I received an invitation the other day to join a new academic blog in my area. I would be emailed news clips and items of interest by a coordinator and produce 1-2 posts a week. My first reaction was that while 2 posts a week is insane, I might be able to do one. Yes, I thought, I could do this. And we really need a blog in this area! And how nice to be asked! And isn’t this great! I drafted an immediate affirmative response. But something happened (my dog was probably trying to eat someone again) and…
Thank God I did not hit “send.” It’s true that I love to blog. I am blogging right now! About blogging! But if I took this on, I would be in the following ridiculous situation: I am a member of a professional academic organization, I review article and conference submissions for them, and I blog for them. But I have never actually published a peer reviewed article in their journal.
I asked myself if the fact that I truly support academic blogging and that I truly believe we need a new blog in this (feminist) area means I am being hypocritical not to sign up. But I have to look at my own situation. I’m an academic for whom academic writing is a tremendous challenge. And not just a challenge, but, if I’m honest, the area of my professional life in which I am the least accomplished and (this is very hard to admit) underachieving.
I just finished Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,’ by Lawrence Wright. My nutshell review is that it was good, but uneven, neither organized nor analytical enough for my tastes. Given the hefty price tag for this new book, if I had a do-over, I would get it from the library.
Some of the early chapters on L. Ron Hubbard’s life were the most interesting. He was a prolific sci fi writer beginning in the 1930s, eventually publishing over 1000 books, thanks to his motto, “First draft, last draft, get it out the door.” Oh, and all you #1K1hr Tweeps? L. Ron wrote 100,000 words a month!
I giggled at his sketch for a romance novel (never written):
Another idea: “Love story. Goes to France. Meets swell broad in Marseilles.”
The connection between Hubbard’s fiction and Scientology is so close as to be impossible to separate neatly. His life raises interesting questions about the boundaries between fiction and religion, and between creativity and madness. Hubbard himself seemed to recognize this when he wrote:
“The main difficulty these days is getting sane again. I find out that I am making progress. Of course there is always the danger that I will get too sane to write.”
Being a book blogger, this is probably my favorite passage:
Hubbard explained to his agent that he ultimately decided to withdraw the book from publication because the first six people who read it were so shattered by the revelations that they had lost their minds.
The next time I get an article rejected, I am totally using that line.
Hubbard’s life brings new meaning to the phrase “spectacular failure.” I had read in other accounts that he was paranoid, neurotic, and controlling, with megalomaniacal tendencies. But one aspect of his personality that other reviews had not prepared me for was his deep misogyny. Here’s a rundown of the highlights.
Ron married Polly and they had a kid and he had affairs:
Ron blamed Polly for his philandering. “Because of her coldness physically, the falsity of her pretensions, I believed myself a near eunuch,” he wrote in a private memoir (which the church disputes) some years later. “When I found I was attractive to other women, I had many affairs. But my failure to please Polly made me always pay so much attention to my momentary mate that I derived small pleasure myself. This was an anxiety neurosis which cut down my natural powers.”
While still married to Polly, he married Sara:
Ron had begun beating her in Florida, shortly after her father died. Her grief seemed to provoke Ron—
In the 1940s, LRH wrote a secret memoir, which included mantras he would attempt to hypnotise himself into believing. Among them, these two gems:
Many women are not capable of pleasure in sex and anything adverse they say or do has no effect whatever upon your pleasure.
You have no fear if they conceive. What if they do? You do not care. Pour it into them and let fate decide.
Blaming mothers for their children’s mental illness is nothing new, but in 1950, Hubbard hypothesized a most unusual causal mechanism:
“It is a scientific fact that abortion attempts are the most important factor in aberration. The child on whom the abortion is attempted is condemned to live with murderers whom he reactively knows to be murderers through all his weak and helpless youth!” In his opinion, it is very difficult to abort a child, which is why the process so often fails. “Twenty or thirty abortion attempts are not uncommon in the aberree and in every attempt the child could have been pierced through the body or brain,” Hubbard writes. “However many billions America spends yearly on institutions for the insane and jails for the criminals are spent primarily because of attempted abortions done by some sex-blocked mother to whom children are a curse, not a blessing of God.”
And how is wife #2 doing as LRH spins these theories? Not too well, it turns out:
While he was writing Dianetics, and Sara was pregnant with Alexis, she says, Hubbard kicked her in the stomach several times to attempt to cause a miscarriage. Later, Hubbard told one of his lovers that he himself had been born of an attempted abortion.
Now regularly beating Sara, Ron tells her that he doesn’t want to be married, but neither does he want a divorce. The elegant solution?
if Sara really loved him, she should kill herself.
When she declines, he offers to kill her. Not surprisingly, she declines again. He then kidnaps their daughter (keeping her in a crib with wire over the top) and threatens to kill the child. First wife Polly, who has been waiting years for child support payments that never came, actually wrote a letter to Sara, offering her support.
Hubbard eventually extricated himself from both marriages without killing anyone, and launched a fleet of Scientology ships. His treatment of women did not improve, as this incident from the late 1960s indicates:
One night as the fleet was sailing in the Caribbean, he looked at the young woman serving him dinner, Tracy Ekstrand, whose glasses were sliding down her nose in the tropical heat. “You’re doing yourself an aesthetic disservice,” he pronounced. She was mortified and stopped wearing glasses that night.
On board, he created a “Commodore’s Message Association” comprised of young teenaged girls, who wore:
white hot pants, halter tops, and platform shoes. When the Commodore moved around the ship, one or more Messengers trailed behind him, carrying his hat and an ashtray, lighting his cigarettes, and quickly moving a chair into place if he started to sit down.
After some women Scientologists on the ships became pregnant, Hubbard decided he needed complete control of their reproductive lives:
The baby boom eventually prompted Hubbard to order that no one could get pregnant without his permission; according to several Sea Org members, any woman disobeying his command would be “off-loaded” to another Scientology organization or flown to New York for an abortion.
Sea Org is the most elite level of Scientologists:
Since 1986, children have been forbidden to Sea Org members. Former church executives say that abortions were common and forcefully encouraged.
So much for his earlier abortion theories…
Knowing of my interest in Jewish heroes and heroines in romance, my friend @JanetNorCal recommended Barbara Samuel’s 1993 historical romance, A Bed of Spices, which I Kindled for zero dollars (still free for Prime members) a few weeks back.
A Bed of Spices is set in Strassburg (an Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire, situated in what today is the French-German border) in 1349, when the Plague was descending on Europe. Rica and Etta are sixteen year old twins who live in a castle on the outskirts of the city. They are noble, blonde, and motherless. Their father Charles, a feudal lord, is ill and hopes to see them settled before his death. Solomon is a tall, dark, and handsome, a Jew studying to be a doctor. He’s left his studies to return home to Strassburg as the Plague spreads. When he goes to visit a local midwife to see what he can learn from her, he runs into Rica, who is procuring herbs for her father, and it’s love at first sight.
I’ll give a nutshell review and then get to the topic of the post: This was a very good read. The setting pretty much made the book, and I also appreciated the writing. I decided to read it as a fairy tale, with archetypal setting (castle), plot (forbidden love, betrayal) and characters (virtuous or vicious) and that kept me from being disappointed in the intsa-love between two basically perfect people. I also used the fairy-tale framing to get past the “twins so identical only their true loves could possibly tell them apart” trope. I tend to like sexual tension, deep characterization, and internal conflicts in my romances, so it was a surprise to me to enjoy a book that had none of those things. But enjoy it I did.
Except for one thing. Etta.
Trigger warning: I quote a fairly detailed depiction of rape after the jump.
Sometimes, the TBR yields treasures. Other times, not so much.
Midnight (Dark Promises, Book One), by Elisa Adams (Elloras Cave, 2003).
This one was free, but not worth what I paid.
Amara is a B-movie actress playing a bimbo vampire. She loses her job when she refuses to wear skimpier outfits.
A vampire, Marco, has been stalking her. Why? Because he objects to her portrayal of vampires. This is one of the more unusual stalking motives I’m come across in PNR. When Marco asked Amara (as he is kidnapping her, which, naturally, turns her on) “Do you really think your actions in those movies don’t have consequences?” I wondered breathlessly whether the central conflict in this erotic romance would be over artistic freedom and censorship. Alas, before you can say “First Amendment,” Marco impulsively kidnaps Amara, they have sex, he accidentally and unknowingly turns her into a vampire, they fall in love, and I’m seeing an ad for the next book in the series.
The writing was, erm, not to my taste. The following conversation takes place over two pages. Yes, there are more words, but this is what it felt like to read:
“Maybe you should see a doctor.”
“No, Marco, I don’t want to leave. Not to see a doctor, not for anything.”
“I want you to see a doctor. … You can see a doctor I know.”
“What’s the big push with the doctor?”
“Just see a doctor, okay?”
“I don’t want to see a doctor.”
Just when I began to worry that this battle of wits was going to go over my head:
He looked ready to protest, but a knock on the door stopped him.
Guess who it is? No, seriously. Guess. Yep, the doctor. Isn’t that amazing? What do you call that? Foreshadowing? No? Well, anyway.
I really liked the doctor, mainly for his eloquent defense of freedom of expression:
It turns out, to everyone’s shock and awe, that Amara is turning vamp. Now, I ask you, where does Marco get off lecturing Amara on vampire culture when he is apparently ignorant of the basic facts of vampire reproduction?
But my main problem, honestly, was that Marco gave up his crusade to end demeaning portrayals of his minority group because Amara “looked hot in black vinyl.”
Anyway, if your idea of a good erotic short is totally predictable vampire sex with all of the intensity and emotion of one of those XtraNormal videos, pick this one up.
Over the winter break, I tried to read a novel that came recommended from folks whose opinions I respect. I couldn’t finish it. Then, last week, I plucked a book randomly from my TBR that is in some ways just like the first one. I read it straight through, enjoying it pretty much every page.
The first book is The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden, published in 2012 by Carina Press.
The second book is Cross My Heart by Abigail Strom, self-published in 2011. I have no idea how it ended up in my TBR, but the price tag of “zero” probably had something to do with it.
Both books are in the romance genre, and are set in a contemporary US city. Both books feature neighbors who ogle one another from afar and then become lovers. Both books have a hero who is emotionally closed and finds relationships very difficult, and a heroine who is open and very relatable.
The major differences are:
1. The Theory of Attraction is a BDSM erotic romance while Cross My Heart is a standard contemporary romance.
2. The Theory of Attraction‘s hero, a rocket scientist, is not just emotionally closed, but diagnosable. OCD? Autism? I don’t know, but he’s more than shy.
Cross My Heart‘s hero is a cardiac surgeon who had a tough childhood, including maternal abandonment, and found that intensely focusing on his goals while keeping his heart guarded was the key to survival.
3. Also, The Theory of Attraction is written in the first person heroine’s voice, and Cross My Heart is a third person omniscient POV. Because I had a harder time with Cami, the first person made the book tougher to get through, and I eventually (at 53%, right in the middle of a flogging scene) gave up.
Cami is a computer geek, comfortable with the guys. Although sexually experienced, she has to be initiated in the ways of BDSM by Ivan, a Dom. I found her voice kind of annoying in the bedroom scenes. She doesn’t see BDSM as a buried sexual orientation, but a thing to try, and, later, an “addiction in the making.” She thrills to the controlling, dominating ways of Ivan. That’s fine, but I felt her character was undercooked. I found myself asking, “Why was she attracted to this arrogant guy again?” and answering, ”Oh, right,
Hansel BDSM is so hot right now.” If that’s my first thought as to what “motivates” a character, something has gone wrong.
In contrast, I really enjoyed the heroine of Cross My Heart. Jenna’s a rock star hibernating in Iowa while her band, the Red Mollies,* destroyed years prior by a cheating bass player, reforms for a reunion tour. Jenna is sexy, vivacious, comfortable in her own skin, sweet, nurturing, and very afraid of commitment. While Jenna’s fear of settling down felt a little forced (the author had to give her a family-of-origin tragedy to explain it. Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?) , I thought the way she used music, and the intuitive way music transmits sensation and feeling, to teach Michael that he may understand the science of emotions, but not their significance, worked beautifully. He, of the superior mind, is forced to recognize that “on an essential level, she was unintelligible to him” but Jenna believes, and believes strongly, that as Terentius wrote thousands of years ago, “nothing human is alien to me.” Somehow the book reveals both the inevitability of alienation and the promise of recognition.
I also really appreciated Michael’s strained relationship with his teenage daughter, Claire. With Claire, as with Jenna, he tries to revert to his comfortably numb state, but Claire’s hormones and emotional neediness won’t allow it. Maybe because I am having my own — er — fun — with my own newly teenaged son, I really appreciated the way that part of the book was handled. Michael learns that emotional risk is the only way to reap emotional reward. It’s that simple, really.
Finally, I found Cross My Heart to be pretty hot. The uptight workaholic trying, unsuccessfully, to thwart his own sexual desires works so much better for me than the methodical dom whose need for explicit choreography and control makes a sex scene read like an ob-gyn appointment. YMMV.
Naturally, I have niggles. Michael behaves in a very out of character way a few times, and I wasn’t sure what the author was getting at. Maybe she had to put in that one “asshole jealous remark” because it’s in the romance rulebook? Maybe Michael needed to be emotionally out of whack for a while before he could settle? Also, Jenna, and Michael too, actually, are too good to be true. Finally, at times the book felt a little by the numbers, telly not showy, and as a result I felt a little distanced as a reader.
In short, I know that not every TBR read will be a success, but I really enjoyed Cross My Heart.
*Maybe the author wasn’t contemplating Richard Thompson fans when she chose that name, but all I could think of was 1952 Vincent Black Lightning every time!
I quit blogging about 5 months ago. I have missed it all that time, but haven’t been able to really start up again. I am completely disinclined to go back to my old blog, and I wish I could intelligently articulate why.
It may have something to do with the wrong turn I made last year in blogging. To shore up my flagging enthusiasm, I started taking ARCs, signed up for book tours, attended Book Expo America, started to develop relationships with publishers. In no time, blogging felt like work. I was reading to blog, on someone else’s timeline, not reading for the fun of it, so even reading felt like a chore. In short, at a time when I needed to (a) take a break, and/or (b) write more for myself, I (a) committed to writing more reviews, and (b) wrote more for some mythical audience than about what I was really thinking or feeling.
In January of this year, I didn’t buy a single book. I donated most of my paper books to local charities, and got to know my digital TBR a bit better (I have about 400 books on it). I’d like to continue mining my TBR (although I can’t promise a complete book buying ban for 2013. I’m reformed, not insane.) and chatting about interesting bits on this blog. Right now, I cannot imagine being able to write a formal book review — I’m exhausted just thinking about it — but then again, five months ago, I couldn’t imagine writing a blog post for a new book blog.
I still read so many great book blogs. I have a follow list of those on WordPress in the footer, and plan to add the rest to a links widget. It’s reading the blogs that inspire me that has made me feel like blogging is a worthwhile hobby to get back to someday.
I recently read four posts that coalesced into a concrete direction for a new blog, and to which I owe this blog’s name. My thanks, or apologies, to the following:
- Something More, Social Reading Up and Down
- The Book Smugglers, Old School Wednesdays: The Catalogue of the Universe, by Margaret Mahy
- Vacuous Minx, 2013 Update
- Super Wendy, Wendy Talks Her Way Around the Hype Machine