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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.

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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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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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Finishing 2020 and starting 2021

So…I re-read The Viscount Who Loved Me. It did not age well for me as a reader. I didn’t care for Anthony as hero at all: Kate deserved better. The only thing that really held up for me was the Pall Mall game, which I remembered as funny and did enjoy upon re-read.

Other than that, my only observation is that Lady Whistledown seems slightly more benign and less malicious than she’s read/voiced in Bridgerton, perhaps in part because of the lack of Marina storyline.

To start 2021, I downloaded a library copy of Harrow the Ninth, since I liked Gideon the Ninth. Unfortunately I had to nope right out pretty quickly: it uses second person narration, which I cannot read. I checked out spoilers, and understand why that was the POV as a narrative choice, but I can’t read hundreds of pages in 2nd person. Sorry not sorry, returned for the next digital reader in the queue.

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Radio silence

You’d think that working from home and limiting travel and movement and socializing would make me more likely to blog. I’m spending time online, mostly doom-scrolling, and haven’t had the attention span to read much or to write anything other than gibberish. Or even just gibberish.

On the reading front, I managed to finish two books and one novella. One of the books was a sort of hate read, which is weird but there you go.

The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. This reads as the wrap up of the series, and does a pretty good job of showing Eugenides as Attolis and annux, but also still the embodiment of the god of thieves when needed.

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold. Another entry in the Penric series, but this one earlier in the timeline. Enjoyable, but now that I’ve noticed how very Miles-like Penric’s adventures and personality are, it seems derivative despite the very different setting.

Shadows in Death by JD Robb. This was the hate read. Robb’s style flows well and the world building is familiar. I’m just disgusted by the disregard for civil rights and criminal procedure. Frankly, the excusing of Roarke’s criminal past seems less and less acceptable the longer the series stretches on, though not necessarily out of place with the idea of him being a billionaire. Restrains self from a written rant about how billionaires become billionaires in generally unsavory ways. Why do I keep borrowing these from the library? Also, I have Thoughts about the fictional NYPSD as successor to current day NYPD, with its terrible warts and union, but this is not the place for them. [Wow, apparently this series makes me want to say a lot about social issues and economics, which is maybe not what the author would have expected. ]

I’m currently reading Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back, which is very readable and speaks to me as a fan with qualms about the health effects and inequality I see in my favorite sports. Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is waiting for me via library hold, and a copy of the first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs is sitting on my coffee table, waiting its turn.

I haven’t managed to watch much new other than the new series of the Great British Bake Off and Trust (FX). Oh, wait, I finally watched Schitt’s Creek. I…did not love it as much as other people seem to. I never really got rid of the feeling that the Rose family felt better than the locals, who seemed to never grow past being cliches mostly. And the character of Moira Rose, with her affectations, grated on my nerves terribly. I did appreciate the growth of Alexis, and that Stevie got to try new things outside of the town. I don’t know. I could see the character arcs and themes, I just didn’t really care for the Roses getting their HEAs or their storylines wrapped up.

I’m keeping up with the Portuguese lessons on Duolingo and via the children’s language workbooks I found online. Someday I’ll be able to visit Portugal again, and I want to be slightly less useless when I do.

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Recently read

Borrowed the new Nora Roberts novel, Hideaway, from the library. If I was a new NR reader, I probably would have found it engaging and original. But I’m not, having read most of her backlist and most of her romantic suspense. The plot and various elements felt repetitive of earlier books like The Search or Angels Fall or other books. I probably could have let that go – there’s comfort in knowing an author can deliver predictable enjoyment – but one scene early on soured the book for me. The local police (good guy! surfer dude!) violated the constitutional rights of the Bad Guy. Yes, he’s a Bad Guy. But that’s the whole point of constitutional rights: everyone is entitled to them, even when they’ve done bad shit. I get it: he’s not sympathetic, so I shouldn’t mind. No. That’s not okay. I do mind, and reading that casual disregard for rights and implicit approval of abuse by the police makes me side eye NR’s work more than I already do (see my previously expressed – either here or on other social media – about Eve Dallas’s casual disregard for criminal procedure).

Read NR Walker’s Throwing Hearts as well. It was kind of ~meh~. I liked the background romance of the older couple more than that of the narrators, whose conflict/issue felt really forced and unnecessary.

Signed up for Disney+ to get Hamilton; planning on canceling at the end of the month. It was worth the $6.99 for that plus The Mandalorian and some other material. Enjoyed it, particularly the staging, which of course was not evident from the soundtrack. Thought some of the editing choices were odd at times; focusing on single singers sometimes made sense and sometimes cut off the background activity that seemed relevant.

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Despite promises at the gardening store that air plants are practically unkillable, I have killed an air plant. Even though I followed the care instructions faithfully. 😦

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In theory, sports are returning to North America. Given the spikes due to premature reopening, this seems like a bad idea. One quote from an NHL player essentially said that they feel comfortable with the risks because the science says they’ll be okay since they are young, healthy athletes. Um, what science is he talking about? We have 6 months worth of data on recovery, and nothing about longer term impacts on health. The expectation that they won’t get sick because they are in good shape seems deluded to me. As a fan, I’d love for sports to be back, but as a human I want athletes to be able to live healthy lives today and well into the future, and I’m not sure the bubbles and protocols will be enough.

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Bouncing among books

I picked up Color of Law again because it seems timely. Put down Lafayette in the Somewhat United States: Vowell’s style just doesn’t work for me. Enjoyed Bujold’s novella, The Physicians of Vilnoc, a Penric and Desdemona story that suits today in some ways; I can’t decide if the resolution works because it is so simple and pat within the story itself or if it just frustrates me given that is not a realistic expectation for our current parallel. I pulled Zinn’s History off the shelf, but I’m not going to re-read it until I’ve finished CoL. At some point I want to resume reading Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton – I set it down a few years ago about 1/3 in and haven’t gone back; after listening to the Hamilton soundtrack last week and noticing all of the liberties taken relative to that 1/3, I’m curious about the rest. And I kinda of wonder if fans of the musical realize *how* AU it is.

The Maryland primary election was held on 6/2, but the results for many of the Baltimore races – where the primary is effectively the general – weren’t finalized until 6/9 due to logistical issues involved in the mailing. [Which was NOTHING nearly as bad as Georgia’s election mess from this past week.] Anyway, the new mayor-to-be was trailing significantly before the mailed votes were finalized, and the then-leader was the former mayor who had resigned in 2010 and was charged with theft/corruption and perjury. I…really don’t understand that on a fundamental level.

Work has been as usual for the most part. The conference/training we were planning for August has been canceled and we’ll try to reschedule for next fiscal year; I just don’t think anyone will be willing or able to travel in August or even September. We have not been told anything about plans for after 7/15, when in theory we would go back to the office. But I don’t think it will happen. People have been asking about reimbursement for computer equipment at home since March and have been told no consistently, but that changed this week. Now a small amount is reimbursable as income, which makes me think they are preparing to tell us we should expect to be working from home for a while longer and people will need to improve their work at home setups.

Random thought brought to you by nice weather and my open windows: why do motorcyclists bother with radios? It’s been really noticeable lately, motorcyclists blasting music loud enough for the rider(s) to hear it, meaning loud enough to drown out the engine and to be heard for blocks around. That volume seems like it cannot possibly be healthy for the riders themselves long term.

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Two books finished!

It’s a noteworthy accomplishment these days for me – finished two books!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune – several readers on Twitter recommended this book, and the blurb was fanciful enough to capture my attention.  I’m not entirely sure how to classify it, and I have a lot of questions about the world-building/setting, but the narrator was engaging and the story did not drag.  It’s been a long time (9 years) since I read anything by Klune, and my primary criticism back then was that the book needed read like a first draft in need of serious editing and tightening.  That criticism is not, I think, warranted with this book.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance –  a colleague mentioned reading this for her book group, saying it made the opioid epidemic and related issues make more sense to her.  She grew up on Long Island, solidly middle to upper class, went to private/parochial schools and then a Jesuit college, and her husband is very much the same, so their worldview and experience, while not small or provincial, is framed by that.  I have Opinions and Feelings about this book that I am sorting through still; although I did not grow up in Appalachia, some of the socio-economic situations described are not unfamiliar among my extended family.  Vance vacillates between self-congratulation and self-flagellation in a way that is disconcerting at times, and seems to sometimes to absolve himself and his own choices of responsibility.  Ex:  at one point he lists a bunch of things in the realm of etiquette/manners that he didn’t know when starting law school, but since many books on interview prep mentions them, and any college job placement center includes them (or did back when I was in college at a state school), it seems unfair to blame Appalachian culture for that lack.  Like I wrote above, I’m still sorting through my reaction.  And I’m interested in checking about Appalachian Reckoning, which seems to be a collected counterpoint based on the blurb.

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