What are we reading? (The sixth of its name)

I also just stayed up WAY too late reading Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman.  I disagree with her on a few points, which I expected (mostly about fatness), and of course I believe that my viewpoint is more right than hers [ed note:  it probably is, unless it’s about breast size].  BUT!  This book is funny and awesome and strident (in the very best complimentary way) and I love how recent and moving it is.  The cover says it’s like a British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants, but I think it’s better than that book even (and I liked Bossypants a lot!).  Everyone should read this book and see what you think.  Do itte.

#2 just finished Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells and liked it.  Big thanks to #1 for sending it to me!  It’s been hard to brain these days, but a little reading every night keeps me sane.  Current re-read is Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is an omnibus following the early life of the character Miles Vorkosigan.  Fun.

Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede. I’d recently reread The Seven Towers and thought I’d give some of her other earlier work a try.  Plus I’m a big fan of the cover artist on the copy (same person who did the Ace covers for Asprin’s Myth series). This was a pretty lousy book.  There’s promise, but one kind of wonders how it got published and through the editorial process.  I kind of think she should go back and rewrite this one (which is something I hear she has done with other books), only this time spending more time on the character building and less time on the boring stuff and maybe even just sticking to one or two points-of-view to drive the story.  Also more foreshadowing and less deus ex machina (and really, should it end the same way The Blue Sword and many many other books with similar female protagonists do?).  Oh, and if there are three mystery races of legend and they’re all supposed to be in the united kingdom, perhaps she should spend some time with the third race and not just the first two.  From a literary standpoint with the prophecy etc., that would work better.  Hmm, LibraryThing is telling me she re-released this in 2011, so maybe she did rewrite it.  Wish I’d read that version instead!

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett.  A standalone Discworld.  Not one of the best.  But #2 loves the opening part with the Assassins’ Guild testing.  Pretty funny.  The ending is far less satisfying than most other Discworld endings.

The Friday Society– Sadly not worth it.  Great concept, great cover… badly needed editing, or just a better writer.  The flaws probably wouldn’t have bothered me that much when I was 12, but at my age I get titchy when characters switch back and forth from modern prose talk to really poorly written attempting to be 19th-century dialect.  And there are some other problems.

Rereading Fools Errant, because I was going to loan it to a friend who likes spec fic but hadn’t read any Matthew Hughes, but it didn’t have a description on the back so I was all, which one was this?  And then I was hooked again.  In case you’re wondering, it’s like Bertie Wooster (sans Jeeves) was the heir to a kingdom and took a road trip across a futuristic Gulliver’s Travels.

 

Have you read anything great or mediocre lately, Grumpeteers?

Recommendations for soothing novels?

You know, the kind where nothing truly bad happens, and you know everything is going to turn out ok in the end.  There’s no awful things done to women of any sort.  Any murder is off-stage before the book starts or is a murder of someone nobody (including the reader) liked.  Any dreadful dark secrets are things that happened literally centuries ago.  Often the worst thing that happens is nothing more dangerous than embarrassing oneself at a party.  Despite what Google wants me to think, they don’t have to be mystery novels!

Sometimes they’re delightful.  Sometimes they’re calming.  Sometimes they’re life-affirming.  Sometimes they’re quality, but often they’re popcorn.  The kind of book you’re not rushing to end, and you wish you could get back to during a stressful day.

Savor these:

Authors like Barbara Michaels (more than her Elizabeth Peters persona, who is excellent but not so cozy), Jane Austen, the always-beloved Georgette Heyer, and similar imitators.

Some make equally cozy movies– Cold Comfort Farm, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Enchanted April.

Connie Willis has a couple:  The perfect To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the more modern Bellwether.

Martha Wells! But not her more recent stuff which is dramatic and not everything works out neatly and perfectly.  But #2 just finished and really liked City of Bones. Recommended!

Kismet is fun.  :)  And the music!  And The Importance of Being Earnest.  And the Matchmaker (from whence Hello Dolly! came).  Also all excellent movies.  Well, maybe not Kismet (we may never know, as most of the movies have been lost to the sands of time), but it has a great operatic soundtrack…actually two.

Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly is a bit on the intense side for this topic (#1 thinks it’s totally appropriate, along with Bride of the Rat God which kind of fits in with Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars), but A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer is just right. (As is Sorcery and Cecelia and some of Diana Wynne Jones. Often YA is a great place for this stuff.  A lot of Nina Kiriki Hoffman stuff is life-affirming, though NOT Fall of Light which is triggery and victim-blamey) #2 has re-read the first few books of Amber in The Great Book of Amber compilation a bunch of times. Basically I find the throne war fascinating but I’m meh on the stuff that comes after. (TEAM BENEDICT 4 EVAR!)

I feel like we should have some Chick Lit here, but I never keep the Chick Lit so I don’t really know any titles.  There were a bunch of Chick Lit vampire books that we sent back and forth to each other, but I’m blanking on titles (Dead girls don’t…?).

#2 adds that Dune (#1  Dune?  Really?) and Jane Eyre are both soothing to me after years of many re-reads.  A lot of Mercedes Lackey is questionable but Arrows of the Queen and Owlsight are both familiar and therefore soothing.  Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Sayers.  Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, because it’s nonfiction about books, which is the most soothing of all.  Sometimes nonfiction works out nicely because it’s not necessarily about any characters getting bashed on.  I also appreciate Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler mysteries because they are full of the main character being in her head, and I am too.  You can be sure that justice and harmony will prevail in Dee Goong An (Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee).  And of course, the queen of the cozy mystery, Agatha Christie.

I need more of these.  MORE.

Gentle readers, please give me recommendations!

Deaccessioning: A sad post

… Not actually that sad.

Last night we laid out the space and we estimate that between the two of us we can fit in about 11 bookcases in the new apartment.

Currently we have 16 bookcases and 2 built-ins.

Oops.

We’re still working on deaccessioning the relatively easy stuff. I’m down under 1300 books, from a high well over 1500.  My partner has at least that many, too!

We’re going through by areas of the house. Some bookshelves are just full of stuff that can’t go. Others are full of chaff. So we start with the chaff.

Gonna be a lean mean LIVING IN PARADISE machine.

I discovered there are some books I was keeping out of guilt, and now I feel great about letting go of them.  I have some “I’m never going to read this” and “I read this but don’t ever ever want to read again” and “why do I have this?”  (note that it took YEARS into our relationship before I EVER felt ok about getting rid of a book he’d given me as a gift.  But now I know we just have love and a stable relationship, and there will be more gifts.)  There are also books that I realized I can get rid of because I’ve internalized the knowledge that I need from them after many years.

At some point we’re going to end up having to make hard choices. Probably what will happen is we’ll bring way too many books anyway and have to deal with it there in some way.  I’m totes gonna overfill the bookcases we have with double-stacking and all. It gonna be all jenga up inside.  And then who knows?

We could add something moralistic about minimalism or money spent or what have you, but that would just be patronizing, so we won’t bore you with that.  I HAVE NO REGRETS.  Except the regret that downsizing comes with deaccessioning, but sacrifices must be made, and there’s a good library in walking distance to our new apartment.  In the meantime, onto the next quadrant!

#2 notes that they have 13 bookcases, including built-ins, but that’s only because her partner tends to get rid of books after reading them rather than holding on to them.  (Sometimes he’ll be halfway through a new book he just bought and realize he bought it, read it, and got rid of it years ago.)  Also most of her newly purchased romance novels are on kindle.

Bibliophiles, how do you deal with not having enough space for books?

Ask the grumpies: Aftershock

Linda asks:

The book description of Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown notes: “From the authors who accurately predicted the bursting of the global bubble economy comes the definitive look at what lies ahead in 2013 and beyond.”

My reading of this book is summarized thusly: there are still more economic bubbles yet to burst and the global economy is “evolving” and not just “cycling” up and down. The authors acknowledge that it is very hard to accurately predict when this big “afterschock” will hit us. They recommend some employment and investing strategies that they say will help one better ride out the “aftershock,” although they note that one could lose some big returns if one shifts assets too early. The principal author is an economist, but he sounds very critical of economists in general.

The book was an easy read (maybe because there was so much repetition) and it appeals to the part of me that is always concerned that in my lifetime our society will become increasingly dystopian. (Could it be that I’ve read too much Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler?) I’m wondering if true academics such as yourselves have a different opinion or general guidance on what to read to balance out the hype of this Aftershock idea.

Somewhat related: if one had a chunk of cash (such as from the sale of a home), what are the better options for saving or investing it for a short term (2 to 5 years)? I’m starting to think about what to do with the equity I’ll get when I sell my house later this year for my big move to the Bay Area, hence my unusual interest in investing and PF books. I will also be meeting with my (fee-based) financial adviser, but I like to have some ideas to discuss with him first.

 

Lots of economists were talking about the market crashing before it crashed.  I don’t think anybody really understood the *extent* of the housing crisis, but we all knew it was unsustainable and going to crash.  Ditto the earlier tech crash.  We’re actually pretty good at seeing bubbles but nobody knows when exactly they’re going to pop, probably because there’s an element of chaos theory there.  The bubbles in my lifetime have seemed to grow bigger than possible before inevitably popping.

With the current lack of regulation, of course there are going to be more bubbles.  The system is still set up for bubbles.  Government has to interfere for there to be no bubbles (as it did after the depression and again after the S&L crisis in the 1980s), but there’s a lot of money to be made in bubbles and the people with money are the people in power these days.

And yes, the US is growing increasingly dystopian.  This depresses me because I grew up thinking it would get better.  Two steps forward and half a step back.  But income inequality has been broadening and things have been getting worse for the poor.  There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens when income inequality gets bigger.  Very depressing.  (I voted for Al Gore, and I like to think in some parallel universe things are better.  More likely though there’s a backlash in that universe and the inevitable was just delayed a couple of decades.  *sigh*)  One of my (libertarian) colleagues is always saying, “Bread and circuses” and forecasting the downfall of civilization.  I hope he’s not right.  I still have the little fairy of Hope in my heart.

So, what to do?  Well, the standard advice *still applies*.  Bubbles mean you need money in stocks.  Bubbles popping mean you need money in bonds.  We can’t predict when a bubble is going to pop or how big it’s going to get.  So we diversify.

Investing for the short term is the same standard boring advice as well– if you’re going to need the money, put it someplace safe (with lower returns).  Bonds, laddered CDs, etc.  If you feel like gambling, put it in the stock market.  (Because houses in SF are so very expensive, and it’s generally a seller’s market, plenty of folks keep that “short term” money in the stock market rather than pulling it out.  When tech bubbles burst, so do housing prices in the SF bay area, so it isn’t quite as big a risk for them, but that’s a very unique market.)

Even if we go into hyperinflation, you’ll need money in stocks for the long-term.  If society collapses, then probably you’ll need bullets and bottled water more than anything else.  But it’s hard to say.  We’re not prepared for a zombie apocalypse.

Romance novel tropes that we love and that we hate

Hate:  Anything where something was misheard and if the characters just @#$ing talked to each other that big misunderstanding would be cleared up and the book would have ended in chapter 3.

Love:  When the main character tries to play matchmaker disastrously and ends up falling for the person she’s supposed to be matchmaking.  (And everything turns out great for the other half of the pair as well.)  Bonus points for same-sex couples getting together.

Hate:  September/May romances with super young heroines unless they’re done really well and don’t seem like pedophilia.

Love:  When characters are forced into a relationship (not a forced sexual or romantic relationship because that’s awful, but like they both have guardianship of the same dog or house or something) and through working together they come to love each other.

Hate:  When one or both of the main characters is too dumb to live.

Love:  When the hero asks if it’s ok to kiss the heroine (and she says yes!)

Hate:  Anything non-consensual.  When the hero refuses to take no for an answer.

Love:  Feisty older ladies like aunties who scheme in a good way.  Also young managing misses too, like BFFs or sisters.  So long as it all turns out for the best.

Hate:  When the main characters don’t come clean to each other soon enough.  He or she is actually rich.  Or he’s really his brother.  They get some leeway here if the reason they don’t come clean is because they’re in love and the other protagonist hates wealthy people, or if the future of England will be compromised if ze drops hir disguise,  but never if they just think it’s amusing to let the other person think she’s falling in love with the gardener even though she’s a lady and it’s a regency romance (for example).  And if the latter does happen, then at that point, the hero needs to LOSE the girl until he makes it up to her by losing some of his dignity as well so he’s learned his lesson about not being a jerk.  Heroes are redeemable, but they shouldn’t be allowed to end the book as jackasses.

Love:  Coincidences that turn out not to be actually coincidences, but part of an intricate plot to get everything to work out.  (Real coincidences in moderation, but be light on the deus ex machina.)

Hate:  when she takes off her glasses she’s actually beautiful, not mousy, like she was with them on.  Glasses make a woman automatically ugly.

Love:  Strong well-developed supporting characters who have personalities and aren’t just 2-d stereotypes.  (Whether or not they fall in love with someone by the end of the book!)

Hate:  All the characters are disagreeable.

Love:  When two old battleaxes fall for each other while trying to help the youngsters.  (or rekindle their romance from their younger days)

Hate:  Heroine bemoans that she’s too busty for fashionable beauty.  Really, your boobs are too big, and that’s your problem?

Love:  Women have genuine friendships and value them highly.

Hate:  You can tell who will end up in bed together by who hates each other the most at the start.

Love:  When there are multiple ways for everything to come out just right in the end– the characters don’t just wait on deus ex machina fate to intervene.

What are your favorite and least favorite romance tropes?

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?

 

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