Joanna Chambers, readerly detective

I’ve been missing blogging about readerly matters, following the closure of my reader blog.  But it’s cool because I can blog here!  I don’t want to recreate my old blog* but it’s nice to have an outlet.

*(Since I significantly reduced my online activities, my writing productivity has increased.  Of course, that’ll be cold comfort when the nine people who actually know who I am forget me, but what can you do? Something’s got to give.)

So what’s this about my readerly detective-ness? Well, since I started reading a lot (and I do mean a lot) of M/M romance about a year and half ago, I’ve found that a very big proportion of what I read is American contemporary, a setting I really didn’t read much of at all before.

I consider myself relatively well-informed (for a Brit) about the States. (Seriously, to your average Brit/European, ‘America’ is just one big land mass/population.  I had at least a passing knowledge of the basic geography and some of the bigger cultural groups/regions within the States).

My reading over the couple of years has changed that quite a bit.  I’ve read all sorts of American settings now: real and fictional, city and country, north, south, east and west.  I’m not even going to attempt to set down here the things I’ve learned I didn’t know before – it would take too long and would be doomed to incompleteness. 

Anyway, what I’m really interested in, and what the detective notion relates to, is something else.  It’s that sense of place, and of culture that emerges only from fiction.  It’s lots of little increments, all building up into something bigger.  It’s my brain, sorting wheat from chaff. It’s me thinking that no, that doesn’t sound plausible or oh yes! That has the ring of truth!  It’s absorbing and categorising and occasionally having moments where stuff adds up and I go, Oh, riiiight!

It’s like detection in that respect: lots of evidence, some credible, some not. 

The book that kind of prompted this post was False Start by Janey Chapel (which I loved).  As is often the case, there’s a straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back aspect to this particular book being the catalyst i.e. it’s occurred to me loads of other times before but when I read this book I got to a point where my half formed ideas became a bit more definite. 

I’ve read lots of books sent on campuses but Chapel set hers on a local college campus – and it was the local rather than the campus that I noticed here.  I can’t say how accurate her depiction of her particular setting is but it rang true with me and was interesting to me in its sense of individual placedom. 

This is something that’s come up for me before.  The sense, in American set novels, of how the institutions of a place (government, education, law enforcement) are so intimately connected with the place and the people they serve, and with each other.   It’s not a ‘big government’ sort of interconnectedness.  It’s more like each place is a self-determinative little principality, only connected to other places by loose bonds. 

I’m not commenting on here on whether this is a good thing or bad thing or an anything thing.  Just that it’s something I’ve come across in many of the novels I’ve read and it’s begun to feel quite distinctly American to me, even though it wasn’t something I’d noticed before.

I’m just asking to be knocked back and told I don’t know what I’m talking about, aren’t I?  Have at it – I’m happy – nay, eager – to be educated.