maura @ 6:15 pm
One thing that I’ll definitely miss about sabbatical is hanging out with our cats. They turned 9 this past spring, and being a cat owner continues to surprise me. Which maybe it shouldn’t, because we did have cats when I was a kid, though we didn’t get our first cats until I was about 12. They were outdoor cats, ostensibly because a few family members were allergic (though I should note that those same family members now have both cats and dogs that live inside, hmmm… [thinking emoji]).
We started with three cats, one each for me and my sibs. Two of them came with us when we moved across several states a little over a year later (RIP Freckles, my brother’s cat accidentally killed by a car on a snowy day). Things got a little more hectic when I was in high school — my parents’ were heading for divorce by that point and when my sibs “found” a few kittens in the small stand of trees that separated our yard from the yard of the house in the development behind ours, we were allowed to keep them. And two of them got pregnant before we could get them fixed, and at one point we had maybe 13 cats total? The moms + kittens lived on the screened porch until they were old enough to give away, and I think things stabilized after that at about 6 cats. And then I went away to college.
Anyway, so outdoor cats are a little different than indoor cats. No cat hair on all of your stuff, for one thing. Also if they had hairballs I guess we never saw them. On the minus side, sometimes you couldn’t find them when you wanted a snuggle. And also they would bring us presents from their killing escapades, mostly mice, though one cat used to eat grasshoppers and barf them up on the back steps, good times. I wonder now about the weather — if it was a really cold winter’s day we were allowed to bring them into the laundry room, which was next to the garage, but mostly they seemed okay outside.
Our two current cats are spoiled indoor cats, like many city kitties. They are snuggly and lovely though I do feel like things are happening as they age that I was not prepared for. Hair-related issues for one: they shed more and more and seem to produce more hairballs, most especially when we’re away (which I guess is a stress-grooming thing? which makes me sad). Gummy loves to be brushed so I try to brush him once every week or two, but Caramel can’t stand being brushed. We got a couple of decent lint brushes that make it easier to deal with hair on clothes and furniture, but some shirts just seem to be like velcro for cat hair, sigh.
They are funny with their own personalities, which I think I was less aware of with outdoor cats. They’re brothers but don’t really hang out much, though there is the occasional chase and sort-of-mock fight. Caramel likes to sit on our laps and knead, he also follows you around meowing if he wants something (usually food), occasionally throws himself down on the floor belly-up for pets, and sometimes he wants to sleep right next to my head. Gummy is more aloof, he wants pets but won’t sit on your lap, instead preferring that you sit on the floor and scratch his chin and ears while he walks around you. Sometimes he will sit next to us on the sofa or bed, he also regularly meets us at the door when we come home from being out, sort of like a dog. Caramel’s purr is quiet, and Gummy’s is very loud. Caramel’s naughtiness is that he likes to eat plastic/paper (esp. window envelopes), ribbons, and plastic bags. Gummy is a fan of lightly biting things, like my laptop cord which has several tiny teeth indentations.
Really they are quite personable, which is good when we’re here but not so much when we’re gone. We originally got two rather than one so that the solo cat wouldn’t be lonely, but since at least one of us tends to be home much of them time I think they get sort of stressed out when we’re not here. I suppose we could get more cats to help these guys not be so sad when we go, but that would push us into the realm of too many litterboxes for a 2BR apartment, I think. [cat with heart eyes emoji]
maura @ 6:07 pm
As I write this we are finishing up the second of our 2 summer vacations this year. We’ve been to Scotland, which was incredible, and also spent some time visiting family in northern New England.
I am sitting on the front porch (vacation #2) thinking about time. And I realize I have spent lots of my sabbatical thinking about time, specifically the ways in which sabbatical time differs from regular work schedule time. Vacation time is different too.
My friend Emily writes about kairos and library work, often teaching. As Emily puts it, kairos is “time married to action and context,” or qualitative time, as opposed to chronos which is regular clock time, schedules and appointments and hourlong chunks in the online calendar. Sabbatical has been mostly about kairos I think, chronos has faded a bit into the background. Qualitative time also makes sense to me in my own research context, I think a lot about what and where and how people do things with the tools and in the locations and times available to them. So it is not surprising that I would think about my own qualitative time during my own sabbatical context. (Tho yes, navel gazing.)
I have done a lot of reading on sabbatical, mostly fiction but a fair amount of nonfiction too. Reading has always messed with time for me: time slows to a crawl if I’m reading something dull or difficult, or flies by when a book is so engaging that I can’t put it down. It feels like a luxurious use of time to spend a whole day reading, which I’ve done on a few occasions during sabbatical. Sitting on this front porch I read “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (and the rest of the stories in that collection as well). That’s the story that the movie “Arrival” was based on, a movie I loved though it made me so very sad. (the teen: “why do you [and dad] always cry at movies?” me: “because parenthood makes ya sappy, kid.”) The source material does not disappoint, and I found myself going back to it a few times as I was finishing up the other stories in the volume.
Sabbatical feels like heptapod B time a little bit. I kind of had the whole thing planned out, and mostly it’s unfolded the way I expected. Deviations weren’t too awful, even the ones that were more negative than positive. There was a big structure but I felt sort of floaty in between. Scotland was like that too: we had an itinerary and moved between things to do, but there was some squishiness too. Family visiting is less structured more squishy.
My sabbatical ends in 12 days. Our drive home from visiting takes 6 hours. The commute to work when everything on the subway is working well takes 20 minutes. My walk home takes 40 minutes. The semester starts (almost) 3 weeks after I’m back. My commute to the NYPL to the study room I’ve been using during sabbatical takes 50 minutes.
Now I’m not on the front porch anymore. Now my sabbatical ends sooner than it did when I started this post. Do the number of items on the list of things I’d like to get done before sabbatical ends subdivide and fit neatly into the time remaining? Will I go back to my one hour of research each morning before heading into the library?
I am not ready to go back.
I am ready to go back.
These things are both, at the same time, true.
maura @ 11:55 am
I realized the other morning that even though my sabbatical is in theory not bound by the same academic calendar constraints that my regular worklife is, in practice I’ve ended up aligning to those semester-based rhythms even when on leave. It’s true that I did have to interview students for my research project during the semester, because that’s when they’re on campus (we do have summer classes but enrollment is significantly lower than during the year). But looking back now I’m struck by how much my time in February, March, April, and May was fairly regimented during the week.
The regular academic year finishes up at the end of May, and this month I have relaxed my self-imposed sabbatical schedule somewhat, too. Especially over the past two weeks, when the kid’s been out of school more than in (thanks but no thanks high school regents exams). Our apartment is big by NYC standards, but even so I find that I can’t work well for long chunks of time when all three of us are here. I have a spot in one of the study rooms at the NYPL that I typically use about once/week, though with the evermore erratic behavior of the subway system I sometimes don’t want to make that commute into the city. Sometimes I use the Brooklyn Public Library as a workspace too — a much shorter (and walkable) commute.
But this month I’ve also been letting myself do less research work overall. As someone who sometimes worries that I’m not getting enough done, when I look back at the last four months I have crossed lots of sabbatical goals off my list, so a little relaxation is not so scandalous, right?
All of which is just a long-winded (very long-winded!) way of saying that recently I played a game! From start to finish! That had been sitting around unplayed since I got it for my birthday 2 (?) years ago! And it was delightful.
The game is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and is a good example of the kinds of narrative games that I like more these days, less about button combo skillz and more about using a game to get somewhere interesting or tell a story. The plot is that two brothers are on a quest to find a magical ingredient to save their dying father. The game world is fairy-tale like with relatively straightforward puzzles as you leave the doctor’s house and travel through the town, up the mountains, and farther afield in search of the cure. It’s also very pretty. I especially liked the inclusion of benches at various locations along the way when the game wants to show you what’s ahead, which also served as a very real analogy to when you’re on a hike or long walk and want to stop for a brief rest.
While I’ve been known to gripe about the 2 joysticks on the PlayStation controller, I admit that for this game the physical mechanics are pretty neat: the left joystick and button control the actions of one brother, and the right joystick/button the other. Sometimes you need to have the brothers do the same action together, and other times they need to work together but doing different things. Figuring out the controller action was fun for some of the more interesting puzzles — my favorite was a climb up and into a castle on a rocky precipice that required tying a rope between the two brothers to connect them as they climbed and swung between handholds.
What seemed like a fairly standard-issue quest through a vaguely Medieval-European-ish world gradually took a pretty weird and ominous turn. First there were bloody streaks in a river you had to cross, followed by dead giants strewn along the path who looked to have died in a battle. You suddenly come upon a scene of small men with beards and spears who look to be about to sacrifice a girl, and after scaring them away the girl leads you further up into the mountains past an invisible snow yeti. Once you survive *that* she gets a little flirty (!) with the big brother and leads you both into a creepy tunnel — I should add that the little brother doesn’t want to go, but the big brother insists. (Also, the northern lights along the path to the tunnel were beautiful.)
Aaaaand then the tunnel ends up being a spider’s nest and the girl transforms into a spider with a girl head. There’s a boss battle to escape, and while both brothers finally defeat her, the girlspider stabs the older brother just before she dies. A brief and limping walk bring the brothers to the location of the magical healing liquid to cure their father, which the younger brother has to climb a tall tree to retrieve. But by the time the little brother comes back down the tree, the older brother has died. The little brother then has to *bury* the older brother — seriously, the game makes you dig the grave — and returns home to save his father, all of which is a little weird because not only is it sad but also you’re now only using half of the controller. There is a spot near the end when the ghost of the older brother comes back to help the younger brother and you’re made to use the whole controller again.
The game ends on a melancholy note with the now-cured father and younger brother kneeling at a memorial for the older brother. While sad, it was definitely worthwhile, and I’m so glad I made the time to (finally!) play.
maura @ 5:10 pm
I can’t quite believe that we’ve lived in our current apartment for nearly 18 years. My family moved a lot while I was growing up and I’d never lived in the same apartment or house for more than 3 years before this place. It’s been a long time but it’s still strange — when I feel grumpy about having to recaulk the bathtub *again* (because didn’t I just do that?) (and why don’t I ever seem to get any better at it?), I keep having to remind myself that in the past we often moved out before our home needed any significant (or even insignificant) maintenance.
Through a combination of luck and not being on the first floor, plus a heaping helping of I like to clean and for the house to be clean, we’ve not had to deal with many bugs or other annoying critters in this apartment. We do get the occasional house centipede (ew, so many legs) or moth or these really tiny black beetles (when the weather gets warm), but that’s really about it. But that all changed this week when we had to deal with a weird ant invasion, sigh.
The creepiest thing is that it went from 0 to gross in seemingly no time at all. One night we went to bed and there were no ants, and the next morning we woke up to a hairball (yuck, but unfortunately not all that unusual) and lots of ants swarming it (extra-yuck, thanks cats!). Were the ants just lying in wait under the floorboards? Who knows!
There’s nothing more bracing than dealing with a hairball plus ants first thing in the morning on a weekday, boy howdy. Super glad I’m on sabbatical rn because at least I had time to help deal with it, as the cats were No Help At All as per usual. Ants move pretty fast, but we sprayed ’em with cleaning spray and wiped ’em all up as best we could.
The rest of that day we were definitely on ant High Alert, walking around the general living room area a few times to take care of any new arrivals or stragglers. It seemed like they were coming from the wall with a window that looks out onto our courtyard, and they were only in one part of the living room and hallway. But then the next day, though there were fewer ants overall, one got to the threshhold of the kitchen, yikes.
With the cats we can’t really get an exterminator or ant poison, and a pal on twitter suggested baking soda as an alternative. J ran out to get three boxes and we started going along the wall of the apartment pushing a line of baking soda into the cracks and under the floorboards plus along the threshhold of the kitchen. We did all of this before checking online and I’m still not exactly sure what baking soda does to ants — while I didn’t do an exhaustive search it seemed like some folks were suggesting mixing powdered sugar with baking soda so they’d take it back to the nest and then their stomachs would explode? Which seems weird to me and possibly not true (though again, I didn’t follow up). Other folks suggested using cinnamon which disrupts their pheremone trail, but our living room wall is very long, that would take a lot of cinnamon (and baking soda is cheaper).
My attention to detail and ability to see irregularities are adjusted pretty high. That came in handy when I was an archaeologist and continues to do so when I need to copy edit something, but is perhaps less useful to me overall during an ant situtation. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit this week walking around the apartment looking for ants along the walls and floors, which is sort of distracting.
We are on day 5 now and things are much better, really we are just seeing a few each day and also some poor ant corpses occasionally. The teenager says it looks like we were spellcasting, what with the white powder along the perimiter of the living room and around the pillar in the kitchen. Hope these spells continue to ward off the ant menace.
maura @ 11:33 am
It feels oddly indulgent to have spring break while on sabbatical, but this year the kid’s spring break was 11 days long — 7 schooldays and 4 weekend days — so it was kind of hard to avoid it. We promised him several days of not doing anything in particular, and balanced that with a 3 day whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. where we did lots of things. D.C. was a frequent spring break destination for us when the kid was younger (I just spent way too much time digging up and reading about our prior trips here, here, and here). This year the alternate side parking rules aligned in such a perfect way that we didn’t have to move the car for 10 (!) days, so we decided to take the train down rather than make the drive, which was a lovely change (and only 1 hr late on the way home!).
First up was the Library of Congress, to which I’d never been (for shame!). I was glad to have the chance to remedy that and to ogle the amazing reading room in the Jefferson Building — one of these days I’ll do some research or writing there. There was a nice exhibit with maps and artifacts about initial colonial contact in the Americas, and the kid was surprisingly interested in the exhibit on World War I. But I have to say that one of my favorite parts of the visit was seeing Dr. Carla Hayden’s name engraved in gold on the marble wall listing all of the Librarians of Congress. I completely choked up — we are so lucky to to have her in that role.
We stayed in a hotel in Georgetown that was a converted apartment building which was lovely, essentially a one bedroom apartment with separate kitchen. It was convenient to be able to have normal (read: cereal for me) breakfast there but kind of odd too, since the whole thing was bigger than several apartments we’d rented in Manhattan back in the day. Which meant I spent much of the time we were in the room trying to map our various old apartments onto the layout of the hotel room (I may be somewhat spatially obsessive).
The main event on day 2 had been planned for a long time: a visit to the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The museum opened last Fall and has been so popular that timed (though free, like all of the Smithsonian museums) tickets are needed. Tickets for the spring were released on January 4th at 9am, so I got to work at 8:30 that day to get in the online queue for tickets. It was so very worth it: this museum is phenomenal. We were there for about 5 1/2 hours and didn’t come close to seeing everything. The history galleries are all underground and begin with colonization and slavery, and you walk upwards through the past 400+ years of history to the present day. Jonathan remarked on how dense the information was: it seemed like every surface had words, images, video, audio to take in. We spent most of the time in these galleries — in this historical moment it felt like these were the most critical for us as white people, and I appreciated the opportunity to fill in my knowledge gaps (Reconstruction, in particular, is a period I didn’t know much about).
We went faster than I would have liked through the upper galleries of the museum, the kid was dragging and the museum was pretty crowded and we were all a bit info-overloaded by then. We did linger a while in the music gallery which was terrific: Jackson 5 costumes and Public Enemy’s boombox and Prince’s tambourine and an exhibit on various genres in the format of record album covers that you flip through, plus lots of audio and video. We walked fairly quickly through a great exhibit of African-American communities through history called Power of Place that I think will be my first stop the next time we go, from the little we were able to see it looked fascinating. We finished off day 2 with a walk over to the MLK Memorial, which we’d also never seen.
Day 3 got off to a slower start (because day 2 was tiring!), as we made our way from Georgetown to the train station to stow our bags for the day. Then we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian, both for it’s delicious cafeteria lunch (tho the NMAAHC cafeteria was also amazing) and to visit, finally. We didn’t have time for the whole museum but did see several exhibits, including a neat temporary exhbit about Inka roads and engineering. And we took our time in the exhibit on expansion by Europeans into Native American lands and treaties made and broken — again filling in gaps in my knowledge that seem especially urgent right now.
And then we were back on the train heading home. With our current political situation I admit to being a little bit on edge in D.C. in ways I haven’t been in the past, though I do want to go back to both museums again in the not too distant future.
maura @ 1:32 pm
SPOILER ALERT! I can’t talk about Get Out the way I want to without spoilers!! Do not read beyond paragraph 4 if you do not want spoilers!!!
It’s not necessarily related to my sabbatical, but we’ve seen a bunch of movies lately. We’d pulled back from movies in the theater when the kid was a baby, then started easing back in but focused mostly on movies we could take him to, too. Babysitting is expensive when combined with tickets + snacks (which are sort of expensive just by themselves), and for a long time it seemed easier to just wait for the DVD. But as he’s gotten older it’s been easier for us to bring him to see movies we want to see that aren’t overtly kid or superhero movies. So far this calendar year we’ve seen 3 movies in the theater, which feels like a record.
First up was Hidden Figures. I’d been waiting for this for a while because science + women of color is totally my jam, Janelle Monae is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve loved Taraji Henson ever since she was on Person of Interest. I’ve not read the book that this is based on so I can’t comment on how they’re different, though I did read a review that noted that the Kevin Costner role was elevated in the movie (the better to make him the white savior, sigh), which is a drag. Other than that, though, the movie was terrific. The leads were incredible. Octavia Spencer’s scene in the library especially resonated with me (obvs), a reminder — unfortunately — that libraries have been complicit and have a responsibility to resist. We need more movies like this, please: telling the stories of women and people of color who have been overlooked by mainstream history education and publications, especially for us white people who really need to make sure we and our kids learn about the history of everyone in our nation. I’m definitely going to recommend this for the next time we’re visiting my siblings and need something for all of the niblings to watch.
One of the previews during Hidden Figures was for I am Not Your Negro, the film adaptation of an unfinished script that James Baldwin was writing when he died. I’ve not read any James Baldwin* and have read that folks who have read lots of his work may not find much new here. The movie shared Baldwin’s perspective on the Civil Rights movement, and also focused on the work of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. For me the movie was an education, and a disturbing reminder of our country’s brutally racist past that has evolved into our still pretty brutally racist present. We brought the kid with us to this, too, and while his schools have done a much better job of telling the true story of American history than did mine when I was a kid, I don’t know that he’s seen the kind of documentary footage that the movie included (I hadn’t, either). I am so glad we saw this — I can’t exactly say that it was enjoyable, but it feels like it was necessary.
* I know, I’m working on it — there’s a lot to read, and while I’m glad to be doing the work of learning about white supremacy, intersectional feminism, and American oppression of marginalized populations, I remain angry about my lack of exposure to this during my formal schooling. I’m working on it.
Then yesterday (okay, this one was enabled by sabbatical, because weekday matinee what?!) Jonathan and I saw Get Out. Again we’d seen previews at the prior two movies. After the first preview we wondered, is this a real horror movie or a funny horror movie? I mean, Jordan Peele, he’s funny, and the preview made it look like it could go either way. After the 2nd time we saw the preview I thought, whoa, this is too creepy, I do *not* want to see that movie. But then I started reading more about it and just couldn’t get it out of my head, so off we went.
And wow. Wow. Mind. Blown. The basic plot outlines are familiar to anyone who’s seen the preview: black guy dating a white girl who live in the city go home to the rich white suburbs to meet her parents where things are…weird. But are they microaggressions weird? Or bloodthirsty evil weird? Or…?
(ONE MORE SPOILER WARNING!)
The answer is both and, plus it *is* funny, because Jordan Peele. Yes there’s lots of racism, but also the whole family turns out to be the leaders of a sort of weird cult that transfer the brains of white people who are old or disabled into black people stolen for the purpose, because of their “genetic makeup” and strength. The black guy’s buddy is the hero, providing the laughs when he confirms the black guy’s weird feelings about the increasing creepiness of the situation, and ultimately saving him in the end because he’s the only person who believes that the black guy was ever in any danger. Because white people are racist but not actually evil, right? Except these white people are both.
Honestly I can’t do the film justice at all — I’ve been thinking about it for 24 hours and it just gets better and better. What’s stuck with me most is that I feel like the movie manipulated me in the best way to get me to confront my own biases. For most of the movie it seems like the girlfriend is okay, she’s not evil, just the rest of her family. She lives in the city, she’s dating a black guy, “I have a black friend!” And that goes so deep that during a couple of scenes leading up to the revelation that actually, she’s fully on board with her family’s evil agenda, I found myself trying to give her a pass, thinking things like “wow, she was totally brainwashed by her family!” And then she’s revealed, and damn, there’s me as a white woman realizing that I was trying to give the white woman a pass, after all of the history of violence wrought on black men in the name of white women. D A M N.
That is some fine filmmaking. I am beyond thrilled to have read that Jordan Peele is planning for several more horror films.
maura @ 10:22 am
I am on sabbatical. This is day 5. It’s weird and lovely and a bit scary.
Last week was a whirlwind of prepping for being out of the library for six (6!) months, a blur of writing up report-type documents and submitting paperwork and answering emails and moving my computer into the conference room so my colleague who’s interim chief can be in my office. I also came down with a bad head cold, and while I did stay home a bit there was too much to do to stay home as much as I would have had I not been about to go out on leave.
(Phew, that last sentence was messy. I need to get back to writing daily, I’m creaky and out of practice.)
Yesterday was a snow day. In some ways sabbatical is like a permanent snow day, but since not only the K-12 schools but also the university was closed yesterday I did treat it as a real snow day. My ideal snow day routine is some fun reading (check), some cross-country skiing in the park (check) and some research-related work (check). It was nice to have the chance to use my eyes on nature and take a break from the relentless awful news.
This week I’m letting myself ease into things. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m getting caught up on sleep (to the extent that the relentless awful news allows). I went to a workshop about a digital publishing platform I’d like to learn, I spent some time making plans for my research and writing projects in the always-inspiring Rose Reading Room at the NYPL, and I’m meeting today with colleagues to reactivate my recently-neglected research on games and learning.
I’m not used to having this much autonomy over how I spend my time. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I started keeping a rough log of where my work time goes, using the three broad categories of librarianship, research, and service. My main reason for tracking my time was to dispel any internal false narratives that can crop up all too easily when I’m busy. I can’t complain to myself that I never have enough time for research if my log shows that I spend 5-10 hrs each week (depending on the time of year) outside of regular work hours on my research. Which it did.
Now my time is 100% research. I do still need a plan and a schedule, especially with several different deadlines over the next six months (and beyond). But do I still need a log? I’m not sure. I imagine I’ll have to wait a bit to see what my internal sabbatical narrative turns out to be.
maura @ 8:07 pm
Our washing machine broke yesterday. Happy New Year! As is to be expected it happened mid-wash, forcing me to rinse out each item of clothing (and towels, sigh) in the bathtub, wring them all out, hang them up on our drying rack, and point a small fan at them to speed drying time. Luckily I did two loads of wash the day before yesterday so we’re in a good place, laundry-wise, and should be able to make it through the week with very minimal handwashing should the repair not happen sooner.
Laundry can be complicated for apartment-dwellers. Since we’ve lived in NYC we’ve had close to the full range of washing and drying possibilities. In some of our apartments there was communal laundry in the basement or common space, sometimes coin-op and other times not. Other apartments had no laundry in the building, in which case we’d either take our clothes to a laundry service or wash them ourselves at a laundromat. The former sounds fancy and expensive but sometimes it was the best option if there wasn’t a laundromat close by; the latter is actually my preference, though, because sometimes laundry services lose a sock here and there (and sometimes it’s a favorite sock, extra sad). When we lived near Washington Square (in two different apartments) we used a laundromat on W. 4th St., and every year for the 4 yrs we lived there laundry day was inadvertently the same day as the pride parade which meant that we had to cross the parade route schlepping giant bags of clothes, duh for us.
Our current place has laundry in the actual apartment and we’re on our 2nd washer/drier since we moved in 16.5 yrs ago. This is definitely convenient, and was especially so when the kid was a baby and the pile of things to wash seemed neverending. But my preferred laundry management situation is actually communal laundry in the basement (as long as you don’t have to go outside to get to the basement as we did in one apartment). Communal laundry = communal maintenance, and also the failover scenario of the possibility to use another machine if one machine is broken. Yeah, it’s inconvenient to have to put on shoes to go to the basement, sure. But appliance repair is such a drag, especially given how complicated appliances are. Our machine is a super-fussy (and needlessly complicated) model that both washes and dries, which I feel makes it more complicated to repair, too (though I’m not an expert, so I could just be projecting).
Mostly I’m just grumpy to be going into this week with some of the laundry undone. I like cleaning, and I especially like laundry, one of my chores along with dishes and dusting. I like things to be neat and in order, and I also find it satisfying to clean because there’s a perceptible difference between the before and after: you start with a dirty pile of clothes and end up with clean and folded stacks, ready to be put away in drawers and closets. With so much uncertainty in the world I’ve found recently that I’ve gravitated even more to doing laundry, and it’s making me antsy not to do it.
maura @ 6:54 pm
This year I read 35 books total, down a bit from 2015 and just one book shy of my 2014 total. Partly I think the decrease is a side effect of writing a book this year. My research partner and I wrote ~30K words (and I had a few other writing projects, too) which I think made reading more challenging. (Clearly it made blogging more challenging, given the relative silence around here this year.)
But 35 is nothing to sneeze at, for sure. I don’t know that there were as many standouts as last year — I admit that I carried Station Eleven through with me to this year, it was just that good. And none of the dystopian YA really got me this year, either. Though I did like The Sunlight Pilgrims, a clifi YA book about the world getting freakishly colder because the ice caps melted and ocean salinity decreased. Really it’s about a transgender teen in a small town in Scotland and the climate change stuff is actually more of a backdrop to the characters figuring out complicated family and gender and sexuality stuff. Pretty and dreamily written, too.
I also liked Homegoing and The Vegetarian, both perhaps in part because I read them while we visited Iceland last summer so they have those good vacation vibes associated with them in addition to being compelling reads. I especially enjoyed the former, which was much better than a review I’d read had led me to believe. Another trip-related read was the kids graphic novel El Deafo about a little girl who has a bout of meningitis as a 4 yr old that makes her mostly deaf, and who gets a hearing aid with a microphone for her teacher which makes her briefly famous. This also has really great descriptions of how insensitive abled people are to disabled people. I’d gotten this for one of my nibling’s birthday then forgotten to read it first, and was happy to have the chance to read it when we went for a visit during spring break.
I made an effort to read more short stories this year thinking they’d be easier on weeknights when I’m tired, bite-sized and easy to read before falling asleep mid-page. And I did, but they didn’t end up being as easy as they could be (or maybe I was just more tired this year). I have a bunch of books of stories still stacked up on my bedside table though so there’ll be more in 2017 for sure. And I definitely did not read as much nonfiction as I’d wanted to. I enjoyed The Mushroom at the End of the World, though it’s dense enough that it took me a couple of months to make my way through it. And Tracey Thorn’s book about singing was delightful. Maybe with my sabbatical on its way (37 days!) I’ll finally finish that 4AD book I started in 2014.
Anyway, here’s the list. As usual starred are ebooks, tilded are books I/we own, plussed are graphic novels, and the list is in reverse chronological order. For a second year the number of ebooks I read has gone up, especially for fiction. As I remarked last year ebooks can be easy to get from the library, for sure. And recently the checkout time increased to 3 weeks, so there’s not even the 1 week penalty for ebooks anymore.
* The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
~ Monstrous Affections, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
* Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters
After Atlas, by Emma Newman
~ Dead Set, by Richard Kadrey
Replica, by Lauren Oliver
Good White People: The Problem With Middle-Class White Anti-Racism, by Shannon Sullivan
* The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan
~ Proxy, by Alex London
* MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood
~ Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing, by Tracey Thorn
~ Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older
~ Waste, by Brian Thill
~ We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
* The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
* Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
* Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
~ + Syllabus, by Lynda Barry
Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson
* Ways to Disappear, by Idra Novey
Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt
~ “I Love Learning, I Hate School” An Anthropology of College, by Susan Blum
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, by Pema Chodron
~ Lock In, by John Scalzi
+ El Deafo, by Cece Bell
+ This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
* If Then Else, by Barbara Fister
* The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, by Kelly McGonigal
* The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon
* Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz
The Mushroom at the End of the World, On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
+ Supermutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki
Pressed for Time, The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, by Judy Wajcman
* Vanishing Girls, by Lauren Oliver
* Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
maura @ 10:30 am
Two weekends ago (or roughly one million years ago in mental time) I was trying to catch up on the magazine backlog and read Emily Nussbaum’s review of the HBO show Westworld. I can’t remember exactly at what point during my reading that I realized that the Colourbox song Just Give ‘Em Whiskey extensively samples the original Westworld movie, but I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.
Colourbox is one of my more favorite underappreciated bands from the 80s. They were on the arty British 4AD label, and sort of oddballs even among their labelmates. (One of the founding members of the band, Steve Young, died last summer, another in the sad string of deaths of great musicians this year). Their songs ranged from boppy electronic songs — including one of my favorite covers of You Keep Me Hangin’ On — to trippy collections of samples from movies, TV, and elsewhere. So I’m reading the New Yorker article and all of a sudden it hits me: were most of the samples in Just Give ‘Em Whiskey, which I’d long wondered about, from the 1973 film Westworld on which the current show is based? A bit of internet searching confirmed it and led me to the original film trailer.
And wow, watching that trailer is a trip. It turns out that many (most?) of the samples in the song are from the trailer, and though they’re not necessarily chronological, the song still seems to convey the plot of the movie (or at least as much of the plot as I can figure from only having seen the trailer): a luxurious theme park for rich white people where the robot workers become sentient and revolt. One of the samples that’s prominently featured in the song is an exclamation made by one of the park’s visitors when he realizes that the robots have gained agency: “that’s not supposed to happen!”
The last 10 days have felt like a lifetime. Another line that’s prominent in the song is “do you fight?” (which fellow nerds on the old 4AD listserv suspect is from the 60s British TV show The Prisoner). I’ve been reading, calling elected officials, donating, editing Wikipedia, talking to friends and family and colleagues, thinking about what comes next and how I can help move from “that’s not supposed to happen!” to “do you fight?”