A Tsunami Of Bath Sets – A Blast from the past from December 2011

A Tsunami Of Bath Sets – A Blast from the past from December 2011

*As I was re-reading this, it occurred to me that the “tsunami of bath salts” effect is also why ALL command and control economy doesn’t work in the end.  If you can’t give good gifts to your friends, how can you determine what strangers will need much less want?*

I swear this is about publishing, so bear with me.

A quick post, as I slept very badly (for reasons having nothing to do with anything emotional.  Just one of those nights.)

I hate having people give me gifts.  I’ve mentioned this before, right?  Oh, not everyone.  There are exceptions.  My husband, for instance, is one of those supernaturally good gift-givers.  His gifts to me have ranged from a little glass owl to two pounds of cold cuts, and in each case they were exactly what I wanted.

On the other hand, the man has an ace in the hole – he can always give me a red rose and I melt.  So… hard to go wrong.

There have been other superb gifts throughout my life, but most gifts fall in the category of the ones this guy blames on (and might be) Aspergers.  Even when people know me – I think – relatively well, I find myself looking at something that , at best, I wouldn’t have looked at twice in the store, and feeling like I failed a test.  Why feeling like I failed a test?  Because… what did I do or say to give them the impression that I…  Etc.  When people don’t know me it can be worse.

I’ve found, for instance, that people latch onto something about me – not just in gift giving – and they seem to think that’s all of me.  Like, conferences STILL put me (sometimes exclusively) on the “Shakespeare panels” or create them just for me, because they think it will please me.  Do I like Shakespeare?  Sure.  It was one of my favorite things in college.  To be honest, though, partly it was to escape reading the more modern stuff.  Also, the study of his biography is fascinating.  But I also enjoyed Jane Austen, I love Dumas and I did my master thesis on Flannery O’Connor.  None of which, btw, compares to my obsessions with Heinlein, Simak, Pratchett, or even Rex Stout, Christie or Ellis Peters (And we won’t mention the Lord Meren series which I wish the author would self-publish and finish.)  So, you know, it’s not like Shakespeare is the all consuming light of my days.  And as for my trilogy on Shakespeare, well, it was in another publishing “country” and besides the series is dead.  I might go back to it, but it’s about as relevant to my work life as Dumas and arguably less so than Heinlein.

So, you see why I have issues with receiving gifts?  Not that I’m any better at giving them.  Gifts I give fall into three categories: the gifts I KNOW the person needs.  This is usually only my closest friends and relatives.  Like, say, I know one of the kids needs new slippers.  Then there’s the gifts I think people will like.  Again, I’m only good at these if I know you REALLY well.  Like, we’ve been friends for years with someone and know that this particular sparkly or that particular statuette is just right, or perhaps JUST ties in with something they’re writing.  Or I know the type of chocolate they love.  That sort of thing.  Of course, it also helps if the person has a prominent hobby-interest that consumes their free time.  Like knitting, or cooking or something.  A lot of people do, but writers and my family tend to be more eclectic.  After that there are “broad category gifts.”  These work best for kids.  If you buy a set of blocks, chances are a two year old will find a way to play with them.  But after adolescence it becomes iffy.

I’ve never fallen into the “give someone something you want.”  Well, not since I was ten and gave my brother the complete book of dinosaurs because that’s what I wanted.  (He’s ten years older and was in college, in engineering.)

I’ve always assumed these gift dysfunctions, both giving and receiving, were peculiar to me, however, studies show that in fact, about 80% of gifts people receive fall into that “OMG, what am I going to do with this?” category.  I think this is why there’s this rise of near-generic gift sets: bath sets with nice-smelling soap and cute towels.  Or coffee sets, with mugs and a couple of generic-brews and biscoitti.  That sort of thing.  (And I shudder to think how many times the non-food ones [one hopes] change hands before finding someone who really, really wanted them.)

Which brings us to the publishing industry.  I TOLD you we’d get there.

I will grant you that I’m not the best informed on the history of the business workings of our field.  However, from reading biographies about the pulp days, it seems to me there were various niches.  People who liked a certain kind of horror tended to read the output of a certain publisher, say.  Same for sf and f.  The closest we have to that is Analog, which could be called “science fiction for geeks.”  (Guilty as charged.)  And Baen which could be called “We’re okay with character, we like science/history accurate, but no plot no sale.”  And that’s fine, too.

But both Baen and Analog have had fairly clear personal directions and hand-offs, while the rest of the field has been a fest of mergers, short-lived under editors (short lived in position, mind, not saying anything about lifespan) and such.

And the selections of the other editorial houses has been much like the result of getting gifts from strangers.  I mean, most publishers these days have under-readers who are (beyond overworked and stressed) not of the field.  They might have edited romance last week, they’re editing sf/f today. Most of them have never been to a con.  They don’t know us.  And then, it’s not just editors.  In the major conglomerates these days, you can’t buy a book without “buy in” from the sales persons.  And then after that, the sales people/distributors decide what they’ll push.  To the extent that bookstores still get any say, they decide what to unpack or not.  And most of the time, these people are not of us.

This seems particularly important for sf/f, but mind you, mystery readers have their quirks too.  Romance is more of a broad church and might be easier to serve, or at least it has well known niches, which is kind of like a giftee having a hobby.

So, the kind of books that keep getting “push” and which used to be hits just by virtue of distribution – since both publishing and bookstores became conglomerates – were:

1 – the generic – i.e.  “Spaceships/dragons, decent grammar.  Those sf geeks will love it.”

2 – the repetitive – i.e. “It’s just like that Rowling chick we published last year and they loved that.”

3- catering to hobbies – i.e. “Well, I know tons of people like knitting.  Let’s do knitting mysteries.”

4 – catering to fads – “there’s that series on TV about chicks, sex and shoes, let’s do all our mysteries about chicks, sex and shoes.”

5 – catering to general categories “this book will appeal to all the sexually frustrated middle aged housewives.”

6 – and finally “what I would like to read” – which works great, if you are a graduate from an Ivy League school about twenty five years old and interested in impressing people with how high brow you are.  For the rest of us?  Not so much.

And this is my answer to the “tsunami of crap” – crap by whose definition?  Why do you think what’s crap to you is crap to other people?  I tell you kids, reading romance has been an education and no, I’m not being snarky.  More romance is competently written than sf or mystery, I hate to tell you.  But because I’m a stranger to the field, I’ll pick a lot by the stuff that says on the covers.  Like “Bestselling author.”  And, OMG.  Some of those books don’t rise to the level of “crap” to me, just on the historical errors.  (Yes, I have a very specialized form of insanity.  Why do you ask?)  BUT they’re mega bestsellers, whose numbers would make an sf/f writer faint.

So… qui flusheth the crap?  Who decides?  WHY would you want someone to decide for you?  Look, given my obsession with dinosaurs, give me a book on sentient dinosaurs, and I’ll forgive a multitude of sins.  Are there enough of me for someone to make a living off it?  Probably.  Enough for a major house to make a profit when they have to print, distribute the book and MORE IMPORTANTLY convince the bookstores to carry the books?  Probably not.

It might interest you to know that the same study on how inefficient people buying gifts for others were, also discovered that people buying for themselves were nearly 100% efficient.  So, now that technology allows us to buy for ourselves, why shouldn’t we?  And why shouldn’t we write/publish what we want to?  Yeah, okay, that falls under giving people the gift you want.  But look, you’re not that unique and you’re facing a VERY LARGE potential pool of book readers.  (If I had a thousand brothers, say, and I gave each one the book on Dinos, it’s guaranteed that a few – maybe even a hundred – would have loved it.)  You’re NOT that unique.  So write for the people you know best – those a lot like yourself.  And chances are you’ll be rewarded.  Doubly, because you’ll be writing for enough people to make you rich, and because you’ll write what you want to.

And please don’t come back and say “but what about the books written in crayon and drool?”  What, you think that doesn’t get published now?  I remember a bestseller in the eighties that was bought even though it came to the publisher written in crayon on wrapping paper, and yes, I read it, there must have been drool on the edges, and probably obscene drawings.  Publisher thought it was “refreshing.”

There is no OBJECTIVE standard for what’s crap in literature.  If you think there is, you bought what they sold you in lit classes.  And it wasn’t worth what you paid for it.

The standard for good is “what sells” in ANY form of entertainment.  Might not be to your taste, but clearly it entertains other people.  So, what business is it of yours.

And as for the famed tsunami, having experienced “Mega bookstore and not a book to buy” many, many times, I tell you “I’ve seen the tsunami, and it’s traditionally published.”  Doubtless it will be indie published, too, as far as I’m concerned.  But I’ll just hie my way among it, picking up from the muck those things that are diamonds to me.  Now, you shut up and do likewise.

274 responses to “A Tsunami Of Bath Sets – A Blast from the past from December 2011

  1. I’ve never understood why people assign authors to panels based solely on what they know about the authors. When I was doing programming for SF conventions, I would come up with a list of topics and send it out, and invite authors (and artists and fan participants and scientists and whatever) to check off the ones that they felt they could contribute to. And they regularly surprised me. I remember, for example, Vernor Vinge being interested in a panel on “designing pantheons,” which I would never have predicted.

    Of course if you were a guest at a con I was programming, I might well put a Shakespeare topic into the list of literature topics (though my first association to you is “libertarian”). But if you checked off, oh, “The Matter of America” or “Traditional sewing techniques in costuming” or “When are we getting fusion power plants?” I’d look at putting you on one of those. Taking advantage of serendipity was always one of my mainstays when I did that sort of thing.

  2. There is a lamentable human tendency to confuse quality with taste, so that “good” writing equates with “crap I like” and bad writing correlates with “crap I don’t like or even actively dislike.” Here’s a secret: it’s all crap. Sometimes it is good crap, sometimes it is crap that amuses me and sometimes it is crap that bores/annoys me.

    Still crap.

    There is no innate value in entertainment, no gold standard against which we can measure because it is ultimately a matter of taste. Elvis on black velvet gazing down on a beach on which a pair of lovers lie entwined is somebody‘s idea of a perfect way to decorate their wall and so long as it is their lunch money being spent I have no cause to criticize.

    Publishers have a tendency to hire staff from among those persons miseducated to think there is an absolute standard of value beyond what people will buy, and unless they quickly disabuse staff of such delusions they become ex-publishers.

  3. BTW, a point of minor fact: I invariably give tasteful, exquisitely appropriate gifts. If there is any problem it lies in the incivility, contrariness and just plain ingratitude of the recipients.

    Just so you know.

    • all the gifts I’ve received from your household have been perfectly targeted. 😀

      • *has vision of box of catnip mice landing with a thud dead center on the doorstep of the Hoyt Secret Mountain Lair, followed by three bars of really good chocolate flying through air and sliding through the precise center of the mail slot*

        • I had the opposite thought. There the innocent smelly candle sits, quietly on the rock in the field. Then the .308 round enters the candle dead-center. The transfer of energy explodes the wax in a red haze as the .308 round continues down range. Another bullseye. 🙂

          Yeah, I am not a big one for those smelly candle stores – I can’t help it – strong smells like that give me a migraine. When my wife goes into those stories I just wait outside.


          • Me too! There was a candle factory in the small town through which I had to pass (before “they” built the bypass*) on my way back and forth to college. I would roll the windows up no matter what the temperature, even though my ’67 Mustang did not have air conditioning. I didn’t miss it after the factory burned.

            *Thus, the cartoon: Bypass, NC

        • I get A LOT of gifts for the cats, here at Squirrel Mountain (what, Larry took moose!) but a very discerning fan/friend also sends me coffee. And the RES household has sent me books and some knit things, all of them very welcome.

          • A very discerning fan/friend sends you a coffee grinder. A truly discerning fan/friend sends you four burlap sacks and round trip tickets to Guatemala (Sumatra, Ethiopia, your destinations may vary according to political circumstances.)

            Books are always a hit or miss proposition. Some are no-brainers (what Hun wouldn’t enjoy the text to 1776, to read along during the annual viewing, especially in accompaniment with reasonable amounts of rum?) and some are simply brainless (anything by Peter Singer.)

            I suspect Audible credits (do they offer gift cards?) make a good compromise. Or a new, dedicated MP3 player, with generously sized SIM card.

    • Are we.. utterly, completely, and absolutely.. unrelated?

      • I dunno — it isn’t impossible we’re cousins, of a sort.

        I trace my family tree (with a few minor gaps, nothing more than a millennia or three) back to Adam & Eve, of Eden Gardens, Paradise. You?

        • Uncle didn’t even find any family in Transylvania, which was a rather disappointing. I’m not sure how far back he managed to get. I never got into that sort of thing as nobody could answer why they let some of those cousins back after having removed them.

  4. I don’t know either my brother or sister well so I send them gift certificates (in lieu of cash) so they can pick what they like.

  5. If you gift me I’d like a Plain Jane Blue Corvette Coupe. Fear not I will be disappointed. It can even be last year’s model.
    Seinfeld explored this both in re-gifting and the sale sweater with a spot.
    I suspect people who didn’t like that show are deeply good at their core. I on the other hand am flawed and laughed at every exploration of their selfish shallowness in every show.
    If you think lit*er*a*ture is bad now…wait until it is government funded and filtered.
    Citizen…we have noted your page count was down this week examining revolutionary issues. You even flipped through what you did read suspiciously fast. We must remind you that faking page count can lead to a surprise test on retention and potential reeducation.
    So…you didn’t like the coffee, huh? Bet it has a very short re-gift cycle.

  6. I think there’s a tendency to assume that one side has to be the “good guys” (by our standards) in a war. The Punic Wars were pretty much a naked power grab / crush the rivals by any means on BOTH sides, and BOTH sides were atrocious by our standards. The Roman were generally brutal to outsiders and slaves even by the low standards of Classical Antiquity, and the Carthaginians sacrificed their own babies in time of crisis, which is a particularly horrible custom. Just because Poul Anderson rather admired the Phoenecian / Carthaginian high status of merchants doesn’t make them “the good guys.”

    Often, there ARE no clearly “good guys.” Merely one side, and another.

    • Often, there ARE no clearly “good guys.” Merely one side, and another.
      See also Bosnia, Syria, Libya etc. In many cases there seem to be just bad and worse

      • Non-binary bad guys.

        The enemy of my enemy is just another enemy.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Disagree, the “enemy of your enemy” may not be a friend but he may not be “your enemy” (yet).

          • I absolutely cannot keep track of the players in the middle east. The only ones I halfway trust are the Kurds. A nation in search of a country of their own. All the others? Meh

            • Even that has the “good Kurds” (Iraqi) and the “bad Kurds” (AKA, the Islamic terrorists in Russia; this is from memory, it MIGHT be the terrorists in Turkey, who also from memory are of the “there’s a dead Kurd, over there, in the grave” mindset.)

              The Iraqi Kurds are pretty awesome, though.

              • The Kurdish homeland overlies parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Some never converted (submitted) to Islam and remain Yazidi.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Kratman had on everyjoe a series that I found fairly persuasive to the effect that the Kurds were untrustworthy.

              solitudinum faciunt, pacem appellent

              (Yeah, I wanted to switch the grammar, but don’t have my dictionary handy, and I might’ve spelled one of those right anyway.)

      • Speaking of the United States. . . .

        • Nah, just the 2016 election. It’s like an earthling watching Martian Eyestalk bonding rituals: you don’t understand it; it’s vaguely disgusting; whoever wins gets to eat you after.

        • And hence the popularity of the SMOD 2016 campaign

          • Cthulu/SMOD 2016! All issues, all platforms, all policies. Income equality? Absolutely covered! -Ism of the hour? Totally for it. Conservative principles? Got a dozen in a jar on the shelf. Every government program, every contentious issue, Cthulu/SMOD are on precisely the correct side.

            Vote today! Don’t worry about tomorrow.*

            *: Chances of extinction of all life on Earth approaches 100%.

            **With tongue resolutely in cheek. *grin*

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              I understand that Cthulhu and SMOD are running against each other.

              • It was a gentleman’s monster’s Great Old One’s/Giant Killer Asteroid’s agreement, old school. Whoever takes the most votes gets to be leader of the (formerly) free world, the loser takes second slot.

                Somewhere, out in the deep dark…

                A giant mass of… stuff. Minerals, elements, compounds, a great bloody conglomeration of raw matter, bearing inevitably down on a blissfully ignorant little blue-white sphere.

                There is no sound in space. Nothing there to transmit sound waves, a great vacuum without the sucking sound. Because there is no sound. But if there was, it would sound like… doom.

                Pan to another dimension, neither the obverse nor the negative of this dimension, something more like the forgotten lint and dust bunnies behind the refrigerator bred and made a whole universe of grime, oily-wet black foulness, and gigantic rat poop. An unimaginably huge mass of… not quite evil, as we understand it, but ———. No, don’t even try to think it, it will drive you mad. Seriously, don’t try.

                In our universe, a rather strange man in wet black robes shouts at clouds.

                “Ia! Ia! Presidency Ftagn!”*

                *: I will become the president of the free world, and then —–. With —- ——— — ——– —-. And ————–!”

                Is that a tentacle? Like, a sock puppet? Hentai? Ewwww….



                Suddenly, a new challenger appears. Is that a… stuffed shirt? With a kitty-cat on top?


                *Imagine some really deep bass here. The kind that rattles your chest bones.

                Ia Ia Hello kitty F’tagn!”*

                *AAaaaugh! That stupid cat again!

              • SMOD vs Cthulha—Be Informed. Compare Them on the Issues That Matter! (A shameless parody recycling the old Bernie vs Hillary meme).

                • Amazingly, Cthulhu has some very principled positions.

                • BobtheRegisterredFool


                  From the east, Moe Lane, spokesman for Cthulhu.
                  From the west, BigGator5, spokesman for SMOD.

                • I don’t think your account of Cthulhu’s position on guns can be accurate. According to one of his early worshippers, “the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.” Even if human weapons are futile toys, this promises to give us better weapons. . . .

      • As Henry Kissinger observed of the Iran-Iraq war: “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”

        • France seemed to do a pretty good job of ensuring that during the Thirty Years War. Screwed up the Germans for 300 years.

      • Try a book titled “The Eastern Question” looking at the history of that area, if you want long term details.

      • “Bad” and “worse” are often, in real life, the only choices available.

  7. I am somewhat notorious in my inability to select gifts that people like. Don’t get me wrong, I really DO care and try to pay attention, but somehow I usually seem to miss the mark.

    One of my worst gift failures was when my first wife was pregnant with our daughter. We were living in Southern California, in the summer, in a house that did not have air conditioning. I am confident that any mothers out there will back me up when I say that situation ABSOLUTELY SUCKED for her. As is usual for young couples, we also didn’t have much money. So for her birthday, I scraped up what extra I could manage and bought her a big fan… Apparently, it was the stupidest, most un-romantic gift in the history of gift giving. She cussed at me in Spanish for three days straight (although it did sound funny, because she was sitting behind the fan on full blast the entire time).

    Note to self: No more practical gifts for that one? Check!

    • It is interesting how tastes differ. I’m pretty sure that had it been me in that situation, I would have considered that fan one of the greatest gifts in history, right up there with the gifts of the Magi to the Baby Jesus (or possibly higher, because really, what’s a newborn going to do with myrrh anyway?).

      • Indeed. Give me something I can use. Flowers are nice, I like flowers, and if you don’t know me well enough to get me something I can use that’s just fine, but if you do know me that well, then get me the kitchenaid. (Okay, don’t, actually, as I haven’t burned out the current one yet. Give me a few months, I’m sure!)

        • Saffron bun dough separates the real mixers from the wanna-bes. Which is why it gets stirred by hand. (No room for the industrial Kitchen-aid and Dad refuses to let me try a dough hook on his big Bosch drill.)

          • Sam’s Club this year has a holiday spice kit with one bottle of saffron and another of paprika, for something like ten bucks or less. Expensive for paprika but cheap for saffron threads.

          • Psh, you’ll just have to get your own big Bosch drill.

            Or ask for one for Christmas! (That’s how I got my best tools)

            Now I wonder, would it have to be a drill, or would an impact driver work?

      • me too. BUT I think I’m not a normal woman. My first birthday in our marriage (so, 23) Dan gave me a vacuum. I was so frigging grateful I danced around. I was tired of having to borrow his sister’s when I needed one. Yep, the man had been living on his own for five years and didn’t own a vacuum.
        My MIL tried to scold him about unromantic gifts and I might sort of have bitten her head off.
        Other great gifts include my “professional grade” steam iron and an extra broad ironing board, a detail sander, and a carpet cleaner.

        • Birthday girl

          Last Mother’s Day, I received a new cordless drill/driver – with a tac light, squeeeee!

        • the man had been living on his own for five years and didn’t own a vacuum.

          Silly girl. Man in nature abhors a vacuum.

          Although once he discovers that by connecting the flexible tube to the outlet he can launch ping pong balls into orbit … (may not apply to all models of vacuum; check make and manufacturer before attempting.)

          Alternate quip: why didn’t you just use the leaf blower?

        • I gave my wife a Dyson. She was very happy.

          • I got one too, for my bday 5 years ago. Have since upgraded, but…

            • We’re Oreck folk.

              • Some clever boffin needs to make vacuum cleaners with reasonably adjustable handle lengths, so that the 5’2″ and 5’10” can enjoy height equity.

                • Shopvacs, RES. We have two, the little one that doesn’t suck up mice and socks and the big one that does. The three-and-a-half foot five-year-old can use them, my husband at six-one can use them. I don’t plug them with spaghetti noodles (yes, that’s how I killed our first vacuum), though I do plug them pretty frequently with other objects, but they don’t die from it so it’s all good.

                  • One should also be careful as to where one plugs a shopvac. The office manager at work decided to “help” IT by vacuuming the server room to cleanup the mess left after an electrical contractor did some work. The only problem was he plugged it into a low-amperage power strip sitting on the server room workbench. Bad Things ensued.

        • Back when we were dating, the man I eventually married bought me a can opener. A manual one. For Valentine’s Day. Because I had bought canned food that I missed and then realized I had no way to open it. I thought this was adorable.

          (There were also roses.)

      • Run around the house with it, going, “Myrrh… Myrrh,,, MYRRH!”?*

        * When you read that, it’s supposed to sound like a child making car-engine noises.

        • Nyah, that’s for toddlers and above. A baby given myrrh is going to do with it what babies do with every received: jam it in his* mouth.

          *While conscious of the current controversies over “appropriate” pronoun usage, as a person of the conservative persuasion I adhere to the classical rules of English grammatical usage; to do otherwise would be an act of appropriation of Twit Culture.

        • That was the name of our first cat together. A tuxedo with cattitude, and just that sound – constantly. Miss her much.

    • Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do.

      For example, a family story:
      Mom bought two sweaters for her eldest son, identical except one was red and one was blue.
      He came down the next morning wearing the red one.
      Mom: “So you don’t like the blue one?”


      Probably the best gift I got while pregnant was from my husband… it was a shirt with a cute, pregnancy-related quote on it that is a size too small when I’m not pregnant.
      He said: “I found a sales lady that is about your size, and got one size bigger.”

      Background: when I’m pregnant, I don’t usually look pregnant. I just look fat. I actually had someone at our playgroup ask why I was going to the hospital when I went in for a C-section, and she didn’t believe I was really pregnant until I came back with the baby.

      • I heard it as a Jewish mom who gave her son a blue shirt and a green shirt.

        • Rural legend. There’s prob’ly one for hats or shoes or slacks or a skirt…. I know it happened with earrings, that’s half of why my sister got extra holes….

  8. I find it sad that this commentary from 2011 is still fresh and meaningful 5 years later. Unfortunately, writing is going the same direction as other ‘art’ like painting and sculpture; if people complain that it is tripe, then clearly it must be their lack of appreciation. We only want novels with women protagonists written by women, Asian woman protagonists written only by Asian women, repeat ad nauseum.
    As I commented on Facebook yesterday, I love cultural appropriation; without it I would be limited to eating haggis and turnips (or perhaps rutabaga).

    • If cultural appropriation were banned you would also have no market for that abominable distilled concoction your people have sold in the guise of whiskey.

    • “I love cultural appropriation; without it I would be limited to eating haggis and turnips”

      Being a Viking, I have a built in loop-hole. I get to use whatever I want, from whatever culture I want, and when someone cries about the Cultural Appropriation I tell them “How DARE you! It’s not cultural appropriation, it PILLAGING! How dare you demean my cultural heritage!!!” If whoever it is isn’t historically literate enough to know that most Vikings were more merchants than raiders, it isn’t my problem.

      • Some of the students (guys) last year almost panicked when I announced, ‘OK, if you are not Scottish, no kilts. if you are not American Indian, no buckskin with fringe. If you are not a Central Asian horseman, lose the trousers.”

        • Further, if you aren’t a Scot don’t wear plaid, if you aren’t Irish stay out of the pubs on St. Paddy’s day. If you aren’t Celtic eschew Halloween, Wear no polka dots if you aren’t Polish, and only the English can enjoy old school ties and regimental striping.

          No French fries, French toast or French kissing if you are not French, either. Only Germans allowed hamburgers or Franks although all are permitted their fill of beans. If you aren’t Chinese, no Chop Suey and Ramen only for sons and daughters of Nippon.

          Oh, and about that movable type you’ve been employing, not to mention your Arabic numerals and Latin alphabet.

        • I can wear the kilt, I’m in volume 84 page 44 of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. (Take that SJWs!) Unfortunately, I am allergic to wool.

      • I use a similar line about being a New Yorker: my culture IS cultural appropriation.

      • Merchants & city-builders, also mercenaries. OTOH: “Here is a lesson you must learn: FIRST you pillage, THEN you burn!”

  9. It’s far easier to buy people’s pets gifts than the people themselves. Fortunately, some very smart coders made the Amazon wish list!

    That means I can now buy for people what they want. Even if it’s stinky fizzy bath bombs.

    • There have been times when I might have put up with *almost* any aroma if the bath soothed my hooves. I’d likely still stand up and have a proper shower after, though.

      • Have you looked into the Dr. Teal’s Epson Salts bags? For like five bucks you can get a sugar-bag sized pack of eucalyptus and some kind of mint.

        • Wouldn’t that attract koalas?

        • Heck, just use straight epsom salts. I’ve dumped anywhere up to a half-gallon carton into the tub. Or my current favorite, magnesium chloride salts – feels wonderful, and a great way to get magnesium.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I’d forgotten that I can take epsom salts baths, and that they sometimes do something for the aches. (There’s probably something wrong with my muscles, so ymmv.)

          • But those don’t stink pretty!

            More importantly, it’s hard to find one that is really not scented.

            • And eucalyptus might aid clearing the schnozz & sinuses some.

              • *evil grin* I make a fine sweet-hot white chili that will steam-clean shnozz and sinus cavities, guaranteed- if you have any smelling capacity left whatsoever.*

                It involves ground turkey, natural honey, sweet corn, potatoes, canned tomatoes (always extra canned tomatoes around here), and several different kinds of peppers. The best ones just about peel your eyes off your face if you sniff it while cooking.

                Of course, most people tend to like things a wee bit less hot, so there’s a survivable version we make for rookies. Also, the little potatoes tend to hold the heat of the peppers and concentrate it, so new folks are wary of those…

                *: No guarantees you will have any left *after* consuming said chili.

                • I’m not one for superhyperintense heat, but I do like things far beyond the imagination of most Minnesotans it seems. And there have been times where I’d risk that.. though likely on your ‘mild’ setting. At least the first time.

                  I have learned that if a good Thai place uses a 1-4 rating system, I best not order a 4 and 3 might need some thinking over. Some.

                  • Jalapenos, then, possibly a few habaneros. I’ll have to dig that recipe out again soon- best made just after the first frost of the year. Warms you up on a cold day, it does. *grin*

        • I love those when I have the flu. It makes everything just a bit more bearable.

        • Just ordered some. Might be able to see how well the stuff works tomorrow (later today). Though I think Sunday morning might be the real test. Saturday night “looks promising – it’s what it’s promising that I don’t like.”[1]

          [1] Penfold, DangerMouse

        • “Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt is not tested on animals.”

          Well, I’ll just see about that.

          • That is puzzling. Do they mean their product is not tested as safe for humans or that they think humans are not animals?

            • No ill effects on this animal. Tested the stuff this morning. Nice relaxing bath, listening to the Philco. Tomorrow (when I do not need to be anywhere) I think a glass of Rémy Martin might be a good addition.

              • Glad to hear it is acceptable!

                • A second treatment had no ill effects, though the eucalyptus incense might have been a bit overly much it did no harm. Nor did the Rémy Martin. I find it mildly interesting that the incense stick lasted roughly 45 minutes, as judged by that it lasted about as long as the side of the C90 audio cassette. For me overall, it likely aided in relaxation, though I am uncertain that my pedal extremities are in any better condition than before.

                  • Are you putting any lotion on afterwards? I don’t know how accurate it is, but my folks swear that “traps in the moisture,” and I got some decent results when I did it. (keeps them from being bad enough to bleed, anyways)

                    • Nope. Hadn’t heard of that.
                      Haven’t had the chance to compare magnesium chloride, either, fwiw.

                      No bleeding, just general soreness. But when shift starts at 9 PM and drags on to 7:30 AM (and then still standing/walking until 8 AM…) I hardly expect to feel just dandy.

      • I can put up with any aroma that doesn’t trigger my asthma. Unfortunately, that’s a high bar to cross, so it’s usually just straight Epsom salt.

  10. Apart from my family and closest friends, the gift-giving that works for me is the system I have for the kids of my neighborhood babysitter. She’s my older son’s godmother, and runs a (licensed) day-care center out of her home, which is one house short of next door to mine. Her kids help out — they watch the kids when she runs to the store, sometimes they’ll take the kids to school or pick them up, they carry packages home for me when a bunch arrive at once, et cetera. So I really want to get the kids something, but I don’t actually know them this well.

    What makes this work is that no one expects me to know what the kids want. So when I see something cool for $5 or under (movies on sale from Amazon, costume jewelry from China or wherever, random stuff on the streets of Manhattan) if my budget this week permits, I buy it, and I add it to a laundry bag in the attic. Sometime around Christmas, I take the bag to Nana’s, spread it out on the floor of the living room, and the kids (and any interested adults) can take what they want. A couple of times we’ve gone “shopping” out of that bag when my now-seven-year-old tells me at in the late evening that it’s someone’s birthday tomorrow and he wants/needs to bring something….

    • This. When my kids were in lower and middle school I kept a bunch of pre-presents in a cupboard and let the boys pick from that what to take. At the appropriate ages, it was mostly Heinlein juveniles in the selection.

  11. ….but I like stink-pretties. (Scented soaps, oil sets, various fresheners, etc.)

  12. … I did my master thesis on Flannery O’Connor.

    I didn’t know you appreciated Flannery O’Connor. That you would embrace such a thoughtful, but off the main path, writer does not surprise. But how did you discover her writing? She seems largely forgotten here.

    • I found ONE of her stories in an anthology in the American Library. So I chose her for my thesis, was approved, then found I couldn’t FIND any more of her work.
      At which point I got my then fiance who was visiting to bring me everything of hers he could find from the (then) local public library in Rock Hill, South Carolina. When Dan came over to formally propose, half of his luggage was Flannery O’Connor or books about her. I then went to the ubiquitous photocopy shops and spent two afternoons getting it all copied. IF I remember (and it’s been a long time) my thesis was “Flannery O’Connor and the Catholic Fantastic.” Eh.
      Pre computers all I really remember of my thesis is spending days LITERALLY cutting and pasting, as I moved paragraphs and thoughts around, before I was satisfied and could type a clean copy. I have this clear mind-picture of sitting in a stair-case nook at my college (the way there was an hour and a half bus and train, so not worth going home midday or for free periods. Also, if I stayed till night Dad could pick me up) with glue, scissors and piles of paper.

  13. So, the kind of books that keep getting “push” and which used to be hits just by virtue of distribution – since both publishing and bookstores became conglomerates – were:

    It may reflect when this was originally written, but you forgot books featuring cats … or catlike creatures.

  14. I squeal like a little girl over novelty coffee mugs. I’m not allowed to get any more unless I purge the collection. Novelty socks work, too. It’s amazing how bone none of my family and most of my friends haven’t figured those out. I would think it would be pretty simple but apparently I’m impossible to shop for. They don’t want to get me “novelty crap”. Trying explain to them that I *want* novelty cheap has been a losing battle so far.

    • Send them the Archie McPhee catalog as a hint 😀 Pickle band-aids! Bacon-themed everything! Einstein action figures! Inflatable fruitcakes!

    • “What do you want for Christmas?”
      “Get me ugly, fuzzy socks. Like, rainbow stripes, funny patterns. Anything that isn’t foot socks. I like bright colors.”
      CHRISTMAS DAY: **really freaking boring book, drab/ugly shirt in a style for someone with no shoulders and slim arms, ugly and/or depressing artwork**

      • Did you have a camera in my mother’s living room?

        • My mom always gave me makeup (since I was about 19) in her colors. She’s green eyed and blond. Yeah… (Well, now she’s darkhaired because for some reason she colors her hair black. She told me it’s because all old ladies go blond. I might not have suspected it growing up, but I think the woman is an Odd.)

          • There are worse reasons. I’m working on a story where one heroine is delivered to her godmother to be brought out. The godmother insists on dying her blond hair black so that people won’t think she dyed it blond.

      • Oh, yeah.
        OTOH my kids always ask for socks and underwear (since they turned 18) and they GET them. 😉 Younger son has an habit I used to have of chewing the collar of his undershirts. All of them look horrible now. So, guess what he’s getting?

        • At some point I decided that it was a *good* thing to get clothes for Christmas, because then I didn’t have to shop for clothes!

          • me too. Around 16 I think.

            • An important tip on buying clothes for gifts: pay attention to what the recipient has demonstrated willingness to wear, then (try to) buy up a grade — thus getting the person that which he would buy if he were a little flusher.

              DO NOT make the mistake of buying the recipient clothes which fall into the category of “things you want to see them in.” Many husbands make this critical error when buying underclothes for their wives without first determining if she enjoys the feel of scratchy nylon lace against those parts commonly defined as “private.” OTOH, undergarments of silk or high quality cotton are generally enjoyed by both.

              As a general rule of thumb, nobody — repeat: NObody — of any age ought wear undergarments with “cute” logos or phrases on them. Not days of the week, nor months of the year, nor “Eat at the Y.” There is very very little good that can come of such garments.

              • I used to have a friend that worked for one of those stores, whose advice I stole from shamelessly for years.

                Comfy first, because few men think to, and enough women’s clothing doesn’t bother with it. Comfy sexy is nice, but skip the latter if there is nothing available, or within price range. The many years now ex got soft pjs, a shapeless but toasty warm jacket, and wool socks. And a cd of truly tasteless pirate music that she absolutely fell in love with.

                Sometimes you do something on a whim, and it succeeds beyond your wildest dreams… *chuckle*

              • As a general rule of thumb, nobody — repeat: NObody — of any age ought wear undergarments with “cute” logos or phrases on them.


                The only “cute logo” type things for undergarments are things like… oh, superhero logos, or something else that’s really not sexual, insulting or (for adults) childish at all. Pink boxers with hearts on them will depend on the sense of humor involved, remember that gifts are about them, not you. 😀

                IE, Hello Kitty! pencils (of really high quality) are a good gag gift; hello kitty underwear, not so much.

              • *suddenly gets evil idea* What about underwear that says “Do what I say if you want the antidote.” Does that count as cute? (That could work well as a discreet tattoo, now that I think about it…)

              • Meh, I have a pair that says “Magically Delicious” with a rainbow. I get a chuckle every time I wear them and who else is going to see or care? Well, except for my husband, and he’s used to me by now.

        • My older brother did that!

        • Old-fashioned shirts with detachable collars?

    • I am not allowed to go into a shop that sells paint or tools without adult supervision. Robert at five counted as “adult supervision” because his dad had trained him to say “NO MORE PAINT.” Or “Do you REALLY need another power sander?”

      • “Do you REALLY need another power sander?”

        YES. Those things are temperamental. I have about five, I think (belt, orbital, variable-oscillating, buffing/sanding…). I can see a use for a few more. And sometimes, I prefer backups. Because it the power sander craps out and you have to do it by hand… *shakes head* It is not to be contemplated.

        But try to convince someone who doesn’t get tools of this? Nooooo…


    • I like coffee mugs with humorous sayings on them (I have one that has an old fashioned Poison tag, complete with skull and crossbones.) For Father’s Day, I gave my hubby a giant sized mug that had a parody of the Jurassic Park logo, that said “Tea-Rex.”

      He grinned because he loves tea, and loves puns. And occassionally would chuckle at it.

      Some years ago, I bought him a camera lens travel mug, which was a licensed thing from Nikon. He still has it, but refuses to use it, because it’s ‘too nice looking.’ It’s so realistic looking someone tried to buy it off me, thinking it was an actual camera lens.

      For the housemate, in response to “This isn’t big enough,” (a soup mug, which is more a bowl with a cup handle), I got him a similarly sized coffee mug. I don’t remember what it says, because it’s been wrapped for a year and is awaiting Christmas.

      I got a mug that has a cute fox on it, with the saying “What the fox.”

      I giggled like a crazy thing over this one.

      I think that for us non-morning people, a mug that has the requisite coffee + something that makes me smile is at least the minimum positive start required for the day.

      I mean, c’mon. We got out of bed.

  15. richardmcenroe

    EVERYONE needs ammunition and MRE’s. And if they don’t like ammunition, you can give them MORE MRE’s to replace the first batch that gets looted.

    I may be spendibg too much time at Ace of Spades.

  16. The comments about Shakespeare reminded me a bit about something I read on another blog about “The one who…” syndrome: the tendency of distant relatives to remember exactly one trait about you and center their gift-giving around that. You become “the one who likes cats” and every Christmas you get a sweater with a cat on it, a mug with a cat on it, a cat-themed notepaper set, and three different kitten calendars from all the various aunts, uncles, and cousins whose names you can barely remember. I’ll admit, though, that I generally preferred to get “the one who likes dogs” gifts to the perfume and makeup sets that I always got from one set of cousins. The puppy calendars at least brought a little bit of cute into my life; the makeup sets, in addition to the fact that I would never use them, I could never tell if they were meant to be a subtle insult or not (“Lord, your face is ugly! Use this to cover it up so that you stop shaming your great-grandmother’s memory.”)

  17. I saw this offered by Amazon this morning.
    Imagine…you could order one of these auto-reorder buttons on YOUR account and send it to someone as a gift! A lifetime supply of something!
    (Your lifetime not theirs.)

  18. > give me a book on sentient dinosaurs

    Toolmaker Koan, by John McLoughlin…

    • But don’t read it on an airline flight, unless you can suppress giggles and groans better. The opening chapters are, dare I say, a wee bit dated (unless you did not grow up during the Cold War)/.

      • Way back when, I found the library had a copy of the new(ish) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I checked out. I sat down in the library and started to read it. I left the library about page 7 out of respect for the others there as the laughter containment was failing rapidly.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      I wish that one was available in e-format.

      Oh, remember what the author did to T-Rex? 👿

  19. The traditional publishers printed books, but their power was their control over the distribution system.

    They still print books… but the distribution system they used to control is disintegrating. With every store that closes, or repurposes more shelf space to tchochkis or DVDs, or decides to move from books to comics, they lose more control.

    Bookstores have already become a mostly-urban thing, and their coverage is still shrinking. If I want a paper book (that’s not at Wal-Mart) I would have to drive at least thirty miles. And they probably wouldn’t have anything I wanted to read anyway, as has happened before.

    “The internet” didn’t kill bookstores. Not of itself, anyway. Not stocking what people wanted to read was the largest of many problems…

    • But who wouldn’t want to read the next great piece of lit’rachure about a suburban housewife’s existential crisis, or a fantasy story about cultural appropriation of magic and the enui of suburban life, or a mystery that centers on the killer’s sublimated angst about being trapped in a heterosexual marriage in suburbia?

      Besides almost everyone here, unless the stories are really, really well written.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I used to enjoy rereading books I’ve enjoyed before. My current state doesn’t seem to let me do that, with well written new stories being about all I can manage. And I haven’t enough money for all the stuff that might do the trick. I doubt ‘unless it is extremely well written’ applies for me.

  20. Birthday girl

    Re literal gift-giving … Dear Spouse and I agreed long ago to exchange gifts in name only. He buys his gifts; I buy my gifts; we wrap the other’s purchases and present them at the appropriate time – everyone is happy with type, quality, and quantity of what they receive. In fact, as I type this, I’m looking at the Steam card taped to the wall so I don’t forget it for next week’s birthday … thanks be for such understanding!

    • Shortly after we got married we sent notices to all associated family that we were not going to participate in Christmas gifting. Don’t send anything, don’t expect anything.

      It took a remarkable amount of time and a substantial amount of hurt feelings before everyone realized we were serious.

    • Beloved Spouse & I enjoy a similar practice, with frequent questions along the ines of “Would you like this? Birthday or Solstice?” and I have on more than one occasion decided to fill out my stack from my ever-growing “Books Awaiting Reading” pile(s).

      I think this has on at least one book being received in multiple years, but if so nobody paid any attention to it.

    • For us it depended on which side of the family it was.

      Mom would tell us “You’re getting soap. Act surprised!” Because she was broke and unemployed and made soap as a hobby business. We would act surprised because we are cheerful and compliant children.

      Stepmother would tell us “Give me your Christmas list by the end of October”, and we’d get whatever she’d already bought throughout the year that she thought we’d like. And then we’d thank Dad for the gifts because we knew where the money came from and also are contrary and resentful brats. Thank God I don’t ever have to deal with that again.

  21. I’m not so good at picking out gifts, without someone at least giving me a hint…
    Well, a very strong hint…
    OK, telling me exactly what they want.

    But I’m really good at picking out greeting cards.

  22. This funny because I love to give gifts. Finding a gift I think someone will love is a thrill. Maybe I’m just weird.

  23. …having experienced “Mega bookstore and not a book to buy” many, many times…

    This^, totally! 😀

  24. Had a happiness a couple of weeks ago. Went into a little used book store in town and picked up a complete set of Aubrey/Maturin three for a dollar in great condition.

  25. Someone was talking about the guy who does the Things I Won’t Work With columns, and wishing they could find the one about the horrible stench.

    Google thioacetone and you ought to be able to find the article. Came up second in my search.

  26. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I decided to google “dog poop in literature” and discovered that there is apparently a genre here! True crap in literature! Here’s a review, too.

  27. I was curious about the book written in crayon. There appear to be books about crayons. I didn’t want to know about that. I did find that James Joyce had eye problems that left him nearly blind. He took to writing in red crayon on large sheets of paper. I don’t know about the drooling, although his writing has been cited as proof of insanity.

  28. Gift giving in my family is pretty easy: Youngest brother: Book or manga I know he’s following. Mom: Books. Hubby: Audiobooks. Or bourbon, or SAO related (He really liked the Sinon ball jointed doll I got him). Sisters in law: something pretty or from The Body Shop / something needed. Me: Boooooks (I usually get asked “What would you like off your wishlist?”)

    Occasionally my brother gets me a Nendoroid.

  29. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Cultural Appropriation. Cultures that do it, live. Cultures that don’t, die. 😈 😈 😈 😈

    • Hence the SJW objection to Western culture doing it. Duh.

      • Aside from a will to power I don’t understand SJZ’s revulsion for the Western world. Is it brainwashing or just self hatred projected? Or is it an inability separate their parents from Western Civ? I hate my parents therefore I hate the West.

        • I’m fairly sure it’s projected self-hatred.

          • The world does not properly appreciate me, ergo something must be wrong with the world.

            I well understand the problem; happily I feel no compunction to rearrange the world in order to change their appraisal on my worth. (After all, why would I want the approval of such people?)

          • They should put themselves out of our misery. Because they hate themselves the world is made more dangerous.

            • Agreed, but they’re too cowardly to do that.

            • The projection may be a survival mechanism– and a good one.

              I don’t want them dead, I want them to be better– they have the same feeling, but they are not identifying issues with themselves, or with things they can change, they instead find it elsewhere.

              This might even be a learned good trait that’s being over expressed– how many folks here are familiar with the “I spent years dealing with X problem, only to finally figure out that it wasn’t me, it was them” thing? Usually found in bad teachers/authorities?

              Take that defense, and then short circuit it– because it is kind of comforting to be told that a thing isn’t your fault, if you haven’t been trained or don’t have the personality of “something is wrong, I must fix it, it must be POSSIBLE for me to fix it, *I* must have done something wrong so I can change me…..”
              Once it’s short circuited, the…error finder mechanism… is also removed. So you’ve got folks who are very passionate, WANT to fix something, and the ones they oppose have all the badness they sense.

              Some of that short circuiting is probably deliberate, in rhetorical tactics and choosing stuff that looks good (like the evergreen “shipping in old people, pregnant women and attractive young ladies to guard the violent rioters” used by activists) and some of it just is.