Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The great ball of China

“So you are a newcomer here, young man. I would like to give you a word or two of advice. Life is short, sixty or seventy years, no point worrying away your days till your hair turns white. Heartbroken for a woman? Come on. A woman is just like that smoked fish head. Not much meat but too many bones, staring at you with ghastly eyes on a white platter. If you're not careful, you get a bone stuck in your throat. Think about Mao. Such a man, and yet he, too, was ruined by his woman—or women. He fucked his brains out in the end.”

— Qiu Xiaolong, The Mao Case

The Mao Case is Qiu's sixth novel. His first, Death of a Red Heroine, is one of my favorite crime novels and one of the spurs to my interest in international crime fiction. The author no longer lives in China.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

Labels: , ,

55 Comments:

Blogger R. T. said...

You present Qiu's novel without comment. Should we read something into your silence?

As for me, I was somewhat impressed but not enthusiastic about THE MAO CASE. I reviewed it for BookLoons, and you can read it here.

April 06, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I really liked that first one as well. I don't know quite why I never got on to any of the others.

April 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the link, R.T. I'll take a look at your review.

All you should read into my silence is that I posted that pungent excerpt virtually as soon as I had read it. You'll recall that it's very close to the beginning of the book, and I thought that no matter how the rest of the story proceeds, it was worth quoting.

I have since read four or five chapters more, and I like the book. Qiu is not the world's smoothest prose stylist in English, but I like the book's themes as well as the tight focus on Mao in the first chapter.

April 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the second book was a considerable decline from the first, the novelty replaced by a routine McCloud-style plot in which Chen works with an American law-enforcement officer. (The third book is better than the second.)

At the time, someone connected to the publishing business said that Qiu had a different editor for the second book and suggested that this might have been responsible for a drop-off in quality. I'm tempted to see an editor's hand in the opening chapter of this current novel, where three distinct scenes all come to focus on Mao, building up to Chin's principal investigation.

April 06, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“A woman is just like that smoked fish head…If you're not careful, you get a bone stuck in your throat.” You know, most days I fancy myself a tough ol’ dame who can take on the chin comments like these from any man and then there are days when, emotionally speaking, I am a fragile, vulnerable flower. Unfortunately, the reading of this post caught me on one of the latter days and now I just want to bawl. Man, that view of women is as hardboiled as a Thousand Year Egg.

April 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had a feeling I might take it on the chin over that excerpt.

Suffice it to say that the character who utters it is a wreck of a fellow, not at all sympathetic. And, at least in the early going, the mystery revolves around Mao's alleged scandalous treatment of women.

April 07, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

That quote doesn't make me want to bawl. It makes me furious and absolutely not want to read this book nor any by this author. Talk about "red"; I saw red.

And it's fiction. We don't know what Mao did or didn't do nor what his relationship was with his spouse--I mean, in reality, not the media spins.

With famous people, leaders, whomever, unless I read memoirs, I take all with a grain of salt.

Anyway, sometimes I wonder if some authors really want readership (and purchasing power) of women--because this is not compelling.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think it is compelling, though I won't try to you into changing your mind. What I will say is that the character given this speech is, in this section, at least, a bitter drunk -- not a sympathetic sort, in other words.

The Mao stories are not exactly salacious, and are no more than the sort of thing that might be said about any powerful man. He had a number of mistresses, in other words. This takes on special interest, I think, because of the reverence with which he was regarded, at least officially, in China. The book will occasionally draw parallels between Mao and Chinese emperors, which I think may be even more to the point of what the author has to say.

In any case, at least so far, the point is not the drive to uncover scandals about Mao, but rather the danger of even discussing such matters, even in today's capitalist China.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I can't analyze what can be discussed in China or not today, or in what settings--public, private. And I might differ on characterizations of China, but my point wasn't so much that, but about women.

Some women readers don't want to read this point of view. Others may not mind. It's personal choice in reading.

I read a lot but I have limits.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can understand that, just as long as you understand that the viewpoint is the characters and not the author's.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

True. Hard to tell. But sometimes it can be hard to take.

But about China, read Mankell's, "The Man from Beijing," and try to figure out his viewpoint about Mao and Deng. It's complicated.

Characters expouse different opinions, represent, as he puts it, the "old" and the "new."

Mankell has definite concerns. I won't go into it since it's not up for discussion yet.

To me, reading that book was like reading a polemic. It was a challenging read. I needed an easy one after that.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Qiu's book is no polemic, but its subject is so fraught with interest that it is bound to encourage the sorts of thoughts one might not normally have when reading crime fiction.

There is old and new, but sometimes the two are not always easy to tell apart.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Read Mankell's book. He's pretty clear on the old and new and what he sees as the dangers of the new, and who he's worried about.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. Couldn't put it down.

Back to two Brits at the moment.

Do other people do this? Read a few books at once. My father used to read five books at once--history, math puzzles, one fiction, mystery or not, etc.

I sometimes read three at once, picking up different books. Ultimately, the more interesting one is read the fastest.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

From an Henry Rollins interview:

If an author is not likeable as a person, does that detract from your enjoyment of a work?

No. No, I read anything from that period, where... Well, you see this guy’s take on women. You can’t justify misogyny on any level, but you can go, “Well, you know, things were a little different then.” So you have to read something in its time period. If you ever read James Ellroy, you know, the crime guy, it’s “Nigger this, nigger that.” And he’s trying to affect that 1940s L.A., “Let’s go to nigger town” – dumb cops talking that way. It’s not like he’s a racist himself, it’s just how the time was.

And so, there is some of that in Hemingway, where you see that women are here, and the men are here. You know, like, “Okay, well, yeah, you guys were still in the primordial ooze and you had not yet evolved.” And women had not yet stood up and said, “Hey! We’re not that thing in the kitchen that, we’re not obsequious baby making meatloaf cookers!”


v-word: alike
as in The Men Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks on Mankell. His book might make an interesting comparison with Qiu's. Qiu can be rueful about the new while remaining unsentimental about the old.

I sometimes read two or three books at once. This will happen either if I can't decide which one to read, or if I have, say, a hard-boiled or noir novel, a lighter book, and a non-crime book on my plate.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, it will be interesting to if authors increasingly fall back on likeability now that they have to rely increasingly on promoting themselves. (And, in a rare lapse into Marxist terminology, am I the only one who sees publishers' shifting of promotional and editing responsibilities to authors as one more in a shift of cost and work from capital to labor?)

Rollins' attitude is sensible, of course. Believe other than he does, and you wind up banning "Huckleberry Finn."

I wonder if another factor is in play in Ellroy's case, though. The man is clearly no racist now, but I have read that he dabble in white supremacism in the past. To what extent, I don't know, and this could be part of the Ellroy legend in any case. So he could be exorcising his own demons in addition to seeking to portray a time.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I think that book banning and personal reading choices are different.

Every one of us chooses books to read for enjoyment, perhaps to learn. Some people love mysteries, some can't read them. Every mystery reader I know has different taste, some to me unfathomable.

I have a low tolerance for bigotry and sexism and other things. It's not enjoyable to me to read books with these elements. In fact, it's the opposite.

However, Kelli Stanley's book, "City of Dragons," does contain anti-Asian slurs. It is portraying the anti-Asian prejudices of 1940 San Francisco
after the Rape of Nanking and right before WWII.

It is clear she and her character, Miranda Corbie, oppose that bigotry. Stanley writes on her blog of her opposition to bigotry.

I just read, "The Locked Room," by Sjowall/Wahloo. Wow, is there ever a racist, misogynistic few pages. I almost stopped reading but kept going. I loaned it to friends with a near-apology for that section. I wouldn't have loaned it to many.

But I'm not for banning books. Most of those banned are for very reactionary reasons. The lists of books banned by libraries or schools is awful. Often those books oppose sexism and bigotry or show lives not necessarily known about by certain segments of the population.

As long as people of color, women, others can write and be published, and have their books promoted, then let everyone write and be published.

And then let personal choice and taste determine what one reads.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think that book banning and personal reading choices are different.

I'm not trying to talk you into reading Qiu's books; I'm just trying to explain why I like them.

I just read, "The Locked Room," by Sjowall/Wahloo. Wow, is there ever a racist, misogynistic few pages. I almost stopped reading but kept going. I loaned it to friends with a near-apology for that section. I wouldn't have loaned it to many.

I have not read that novel, but from what I have read by Sjowall and Wahloo and from what I know about them, I can guess with some confidence that they don't approve of their characters' racist and misongynistic sentiments any more than you say Kelli Stanley does.

I will never criticize anyone for acknowledging discomfort with certain sentiments as long as one recognizes that the author may in fact be decrying those very sentiments that make the reader uncomfortable.

In a matter almost completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, you’ll find a photograph of Kelli Stanley on this blog from Bouchercon 2009. She’s at right in the second photo down and is as jovial as she appears. She made an interesting decision to set a novel in one of hard-boiled crime writing's seminal cities during the era of hard-boiled crime.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I don't think Sjowall/Wahloo approve of those bigoted characters' views. In fact, they were showing how awful they were.

But there's discomfort and there's severe discomfort. One has to choose one's tolerance and see what is a good reading experience and what isn't.

If one wants to throw a book across the room or return it to the library right away without finishing it, that is a choice.

I always try to think how the people badly depicted would feel reading the words or section and that's how I decide.

If I read a book with a few sentences of anti-Semitism as part of a story that deplores it, I'd read it. If the book had it throughout, I'd toss it.

Kelli Stanley: her writing is fine with me, am awaiting her second book.

However, how Asian readers would feel; that could be a different matter.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If I read a book with a few sentences of anti-Semitism as part of a story that deplores it, I'd read it. If the book had it throughout, I'd toss it.

Understood. Sensitive treatment to one reader may seem like having one's nose rubbed in it to another. These terms are similar to discussions of violence in crime fiction. Some readers may find scenes of grievous violence hard to read even while acknowledging the arguments in favor of such scenes.

Kelli Stanley: her writing is fine with me, am awaiting her second book.

Her second in this series, you mean, if she intends a series. Her previous novel is set in first-century Rome, and she brings a background in classical scholarship to the table. That's one of the things that made her current choice of subject interesting. It was a departure.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Kelli Stanley's current and popular book, "City of Dragons," about Miranda Corbie, set in 1940 San Francisco, is the first book in a series.

She is now writing the second book in that series.

I, also, don't like gratuitous violence and gore in mysteries. I don't get books with those elements, yet I find plenty to read.

If I read, let's say Stieg Larsson's books, I skip some of the violence but enjoy them anyway. I get the point. I don't need to read the gruesome details.

But books that I know are full of violence I don't read and that includes some women authors, too.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I, also, don't like gratuitous violence and gore in mysteries. I don't get books with those elements, yet I find plenty to read.

I don't like gratuitous anything, but I do appreciate the serious thought that, say, Allan Guthrie gives to the matter. If he includes violence in a book, he says, he wants the character who suffers it to hurt. He can't stand books in which a character gets the stuffing kicked out of him, then bounces back as if nothing had happened.

Once again, no one is obligated to read or enjoy such scenes, but Guthrie excercised responsbility in writing them the way he does, I think.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

This is again taste. Several of my friends won't read mysteries as they don't like the violent premises. Others won't read any with violence or skip pages with a lot of violence on the page. Others are fine with that.

Even my 88-year-old uncle only reads the Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell, won't read her stand-alones, her psychological thrillers. He
wants the puzzle; that's it.

I don't mind reading that someone committed a violent act, just don't want the gruesome details, a description of those or of the person suffering or a relishing of inflicting violence even if it's by a detective, a "good" guy or gal.

I stopped reading a popular author because of this issue.

Anyway, reading preferences vary. I have learned this lesson many times, including from Sarah Weinman at her blog.

I once inquired why more people didn't like Fred Vargas' books or those by Tana French. Sarah said, "it's a matter of taste."

Okay. I get it. It's as individual as taste in other things, too.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vargas may simply be too odd a dish for some crime-fiction readers, with her slowed-down pace, observations of her surroundings, and luxurious emphasis on her characters' quirks. And I like Vargas and have read all of her work that is available in English and interviewed her translator.

It's odd to think of two such widely honored authors as Fred Vargas and Tana French as underappreciated, though. Perhaps that applies to the U.S. only.

April 10, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes. Vargas is quirky yet some friends and I like her a lot. It's an experience to read her books, an almost other-world experience. One has to follow her very elaborate plots and be willing to go where her mind goes, quite a challenge which I enjoy. No one can come up with some plot twists she does.

But when reading some lists of top books at Weinman's blog and seeing that Vargas and French were missing, I commented about it. And got the reply about personal taste, although I didn't see why they were not appreciated as you mention.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a nice description, "an almost other-world experience." Does any crime novel other than "Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand" open with a leisurely scene featuring the hero, his sidekick, a broken heater and a coffee machine? And if any does, the protagonist probably does not find the experience as enriching as does Vargas' Adamsberg.

I can understand why Vargas is not more appreciated only from the standpoint that her work is very different from what American crime fiction fans are used to. But she has been translated into a number of languages, and her books have won the Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award for translated crime fiction three of the four years the award has been in existence.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

I have been following the discussion, especially as it relates to objectionable reading (and attributions of the objectionable material to either narrator, character, or author). It seems to me that a reader's resistance to "objectionable" portions says more about the reader than the text. I say with a full awareness that I am also indicting myself with that observation because there are certain books for certain reasons that I cannot tolerate even though those books are widely regarded as superb literature. Many readers, for example, cannot tolerate books like HUCKLEBERRY FINN, LOLITA, AMERICAN PSYCHO, and others; this does not mean that these works by Twain, Nabokov, or Ellis ought to be ostracized. An author cannot accommodate all interests and prejudices. An author can simply endeavor to write something that is--for lack of a better word--a worthwhile reading experience. Finally, to say it somewhat differently, the mark of a text's value cannot be expressed in terms of reader comfort. Aesthetics (if we can use that word) cares little about the subjective notions of reader acceptance; larger issues are at stake.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., you'll note that Kathy concedes throughout that her discomfort with a given book is personal. She doesn't seem to want to impose her preferences on others, nor does the impugn the morality or ethics or anything else of authors she prefers not to read.

The one sick, gratuitious bit of violence I can think of happened a-in a Steven Seagal movie, hardly an aesthetic high mark for anyone, I expect.

April 10, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

If I were a publisher, I'd want the gratuitous violence and sexism toned down. I'd want to make sure women, people from every community and ethnic group, immigrants, all could be published and get out their voices, so that all readers have a true, expansive choice of what to read and were not subjected to one type of book. That to me would be awful.

And what is published is often weighted or tilted in one direction.

But I am not for banning books. I'm for encouraging the most diverse writership and publication so everyone gets a chance to be read and so that readers have full choices.

When I was a teenager and liking mysteries, I read Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Some Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey. Then I dropped Poirot when I discovered Christie was prejudiced in many ways. I always rejected Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer mysteries--not liking the covers nor the raw language nor the gratuitous language.

What worries me is more what publishers push now. There is more push to gratuitous violence inside and on covers with mutilated women on them, even if the victims are men or children (ugh). So this is a publishing decision where managers/editors say this is what sells a book.

I have problems with that. It doesn't encourage creativity and it exacerbates the gratuitous violence against women.

Again, I am not for banning books at all. Reading is about choice but I am for widening choice of what's out there so all readers can pick and not be pushed to certain books.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Interesting discussion, folks. I'll just say that from a bookseller's perspective, Tana French has hit, while Fred Vargas not so much. We've sold tons of French, totally without my help, though she does have fans on the staff. Vargas, though, has actually been helped a bit now that I've read a couple and recommended them. I think they are too offbeat to have a huge following, but I think she's gradually getting more known here. Personally, I love the two I've read.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'm well prepared to believe that today's publishing environment might predispose publishers toward the safe on the one hand and the sensational on the other. So, yes, I am all for widening the choice of what's out there.

I try to stay away from such debates (they take away from my reading time), but I have noticed that some of the authors mentioned in the discussion of extreme violence against women are themselves women. This does not mean anyone ought to feel compelled to read their books, only that one ought to be open to arguments for the sorts of books they write.

Colin Watson's social history of English detective fiction, Snobbery With Violence, is full of pointed discussions of the Golden Age writers, their predecessors, and their attitudes toward foreigners and such. She finds especially sophisticated expression of such attitudes in Christie.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I was also interested to see Tana French and Vargas singled out. I'd thought that French has big success in the U.S. You may be right about Vargas. Her books may be too close to those sentimental French tales of quirky characters for many American readers' tastes. Oddly enough, I could well imagine her novels appealing to readers who don't read much crime fiction.

April 10, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

For awhile Donna Leon's books didn't sell well in the U.S. The reason given is that U.S. readers want the culprit and justice neatly wrapped up at the end of the story. Leon doesn't do that, which I enjoy.

Now she's catching on more.

Vargas is very popular in Europe, just not so much in the U.S. I can understand that but her convoluted, imaginary flights of thought (where it may take 80 pages to set up a murder, then another 80 to deal with the red herrings) aren't to everyone's tastes.

There are many books I like which may not appeal to others. There are some blogs I read and know that I could not read most of the books discussed from many directions--too violent, too insipid, most "cozies" (some people love them. I don't usually like historical nor espionage, but, hey--no one
has to have my taste!

Yes, today there are some women writers whose works are too violent for me--three that I think of now--and I don't read them. They're recent writers, am not naming names. I support their success.

But there are decades of books going back to my teenagehood and Mickey Spillane and till now, by male authors which I won't read due to violence, misogyny, etc.

But as I said, as long as publishers put out a wide-ranging choice of books by varied authors with different styles and so on, so all readers can pick what they want to read based on choice and taste, fine with me, and as long as there are books for everyone and every taste.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I think it's quite possible for her to find many readers in the U.S. It's just that I don't think the books' strenghts have been presented in the right way or to the right audiences yet. Donna Leon, another intelligent, though very different writer had something of the same problem. Harper tried but didn't get the marketing right somehow. Penguin picked her up and now she's golden I think it's partly just that they got the right look for the series down. It's hard to know that it all hangs by a thread like that, but sometimes, i does.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

For awhile Donna Leon's books didn't sell well in the U.S. The reason given is that U.S. readers want the culprit and justice neatly wrapped up at the end of the story. Leon doesn't do that, which I enjoy.

I've mentioned Donald Westlake's comic Dortmunder novels in a recent post. You might enjoy their endings as well, and perhaps also the ending to the harder-edged Parker novels that Westlake wrote under the name Richard Stark. The novels generally involve heists, and they most often end with something between unqualified success and unmitigated failure. The wrap-up is less than neat, in other words.

Vargas is very popular in Europe, just not so much in the U.S. I can understand that but her convoluted, imaginary flights of thought (where it may take 80 pages to set up a murder, then another 80 to deal with the red herrings) aren't to everyone's tastes.

I enjoy the mental and physical explorations of France's regions in some of her novels -- Normandy in "This Night's Foul Work," the Alps in "Seeking Whom He May Devour," Brittany in "Have Mercy On Us All," and beyond, to Quebec in "Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand."

There are many books I like which may not appeal to others. There are some blogs I read and know that I could not read most of the books discussed from many directions--too violent, too insipid, most "cozies" (some people love them. I don't usually like historical nor espionage, but, hey--no one has to have my taste!

One of the pleasures of attending crime fiction conventions has been the chance to mingle with authors of books that I might not normally read. I will say, too, that, while fans of different sorts of mysteries might not get along, the authors seem to have little trouble raising a glass together.

Yes, today there are some women writers whose works are too violent for me--three that I think of now--and I don't read them. They're recent writers, am not naming names. I support their success.

It won't be hard to guess at least two of them, and both are scheduled to appear at a conference I plan to attend later this year. I will look forward to hearing them.

Mickey Spillane and till now, by male authors which I won't read due to violence, misogyny, etc.

I read Spillane's "My Gun Is Quick" a few years ago, liked it, and ordered a few more. But Mike Hammer's shrill, harping jingoism gave me headaches, so I stopped reading.

April 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I speculated above that Fred Vargas might appeal to readers who don't read much crime fiction. If a publisher agreed with that assessment, how would it promote Vargas?

April 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

That I don't know. The most obvious parallel to me is to Janwillem van de Wetering. I think there are plenty of crime readers to read them. It's just that the covers and the titles don't get across to the people who would read them. They certainly didn't appeal to me. There was just a kind of slow leakage of word of mouth that led me to give them a shot. But that's way too slow a process in today's publishing world. She's lucky she's won a few awards.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's an apt parallel. I discovered Van de Wetering after he'd completed Grijpstra and de Gier series, so I don't know much about how the series was promoted.

I wonder how he'd be promoted if he were writing the books today.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I believe it would be tricky.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This has me wondering what the perfect covers would be for Van de Wetering or Vargas. I started reading Van de Wetering in Soho Crime editions, so that publisher's particular cover design became the identifying mark for him and a bunch more authors from early in my international-crime-reading history. The same might work for Bitter Lemon or Europa Editions. And some of Vargas' work was published in France under the Serie Noire imprint, a strong identifying brand. But special covers that capture the essence of Vargas or Van de Wetering? Hmm.

April 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Couldn't deal with Van de Wetering, but as I said, I love Vargas, any of her books and keep loaning her books to friends, trying to win her fans here.

It's so interesting to assess readers' tastes. I always loan books to friends. Two friends also love Vargas' books. Two friends love Leon, one doesn't.

I do think that U.S. readers do want pat endings with justice meted out so Leon was difficult for many. But glad to hear that her books are catching on.

One of my friends who is also a Leon addict bought ten of her books at a used bookstore and is now re-reading them. His spouse who does not like mysteries as she abhors violence, also likes Commissario Brunetti and family and Venice.

Vargas is tough. I enjoy a weekend with one of her books and for weeks laugh at memories of some of her plot twists, which I won't divulge to anyone who hasn't read the books.

And yes, her sense of place is terrific. The shenanigans in Quebec had me laughing for days.

And I enjoy her use of some of her expertise in medieval history, as about the bubonic plague. And the detective who speaks in 12-syllable Alexandrine verse.

Who else come come up with this?
It's admirable.

But for U.S. audiences? Don't know. It's pretty esoteric stuff.

When I look at the bestselling book lists, they're pretty down-to-earth thrillers, fast-paced, action-driven.

Vargas' books are cerebral, more "intellectual."

As one friend said, she wants action, fast-paced, quickly-moving plots. She loves Lee Child's books, etc.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

The trouble with the Penguin covers for Vargas' work--and not all of them are Penguin, so that's a problem right there--is that they make sense after you've read them, ie, you have the sense the artist has some idea of the story, but are not encouraging beforehand.

Of course, if I knew the answer to this problem I would be making my living as a cover artist.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Although I do like fast paced action driven mysteries myself at times, I actually find mystery readers to be a pretty intelligent crowd as a whole. They do tend to know exactly what they want, though. Unless someone is looking for something very formulaic, like Patterson and Childs, I don't think they would find Vargas too difficult. Just different. Anyone who likes to dabble in international mysteries from time to time might enjoy them.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Couldn't deal with Van de Wetering, but as I said, I love Vargas, any of her books and keep loaning her books to friends, trying to win her fans here.

It's so interesting to assess readers' tastes. I always loan books to friends. Two friends also love Vargas' books. Two friends love Leon, one doesn't.


Kathy, Seana's observation about the two authors was astute. Neither is afraid to slow the pace of the action and allow characters to reflect philospically upon the world.

In the matter of taste, I consider that I've had a meeting of the minds with another reader if we notice the same features in a book even if we disagree on our assessment of these features.

And yes, her sense of place is terrific. The shenanigans in Quebec had me laughing for days.

I'm from Quebec. I enjoyed her observations and mutual misunderstandings of language and manners between the French Quebecois police and Adamsberg and his French French colleagues.

And I enjoy her use of some of her expertise in medieval history, as about the bubonic plague. And the detective who speaks in 12-syllable Alexandrine verse.

Yep, it's quite a feat to be able to pull this stuff off. She is a medievalist herself, and I think her research has focused on the plague, so I can understand why that particular subject might interest her. But to make all those eccentricities work is not easy. That's why I suggested that, in addition to expanding the range of crime-fiction readers, she might appeal to readers who like stories of other kinds -- I don't know, whimsical fables, perhaps.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I have wondered before about the history of cover design for books. When did publishers begin to feel a jacket or cover had somehow to capture the essence of what was inside? That's a fair bit of pressure on a publisher, not to mention the diverse approaches to doing this (should the illustration be allusive? A direct reference to the story?), not to mention an author such as Vargas, for whom pace, eccentricity, emotion, observation and odd scholarship are important. How does one put that on a book cover?

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you radiate wisdom (though I don't always know exactly what I want when it comes to reading). I'm abashed that I'm thinking like a marketer and failing to give readers credit.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I think I should probably have said that they pretty much always know what they don't want. It's not that they aren't open to the new.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But how to get the new to those readers? I'd hate to have to be responsible for marketing a book these days.

April 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

In bookstores, I see readers say definitely what they don't want. It's true readers do know that.

Also, I think it's hard to choose a book by its cover, although usually a "cozy" is identified and a thriller is, too, but not always.

I have to read the book blurb and the back-cover quotes. I can usually tell the gist.

Violent covers turn me off but good fonts and design I like. This is taste again which is subjective.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I have heard that cozy readers and hard-boiled readers snipe at one another at conventions, but I don't think authors follow suit. I suppose Seana is right, that mystery readers are proverbially particular about what they read. She is a bookseller, so I also pay attention when she says more readers could be open to Fred Vargas or other authors who depart from the usual.

I will occasionally comment on a cover, but I can't remember a cover ever being a decisive factor in my chioce whether to buy or read a book.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

At one of our meetings our boss told us of a recent survey about why readers chose the books they did. Word of mouth was one, staff recommendations and book reviews was another, and I suppose Oprah and other big media types have to be included in the equation, but 'by the cover' had an astonishingly high percentage of the pie chart.

...No, of course I don't remember what that number was.

I do wonder how this is going to skew with the gradual takeover by ebooks.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if something like electronic extras, along the lines of the stuff included with movies on DVD, will occupy a role analogous to that of covers.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Unfortunately, I think we will all be "reduced" to looking at thumbnail images of everything. Or maybe it will end up meaning a greater reliance on text. At least, that's my Netflix experience.

April 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You could be right, though I've never used Netflix. Since video/DVD stores are on the way out, too, though, I'll probably have to.

April 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Oh, no, I love my dvd's from the public library of old classics and new movies...they can't disappear.

I cannot imagine fans being acrimonious at book conventions, etc., over their different tastes in books.

My reader friends have very different tastes; some are quite adament about this--especially the pro-Leon and anti-Leon reader (only 1; she doesn't like Brunetti's intellectualism) and the ones who only like thrillers, fast-paced, snappy dialogue, not much reflection or self-examination.

All but one love Indridasson's books; this is the action, thriller fan.

But no one doesn't get along over this, although I've never sat in a dinner listening to different factions on reading taste.

Most of my reader friends have eclectic taste. But individual taste is up to each person, as much as taste in music (varies a lot, too), movies (wow--can people disagree over this), art, restaurants, decor. And politics--I won't even go there.

But on books, no hassles.

I find it very surprising that people choose books based on covers which I do read on other blogs, that this happens often.

I read book reviews and blogs and am loaned books by friends, yes, the ones with divergent tastes, so I end up with variety.

April 12, 2010  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home