I know I’ve once again come late to the party, but I just finished reading Hilllbilly Elegy over the weekend. I know in in the relatively short time from publication to the release of its movie version, it’s gone from media darling to being trashed for the author’s politics. It’s hardly the first time a “problematic” book has ended up on my shelves and it surely won’t be the last to find a home there.
Avoiding any political discussion of the author or anything else, I clearly heard echoes of truth in the text – echoes from a childhood back home and back when, down in the valleys of Maryland’s coal country.
Though I grew up in Squirrel Neck Hollow – or up squirrel neck if you’re local – I don’t have a particular strong affinity for hillbilly culture as Vance describes it. I might not have been raised in it, but the first half of my life was strongly flavored by it.
I mercifully missed out on the drug abuse and abject poverty – though both were in abundance no more than a stone’s throw away back in the 80s. The stories of batshit crazy relatives, of shouting matches, knockdown drag out fights over small piques of honor, of the extended family living way too close and being way too involved in everyone else’s lives stirred more than a few long slumbering memories.
It’s hard not to reflect on how my own life has spooled out as he mused about alternative opportunities of success for those who went away – who joined the military, followed career paths out of the mountains and hollows, went away to college, or through circumstances found themselves further afield.
I’m not sure I buy into all of J.D. Vance’s theories, but credit where it’s due, because he painted a picture of a world that I might not have entirely lived in, but that I walked through often enough to recognize authenticity when I see it.
1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s bullshit advice when it comes to buying books (and probably when it comes to judging people too). The cover is literally attached to the book there to help you judge it. The front flap gives you a synopsis and the back flap tells you about the author. Why the hell is that information there if not to assist someone in judging the book? If I only decided to read a book once I’d already read it, then gods, I can’t imagine how much time I’d have wasted reading truly awful collections of ink and paper.
2. Booksellers who don’t marking used books as “ex libris” when they’ve clearly been de-acquisitioned by some institution. I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes in reading tend a bit towards the eclectic – volumes on the rise and fall of the British Empire share shelf space with a growing allotment of Buffy the Vampire Slayer young adult novels. My collection has definitely built up some less common volumes because of my interests. They’re not necessarily expensive, but they can be hard to find especially in any kind of condition to make them worth having on the shelf. It seems like the very least a retailer could do is give me a fair assessment of the book’s condition up front and let me make an informed decision. Sometimes, for some volumes, I’ll tolerate a copy smothered in library stickers and stamps that’s hard to find or too expensive otherwise… but it would be nice to know that’s what I was getting before is shows up in my mailbox looking all dogeared and sickly.
3. Jorah the Dog. My not-so-new-anymore puppy has been more of a handful than I was expecting. Going a decade without a puppy in the house gives you time to forget the mayhem and chaos that comes with them. The furry little bastard can be quite the charmer when he wants to be, though. We seem to be getting out of the phase of life where he wants to pee on the kitchen floor every 26 minutes… but his new interest in overnight bathroom breaks at 12:30 AM and again at 3:30 AM are going to need to come to a stop with haste. He’s proven consistently that he can hold it all night… getting him to want to hold it, however, could be a whole separate fight.
1. Reading badly written books. One of the small manifestations of my particular flavor of alleged OCD is found in the fact that even when I find something I’m supposed to be reading for pleasure and the sheer joy of the English language tedious, I can’t seem to stop. It’s the feeling of having a personal obligation to keep on with a book I’ve started no matter how badly it sucks. It’s infuriating. I hate to imagine how many books I’ve plowed through over the years long after I’d lost interest just because finishing what you start is the right thing to do. I’m getting better at ignoring that little voice in my head the older I get (and the correspondingly less I care about the “right thing to do”). Life is too short to read badly written drivel. Except when it’s something posted here, of course. Then you should definitely read it.
2. The Fight for Fifteen people. I wonder if these people realize that the minimum wage is exactly that. It’s the minimum wage set by the government. It’s not as if the government is telling business that they can only pay someone $7.25 an hour. It’s the absolutely minimum threshold for pay (as long as you’re not working a tipped position). Businesses are free to pay employees as far above that minimum basic wage as they are willing and able to pay – or more reasonably at any amount higher than the minimum than the prevailing market rates call for. It’s why you make more flipping a McBurger in Times Square than you do in Pig Knuckle, Arkansas. Wanting to make more money is fine – noble even – but you do that by making yourself a more valuable commodity and developing skills that are more marketable in the workplace. Expecting anyone to willingly hand over more money just because you show up with a sign still just doesn’t make any bleeding sense to me at all. It seems to me that if you have time to stand around on the sidewalk holding a sign, you might just be better served by doing something income generating with that time. I know I keep coming back to this well, but every time I forget about it and then see it pop up again, the annoyance mounts afresh. It can’t be helped.
3. People who put tartar sauce on a fresh made, Maryland lump crab cake. I can probably allow it if you’re feasting on fish sticks or if you lower yourself to buy flash frozen imitation crab cakes, but when you slather it on to the culinary gem of the Chesapeake, well, you’re just a monster.
When something is scarce, we tend to allocate it carefully. Gold, for instance, is a scarce resource in nature and therefore we value it accordingly. Of course you can buy gold at any of thousands of places online, at the corner jewelry store, or even go scrape it out of a river yourself if you’re so inclined. It’s out there for the taking as long as you’ve allocated the time or money for it.
Since I’ve gotten settled in to the new digs here at Casa de Jeff v2.0, time has been my most consistently scarce resource. I’ve gone from a 1000 square foot rental I was more or less happy to avoid doing maintenance on unless it was urgent, to a place pushing thrice as big where I want to keep every little thing in manufacturer-new condition. Let’s just say spot maintenance has grown to account for an increasingly large amount of whatever time is available. That’s not a complaint, really, since I’m the one in charge of making such decisions.
These last few weeks free time that’s left over has almost all been thrown towards reading – even at the expense of whatever writing I had hoped to get done this summer. I’m working my way through a series based around a dimension traveling World War 2 destroyer, a species of human-esque lemurs, their lizard enemies, oceans full of Very Bad Things, and a British colony that so far just begs you to hate them. It’s not my normal reading, but I’ve churned through the first 5 books of the series in unprecedentedly short order – one of the consequences of dumping every available moment of free time into the Kindle.
I swear it’s a better read than I just made it sound. If you’re at all into historical fiction or sci-fi I really highly recommend giving the Destroyermen series a look. After all, if I’m peddling someone else’s book on my site without getting any compensation at all, you can well imagine that I’ve been impressed with it from start to finish… Well not quite finish, more like the halfway point, but let’s not get hung up on semantics.
If I were a fancy big city psychologist, I might say that it has something to do with a deep-seated need for escapism, but since I’m not I’ll just go with it being a damned entertaining read.
Without the kind of fanfare that accompanies something like an Apple Watch or iPhone, Amazon rolled out its latest and greatest e-ink reader today. It’s been my experience that people who spend a lot of their time reading are not necessarily the wild, loud, in your face types. That the Voyage showed up lacking in heraldry and great celebration feels almost fitting for the demographic it’s intended to serve.
I haven’t had any hands on experience yet, but the reviews I’ve read tout is as a best in class e-reader. That’s not exactly a surprise considering it predecessors were mostly best in class devices themselves when they arrived. I should go on the record saying that I like my current Kindle Paperwhite. It’s not a tablet. It doesn’t even pretend to be. Its mission in life is to replicate the look of a real paper reading experience as close as possible using an electronic medium. It took me some time to get with the program, but once I did I haven’t looked back. I couldn’t tell you the last paper book I purchased for myself. Having all the books at my fingertips is simply too great a temptation to resist.
If the iPhone is the Swiss army knife of consumer electronic communications, surely Kindle is the Ka-Bar equivalent – a single fixed blade designed to do exactly one thing and to do it with savage precision. I have no doubt that the new Voyage lives up to Amazon’s well deserved reputation building the kings of the e-reader universe.
I’d have my order in already if it weren’t for one pesky detail – the $199 entry-level price point ($219 if you don’t want built in advertisements). At that price, I’m going to have to sit the upgrade out for the time being. Although Voyage is technically superior in nearly every respect to my nearly two year old first generation Paperwhite that old model is still an incredibly reliable device that’s delivering rock solid performance every day. As much as I want to I can’t find a good enough reason to put it out to pasture yet – not even with a $40 Amazon gift card thrown into the mix.
When I’m willing to hang on to two year old tech because it’s still that good, you can best believe it’s a piece of work. In the best possible way.
Since my iPhone wasn’t smart enough to know that I took the day off today, it went off right on schedule as the sky was just staring to turn grey. It wasn’t exactly the kick off I planned for the long weekend. At least I got to use the morning productively – which is something that almost never happens on a normal Friday. As per schedule, I loaded Retribution onto my Kindle and sat at the kitchen table reading it one last time word for word. I was tracking along on my laptop and making the final few edits as the story went along. It took three hours of wordsmithing, tinkering with format, fiddling with the dogs, refilling my coffee, and watching the morning fade away to do it, but what I ended up with today was a finished product. The very last thing to do is upload it to the retailers and cut it loose. That’s a big part of tomorrow’s plan of attack.
I’m a man of three parts this evening. The first wants to go out and get falling down drunk in celebration of a milestone. The second wants to crawl into bed and sleep for four days in an effort to make up for sacrificed sack time. The third, the one who’s the real glutton for punishment, he’s already casting around wondering what the next project is going to be. I’m trying to ignore that part right now… even if I do have a few ideas rattling around between my ears.
Since going out to celebrate means dealing with people, that’s not likely to happen. The sun is still too high in the sky for me to seriously contemplate bed. Finally, there’s as good a chance of my spontaneously combusting as there is of me writing anything more complicated than this post tonight, so it looks like I’m left with the 4th option – mixing myself a good strong drink and sticking my nose in someone else’s book for a few hours.
Now that I think on it, that option doesn’t really sound bad at all.
OK. I lied. It’s not a movie, but it is a book… and that’s like a movie, except for the part where there aren’t any moving pictures or dialog. You can still look mindlessly at the screen while jamming your face full of over-buttered popcorn and overpriced snowcaps, so it has that going for it.
I’ve been posting over the last few days as What Annoys Jeff this Week: 2012 in Review becomes available through the various retail sites, but since nothing is ever official until it shows up on the blog, I just wanted to let you know that you can now get your very own copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
For those using some of the more esoteric e-readers, WAJTW: 2012 in Review will also be available (through Smashwords distribution) from the iTunes, Sony, and Kobo eBook stores in a few weeks.
It’s not the post I had planned for this evening, but it always seems best to strike while the iron is hot. I’d like to thank the Cumberland Times News for picking up my press release and giving this hometown boy a little bit of publicity today. I’m not quite sure if I’ve “made good” or not, but if nothing else I like to think I’ve “made interesting.” It’s been my experience thus far in life that interesting trumps good on most occasions.
If you’re looking at the print edition, the article is right there in three short columns on page 2C below the fold. I’ll take all the help I can get and I appreciate them helping me get out the word.
I considered just leaving the body of this post blank to make my point more dramatic, but that’s not quite a fair assessment. I know some of the basics – like having a webpage and blog, using social media to get your message out, and even some old school tricks like punching out a press release. What I don’t know yet, is how to teach myself what I need to know about the business of marketing to someone other than your friends and fans on Facebook and whoever happens to stumble across your blog.
According to Google, everyone is apparently a marketing expert – or they’re trying to sell their own 16-sept program to super-powered sales. That’s fine. Everyone’s got to make a buck one way or another. It’s a little absurd to rant about someone shilling their own products when I’m spending so much time doing the same thing.
What I’ve found here at the end of the writing and publishing process, is the wide open, undefined space of “what’s next?” I’m going to try to spend some time in the next few weeks giving myself a crash course in marketing and sales… or at least looking around to see what seems to be working for other people in the same boat. Fortunately, I’m not the first guy to ever try doing this so there should be plenty of evidence out there of what works and what doesn’t. Still, I’m really wishing I would have paid more attention to that marketing class when I was getting my MBA. Stupid hindsight wins again.
OK, so the alternate title for this post was going to be “The post in which the author gets sentimental…”, but in deference to Queen, I decided to steal their title shamelessly. Regardless, haggling over the title isn’t the point of this particular post. What the point is, however, is what an unexpectedly intense feeling it is holding a book your slavishly worked over for eighteen months in your hands for the first time. Sure, I’ve been dealing with the electronic version for the last few weeks, and with what feels like dozens of Word drafts for months before that, but there is a certain reality to having the physical book in your hand. Having mostly gone “all in” to the electronic world for my own reading, I’d be lying if I said this didn’t catch me off guard. I’d been looking at it mostly as one more avenue to reach people who hadn’t adopted e-readers yet and maybe talk it into a few local book stores as just an ego rub. What I found is something altogether different – after cutting away the brown cardboard wrapper, what I had wasn’t a collection of files, cover art, and a sales pitch. I had a book.
I don’t have any point of comparison for what standing in the kitchen holding the proof, tired from working all day with allergies making life miserable, was really like. Not being a particularly expressive guy at the best of times, all I can say is that I had a moment yesterday. It was one of those across a crowded room, golf shot, lighting strike moments. All I know for sure is I want that feeling again… and again… and again. It’s gotta be what that first line of cocaine is like. It’s an incredible, intensely personal high. I’ve got to write more. I’ve got to get that high again. Maybe it’s never as good as your first, but I get the feeling I’m never going to stop chasing it. I don’t know that I can stop chasing it now even if I wanted to.