, slimy mold, Amontillado, etc. Who knows what you’ll find. See you on the other side, people.

Dealing with death in kids books

Picture it: Somewhere near the Canada US border, 1981. A ten year old redheaded Canadian kid is being dragged crying from an American movie theatre, yelling, “But it CAN’T be over! Darth Vader WON!?!”

My mind, made fairy-tale-receptive from the first Star Wars, couldn’t wrap itself around the loss of Luke’s hand and poor Han trapped in carbonite. Han and Luke and Leia lost? These were my friends (and at that age, pretty much my only friends). I was devastated and not only not able to handle the grief, but pretty much unable to conceive at the time of a “trilogy”, which was the format of many favourite books, as a movie thing. I couldn’t see how it could be fixed. Like death.

The ride back to Canada (my dad had taken me down to the States to see The Empire Strikes Back before it opened up here) was long and silent and my dad got pulled over for weaving on the road (he was trying to make me laugh by dodging on-coming dragonflies in the headlights as if they were TIE fighters. One look at my face and the cop let him off.)

All this to tell you that grief is hard when you’re young and don’t have the tools to deal with it maturely (like I do now by pushing down into a vile little ball deep inside of me, presumably to be released at some inappropriate time in the future, such as a telephone company xmas ad).This geek parent doesn’t regret her decision to steer her kids to the geek worlds of comics and books, but she didn’t bargain on what to do with all the death that occurs in books and comics and anime.

Skip forward 30 years to me read Goblet of Fire to my ten year old. Spoiler: Cedric bites it. When he couldn’t believe it, I said, “Well, it was high stakes. Big risks. Sometimes people fighting evil die, which is evil, yes. But it’s for a cause that can be won overall. Now the others will fight harder against Voldemort to honour Cedric’s memory. Remember Charlotte dying? It was sad. But the won the battle for Wilbur, didn’t she?”

That seemed to work, until I realized I’d sort of groomed him for the military industrial complex. There’s no winning. So, what I’m saying is: there’s no damn manual for kids, and if you keep them in a bubble you’re just putting off the hard stuff for them to deal with later. So boss-up and deal with it as it happens.

This geek parent doesn’t regret her decision to steer her kids to the geek worlds of comics and books, but she didn’t bargain on what to do with all the death that occurs in books and comics and anime.

One thing I didn’t consider when we skipped off down the weeb branch path, however, was how frequently we were going to have to deal with beloved characters up and dying.

Character death doesn’t bother me all that much in western superhero comics. The running gag about the impermanence of a given demise is a running gag for a reason: they do almost always come back. And if they don’t, it’s probably because it was time for them to go. Non-super books are different, but lets focus on the superhero style books here, since that’s where a lot of kids enter the fray. 

Bakka Books profiled

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, before I moved there permanently, I used to make pilgrimages out of the North to Toronto to go to stores like The Silver Snail, Sam the Record Man (et al), and Bakka Books on Queen. I begged rides from friends, hitched rides on a 400 highway on ramp, and even rode box cars when I could get away with it. Getting home was always harder, because I’d be laden with records and books and other junk I was nerd-hoarding, but heading down was always exciting. There was nothing like Bakka in any of the small towns I grew up in. And it was a hub for other weirdos, which was refreshing growing up among the farmhands and rural bullies. I even met some famous authors there, and others who would become famous. It smelled like mildew and sweat at times, but was a great place and one of the top five most important book stores of my life.

In the summer of 1982, Margaret Atwood walked into Bakka Books looking for a copy of “The Hobbit.” Robert J. Sawyer, the celebrated Canadian science-fiction writer who was then working behind the counter, couldn’t believe his luck.

“It was pretty amazing — she knew all about the store and how we specialized in fantasy and science fiction,” Sawyer recalls of his encounter at the bookstore when it was in its first home on Queen Street near John Street.

The Trumpbots should move on from misinterpreting Orwell to misinterpreting Ishiguro

I mean, assuming any of them actually read. But Kazuo’s 1986 book, An Artist of the Floating World, which I have not read (surprising, given my general love for his work, even that weird Giant book), cleaves far closer to the state of affairs down there than 1984.

As the sea change in our country slowly (slowly) begins to create an atmosphere in which the rats are jumping ship and Trump and his associates might face the tiniest consequences for their actions, it’s obvious to me that what’s happening isn’t out of Nineteen-Eighty-Four. It’s a narrative told in the brilliant 1986 novel An Artist of the Floating World by Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro.

The book takes place in Japan after World War II and the fall of the country’s imperialist regime. It’s narrated by a man named Masuji Ono, a once-prominent painter who has aged into obscurity verging on disgrace because — as the novel slowly reveals — Ono had turned his artistic ability toward making totalitarian propaganda. As in The Remains of the Day, the reader is forced to read between the lines, in the subtext and in the reactions of the people around and to the narrator, because the narrator is unwilling to admit certain truths, even to himself. Though early in the book it seems as though Ono might understand and feel guilty for what he enabled, by the final chapters, he’s set in his ways, content with a flimsy narrative of his own goodness and unwilling to fully reckon with the pain and damage he caused to his country.