SJ Reads: Fandom Edition

Besides grabbing random things from library shelves, I also search random terms in the catalogue. I can’t remember what led me to discovering that fandom and groupies were now library search terms…but they are. So, of course, had to see what that was about. This would be the result of that search.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Cath is starting college and her twin is insistent that they not be joined at the hip. Anxious and likely to retreat into the Simon Snow fandom, Cath is also a wildly successful fanfic writer. The book details how she navigates family drama, roommates, relationships, and just plain putting herself out there, while also dealing with an anti-fanfic creative writing professor. The blurb hits the right buzzwords, but the book is much better than the blurb. I like how Rowell handles Cath’s anxiety – nothing is overtly cartoony or cliche. While a lot gets thrown at her, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. There’s also a lot of really interesting exchanges on the creative differences/validity between fanfic and original fiction. Plus, you get bits of Cath’s Simon Snow fanfic throughout the book. I can see why people wouldn’t get into it, but it reminds me a lot of switching from commuter to campus living in some ways, so maybe I’m predisposed to get into it. I enjoyed that someone was writing about all of these things and exploring the emotional implications.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – I’ve never quite sussed out if this is supposed to be Cath’s fanfic or the actual final book in the fictional Simon Snow series. It doesn’t matter, because this is the chosen one/magic kid book I didn’t know I wanted. Set up to be similar to Harry Potter, it’s plot and themes are more political than good vs. evil. It also does a lot to set up its characters to be definitively different to the Potter cast, while still playing off some tropes. I also really like that it switches viewpoints so you get a concrete view of what’s going on in the Mage world. I like that it deals with different kinds of relationships and not everything is tied up in a neat bow. I really, really love this book and it feels much more like something that could happen in the world we live in than others with similar topics. It isn’t as escapist and is geared more towards those who are older teens and above. It’s this type of title for an adult audience and it does its job superbly well. I really, really want this as a movie now.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls by Sam Maggs– Full disclosure, I skimmed this. Basically it breaks down fandom terminology and opportunities for girls, which is good. It is a positive, encouraging book that talks about things like cosplay, conventions, fanfic, etc. I dunno, part of me feels like this is a little pandery, a little too basic to be of benefit, though I could see it being helpful to  younger girls or girls in smaller towns looking for a helpful way into fandom without falling into the online minefield or whatever. I do feel that the moment you include any sort of interview about fandom that it takes away from the creators and puts a hierarchy in place, like ‘well these are what you should strive to be as a fan.’ I don’t know that that’s the intention, but books like this always give me mixed feelings. I applaud what they’re trying to do, but I dunno if it’s that I’m way out of the age bracket or I get suspicious about the reasoning behind this sort of thing, but this title and others like it always give me mixed feelings.

The Rockstar in Seat 3A by Jill Kargman – At its core, it’s a pretty typical chick lit story that could be straight from the 90s heyday. Girl is going to be engaged, doesn’t know if she’s ready, meets her rock star crush, runs off to be with him, then has to make some decisions. For me, the problem is in the execution. All of the characters are pretty perfect from the get go: the lead lady has a well-paying job at a gaming company (and is never given any real negative energy for it), her fiance is a chef who’s starting his own restaurant and looks to be well off from the description of living space and lifestyle habits, the rock star has had his problems but they’re all handled neatly off screen right before the plot kicks into gear. Everyone’s beautiful. Sex is always awesome. Food is always amazing. She talks like she’s a pre-teen trying to impress people and not drive because she doesn’t feel like it and still manages to get through life. She gets to live out her fantasy before going back to a stable relationship because yeah, people are that understanding in this world. Plus, the whole conflict is that she’s turning thirty and feels that she hasn’t lived life yet. Because apparently that’s still a legitimate concern and plot device these days?

It just all feels so…orchestrated and safe. The dialogue is just quirky enough, and the conflict doesn’t quite reach the level it needs to be to make me care. Worried about weird bdsm rock star sex? Nah, he just does that for the videos. Drugs? Taken care of. Dark place? That somehow ended right as the rock star meets the lead character because she’s that amazing. Legions of groupies? Nah, because she’s enough to make him want nothing else instantly.

I get it, it’s a fantasy, but there’s just so much that could have been done and things never quite kick. the girl is never quite the quirky falling-apart wreck she needs to be to move the plot, she’s just immature and silly. The rock star isn’t dangerous enough to be a threat, either romantically or personal baggage wise. The fiance isn’t really anything.  And the thing is, part of me still enjoyed it as a late-night, easy read. And I don’t like that, I don’t like for plots to be that easy, especially when the characters did have some interesting bits to them. It’s also obvious that things really kicked when the lead meets the rock star, so if the goal is to write about being swept off one’s feet by that kind of person…that’s awesome. Write that book.End it with that kind of romance.  Just do that instead of trying to do the typical has to choose between two amazing dudes scenario, because there is no way in hell I’m going to pity or empathize with a protagonist like that. If you go that route, at least play up the conflict to make it interesting or throw a massive wrench into things to shake it up.

I would also like to give romance and chick lit authors a heads up: If you base a character on a crush or a real life celebrity, please don’t disclaim that because that is all I’m going to see when I read your book, and then all I’m going to see is how you either got that person wrong, or wonder if that’s what you think they are, or wonder if you’re purposefully trying to distance the character from the real person. And if you are a certain age, it is very, VERY obvious who said rock star is supposed to be, even if you don’t read the acknowledgements. It’s exhausting and admittedly weirded me out enough that I couldn’t fully get into the book. Just please don’t do that to yourself or your readership.




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