Book review: Less


Less by Andrew Sean Greer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not read a lot of Pulitzer prize-winning novels. In fact, it would be accurate to say I’ve read none.

But the 2018 winner, Less, was on sale and I said to myself, “What price would I pay to read a Pulitzer-winning novel?” And the answer was, “Less!”


This is a funny novel and I mean that in both common definitions of the word. It is breezy and witty, but also a bit odd in how it follows the meandering world-spanning trip of not-quite-self-discovery that Arthur Less, a soon-to-be-50 novelist, undertakes shortly after the story begins. Quirky details are the norm here and the narrator—intruding occasionally to make it clear they are an actual person telling the story, and not an omniscient unknown presence—lovingly describes the hapless Less with both affection and concern as he blunders through France, Morocco, Germany and other locations. Cast in vivid relief in the background is the imminent marriage of his younger lover Freddy, who left Less abruptly.

Less’s trip is stuffed with incidental details, side stories and diversions that somehow always prove interesting, no matter how inconsequential they initially seem, largely thanks to Greer’s droll wit and use of metaphor. Metaphor in the hands of a bad author is like expecting a five year old to whip up a seven course meal, but here Greer wields it like a master chef. Or something like that (I may be a bad writer).

Perhaps the single funniest moment (minor spoiler) is someone telling Less he is a “bad gay,” underscoring just how little he seems to understand others—or even himself.

This story certainly won’t be for everyone. The writing, though funny, is dense and detailed, and speaks of a class and world that many will only ever see from a distance, if at all. But Greer buoys the prose so beautifully, it’s difficult to not recommend, anyway. If you’re looking for an amusing examination of befuddled middle age, Less will give you that—and a little more.

View all my reviews

The cocoon effect

I have a fairly long commute to work. I take the Expo Line from Sapperton to Waterfront and travel time is 36 minutes, per the Translink site. I then transfer to the Canada Line, traveling from Waterfront to Langara-49th Avenue, another 14 minutes. That’s 50 minutes, with another 10 minutes or so spent waiting on platforms and walking, so about 60 minutes total. Not the world’s worst commute, but not exactly a trip around the block, either.

I usually pass the time in one of two ways, either listening to music (usually when I have just finished a book, or am forced to stand), or reading. I have read dozens more books than I would have otherwise thanks to this commute.

Of late, I’ve been doing something a little different. My current headphones are Jabra Moves and while they are technically on-ear, they cover my ears enough to be pseudo over-ear. This means they can cut out a decent amount of ambient noise. This is nice when listening to music, because it lets me keep the volume lower, and the actual music is just a lot easier to hear. Earbuds that don’t form a seal, like my recently-deceased AirPods, are generally terrible on the SkyTrain, because even the quietest cars are noisy, and the racket forces you to crank the volume and put yourself on course to be as deaf as Pete Townsend.

The different thing I’ve been doing is putting on the headphones and then…reading. By this, I mean, I don’t actually listen to music, I just use the headphones as makeshift ear muffs. It’s great! The headphones are comfortable enough to wear for the entire commute, they don’t block out all sound, so I can still hear loud/alarming noises, but they bring a level of tranquility to an otherwise noisy ride that I find soothing. Sometimes I don’t even read, I just put on the headphones and revel in all sound around me being muffled.

When I arrive at my destination, taking the headphones off feels like emerging back into the real world. It’s not unpleasant, exactly, but it effectively serves to let me know my time in the blissfully quiet cocoon is over.

Maybe I just need a set of cheap earplugs.

Bad design: Deliberately restrictive sales

This one is old as the hills, but tech companies are still trotting out the “enticing sale with decent discounts that excludes almost everything you’d actually want to buy” offer. This particular offer also has a bonus loot box component where the promotional email gives you a random code for a discount between 10-25%.

In this case, the offer came from Logitech. My alleged discount was 25%.

I clicked the enticing CLICK TO REVEAL button and was given the 25% off code. I’ve been thinking of acquiring a full keyboard with keypad again for times when I might want the keypad and the Logitech Craft gets good reviews–but is also ludicrously expensive, selling for around $200 Canadian most of the time. This discount would bring it down to a more palatable $150.

I then read the not-so-fine print at the bottom of the email that lists the items excluded from this offer (remember, the discount starts at a not-exactly-gigantic 10% off). There are not 33 items on the list (which would already be a lot), but a combination of 33 individual products and entire product lines:

You can buy anything that is old and cheap, however.

The Craft keyboard is among the impressive list of exclusions. Almost anything new or on the pricier side has been left off the sale. Why? Because Logitech wants you to pay full price for those. Perfectly understandable. For profit companies like profits.

But this promotional offer–even if you overlook the skeevy loot box “What did I get?” aspect still stinks. The unspoken hope here is that the potential buyer will not read over the list of exclusions and if they try to buy something that isn’t part of the promotion, well, they’re already on the Loigtech site, so maybe they’ll end up buying something else. Or shop around and get ideas, even if they don’t buy something right then. This is questionable marketing at best, and dishonest at worst. It trains customers to not trust you when you offer something. If I got another offer from Logitech, I’d immediately ask myself, “But what’s the catch?”

But that won’t happen, because I’ve already rewarded Logitech by unsubscribing to their offers. Well done, marketing geniuses.

(The unsubscribe option is simple and didn’t even ask for a reason, which is too bad, because I wanted to tell them!)

The low tech fix

Today I began what I was convinced would be the maddening task of further troubleshooting my PC. I pulled out the ram and video card, but nothing changed.

Then I noticed a bunch of the tiny little headers on the motherboard weren’t fully plugged in. How they came unplugged, I don’t know. Even more mysteriously, the honking big header for the front USB ports was completely disconnected and sitting well away from where it would normally be plugged in. All of this was strange, but easily fixed by just making sure everything was nice and secure.

I pressed the power button…and the PC powered up without issue. Windows didn’t even report a bad shutdown or anything. Everything is working again without any parts having to be replaced, and with minimal downtime.

To this I say: Yay!

Amusing cat image, May 2019 edition

With my new PC currently down, it is now time to turn my attention to cats being weird and funny. I present unenthusiastic cat vs. enthusiastic puppies:

Bringing work home with you through bad karma

Or maybe not bad karma, but something. And bad.

I recently celebrated the arrival of my new PC, which was a tad more difficult to assemble than expected, but in the end booted up without issue and has hummed along nicely since.

Until last night, at around 3:30 a.m. At that time it disconnected from IRC while I slept, unaware of what was to come.

In the morning I immediately spied something wrong. I normally set the keyboard to its bizarre, useless backlight configuration of “strobing rainbow” because it makes for a groovy night light. Instead of seeing this, the keyboard backlight was off. The power light on the monitor was also amber. Amber is never good.

But the sinister red LED on the HSF was still on, so the unit apparently had power. My first bit of troubleshooting was to hit the reset button to reboot the PC. This had the unexpected effect of cranking the fans up to super turbo mode. Alarmed, I held down the power button to shut the machine off. This had no effect.

I used the switch on the PSU itself and this worked better, turning the whole thing off. I flicked this switch back on and this time nothing at all happened. The sinister red LED on the HSF remained dark, as did the keyboard and display. I was sad. I was also out of time, as I had to head off to work.

Upon getting home I opened up the case and inspected everything, looking for things that might be loose or unplugged. Everything checked out fine, except for one of the cables plugged into the modular PSU. It seemed to be ever-so-slightly loose, so I reseated it. I put the case back together, plugged everything back in and hit the power button.

Nothing happened. My troubleshooting is now over.

I’m thinking it may be the motherboard for the following reasons:

  • there is evidence power is still getting through, as things like the network light still work
  • bad ram or CPU would produce an error message
  • a bad video card would not affect the keyboard (to my knowledge)
  • the video and keyboard not working both point to the motherboard as the source of the problem

It’s possible the PSU may be at fault, and it would be easier to swap it out to test first, but I still lean toward the motherboard based on all other evidence. I’ve asked for other opinions and am willing to be persuaded otherwise, but I suspect part of tomorrow will be spent buying and then installing a different motherboard and seeing what happens when I press the power switch. I am hoping my reaction will not be this:

This cough of mine

It’s been awhile since I’ve had any kind of lingering cold or cold-like illness. Usually they blast in, knock me down for a few days, then within the week I’m pretty much back to normal.

This time I am stuck halfway between still sick and normal, with a congested chest and nagging cough persisting two weeks later.

I do not like it. I’m trying to think of a way to say this is an observation and not a complaint, but really, it’s a complaint.

But only a mild one. I can smell and taste more than I could two days ago, so progress is being made. I do have one small wish to stay illness-free for the rest of the summer, at least. I’ll drink Vitamin C-fortified drinks and whatever else it takes. I’ll eat healthy snacks–before dinner, instead of after. Honest! Pretty honest, anyway.

Mostly I just want this cough to go away. It’s been a nice visit, but it’s time for you to continue your travels somewhere far away from me.

World golf championship, May 2019: Mini edition

Jeff and I renewed our fierce mini-golf rivalry on the weekend in a match that was filled with drama and a lot of crowds. We went to Eaglequest on Mother’s Day and mothers got to play for free. We had people in front of us and behind. The place was packed. It was a little weird, as last summer the crowds were minimal. Admittedly, it was insanely hot at the time, too, so maybe people were avoiding heatstroke.

I was set to rumble with a pink club, but sadly there were no pink balls, so I chose yellow.

Jeff was more color-coordinated, with both an orange club and orange ball.

It started out surprisingly cool out, hence the jackets, but warmed up as we progressed, just like the competition!

I started out with an early lead and through the first nine holes lead 29 to Jeff’s 35, a comfy six stroke margin. Keep in mind that the course is a Par 2 for every hole, so we were both already well off the ideal of 18.

Something weird happened on the second half of the course, as my verve swerved, right into the sand traps, out of bounds and everywhere except in or even near any hole. Jeff began closing the gap. In fact, we tied on three of the latter holes, but Jeff came out ahead on five. This meant that on Hole 18 we were tied at 57 each. My lead was gone. The final hole is a straight shot up the middle, though there are two uphill slopes. I used brute force when finesse was demanded and shot a par 5. Jeff shot a par 3, completing his come-from-behind victory and winning 60 to 62.

Still, it was fun all around and it perfectly sets up the revenge match later in the summer. Maybe I’ll play better when I’m sweating like crazy.

2019: The Year of the Body (Horror) (Mine)

I am fighting off the last of the dregs of this current nasty ol’ cold. Fewer people are telling me I sound terrible, the coughing is less frequent and the strength of the hacking diminishes each day.

The weekend is going to be nice and warm and I was looking forward to just taking it in and doing nothing special. You know, relaxing.

Last night while sitting at the computer (as I am now as I type this) I marveled over how the muscle I pulled (again) in my lower back was already back to not being sore. Hooray. A short time later I felt an odd sort of pain in my upper right leg. I wondered if it might be connected. Then I stopped wondering and started going through various levels of agony as pain collected in my right butt cheek the way lint collects in a pocket. Except with more agony.

The pain started shooting down my leg. Sitting started to hurt. I stood. Standing started to hurt. I walked and hobbled instead. When I coughed it hurt. It hurt no matter what. Something was very wrong. I groused vocally about it. By rights, I should have moved my Complaint Free World bracelet back and forth between my wrists half a dozen times.

I found a position in bed in which I could lay and not cause the leg to send shards of pain all over. I slept…surprisingly well.

When I woke up, I was back to hobbling, but more movement seemed to help and eventually the pain become more of a nagging nuisance and I quickly adapted to not doing the things that caused the pain. Pavlov would have been proud. And then given me a biscuit.

I went to the nearby medical clinic to see if this was a pinched nerve and the adorable young doctor–who seemed to think we had met before (we had not)–confirmed that seemed likely. He recommended I get some physio, give it about a week to feel better, and gave me no medication. He implied if it was not better I could come back in a week and he’d give me something. When I came home I took a couple Alleve. I’m not sure if they made a difference, but I’m happy to indulge the placebo effect.

And so even as I wrap up a week of nigh-endless coughing, sneezing and feeling yucko, I now have an additional pain which is a literal pain in the butt. Well, butt cheek. As it is, I can live with it, and it has confirmed that my resolution to stretch this year was the correct one. Being limber and flexible makes pulling muscles randomly less likely. And look, it’s already the fifth month of the year and the only stretching I’ve done is to grab some more Goldfish crackers.

I shall work to correct this, starting on the weekend (because I know me, and I never start anything on a Friday).

Here’s to a month–heck, even a week–of no new issues plaguing my apparently fragile, sensitive body.