Changing of the Bass

I haven’t played bass guitar much recently. The acoustic bass that was right for me when I bought it a couple of years ago ceased to be right for me when I had problems with my right arm (not due to playing the bass). It was just too thick.

So I decided to switch to electric bass, with the constraint that I should be able to get an electric for about the same price as I could get for my acoustic. That was less than $200: my Ibanez acoustic retails new for $250, and may occasionally go on sale for less than that.

I sold my acoustic through Craigslist, asking and getting $180. I’m pleased with that: it’s a fair price, the instrument being in excellent condition; I didn’t have to cave in to lowballers; the buyer came to my house with cash in hand; and he hosts music nights for friends, so the bass will be in good company.

I bought a Yamaha TRBX174EW Mango for a cent less than that: well, a little more than that, thanks to Rhode Island taxes. But the price was lower than usual, since Musician’s Friend had a 20% off “Rocktober” deal, and free shipping.

So I’m looking forward to a more compact bass that I can play comfortably. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Two Takes on Number Ones

Remember singles? I remember them as 7-inch vinyl discs, with a song on each side, usually bought for the “a-side”. Since then, they have taken many other forms: 12-inchers, cassingles, downloads, streams,…

A Number One was the single that sold the most copies in a particular week. Why this history lesson now? Because of two takes on number ones, and the intersection between the two.

Take one: on Stereogum, Tom Breihan is reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. As of today (June 5, 2020), he’s just got to mid-1982, when The Human League were #1. Tom is an excellent writer and researcher. Today, as often, I admire his column more than the single it describes.

Take two: in the Guardian, the in-house music critics have just finished ranking The 100 greatest UK No 1s. Yes, this is rabble-rousing clickbait. I am roused to point out that there is at least UK1 that is better than about a hundred of the singles on the Guardian’s list. Sing it, Smokey, and know that very few of the artists on the list are worthy to be mentioned in the same post as you.

I don’t know how the Guardian music writers managed to exclude this wonderful song (and pretty good video, by the way) from their top 100. Perhaps they decided that so ridiculous an exclusion would generate clicks and links. If so, it worked, at least one me.

Enjoy the music and the discussion, and feel free to continue the discussion here.

Critique: Circle, and Other Sources

Writers need critique of their work, at least some of it from people unrelated to them. So I’ve started thinking about finding sources of critique.

One popular source is Critique Circle, to which I’ve just signed up. It seems active and well-organized. Submitting my first critique was very straightforward. I hope that my comments on the first chapter of a fantasy novel will prove useful, and that I’ll get useful critique when the time comes.

A future post will concern the search for critique partners for my own fantasy novel-in-progress. Any comments on the fiction critique process would be welcome!

First Draft of Novel

I followed Neil Gaiman’s advice. “Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”

I think I know what I need to do to make it look as though I know what I’m doing, including character development, subplots, physical description, more (though not too much) detail about magic system,…

Yes, it’s a fantasy novel. Or it will be, once I’ve add the above-described stuff to arrive at the second draft.

Then I’ll need beta readers. Any volunteers? I’m open to reciprocal beta arrangements.

DNF’d, Then Did Finish: Strange?

Strange the Dreamer caught my attention due to positive reviews and sounding like my kind of book. I enjoyed the early chapters, in which Lazlo Strange talks his way onto the Godslayer’s expedition to the lost city of Weep.

I found less interesting the chapters in which we meet the other main characters, the Godspawn. I DNF’d after about 200 pages (or what would be about 200 paper pages: I have the ebook).

The book takes off just after that point, in Chapter 26 (of 67). The main Godspawn character sees Lazlo, then meets him in a very interesting and superbly-written way. I found this out when I decided to give Strange the Dreamer another try.

I enjoyed most of the rest of the book. Looking back, this surprises me, since a rather hastily-developed romance dominates. The city of Weep is explosively changed during the climax.

Then, we have one of those endings that isn’t a resolution, but a lead-in to the sequel. I don’t think I’ll read the sequel.

I’m glad I went back to, and finished, Strange the Dreamer. I see what people like about it: the worldbuilding, the writing, the characters. But I can’t heartily recommend a book that takes so long to get going, and doesn’t really conclude.

Fastest DNF So Far

I just DNF’d (Did Not Finish, and will not finish) a well-regarded novel after five pages. The novel in question is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which currently has a rating of 4.32 on Goodreads.

I was suffering from adjective fatigue. For example, a character “gestures toward an orange chair on the opposite side of her lucite desk”.

Every other sentence seemed to start with “Suffice to say”, “But unfortunately”, or some such phrase. This, like the adjective load, may actually be good writing by the author, Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The writing may be giving us insights into the first-person narrator: Monique, a journalist. But the thought of spending another 300+ pages reading Monique’s prose made me shudder and put the book down.

I returned it to the library the next day. I think that there’s a wait list for it. I hope that the people after me on the list like it more than I did. I expect that they will, given the many glowing reviews.

What’s your fastest DNF?

Books: 2020 Wishlist

This post, like many of my favorite books, has a twist at the end. But let me say at the start: here, in no particular order, are the three books I most fervently wish for as we enter the year 2020.

The Thorn of Emberlain is the fourth book in the series that Scott Lynch started with The Lies of Locke Lamora. The friendship between Locke and Jean, the cons they pull, and the world in which they pull them are all excellently drawn. It’s been 14 years since The Lies, and 7 years since the third and most recent book, so I’m not holding my breath, but I am looking forward.

The Iron Season is the sequel to The Golem and the Jinni, in which Helene Wecker portrayed one of my favorite fictional relationships. Goodreads tells us to expect publication in 2021, and I’d be happy with that, given that The Iron Season has been on my to-read list since 2016.

The third and last book on my list is the fourth and last of The Books of Babel. I’ve posted before about this series by Josiah Bancroft. Since then Josiah has added a third excellent volume about Thomas Semlin and the Tower of Babel. He’s been working the the fourth, but recently posted that it won’t be published until next year.

Josiah’s post about the delay, although unwelcome, is excellent. He takes full responsibility, and understands that “a minority of readers are somewhat cynical about publication delays.”

You may by now have worked out the twist in the tail. None of the books I’m most looking forward to as 2020 starts will be published in 2020. That’s not important in the grand scheme of things, or even in my thoughts about the three wonderful authors.

I’d like to say to each of these authors: live the best life you can; write the best books you can; publish when you’re ready; thank you for your writing.

I’d like to say to you, dear reader: thank you for reading; which books that will actually be published in 2020 would you recommend to me?

Reacher of the End

I’ve just finished with Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher novels. By that, I don’t mean I’ve read all twenty-something of them. I mean that I’ve read the first four, and intend to stop there.

I enjoyed my Reacher reading, especially the first chapters of the first book, Killing Floor. It opens with the first-person narrator, new in Margrave, Georgia, minding his own business in a diner, enjoying his coffee and eggs.

Then the police arrive, armed with shotguns and revolvers. The narrator works out that they are there for him, although he doesn’t know why.

The guy with the revolver stayed at the door… The guy with the shotgun approached close… Textbook moves.

So right away Child presents us with some interesting questions. Who is this person? (Yes, it does turn out to be Reacher.) What’s he doing in Margrave? Why are the police after him? Why do they regard him as dangerous? (It turns out that they are correct in this.) Most intriguing of all, how does he know the “textbook” for an arrest involving shotguns?

Killing Floor is marred by some ludicrous plotting and resolutions (which I can’t describe without spoilers). But, largely on the strength of the opening, I was excited to have “discovered” Child and Reacher.

So on to the second Reacher novel, Die Trying. This time the opening is rather silly: Reacher just happens to be around when an FBI agent is leaving the dry cleaner’s, she is kidnapped at that moment, the kidnappers also take Reacher and handcuff the two of them together.

My favorite aspect of Die Trying is the way that each of the kidnapped pair is concerned to protect the other. Child makes this touching and funny. It’s probably time to mention that Reacher is a huge man, capable of extreme and effective violence.

On, then, to the third novel, Tripwire. I think that this is my favorite of the four Reachers I read. We learn a lot about Reacher’s past. Tripwire ends with some questions about his future.

Those questions are resolved in the fourth novel, Running Blind. I enjoyed that book, but not enough to make me want to read more Reacher.

As a character, Reacher reminds me of Robert Parker’s Spenser. Each is driven to solve mysteries and is guided by a chivalrous code. However, they are very different. Reacher drifts across the USA, and hence so do the novels about him. Spenser is firmly based in Boston, as are most of Parker’s novels.

I prefer Parker and Spenser. That’s no disgrace to Child and Reacher. Starting with the second novel (God Save the Child–don’t bother with the first, it’s very different, and not in a good way, from the “real” Spenser books), Parker wrote a stretch of novels impressive in writing and plotting.

I am glad to have accompanied Reacher on his first four adventures. I think this is where I finish. But if you have a particular recommendation for one or more of the other novels, or any other comments on Reacher, please leave a comment.

Accents: North and South of England

I’m fascinated by accents, by the differences between them, and by means of detecting the differences. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in different parts of England (having been born in Scotland), now live in New England, and still have an English accent?

But which English accent? Some Americans think I sound like Michael Caine, who has a very strong London (hence southern) accent, while I think have a more northern English accent.

Erik Singer. a dialect coach and one of my favorite Youtubers, gives an account of differences between northern and southern accents. He first discusses differences between Australian and New Zealand accents, which I sometimes find difficult to detect.

I was surprised by a few things about Erik’s take on English accents. First, his north/south line on a map goes through, not only England, but also Wales: a different place with very different accents. Second, he considers Birmingham to be in the south of England. Perhaps it is according to the accent test he uses, but for many Brits, it’s very much in the “midlands”.

Third, I’d have used a different test. If I wanted to see if someone had a northern or southern English accents, I’d ask them to say the word “grass”. I regard a long “a” as northern, and a short “a” as southern.

Any thoughts? Feel free to leave them in the comments, in whatever accent you prefer.

End of Summer 2019

Yesterday was Labor Day, today the kids went back to school. I used to sing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” when the schools restarted, but the kids didn’t seem to like that somehow. So I don’t do that any more.

The highlight of the summer was our trip to Asia. I must get some pictures and posts up about that.

I hope you had a great summer, and have a great autumn, or whatever the seasons and names for them are wherever you are.