Nonplussed?

Has the meaning of nonplussed morphed?  Back in grade school, it was a vocabulary word that meant confused or surprised to the point of being uncertain how to react.  I’ve read A LOT of fan fiction that misused it in place of nonchalant.  Has that caused the meaning to morph, at least colloquially in North America, to calm/casual/nonchalant?  I just read an ESPN article that used it in a context that is definitely the latter.

Or maybe that’s just more poor editing from ESPN.

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Setting

How important is setting?  That seems like a foolish question, since setting is a basic element of storytelling.  But I have been thinking about it in the context of how well readers/viewers know the setting in question.  Years ago Nora Roberts* set a book in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore.  And she got the neighborhood community feel down but the housing market, floor plan of row houses, and sidewalk/parking situation wrong.  They sound like little things but were important elements to the story, so being not quite right jarred me right out of the story.

Re-watching the first episode of Queer as Folk (US) this weekend, the theoretical setting was just so obviously NOT where it was filmed that I wondered if Pittsburghers who watched the series were as jarred as I was by the not-quite-right Baltimore in NR’s book.  Literally, as one building came into view, I thought to myself, oh, they are in Toronto — it was the Gooderham Building on Front Street.  Beyond that, the geography/topography is just not right.  Back when I first watched any of QaF, I’d visited PGH briefly once and had never been to Toronto, so I didn’t notice the location.  Since then I’ve been to Toronto once for WCoH and to Pittsburgh a number of times, which is what made it painfully apparent that they were not filming in PGH.

Does it matter that much?  I don’t know, maybe viewers don’t care, since the economics of film/television production means that things are seldom filmed in the locations they purport to represent in the final product.  But I’m interested to see if there is any attempt at more

*It feels like I’ve picked on NR in the last couple of posts, and I don’t mean to.  But that book and the housing it described was just NOT accurate.  (I wrote an entire post about it at the time, many books ago at this point.

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Catching up

My reading slump continues.  I need to figure out something to write about because I’m really out of the habit of writing thoughtfully about the media I consume.  I write a fair amount for work but the results are pretty technical and blunt, very to the point with a specific purpose and a different kind of analysis and use of persuasive language.  So, I’m going to make an effort with the goal of one post per week about some sort of media, even if it is not about published fiction.

I have managed to read some stuff this summer though.

June

  1. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts.  Rosario posted a very good review of this book, although she may have liked it more than I did.  It felt really derivative of Roberts’ Montana Sky, which was once a favorite.  It might still be, maybe, but I’m a little afraid to re-read after 5+ years, because what if it doesn’t stand up?  Or what if it irritates me the way this one did?  The clustered family felt really claustrophobic to me, and the dismissal of urban lives seriously pissed me off.  (Disclosure: I grew up in the middle of nowhere in an old house set in the middle of fields of cows and corn. I now live by choice in a sort of rust-belt city with serious race and crime issues. There are good and bad things about both. Community is not exclusive to small towns and rural life.)
  2. Skin After Skin by Jordan Castillo Price.  A new PsyCop novel.  Eh, I didn’t love it?  It was interesting to get a different POV on Victor Bayne and other PsyCops, but there were a lot of inconsistencies between it and the earlier novels that didn’t seem really attributable to just a change of POV.
  3. The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch.  A short story or novella in the Rivers of London series.  Really liked seeing Abigail and a plot that didn’t involve Leslie or the Faceless Man.

July – just Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember by John Feinstein.  This follows Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine during the 2007 season.  As someone who learned to love baseball via the Orioles in the late 90s, Mike Mussina was the ace, the starting pitcher, the hero. Glavine, eh, National League, so I didn’t pay much attention except for the occasional interleague series.  It’s interesting to read Mussina’s perspective on his contract negotiations with Angelos/management as he played his final year as an Oriole and then departed for The Enemy.  Feinstein writes that Mussina felt like the fans were critical of him; as a fan, I remember feeling like the ownership/management was shortchanging their ace.  In fact, the last game that he started, I remember seeing a season ticket holder with a sign that read, “If Mussina doesn’t come back, neither do I.”  Anyway, it was a good read but I would probably only recommend it to baseball fans.  For lack of a better phrase, it’s kind of inside baseball and assumes a certain base knowledge about the game and its history and operations.

August – nothing, according to LibraryThing. Is that right?  Nope, Amazon says I downloaded Lois McMaster Bujold’s new novella, Penric’s Fox.  Although this was just published in August, it fits chronologically as the third book/novella in the series, set after Penric and the Shaman and before his later adventures in Penric’s Mission and Mira’s Last Dance.  IMO, it is just as well, because I found Mira’s Last Dance to be fairly disappointing and appreciated the return to mystery/adventure.

September – I know it’s early for this, but I read at the beach and am likely to spend the rest of the month inching through the nonfiction I started on Friday, so…

  1. God Save the Queen by Kate Locke – steampunk + paranormal.  Steampunk has been really hit or miss for me, other than Meljean Brook’s work.  And I used to love paranormal but got vampired and werewolved out a long time ago.  (Would Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten stand up to a re-read, or would it irritate me now? I don’t know.)  But this was interesting in the set up of plot/conflict and some of the world-building.  I liked it enough to seek out the second book of the series.
  2. The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke.  Maybe I should have left this series at the first book?  Or perhaps not read it shortly after the first of the series?  In any case, I’m not wasting time or money on the third book.  The POV character’s use of the same phrase about having her trusty lonsdaelite dagger tucked into her corset became irritating after the fourth or fifth repetition, and she was a giant Mary Sue.
  3. Secrets in Death by JD Robb.  It was fine.  It was JD Robb.  There was bloody murder, Eve was conflicted about things, she and Summerset snark at each other, Roarke owns everything, etc.
  4. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner.  I’m only about 25% through this book.  The massive incompetence, outright fraud, criminal activity, hypocrisy, and bloated-ego-fest that was the CIA through its first decade or so (as far as I’ve read) is terrifying and infuriating and shame-inducing.

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May reading

Where the Dead Lie (St. Cyr mystery) by C.S. Harris – I know I read this book, which I borrowed from the library, but I can’t actually remember much about it.  *shrug*

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen-Turner.  Part of her Attolia series, narrated by Kamet the Mede slave.  I guessed early who the Attolian was and the “twist”.  It was interesting, but not really a page turner for me, and the pacing was pretty slow.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong.  I find the set up for this series to be interesting, and I tend to like Armstrong’s narrators – they are strong, independent women who are often flawed and/or violent.

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February and March reads

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley – This is an older/earlier book, and it shows in the development of the plot, such as it is.  The ending of the baby mystery was out of nowhere and didn’t really fit with the tone of the rest of the piece.  It felt sort of wedged in, as if the author had written herself into a corner with the paranormal bit and then – voila! – came up with a practical/real solution that hadn’t been signaled in any way earlier in the book.

Echoes in Death by J.D Robb – Meh. Guessed whodunnit as soon as the character was introduced and the “twist” earlier on (during the post mortem).

The Chemist  by Stephenie Meyer  – Really trope-y heroine. Dreamy and not really believable hero. Split with twin to get all skills. Author had a couple of faux pas re: DC, especially re the Metro (there are no ladies rooms in Metro stops).

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs – Glad this was a library loaner, because paying for it would have irritated me.  Miscellaneous sloppy typos missed in copy edits (the for then, ambitions for ambitious, etc.).  Disjointed narration. If you have to tell me at the outset of each chapter the setting, then you are doing something wrong, too much telling. More everyone loves Mercy. More power pulled out of nowhere to serve the plot. Meh.

Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold – The writing was fine, but this novella felt kind of purposeless to me.  Penric’s situation wasn’t really advanced from the end of the last story, on the run with a potential ladylove and her refugee brother.  They are in a slightly safer locale, but the conflict isn’t resolved or even moved forward at all.  It was vaguely interesting to get a different personality of Desdemona has a role, but absent actual progression, I felt like the novella was a disappointment; I wouldn’t call in a money-grab, exactly, but it felt purposeless and like fluff or filler.

Currently reading Empires of Light (nonfiction) and a biography of Ida Tarbell.

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January reading

I finished three books in January!  There was a time when three books read in a week would have been a slow week, but at this point of my multi-year reading slump, I’m thrilled by three in a month.

  1.  The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles.
  2. Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman – really interesting look at some of the more popular spices of American cooking, which aren’t all exactly what I was expecting.
  3. City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong – new mystery series, female detective as narrator, found on the new books rack at the library.  I like the premise of the book and series, but the whodunit was given pretty short shrift in the end, all TELL TELL TELL rather than show.  It was disappointing, given all of the set up, but maybe a function of being the first in a new series.  I’d be willing to try the next book in the series.

Non-book consumer-y things lately:

  1. Graze – tried it after hearing an add on Gastropod (I think).  I like the ability to select flavors or block ingredients.  The weekly box is too much, but maybe every other week.  Or just buying certain snacks.  So far, my favorite snack is the cocoa orange bites, which come with green tea.
  2. Third Love – bras.  Not cheap, but really comfortable and well-fitting.  Also, they ship and you have 30 days to try and return, which is not something you can generally do with bras
  3. MeUndies – Xmas gift!  Love these, so comfortable.  Most of the patterns aren’t really me, but they are comfortable enough that I don’t care.

 

 

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On bubbles

I do not talk much about politics here.  But since Friday, or even earlier last week, I’ve been thinking about the political bubble I apparently live in.

I know one person who admits to voting for Trump (a woman, retired, Latina who can pass and usually does).

I know one person who wrote in Petraeus on his ballot. [Ironically, this fellow swore up and down that the Clintons are Russian spies for Putin. Hah!  And believes Chelsea Manning should rot in jail forever but that Petraeus’ leaks and the accompanying wristslap were manufactured to damage a Great Man.]

Pretty uniformly, everyone else I know well — or know well enough to be comfortable talking politics — was planning on voting against Trump.  In some cases, they weren’t necessarily thrilled with Clinton but considered her the lesser evil.

I know one person who did not vote for Trump but who is so offended by #notmypresident that he has sworn off the NBA.

I know at least a dozen people – men and women – who marched on Saturday, in DC or elsewhere, and no one at all who attended the inauguration, despite proximity and space to spare in DC.

The mood of my colleagues was pretty glum all week as we anticipated budget cuts and hiring freezes, even among the colleagues I don’t know well enough to guess at their voting choices.  And that doesn’t even touch on their concerns about healthcare, deregulation, increased militarization, etc.

Fundamentally, I don’t understand why healthcare is not considered a basic human right for all citizens.  I don’t understand why anyone thinks that more guns, bombs, and wars will do any good; certainly the last decade+ of war has done no good for anyone except for companies like KBR, Halliburton, etc.  I don’t understand how people who abhor big government can possibly believe that the government intrusion into my sex life and reproductive planning is anything other than hypocritical, patronizing, and misogynist.

Most of the people I know feel more or less the same, or at least claim to.

Which I guess means I do live in a bubble of like-minded people, which in turn explains why we were all so surprised by what happened in November.

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