Australia, Eyestrain, and Alpha Males (Yes, There’s Links)

Book Cover First, there’s a lot of terrible stuff going on around the world as far as natural disasters. There’s floods and mudslides and all sorts of horrible things. I have heard from a few readers that Australia, Queensland specifically, faces a horrible cleanup after torrential rains caused widespread flooding. Local papers are reporting that donations have dried up (I presume the pun is intended there), and residents are finally able to go try to salvage their homes and businesses. The Romance Writers of Australia are hosting a book drive to help replenish libraries, schools and community center book collections – as usual, romance community steps up.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe, your family is safe, and you’re reading a good book that’s not flood damaged or mud-splattered.

(And yes, the image is a bit of a nonsequitur, but I found it while searching for images of Australia, and had to link – it looks adorable and I totally ordered it.)

Second, I’ve been pondering this one since I read this article a few days ago: are e-Ink readers TOO easy to read?

Rather than making things clearer, e-readers and computers prevent us from absorbing information because their crisp screens and fonts tell our subconscious that the words they convey are not important, it is claimed.

In contrast, handwriting and fonts that are more challenging to read signal to the brain that the content of the message is important and worth remembering, experts say….

Researchers [at Princeton University] asked 28 participants aged 18 to 40 to learn a set of facts about three fictional species of alien, which were written in different fonts.

Those who read the facts in the easy-to-read Arial pure black font retained 14 per cent less information than those who were given text written in the less clear Comic Sans MS and Bodoni MT.

No word on whether ebooks will now be issued in Comic Sans (please, no).

I find this curious because I wonder how much of it depends on how an individual learns, and how that individual prefers to learn and imprint information. For example, in order to study, I used to have to write down the pertinent facts I needed for a test and learned best by both writing down and reading in my own writing the text I needed. Part of it was reading it in my own writing and part of it was the process of writing it down. I am going to have to think about whether I recall better things I’ve read on paper vs. e-ink, or if they’re equal in measure compared to things I’ve written myself. (No comments on the relative egotism of my learning method. I’m well aware!)

The lovely folks at Jezebel (hi ladies!) AND Photoshop Disasters are taking a critical look at the cover for Nora Roberts’ Happy Ever After, wondering what’s up with the bride’s hand. Now, I think that which they are alleging is a thumb upside down is an awkwardly-braced pinky finger, but the commenter at Jezebel who points out the extremely false-smooth skin tones and the drop-shadow on the bouquet (which doesn’t cast a shadow on the bride’s arm at ALL) may be on to something there. What do you think? Photoshoppery? Dost thou give a hoot? (Thanks to Erin for the link).

And finally, over at Yon Kirkus Reviews, I’m examining what makes a hero alpha, and what qualities create an alpha male hero. It’s a perennial question in romance discussions, particularly as the definition of alpha changes slightly.

It used to be that romance was populated with alphas who were really assholes—autocratic chest-pounders with a tendency toward rape or at the least forced seduction. Alphole heroes still show up every now and again, usually as someone who is too assertive without any humility or honor—they’re not really dominant. They’re really just assholes. Alphole heroes are among my least favorite.

But now, readers are more likely to read about Alpha males with strong moral integrity, a hidden tenderness or the ability to be lethal while consistently choosing not to be—those make for some delicious heroes. Alpha heroes could be anything. They could be the alpha of a wolf pack, a literal alpha. They could be commanders or military officers or police chiefs. They could be lords or, depending on the mythology or theology of the romance in question, The Lord. (Heh—God, the Ultimate Alpha Male, particularly in the Old Testament.)

So, which alpha males rock your world, and why? What are the characteristics of an alpha male hero that you most enjoy?

 

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  1. 1
    Virginia E says:

    Looking at that cover, as soon as that clinch ends, that bouquet is hitting the deck. Even if that isn’t her thumb, it’s an awkward grip that tilts those flowers back at her chest which is preparing to springboard them back out of her limp grip. Any bride that would carry a nice expensive bouquet in such a manner would have been Bridezilla enough to have gotten the bouquet she wanted or to have already thrown the offending bouquet at someone’s head.

  2. 2
    Diane says:

    Thanks for the shoutout for our book appeal!

    We’re off to a great start with 485 books donated in just a couple of days!

    Diane
    Member Secretary
    Romance Writers of Australia

  3. 3
    17catherines says:

    They could be lords or, depending on the mythology or theology of the romance in question, The Lord. (Heh—God, the Ultimate Alpha Male, particularly in the Old Testament.)

    I read that and immediately found myself thinking of the Song of Songs, and all that theology about it being all about Christ’‘s Love for His Church, or maybe God’s Love for Israel (though in fact I have it on very good authority that if you read it in the original Hebrew it’s fairly explicit erotic poetry), and now my brain is going to some very bad places with Alpha Hero God, because the person he seems to love most in the Old Testament is David, or possibly one of the other patriarchs and I don’t think the world is ready for the Inspirational Gay Old Testament Romance genre just yet (and let’s not even think about Jacob wrestling with that angel), and I’m going to stop now before I get struck by lightning (which, given that I live in one of the few parts of Australia not currently underwater or on fire, I should probably not make too many jokes about…)

    Catherine

  4. 4
    Ros says:

    Catherine, you can take it from me as someone writing my PhD on the Song of Songs and having read it many times in the original Hebrew that it is NOT explicit erotic poetry.  It is, in fact, a masterpiece of subtlety and allusion with no explicit references at all.  As for erotica, well, it depends on your definition of erotica, I suppose, but it seems pretty clear to me that the aim of the Song is not to arouse erotic desire, though it is certainly designed to make us desire the intimacy of deeply felt, passionately experienced love.  It’s a love song, not erotic poetry, nor early pornography.

  5. 5
    17catherines says:

    Fair enough, Ros!  I certainly do not claim expertise, and I may have misunderstood / overstated what I was told – my friend (a hebrew scholar, though her specialty is the Psalms, and her first language is German, so it’s entirely possible that I misunderstood her) remarked that the standard translations tend to err in the direction of making it too inexplicit and vague, and that it was definitely not the allegory Bernard of Clairvaux would like us to understand it as (though she also mentioned a translation made by a colleague of hers that erred in the other direction).  She did use the word erotic (which is perhaps the sort of thing people define according to their own feelings?), but the word explicit was mine, and clearly an error.

    (though I admit, my chief aim above was to be silly – or rather, to write down the rather silly sequence of thoughts that crossed my mind immediately on reading that remark)

    Catherine

  6. 6
    Sarah W says:

    To be honest, the only alpha male fantasy I have is the one where he steps between me and physical danger.  Not just because that’s what he does, but because I matter to him.

    Of course, the next part is where he gets out of my way so I can a)see, and b) fight beside him.  So I’ll need an alpha who’s strong enough in himself to let me be a partner.

    Maybe Gabe and Riley McKenna?

  7. 7
    Cat Marsters says:

    Alpha males with strong moral integrity, a hidden tenderness or the ability to be lethal while consistently choosing not to be.

    THAT. There’s something a bit knee-quivering about a man who could find seventeen ways to kill a person without moving his hands, but has the moral integrity to rarely do so. A dangerous man who only uses his powers for good. SO hot. So long as he acknowledges that his heroine isn’t totally incapable of taking care of herself, that is: the patronising my-darling-little-fool Alphole is asking for a kick in the balls.

  8. 8
    Gina says:

    This blog has made me realize the first downside to reading on my nook.  No, it’s not the font thing which is just stupid, don’t those people in Princeton have more important things to do studies on?  Like curing stupidness? 

    Anyway, downside, the cover thing.  With my digital books I don’t buy because of the cover or even really look at the cover when I open the book.  It’s in black and white and a bit grainy so I know I’m not getting the best representation of it.  Sure on the nook I can view a color version in the touch screen on the bottom but those images are too small to have picked up the awkwardly placed thumb / pinky.  I’m totally missing out on the cover disasters!! 

    On to your question of alpha hero’s – I like a bit of caveman in my hero.  A total mans man that is maybe a little awkward talking to a woman – but he’s got to have the skills in bed – the guy who girls drop their panties for on looks alone (good, mean, dangerous) and hopes he doesn’t speak?  Maybe he beats his chest and blows things up and loves his mothers homemade apple pie and is more comfortable cleaning his gun than changing a diaper.  The guy who has to rely on action to show his feelings because words like “i love you” make his tongue swell.  Love it when those guys meet their “soul mates” and get all twisted up by a woman.

    #action34…. yeah a total action hero with 34 ways to give an orgasm

  9. 9
    joanne says:

    e-readers and computers prevent us from absorbing information because their crisp screens and fonts tell our subconscious that the words they convey are not important

    Really? Mine tell me I’m oh so pretty and Queen of all I survey. I think that’s incredibly important.

    One of the most interesting courses I ever took concerned the different methods of learning and the difficulty teachers and instructors can have finding out who needs what method.  It’s an interesting field but certainly not limited to fonts.

  10. 10
    Laurel says:

    There are so many possible variations in that teeny tiny population in the Princeton study that I can’t believe they even bothered to make the results known.

    1. Age of the reader. 18, presumably pre-university, is not likely to have developed critical thinking/reading skills as well as older readers who have been through college or post-grad courses. (I KNOW THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS.) But they are more likely to be comfortable with or even prefer digital formats.

    2. Older readers are more likely to be kinesthetic learners. i.e.: the read it, write it down, review it type. I learned to study this way. It’s very likely that when only using an eReader, even with highlight function, I’m less likely to retain info than using paper and making notes in margins as I go. The younger readers who have grown up using digital as much as print are less likely to study this way but ALSO less likely to read with a trained critical eye.

    3. Fonts. What? Maybe the Comic Sans font signaled to the brain “Hey, this is like a comic book! It’s fun to read! Yay!” That seems more plausible than “This information is more important in Comic Sans than Arial.” Maybe Arial is the most boring of the three.

    4. Maybe the digital format taps into the “I can always get this info later if I bookmark it on my computer” impulse. With so much information available now, younger and/or digital readers may approach everything like an open book test. It’s more important to know where to find the facts quickly than memorize them.

  11. 11
    Sylvia says:

    I love my heroes Alpha and I love them cocky.
    For example In Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews the following dialog takes place between The Lord of Beasts Curran and heroine Kate Daniels

    A slow, lazy carnivorous smile touched Curran’s lips. “Not only will you sleep with me, but you will say ‘please.”
    I stared at him in, shocked.
    The smile widened. ‘You will say ‘please’ before and ‘thank you’ after.
    Nervous laughter bubbled up. “you’ve gone insane. All that peroxide in your hair finally did your brain in, Goldilocks.”

    However this only works for me if the heroine isn’t a total push over and when she in fact does want him. (I don’t care if she is ready to admit it to herself yet or not)
    I guess for me the difference between an Alpha and an Alphole depends on what kind of girl he chooses to go all He-man on.

  12. 12
    SB Sarah says:

    Joanne, that was my favorite course, too, while I was learning to teach composition. It was daunting to come up with methods to reach every style, but at the same time it was fascinating to realize how many different ways people learn, and how they can best teach themselves once they figure it out.

  13. 13
    Tamara Hogan says:

    The thing that struck me about the “Happy Ever After” book cover is that the guy (Malcolm) is wearing his wedding ring on his right hand.

    I love an alpha who’s all capable, controlled bad-ass on the outside, but an absolute marshmallow with those he loves.

  14. 14
    Chelsea says:

    I just recently finished Angel Blood by Nalini Singh and I think Raphael qualifies as an Alpha male who I really loves. He does skirt asshole territory a couple times but he’s redeemable. I like the whole possesive/protective thing.

  15. 15
    Miranda says:

    To me, the only appropriate response to the Curran quote above is “Fuck off”. Even if I’d wanted him before, a speech like that would totally end any interest whatsoever.

    To quote Henry (an alpha himself) from the Huff Bloodlines books, such a quote is begging for a kick in the windswept desire.

    An alpha hero should be in control of himself and competant. Not boastful, especially not boastful of sexual prowess.

  16. 16

    Alpha males should have a sense of humor, and more importantly, be able to laugh at their own blunders.  And yes, alpha males can make blunders.

  17. 17
    Sylvia says:

    @ Miranda 01.20.11 at 06:20 AM,

    Well, to each her own :-)

    She did respond by questioning his intelligence.
    And to his defense: there is a scene in Magic Strikes where things get hot and heavy in a bathtub.

    His voice was a ragged whisper in my ear. “Only if you want to… Say no, and I’ll stop”.
    “No,” I whispered to see if he would do it. Curran pulled back. His eyes were pure need, raw and barely under control. He swallowed. “Okay.”

    Yeah…reading that back I realize girlfriend may be a bit of a tease…

  18. 18
    Sharon S. says:

    I can sum up my ultimate alpha-male in one word: Barrons ;)

  19. 19
    Nicole North says:

    But now, readers are more likely to read about Alpha males with strong moral integrity, a hidden tenderness or the ability to be lethal while consistently choosing not to be—those make for some delicious heroes.

    Oooh nicely said! I agree 100% and I’m so glad these sorts of Alphas are being seen more these days. I’m not a fan of “Alpholes.”

  20. 20
    Beth says:

    Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.

    No worries! No spoilers! I haven’t even read Shadowfever yet.

    He’s a total badass without being a total asshole. He’s just a bit of an asshole. He’s arrogant, demanding, and always wants to be in control -of the situation, of his emotions, etc. And he gets away with it for a few of reasons.
    1. The relationship between him and the heroine, Mac, isn’t a romantic one, it’s a (more or less) professional one. He is her mentor, training her to use her full potential with her new found powers, and he says and does things to deliberately provoke her.
    2. He can back up all his arrogance. The big question that everybody wants to know is “Who/what is Barrons?” and the heroine is no exception, and she asks him all the time, and he repeatedly tells her that he’s the one who’ll never let her die. And he doesn’t.
    3. She calls him on his shit. Sometimes he moves from “a bit of an asshole” to “total asshole” territory, but she doesn’t let him get away with it. She has her own code of values and when he says or does something that contradicts them, she lets him know.
    4. So. Much. Sexual. Tension. They have feelings for each other, but they don’t admit it to themselves or to each other. So when he crosses the line from “a bit of an asshole” to “total asshole” he makes attempts at apologizing (without, of course, actually apologizing). Plus whenever she is in Grave Peril he is totally attentive and his True Feelings show through his cool and calm facade.

  21. 21
    Bri says:

    But now, readers are more likely to read about Alpha males with strong moral integrity, a hidden tenderness or the ability to be lethal while consistently choosing not to be—those make for some delicious heroes.

    like other have siad, i agree with this.  I also think they can and i like alphas who do have a sensitive side.  they dont wear their heart on their sleeves, but in tough situations or when the heroine is huritng they show thier softer side, then offer to make it all better (but let the heronie deicde if she wants the problem solved!)

    i am partial to all the military and former military heroes who do not act like blockj=heads.  I like the heros that JoAnn Ross writes and many from the categories too

  22. 22
    Sara H says:

    Nothing world shattering here.  I want an Alpha Male whose going to be able to step in and enhance my own badassery.  I want smart and I want him to fill out a pair of Jeans. I’m thinking Jeaniene Frost’s Bones, Patricia Briggs’ Adam Hauptman, Nocole Peeler’s Anyan and even Ilona Andrews’ Curran.

  23. 23
    Jessica says:

    I am doing my dissertation on ebook readers as compared to print books, so I have a few thoughts :)  First, this study/reported results are conflating the idea of leisure reading and reading for learning.  They are two totally different things!!  Nooks and Kindles are designed for leisure reading!!  I would really like to shout those two facts from the rooftops as they are critical ones that are getting ignored.  Comparing Kindle reading to textbooks is not a great idea. 

    So in my research I compared Kindle reading to paperback reading, using mysteries. So I think I actually compared apples and apples, which may be a first in ebook research :)  And I found that my readers comprehended the same whether they read a print book or an ebook.  No silliness about absorbing less because the font was easier to read. 

    I’m still working on my analyses but this was my first result and I’m very sure about it.  More coming soon.

  24. 24
    SB Sarah says:

    a kick in the windswept desire.

    BWAAAAHAHAHHAHAHA!

  25. 25
    Liz says:

    in order to study, I used to have to write down the pertinent facts I needed for a test and learned best by both writing down and reading in my own writing the text I needed. Part of it was reading it in my own writing and part of it was the process of writing it down

    I had to do the same thing when i was in high school and college.  i tried typing up my notes, but there was some kind of disconnect between the keyboard and my brain, so that whenever i studied like that my grades were lower than when i hand wrote my notes.

    I love an alpha who’s all capable, controlled bad-ass on the outside, but an absolute marshmallow with those he loves.

    I absolutely agree with Tamara.  Being an alpha doesn’t necessarily mean being an asshole.  I want my alphas to be somewhat in touch with their feelings, even if they don’t explain them to the heroine until the very end.

  26. 26
    Laurel says:

    You compared apples to apples? That is GROUNDBREAKING! And you’re right, I don’t think anybody has done that with eReaders.

    Seriously, I’m beyond bored with “studies” that are skewed to have results that favor one industry or product over another.

    That sounds like a cool dissertation. If I’m not the only one who’s interested maybe you could send your findings to Sarah and she can share.

  27. 27
    SylviaSybil says:

    @Sylvia and @Miranda

    First, there’s another Sylvia who likes Ilona Andrews?  When I read your comment my first thought was “I don’t remember writing that!” =)

    And second, I don’t think that scene is the best example of Curran’s alpha-ness.  Context is everything: that conversation takes place immediately after he scared her, and now he is making her laugh.  So I didn’t think he was serious, just trying to break the tension between them.  If he was serious, that would make him an alphole :-P Notably, that conversation is never referenced again, even when they’re getting hot and heavy, and he’s not the type of person to forget a promise.

  28. 28
    EC Spurlock says:

    “Alphole” is my new favorite word. Thank you for that.

    I think we also need to redefine terms of both Alpha-ness and Beta-ness. I have always heard Alphas defined as men of action, dominance, arrogance and power, and Betas defined as the rich, suave smooth-talkers who don’t so much fight for the heroine as rearrange her world to suit themselves. In these days when money and information equal power, isn’t there also an Alpha quality to many Betas? For example, Roarke would in many respects be classified as a Beta but I would never think of him as anything but a classic Alpha. Or the heroes of the Nerd books who have that submerged-Alpha quality that transforms their Beta-ness when given the opportunity.

    People66: People can find 66 variations of Alpha—or maybe more!

  29. 29

    There are some things that I have to read on paper—research books (so I can flip through them) and so forth, and I think there’s something to the “easy to read doesn’t stick as much.”

    That being said, my goal, when reading for pleasure, is rarely to retain a massive amount of facts about the fictional universe. I’m supposed to be reading for fun, yes? This is what Jessica says above, and I’d love to see that research. Very cool, Jessica!

  30. 30
    Sylvia E says:

    @ SylviaSybil

    Yup, there is another Sylvia who likes Ilona Andrews.
    I am a new fan actually. I just finished the Kate Daniels series in about a week of nonstop reading.
    I agree that just that one quote doesn’t do justice to his alpha-ness. (I love the part where Kate realizes how he makes her feel safe when she never felt safe in her life) I used it as an example of a cocky alpha.
    Now I don’t know if he said it to make her laugh as it actually makes her quite uncomfortable. I think he does it to get a rise out of her just as she does by calling him Your Furriness.
    Actually the begging thing does come up several times as Kate can’t stop thinking about it.

    A few steps later I decided to put my worry to rest. “You were joking about the whole please and thank you thing, right?”
    “Meant every word.” A little light danced in his eyes and he very deliberatly said, “Baby.”
    No. He laughed. “you should see your face right now.”

    I kinda like it when the hero slips up and behaves like an asshole – perfection is sooo boring –  as long as he redeems himself…. Or maybe I’m just a closet pervert.

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