Left as fond memories

While on vacation, I visited a used bookstore that specialized in paperbacks, mostly genre fiction. I picked up a half dozen older romance novels for $3.00, which was a bargain. Among them were two that I remembered fondly – Waiting for Nick by Nora Roberts (back when she still wrote for HQN/Silhouette) and Body Check by Deidre Martin (hockey-set romance).

I kind of wish I had left them on the shelf, untouched and remembered fondly. Neither has aged particularly well. Now I think Freddie is a spoiled twit and the smoking hero is a giant nope. The misogyny and profoundly selfish hero in Body Check really bothered me – not sure how I thought that was an HEA back when. [I knew a lot less about hockey when I first read that book. I have opinions about a lot of the substance and background now that I did not have then.]

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Live music!

Went to the first live show in more than eighteen months on Saturday! Saw Frank Turner’s acoustic show at XL Live in Harrisburg. He’s touring with Counting Crows as an opening act and doing smaller acoustic shows as headliner in between the larger stadium shows. I didn’t see him when Counting Crows played in DC – $200 was too much for a headliner I don’t really care for – so Harrisburg. The drive was fine, parking was plentiful and well-lighted.

The opening act was Nathan Gray, whose music I didn’t know, but I liked his show enough to go download some music.

The set list for Frank Turner (accompanied by Matt Nasir on mandolin) was a mix of old and new songs – 3 new songs from the upcoming album, a few from Be More Kind, a mix from other albums. The requests included two that I’ve never heard live despite having been to at least a dozen shows (My Kingdom for a Horse and Heartless Bastard Motherfucker). He ended with three staple songs, although I’ve never heard them played in this order: Recovery, Get Better, and I Still Believe. Thematically, they made sense together, although they are vastly different and come from different albums – he was talking about how despite doing “live” shows via YouTube and other video apps, it’s not the same as being in the room with people singing and dancing and providing a feedback loop.

My only knock is kind of nit-picky and not about the show itself. The venue required either proof of vaccine or a negative COVID test, which I appreciated, but maybe 1% of the crowd – pressed together and dancing and shouting song lyrics – wore masks. It’s going to be a long time before I’m comfortable being in a confined space with maskless strangers. Maybe never.

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The Cult of We(Work)

I went to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia for a week earlier this month. Rented a cabin in the western part of the state with limited wifi and no cellular service. It was delightful. I sat on the front porch swing and lounged in the hammock, and visited towns that were sort of nearby for antique shops, wineries, etc.

While lounging around, I read a recently published book The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann and the Great Startup Delusion. It was very well done. But it didn’t really answer the questions I had about WeWork, unless I just chalk it all up to literally being a cult. Which may just be answer, I guess.

To back up, when WeWork was in the news in 2019 because it was going to go public, I would occasionally chat with an acquaintance about the financial media attention it was getting. He was skeptical of a bunch of startups, including Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and WeWork. I sort of got the business model of the first three – they don’t own the product, they own the software that organizes and the reputation – but WeWork made no sense to me, and we both agreed: how was it a tech startup? How was it any different than other office rental companies? We assumed smarter people than we were could answer that. Or not, as it turned out.

I kind of hoped the book would provide a better answer about WeWork as a phenomenon and spectacular (from my perspective) bust; certainly it provides a more in depth answer. But really, it comes down to grifters gonna grift IMO. At least, that’s the impression I get from the book about Neumann (and Mrs. Neumann, who comes across as possibly the biggest Karen I’ve ever encountered on the page).

That WeWork is now going public, two years later and at a much lower valuation via SPAC rather than direct IPO…I don’t know. The deal is public (see the filings for BOWX at sec.gov’s EDGAR) and it hasn’t closed. I don’t get it. But I don’t have to. Good luck to the WeWork true believers…

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Quarterly update, I guess?

Or not quite quarterly – a couple of weeks early – but close enough.

My reading for the quarter has been…not terrible. Mostly because I finally picked up the MurderBot Diaries. Yes, years late, but still. I’ve run through the whole series, but for the newest; I’m on the wait list at the library for it. [I cannot pay $20 for a 192 page book. Sorry, authors everywhere.]

Also on the reading front, I DNF’d the latest In Death book. Well, latest to me, not sure if it is the latest. I keep checking them out when I see them at the library, driven by nostalgia, and then want to tear them in half part way through because criminal procedure and civil rights are things that I don’t want suspended, even in fiction.

Picked up The Personal Librarian, a fictionalized account of the life of Bella Da Costa Green, the personal librarian of JP Morgan. It was an interesting book and very timely, but I found Bella as narrator to be frustrating in terms of her romantic relationships. I do want to see the exhibition on her life at the Morgan Library when it opens.

I bounced off Zen Cho’s Order of the Pure Moon Reflected Under Water, but Cho’s (Zen’s? I’m not sure of name order.) Black Water Sister has started well.

Also read Bujold’s The Assassins of Thesalon. It was fine. I enjoyed the series a lot more until a fellow reader pointed out that Penric + Des = Miles and Nikys = Ekaterin.

On the travel front (!!!) I drove out to western Pennsylvania for a few days at the beginning of the month. Enjoyed visiting Kentuck Knob, which seems like the most liveable Frank Lloyd Wright house I’ve seen so far. Loved the tour and tasting at the Wigel Whiskey Distillery in Pittsburgh, although Eau de Pickle is never going to be a flavor I favor; I like pickles as garnish, not so much in my cocktails. Pizza at Iron Born was delicious (I recommend the Forager Pie), and it looks like The Strip is doing fine. It was the first travel I’ve done in a year, and it was good but also stressful. My neighborhood businesses still request that patrons wear masks unless they are sitting at a table eating. Almost everywhere in PA that I went, it was the honor system – if you are vaccinated, no need, but please wear a mask if you haven’t been. Given the number of overlap of unvaxxed and antimask in my acquaintance, it was a little concerning. But I’m back and fine, so maybe I was too worried and cautious.

Work remains almost 2X what it was 2 years ago (with fewer staff). I’m burnt out. If we do a voluntary return to the office, I am going to volunteer, because I need some physical separation between work and home. Colleague asked me today about vacation planning – I have an embarrassing amount of use or lose leave – and all I could say was I think about it but don’t have the capacity to make decisions after work. Although…I just saw that Jaleo opened a branch/restaurant in Chicago; I’ve tried Jose Andres offerings in DC, VA, and NV. The original Jaleo in Penn Quarter remains my favorite, but maybe I need to visit Chicago and try it there…for science.

Family is mostly fine.

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April reading – ‘ware spoilers

A Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong – the newest Rockton novel. LibraryThing’s notes are, “It was fine.” Since I can’t remember the plot less than a month out, I guess that’s the best I can say? Fine? It wasn’t memorable but also didn’t make me want to rip the book in half and shred the pages.

Her Night with the Duke by Diana Quincy. Someone on Twitter recommended this book, and I think it was $1.99 on Kindle. There was a lot of head hopping, accompanied by telling rather than showing. I didn’t actually believe the main characters *liked* each other. The hero was a brat who pouted when he didn’t get what he wanted from the heroine, especially when the heroine demonstrated independence and unwillingness to be a convenience for him. And it had a magic baby epilogue, which made me wish I could rip the book in half down the spine and shred the pages. Clicking delete in Kindle does not provide the same vindictive sense of relief.

What Abigail Did that Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. I like Abigail. I like Aaronovitch’s world building. But the narrative style of this book did not work for me. And Abigail as a character feels a little like she’s on the verge of becoming an utterly perfect Mary Sue, without flaw, unlike Toby and Peter in the series. I’ve gone back and re-read Toby’s book and Midnight Riot, because I’m conscious of race and gender dynamics at work, and wondering if I’m reading Abigail’s book unfairly; it just feels (to me) like Aaronovitch gives Peter and Toby more space to be flawed and human, while making Abigail uber everything. It seems unfair and kind of burdensome, maybe? Need to think about it more.

Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee. Saw this on a coming soon list as a New Adult or YA adaptation of Anna Karenina. I haven’t re-read Anna Karenina since high school, and I liked the idea of a Korean-American Anna. The reality of the adaption or retelling was kind of frustrating. I may have to go re-read the original, which I mostly remember just as a plot outline. None of the POV characters were particularly sympathetic: in fact, I generally thought they were spoiled morons. (I felt very get-off-my-lawn as I read.) The oblivious privilege and conspicuous consumption were kind of repellent to me as a reader: unlike the original, there was no apparent examination of the wealth, waste, inequity, etc.

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs. Guessed the bad guy early on. A charitable reader might say that the mechanisms Briggs pulls out are a function of negative capability; sometimes they just feel like making stuff up to get out of a corner and then ret-conning until it works. Maybe it is a function of unreliable narrators. Not sure. But another magic baby in the epilogue here, too, was pretty frustrating. Way to completely obliviate Charles’ hesitations about parenthood with little discussion on the page! (Another book I would have shredded if I had a paper copy in hand.)

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Recent reads

The Other Half by Jordan Castillo Price – part of the ongoing PsyCops series. This installment absolutely does not stand alone, and the plot was sort of slow to develop. I like Victor Bayne as narrator, and his voice is what kept me reading. So it was fine, but not a good starting place for anyone new to the series.

Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back by Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson. The title pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? I read this in small chunks because some of it is pretty ugly. But it is worth reading for the Serena Williams chapter alone. Would very much recommend to any sports fan.

Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong. New installment of the Rockton/Yukon series. It was kind of convoluted, plot-wise. I’m kind of done with pure/strict procedurals, even when there is no big police force and everyone involved is a dubious character to begin with.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev. DNF. I borrowed this because it was mentioned on Twitter as a sort of modern Persuasion AU with non-White characters. I just didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic or interesting, so DNF.

We Own This City by Justin Fenton. True crime narrative about Baltimore’s profoundly corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. I have a lot of tangential opinions about policing and Baltimore and qualified immunity that impact my perspective of this book. But I appreciated how Fenton laid out what was going on with the GTTF at the same time and after Freddie Gray’s death, and the epilogue from COVID times that touches on Baltimore activists’ handling of protests for Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Also: the irony of the mention of the city’s lead prosecutor as community crime fighter back then; news broke on Friday that she and her husband (head of the city counsel) are being investigated by federal authorities related to campaign finance abuse or other financial issues.

~~~

Last week was the anniversary of a years working from home. It was not a happy anniversary. Everyone at work is stressed out, and work is only increasing. Almost everyone is stressed at home as well.

I’ve been thinking hard about where I want to be physically in the next few years. Home wise, I mean. Because my location is convenient in a lot of ways, I love my neighborhood, and it is affordable, but I’m struggling with the community that is my building. Little things, like people not cleaning up after pets or themselves in common areas, are beginning to really wear on my patience. So do I want to stay here? If I don’t, where to I want to be? And given the general success of telework, is the location as going to be as limited as it was in the past? I don’t know yet. More to come.

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:(

My calendar just reminded me that this time last year I was wandering around Terceira, oblivious to what was about to happen.

Direction post in Angra do Heroísmo

I miss traveling. But I am not sure when I’ll feel safe to fly if/when restrictions loosen.

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Wrapping up 2020

I’ve done a summary post of the books I read, places I visited, etc., for the last couple of years. 2020 has very little to recommend for itself looking back. The early months were pretty good, but later not so much.

Travel:

  • Terceira in February (highly recommend)
  • Pittsburgh for hockey (first week of March, just pre-lockdown)
  • Antietam/western MD for a weekend in July
  • Cape Cod for an isolated and quiet trip in September

Music:

  • Online only – several Frank Turner shows, not much else.

Movies/TV:

  • Can’t remember if I saw anything in the theater early on.
  • Signed up briefly for Disney+ in order to see Hamilton and the first season of The Mandalorian.
  • A lot of Netflix, including Schitt’s Creek (meh), Derry Girls (like it), and Bridgerton (not sure I’d bother with future seasons/series).
  • Currently watching the new season of The Expanse on Amazon. I love Chrisjen Avasarala as a character.

Reading:

I finished 33 books. The highlights were Megan Whalen Turner’s The Return of the King and Ben Aaronovitch’s False Value. There are two former autobuy authors who finally tipped over the edge for me to not even being library borrows, and a lot of ~meh~ mixed in. I tried a couple of self-published works from writers I’ve found via fandom(s); sometimes the original fic works for me and sometimes not, which is perhaps a function of the canon and backstory in fandom that requires more work to establish in original fiction. I’ve been letting myself read Obama’s memoir in bits and pieces, as a comfort, so I started in 2020 but it will finish as a 2021 read. (It’ll be a highlight, I’m pretty sure.)

Books I’m looking forward to in 2021:

  • Anna K. by Jenny Lee, a YA retelling of Anna Karenina. I haven’t read Anna Karenina since high school and my memory of it is such that I’m curious to read a YA adaptation.
  • We Own This City by Justin Fenton. Non-fiction account of the Baltimore City Police Gun Trace Task Force, whose members have been federally indicted for a variety of crimes, including racketeering, drug dealing, and illegal searches and seizures.
  • The new installment in Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton Yukon series.
  • What Abigail Did That Summer, a novella in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch.

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Mish mash of things

Today, this morning, was such a relief. I don’t remember ever feeling so emotional about an inauguration before, for better or for ill. Part of it was celebration over the first Black Asian woman to be Vice President. But part of it was specific to the political atmosphere in the US right now.

I mentioned this to my sister and hadn’t really expressed it anywhere else, but I was very concerned about violence at the inauguration today. (I’m sure a lot of people were.) Yes, law enforcement seemed to be taking security more seriously, but in theory they should have been taking security seriously on 1/6 and failed. The thing that brought home to me the degree of security concern was the cancellation of all MARC trains from Sunday through Wednesday. I’ve lived in the metro area and commuted to DC through five inaugurations now. For prior inaugurations, service ran as usual or on a holiday schedule, or in 2009 on a special schedule that required specific tickets for specific departures, which is not how they operate generally. (I’ve always wondered if the inaugural trips, or at least in 2009, were money makers for a segment of public transportation that is always under threat of budget cuts.) Cancellation of four consecutive days of service is incredibly unusual and just flagged the concern about otherwise uncontrolled or untracked movement into the District.

~~~

I’m trying to figure out how to refer to VP Kamala Harris when I speak or text about her. Kamala is a distinctive name, so is referring to her by that alone like Serena or Beyonce? A mark of respect for women who need no other identifier? Or is it disrespectful and diminishing, first-naming a powerful woman in a way that the last VP didn’t get named and the way white (male) politicians don’t get named?

~~~

Every so often I’m reminded of an old (2010?) RWA presentation by Lauren Willig about throwing readers out of stories because of what they think they know. She was talking about the use of cameras in the early 19th century. There were cameras, or the ideas behind them, just not the same way modern readers think of them. But mentioning them in a Regency novel may jar readers out of the story, so writers need to weigh their choices.

Anyway, I read a sentence in a novel that described an antebellum mansion built in Atlanta in the early 20th century. Cue the mental record screech. Yes, antebellum means pre-war. But in the US and in the South, antebellum is generally a reference to pre-Civil War. Could the author have been referring to pre-WWII? Sure. But context matters for readers, and I had to re-read the sentence and then ????? before deciding to move on and finish reading.

~~~

I used to get up at 5am to go to the gym before work. Since I’ve been teleworking and my commute is merely to my office nook or kitchen table, I’ve been going later. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to the 5am gym schedule if/when we return to office hours.

~~~

I pushed my Thx travel plans to March, and now am wondering if I should push them again. I’m pretty far down on the list of priorities for the vaccine, so I doubt I’ll have it by then. Which is fine – better that more vulnerable people have it first. I’m just a little stir crazy again.

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More nostalgia reads

I read Marion Chesney’s Seven Sister Regency novels as a teen. I devoured them, along with the backlists of Jean Plaidy, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. My recent Bridgerton disappointment made me wonder if any of the Regency or historical fiction/romance books I remember fondly would stand up to a re-read by a much different JMC than teen-JMC. The answer, mostly, is that the Chesney books do not. Sadly. I’m not sure if I want to try any of the others. Some books are better left as fond, faded memories.

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