Essay rec: the components of reader response to a book

Janet at the romance blog Dear Author has posted an excellent essay discussing the three main strands that go into a reader’s reactions to a book (correctness, style and taste), noting that only one of these is objective, and considering how that can lead to misunderstandings in online discussions.

The subject is something I’ve often seen discussed in fanfic circles, which has a whole critical vocabulary to indicate stories/books which have a high score on one aspect but a low score on another. But this is one of the best single-post discussions of the subject that I can remember seeing, and while it’s written from a romance reader’s perspective, it does not rely on prior knowledge of any particular fiction genre or fandom in-group knowledge. The comment thread has some good discussion as well. If you’re interested in meta, you may well find this an interesting read regardless of your preferred genre.

Best pen review ever

I occasionally read pen porn, i.e. geeky reviews of pens I know in my heart I’m never going to buy, but I can still fantasise about. Having lost a bookmark for a blog, I was trying to Google it, and found a link to the best pen review ever. The Amazon reviewers have been having a little… fun… with the “Bic Crystal Ballpoint Pen, Medium Point, Black” review section. :-)

Book review: PD James — Unnatural Causes

Third book in the Adam Dalgliesh series. Dalgliesh needs a break, partly to recover from his last case and partly to think over his relationship with Deborah Riscoe. As is his habit, he goes to stay for a few days with his Aunt Jane, who lives in a small, remote coastal settlement populated mostly by writers. Naturally, he finds murder even in Monksmere.

In this case, Dalgliesh is not only not the investigating officer, but not officially involved in the case other than as a witness and relative/aquaintance of the suspects. But as someone with inside knowledge of the community and a direct connection, he can’t but help but be involved with the local police as they attempt to solve the case.

It’s all too clear that the only plausible suspects are the inhabitants of Monksmere, but that doesn’t stop them trying to find some way to first deny that there has been a murder, and then that it is one of their number who was responsible. James carefully shows the differing and often eccentric personalities, the ways in which they manage to live in a sometimes uneasy tolerance of each other in a very small community, and the effect the murder has upon those relationships. With the victim being a writer of detective stories, and all the suspects being writers, there are multiple levels of meta going on.

I found the book an enjoyable read, though flawed in places. But it’s far from her best work, and even if you don’t like this one it would be worth trying one of the later books. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the book was written in 1967, and social changes since then could make the book feel dated and implausible if you’re not aware of this.

Unnatural Causes at Amazon UK
at Play
Unnatural Causes (Adam Dagliesh Mystery Series #3) at Amazon US
at Powell’s
LibraryThing entry
Also available in audiobook format at

May book log

Ebooks in May:

Finished reading the third and fourth books in the Time Traders series by Andre Norton, having read the first two books and started the third in April. All four books are out of copyright and available as legal free downloads on Project Gutenberg and mirrors. This is the complete set of the original series written in the 50s and 60, although some co-authored books were added many years later.

Andre Norton — The Gifts of Asti. Short story available from Project Gutenberg, briefly reviewed here.

Elizabeth Bear — Shoggoths in Bloom. Novelette which I received as part of the Hugo Voters Packet, a collection of electronic editions of many of the works nominated for the Hugo Awards, made available to voting members of this year’s Worldcon. It’s also available as a free download at Bear’s website. Hard to review without giving away too much about it. It’s a moral fable riffing off Lovecraft. I admire the technical skill, and liked the story, but found myself feeling a little colder about it than I might have expected given the skill and subject matter. I think this is at least in part because I’m not into Lovecraft — it’s sufficiently well executed that I’m not excluded from the story, but I’m sure there’s stuff I’m simply not getting. I’m also Not American, and I think this does have some influence when it comes to a visceral reaction to some of the subject matter.

Print books read in May:

Only one completed. Wandered into the remainder bookshop, and wandered out again with the hardback of the latest Dalziel and Pascoe novel, “A Cure For All Diseases” which I *had* been leaving until it came out in paperback because I hadn’t expected to find time to read it. Sat down and read it that weekend, with much enjoyment.

Started a re-read of “Unnatural Causes”, the third book in the Dalgliesh series by PD James.

I usually put links to Amazon on my book log, for the benefit of people who think, “I’d like to read that.” I am now torn on this. Amazon have annoyed me once too often, and I really don’t want to give them any more custom than I can help. On the other hand, I have always tried to offer multiple sources for stuff I pimp, especially when I’ve been doing some price comparison, and as far as I can tell nobody has ever bought something through any of the other links other than one episode of buying DVDs from Play, while I get one or two sales a month through Amazon. They also have the click-through stats available, so I can see how many people found the link interesting enough to visit, and I can see that a fair number of people do find the links worthwhile even if they don’t buy anything. At ten or twenty quid a year I’m not doing it for the money, but it is nice to know whether people find the links useful. So no direct links this month, but I’m going to have to think about this a bit harder.