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Journal Thrive

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

One of my current goals is to read all of the novels on the 2020 Booker Prize Shortlist. It’s not so much of a goal as a means of letting other people pick books for me to read. I also don’t want to write reviews (I hate writing reviews) so much as use the books as a starting point for conversations. Which brings us to the first title on the list that I’ve read, Real Life by Brandon Taylor.

There were a number of reviews that said this book was boring. I have this nasty habit of looking at reviews on Amazon before I download a book. Specifically, I look at the one-star reviews. It’s a Tolstoy / Anna Karenina thing for me. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Five-star reviews all tend to rave about the same thing. Unless the content of a book is political, or deals with politicized themes, one-star reviews are typically more varied. Every unhappy review is unhappy in its own way. These are often stupid, and mildly entertaining, ways.

Not this book, though. There is a consensus at the bottom that this Book Prize shortlisted novel is dull.

The main character is a scientist. Early on, there is a long description of a research project gone horribly awry. Not in a dramatic, explosion-filled way. His slides got contaminated. There’s a detailed rundown of his project, and the work that will need to be re-done since mold got introduced and ruined his samples. I thought it was interesting and well-written. I can see, though, where some readers were waiting for the next story beat, or some sudden twist or leap into action.

Thus is the nature of literary fiction. It’s often about moments, rather than plot. The formula is to defy formula.

Reading is About Empathy

I think that one-star reviews say more about the reviewer than the book. In an echo-chamber society built be social media, people get mad when the content being served to them doesn’t validate their world view. They get bored when the pacing of the book doesn’t follow the formula of a Hollywood movie or a bingeable season of a streaming series.

In addition to being a scientist the lead character, Wallace, is gay. There are sex scenes. Here’s the politicized theme. “Boring” is clearly a cowardly way of saying it’s not worth reading, without revealing one’s prejudices. Wallace is also Black, and that affects the relationships he has with his friends. One of the things reading does is help us develop empathy. We are able to experience the lives of people unlike ourselves. I am not a gay, Black scientist, but I could still connect with Wallace’s social awkwardness and his loneliness, and how those do battle with his desire to fit in.

Is Real Life a book that’s impossible to put down? No. Even well-written literary fiction is rarely a gripping page-turner. But it’s a book that’s easy to pick up again, and not hard to get back into. It was compelling enough that I was thinking about it in between reading sessions. I looked forward being able to read more. Now that I’ve finished the book, Brandon Taylor’s first novel, I look forward to whatever he writes next.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

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About Berin Kinsman

Berin Kinsman is a writer, game designer, and owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.

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Create Journal Thrive

Falling Behind to Get Ahead

The hardest thing for me to do this month was to throw my hands in the air and give up. Between the (it’s not COVID) respiratory infection and the world being on fire, I have not had the energy to get as much done as I’ve wanted to. The notion of intentionally falling behind to get ahead is rational, but still alien to me. The best thing for long-term productivity and results was for me to just stop, rest, and regroup.

A hard truth to face is that I’m still carrying around the 40-hour work week mentality that was drilled into me for decades. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. There’s something to be said for having a strong work ethic, but not if it isn’t rationale. I’m tired of operating in hack/grind mode. It’s tiring to crank out someone, launch it into the world, and immediately get to work on the next thing.

I have a substantial back catalogue and a long tail that generates royalties even when I’m not releasing new material. What’s going to grow my business going forward are incremental changes. Another pass at editing a manuscript. An additional day spend on marketing a new release, or brainstorming way to push older titles. A couple of extra hours of sleep now and again.

My brain tells me that I should be running as fast as I can for the rest of the year, if I’m going to survive 2020. But other parts of me, my heart and my spirit, are urging me to trust the more time spent planning, working smarter rather than harder, will pay off better in the long run.

Falling Behind to Get Ahead

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About Berin Kinsman

Berin Kinsman is a writer, game designer, and owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.

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Create Journal Simplify Thrive

Thinking in Terms of Weeks

Lately I’ve been thinking in terms of weeks, rather than days or months. A while back I gave up using monthly spreads in my bullet journal in favor of weekly logs, but for a number of reasons I’m slowly switching back. I’m still planning things in weekly segments, though, and I’ll get to why in a moment.

One of the many, many differences between the United States and Finland is that numbered weeks are used more commonly here. For example, the week that I am writing this, ending 27 September 2020 , is week 39. There are 53 weeks in 2020, simply because of how the dates fall. In the US I only ever saw it in business, particularly on things that required ISO-8601 standards.

Here in Finland I see it used in ads to let you know how long a sale runs, or how long a coupon is good for. Restaurants advertise their specials based on the week number. And of course, businesses, schools, sports team, and club use the week number.

Weekly Thinking as a Minimalist Spoonie Writer

Here’s where it’s working for me so far:

As a writer, I’ve stopped thinking of a deadline as being firmly fixed on Tuesday of Week 42. Now I think of Week 41 being the final week that I have to work on a particular manuscript, so plan accordingly. Not only does it allow me to better adjust my workload, it lessens the stress. I feel as if I have more time to get caught up and do the million things that always pop up when you’re in the home stretch.

As a minimalist, it means I only have 52 or 53 time units to worry about, not 365. It’s a lot easier to hold that concept in your head. That smaller number to work forces me to realize that my time is finite. It prevents me from over-booking myself. I need to prioritize better, and only spend my time on the things that matter the most to me or will have the greatest impact.

As a spoonie, thinking in weeks rather than days gives me space to breathe. If I’m not feeling well or can’t be especially productive one day, I don’t feel as guilty about it. There are few things in my life that absolutely, positively need to be done on a specific day. A week is still short enough for me to have a sense of urgency, so that I don’t put things off. But it’s a large enough space that if I have to take a moment it’s not going to completely wreck my workflows.

Thinking in Terms of Weeks

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About Berin Kinsman

Berin Kinsman is a writer, game designer, and owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.

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Journal Simplify Thrive

My Personal Social Dilemma

About a month ago people started contacting me out of the blue. They all told me they missed me on social media. It was weird, that about 5 people that I haven’t interacted with in months or years suddenly reached out to me over the course of a week or so. I didn’t ask why; I was kind of afraid to know the answer. The social pressure to be normative and get back on social media is already there any time I get online, anywhere, for any reason. That’s my personal social dilemma.

There Are Other Ways

I get most of the online content I consume through an RSS feed aggregator. It doesn’t show me things I didn’t ask for. People I choose to follow don’t suddenly go missing unless they’re legitimately not posting. Things are presented chronologically. There’s no interference from algorithms. The only ads I see are to get a better plan with the RSS aggregator that offers more features, which seems like a fair thing to hit me up for. None of this creates the illusion of a connection between content creator and content consumer, though.

Some of the marketing, publishing, and writing feeds I keep pitching the necessity of having a social media presence. Years and years of data tell me that, for my business, this is not true. Few people will step off of Facebook or Twitter to visit my blog and read a post. A barely non-zero number of sales have ever been generated by my social media presence, even when I had accounts with thousands of followers.

Still, in spite of several attempts and massive amounts of evidence, elements of doubt continue to be introduced. What if it’s not social media? What if I’m just doing it wrong?

A Toe in the (Toxic) Water

After reading several newer pieces on using social media for business, I started syndicating my company blog posts to Twitter. I began to interact with people there, for just a few minutes a day. Then I started syndicating these blog posts to my personal account, although I haven’t really spoken up or commented on anything there.

A couple of weeks later, and I have some preliminary results from this experiment. As expected, there has been no boost in sales or traffic. I am, however, more anxious, angry, and unhappy than I was prior to resuming contact with these toxic environments.

The Social Dilemma

Yesterday I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. It’s a bit superficial and cheesy, but think it could be eye-opening to a lot of people. If you’re like me, i.e. you’ve been paying attention, there’s nothing new here. Social media is manipulative, it’s bad for you, and it’s destroying civilization as we know it. That’s not hyperbole. There are facts upon facts upon facts to support it.

Of course, it won’t make any difference. Everyone has their own facts now, and we don’t live in anything like a shared, common reality. People who are already inclined and understand and agree with this film, will. Those who don’t find it to be in their best interests will deny that there’s anything to it, and dismiss it as stupid or propaganda.

I need to go blow up my social media accounts again.

My Personal Social Dilemma

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About Berin Kinsman

Berin Kinsman is a writer, game designer, and owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.

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Journal Thrive

2020 Booker Prize Shortlist

The 2020 Booker Prize shortlist was released earlier this week. Six novels contending for the best English-language fiction of the year. In the past, some of my favorite reads were either on the shortlist or actual winners; I’ve discovered some of my favorite authors because of the list.

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by choice. There are so many books that I want to read that I have a hard time picking one. Given that this has been a hell of a year, I need to escape into a good book on a regular basis. That’s why I’m going to attempt to read all of the novels on this shortlist.

The caveat is that I need to be able to acquire them here in central Finland. The library has a decent selection of English-language books, but they tend to be classics or older works by popular authors. Bookstores likewise have an English section, but they lean heavily toward popular novels. Booker Prize nominees aren’t known for burning up the bestseller lists.

In the past I have used similar award lists to make my reading choices for me. If this works out, I might begin working backward, year-by-year, or simply read any winners that I haven’t already. Anything that can potentially deliver me a delightful surprise, while cutting down on decisions that I need to make, is welcome.

The 2020 Booker Prize shortlist is:

  • Diane Cook, The New Wilderness (US)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body (Zimbabwe)
  • Avni Doshi, Burnt Sugar (US)
  • Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King (Ethiopia-US)
  • Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain (Scotland-US)
  • Brandon Taylor, Real Life (US)

I’ve already started Real Life, which I broke down and got in Kindle edition.

2020 Booker Prize Shortlist

If you enjoy my posts you can buy me a coffee. Consider subscribing below, so you can read my daily ramblings about the writer’s life, minimalist, being a spoonie, and the intersection of all of those things.

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About Berin Kinsman

Berin Kinsman is a writer, game designer, and owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.