WHAT WE SAW by Aaron Hartzler: A Review of 34% of the Book

As much of anything, I’m dusting off my blog to confess to quitting on a book that isn’t bad. But it does make me uncomfortable because I personally don’t want to read about people defending rapists or denouncing a rape victim, even if it’s realistic and is making a good point about rape culture in our society. I guess I feel guilty because Brandi would tell me that quitting this particular book is my male privilege, that she and others like her deal with the consequences of our shitty culture every day, so suck it up sport and finish the book. But still, I quit reading it. I seek your vindication.

The book is called What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler. It is a fictional version of the Steubenville rape case. It takes place in a small town in Iowa and the main character is a girl who is suddenly dating her childhood best friend, who is on the basketball team. There’s a party, and four of her boyfriend’s teammates are arrested for sexual assault. It took me 34% of the book to get that far. Of course, once the arrests happen, the assaults on the victim’s character begin. And then we switch back to our main character getting ready for the hipster ball (a spring dance where they wear thrift store clothes, so yeah I’m gonna call it the hipster ball because that’s what it’d be called).

That’s where I called it quits.

It wasn’t a bad book, per se. The prose was good, and the characters were distinct enough that I could keep them straight (really the only fleshed out characters up to that point were the protagonist and her love interest, but the secondary characters didn’t fade into the background, so that’s a plus.) I know from the reviews that it’s supposed to be an examination and indictment of rape culture, but….
1) The first third of the book’s focus is on the love story, and then this terrible thing happening in the background. There are somewhat low stakes at play for the protagonist, so that’s kind of dull. Not that I’d want to read a book about a girl who’d been assaulted, but still. It feels voyeuristic. “Look at the bad thing happening to her.” I don’t find myself caring if this character eventually sticks up for the victim (someone she was friends with, once upon a time, but isn’t now, and I’m supposed to believe she’s gonna set her life on fire for eventually? Doubtful. Even if at the start of the terrible night in question they were drinking together.). The slice-of-life literary tale is the forefront in the early part of the book, and it’s not very interesting.
2) Small town politics, especially involving allowing basketball players on the high school team almost literally get away with murder, is not something I need to read about to know it exists. I hail from the lovely town of Warsaw, Indiana, and let me tell you about the high school as it was when I attended. The school was literally built around the basketball court, which is located in the exact center of the building. Every other extracurricular activity raised money for the basketball team and then got the scraps that remained. They got new uniforms pretty regular while the band and other groups used old stuff. Basketball players, especially good ones on years we went to state, got away with whatever they wanted, and coasted through class. So it’s not breaking news that this happens, or a portrait I need to look at.
3) I am aware that rape culture is a thing and that it’s awful and if there was a way to condense it into one person I’d put every ounce of that shit on Donald Trump and BURN THAT MOTHERFUCKER ALIVE so the world could be a better place. To say women the world over are treated like second class citizens the world over is a joke because it would imply that at least they’re treated like citizens.
I don’t really like the idea of writing a review of a book that I didn’t finish. I don’t want to throw shade at this particular book, as I’m not really in a place to do so. All I can do is list reasons why I wanted to give up on it as a reader. If you can stomach it I encourage you to read it and let me know how it was for you. As a YA book, I’d say it’s a story that needs to be told, so young people can see the world as it unfortunately truly is. There maybe quite a few teens who pick this book up and it resonates and helps them feel less alone. For me, it just made me angry, and if I want to feel angry I’ll just watch the news.

Thank you everyone

Thank you to everyone who linked over to my story and gave me feedback. I really appreciate it, and your friendship means a lot to me. Lately, I’ve been locked up in my own head, convinced that I’m delusional and that nothing is important and that nothing matters. Hell, this all may be true, but I can’t live like that.

A number of people have expressed that “The Last Good Day” seems incomplete, like it’s a beginning. I am very much considering stretching the story out as soon as I can figure out where to go with it. (<sarcasm>Also, because I don’t have near enough projects I can’t finish going right now.</sarcasm>) I want to be a novelist more than anything, so it’s no surprise that I don’t have short fiction mastered. It’s not the kind of story I want to tell. Not that I’m bad at short stories. But I don’t read them enough. Myke Cole wrote a pretty good blog post about this if there are any aspiring novelists reading my ramblings.

Again, thank you for your words in response to mine. If I can do anything for you, just let me know.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Imagine it’s a holiday. You don’t have to be anywhere. You are surrounded by the family and friends you like, and none of the ones you don’t. A show you like is playing on the television, or your favorite music. A meal is served, and every bite is phenomenal, from appetizer to dessert. So good, in fact, that you find yourself savoring every bite.

Time slows down and you want to make the moment last as long as you can.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway was that holiday. It is a book that will remind you of why you love to read in the first place. It is packed full of genre bits: there are elements of crime fiction, spy thrillers, steampunk, and the menace of a fantastic supervillian. It is also packed full of the wonderful things we love about literary fiction, as these genre pieces are used by characters to explore ideas about identity, life and death, truth, and love. The book is full of lively, well rounded characters that jump off the page.

I honestly can’t wait to read his first novel The Gone Away World. I have it sitting on my table, just waiting. As he’s a new author, I’ll have to savor that one while I wait for his next work. But that’s okay. That’s one of the things I like about reading, anyway.

My Son is Growing Up

My son Deaglan has a friend named Alina over. She is a very nice little girl whom he seems quite smitten with. At one point Brandi decided to give Deaglan a hug, which he laughed and squirmed away from. “Mom hug!” he said to Alina, “Save me!”

“You want me to save you?” She said, grabbing his hand and dragging him away.

It’s weird when a metaphor happens right in front of you.

Some E-book Ramblings

Chuck Windig wrote an incredibly thoughtful, not annoying or one sided post on piracy here and it is well worth your time to read it first. I thought that as a reader and an unpublished writer I would lay some thoughts down in honor of his desire that today be “Please Don’t Pirate My Book” Day.

I have deliberately pirated a book exactly one time. It was Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer. (I figure you knew who wrote it, I just wanted to be open and let you know that yes, it was that book.) My friend Gill kept talking about it, and where books are concerned, I refuse to spit out others’ opinions. So I got the first three from her (in a .pdf, so I suppose that is indirect piracy.) After reading and hating the first three, I had to know how it ended, because I’m a sadist. So I downloaded it.

I had reasons. I didn’t want to pay money for a book I truly didn’t value. I didn’t want to go to the library and be put on hold for it, and I didn’t want to have to answer every squeeing fangirl at work telling me how great these books really aren’t. I wanted it to be on my phone, where I could read it in silence and pretend it was incestual donkey porn or something less embarassing.

Karma had its way with me though: There was two pages of text written in Turkish inserted into the middle of the book for no reason. I had to sneak to the library after I read it and grab a copy off the shelf, find the section of the book the Turkish was in and make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t, but I had to be sure.

I guess the point is that in my mind, torrenting a book I have no intention of buying will forever be stained with the thought that I value that author less than I value the Twilight series.

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I’m gonna put this out there, with the caveat that I can change my mind if I want, because my mom was a woman. If someone wants to pirate my work, I’m alright with it. I don’t much care. I don’t like to focus on things I can’t control, and whether or not someone decides to pay for my shiz is not something I’m gonna lose sleep over. People are gonna get ahold of my work at some point through buying it, checking it out from the library, or downloading it. That click may require a credit card or it may require a virus scan. I don’t know and I don’t care. I just hope they like it. And if they like it they consider throwing money at the next one.

Two things though:

If they try to make money off my work, I will destroy them.

And if they approach me at a signing or something and tell me that they torrented my book and loved it, I will lay the sales pitch down hard on why they should buy a copy. I’m a story teller. Let me tell you a story about my special needs son’s medicine. And my other’s son’s debilitating fear of foods that don’t cost a a million dollars an ounce.

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Now, in the grey nether world of the debate, it could be said that I’ve been pirating for ages, considering my main reason for buying a book is to be able to loan it out. If I just want to read something without any guarantee that I’ll love it, I go to the library. They have patron request forms and interlibrary loan services. But if I love a book so hard that I want to preach it from the mountaintops (like say, Breathers by S.G. Browne, Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, or anything by Christopher Moore), I want to be able to physically press it into their hands and guilt them into reading the damn thing. One of the largest regrets I currently have, bookishly speaking, is my inability to loan a copy of Redshirts to my dad. He’s a huge Star Trek fan, but I know he’d get the joke and love the end. I am excited that Chuck Wendig’s writing books are going to be in print, even though I own all the e-books, for that very reason.

But we are all readers, and we know that loaning a book to a family member is not really piracy, no matter how much the publishing companies want it to be. I don’t want to villianize them, because honestly I don’t blame them for trying to put restrictions of some type on files. I have had to replace my copy of Lamb so many times, because of the simple fact that if someone doesn’t give it back, then I don’t have it anymore. That doesn’t happen with a computer file. I can’t impact a books sales in any measureable way by loaning my copy out to one person at a time over the course of a year. A book takes time to read. Depending on reading time, I have the potential with a physical copy to keep 365 people from buying the book, assuming that they only take a day to read it and are willing to wait. (Realistically, it’s probably closer to 50, and actually, it’s more like 2, because when I loan a book out it tends to stay with that person for a long time.) But with an e-file, I get it. I can distribute that file to an infinite number of people. It makes a difference, theoretically.

But loaning and borrowing books is so much a part of the culture of reading that it’s hard to argue with the rationale of the “pirates” who wipe the DRM off the files and put them on torrent sites. It’s not an arguement that I’ve seen presented, and it’s not an excuse to do it. But it is why I have a hard time getting worked up about it.

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There are always going to be people who aren’t willing to pay for art or entertainment (artertainment?). The Internet has not only made it easier for them to get the things they want but it has made it easier for them to avoid paying for it. A friend of mine just told me he and his wife brought home $60,000 last year, and he doesn’t spend any of it on entertainment, as far as I know. He just torrents everything. When I got through The Walking Dead on Netflix, he gave me the files for season 3 and told me how to torrent the rest. I watched the episodes he gave me, and when we decided to rewatch them, we bought them on Amazon. And not just so we could stream them to our Wii. It’s more that we want to pay for the things we love so they will continue to be around. I think that as readers and lovers of books, we need to make a concentrated effort to support those people whose work gives us the most joy.

Ten Me’s for You

My New Year’s resolution was to write a blog post every week to be posted on Tuesday, and lo and behold a week into the new year I already forgot about it. This one is late and I don’t have any interesting essay ideas (that won’t feel half-assed), so here is a list of things about me. If you follow me on Twitter or we’re Facebook friends, we may not actually know some of these things about each other. So here we go.

1) I think Deep Space Nine is the best of all the Star Treks.

2) I think Star Trek is, for the most part, better than Star Wars.

3) I don’t think Star Wars is science fiction. It’s a fairy tale (in the academic sense, not an insult.)

4) I am a fan of Notre Dame football. I am ashamed of the University for their treatment of the Lizzy Seeburg case, and will be heartbroken about it for the rest of my life. A young woman’s life is more valuable than a young man’s football career, or even an entire university football program. But I won’t stop being a fan. Sorry.

5) I am likely to automatically discount the point of view of the person with the most power in any situation.

6) My favorite food is Mexican.

7) I can order food in three languages.

8) I consider ordering food to be all a person needs to know in another language.

9) My favorite dead author is Robert B. Parker and my favorite living author is Christopher Moore. If I were stuck on a desert island, I’d want a copy of Lamb and a copy of Small Vices.

10) I am the type of person who is more inclined to like a thing than not like a thing. If I invest time into reading a book, especially, I’m probably going to like something about it. There are exceptions (the guy that wrote Fight Club? I hate those books. Hate. Rant and Haunted and Invisible Monsters are three of the worst books ever written by anyone, anywhere, and that counts self-published.), but for the most part I will find something good about a piece of entertainment. Mostly because life is about how you look at a thing. And it’s possible to take anything and pull what you want out of it. There are Christians who want to be offended by everything. There are people who want to find racism, sexism, feminism, altruism, patriotism, and truisms in every movie and book they consume. I can find those things, but for the most part I am hoping to find something interesting to talk or write about.

New Years 2013. Hungover and Smelling Meat.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s because my birthday was three weeks ago, and I look at that as my personal New Year. Since then, I’ve had a few weeks to reflect and decide how I want my 32nd year on Earth to go differently than last year.

I did good on my goals. I got some work out there. Collected quite a few more rejection letters. Some of them were even personalized, and one had feedback. (Actual fucking feedback. From an editor. Even though it was mostly complimentary, the notes ripped out my heart and pooped in the chest hole.) Got a couple of acceptances and a whole lot of books. I haven’t gotten paid cash money yet for my work, but it’ll come. I feel more confident in my writing than I ever have in my life.

On a personal front, I lost forty pounds. My clothes fit better. I no longer snore so loudly that the airport is calling to complain. I don’t dig on shaming people for the bodies they have, but trust me: I had to lose the weight. It was making me miserable. Every day felt like I was a plate of nachos away from a heart attack. And just in case you’re wondering how I did it: I stopped eating fast food, started cooking at home, cut pop out of my diet, started exercising , and worked my ass off. It’d be awesome if I could lose another twenty pounds or so this year, but if I don’t I don’t care.

I have several goals in which I do care about this year, however. I am going to finish the novel I started in November and finish another before the year is out. I would like to edit at least one of them to a point where I’d feel comfortable letting others read it. Submitting? I’m just trying to learn how a novel is written for right now. I’ll cross that bridge soon, but I don’t want to be some hack thrusting penguin shit upon the publishing world. I want to put more poetry and short fiction out there, hopefully landing it somewhere. Hopefully even for money. I’m not going to set goals for things I can’t control, like getting published or winning a prize. That’s a surefire way to feel stupid on my next birthday.

To make sure those goals happen, I’ll be writing every day. LIKE I SHOULD HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DOING. But in addition, I intend to make updating this blog a weekly exercise. So every Tuesday, they’ll be something here. A book review. A recipe. Victorian era BDSM porn starring Emily Dickinson and the red bird from ANGRY BIRDS. Something. 

So Feliz Año Nuevo, my friends. I hope you meet your goals and dreams somewhere along the path of 2013, and they don’t end up mugging you and stealing your kidneys.