Taming the Work Week: A review

Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud.  In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.

She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers.  And we really don’t.  It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.).  However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.

It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.

Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home.  You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.

Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control.  Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service.  That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).

Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles.  Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.)  This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.

The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read.  Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.

Kindle stuff besides Regencies that we mostly enjoyed

Here are some (mostly) free things we’ve enjoyed reading on the kindle.

Tyger Tyger: A Goblin Wars Book book by Kersten Hamilton (interesting; Celtic mythology)

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian (fairy tale)

BECOME (Desolation #1) by Ali Cross (fantasy YA)

(In none of the above 3 cases was I inspired to pick up the sequel, however.)

I enjoyed The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido (which wasn’t free).

I really enjoyed Fledgling (Liaden Universe) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  Thanks, Baen Free Library!  This one “worked” for them in that it got me really interested in the universe and now I will buy more books in the series.

Another fun (free!) find was Anna Katherine Green.  Her work is strongly reminiscent of Poe and Doyle. I was entranced with the first paragraph of The Mayor’s Wife which is well worth the read.  Subsequent novels of hers haven’t really been keepers (and there’s been some antisemitism and other assorted racism that make for immediate deletion).  Still, I haven’t tried everything I’ve downloaded yet.  Amazon thinks we should read her Amelia Butterworth mysteries.  [Update, the first is a good mystery so far, but man, had to take a break when I hit racism... this time anti-Chinese-American.]

Ooh, the 2014 Campbellian Anthology of Campbell Award nominees.

I also have some other free stuff (incl. Cory Doctorow) that I haven’t read yet.

Have you found any good free Kindle gems since our last post on the topic?

 

Recently read regencies

I’ve learned that when it comes to regency romances, the negative reviews on Amazon are always right.  Now, sometimes the negative review is something you can live with: “Predictable. It feels like you’ve read this story a million times already,” because often when you’re reading a regency you’re not reading it because you want something original, but because you want something comforting.  Or sometimes, “Occasional use of anachronistic language!” or “Plucky heroine acts nothing like a regency miss would.”  Pah, it must be taking place in an alternate universe then, fine by me.  But sometimes the negative review says something like, “Hero won’t take no for an answer, which is creepy,” and it indeed, turns out to be creepy even if the 64 positive ratings didn’t think so.  Or occasionally, “Hero and heroine are just unlikeable, and the story was boring.”  That also turns out to be true, even if the remaining 23 five-star ratings don’t seem to find that to be a problem.

We’ve read a lot of regencies recently.  Some of them have been real duds, but some of them have been pretty good.  And the occasional find is better than a few (of the worse) Georgette Heyers.  (Heyer’s better novels are like a fully stuffed Italian Wedding Cake– full and deep and exciting… a few of these make it to a decent chocolate cake status.  Good and tasty, but without quite so many layers.)  You know, if Heyer had sex scenes.

Candice Hern [who seems to be on kindle sale] was a first foray into non-Heyer territory.  Her work is highly mixed– some clean sweet Heyer-like novels, some deeply sexy and entertaining novels, and some stuff that’s just not that good (often with heroes who won’t take No for an answer– for shame!).  A Proper Companion is as good as some of the reasonably good Heyers, so is The Best IntentionsAn Affair of Honor isn’t too shabby, nor is Miss Lacey’s Last Fling (though unlike Heyer, this one has an actual fling in it) though it gets a bit silly.  Her short stories/novellas aren’t bad.  Sexier winners include The Merry Widows quartet, four books about a group of wealthy widows who swear to take lovers, but, of course, end up losing their hearts in the process.  Bonus:  In some of the books she discusses 19th century birth control methods (because don’t you wonder?).  Duds (generally in Hern’s case because the hero does not allow the women full agency) include A Garden Folly and The Bride Sale.  The series about women running a magazine is ok for library checkouts but not worth owning.  We haven’t read her entire oeuvre yet.

Most regency writers seem to have only one sex scene (sometimes repeated multiple times in the same novel), and one that’s totally female wish-fulfillment (and not necessarily the kind the virgin in question would be looking for).  It’s formulaic.  Mary Balogh doesn’t.  Her sex scenes both are more realistic and actually add to the plot and character development.  She goes into detail when the details matter.  It’s a refreshing change from the other books with their same generic hero-introduces-virginal-woman-to-the-joys-of-sensuality (which Sarah MacLean does well, see below).  It feels a bit less like boring porn added just to titillate, and a bit more like art and commentary on life.  More than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh, is an excellent example of the use of sex as character development.  Unfortunately its companion book, No Man’s Mistress, was a dud.  The third book (or maybe the first– time-wise it is set before the other two), The Secret Mistress, was delightful, especially if you’ve ever wondered what was going on in the minds of the seemingly silly chatterbox characters who appear in some of these novels.  Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh, is the fourth of a set of four (but the only one the university library had; we haven’t read the first three). It was wonderful (except for a 2-3 page scene ripped from the pages of Arabella, which would have been fine if I hadn’t been thinking, “Hey, I read this already”).

Shameless by Karen Robarts was another book from the library.  Unfortunately it sounded promising, but had lots of repetition with long boring passages, and… the main character doesn’t enjoy sex with the hero.  I skipped large chunks of the book and then was irritated– who writes a fun romance novel in which the heroine’s thought after her first time with the hero is, “Glad that’s over with, hope we never have to do that again.”???

Of course, not all regencies have sex (Heyer, of course, has none).  Kathleen Baldwin is fun, rated PG.  We both enjoyed Mistaken Kiss and are looking forward to the third book coming out on kindle.  One of these days one of us will get the first book and tell the other if it’s worth the kindle price despite its lower reviews.

The Gentlemen Next door series by Cecilia Gray was also fun.  She has four $0.99 short stories that are each a smaller delight with lovely unconventional heroes and heroines.  I wish she had some longer stuff that wasn’t retreads re-imaginings of Jane Austen.

Barbara Metzger is another big author in this genre.  Unfortunately the uni library has none of them and the local library doesn’t have her highest rated stuff.  So far I’ve read The Duel and A Perfect Gentleman.  Both were ok.  Oddly they had very similar plots, complete with serial killer.  They both concurrently dragged and went too fast.  Lots of boring stuff and suddenly they’re in love and it doesn’t really make sense.  But some entertaining bits.  I’m sure her higher rated stuff is better, but I’m not yet willing to spend $5.99 or even $3.99 to find out via kindle.  I may get to the other library branch at some point, which has a few more of her titles.

Lost in Temptation by Lauren Royal:  I enjoyed it so much!  Thanks to #1 for giving me this book; I’m going to get the second one post-haste.

Sarah MacLean’s fantastic series: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake; Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord.  We both enjoyed these, though Ten is nowhere near as good as Nine.  Eleven is supposed to be better than Ten, but neither of us has read it yet. #2 was introduced to this author via several podcasters who love her, and then spread the love to #1.

MacLean’s other series is the Rules of Scoundrels, which is about 4 scoundrels who run London’s most notorious gaming hell, The Fallen Angel:  A Rogue by Any Other Name (excellent!), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (great!), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (not as good as the first two, but introduces what will happen in number 4, which I’m exited about).  #1 is a bit more luke-warm on these.  She thought the first was pretty good, but not great.  Nine Rules, OTOH, was truly fantastic.

Among the best non-Heyer there is!

Has anyone kept reading this far?  You certainly have got some summer reading to do! Got suggestions for us?  Where do you stand on sex scenes?  Yay, nay or it depends? 

DC1’s reading buddy is awesome

DC1 hadn’t been reading chapter books for a while, and when ze did read, ze would reread super easy stuff ze had read a zillion times before.  Big NateA to Z MysteriesSheldon Comics.  We didn’t say much about it because we don’t want to make reading a chore instead of a pleasure and we figured it would pass, but we did kind of miss hir reading fun new chapter books (and talking about them with us–Big Nate is great and all, but we already know he gets in trouble at school and doesn’t get along with Gina etc.)

Then DC1’s friend loaned hir Spy School (this is the friend whose mom throws the awesome parties).  DC1 loved it. And then the friend loaned it to another kid in the class.  So even though they’re all slowly reading A Wrinkle in Time in class, they’re getting through another book much faster outside of class.

So DC1 loaned hir friend The Familiars, which ze had enjoyed before going off chapter books.  DC1’s friend enjoyed it, so DC1 loaned hir book 2 in the series and realized that ze should probably actually read the fourth book in the series (after rereading the rest, of course).

So then DC1’s friend loaned hir The Mysterious Benedict Society and proudly proclaimed it to be a big thick chapter book. I showed DC1 our copy of the book, but DC1 stated that the loaned copy is better.  And, of course it is.  Then ze checked out the second Spy School book when signing up for the summer reading program.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, except that friends recommending books to friends is totally awesome.  And I’m glad there’s kids who like books enough to recommend them to DC1.

Did you share books as a kid?  Or an adult?  What are you or your kids sharing these days?

Crucial Conversations: A Book Review

Someone somewhere recommended that someone read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and we thought that was a good idea, so one of us checked it out from the library.  She had to recall it, and it has been recalled on her, so up on her Amazon wishlist it goes.

We think this is a great book, and wish everybody would read it.  As #1 was reading it, she thought back to previous crucial conversations and how the ones that went well tended to follow their advice and the ones that went off the rails really could have benefited.

The basic premise of the book is that if you pretend to (or actually believe in) give (ing) the benefit of the doubt to people and keep your thoughts focused on the end goals with that in mind, attacking problems instead of people, you’re more likely to get what you really want, make good decisions, foster a positive environment, deescalate potentially fraught situations, and get a reputation for being professional and reasonable that will help you in the future.

They summarize their technique with the following steps:

1. Start with heart. Focus on what you really want, and what you really don’t want.
2. Learn to look. Pay attention to emotions, problems, silencing, and the conversation no longer feeling safe for at least one party.
3. Make it safe. Fix misunderstandings, apologize as necessary. (I’ve found this step incredibly helpful in blaming things on miscommunications and going back to the big goal– what we both want– really does seem to defuse situations.)
4. Master my story. Separate facts from narrative– know which is which. State the facts.  Choose a good narrative. (This is where you give the best possible story behind the other person’s actions rather than the one that may actually be true. I have found that occasionally when I ascribe positive motives to people, they tend to start believing those motives themselves.)
5. STATE my path. Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for other’s paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing. These are all things a good leader will do– you’re more likely to accept a decision you don’t agree with if you trust the process that came to it. (The difference between our provost saying, “I’m the decider” and a better communication of, “Here are the pros and cons of each choice. These are the reasons I made this choice over the other choice.” I really wanted to send hir a copy of this book. BTW, hir decision was terrible and has already had some pretty nasty consequences.)
6. Explore other’s paths. Ask. Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime. Agree. Build. Compare. These are ways of talking about alternative views and coming to the best decision for your main goal while making people with other views feel validated and focused on their main goals.
7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide. Document decisions and follow up. (A meeting in which you discuss, come to an agreement and then don’t do action items is a waste of time.)

They share a lot of really helpful language along with their process.  While reading the book, I thought back to good bosses I’ve had and bad bosses I’ve had, and the good bosses almost instinctively use these techniques.  Heck, my father-in-law uses these techniques.  It’s been helping me a lot with some of the dramatic fall-out of the provost’s bad decision.

It’s not a perfect book– it almost seems like there’s some victim-blaming in the middle, and it isn’t until very near the end of the book that the book specifies that no, a woman does not have to put up with sexual harassment on her own.  This is a shame because some of the examples they use are very close to sexual harassment, and although the actions they suggest are appropriate, they come too close on the heels of admonitions to accept the role you had in whatever tragedy is going on.  Their example seems to suggest that muggings are the only crimes in which the victim is not at fault.  Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault, and they would do well to point that out far earlier.

The book doesn’t separate by gender.  It tells everybody to use some of the softening language that Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office tells women to avoid, which may be problematic.  We know that people have different reactions to male and female managers saying the same thing in the same way– are the suggestions in this book truly gender neutral?  We don’t really know.

An interesting thing to note– in the back of the book one of the authors mentions that they get fan mail from people who have only read the introduction and the first chapter.  Apparently those first ideas of just giving people the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the big goals make a huge difference for some people.  We do think the rest of the book is worth reading through because it gives helpful language that does deescalate situations.

Also:  We’ve posted this on a Monday because it’s about work and career, but many of these techniques also work well in personal relationships.  They also give examples from marriages and dealing with teenagers.

What do you find works for dealing with other people at work?  Do you have recommendations for books on communication or otherwise dealing with coworkers?  Have you read this one?

I listened to podcasts and then I read YA books

This happened.

I like books, I like podcasts, some podcasts talk about books, and there you are in the library’s YA section.  This library happened to have a handout about the Printz Awards, which are for YA literature.  You could do far, far worse than to read anything on the Printz lists!  In particular, books that I have liked from that list include An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I have heard good things about a lot of the other books, too.  They have a lot of women authors too, in addition to a few that I list below.

the YA books I got at the library recently, or as gifts, and loved:

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. It took me forever to pick up this book, but… Ok, everyone was right! This book is so fantastic (see what I did there? FAN-tastic?). It’s about a young woman that goes off to college, and her family, and the people she meets, and how she tries to adjust. The woman also happens to be extremely active in the online fan-fiction community and is a passionate writer trying to find her place in the world. Recommended by everyone, and now by us too!

I got Doll Bones by Holly Black from the library because it looked interesting, but I haven’t read it yet. Has anyone here?

In the library I put down several books that I’ve heard are probably good (e.g., Gregor the Overlander) because they looked like they were all-boys, all the time.  I was bored with that.

I read The Archived by Victoria Schwab, which I finally picked up in a local indie bookstore after having it on my wishlist for a while. It was great! I can’t wait to read the sequel. Mac knows that the dead aren’t gone, they’re just… shelved. Cataloged. Organized. Archived. Sometimes they break out… In a family reeling from loss and grief, Mac has to find a way to deal with catastrophe in her own way.

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King, is another book I heard a lot about from podcasts. I think it was probably Rebecca Schinsky at Book Riot who talked about it (though it could have been Veronica Belmont from The Sword and Laser. But I think Schinsky.  Or, no, wait, it could have been Jenn from The Bookrageous Podcast).  Holy cow, this book is amazing.  I love how it’s written, the voice of the main character, Astrid.  I like the chapter titles, the way it’s structured, and of course the characters.  Just go read this book, it goes quickly, and it’s worth it.  Reeeeeaaddddd ittttt.

I also recently re-read Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper trilogy (starting with Terrier). All I wanted to do was read this book and not go to work.

Finally, I greatly enjoyed Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, which isn’t technically YA, but whatever.  The first story, from which the book title is taken, is lovely in particular.  The editors are famous for the excellence of their work on fantasy anthologies of all sorts, and rightly so.  Read the first story and you’ll want to read the rest.

Other suggestions?

Feminism ahoy! (part eleventy, and reading)

In handy-dandy bullet-point form because the month is squirrelly…

  • why do they have to be bullet-point?  Why can’t they be, like, gumdrops or something?  Pennies?  Give us suggestions in the comments for what we should call them instead.  Maybe bonbon-point.  Mmmm, bonbons.  (Random bonbons of crap!  on second thought…)
  • Man telling women they are fighting misogyny in the wrong way: ally FAIL.
  • keep on reading YO, is this racist?  Never stop.  (Unless racism and etc. all stop, ha ha)
  • Why are we feminists?  Why not just say ‘humanist’?  (Word to the wise: don’t read the comments.  Don’t.)  Maybe it depends on what type of feminist you are.
  • To hell with ‘skinny’ recipes.  Also, I would really like to eat “Rocket Scientist Macaroni and Cheese” or “Excellent Pal and Confidante Apple Pie”.  Giant middle finger to all body-shame.  ETA:  Down with fat-shaming, and once again don’t read the comments.
  • I’m making an effort to read more women of color in speculative fiction.  I like to read a lot of fantasy but other kinds of specfic are good too.  Suggestions appreciated!  I mostly want novels, not short stories, and I’m not heavily into horror.  (Though a million years ago I read “The House of Dies Drear,” by Virginia Hamilton.)  YA stuff is good, too.
  • For context, I love Lauren Beukes (Zoo City) and totally love N K Jemisin a lot.  I of course have read and appreciated Toni Morrison.  I like some but not all of Michelle Sagara.  I found Nalo Hopkinson to be okay.  I loved Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson!  Perhaps one day I’ll check out L.M. Davis and her Shifters series.  I have read some Dia Reeves and have more on my to-read list.  Also on my to-read list: Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia Butler (should have read her before, mea culpa).
    Things I own, in addition to the above, include:

  • Ooh, here’s a link about global women of color.  Here’s AfroFantasy.
  • Ok, your turn!
  • Update:  See comments for what should have been a separate ranty blog post on PBS Kids.
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