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Literary Glance: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

When I heard that the novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer had won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I thought I’d better read it.  To be honest, I had never heard of Less.  I knew nothing about it.  But I had a feeling.  I wondered if the main character of the novel would be named Les or Less.  I usually don’t like book titles that are just a character’s name, but I try to stay open-minded about these things.

“Please don’t be about a guy named Less,” I said to myself as I glanced at the book cover.

“Please don’t be about a guy named Less,” I said to myself as I opened the book to the first page.

“Please don’t be about a guy named Less,” I said to myself as I began to read the first sentence:

From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.

Aaaaargh! It’s about a guy named Less!!!

Look at him, seated primly on the hotel lobby’s plush round sofa, blue suit and white shirt, legs knee-crossed so that one polished loafer hangs free of its heel.  The pose of a young man.

AAAaaarrrrgh!  And the narrator has a condescending tone about Arthur Less.

His slim shadow is, in fact, still that of his younger self, but at nearly fifty he is like those bronze statues in public parks that, despite one lucky knee rubbed raw by schoolchildren, discolor beautifully until they match the trees.  So has Arthur Less, once pink and gold with youth, faded like the sofa he sits on, tapping one finger on his knee and staring at the grandfather clock.

Aaaaargh!!!  And this Arthur Less is a loser!  What a hack move!

I don’t mind authors making hack moves.  Sometimes an author has to use a gimmick or make a hack move to get a book published.  But this hack move just won this author a Pulitzer Prize.  I mean, the television show WKRP in Cincinatti used the same joke with its character Les Nessman back in the 1970s.

“I believe you can tell a lot about a man’s character from his name,” some braggadocios dude would say while introducing himself.

The audience would then laugh while the camera close up focussed on Les Nessman’s face… because his name was Les.  It was okay for a 70s TV show to use hacky jokes because they have to come up with 25 weeks of material in one year, plus it was the 1970s.  But this novel Less won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The worst part of Less is that this loser Arthur Less has still sold more copies of his books than I have.  I can’t even call Less a loser.  Of course, I’m fairly successful in a field that has nothing to do with writing, but it still irks me.  And I’m not calling Arthur Less a loser because of his book sales or his last name.  It’s because the narrator speaks so condescendingly of Arthur Less.

Maybe the rest of the novel is better.  Maybe Arthur Less meets a protégé named Moore who changes his life.  Maybe the author’s condescending tone eventually changes.  Maybe Arthur Less finds some value in his life that a condescending narrator wouldn’t understand.  I hope so.

I have to admit, Less has a pretty cool book cover.  If I judged books by their covers, I’d buy Less without a second thought.  But as a writer who respects Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners, I expect more from a book than a cool cover, not Less.   AAArrrrgh!!!

Weekly Rankings: Fiction Bestsellers, 3rd Week of April, 2018

These weekly rankings seem to be going monthly, but at least there are a bunch of new books on the top ten list.  One James Patterson book has been replaced by another James Patterson book.  We have a couple other authors who have been writing books since I was a kid (but they still haven’t “written” as many books as James Patterson).  And then we have a few books that absolutely refuse to leave the bestsellers list.  Are those books THAT good?  Or is there something else going on?

1.   I’ve Got My Eyes on You by Mary Higgins Clark-

Wow, that’s a creepy title!  If certain guys used that title and put themselves on the cover, they’d get arrested.  But it’s not a creepy guy who came up with that title.  It’s Mary Higgins Clark, and she’s been writing books since I was a kid.

2.   The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer-

When I told my wife I was reading The Female Persuasion, she said, “Me too.”

3.   The Disappeared by C.J. Box-

The disappeared what?  There should be a noun after the word disappeared.  I hate it when adjectives are used as nouns!

4.   Red Alert by James Patterson and Marshall Carp-

Last month James Patterson’s Fifty-Fifty was in the top ten.  This month it’s Red Alert.  What James Patterson book will make it next month?

5.   The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah-

Aaaarrrgh!  Another adjective being used as a noun!  English teachers all around the country are saying: “You write your bestselling novels first, and then you can use adjectives as nouns.”

6.   Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng-

This book seems perfect for a Reese Witherspoon produced limited television series.  Hopefully the series can keep the novel’s good story but cut down some of the unnecessarily long sentences.

7.   Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate-

Before We Were Yours has to be one of the most misleading book titles ever!  It sounds like hokey melodrama that would disappear after two weeks, but it’s been a bestseller since… well, it’s been a long time!

 8.  Accidental Heroes by Danielle Steel-

Danielle Steel is another author who’s been writing bestselling novels since I was a kid.  Last month, Clive Cussler was the author who has been writing novels since I was a kid.  Who’s next to put out a new book, Harold Robbins?

9.   The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn-

This first novel from a debut author started off at number 1 in January and has been in the top ten ever since.  But is he really a first-time author if he’s an executive editor for the publishing company that put out the book?

10.    Varina by Charles Frazier-

Varina is the wife of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, and Varina is told from her point of view.  Even if Varina is any good, I’m not sure that a book told from the point of view of a Confederate will stay in the top ten for long in today’s political climate.

*****

I have to admit, this is a decent variety of books, with some literary, some thrillers, some romance, but I still have lingering questions.  Who keeps buying James Patterson books as soon as they get published?  And when did it become acceptable to use adjectives as nouns in book titles?

Literary Glance: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer doesn’t have the best opening sentence in the world.  I don’t think it’s even that good of a sentence.  It’s not a convoluted mess like the first sentence in the novel Sweetbitter last year, but this one is still kind of bland:

Greer Kadetsky met Faith Frank in October 2006 at Ryland College, where Faith had come to deliver the Edmund and Wilhelmina Ryland Memorial Lecture; and though that night the chapel was full of students, some of them boiling over with loudmouthed commentary, it seemed astonishing but true that out of everyone there, Greer was the one to interest Faith.

It isn’t the longest or most confusing opening sentence I’ve read.  It just feels like a sentence where an author is going through the motions.  Two characters meet on a vague date in a certain location, the narrator pokes a little fun at most of the people in the setting, and then claims something was astonishing before the reader has a chance to judge anything.

I mean, it’s not horrible.  I just thought, “This is the opening?”  It feels like a rough draft opening sentence.  Maybe it is the rough draft opening sentence; maybe Meg Wolitzer is an author that editors don’t bother.

Maybe it’s wrong to be overly critical of an opening sentence, but if you’re going to be critical of a sentence, it should be the first one.  That’s where the author tries to pull in the reader, and I have to say, this sentence didn’t draw me in.

I know, I know, I’ve never gotten a publishing deal, so maybe I shouldn’t criticize a successful author, but at least I admit that I could be wrong.  Maybe this is a great opening sentence, and I’m just not literary enough to see it.  This could be why I never have gotten a publishing deal; I don’t know what a good opening sentence is.

Just so you know, I don’t stop reading books just because of a bland opening sentence.  I’ll usually give a book at least a couple pages.  And I’m glad I did.  A few pages later, the author swerved into what might be the best idea in recent memory:

She watched the girls standing with heads tilted and elbows jutted, pushing in earrings, and the boys aerosolizing themselves with a body spray called Stadium, which seemed to be half pine sap, half A1 sauce.

I agree with the narrator that Stadium sucks, but A1 sauce is great.  I’d buy a deodorant/aerosole made out of A1 sauce.  Even better, I’ll just use my A1 sauce as deodorant.  How did I not think of this earlier?  No man would ever make fun of A1 sauce.  I don’t know what ingredients go into Stadium (the ingredients in fictional deodorants can be difficult to track down), but I guarantee you A1 sauce is not one of them.  If A1 steak sauce were part of Stadium’s scent, Stadium would be awesome.  But it isn’t, and Stadium sucks.

Even though the opening sentence in The Female Persuasion is kind of lame, the author makes up for it with the idea of steak sauce deodorant.  Meg Wolitzer is genius.  I might keep reading The Female Persuasion just to see what other ideas she has.

*****

What do you think?  Is the opening sentence of The Female Persuasion kind of bland, or am I way off?  Would you buy a deodorant made (even partially) of A1 sauce?

Trump vs. Amazon (an average guy tries to figure it out)

(image via wikimedia)

This isn’t a political post.  Yes, Amazon and President Trump will be mentioned, but this isn’t really about the policy wonk stuff.  Even though I try to stay out of politics, I have to write about this because Amazon sells a lot of books and anything that affects Amazon can affect my book reading.  I wrote about Amazon a few years ago  when the Obama Justice Department sued Apple and several book publishers for colluding to keep ebook prices unnecessarily high.  When Amazon was handing out refunds a couple summers ago, it wasn’t because of Amazon’s practices; it was because other publishers had sold ebooks for too high a price.

This whole thing with the U.S. government and Amazon started with a tweet last week where Trump claimed that Amazon was ripping off the USPS with its package delivery deal.  Trump claims that Amazon has an overly favorable deal with the U.S. Postal Service and that this deal hurts the USPS.  Amazon claims that the deal actually helps the USPS.  Who is right?  It’s tough to tell because the details aren’t public.  Even if the details were available to me, they’d probably be tough for a guy like me to interpret, so that wouldn’t help me much.

The USPS is losing money, but supposedly it’s because of the benefits it’s required to offer its employees.  A lot of companies lose money over benefits.  Benefits don’t really seem to benefit anybody anymore, except maybe the insurance companies, but that’s for a different kind of blogger to break down.  Anyway, Amazon’s deal with the USPS seems to have increased business for USPS (at least in package deliveries), but Trump might be suggesting that the USPS negotiate a better deal.  Trump likes to brag about negotiating deals.  I bet Trump would love to negotiate a deal with Jeff Bezos.  He might even suggest that Jeff Bezos has bad breath (You’ll only think that was funny if you’ve seen this video ).

Some of this has to be personal.  Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, and the Washington Post is one of the newspapers that government leakers leak to, and Trump hates government leaks, so this appears as though Trump could be attacking a newspaper he doesn’t like by going after Amazon.  Amazon also has weird stuff going on that has nothing to do with the Washington Post, like droid deliveries, weird Alexa laughs, buying Whole Foods, and pursuing global domination.  I mean, the Amazon Kindle changed my life, but there’s still some weird stuff going on with Bezos.

Trump and Bezos have a lot in common.  Trump fires a lot of people, and Amazon warehouses have really high employee turnover.  Trump has funny hair, but if Bezos grew his out, it would probably look funny too.  Both have more money than the average person can keep track of.  Trump is a rich guy who became President of the United States during his first ever political campaign.  Jeff Bezos is a rich guy who might own the world without ever having to run a political campaign.

I feel bad for people who hate both Trump and Amazon.  A lot of people despise Amazon because it’s on the verge of becoming a monopoly and maybe has used a bunch of questionable business practices.  A lot of people despise Donald Trump because… yeah, I don’t feel like writing a paragraph that long.  At any rate, if you despise rich people just for the sake of despising rich people, it would be tough to choose who to root for here.

Those publishing companies and brick & mortar stores who hate Amazon now have an ally in Trump, but they probably don’t want to seem too enthusiastic about it.  I’m sure B&M Booksellers would love to see Trump stick it to Amazon, but if they come out in support of Trump, then a bunch of Trump haters will start boycotting B&M Booksellers, and those Trump boycotters can get serious.  If B&M Booksellers are rooting for Trump to knock Amazon down a peg or two, they’d better root for that very quietly.

This whole Trump vs. Amazon thing is complicated for an average guy like me.  Even if I had access to all the details, I still might not be able to figure it out.  Still, I like trying, and I have plenty of time to learn more.  I’m pretty sure that as long as Trump is president and Bezos runs Amazon, this conflict isn’t going to end any time soon.

Stephen Hawking and a Brief History of Not Finishing Books

Stephen Hawking died recently, and sales of his book A Brief History of Time have skyrocketed.  Stephen Hawking is a science guy, and I’m not, so I don’t write about him much.  But I’m a book nerd, and there’s one aspect of Stephen Hawking’s book that the average Hawking fan might not know about.

A Brief History of Time might be one of the most unread bestselling books out there.

It’s not me saying that.  It’s The Hawking Index , which was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time, a book that a lot of people buy but very few really read.  The Hawking Index (or the professor who figured it out) measures highlighted text in the Amazon Kindle and how far into the book that the last highlighted text is. Then it matches the number of highlighted text with the page numbers and… I’m going to stop there. If I go into more details, you might stop reading. I don’t want people to stop reading my article about people who stop reading A Brief History of Time.

I never bought A Brief History of Time. I like history, and I like brief books, but I remember scanning the first couple pages years ago and thinking, “This is really boring (or too smart for me).” I don’t care how short the book is; if it’s boring (or too smart for me), I don’t buy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get included in the Hawking Index because I didn’t even buy the book that inspired the index of books that people don’t finish. Too bad there’s no way to track people who didn’t even buy the book before not finishing it.

It’s not really an insult to mention The Hawking Index so soon after Stephen Hawking’s death.  It’s not an insult at all!   Millions of people bought Hawking’s books.  That’s awesome!!  If millions of people bought my books and didn’t read them, I’d just be glad they bought my books.  I’d rather have millions of people buy my books and not finish them then have very few people buy my books.

As an avid book reader, I proudly admit that I don’t finish most books that I start.  Life is short, books take a while to read, so I want to enjoy everything I peruse.  I check out lots of books from the library, and I read samples from the Amazon Kindle, so it doesn’t cost anything to not finish a book, except a little time.  I feel burned when I buy a book and don’t finish it.  That happens when a book starts off great, reels me in, and then sucker punches me with a plummet in quality after I purchase it.  I hate that!!

When The Hawking Index was first revealed a few years ago, it didn’t make much news.  Data collection wasn’t seen as a big deal back then.  People knew about it but shrugged it off.  It was just seen as the price we paid for free apps and convenience.  Now people are starting to freak out over data collection, when they previously hadn’t cared.  If people are reminded how their reading habits can be tracked through Amazon, will they care more now than they did four years ago?

Maybe readers will suddenly find this index intrusive.  This could be a great reason to read a real book, instead of the digital version.  If you buy a book and never read it, nobody would know.  I mean, maybe there are enough hidden government cameras to track all of our reading habits, but that would take a lot of surveillance (and a lot of FISA warrants… if those even matter anymore).

Whenever a celebrity passes, fans grieve in different ways.  Some will write tributes on blogs and Twitter.  Fans of singers will listen to songs, and fans of actors will watch movies.  In the case of Stephen Hawking, a lot of people bought his book A Brief History of Time.  Yeah, a lot of people bought it, but that doesn’t mean many people will read it.

Literary Glance: The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

I knew the guy in bed with her was dead from the opening sentence.  I mean, the author hadn’t yet established that there was a guy in bed with her in the first sentence, but I knew he was dead.  I hadn’t read the book jacket.  I hadn’t read any reviews.  This was a cold reading of The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian, and I still knew the guy was dead.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the guy is dead if you find that out in the first chapter of a book.  Now, if the guy turns out to be alive, and the dead body was a twin or a woman or a replica, then that would be a spoiler, but saying that the protagonist’s one-night stand is dead in the morning of the first chapter… that’s not really a spoiler.

What happens after the protagonist discovers the dead body is interesting enough.  She’s a flight attendant (which explains the book title) staying overnight in the UAE and knows she won’t be treated well by the police there if she’s caught with the dead body, even if she was set up.  So there is a tense moment as The Flight Attendant decides what to do.  The book isn’t bad just because the reader knows there’s a dead body in the bed.

When I later read the book jacket, I saw that the blurb was just a brief summary of the first chapter I had already read.  That kind of ticked me off.  I could have just read the book jacket and started the book on Chapter 2.  Aaaaarrrrgh!!!!!   I guess this is what I get for cold reading a book.

The Flight Attendant started off last week at #2 on the bestsellers list for hardcover fiction, but it has already dropped to #14.  I don’t know how long it will stay in the bestseller’s list, so I wanted to mention it while it was still around.  I actually think The Flight Attendant is better written and more interesting than some of the other thrillers that have been hanging around the top ten for a while.

For example, the first chapter of The Flight Attendant is more interesting than the first couple chapters of The Woman in the Window, which has been in the top ten since January.  The Woman in the Window had a lot more hype and a lot of backing from its publishing company (one of their editors wrote the book), so the industry might have incentive to keep that book in the top ten for a while… if things work like that.

I’m not really intrigued by the world of flight attendants though.  That could be a problem for a book called The Flight Attendant.  Maybe The Flight Attendant should have a different title.  The Binge DrinkerThe Blackout ArtistThe Dead Body Next To Me.  I’d read a book called The Dead Body Next To Me.  The only problem is that all the readers would know that the dead body next to the protagonist in the morning was dead.  I’d hate to be reading a book called The Dead Body Next To Me and then be surprised that the body next to the protagonist was dead.

I’d feel pretty stupid if I did that.

Literary Glance: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The movie Ready Player One came out this weekend, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’m not going to pay attention to what the critics say about it. I expect the movie to be loud with lots of action sequences and little characterization. Other critics can argue about whether or not the movie relies too much on 1980s references.

I’m ignoring all that hype and all that criticism. I have only one question about Ready Player One.

Is Robotron in the movie?

Dysfunctional Literacy

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is probably the first book I’ve ever read that makes a reference to Robotron, my favorite arcade video game from the 1980s.  In fact, Ready Player One makes references to a bunch of stuff from the 1980s.  The first couple chapters of Ready Player One have already made references to a bunch of 80s pop culture like, Oingo Boingo, Family Ties, John Hughes movies, and, of course… video games like Robotron.

As somebody who grew up in the 80s, I appreciate seeing all these references.  It’s part of what makes Ready Player One fun to read.

I could be biased.  Maybe I appreciate this book so much because I’ve finally discovered somebody who loves Robotron as much as I did.  Back when we’d play arcade games in the mall or at the pool hall, and everybody else was obsessed with crap like Frogger or…

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Old Things that Are Tough To Explain: Donald Trump Was a Pop Culture Icon

(image via wikimedia)

As far as “old things” go, this one is fairly recent.  Usually the old things that are tough to explain (like researching without the internet) can go back a couple decades.  Sometimes stuff (like smoking cigarettes in restaurants and movie theaters) goes back a couple generations.  But kids today don’t realize that just a few years ago, maybe as recently as 2011, Donald Trump was considered a pop culture icon.  Maybe people are trying to forget, but I think it’s important to remember the past, no matter how weird it might seem.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no Donald Trump fan.  I disliked Donald Trump before everybody else did, and it’s not even political.  The simple version is that I’m a polite person, and Donald Trump has always come across as kind of rude.

For example, I always thought Trump was rude in his Larry King interviews on CNN.  Once he even complained about Larry King’s bad breath.    I laughed when it happened, but I still thought Trump was a dick .  To be fair,  Trump was just demonstrating how he would get an edge in negotiations, but still.  I don’t want to negotiate with somebody who tells me I have bad breath.  I’ve been offended by a lot of bad breath in my life, but I’ve never publicly shamed a person for it.    I know Donald Trump respected Larry King.  At the time Larry King had already had more wives than Trump could even dream about.

Complaining about bad breath in a negotiation is bad behavior, and Larry King rewarded Trump’s bad behavior with a bunch more interviews.  That’s what media institutions did for over 20 years, rewarded Trump’s bad behavior.

Trump made a cameo appearance in the movie Home Alone 2, but that appearance didn’t really add anything to the movie.  If anything, it kept an actual actor from having a job.  Some struggling actor could have played a mogul hotel owner and never got his opportunity.  I don’t blame Donald Trump.  What is he supposed to do?  When you get offered a cameo appearance in a Home Alone movie, you take it.  I blame Hollywood.  I blame Hollywood for a lot of things, especially for making a lot of crappy movies.

When Trump made a cameo appearance on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 2005, everybody made a big deal about it and claimed that Trump was great.  He was great at being Trump, I guess, which is all the soap opera people wanted.  I have to give Trump credit.  He’s better at being Donald Trump than any of his impersonators.  Most of his impersonators suck.  And why do we even need a Trump impersonator?  We can watch Donald Trump whenever we want!  I can understand Elvis impersonators because he’s not around anymore.  But there’s a lot of Donald Trump.

Being on Days of our Lives wasn’t enough for the fawning public. An actress from Days of Our Lives even bragged about how she flirted with Donald Trump .  And the audience cheered.  And the hosts encouraged this flirting, even saying that Trump was “cute.”  To me, a “cute” Donald Trump has always been tough to explain.  It actually kind of turns my stomach a little bit.  But as a man, I’m not attracted to the same things that a lot of women are attracted to.

Today, no woman will admit she flirted with Donald Trump, at least not with pride.  Women will always deny that they were attracted to Donald Trump, but the evidence is right there.  Who am I supposed to believe, women who deny ever being attracted to Donald Trump, or the grainy video evidence?

Everybody could tell what kind of president Donald Trump would be by watching his television show The Apprentice.  The highlight of every episode was watching Donald Trump fire some obnoxious go-getter.  “You’re fired!” was even a popular catch phrase for a while.  Now the same people who loved “You’re fired!” are freaking out when Trump fires somebody in the government.

When I tell my daughters that Donald Trump was once beloved by the public, they don’t believe me.  They think that everybody has always hated Trump.  I know, I know, not everybody hates Donald Trump; he did get 47% of the vote, but you know what I mean.  You don’t need to fact check me.  “Everybody hates Trump” is hyperbole, and you shouldn’t fact check hyperbole.  Donald Trump speaks hyperbole (when precise language might be a little helpful), and then journalists fact check him, which is funny because journalists went to college and should understand what hyperbole is (maybe colleges don’t teach hyperbole anymore).  I don’t know what’s worse, speaking hyperbole too often or fact-checking hyperbole.

The people who protest Donald Trump are some of the same people who told us how wonderful he was during the 1990s and 2000s.  I don’t mean they are the EXACT same people, but they are the same institutions.  The Apprentice was on NBC, and NBC hates him now.  Larry King was on CNN, and CNN hates him now.  Donald Trump made a bunch of cameo appearances in Hollywood movies and television shows, and Hollywood hates him now.

This makes me wonder, who is right?  Was the media from 1990-2011 right?  Was the media from 2011-now right?  Were they both right?  Were they both wrong?  I don’t know if I’ll ever figure that out.  But I know that a short time ago Donald Trump was a pop culture icon, and that is a very tough thing to explain.

Literary Glance: The Rising Sea by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown

The Rising Sea by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown is the #1 book in hardcover fiction this week.  Before I noticed this, I didn’t even know Clive Cussler was still alive.  I mean, Clive Cussler wrote Raise the Titanic over 40 years ago.  I remember reading it in one day, not because I was a fast reader or that it was spellbinding; it had a bunch of nautical/ship information that bored me, so I skimmed over a bunch of stuff.

Some kinds of details bore me so much that I skip over them.  Whenever I read a naval book, I get bored at all the information about the water and the ships and stuff like that.  This kind of makes sense. Whenever I go out into open waters, I curl into a fetal position until the waves of nausea subside (when we return to land), so maybe that’s reflected in my reading.  I can’t stand naval stuff.

The first scene in The Rising Sea takes place in feudal Japan, and the battle scene details were kind of sketchy.  I was interested enough to read the entire scene, but it was pretty standard for a battle scene set up.  Then came the first chapter, set in present day on a ship, and I curled up into a fetal position until I decided to stop reading the book.  Maybe The Rising Sea is really good, but I can’t tell.

Reading nautical stuff must not bother many other readers because Clive Cussler keeps selling books.  I guess other readers love it, but it puts me to sleep.  I think every reader has something that puts him/her to sleep.  For some, it’s technical/scientific details.  For others, it might be physical descriptions of scenery.  It could be almost anything.  For me, it’s stuff about the sea.  The open water is my Kryptonite, in books and in real life.

Even though Clive Cussler was listed as an author of The Rising Sea, I wasn’t sure that he was still alive.  Sometimes authors publish stuff after they’re dead, or other authors write under the famous name.  I hesitated to look it up.  I always feel kind of morbid when I look that kind of thing up, but I’m glad he’s still alive and writing books.

I’d never heard of the other author Graham Brown before.  I mean no offense.  I’m pretty sure Graham Brown has never heard of me either.  There are a bunch of Graham Browns out there, but this one seems to be a technical expert and teacher and now he’s a coauthor.  That’s cool.  Clive Cussler probably writes the sea stuff that puts me in the fetal position, and Graham Brown might write everything else.  Maybe he wrote that opening scene in feudal Japan.

Clive Cussler is a cool name for an author, though.  It’s a manly name.  Clive sounds like a tough guy’s name, and Cussler sounds like a guy who swears a lot.  When I was a kid, Cussler’s main character was always Dirk Pitt.  I also thought Dirk Pitt was a cool name.  Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt.  That was a manly author/protagonist tandem.  I was a kid named Jimmy with a boring last name.  I could merely dream about having a name as manly as Dirk Pitt.

But a name like Dirk Pitt carries responsibility.  As a kid, all I did was sit around and read books.  If I had been named Dirk Pitt, I would have had to raise sunken ships and risk my life at sea without curling up into the fetal position.  If I had been named Dirk Pitt, it would have been a misleading name.

Yeah, Dirk Pitt is a cool name, but I’m not sure who the main character is in The Rising Sea.  It says “A Kurt Austin Adventure” on the cover, but I didn’t read far enough to meet Kurt Austin.  Kurt Austin is an okay name, but it’s no Dirk Pitt.  I’ve read enough Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt (and have had enough nauseous experiences in open water) to know these books aren’t for me.    I probably won’t finish reading The Rising Sea, but I’m glad Clive Cussler is still alive.

*****

What do you think?  Which name is cooler, Clive Cussler or Dirk Pitt?  What kind of book details put you to sleep?  What is your Kryptonite of books?

Awkward Moments in Dating: Clumsiness

(image via wikimedia)

When you date somebody at work, there’s a good chance it’s going to cause problems.  As soon as coworkers find out about the relationship, there’s going to be gossip.  If the relationship goes sour, there’s going to be friction.  And if you date a boss, there’s a good chance somebody will get fired.

________ wasn’t the boss, but she was a boss.  You didn’t mess with her.  I mean, you didn’t mess with her at work.  At any rate, she was pissed off at me because I told her that her name didn’t fit her (You can find out more starting here ), and everybody knew she was pissed at me.  Because of that, I was on the receiving end of some office talk.

This went on for about a week.  For a while, I was pretty sure I was going to get fired.  I never got called into an office for any reprimands, but I was pretty sure it was coming.  They wouldn’t fire _______ for the interoffice dating, even though she was the superior.  If I got called in, I wasn’t even going to pretend to have been intimidated into dating her.  I was going to go with the “just friends” approach.  Technically, we hadn’t gotten much further than friends anyway.  We had been about to go a lot further, but I had messed it up with the name incident.  I wasn’t sure the “just friends” would work, but I wasn’t going to blame her.

After a week or so, I started to relax.  I hadn’t been talked to, and if it hadn’t happened yet, I didn’t think it was going to.  I hardly ever even saw ________ anymore.  When we had run into each other, I tried to be polite, but she’d just glance away.  It wasn’t exactly a cold shoulder because she had plausible deniability.  She could always claim she hadn’t seen me.

One morning as I walked into the lobby, the first thing I noticed was that it was crowded and that _______ was there and that she had already noticed me.  She did the quick glance away, and I pretended that I hadn’t seen it.  I cursed myself for not getting to work earlier when I could have avoided her.

And then I tripped.

I didn’t fall, but it was a noticeable stumble.  I recovered my balance but then knocked a styrofoam cup of coffee off a couch armrest.  It spilled on the carpet, and everybody in the lobby had seen it happen.  The carpet wasn’t that nice or anything, but it had at least been clean.  I could tell from the way the coworkers were looking at me that they thought it was my coffee.  They thought that I had just seen the boss (the one whom I had allegedly been dating and had allegedly insulted), and they thought that I had seen her and gotten flustered and then tripped and then spilled my coffee.  Most of them didn’t know I could be clumsy under normal conditions.  Even though _______ and I had been out a couple times, I wasn’t sure if she understood that either.

“Doh!” I said, in a reflex Homer Simpson imitation.  This was back in the early 1990s, and Homer Simpson humor was still seen as new.  It hadn’t gotten old yet, and everybody recognized the reference, even if they never watched The Simpsons.  A few people laughed.

__________ grinned at me as I picked up the cup and looked around for a paper towel.  I thought about using my shirt sleeve.  Of all the times for me to stumble and knock over coffee, it had to be in front of her.

“That twig get you again?” she said.  She bent down with a couple napkins, and I wondered where she had gotten them so quickly.

“I hate that twig,” I said. “And why would somebody leave coffee on the armrest?”

“That was mine,” she said, extending the last syllable with guilt.

“Well, in that case it’s alright,” I said, understanding why she had the napkins.  I started soaking the napkin in the carpet. “I’m sorry I knocked it over.”

“It was office coffee.”

“Ha!  Then I did you a favor.”

We talked for about a minute, but I don’t remember much of what else we said.  I was just glad she wasn’t accusing me of saying she had an ugly name.

“The janitor can do this,” she said as she stood up.

“The janitor didn’t knock it over,” I said.  I was probably making the stain worse, but at least I wasn’t gawking.

“Well, I owe you another favor,” she said.  “Maybe one day I’ll pay you back.” She touched my shoulder and walked away.  I continued dabbing helplessly until a custodian showed up and I sheepishly thanked her.

And that was it.  After that, the office weirdness stopped.  All the awkward silences I got from entering a room were the normal awkward silences.  All it had taken was one positive interaction to clear up the air.  Nobody ever gave us funny looks when we were together.  We never talked about what had (almost) happened.  Instead, we had a bunch of appropriately friendly conversations about business matters.   _________ was promoted and moved to another office a few months later, but it had nothing to do with us.   As far as office dating goes, it could have ended a lot worse, but there were a few awkward moments in there.

I’m sorry this story wasn’t more dramatic.  That’s how life is.  Sometimes it’s just awkward.

This isn’t the only time that clumsiness has affected my dating life.  If you’re disappointed in this episode,  here’s a clumsy moment I wrote about a few years ago .   But I’ve had much worse moments, I promise.  I’m just building up to them.