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.

The Books of Babel

The first of the Books of Babel, Senlin Ascends, starts with Thomas Senlin and his wife Marya heading to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. They get separated before even entering the tower, Thomas enters the tower to seek Marya, and… ascends. This takes him through various “ringdoms”, such as the Parlour. His guidebook tells him that this is a theater district, so he expects to see a show, and is surprised to be told that he must play the part of the Butler.

I was fascinated by the Tower, by some of the people Thomas meets, and by the mystery of Marya. There were a couple of ways in which I wasn’t convinced by the character of Thomas. But the second book, Arm of the Sphinx, addressed one of them. More generally, I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. I admire the pacing: the rate at which we find out about the characters and the world, while given more mysteries to ponder.

Josiah Bancroft plans to write two more novels in the Books of Babel series. He self-published the first two, and now has a deal with Orbit to republish them, and to publish the third (which I believe he’s currently writing) and fourth. I look forward to the last two books, and to more covers by Ian Leino.

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

On Monday, Ursula Le Guin parted from this world. I’ll link to one of the many appreciations online, then get on with my own appreciation.

A few weeks ago, I parted with most of my remaining books. I donated a few hundred of the dusty dead-tree things. About a dozen were by Le Guin, most of them decades-old UK paperback editions.

I don’t regret having parted with the books, even after learning of Le Guin’s passing. At first I was surprised at myself. Then I reflected, and realized that there are several reasons for the lack of regret.

Those particular instances of the books are just objects. The Left Hand of Darkness is important to me because of the writing, rather than because of the particular object with print on its pages that I used to own.

I’ll be able to re-read the books (again). There are e-books, libraries, pleasing new editions, and so on. Here’s herself on re-reading.

“If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell you it again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”

I may be able to re-buy one of my own Le Guin books. I’m thinking of The Dispossessed: it’s one of my favorites; and my copy of it was in better shape, and had larger and more pleasing type, than most of the others. If I don’t get to it in time, that’s fine: it will mean that it has found a new reader and a new home, many years and many miles from its first home with me. It will also mean that the Friends of the Library have sold it, thus raising money for the good things they do.

Books are wonderful. Libraries are wonderful. Ursula Le Guin is, and always will be, wonderful.

Engagement: Employees, etc.

How do we know if something has reached the mainstream? One answer is: there’s a “For Dummies” book about it.

So employee engagement is in the mainstream, if the publication of Employee Engagement For Dummies is anything to go by.

Author Bob Kelleher defines employee engagement as “the capture of discretionary effort”. He actually acknowledges that there are multiple definitions, but he describes the definition just quoted as “the gold standard”. Another book defines employee engagement similarly (“willingness to go above and beyond”), then describes three components: the rational, the emotional, and the motivational.

These three components will be familiar to students of Psychology, Organizational Behavior (OB), etc. They are often described as, respectively: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Having introduced such academic terms, let me have a look for employee engagement in the textbook from which I’ve most recently taught OB (George and Jones). It’s not in the index, and I don’t recall any mention of employee engagement anywhere in the book. There is at least one very similar concept (organizational citizenship behavior), but I won’t get into that now.

It seems that employee engagement is a term used more by consultants than by academics. Bob Kelleher is a consultant. The other book mentioned above is Closing the Engagement Gap, by Gebauer and Lowman, both of whom were at Towers Perrin when the book was published.

In the next week or so, I’ll post more about employee engagement. For now, I’ll note that the term engagement is widely used, and provide a couple of examples. Rajat Paharia (founder of Bunchball) brings together employee engagement, customer engagement, big data, and gamification to describe Loyalty 3.0. Alex Pentland (an MIT prof) uses a behavioral definition of engagement in his account of Social Physics.

Washington: From General to Statesman

Washington, Ron Chernow’s biography of America’s first president, is tremendous. I’m just over halfway through it. I’ve just finished the third and longest of its six parts: The General. Part Four is The Statesman: hence the title of this post.

Chernow deftly sums up a couple of striking things about Washington the General.

Throughout history victorious generals had sought to parlay their fame into political power, whereas Washington had only a craving for privacy…

He was that rare general who was great between battles and not just during them.

Indeed, maintaining the Continental Army, given the lack of resources, the differences among the thirteen colonies, and other obstacles is as impressive as any specific victory.

I’m looking forward to the last three parts: The Statesman! The President!! The Legend!!! Those are Chernow’s titles, but my punctuation. There’s a great cast of characters: not only Washington himself, but also Martha, Lafayette, and of course Hamilton. That said, I may spend some time with shorter and more fictional reading before I read the next 360-ish pages.

I’ve been reading Common Sense…

by Thomas Paine, and I’ll quote from it in this post. But hey, I just quoted Angelica Schulyer! Here she is, with her sisters, and other members of the Hamilton company, at the White House.

Now to quote T Paine himself. There’s a wonderful passage from toward the end of Common Sense. Here’s the setup.

We ought to reflect, that there are three different ways, by which an independancy may hereafter be effected… By the legal voice of the people in Congress; by a military power; or by a mob

And here’s the payoff.

Should an independancy be brought about by the first of these means, we have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

Feel free to share your own favorite quotes from Thomas Paine, Lin-Manuel Miranda, or…

Nevertheless, she persisted

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Tor is marking the day with a festival of flash fiction, in the form of stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”.

I’m about to read the contribution of Catherynne M. Valente: The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor. I’m looking forward to the other contributions.

I hope that the day goes well for you.