In which I quit and I don’t care

It is always a good sign when a Teacher Record Day begins with an email from the boss that says that he won’t be in the building that day. For those of you unschooled in the fine art of I ain’t sayin, but I’m sayin, what that means is “Get your shit done and go home,” and every single person on the staff knew it. So, because one thing I have done well this year is stay on top of my grading, I was out the door before 11:00, heading over to the comic shop and realizing just before entering the parking lot that the place wouldn’t even be open for another fifteen minutes.

So it was a good day at work today, is what I’m saying.

And then I got home and discovered a roaring argument going on on Twitter, where some dumb bastard who I won’t pile on any further had decided to posit that putting down a book that you weren’t enjoying instead of finishing it was some sort of character flaw, and I got to watch that person evolve their position as the entire fucking Internet fell on her head, from “this is offensive behavior” to “look at all these mean people” to “OMG get a life!!one!! why are you on Twitter if you don’t read litratcher,” and as far as I know she’s deleted her account by now, or at least she’s deleted from my account, as I’ve blocked her for preemptive stupidity and have already forgotten her stupid, stupid name.

And, look, I’m about the thousandth (literally) person to point this out, but no reader owes any author even a second of their time, much less their actual leisure time, and I will quit reading a book over the Goddamned font or the kerning if I feel like it. I already gave the author my money, which entirely ends their part in the transaction; they are not entitled to any more of my time than I choose to give them. There have been books I was not enjoying that I chose to force my way through; there have been books I gave up on in the last 10%, and there have been books that made it clear that I wanted nothing to do with them in the first few chapters. Unless I go out of my way to make sure the author knows I didn’t finish their book, there’s no universe where the author gets to be offended or even have a damn opinion on whether I finished their book.

(I feel the same way about my books. Once they’re in your hands they’re yours. I would love it if everyone who bought one of my books read and enjoyed them, and I’m sorry if you don’t, but there’s no way your opinion about– or treatment of– the book offends me.)

The fact that all this is happening while I’m trying to read Heinlein again is a fun lil’ coincidence, for sure. I have a bad relationship with this dude to begin with, but when I found out he was from Missouri I asked my wife to recommend another book (I’ve read Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers and I think I’ve started and bailed on one more) and she handed me her copy of The Puppet Masters, and I made it to page 100 last night and we will see if I finish it or not. The dude was a creep and he wrote books about creeps. I’ll try and finish it tomorrow, since I’ve got the day off, but I’m not going to stress about it if I don’t, and since Heinlein’s ass is dead he doesn’t get to be offended either way.

In which it really isn’t

Every 8th grader in the corporation takes the PSAT right around this time each year, mostly as an indicator of high-school readiness; if a kid enrolls in a high school out of district one of the things they pull as they evaluate the kid is the PSAT score. Now, we let them know early and often that this isn’t precisely the best measuring tool for this purpose (and I don’t know who made the decision to start using this test, but I’d like to have a word with them) and that, particularly on the math portion of the test, there’s gonna be some stuff they don’t know.

Now, the thing is, we’ve only been using the PSAT for a couple of years, and last year, I didn’t administer it, since I was working from home at the time. So I haven’t actually seen what the math content on the PSAT looks like since I took the PSAT, sometime in the early fuckin’ nineties. And here’s the thing: advancing your skills in reading and writing doesn’t really work the same way as it does in math. A talented 8th grader can handle a reading or language test pitched at 9th graders, because reading is still the same thing, and there really aren’t any actually novel skills taught after, like, the middle of grade school or so. Math? Math doesn’t work like that. The PSAT is basically an Algebra 1 test, and if you’re not in Algebra 1, the notation alone is going to make the thing entirely incomprehensible. Like, my kids have never seen f(x) in any capacity, and that renders even something like f(x) = X + 6 when X is 10 somewhat incomprehensible. Some of them will figure out (or, probably more accurately, correctly guess) that they can just add 10 and 6 and get 16, but the majority of them are going to look at the function notation and just fall apart, and a whole lot of the questions used function notation some way or another. There were two math tests on the PSAT, one that was meant to be done without calculators and lasted twenty minutes, and another that allowed calculators (which weren’t going to do most of my kids a bit of good) and lasted 40. I glanced through an extra copy of the test booklet (true to expectations, attendance was miserable) and found maybe three questions on the first test I thought my kids might be able to do, and perhaps 50% of the questions on the second test were possible, or at least would be by the end of the year– second- or third-quarter material, for example.

I’m not writing this to complain about the test, mind you; it’s just not going to be as useful to evaluate where an 8th grader is mathematically than it will be to evaluate where they are as readers. I’m writing this because, as a math teacher, I spent the entire test ignoring pointed glares from at least three or four students– not because they were actually mad at me, but because they decided it was funny to blame me for the math on the test being hard and a couple of them just decided they were going to spend an hour staring at me– because it’s not like they actually thought I was responsible for the questions on the Goddamned thing. I just kept telling them not to panic and didn’t worry about it’ it’s nice, for once, to have them taking something that isn’t used to evaluate me or my school in any way. All the pressure to do well was on the people actually taking the test!

Crazy, innit?

#REVIEW: Queen of the Unwanted, by Jenna Glass

So, if you’re going to make a series switch from hardcover to softcover after the first book comes out, which already guarantees the books on my shelf aren’t going to match, and then you’re going to compound not-matchiness by making sure that the cover design changes radically from the hardcover to the softcover editions, the least you can do is make the softcover editions awesome. And I have to admit it: this has me considering buying the first book again in paperback just so that they match, since the new versions look so Goddamned good.

This is one of the tricky ones. If you look at Goodreads reviews for either this book or the first book in the series, called The Women’s War, you’ll notice that they’re … we’ll say messy. The basic premise of this series, boiled way down, is that a group of women, forced into prostitution when their husbands chose to divorce them or they were deemed unnecessary in other ways, manage to make a fundamental change to the way magic works in their world to give women more agency. To wit: among other things, sexual assault now causes little bursts of magic to be released that can kill the man performing the assault. Magic is explicitly gendered in this series, and without going too deep into the weeds there is women’s magic, men’s magic, and ungendered magic, and while women’s magic has historically been suppressed and devalued, this spell also kicks women’s magic into much higher gear, also creating a wellspring of feminine magic in the middle of what was formerly a wasteland that quickly becomes a feminist kingdom. The main characters are all royalty of some stripe or another, although several of them are former royalty who have been forced to be Abigails (their word for the prostitutes,) one way or another this book is not especially concerned with regular people.

It’s also not especially concerned with gay people, or trans people, or people of color (but more on that bit in a moment,) and two of the three most evil people in the series are the only fat person (we are reminded, Bomber-like, of his fatness every time he is mentioned) and a woman with a facial disfigurement. There is also a blind woman who is One of the Good Guys, but it’s made clear very quickly that she’s not only Not Really Blind, but she’s quickly offered a cure (which, to give some credit, she doesn’t take.)

You can probably imagine that this has caused some controversy, particularly for a book that is pretty explicit about being about high-fantasy feminism. Like, when you tell me that whether you’re male or female can not only affect what kind of magic you can perform but what kind of magic you can see (magic, in this world, is performed by combining “motes” of what are basically magical elements that float around in the world, and so certain kinds of magical motes are easier to find in some places or another, and part of what determines your skill as a mage is how many different kinds of motes you can perceive in the first place,) I’m going to immediately start wondering about how trans people fit into your world, and I’d almost rather you terf it out and go strictly biologically than completely ignore that trans people exist.

And even laying aside the identity and representation concerns, there’s a persistent feeling throughout reading this book that Jenna Glass really didn’t bother thinking super hard about the aspects of her worldbuilding that she wasn’t interested in. For a book that is all about shifting alliances between rival kingdoms, a book where the phrase trade agreements shows up on nearly every page, she doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of how trade works, unless her various principalities and kingdoms are unimaginably small. One of her kingdoms is repeatedly described as the sole source of iron and gems for all the surrounding kingdoms, for example, and you get the feeling that the “trade agreements” between these countries are sometimes over a few pounds of metal. It’s surprisingly low-resolution compared to how well she brings in the political implications of, say, marriages between warring families. But trade? Just say “trade agreements” on every page or two and let the audience fill in the details. At one point after a book and a half you find out that two of the countries speak different languages, and I swear to you that she decided that on the spot so that she could have one character not quite understand what was going on around her. I’m not going to reread the first book to confirm that multiple languages hadn’t ever been mentioned, but they certainly hadn’t come up in the second until it was convenient. Stuff like that.

The thing is, though, IF you can get past all that– and I absolutely would not blame you for a single second if you declined to even try— the book that is here is pretty fucking compelling. What Jenna Glass does really well is write characters, and she’s done a good job over these two books of filling her pages with characters with competing and overlapping sets of interests and national cultures and setting them against each other. It took me forever to get the second book ordered and then to actually pick it up once I had it on the shelf, but now that I have, I feel dumb about taking so long and want to quickly order the final book of the trilogy, which is already out. So it turns out to be one of those books that I can’t really recommend, because of the various bits of sleeve and sloppiness, but I can accurately report my own reaction to the book and let y’all decide, right? So, yeah: I read this, and I enjoyed it, but it’s a mess, and it might be worth it for you to check it out and maybe it might not, so make your own call.

Let’s talk about the race thing for a second. It is interesting to me that the only characters in this book who the book takes care to describe physically are people from Nandel. Nandel is in the north– it’s the iron-and-gems country– and it’s the most openly misogynist of all the various cultures that exist in this book. Nandelites are also repeatedly described as being blonde, blue-eyed, and pale. Over and over again, in fact, and any time anyone else is referred to in terms of their skin color it’s always a shade of brown, although frequently Glass also tosses in a reference to working outside or something, so you never know just what anyone is supposed to look like. I’m going to point out real quick that a world where only whiteness is considered interesting enough to comment on might be a world where brown skin is the default, and then also point out that if everybody is brown except for these handful of characters (none of whom are primary POV characters) then Glass could certainly have been a hell of a lot clearer about it, as this is roughly akin to J.K. Rowling suddenly claiming that Hermione was always meant to be black because her hair is curly.

I will leave it as an exercise to the reader whether that makes any meaningful difference. I suspect not, but YMMV, as always.

In which I am curious

The post I wrote about TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea is, for no reason I can figure out, one of my most popular posts of the year, and I keep getting bursts of visits to it from sites that I don’t recognize and can’t access. Maybe someone following a link will look at the rest of the blog and answer this; what exactly is is “Canada’s biggest bookstore,” and I created an account there hoping that that meant I could get into the “discuss” site, but the two sites don’t appear to share common logins and while I can see lots of referrals from there I can’t see anything past the screen you’re probably looking at when you click on the link.

I don’t actually intend to participate in the conversations but I’d love to know why this post is getting so much attention, and every time it happens it’s from a site I can’t access. Anybody care to shed any light, or know what the “discuss” part of that site actually is?

Lots of family stuff today– my father-in-law’s birthday was yesterday– and so I’ve been busy, and I have grading to ignore, so that’s what I’ve got for today. Hopefully I’ll get lucky and someone will fill me in.

Some quick notes

I went to McDonald’s the other day, as I am still occasionally wont to do, and the gentleman in the first window was wearing a shirt I’d not seen before: Baby Yoda, holding a Big Mac, with the McDonald’s logo floating behind him. I laughed and told him I liked the shirt, at which point he revealed that it wasn’t actually an official McDonald’s shirt– he’d found it on eBay, and apparently the day after he got his shirt the shop that was selling it got shut down. Now, I’m aware that I’m saying this as someone who owns a Wu-Tang Clan Baby Yoda shirt, but pissing off Disney and McDonald’s with a single shirt design is an impressively ballsy business move. Or an impressively stupid one; I’m not sure there’s much of a difference.

I finished Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea yesterday, and I’m issuing it a qualified, but strong recommendation: I was never quite able to shake the feeling that a story about an enslaved person in Saint Domingue before Toussaint L’Overture’s rebellion and in New Orleans right around the time of the handover to the United States was quite Allende’s story to tell, and the book ends on a really strange, incest-is-super type of note, but if you’re able to get past that, it’s a hell of a read. I’m not sure how much of it is based in history and how much is made up– the broad strokes are historical, of course, but I’m not sure if any of the main characters or families are real people– but this is the second of Allende’s books I’ve read and there will be more.

Damn. Ten minutes ago I had a parenting thing to put here too, and it’s gone. Shit. I’ll put it back if I remember later.