If I Don’t Know You, I Don’t Want to Touch You (No Offense).

Little Beach Street Novel

“Not bad,” my new colleague declared, having taken it upon herself to assess my handshake. She conducted this test on everyone she met for the first time, administering it as many times as it took for her poor subjects to pass. Luckily, I only had to shake her hand once.

I remembered this assessment as I read Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery, a light romance in which a 30-something bread-maker moves to an isolated village where no one would dare to bake (you’ll have to read the novel to find out why). Polly’s introduction to this insular English town comes from a realtor, Lance Hardington, who follows his “ferociously strong handshake” with a euphemistic description of the area as “unspoiled” and “up-and-coming.”

Polly decides to give the town a chance, and her willingness to set aside her first impressions of it ultimately pays off. As she learns, there’s some truth to the old cliché that first impressions are not always what they seem.

However, the emphasis western culture places on the importance of a firm handshake suggests otherwise. We’re taught that a strong handshake, though maybe not quite as fierce as Lance Hardington’s grip, is associated with positive personality traits that make a good first impression, one that will result in landing a job or achieving some other academic or professional milestone. We believe it signifies self-assurance, dominance, and friendliness, while a weak handshake indicates shyness, introversion, and neuroticism.

In addition, the odors exchanged when two palms meet also convey information. Research published earlier this year showed that people subconsciously bring their hands to their noses after shaking hands, presumably to benefit from the chemosignals carried in sweat (which, according to the linked article, indicate information such as a person’s age, gender, and emotional state).

That’s disgusting to think about, isn’t it? As a germophobe, I don’t want to shake hands with anyone. Ever. When I can’t avoid it, I fixate on the foreign germs and sweat on my skin until I can get myself to the nearest sink. The person who makes no effort to shake my hand leaves a better first impression on me than the guy who sniffs his hand after crushing mine.

Yuck.

The Fill-In Boyfriend: A YA Novel That Brings Back Memories

The Fill In Boyfriend with First Line of Novel

Who among us hasn’t had a fake Significant Other at some point in our lives?

Or at least thought about it. 😉

My freshman year of college, I told two friends about an unwanted, frustratingly persistent suitor of mine, and they each offered to help.

The first one—let’s call him Marshall—said, “I can pretend to be your brother and tell him to leave you the hell alone.”

The second, named Elliot, replied, “Her brother? You two look nothing alike.”

“Well, adopted or step-brother,” Marshall clarified.

Elliot laughed. “It makes more sense to pretend to be her boyfriend. I’ll do it. Then that guy will get the picture.”

I thanked them for their suggestions, but took care of Mr. Suitor in my own way, which basically involved avoiding him until I actually had a boyfriend a few months later.**

That guy, the real boyfriend, turned out to be Marshall—or, as he’s better known around this part of the Internet, Mr. AMB. Thankfully, I never tried to pass him off as my sibling. That would’ve been an uncomfortable lie to explain away.

These were the memories that came to mind as I read Kasie West’s latest Young Adult novel, The Fill-In Boyfriend. In this story, 17-year-old Gia Montgomery needs a date after her boyfriend of two months dumps her in the parking lot outside of the prom. She approaches the first guy she sees and begs him to pretend to be her boyfriend. He agrees. The ending is obvious, Gia and the “fill-in” boyfriend get together eventually, but how they get there is fun to witness.

The main characters are likeable, the story is cute, and the writing is funny and fast-paced. It’s ideal for both younger readers who may see a part of themselves in Gia and for older folks (like me) who are looking for an entertaining escape from adult life.

I am grateful to Stephanie from Stephanie’s Book Reviews for recommending this novel. It was as much fun as she said it would be.

______________________________________________________

*I ran this post by Mr. AMB to make sure he didn’t mind if I shared this story from our past. He was fine with it, but wanted to add: “In my defense, I wasn’t bold enough to offer to pretend to play the role I wanted to have. Besides, what better way to attract a bookish girl than to be painfully awkward and shy? That method worked just fine for Mr. Darcy.”

**I wasn’t allowed to date–I was raised in a pretty strict household–but my parents ended up liking him. Phew.

Are Romantic Comedies Obsolete?

Are Romantic Comedies Obsolete (2)According to The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, “the romantic comedy has fallen on hard times,” and so the genre is making less money at the box office than in previous years. Part of the problem, he argues, is that the plots of these movies, which are often dependent on an “obstacle to nuptial bliss,” are irrelevant in our modern world. The same would be true of “chick lit” novels — if his assumption had any truth to it.

I have no opinion on the quality of cinematic romantic comedies overall, but as a woman in my early thirties who has read a fair number of so-called “chick lit” novels, I question Orr’s assertion (which was not just related to specific movies) that there are fewer obstacles to happy relationships on which writers may build believable plots. He claims:

Among the most fundamental obligations of romantic comedy is that there must be an obstacle to nuptial bliss for the budding couple to overcome. And, put simply, such obstacles are getting harder and harder to come by. They used to lie thick on the ground: parental disapproval, difference in social class, a promise made to another. But society has spent decades busily uprooting any impediment to the marriage of true minds. Love is increasingly presumed—perhaps in Hollywood most of all—to transcend class, profession, faith, age, race, gender, and (on occasion) marital status.

(Emphasis added.) With all the progress Orr believes we have made to “uproot[] any impediment to the marriage of true minds,” he presumes that the only obstacles to romantic attachment that remain are too serious for “feel good” movies: “illness, war, injury, [and] imprisonment.”

In my view, there are far more “impediments” to today’s lovebirds than Orr seems to realize. Orr bases his argument on only a small subsection of Western culture, the portion with the most progressive attitudes on marriage and long-term relationships, and perhaps the people with whom Hollywood is the most infatuated (and possibly the reason why Orr’s argument is so limited).

What about families that still practice arranged marriages (such as in Courting Samira)? In my South Asian-American cultural background, parental disapproval would be fatal to many “love matches.”  What about wealthy families that control their children’s lives through the promise of inheritance (such as in Sweet Tea and Secrets)? What about families and communities that discriminate against same-sex relationships? Let’s not forget that, in many states, same-sex partners who love each other face the ultimate impediment to marriage: illegality.

The list of challenges to love and marriage goes on and on, and we can see many examples in romantic comedy novels and even in case law. To the extent Hollywood fails to recognize it, shame on them. If love were as simple in the modern age as Orr suggests, then modern life would be a whole lot easier.

“Kiss and Tell”: Why Bloggers Should Avoid Applying this Cliché

The Internet allows us to spread news and gossip faster and farther than traditional media outlets ever could in the past. It’s a powerful tool, one that is at everyone’s fingertips (well, at least those with the privilege of computer access), but it comes with risks, both to the bloggers who harness its power and to individuals whose private information may become published without their consent.

Bloggers may have the ability to disseminate information widely, but we typically don’t have something that corporations (like newspapers) usually do have: a team of lawyers and ample liability insurance, both of which become important when we’re accused of treading on the rights of individuals we feature in our posts.

“Kissing and Telling All”

I’m a book blogger, one who rarely writes about private individuals, and so I’m not particularly worried about a potential defamation or violation of privacy lawsuit (knock on wood!). Rather, this subject is on my mind because of a pair of books I read: Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed (2002) and Sarah Dunn’s The Big Love (2005).

Chick Lit in Philly Books 2

Both of these chick lit novels take place in Philadelphia (although Dunn’s main character speaks about my city disparagingly and so I did not include it in my Girly Books Blog Hop Giveaway), both star protagonists who work for Philadelphia newspapers, and both of these books touch on the subject of publishing private facts about non-public figures:

  • In Good in Bed, Cannie Shapiro’s ex-boyfriend, Bruce Guberman, publishes intimate details of their sex life in a national print publication. He does it by using only the first initial of her first name, but many people figure out who she is.
  • In The Big Love, Alison’s crappy ex-boyfriend breaks up with her in an appalling way and tells her not to write about it in her column. She thinks, “Tom is an attorney, and it crossed my mind that if I wrote about what happened that night when he asked me not to, I might end up getting sued… I suppose it doesn’t help that I always give people the same names they have in real life. I can’t help it.”

What happened to Cannie or could have happened to Alison’s crappy ex-boyfriend in these fictional examples involved print publications, not the Internet, but the availability of the Internet these days would only make the publication of such facts all the more damaging to the individual who wanted to maintain his or her privacy. These types of invasions of privacy happen often, and those who feel their privacy was compromised are left wondering if there is anything they can do about it.

Invasion of Privacy Lawsuits

The legal remedies available when someone spreads private information in print or on the Internet generally come under two types of torts: (1) defamation, which applies only if the published information is untrue; and (2) privacy torts, which is what I want to talk about today.  In Pennsylvania, where both of these novels take place, there are four types of privacy torts: “(1) intrusion upon seclusion, (2) appropriation of name or likeness, (3) publicity given to private life and (4) publicity placing the person in a false light.” Harris v. Easton Pub. Co., 335 Pa. Super. 141, 483 A.2d 1377 (1984).

The privacy tort most applicable to “kiss and tell” types of cases is the third one listed above, publicity given to private life, and the plaintiff must show that the defendant gave “(1) publicity… to (2) private facts, (3) which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and (4) is not of legitimate concern to the public.” Id.

These are notoriously hard cases for plaintiffs to win, particularly in light of potential First Amendment concerns that limit government regulation (through tort law) of truthful information that has some degree of public significance (often with a broad definition of what matters are significant to the public). See Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524 (1989). Another drawback of bringing these cases is that doing so may only attract additional attention to the “private” facts underlying the suit.

Nevertheless, individuals out there continue to bring these types of claims (in real life, not fiction). One high profile example is Steinbuch v. Cutler  (not a Pennsylvania case; see summary here), one of a couple lawsuits stemming from a brief sexual relationship between a staffer for a U.S. Senator and a lawyer who worked for that Senator. The staffer published intimate details about the lawyer on her blog, referring to him by his initials, which was enough for many to identify him. She received a book deal for a fictional account of her sexual escapades in Washington, D.C. and also got slapped with a lawsuit asserting invasion of privacy claims. The case went on for six years, spreading the facts of this case throughout the Internet and leading the blogger to file for bankruptcy, before the case ultimately settled.

The Lesson for Bloggers

Cases like this one serve as a cautionary tale for bloggers, reminding us to avoid airing someone else’s “dirty laundry” or “kissing and telling.” Or, if we can’t help ourselves, then we should at least redact all identifying information.

Philadelphia: Your Next “Vacation” Spot via the Girly Books Blog Hop!

My city
I love Philadelphia, and so I am excited to get to talk about my city’s virtues as part of the Girly Book Blog Hop, hosted by Libby Mercer (whose first book I reviewed here). As part of this blog hop, I will give away a book set in my hometown (details below).

Girly Book Blog Hop Button

So, why is Philly a great location?

It’s a manageable large city that has a small town feel. It has a walkable downtown (we call it Center City), many charming neighborhoods, and all the benefits associated with 300 years of history, world-class museums, fabulous restaurants, public transportation, parks, and close proximity to both mountains and beaches (we say we’re “going down the shore”).

Ways to take advantage of what Philadelphia has to offer in real life:

  • Expanding our children’s minds (and strengthening their immune systems) at the Please Touch Museum;
  • Explaining to our children that not every yellow flower is a dandelion at Longwood Gardens (in suburban Philadelphia); and
  • Any of the baker’s dozen stops recommended by the New York Times two weeks ago in its “36 Hours in Philadelphia.”
One said, "Whoa! That's a lot of dandelions!" Any yellow flower is a dandelion to them
One said, “Whoa! That’s a lot of dandelions!” Any yellow flower is a dandelion to them

And in fiction:

Cemetery and Reading Terminal

  • Joining Eleanor Fitt (of “the Philadelphia Fitts”) in 1876 as she searches for her brother, hoping to save him from zombies rising from Laurel Hill cemetery, which overlooks the scenic Schuylkill River. (From Susan Dennard’s YA novel, Something Strange and Deadly (2012), which I reviewed here).
  • Comforting Cannie Shapiro, who writes for The Philadelphia Examiner, after her ex-boyfriend broadcasts private facts about their sex life in a national magazine in the late 1990s. Cannie mentions a range of Philadelphia sites, including Reading Terminal Market, and Philadelphia “delicacies,” like Cheez Whiz. (From Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed (2001)).

What’s the GIVEAWAY?

Covers for Giveaway

If you’re interested in either Something Strange and Deadly OR Good in Bed, please enter my giveaway, open until January 21, 2013 [Giveaway is now closed; the winner is Katrina!]. I’d throw in a cheesesteak, but I doubt it would travel well!

Weiner’s Good in Bed is chick lit, while Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly is a work of paranormal historical fiction intended for young adults (but read by everyone). I consider it to be “girly” because it features a strong female protagonist who questions the oppressive societal norms of her time.

The winner will get to choose one of these books, either the ebook (for Kindle through Amazon) or a paperback copy.* Anyone (anywhere in the world) can enter as long as you have a valid address to which Amazon will ship.

To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post, anything from “hello” to praise for your own city. If you’ve visited Philadelphia before, I’d love to hear about it.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 PM, January 21st.  After that point, I will choose one winner at random (using Random.org’s Integer Generator to pick a winner, and counting comments but not replies to comments).  I will contact that person by email, they must respond to my email within 48 hours, and then we will work out the details.

*If you choose the ebook option and I am unable to send you an ebook internationally (I believe it depends on the country), then you may be limited to choosing the paperback version.  Please work with me as I figure it out.  Thanks!

Check out the grandprize and to visit the other participating blogs (there are 40 of us!):

075

A Post To Read After Work

Attachments_ThumbnailI’m sorry to disappoint those who thought that the title of this post indicated X-rated content.  You’ll have to look elsewhere for nudity and profanity (not that I haven’t been known to slip an occasional “excretory” or “mildly offensive” word into a post or two).

Rather, what you’ll find here is a discussion about a novel, a very cute book that touches on a sobering topic: our limited rights in the workplace.

The novel is Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, a story that begins in the latter half of 1999 at a newspaper, The Courier, which is engaged in a losing battle against the World Wide Web.  It is not a newspaper failing due to the rapid decline in print advertising after the rise of the internet (like most papers today).  Instead, it’s a newspaper concerned about the decrease in productivity and the potential for liability associated with employee access to the Internet at work.  So, what does this paper do?  It hires a guy named Lincoln to be an “Internet security officer,” whose job description includes “monitor[ing] everything everyone [is] doing on the Internet and the Intranet.  Every e-mail. Every Web site. Every word.”

The employees are warned, but some do not listen and continue to write personal emails at work under the assumption that, “All this security stuff isn’t aimed at people like us.  They’re trying to catch the pervs. The online porn addicts, the Internet blackjack players, the corporate spies…”

And so Beth Fremont, a young movie reviewer, and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, a Features copy editor, carry on as usual, writing each other a slew of personal emails containing loads of flagged words that all end up in Lincoln’s hands.

It’s the set-up for an unconventional romance between two people—an Internet security officer and a woman who breaks all the rules.  One has never seen the object of his affection, while the other has seen, but has never met, the object of hers.  It’s a sweet story with likeable characters, particularly Lincoln, a respectful, well-meaning guy, who is described as being, “built like a tank, dressed like he just won the science fair.”  He’s adorable.

The only problem is Lincoln has the type of job that makes him feel like a creep because it forces him to invade other people’s privacy, not that those employees have any reason to expect privacy in the workplace.  That’s true in real life, too.  In most cases, it is completely legal for employers to monitor employee internet and email usage, and many do.

In a 2007 study, the American Management Association found that of the employers they surveyed:

  • 65% block access to certain websites
  • 43% monitor email (with someone like Lincoln at 40% of these workplaces)
  • 45% monitor time spent on phones and outgoing calls
  • 16% record phone conversations
  • 9% monitor employees’ voicemail
  • 48% use video monitoring

Problematically, not all of these employers notified their employees of these monitoring practices, and many did so only by printing it in the Employee Handbook, which employees might not have read thoroughly (but should have).

The likely result of breaking these rules—whether or not the employee knows about it—is discipline or the loss of a job, not true love, contrary to the Hollywood ending of Rowell’s sweet novel.

*It was Molly’s thorough review at Wrapped Up In Books that encouraged me to read this book.

A Light Read For A Gloomy Day: Libby Mercer’s Fashioning a Romance

I chose Libby Mercer’s light Chick Lit Novel, Fashioning a Romance, to distract me from Hurricane Sandy’s incessant rain* (you can see how we prepared for this storm here).

Mercer’s novel is the love story of Caitlyn Taylor, a 28-year-old American seamstress and fashion designer, and John Harrington, a 34-year-old wealthy Brit. It’s a modern fairy tale in which a deserving, beautiful woman gets the man of her dreams, but — unlike most fairy tales — the female protagonist is strong-willed and independent.  Plus, there are no evil step-sisters, although Caitlyn does have several step-siblings, ex-step-siblings, and half-siblings through her father, a man whose womanizing ways have left his level-headed daughter wary of relationships.  The way Caitlyn and John overcome this obstacle and other challenges was fun to witness as a reader.

The only part of this book that gnawed at me is its portrayal of love at first sight, which is essentially what happens to Caitlyn and John, though, to Mercer’s credit, both characters question the authenticity of their feelings initially.  John tried “to determine whether his feelings were genuine or simply fanciful, romantic notions brought on by the chase.  But try as he might to clarify his emotions, he just wasn’t sure.”  For Caitlyn, sorting her feelings is even more complicated, but she quickly realizes that she “was falling desperately in love with John.”  It’s sweet, but I rolled my eyes at the thought of a solid relationship developing out of such infatuation.

Maybe I have too narrow a view of lasting love, though.  A study of 329 individuals who answered anonymous surveys suggests that couples who fell in love quickly were equally likely to feel satisfied in their relationships (even over the long-term) as individuals who fell in love gradually.  However, this study surveyed only couples who were either married or co-habitating, thus excluding couples whose relationships fell apart before they were serious enough to unite legally or live together (the study also notes that it did not include divorced couples). I wonder if couples who fall in love at first sight, based primarily on looks, are less likely to stay together. So, while love at first sight happens for some, I remain unconvinced that it results in everlasting love to the same extent as love that blossoms over a longer period of time.  Of course, this is an area of psychology** I know little about (apart from a quick search on PsycINFO).  My beliefs come mostly from my own experiences and observations.

In the end, my personal feelings about love at first sight did not detract much from my enjoyment of Mercer’s fluffy, amusing novel, a different reaction to the one I had to Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer’s portrayal of sudden love (infatuation, really) in their “tween” novel, Between the Lines (Here is my review).  As I have said before, I have a higher bar for literature aimed at impressionable youth than I do for literature aimed at the 17+ crowd (which is most likely to pick up Mercer’s novel).  I would want my children to understand that worthwhile romantic relationships are best built on more than immediate infatuation, despite the fact that such infatuation is what literature often substitutes for love.

Mercer’s Caitlyn and John redeem themselves, though, and build a mutually beneficial relationship worth having (not a spoiler in this genre; we expect this result and rightly so).  It was a pleasure to watch it unfold.  Fashioning a Romance is a good option for those looking for a very light, fun read to get them through a rainy day or a low-grade hurricane, either figuratively or literally.

*The rain started late afternoon with heavier rain and high winds expected tomorrow (at which point I expect we’ll lose power as we usually do).  I have several other books loaded on my Kindle to get me through the rest of this.

**Anyone interested in the psychology of falling in love should check out BroadBlogs, which has several relevant posts.  Here are two: Who Falls in Love Faster? & Passionate Love: Like a Drug or Mental Illness?

***Be sure to check out my GIVEAWAY (see details on the linked post), part of the Literary Blog Hop (October 27-31, 2012).