Recommendations request

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Sat Jan 15 12:42:26 EST 2005

On Fri, 14 Jan 2005 15:00:23 EST, JOdel at wrote:

>> I know he would like Marion Chesney, but our library has gotten rid of 
>> almost everything of hers they own,
>I bet they haven't gotten rid of the ones she writes as M. C. Beaton. They're 
>in the mystery section.

Oh yes.  There are twice as many titles under that name as under Marion
Chesney.  Very easy to find, though you have to do your own digging to
figure out where each series begins.

I spent yesterday at the library for an unrelated reason and took a break by
trying to track down at least one complete Chesney series.  The county
library has about fifteen branches; the computer lists the holdings of all
of them.  My initial complaint is related to my own branch, which only has
four or five of her books, but the entire system has 40.  You would think
that this would mean they had at least three or four of the six-volume
series, with maybe some duplicates and some of the stand-alone books.


The only complete series they have is Daughters of Mannerling.  They have
five of House for the Season--missing the first volume, naturally.  One of
The Six Sisters.  Three of The Traveling Matchmaker.  A handful from The
Poor Relation.  Only one of School for Manners...they should be struck by
lightning, really.

I have to wonder what led to this situation--surely they must have owned
more books at one time, but then got rid of them due to wear or lack of
interest or something.  Or people stole them, or lost them.  And there's not
enough interest for the library to replace them.  Clearly this will have to
be the year that I get my own copies.

I'm avoiding work.  It's either church work, or reading crap books for the
yearly awards, or running around town trying to find copies of eligible
books for the yearly awards, or kicking myself again for not contacting
publishers three months ago to send me copies for the yearly awards....  I
was in the library yesterday culling the list, and it was so depressing I
wondered why I even bother.  Okay, yes, if 90% of the eligible titles are
easily discarded without reading, it cuts down on the reading, but what does
it say about the local publisher that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEIR BOOKS IS
CRAP?!?!  I'm talking about stupid rookie mistakes that no real editor would
allow.  Like prologues that are really first chapters, or prologues that
have nothing to do with the rest of the story, or prologues that have the
main character shot and bleeding to death and his last thought is "The only
thing he could do was remember how it all started."

And what kills me is that part of my brain recognizes that these books are
for people who just don't read all that much and lack the kind of reading
skills that allow you to appreciate really good writing.  At least they want
to read for entertainment...but damn it, this is a dead end that they'll
never get out of!  It provides no means of growing as a reader or even
identifying good writing when they see it.  I know many of these writers,
and they're good people who like to tell stories.  A few of them have real
potential--one actually left this publisher for another recently, and I hope
it's a good change for her; she wants to go national, and with a good editor
and critique group I think she could do it.  It's the editors I blame--they
are the ones not reining in exposition dump and stupid physical descriptions
and really awful story structure.  What they want are safe books, books that
reinforce their readers' values, where evil is always identified as evil and
people get converted to Mormonism and...geez, I just depressed myself all
over again.

Anyway, safe books I can live with.  I don't approve of them as a reader and
critic, but I don't think it's correct for me to condemn someone else's
preferences.  But who says safe books have to be written so very very badly?
I mean, I was talking about _The Conversion of Jeff Williams_ just recently,
and that is a safe book if there ever was one--but it's brilliantly written
and simply incandescent in places.  (The author just wrote and complimented
me on something I'd written about the book; unfortunately I have no
recollection of the specific piece he's talking about.  I will have to do
some digging, because I'm half convinced he thinks I'm someone else...but,
honestly, how many literary Proffitts are there running around Utah?)  So
it's not like you have to check your literary values at the door to write a
book that is clean, life-affirming, non-threatening; conflict can be between
Good and Good just as easily as between Good and Bad, and frankly I think
the first one has more potential.

I didn't realize I had this diatribe in me.  I've been seriously frustrated
ever since yesterday evening; I spent the morning in Aerin's school library,
moving books, and that was quite enjoyable.  But all the way home from the
school, my discontent was growing, because this isn't the first year I've
done these awards, and when you don't have the books on hand and have to
find them at the library, it's a miserable process even if they're great
books: type the author's name, find the title, see if it's checked in or at
a different branch, place a hold if necessary, repeat until your brain is
the consistency of Jell-O pudding.  And I feel honor-bound to do this even
if I suspect that the books are crap.  When I turn out to be right, it feels
like a giant waste of time.

I did find two books by this publisher that, while not right for the award,
are actually pretty good.  Clearly they aren't beating their talent into
submission.  And I really should look on the bright side; the books I end up
actually reading cover-to-cover are usually very enjoyable.  There's this
author Sierra St. James (yes, it's a pseudonym; she writes children's books
under her real name, Janette Rallison) who is just hilarious; Scott Card's
_Rachel and Leah_ is up this year; the guy at Signature (publisher of
_Conversion_) took my rant seriously and mailed me a copy of their eligible
book, which I understand is quite good.  And while the young adult list is
really short by comparison to other years, the titles are impressive:
Shannon Hale's _Enna Burning_, Randall Wright's _Hunchback_, something by
Martine Leavitt I probably won't be able to get my hands on, thank you so
much Red Deer Press, a book by Mette Harrison called _Mira, Mirror_ which is
a Snow White tale with a substantial twist, and a fantasy book by Michael
Tunnell that draws on Aladdin and should be really good, based on his
earlier work.  My cohort Kathleen Woodbury wants to just give the award to
Shannon, but she's biased.  (Kathleen read Crown and Court Duel in draft,
lucky dog.)

Okay, I really do have to get this order of service printed for Sunday.  (We
call it a "program," actually, but I understand even that's not the correct
Mormon term.  What do I know, I'm just the slave who churns it out every
week.)  And my Sunday School lesson planned.  It's the irony of being a
devout Latter-day Saint in the middle of Mormon country and being thoroughly
disgusted by the reading habits of my fellow Mormons that makes me crazy.

Melissa Proffitt
overworked and not paid at all

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