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King of Horror December 7, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, Other, Paperbackswap, writing.
14 comments

This fall I find myself re-reading some of Stephen King’s books, many of which I first read when they were first issued in paperback. I’m doing this partly because I like the genre, partly because I see Mr. King as a really good writer, from whom I have a lot to learn, and partly because I have one of those unique minds that can forget all but a few basic plot elements from a novel I read only a couple of years back. This special skill allows me to enjoy a book just as much upon second, third, or fourth readings. It can save money during those times when you are mainly reading for entertainment or escape.

I’ve long since lost or loaned or sold the novels that I am re-reading, of course, assuming I ever owned them, so I turn to Bookmooch or Paperbackswap for a fresh copy. I usually opt for hardbound books, when I can get them, knowing that I am likely to keep them, and that since I live now in a house with dry and ample basement space, and am likely to be here some time, there is a place to store them. Plus, I just like them.

This week I am reading The Dead Zone, which I was surprised to discover I had never before read. I saw the movie, of course. Anything with Christopher Walken in it is a must-see. But all of my memories are from the movie–I’m almost certain. Most shocking of all, though, was this picture of the author on the inside of the jacket.

sk_dz400.jpg

Would they have sold more copies if his picture was on the front cover? Or would they have scared off potential readers? You decide.

What Would Reacher Do? May 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, information management, Management, Other.
6 comments

I haven’t been posting regularly or visiting anyone’s blog because work has been a mad scramble, lately.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had a staff to manage, and I’m finding the whole thing pretty difficult and draining.  I don’t really get energy from talking with people.  But apparently managers have to do that a lot, so I’m exhausted at the end of the day.  And forget about posting during working hours. 

It is so much easier to get things done if you can mimic somebody’s style.  When I taught, I had a tremendous list of teachers I could imitate.  But not so as a manager.  I have never had a really good manager to look up to as a role model, nobody I can think about that and ask myself, “what would so-and-so do?”  My last boss, the one just before the current one (who I will not be talking about at all in this post, of course), was a great guy.  He is a genius, and I respect him a great deal and like him personally (though he’s not without his faults).  He didn’t like managing, and he wasn’t good at it.  He told me so, and he was right.  I’ve had a couple of other bosses who I liked, but most of them were disorganized, emotional, egotistical trainwrecks.  

So, by default, I am aping the style of the protagonist, Jack Reacher, of Lee Child’s series of deservedly popular thrillers.  I started reading these books about three weeks ago because they were recommended to me by someone who has never steered me wrong.  They are amazingly well-written, engaging, funny, and apparently addictive.  I have now read all but two or three, I think.  I have read One Shot, The Enemy, The Hard Way, Pursuader, Killing Floor, Die Trying, Running Blind, and am currently reading Without Fail.  I have two others on order (bookmooch).

Reacher grew on military bases all over the world and went to West Point.  Then he was a military policeman for 13 years before the Great RIF of the early 1990s, when he was honorably discharged at the rank of Major.  He becomes a drifter of sorts, and runs into trouble of various sorts.  Most of Child’s novels seem to take place during this time of drift, after Reacher left the military. 

There are similarities between Jack Reacher and myself. 

  • Reacher prefers to use his head to solve the mysteries with which he is confronted.  So do I. 
  • Reacher is about six and one-half feet tall.  I am exactly six and one-half feet tall.  He outweighs me by twenty to fifty pounds (depending on the book), but only because he is clearly more muscular.
  • Reacher does not carry a gun.  Neither do I.
  • We are both blonde.
  • People often find Reacher intimidating and scary.  Same here.  Perhaps I should smile more, but Reacher says he tried that when he was younger, and that people became even more terrified of him.  So maybe there’s no reason to work on that.
  • Reacher is a fictional character created by Lee Child.  I don’t know who created me, but I have been called a character.  I could be fictional, too.  How would I know?

There are a lot of differences, too.  But most of them are surprisingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.  Reacher can be extremely violent.  For example, in Pursuader, Reacher is attempting to save an FBI agent and find a guy he thought had killed one of his subordinates from his MP days.  All of these people are holed up in a house in Maine.  Reacher sneaks up to the guard house in front of the compound.  He has been in there before, so he knows where the guard is sitting, and sneaks to a position right under a nearby window and taps on the glass with a fingernail a few times, then a few more.  The guy gets up and presses his face against the glass, trying to see down, thinking it is mouse or something.  Reacher, who has wrapped his hand in a shirt, punches the guy through the glass, breaking his nose, then steps in and disarms him.  Then he asks the guy whether he will attempt to get his gun and shoot him.  The guy says he won’t.  Then,

I paused for a moment and thought about asking him some more questions.  He might be reluctant.  But I figured I could slap him around some and get all the answers he had to give.  But in the end I figured those answers didn’t matter very much. . . . I just stepped away and was trying to decide what to do when he made up my mind for me by reneging on his promise.  He came up off the floor and made a dive for the handgun on the sofa.  I caught him with a wild left to the throat.  It was a solid punch, and a lucky one.  But not for him.  It crushed his larynx.  He went down on the floor again and suffocated.  It was reasonably quick.  About a minute and a half.  There was nothing I could do for him.  I’m not a doctor.

I am a doctor (but not of medicine) and I’m not violent.  So that’s two differences.  But I’m not violent because I try to tackle problems that don’t require violence to solve.  Reacher was an MP, which, as portrayed in these novels, requires violence as part of the basic problem-solving toolkit.  That’s one of the reasons they carry guns.  Reacher doesn’t go looking for violence (except when it is important to exact revenge, or accomplish an important task.)  He just works doggedly to accomplish his goals and doesn’t shy away from use of force.  It’s just that the problems he tackles (kidnapping, murder, counterfeiting, gun-running, etc.) often require a partially violent solution.

So I’m starting another occasional series here which I will tentatively call What Would Reacher Do?  First tip for the new manager is the following:  You have nothing to fear

Reacher has nothing to fear.  He is huge and well-trained and wicked smart.  He has sources he can rely upon for information.  And he is a fictional character.  He can’t be killed, because there wouldn’t be a next book. 

So you could say that being unafraid is easy for him.  Regardless, there is a great deal to be gained by not fearing anything in the workplace.  I used to be afraid of losing my job, for example.  That fear didn’t get me anything.  The summer before last I was trying to get a promotion and wanted to put pressure on my boss to either promote me or let me relocate to another part of the University (it’s a much longer story than you could imagine, and much of it is strikingly uninteresting.)  So I sent him a written resignation, and took three weeks off.  I traveled to Idaho, Washington, and California.  When I came back I sent our human resources office a letter un-resigning.  He had to take me back, partially because I was very candid about why I was quitting.  He decided that he was in enough trouble that people wouldn’t even support a decision not to accept such a strange request. He’s gone now, although I don’t know how much I had to do with that fact.

I still find that although I am extremely engaged in my work, I am not at all afraid of losing my job or being demoted.  Very freeing, that.  It helps you make the right decisions, because you don’t have to think about making safe ones.  And if you make the right decisions, you can often go on to find ways of limiting your risks.

To be continued . . .

Which words do you own?–Neil Gaiman March 16, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, bookmooch, Books, Cartooning, fiction, literature, Neil Gaiman, Other, vocabulary, web 2.0, writing.
7 comments

Note: This is part of a continuing series on the actual vocabulary in use in the blogosphere.  Posts on this subject started here.] 

I began to read the work of Neil Gaiman last year when somebody suggested I read Good Omens, a collaboration between Mr. Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Then I read American Gods and Neverwhere and everything else I could get my hands on.  The only thing I haven’t been able to get ahold of is his latest, Fragile Things, which nobody has posted on Bookmooch or Paperbackswap (have to be a little frugal this year, I’m afraid.)  Anyway, Mr. Gaiman is a tremendously talented writer of creepy and interesting tales.  And he writes a darn good blog, too, which I subscribe to and read whenever I can.

I sampled 22,000 words from Mr. Gaiman’s site, spanning the period January 6 – March 14, yesterday morning.  I had to run the spell-check a little differently from the way I normally do, because Mr. Gaiman uses the English spellings of words like color, organize, check (cheque, a draft on one’s checking account), favorite, and orangutan.  So I just changed these to the Americanized versions in his list so that I could merge it in with the others.

I have started to add some words to my spell-checker, and with Mr. Gaiman’s blog I added googled, blog, blogger, blogging, edamame, and perhaps a couple of others that I forgot to write down at the time but which I was absolutely certain were correctly spelled words.

The Blogger’s Vocabulary List is getting larger with each blog I incorporate.  The latest, which includes samples from Three Quarks Daily, Daily Kos, this blog (Pretty Good on Paper) and Neil Gaiman’s Journal, contains 9,383 different words.  In a couple of months I should be able to make a pretty good estimate of the size of the vocabulary in actual use out there (here?) in the blogosphere.  Check this space for updates.

Mr. Gaiman added 1,112 words to the list, an impressive feat at this point for an individual blogger.  Here is a vocabulary cloud composed of the words Mr. Gaiman added to the list, with font sizes at twice the point size as the number of times they appeared in his 20,000-word sample (click for a larger image).

cloudng.jpg

I’ve decided to stop estimating the size of the vocabularies of individual blogs in this study because such estimates are too artificial.  Even bloggers and writers use most of their words in conversation.  And since your vocabulary is altered by each conversational partner, (your conversational partner asks a question about broccoli or oysters and you find yourself using these words yourself, if only to ask for clarification) estimates of this sort don’t seem all that relevant.

What does Mr. Gaiman’s vocabulary cloud say about him as a blogger?  What does it say about the bloggers to which his words were compared?  What will Raincoaster‘s vocabulary cloud say about her or us or anything, when it is added to this growing pool tomorrow? 

Anybody?
Anybody? 
Anybody?
Bueller?

I’m still here March 9, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, Education, history, literature, narrative, Philosophy.
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I’ve been really busy lately.  Our campus has been searching for a new Chancellor, which is what we call our chief executive here.  What with the public meetings, newspaper articles (for one of the top candidates is the Congressman of the Massachusetts Fifth District, the Honorable Martin Meehan, gaining us national attention), and attendent gossip and what if talk, it is awfully hard to get things done and also accomplish my new, and more demanding, position. 

On  a distantly related subject (trust me on this, for now), it occurred to me the other day that I had been unfair to someone in the past that I am building much more respect and admiration for these days.  That person is the new President of Harvard University, Drew Gilpin Faust.  Back in graduate school I had to read her book Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War, and my review of this book was . . . ungenerous. 

Southern Stories is not only excellent scholarship, it is also good writing and has some interesting things to say about how narrative shapes worldview.  My objection to the book at the time was twofold, I now realize. 

  1. It is about Slaveholders in the Antebellum South (and during the war, too, of course).  Let’s face it, people, I should have studied philosophy.  I would have, too, if there had been a well-funded Ph.D. program at the university where I ended up.  Mostly I didn’t care about history and still don’t.  There are times when it is relevant, deeply relevant and important.  Mostly, though, you can get by without it, I think.
  2. Dr. Faust is one of those scholars who don’t say things that are overtly controversial.  For ADD-related reasons, I found her book difficult to handle.  My usual tactic with reading books that didn’t hold my interest was to attempt to disprove, or at least seriously undermine the author’s main thesis.  This usually didn’t sway the opinion of the professor running the class, mind you.  But that wasn’t the point.  It did accomplish its main goal–proving that I had read and understood the book and that I took it seriously.  This book is a collection of essays, which made it even more difficult to overturn. 

So, let me say, Dr. Faust, I am sorry about what I wrote.  The sheer amount of underlining in my copy (which you, gentle reader, may have, if you request it from my bookmooch or paperbackswap account, for I am done with it now) demonstrates that I found much of interest, but few fat targets.  I think that your diplomatic and reasoned approach to Antebellum scholarship and culture will make you an excellent administrator for America’s oldest University.

For the rest of you, I will make a concerted effort to read your blogs this weekend.  I have been adding subscriptions this week to my bloglines account, because I am losing track of all of you with blogspot addresses, unwittingly dropping discussions on comment threads and all of that.

Name that Blog December 21, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, bookmooch, Books, Constructivism, Education, Hipster PDA, how to, librarything, lifehack, Lowell, luck or time, Market Research, Massachusetts Drivers, Origami, Other, statistical analysis, web 2.0, writing.
9 comments

Davidbdale brought to my attention yesterday, late at night, when I had already had a particularly difficult day, the fact that there is a blog called “as a blog returns to its vomit” which is run by a pastor, somewhere in the Midwest, probably.  Why did this bring me even lower?  Well, david saw this blog, which does not even have an open comment thread, in WordPress’s list of fast-growing blogs and thought that it was mine.  (No, david, mine’s the blog that’s hardly growing at all.)  And it bothered me because I really should have thought about the name a little more before I started this thing, and I should have checked for others using the name, or variants thereof.

In an earlier post I said that I was thinking about making some changes to this thing, more drastic ones than the accretive ones and annoying changes of backgrounds and themes that I normally make.  Well, let’s add a name change to the list.  The name of this blog doesn’t really reflect the content of the site, or the community that reads it, or really anything important.  And pastor whatever-his-name-is seems to have gotten the name first anyway (in March, I think.)

So I am changing the name temporarily to Pro Tempore (another nod to davidbdale, who needles me about my use of Latin).  This will not affect any links that you have made to this blog.  They will still appear as the original name and will still link here, because I am not changing the URL.  But as the name implies, this is a temporary measure.  I would really like some suggestions as to what to call this thing going forward (accordingly, I have tagged it with most of the tag categories I normally use, so that people who read this tag-surfing will get a chance to chime in here.)

So, tell me what to call this blog.  The prize will be, I don’t know yet.  Suggest something for that too.  I’d like to hear from everybody who reads it.  That means you too, Mom, Dad.  And I’d particularly like to hear from those of you with descriptive names that seem to work so well for your blogs.  That would be davidbdale, whose blog name describes exactly the content of his site, as does strugglingwriter’s, prairie flounder’s and some of the others on my blogroll.

No jacket required? December 20, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, Other.
19 comments

I just got my first negative feedback from somebody who mooched a book from me through bookmooch.  Yeah, it bothers me a little, I guess.  Everybody looks for different things in a book, and I guess the jacket was pretty important to this person, who said that I should have noted that it had no jacket when posting it in my inventory.  Perhaps I should have told him that bookmoochers are able to place requirements on books that they mooch.  I have often refused transactions from people who say that they will accept no books that smell of cigarette smoke, for example.  I don’t smoke, but I don’t have that great a sense of smell, so I won’t vouch for a book’s smell.  And I won’t ask my wife to smell books for me.

Anyway, this morning I quickly went to my inventory on bookmooch and amended all of the hardcover book listings I have to note the following:

“This book probably doesn’t have a dust jacket.  I say “probably” because I usually throw them away before I even read the book.  If a book is on a shelf, the jacket will not protect it from dust, unless you are sitting on the couch flinging dust at the book’s spine.  If you want the book so that it looks nice on your coffee table and your house is dusty and you fear that this dust will have harmful effects upon the solid cardboard cover of the book then you should probably get it from someone else.”

But maybe that’s a little unsympathetic to this person’s point of view.  I realize that there are all kinds of people out there.  I’m just one of those people who flings these things in the garbage because they are so annoying.  When you are reading a book they often slip and the book slowly slides out of your hands.  I find this distracting.  And I guess I never really cared whether other people could tell what book I was reading.  If they want to know, I am happy to tell them.

I have noticed that many people keep their book jackets.  I never really figured out why, though.  I guess I always assumed that it had more to do with the fact that people don’t think about these things, or that most people are somewhat neater than I am. 

Do you keep them?  Do you toss them?  Why?  I really do want to know.  Leave a comment, please.

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