September 6th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

The complaining begins: _How to Read Novels Like a Professor_

This is the current volume in the read-or-release project, dating from 2008. Which is surprisingly recent.


(1) "Hardly anyone I've ever noticed has leapt into the middle of Chapter 23"

Okay. He did say "hardly anyone"; he apparently knows that all us page xxx people do in fact exist. And we probably had club members in his beta reading group and heard about it.

(2) "Consider Manhattan filled with hobbits, wizards, fairies, and fighting Uruk-hai. Orcs swarming up Wall Street, dwarves in the basements of skyscrapers." Right at this point, I'm like, Sold! I will totally buy that. "Now, that's just stupid. Sounds like the cheesiest kind of horror movie, where you laugh all the way. Or in the cornfields of Nebraska. No, Frodo, Gandalf, and company need their own landscapes, their own geography."

So, he's now dissed a really enormous and popular subgenre of urban fantasy. Moving right along.

"On the other hand, the same mythic landscape would look preposterous inhabited by Henry James characters. Isabel Archer in Isingard? Milly Theale in Mordor? I think not."

Again, _I've seen this done_. I actually don't like it very much, but that kind of period/character drama dressed up in High Fantasy has an enormous following.

If I thought he knew this stuff existed and was making fun of it, the book would be Released. Actually, I'd probably shred it and recycle it, because That Is Not OK. However, I think he writes in ignorance.

He'd better be. I'm at page 40. A few more of these and I'm quitting, because I can't say I'm actually learning anything from the rest of the book, other than a tiny, marginal push towards attempting to read an unabridged but in translation Don Quixote.

Also, he refers to Tolkien's best known work as the Ring trilogy. Excuse me? I thought for a minute he was switching to opera.
A Purple Straw Hat

The complaining continues: _How to Read Novels Like a Professor_

In the chapter about narrators. "We cannot imagine a Gatsby narrated by anyone but Nick Carraway, a Moby Dick without the voice of Ishmael, or a The Fellowship of the Ring told by Frodo."

What you mean, we, Thomas C. Foster?

I'm feeling like everything he says Cannot Be is where hot experimentation is occurring in genre and fan fiction. But, hey, like that's a surprise, right?

There's a horrendous word-o near the end of this chapter. He describes all the bait-and-switching in narration of Orhan Pamuk's Snow. "The definition doesn't really account for the changes a writer of Pamuk's ability can bring." Pretty sure that this is a bell-ringing metaphor, and it should have been "ring". But I suppose it could have been some sort of modern slang, "bring it", type of thing. It's just possible Foster is punning, but I suspect he intended the former, and copy-editing and so forth converted it to the latter, for many of the same reasons that lead to "reigning it in" linguistic mashups (that is, the embedded imagery is not familiar to the reader).

ETA: The chapter on character description? Development? is _terrible_. I don't know I could point to a particular flawed sentence or paragraph; I disagree with almost the entire (comparatively short) chapter. Most of the rest of the book thus far has been a lot of stuff that's kind of obvious, and a few real clunkers (all this You Cannot crap). But the chapter on characters made out of words is just horrifyingly bad.

ETAYA: It's as if, in the middle of the book, it just is diving downhill. The chapter about anti-heroes being somehow new just seems _wrong_ to me. If he's willing to include Rabbit as an example of 20th century anti-hero (while focusing on Much Worse Protagonists), how can he pretend away anti-heroes of the past like Moll Flanders? Of course anyone who has read her cannot help but adore her, but any summary or adaptation of her rapidly exposes her as immoral, criminal and just unremittingly awful. This whole anti-hero thing isn't that new at all, and presenting it as if it is just seems like ... weird. Wrong. Ignorant.

I usually sample books in the middle. I think I hit a good section that got me to buy it (he produces _incredibly_ readable prose; I think these chapters are adaptations of well-honed, perfected lectures by a really great professor), and now that I'm reading the whole thing, I'm a little shocked by what's in here.