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All posts for the month May, 2014

Friday shipping war

Published May 30, 2014 by Shannon

I wonder if anyone has ever written Mary Lennox/Dickon fanfic. Because I always thought Mary’s life would be markedly more interesting (if maybe less comfortable financially) if she ended up with the outdoorsy Yorkshireman rather than her mopey and spoiled cousin. (Granted, nobody was shipped at all in the books, but one of the movies sort of ended on Mary/Colin IIRC.)

Or maybe that is just me and I have thought this over way too much.

Also, where did Martha go? She totally disappears from the narrative once Dickon shows up, and considering she did have to put up with whiny, spoiled beginning-of-book Mary, you’d think Frances Hodgson Burnett could have done something with her.I am also not over the fact that there is no Jo/Laurie. I mean I get it, but Professor Baher was way too patronizing and sanctimonious. Maybe he comes off better in the sequels, but I haven’t read them because I feel like Jo March as mother is likely to be far less interesting to me than Jo March as young wannabe writer and tomboy.

And while I am on this subject, John Brooke is my favorite of the March girls’ suitors. Because he’s smart. And adorkable.

#YesAllWomen Quiet moments of creepiness

Published May 25, 2014 by Shannon

The #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter is necessary and compelling reading. If you missed it, or haven’t seen much about it, there’s a good explanation of it here. Go read that. I’ll be here when you get back.
So now that we have that out of the way, it’s story time. Because I can’t write about these things in 140 characters, and it’s a topic I’ve needed to bring up for a while.

Story 1: I was nine years old, and seemingly overnight, my body grew in ways I didn’t understand. I had to wear bras, which were the height of uncomfortable fashions, and still are, though decades later I’ve come to realize there is no better alternative. During that summer, I ended up taking summer school classes with another girl about my age. For whatever reason, my TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired) had the lessons at this girl’s home. The girl had two siblings close to our age, and I had to play with them when my teacher was working with the other girl. I don’t remember what we played, but I sure as hell remember them groping my breasts–those strange things I wasn’t so comfortable with myself. I did tell my teacher, and it did stop, but I had to go through junior high and high school with them. One of those boys was on our football team. The other was in the orchestra. Basically, they did pretty well for themselves, all things considered. At any point, did I ever get an apology from them? No, I did not.

Story 2: When I was living in my first apartment, I met a man online through a role playing game. He was married, and they were expecting a baby. He was also local to me. Occasionally, he would IM me with flirty messages, but I thought he was harmless because… married. With a baby. I ended up meeting him, and he ended up taking me back to my apartment due to reasons that are too complicated and irrelevant. When we got there, he hugged me. And then didn’t step back when the hug should have ended. His hands started moving in non-regulation ways. I was terrified, and the moment lasted for what felt like a long time before he pulled away. I closed the door between him and myself with relief.

Being a nonconfrontational person even then, and more so than I am now, I called a mutual friend and told her what had happened. She was appropriately sympathetic and she did talk to him. Did I get an apology? Kind of. I got a “I’m sorry you were so freaked out. I didn’t mean anything, Jesus. Besides, you hugged me.

Nearly 15 years later, I now live in an apartment by myself. A male friend (who is also happily married) has been wanting to get together at my house instead of his, where we have been meeting. At first I thought my reluctance to let him was silly. I mean, he wasn’t even interested in me that way. But then, I hadn’t thought that other guy was, either. So I had to email him and tell the whole story. Unlike the douchebag above, he totally got it and has never pushed to be alone with me in my space again.

Story 3: I have heard from a number of blind women that conventions for the two national consumer groups for the blind often feature men sort of “accidentally” groping women. Because oopsie, they’re blind, and they didn’t know the women were there. Convenient how much reaching around to explore their surroundings happens at breast level. Having heard these stories from numerous people has dampened my desire to attend any of these conventions. I’m sure they provide much that is valuable. But I don’t want to be cornered in some elevator by a creeper with wandering hands. Been there, done that. Don’t need to do it again.

What’s worse is that I can name names. I have heard terrifying stories about very prominent men in the blindness community who have used their power to make moves on women who had less power. I have no reason to believe that if I ever met them, and ended up alone with them, anything would happen. But I’m certainly not taking the chance. None of the women whose stories I have heard have ended their tales with, “And then he felt super bad about groping me/making unwanted suggestions/crossing my boundaries and apologized.”

Story 4: I don’t know how many of you know this about me, but I read romance novels. Some of them are steamy. Since Twitter is where my romance reading friends hang out, sometimes I get into giggly, bawdy conversations about them. Sometimes this bemuses some of my non-romance-reading followers, but they either put up with me or quietly unfollow. Given how little I pay attention, I honestly don’t know.

Several weeks ago, during the 24-hour Readathon I tweeted something about how I wanted to write something, because all the books I’d been reading had caused my creative juices to start flowing. A few minutes later, I got a DM from someone who was not a romance fan, which read, “Are you sure those are the only juices that are flowing? I know what you read.” After staring at that for a few minutes, I shot back with something like, “Wow. That’s a really rude thing for you to say. You’ve lost your DM privileges.” I felt proud of myself in that moment for not putting up with shit that makes me uncomfortable. Did that guy ever apologize? No. He bitched in DMs at a mutual friend about how humorless I was.

No one has ever asked me to do any sexual acts that I wasn’t down for. But “accidental” groping, bizarre boundary-crossing private messages, and men making me feel otherwise unsafe are all too common. The heartening thing about the #yesallwomen hashtag was reading other women’s stories and learning that I wasn’t alone or unreasonably creeped out by the things that happened to me.

I used to think that my creep radar was set to “really fucking high.” I have had conversations all too recently with my nearest and dearest female friends in which I’ve uttered the phrase, “It’s OK that I find this creepy, right? This is over the line to you, too?” I hate that I have to even have these exchanges. I hate that society has taught me too well that a woman’s reaction should be mild amusement. Just go along with the flirty IMs/”accidental” groping, but don’t get too excited, because the boundary between “chill girl” and “slut” is permeable. I hate that society has also insinuated that as a fat, disabled woman, I should be flattered by any attention no matter from whom, because it’s not like it’s going to happen that often, right? Creepy attention is at least attention.

It’s heartening to know that I’m not the only woman who’s heard these messages. I’m not the only woman who’s gotten these stories. Yes, many have had it worse, but in those moments of profound physical and mental discomfort, it’s easy to feel isolated. That serves the purposes of all the creepers. If we all talked openly about unacceptable creeping behavior, it would be less OK to do it. And that is a world I want to be in.

Just a note: If you want to leave a comment that contains the words “But not all men…” or “I certainly would never…” and you’re a dude, save yourself the five minutes, because duh. Not all men are creepers, but all women have been creeped on. This is seriously not about you.

Announcing the Rifter Book club

Published May 24, 2014 by Shannon

The other day I was thinking aloud, on Twitter, as one does, about how I’d like to do some kind of book club posts on my blog. Immediately Liz Mc2 and Sonoma Lass jumped on board, so this is happening.

Our first project is to read all of The Rifter by Ginn Hale. I picked this one because one fine day Liz Mc2 and I bought the whole 10-part serial and its sheer size is somewhat intimidating. Plus, unlike the last time I tried something like this, I fully expect I’ll enjoy the book, because I like epic fantasy, I like people-from-our-world-go-to-another sorts of stories, I like M/M books, and I like the thought of serial fiction, particularly when it’s all completed.

Here is the synopsis of the first book, to let you know what this is all about:

When John opens a letter addressed to his missing roommate, Kyle, he expects to find a house key, but instead he is swept into a strange realm of magic, mysticism, revolutionaries and assassins. Though he struggles to escape, John is drawn steadily closer to a fate he share with Kyle—to wake the destroyer god, the Rifter, and shatter a world.

My plan is to post a reaction post on every Friday starting June 6 for each of the parts of the serial. I understand the serials clock in at about 100-150 pages each, so I think that should be reasonable. After that, I’ll leave the comments open for discussion.

Each of the parts runs about $2.99, but the whole thing is available at a discount if you click on the Blind Eye books website above. I wish I’d done that instead of buying my copies through All Romance Ebooks, since their ebook buck program seems unnecessarily byzantine.

Anyway, I hope this experiment turns out to be fun. I hope you’ll all join me on the 6th!

Series Fatigue

Published May 17, 2014 by Shannon

Recently, I finished the fifth book in Michael Grant’s YA dystopian Gone series, Fear. I’d begun reading the series a couple of years ago, and found the first few books to be compelling horror/thrill rides. There was also lots of room in the world for fanfic, which I wish I wrote more of.

But this last book was kind of a slog. The writing is intense and dark, and I finished it, but I realized afterwords that I hadn’t enjoyed the experience. The last book in the series is already out, and part of me thought I should just read it and get it over with, for the sake of completeness, but a larger part insisted that I didn’t want another book to read where I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

I love long-running series, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading them. Eventually I get stuck because I get so far behind. I’m not good at reading a series from start to finish, one book directly following on another. I wish I were. I used to be, but my TBR pile was much less massive then.

My other issue is that, while I love angst in certain situations–being a teenager when I discovered Mercedes Lackey gave me an intense love for a good hurt/comfort scene–after a while it gets to be too much. This is why I gave up on George R. R. Martin. I read through four books, at the end of which everybody I liked was either dead, well on their way toward psychopathy, whining about where whores went, or probably going to get dead in due course. There was also no indication that Martin had any idea where he was going to go. I already have to spend enough time being driven around by people who have no idea where they’re going. The literary equivalent has no appeal. But it seemed like Martin was going to flail around torturing his characters willy-nilly, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay around for it. (And I have to say that all the rape apologia coming from his fans has not helped weaken this resolve.)

The Gone series at least has a finishing point. After the last book, I do not have to watch those characters be tortured any more. More importantly, I no longer have to read gross descriptions of people being eaten by mutant parasitic worms while I’m trying to eat lunch. That is why I probably will get around to reading it eventually, whereas the jury is still out as to whether or not I’m done with Martin. I need for series to have a definite end in sight. If they seem like they’ll just go on and on forever, eventually I wonder why I should care.

What about you all? Do you ever get series fatigue? What causes it? And what series are you thoroughly done with?

Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling

Published May 15, 2014 by Shannon

Dies the Fire (Emberverse, #1)

I’ve been doing a lot of rereading lately. This is going to fuck my usual track record of reading more women than men to hell and gone by the end of the month, but sometimes you do just need to visit familiar characters and pick up on the nuances you’ve missed.

S. M. Stirling has an impressive body of work. He writes several different alternate history series, but the Emberverse seems to be the one that’s the longest-running. Naturally, I haven’t finished it. But I did start rereading Dies the Fire, the first in the series.

The synopsis goes:

The Change occurred when an electrical storm centered over the island of Nantucket produced a blinding white flash that rendered all electronic devices and fuels inoperable. What follows is the most terrible global catastrophe in the history of the human race-and a Dark Age more universal and complete than could possibly be imagined.

“Dies the Fire kept me reading till five in the morning so I could finish at one great gulp…”—New York Times bestselling author Harry Turtledove.

As Goodreads says, this is a post-apocalypse story in which the world abruptly changes when all technology ceases to function. Our primary protagonists are Mike Havel, a former Marine who is flying the Larsson family to their ranch in Montana, and Juniper McKenzie, a Wiccan folk singer who should appropriately be voiced by Heather Alexander. The major criticism of Dies the Fire is that both of these people are incredibly lucky. Rather than panic, they each take steps to improve their situation as well as the situations of those around them, and they do keep meeting exactly the right people at the right time.
What appeals to me about these books is that Stirling’s vision of humanity isn’t bleak. Oh, it’s hard. Millions die in his universe. But the ones that are left find it in themselves to be compassionate. They’re realistic about it, but they try, and to me, reading a book that is ultimately optimistic about human nature is a more rewarding experience than reading one that is terribly bleak.

I do recognize that Dies the Fire has flaws. None of the characters ever transcend their broad outlines. Occasionally, I do have to wonder if people would really behave that way. I find myself amused that in this world, it’s the people who are into renaissance fairs and the Society for Creative Anachronisms who’d survive. It makes logical sense, but still feels like something of a “Take that” against all the people who don’t find those pursuits useful. I don’t know if Stirling quite manages to represent Wiccans the way they might like, although I wasn’t bothered. And this time through, I noticed the window dressing of the harem slave girls in the brief sections from the point of view of the series villain. (I really wanted answers as to how progressive feminist types would have been so easily cowed into that role, but I guess that is what fanfic is for.)

There are a lot more things I think he does get right, though. For one, the cast is diverse. A prominent character survives at least the trilogy being a black man who doesn’t bite it in the end. LGBT people become important characters in later novels. The women are written as competent, and a lot of them get to be bad-ass fighters. The book even passes the Bechtel Test. It is also compulsively readable. Even on this reread, when I meant to savor it slowly, I dove in quickly and didn’t come up for air unless I absolutely had to. I find myself wanting to explore the nooks and crannies of this world. It’s a world that cries out for fanfic, and I wish I could write some of it.

Now I’m on to the second book.

Final Grade: A squeeful A.

State of the Shannon: Seeking some Community

Published May 11, 2014 by Shannon

I’ve been trying to figure out what to blog about this week. I don’t have a whole lot to say about what I’ve been reading lately, nor do I have thoughts about the latest book world controversies.

I have been thinking about things that are closer to home, though. I’ve lived in Seattle for almost a year, in Washington State nearly two. In that time, I’ve made connections with lots of really great people. I’m involved with the Washington Council of the Blind, I enjoy my job, and I have good online friends. But I’ve been feeling fairly lonely just lately. I keep reading all the advice Captain Awkward gives on the topic of how lonely geeks should meet people, and I keep not following her suggestions.

Then on May Day, while I was off of work for the afternoon, I found myself googling community chorus options in Seattle. There are a lot of them, but the ones that looked like they would be feasible for me were ones that required an audition. I haven’t sung in a choir since my freshman year of college, and I wasn’t sure I was up for having to wrestle people around to the concept that, “Oh yeah. I can totally learn music by ear. It is not impossible.”
Then I found myself thinking of how I had Googled Unitarian Universalist congregations in my area. I googled again, and found the website of the church I’d initially discovered. I spent a lot of time poring over that website before I gathered my nerve and sent them an email. I introduced myself, said I wanted to come to a service but would need a ride there, and, oh by the way, could they let me know what we’d be singing.

Over the past week, I’ve been deluged with emails from the congregation. A ride was arranged, I got the music selections, and I even got a message from the pastor. Today, I attended the service, and felt nothing but welcome.

I don’t know if this is going to be permanent. I really, really want it to be. I have good feelings, and I plan on going back next week. The church does a lot of cool stuff–I was talking to someone today who was telling me about how they have a drum circle. I don’t know what that involves, but I’m interested in trying it out. And they have music. Lots of opportunities to sing. I didn’t meet the music director, but he seems enthusiastic and apparently his husband offers voice lessons, which is something I’ve always wanted to try.

I’ve been feeling like my community lately consists largely of people from the Internet, and people who are blind or work with blind people. this has been somewhat discouraging. I know of other blind people who prefer to keep their social circle within their own community, because it is frankly easier than having to prove yourself every time you leave the house to meet a potential new group of friends. I can respect that choice, now that it is one I can conceivably make, but it’s never something I could do. After all, if the only thing I have in common with someone is that our eyes don’t work, that’s not much to base a lasting friendship on. I also know that the only way I can let that community I want know I exist is to go out and meet people, which is hard for an avowed introvert.

But I want to. This is what I am trying. I only hope that it continues to be awesome and enriching.

Some thoughts on Lover Awakened by J. R. Ward

Published May 5, 2014 by Shannon

Lover Awakened (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #3)

I have complicated feelings about J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Mostly, I think the books are terrible, and there are many problematic tropes that she employs in each one, particularly with regard to her treatment of women, but there’s something that compels me about her writing. I feel like there are more interesting stories to be told around the edges of her worlds, stories that don’t feature vampires with ridiculous names like Wrath, Phury, Zsadist, or Gastohn. (Yes, dear reader, I know I just made that last one up, but come on, he’d totally fit with the BDB universe.)

Anyway, every time a new book comes out I keep reading reviews because I’m curious to see where Ward takes things. This is what compelled me to reread Lover Awakened,the third book in the series for the second time. I have some vague notions about going through and reading every one of the books, but as compelling as I find the world-building, I suspect it will be a long process.

About this book, Goodreads says:

In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly war raging between vampires and their slayers. And there exists a secret band of brothers like no other – six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Of these, Zsadist is the most terrifying member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

A former blood slave, the vampire Zsadist still bears the scars from a past filled with suffering and humiliation. Renowned for his unquenchable fury and sinister deeds, he is a savage feared by humans and vampires alike. Anger is his only companion, and terror is his only passion—until he rescues a beautiful aristocrat from the evil Lessening Society.

Bella is instantly entranced by the seething power Zsadist possesses. But even as their desire for one another begins to overtake them both, Zsadist’s thirst for vengeance against Bella’s tormentors drives him to the brink of madness. Now, Bella must help her lover overcome the wounds of his tortured past, and find a future with her…

I had planned to write up several long posts about this book, but I find that I don’t really have the energy to do that. Instead I will tackle my thoughts on this reread in the form of bullet points. I’ll probably spoil the hell out of the book, though, so keep that in mind. I’m also not going to provide much context, since this is the third book in the series and I didn’t review the first two. Sorry about that!

  • Bella is fairly boring. I could argue that Beth in the first book might not have had much of a personality, but at least she had some agency. Bella is there to be obsessed over by three different men with varying levels of sociopathy, one of which is the hero.
  • Bella was also held captive by one of the villains for six weeks, during which time he fucked with her head. Yet it’s Zsadist’s tortured past the text dwells on. Bella got over her issues awfully quickly so she could nurse Z through his trauma.
  • There is only one way to be manly in the Black Daggerverse. John Matthew’s storyline in this book is all about how he wants to reach that level of manliness, but he can’t yet. I suspect that when I reach his book, or even the point at which he transitions into a real vampire, I will find him markedly less interesting.
  • This is the book where a woman got fridged so that one of the other brothers–the one who was relatively stable and didn’t have a whole bucket full of mangst could get some in a hurry. I remember being annoyed by that plot decision at the time but feeling it was inevitable. Now it just seems like such a waste because Welsey had a personality, and given Ward’s track record with female characters, replacing her with a wet blanket seems needlessly cruel.
  • Oh, Phury. He’s such a Nice Guy. And he whined a lot. I am already retitling his book Lover Enwhined.
  • This is the book where Rehvenge shows up. You know he’s going to join the BDB because of his epic amounts of man pain. And the fact that he’s a douche. I can’t wait.
  • Why couldn’t JR Ward make the BDB black men? All their attitudes and speech code as urban to me, and not making them black feels really appropriative and makes me uncomfortable.
  • I love hurt/comfort as much as the next girl, but I really wish the trope of “He is broken unless I fix him” would die in a fire. I think it’s actively harmful. (Not that women will read these books and then go find abusive assholes who spin sob stories about their man pain, but I do think books that make that sort of relationship OK tacitly approve of it, and that’s not cool.) I mean, basically, none of the brothers is that great a catch, and I’m not sure I’d want any of them even in my fantasies until they all went through a fuckload of therapy.

So yeah. I guess it seems like I didn’t like this book very much. I did have a lot of problems with it, but as I read, i found it to be easy to slip into. Unfortunately for me, it was also incredibly easy to put down.

It’ll probably take me a few months to get around to Lover Revealed. This is probably for the best. In the meantime, I plan to concentrate on reading something better for my blood pressure.

the Reading Month for April, 2014

Published May 4, 2014 by Shannon

April was an interesting month, reading wise. I discharged all of my book club obligations early on, and I decided to spend most of the month reading books that have been languishing for a while in my TBR. Sometimes, this was successful. Sometimes not. Then there was the Readathon, which grossly inflated thenumber of books I finished for the month. Here’s how it stacks up. Links take you to full reviews.

  1. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: I loved this book. It was thought-provoking, and it told a fascinating family story very well.
  2. Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan: I liked this one well enough, but I didn’t love it. I think it went on a tad too long for me, and there was a point at which the sex stopped being important to the story and simply became exhausting to read.
  3. The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenstan: I wasn’t in the right mood for this one. I didn’t think the characters were well-developed and I thought if you took away the wacky hijinks you wouldn’t have much of a story left.
  4. Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley: I think I meant to review this one and didn’t. A nonfiction book about the people known as phone phreaks who were among some of the first hackers. Many of them were also blind. Mostly I thought the book suffered from the author trying to get down with the kids and their far-out slang, man, and also trying too hard to convince me what he was talking about was really neat-o, and eventually I stopped taking him seriously as a writer. Still, this was something I hadn’t known anything about, and at least his portrayals of the blind phreaks were sensitive and nuanced.
  5. The Red Tree by Kaitlin R. Kiernan: Kiernan’s been an author I wanted to try because a couple of my friends are fans. I liked it until the end, which was ambiguous, and as I’ve said many times, if not here than on social media, ambiguous endings don’t impress me with authorial brilliance. They make me feel like I wasted a bunch of time. So that’s the last Kiernan book for me, I’m afraid.
  6. Unbound by Cara McKenna: I really liked the hero. The heroine didn’t quite work for me, and I didn’t quite buy the HEA, but Rob was deliciously tortured, so there’s that.
  7. Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan: Now this one I really loved. It had a lot of heart, even though the sex was kinkier than I’d have liked. Still, I never thought I’d be waiting on tenterhooks for a fisting scene.
  8. A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards: This was a treat. I loved the strangeness of the world building, and the hero was delicious in a way that works really well for me. The heroine was awesome, too, and I loved that both of them were like human spiders. So different, but very, very cool.
  9. Promises to Keep by Charles de Lint: Pretty vintage CDL. I really liked how the story centered around the importance of friendships–and friendships between women at that. It was a little too self-referential in places, but it got me on a bit of a CDL kick I’m still in the middle of.
  10. Coming Home by M J O’Shea: This was fun, and the audio was a lot better than I thought it would be. Details are a bit fuzzy as to its actual plot, but I went away from it thinking it was very sweet.
  11. The Crying Child by Barbara Michaels: I liked this one. I remember reading lots of Gothics as an early romance reader, but I haven’t read many recently. I liked that it was actually paranormal and the ending didn’t turn out to be some crazy old dude whipping off a mask and yelling, “I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!”
  12. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret: Judy Blume was fun to revisit, and I liked this classic a lot as an adult.
  13. Double Indemnity by James M. Cain: A mercifully brief story about terrible people being terrible to each other. I was glad it didn’t go on longer than it did.
  14. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: A simple story with a lot of sweetness. I actually teared up at the end, which is rare for me.
  15. Deenie by Judy Blume: I forgot how lovely the relationship between Deenie and her sister turns out to be. I also missed the themes of acceptance of people’s differences that weave through the story.
  16. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: It started off a bit slowly, but Eilonwy came along and immediately endeared herself to me forever. I will read the rest of the series mostly for her, I’m sure.
  17. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume: This book never would have been published today. Because the romance doesn’t pan out, and also the mysterious boy is sweet rather than broody and full of man-pain. Or rather, he is all of those things, but he isn’t an asshole. But the book isn’t about him. It’s about Davy learning to not be afraid and to live life and every note is so perfect. I wish this were one of Blume’s better-known works, because it deserves to be.
  18. Dingo by Charles de Lint: I don’t actually care for CDL’s YA offerings. This one was like some of his adult fantasy, but with more info dumps about Australia and more pointless insta-love. As with CDL’s other YA offerings, I finished it but will not likely reread it.
  19. The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang: As with last month, my continuing attempts to read all of Lang’s books don’t leave me with much to say, except that Thumbelina is a much more problematic story than I’d remembered it, and I wanted to write some companion piece about how Mr. Mole might have been narrow-minded, but he was nice enough in his way and he deserved some romance.

Ten female authors, one of which is a woman of color, and five male. I read more books than that, of course, but I figure it’s fair to count each author only once. I still need to work on reading more diversely, but I’d say for sure that this month my tendency to read more women than men is still on the mark.