QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator): George Orwell Goes Shopping

QualityLand

QualityLand

by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator)

eARC, 352 pg.
Orion Books, 2020

Read: February 13-15, 2020

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


When you boil it down, QualityLand is simply the epic tale of a man trying to return something he didn’t order (and doesn’t want) to an online retailer. Peter Jobless’s tale involves a paranoid hacker, a blackmail scheme, an armed stand-off, a smitten sex-bot, a TV news panel show, a revolutionary tablet computer, swaying a presidential election, and a revival of interest in the films of Jennifer Aniston. We’ve all been there, right?

There’s no way I could describe the plot in a way to do it justice—so we’ll stick with the broad sweep. Before much gets underway story-wise, there’s a lot of set up required. When the dominoes start to fall in earnest, they go quickly. But so much of the book is devoted to setting them up, establishing/explaining the culture, government and everyday life of the QualityLand’s citizenry.

Here’s the best part about the set-up time: it’s totally worth it, and the way the dominoes are being placed is enjoyable/entertaining enough that even if the results were duds, I wouldn’t really have minded all that much. The icing on the cake is that the plot works well (we’ve all seen too many examples of elaborate worldbuilding that accompany a story that’s not worth it).

This is a world given over to algorithms, a world where the algorithms of various retail entities know so much about their customers that they no longer have to wait for a customer to order something to provide it—no, the algorithm will know what you’re going to want and will deliver it before you know you want it.

Not only are all your possessions provided for you in this manner, the algorithm decides what kind of career you will pursue, but it will also guide and govern your romantic life, your health care, and so on and so on.

It even gets into politics—so much so that during the course of this novel, there is an android running for president—because, we’re told repeatedly (mostly by the candidate), “machines don’t make mistakes.” An android chief of state (the theory goes) will better all of society because the android will know what’s needed.

At each step of the way, as each aspect of society is introduced and explained, as each character appears for the first time, it’s done in a way that will make you grin, chuckle, or laugh. The world is so zany, so…out there—and yet, completely recognizable as a natural progression of our world/society/culture.

Unlike so many satirical novels, the ending of this novel doesn’t get out of control. The plotlines come to natural conclusions and resolve in a satisfying way.

The characters—from the Everyman Peter Jobless, to the campaign manager (she can give Malcolm Tucker some lessons on the use of words as weapons), to the history teacher’s trouble-maker daughter (in-person to public officials or in online comments), to Peter’s collection of electronic companions—are wonderful. They’re a little better rounded than I’m used to in satires.

There’s a wonderful playful quality to the language, making the whole thing a barrelful of fun. I’m assuming that Searle captured the feel of the original in that, and did a great job. There’s an acronym that’s used a couple of times, that I think may be funny in the original, but doesn’t translate into anything (at least as far as I can see). That one thing aside, the ability to make a translated text feel so natural, so easy is no small feat.

QualityLand is a fun read t’s a thought-provoking read, it is (occasionally) a frightening read as you realize how close to this dystopia we are (and how fast we’re running to it). I strongly recommend this one.


4 Stars


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.


This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

I’m excited to welcome the Book Tour for QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling this morning. I’ve got this little spotlight post and my take on the novel coming along in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling, Jamie Lee Searle (Translator)
Publisher: Orion
Release date: February 20, 2020
Format: Hardcover
Length: 352 pages
QualityLand

Book Blurb:

Everything in QualityLand is geared towards optimizing your life. QualityPartner identifies your ideal mate, earworm personal assistants get you where you need to go and android drones know you need a six pack of beer at the end of a long day even before you crave one. Humans, robots and algorithms co-exist, everything is seamlessly corporatised, stratified and monetized. Your very name reveals much of what we need to know about you and your profile discloses the rest.

Peter Jobless is a down and out metal press operator, dumped by his long term girlfriend when she is alerted to a better option on her QualityPad. But Peter has another problem – he seems to be the only one noticing that his fellow Qualityland robot citizens are experiencing an existential crisis. There is a drone who’s afraid to fly. A sex droid with erectile dysfunction. A combat robot with PTSD. Instructed to destroy these malfunctioning A.I., Peter starts to suspect the technology that rules us all has a flaw, perhaps a fatal one. Not only that, these robots might be his only friends…

 

About the Author:

Marc-Uwe KlingMarc-Uwe Kling is one of the most successful authors in Germany. His latest book QualityLand is an astounding satire of the future that sometimes feels closer to the present than you could wish for. QualityLand spent months on the German bestseller lists, has up to now been translated into twenty-four languages and the HBO is planning an adaptation with Mike Judge as show runner.


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.

GUEST POST: The Poop Diaries: How a clogged toilet turned into a book by Abby Ross

The Poop Diaries

How a clogged toilet turned into a book

I never expected to write a book. Of course, I have always loved to write. When I was a child, I wrote poems, short stories, and filled in the pages of those blank books designed for kids to put their imagination into words. Writing has served me well throughout my career. I worked as a television news reporter for six years where every day I wrote stories. I then transitioned into public relations where I wrote bylines, press releases and pitches. Today, I work in marketing where I write blog posts, client-facing and sales enablement content, and website pages. Writing is and has always been my favorite part of every job. Again, however, I never expected to write a book.

“The Poop Diaries” started as a side project. My toilet clogged on a Wednesday evening. I could not sleep without a working toilet, so I called a plumber – Jon. He showed up within an hour and unclogged the toilet almost immediately (as I embarrassingly cowered outside the bathroom door, like many people do). Jon also suggested I buy a new toilet, which he had in his truck ready to go. An hour later, the new toilet was installed, yet Jon did not seem to want to leave. He was a really nice guy who had that kind of magnetic personality where you hung on his words, curious what he would say next. I asked him to share his “greatest hit” stories, those service calls that he would always remember.

The minute he started sharing them, I began laughing and could not stop. I had no idea plumbers dealt with so much crap! And I do not mean literal crap. I mean the people they meet, things they find, and experiences they encounter. At that moment, I knew I had to write a book about Jon. After interviewing him and writing his diaries, I knew I had landed on something unique. So, I searched for more plumbers across North America.

The toughest part about the interviewing process was finding plumbers who would speak to me. As I mentioned earlier, I am a published writer in the sense of blogging and ghost-writing articles, but I am a “no name” in the book world. How were the plumbers supposed to know I was not a scammer? I found most of the plumbers through friends. Everywhere I went I told people I was writing a book about plumbers. I could not believe how many people in my inner circle knew a plumber! And I do not just mean a plumber who worked for them at one point in time. My friend’s uncle is a plumber. My other friend’s brother-in-law is a plumber. My friend’s friend is a plumber. Suddenly, plumbers were popping up everywhere.

Two of my biggest “finds” were women plumbers. Plumbing is still very much a man’s world. Women, however, are increasingly working in the business. The two women I interviewed own their own plumbing companies. My husband found them online, and fortunately, both agreed to talk to me. While I love the men’s stories in the book, the women’s stories are their own breed. For example, one of the women accidentally broke up a marriage because of what she found while on the job.

Writing this book made me come to a few realizations:

  1. Plumbers know so much about us, yet we know so little about them. They see us in our most private moments, sometimes because for whatever reason, we do not feel the need to “clear the cabinets” when a plumber comes over. Or, like one case in the book – get out of the shower. This book shows you those personal moments from the eyes of the plumber. It will definitely make you think twice about your trade worker etiquette.
  2. The stereotypes about plumbers – that they are blue-collar workers, who cannot pull up their pants, and are not educated – are FALSE. Plumbers are engineers. They spend years in school and/or working as an apprentice to learn the trade, which entails so much more than unclogging toilets. As one of the plumbers I interviewed stated, “Plumbing is like playing with a Tinkertoy set every day.” Plumbers also make good money. Many of the plumbers I interviewed have second homes and boats. No matter the state of the economy, the world will always need plumbers. It is a steady career that provides the opportunity to live well. Plumbers are also insanely patient and open-minded. Some of the stories they shared would make me want to run in the other direction. They all, however, stayed put, making sure they got the job done correctly, no matter how awkward the encounter. They also never made the customer feel embarrassed. All of the plumbers I interviewed said they are very careful with their reactions to situations because they never want a customer feeling uncomfortable. Oh, and that plumber’s crack stereotype? Most plumbers wear one-piece jumpers.
  3. Finally, I actually can write a book! All it took was finding a good story idea, and then dedicating the time to research, write and pitch (I pitched more than 100 publishers and agents. One said yes – Black Rose Writing). I believed in the idea from day one, and through the many rejections, I persisted. I knew if I could find just one person who believed in my idea as much as me, I would succeed. Persistence is the key to achieving an unexpected dream.

I hope you will enjoy reading “The Poop Diaries” as much as I enjoyed writing it. You can purchase it on Amazon.com and on BarnesandNoble.com

PUB DAY BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross

I didn’t have enough time to read The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross this month, but I liked the idea enough that I was hoping to give it a little boost here on its publication day. So I’ve got this little spotlight post and a nice guest post from the author coming along in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this atypical book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Release date: February 6, 2020
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 236 pages

Book Blurb:

They come into our homes. They see us in our most fragile moments. Plumbers are a fixture in our lives. When a toilet clogs, a faucet leaks, or a sewer line plugs, we call those unsung heroes, desperately seeking help. They scoop out our poop and pull underwear, toothbrushes and cotton balls out of our toilets, doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

On a late Wednesday evening, after my toilet clogged, I asked our plumber to share his top five “greatest hits.” The stories were so hilarious, I had to share them with the world. The Poop Diaries features true stories told by my plumber, and many other plumbers, about the most memorable service jobs they have worked on and most unique people they have helped. Whether it’s nudity, rats, fake vaginas, dildos, snakes, weapons and so much more, these plumbers have seen and smelled it all.

About the Author:

Abby Ross has nearly two decades of experience working in journalism, public relations, and marketing. She has written countless news stories, bylines, and blog posts. Abby began her career as a television news reporter, which fostered her passion for interviewing and writing about interesting people from all walks of life. After six years of reporting, Abby pivoted her career into public relations and marketing, which has been her focus for the past decade.

Purchase Links:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon by Dana Schwartz, Jason Adam Katzenstein (Illustrator): A Guide to White Male Writers for White Male Writers (or those who want to be one)

The White Man's Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon

The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon

by Dana Schwartz, Jason Adam Katzenstein (Illustrator)

Paperback, 241 pg.
Harper Perennial, 2019

Read: January 7-30, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore (I did)!

If you want to be a writer, you should attend an Ivy League university, where you roommate happens to be the nephew of a senior editor at Knopf, and you should go on to get a summer internship in New York City. This internship will not be paid, and unfortunately you will have to suffer the indignity of living in an apartment that your parents pay for. But soon, your struggles will pay off, and you will be accepted at one of the nation’s most prestigious MFA programs.

If you can’t do all of that, I hate to say it, but it sounds like you won’t have the commitment and discipline necessary to make it as a writer.

Nice guy, the narrator of this book, right? I didn’t know this when I picked it up, but this is a book inspired by a parody Twitter account Schwartz runs @GuyInYourMFA, I wish I knew that going in—it might have helped me appreciate the book more. Probably not, really, the book speaks for itself, but it the humor in it screams Twitter. Anyway, that account is the voice behind this book.

This is a guide to:

teach you everything you need to know to become the chain-smokin, coffee-drinking, Proust-quoting, award-winning writer you’ve always known you should be…

Not a white man? Not to worry. The White Male Writer isn’t a hard-and-fast demographic; it’s a state of mind…

There’s a brief discussion of topics like how to dress like a writer, what the Western Canon is, how to identify “Chick Lit” (the last identifier is “By Jennifer Weiner”, which is a pretty good clue, you have to admit), and ends with a nice reading list of White Male Writers.

The heart of the book consists of thirty-two 6(+/-) page profiles of the greatest White Male Writers that make up the Western Canon. These consist of a brief biography, a discussion of some major works (“Works You Need to Know”), and some lessons from the work or life of the Writer that should be applied by the reader in their effort to become a Writer (drink recipes, how to respond to a rejection letter, how to write a love letter like James Joyce, etc.).

The writers are male, white, and largely published in the Twentieth Century (Shakespeare, Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Lord Byron, Dickens, Thoreau, and Tolstoy would be the exceptions). I can virtually guarantee that you’ve heard to them all—not that you’ve read them all, however. And in between the snark and intentionally sexist lessons, there’s some decent information to be gleaned. That isn’t the point of the book, the point is the snark, sexism, and general parodying the idea of the young, pretentious, white male would-be literary genius.

Every chapter includes at least 3 lines that should bring some level of amusement to the reader (some will have many more)—which is a pretty decent and consistent number. Sadly, all the jokes are around a theme, and so can get repetitive. If you don’t read cover to cover, if you only read a 2-3 chapters at a time, and bear in mind that all the jokes will be similar, you can have a lot of fun with this book. If you neglect any of that, it can get tiresome. Once I figured that out (it didn’t take long, thankfully, before I recognized the symptoms), I had a lot of fun with this book.

The illustrations are wonderful—each chapter (except the Pynchon chapter) features a great caricature of the artist, and a handful of other illustrations that do a wonderful job of augmenting the text.

This is not the subtlest of books I’ll read this year (it doesn’t try), but it is insightful, amusing and (accidentally?) informative. All of which makes it a fun, book-nerdy, read. Give it a shot, you’ll probably be glad you did.


3 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

BOOK BLITZ: Humor That Works by Andrew Tarvin

 
The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work
Self-Help, Personal Development
Published: April 2019
Publisher: Page Two
 photo add-to-goodreads-button_zpsc7b3c634.png
If you want to increase team productivity, relieve stress, and be happier at work, you could hire a bunch of workplace consultants, invest in scream therapy, and put Pharrell Williams on repeat—or you could just read Humor That Works.
Written by Andrew Tarvin, the world’s first Humor Engineer, this a business book on humor. No, that’s not an oxymoron. It really is a business book and it really is about getting better results by having more fun. Because people who use humor in the workplace are more productive, less stressed, and happier. No joke; sources included.
The goal is not to make you funnier—though that may be a side effect—but to make you effective-er. You’ll learn to develop a personal humor habit that’s not about spitting wisecracks or telling the funniest stories, but a way of seeing work in an energizing new way. You’ll build on some of the most important business skills for today’s work environment, develop techniques for leveraging humor, and take action to improve your work immediately. And you’ll have fun doing it.
There will be stories about grandmas who text, multiple mentions of milkshakes, and exactly seven references to zombies. Oh, and there will be puns. (You’ve been warned.) Looking for success and happiness at work? Discover the missing skill of Humor That Works.
About the Author
Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Andrew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and FastCompany; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than three million times. He loves the color orange and is obsessed with chocolate.
Contact Links
Purchase Links
 
RABT Book Tours & PR

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2019

Like last year, while trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels made up approximately half of the novels I read this year and therefore dominated the candidates. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists—one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t—not necessarily the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). But these ten entertained me or grabbed me emotionally unlike the rest.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to books that I’ve loved for 2 decades that I happened to have read this year.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)

My original post
I’ve been telling myself every year since 2016 that I was going to read all of Backman’s novels after falling in love with his My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The closest I got was last year when I read his first novel, A Man Called Ove (and nothing else). It’s enough to make me resolve to read more of them, and soon. The story of an old, grumpy widower befriending (against his will, I should stress) a pretty diverse group of his neighbors. It’s more than that thumbnail, but I’m trying to be brief. The story was fairly predictable, but there’s something about the way that Backman put it together that makes it perfect. And even the things you see coming will get you misty (if not elicit actual tears).

5 Stars

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown

My original post
When I started reading this, I was figuring that Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga was on the downward trend. Boy, was I wrong. Dark Age showed me that time after time after time after time . . . Entertaining, occasionally amusing, stress-inducing, heart-wrenching, flat-out captivating. It was brutal and beautiful and I can’t believe I doubted Brown for a minute.

5 Stars

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen

My original post
One of the best Time Travel stories I’ve ever read, but it’s so much more—it’s about fatherhood, it’s about love, it’s about friendship. Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak—I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline.

4 1/2 Stars

Seraphina's LamentSeraphina’s Lament

by Sarah Chorn

My original post
Chorn’s prose is as beautiful as her world is dark and disturbing. This Fantasy depicts a culture’s collapse and promises the rebirth of a world, but getting there is rough. Time and time again while reading this book, I was struck by how unique, how unusual this experience was. As different as fantasy novels tend to be from each other, by and large, most of them feel the same as you read it (I guess that’s true of all genres). But I kept coming back to how unusual this feels compared to other fantasies I’ve read. The experience of reading Seraphina’s Lament isn’t something I’ll forget any time soon.

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?” These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy—but they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss—and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

(but mostly you laugh)

4 1/2 Stars

Twenty-one Truths About LoveTwenty-one Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks

My original post
It’s an unconventionally told story about a man figuring out how to be a businessman, husband, and father in some extreme circumstances. The lists are the star of the show, but it’s the heart behind them that made this novel a winner.

5 Stars

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby

My original post
This series of brief conversations held between a married couple just before their marriage counseling sessions. At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length—I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

4 1/2 Stars

The SwallowsThe Swallows

by Lisa Lutz

My original post
This is not my favorite Lutz novel, but I think it’s her best. It has a very different kind of humor than we got in The Spellman Files, but it’s probably as funny as Lutz has been since the third book in that series—but deadly serious, nonetheless. Lutz puts on a clinic for naturally shifting tone and using that to highlight the important stories she’s telling. From the funny and dark beginning to the perfect and bitingly ominous last three paragraphs The Swallows is a winner. Timely and appropriate, but using tropes and themes that are familiar to readers everywhere, Lutz has given us a thrilling novel for our day—provocative, entertaining, and haunting. This is one of those books that probably hews really close to things that could or have happened and you’re better off hoping are fictional.

5 Stars

PostgraduatePostgraduate

by Ian Shane

My original post
This has the general feel of Hornby, Tropper, Norman, Weiner, Russo (in his lighter moments), Perrotta, etc. The writing is engaging, catchy, welcoming. Shane writes in a way that you like reading his prose—no matter what’s happening. It’s pleasant and charming with moments of not-quite-brilliance, but close enough. Shane’s style doesn’t draw attention to itself, if anything, it deflects it. It’s not flashy, but it’s good. The protagonist feels like an old friend, the world is comfortable and relaxing to be in (I should stress about 87.3 percent of what I know about radio comes from this book, so it’s not that). This belongs in the same discussion with the best of Hornby and Tropper—it’s exactly the kind of thing I hope to read when I’m not reading a “genre” novel (I hate that phrase, but I don’t know what else to put there).

4 1/2 Stars

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

My original post
This is a novel filled with readers, book nerds and the people who like (and love) them. There’s a nice story of a woman learning to overcome her anxieties to embrace new people in her life and heart with a sweet love story tagged on to it. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. This is the only book on this particular list that I know would’ve found a place on a top ten that included Crime Novels as well, few things made me as happy in 2019 as this book did for a few hours (and in fleeting moments since then as I reflect on it).

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Not Famous by Matthew Hanover, Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion, and Lingering by Melissa Simonson