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words are for reading

maura @ 4:35 pm

I’ve written intermittent posts about reading here, though never a big year-end roundup. But I’m feeling pretty good about the number of non-work books I was able to read last year, as well as inspired by Jenna and Alycia. So here it is, the list of leisure books I read in 2012, totaling 37. Yeah, there’s lots of YA stuff there, and I know it reads faster than other books, but they still count!

(I’m not including work-related books in here mostly because I don’t keep track of them in my reading journal and I’m too lazy to corral them all together in my brain. Plus often with work books I’m reading a chapter here and there, not the whole thing).

Starred are the books I read on my phone, which was mostly new for me this year. I still prefer paper books but it’s definitely convenient to have a phone book for subway rides and other travels. Of course, the library doesn’t always have the books I want for my phone which is a drag. It’s odd, I do have an ipad but I haven’t tended to use it for leisure reading at all, rather just for academic articles (using the awesome iannotate app to take notes on the pdfs and sync with dropbox). I think it’s because the ipad is so heavy and I don’t usually bring it with me to work each day, whereas my phone is always with me.

These are in reverse order, btw, with the most recently-read first.

The Lifespan of a Fact, by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal
Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti
Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass, by Susan Kirtley
Feed, by M.T. Anderson
* Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead
Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
The Death Cure, by James Dashner
The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
This World We Live In, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
The Dead & the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
How to Do Things with Videogames, by Ian Bogost
Pandemonium, by Lauren Oliver
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver
Invisible Things, by Jenny Davidson
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Extras, by Scott Westerfeld
Degrees of Inequality, by Ann Mullen
* Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
* The Messenger, by Lois Lowry
The Explosionist, by Jenny Davidson
Specials, by Scott Westerfeld
Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld
Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
* Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
* The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
All Clear, by Connie Willis
Blackout, by Connie Willis
The Curfew, by Jesse Ball
Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal

And, in the interest of full disclosure, here are the books I put down without finishing. I used to never ever ever do that, but the older I get the more I want to read and the less time I have, so no regrets!

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi
* Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
1Q84, by Haruki Murakami

Anyway, keep up the good reading work, me, in 2013!

les tags: ,

stop the future

maura @ 10:52 am

Whatever else I can say about this summer I can say that I’ve done lots of reading. 12 books since the beginning of June, 4 more if you add May into the mix. Most have been dystopian YA fiction, barring the new Alison Bechdel book. (Though I’ve also been reading lots for the research project I’m writing up, none of which is YA, dystopian, or graphic novel, so there!) Here’s the full list:

The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger by Lois Lowry
Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras by Scott Westerfeld
The Explosionist and Invisible Things by Jenny Davidson
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Before I Fall and Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

It’s hard to say exactly why the dystopian YA stuff has had such a hold on me. Maybe it’s this crazily creepily hot summer, which was already kind of freaking me out (and making me cranky) even before I read Bill McKibben’s depressing article in Rolling Stone a few weeks ago. Reading that article made me wonder whether the dystopian YA fiction craze should actually be seen as a way to think through possible scenarios and envision what kinds of skills we’ll need. Turns out the nearest archery range is in deepest Queens so I don’t think we’ll be training like Katniss anytime soon.

I think what I like best about these books is that they’re easy to read: the action is fast-moving and the stories are reasonably satisfying so I can gulp them down quickly, classic summer reading. They’re pairing well with the Buffy Rewatch, too; both make me feel very summery. I’ve got 3 to return today and 3 more to pick up at the library, along with some crazy manga for Gus. Let’s hide inside by the coolth of the a/c, kids, and read til we’re blind!

les tags: ,

and i walk

maura @ 6:12 pm

I’ve been trying to get back in the swing of fiction reading lately but I’m having trouble reading anything other than YA dystopia. Blame the Hunger Games, of course, but also probably my brain-fried-at-the-end-of-the-semester-ness, which seems to have rendered me incapable of reading grown-up books. Is it the slower plotting? I just don’t know — it’s 800 bajillion degrees out today and my brain has melted.

The last grown-up novel I tried to read was Swamplandia!, which I checked out from the public library onto my phone and was unable to finish before it expired. Partly it was the annoyingness of the fact that ebooks expire in the first place, which seems so silly and made me dig in my heels about finishing it, esp. since the pagination on my phone made it 1274 pages long. Also I found it kind of depressing, and I recently decided to shake off my prior self-restriction about finishing books even if I don’t really like them because hey! life’s too short! And there are always other things to read.

I checked out two YA dystopian ebooks onto my phone, too: The Giver and Gathering Blue, both by Lois Lowry. They were pretty good, both set in the same world, I think, though the characters in each didn’t overlap. They share a similar trait that I can’t decide how I feel about: both end right in the middle of some action. The endings are basically upbeat, but it’s just kind of weird to have things break off and not be resumed in the next book. There’s one more book in this loose trilogy so I’m planning to get that from the library, too.

Then I got kind of annoyed that the library has such a craptastic selection of ebooks (which is not our fault! blame the publishers, not the libraries! we WANT to have a better selection, honest, but they won’t sell them to us!) because I had to place a hold on my next two YA books (plus the new Alison Bechdel book) in paper since an ebook version wasn’t available. Not that I mind paper (and in many ways I prefer it, see above re: pagination) but I’ve had a bunch of meetings in Manhattan recently and ebooks are so much easier to schlepp on the subway. Plus the instant gratification thing: if the title is available, that’s kind of crack-tastic.

I’m also reading Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan books (finished the first last week, onto the second now), a steampunk + genetic manipulation of animals World War I trilogy that Gus devoured last year. So one of the books I requested from the library is Uglies, Westerfeld’s YA dystopian book (first of 4, I think?). The other book I requested is The Explosionist, which I found again while trolling my Delicious for things I tagged “to read”.

I’d meant to pick those two up over the weekend, because I got the email that they’re on the hold shelf for me, but the library’s closed for the holiday. Denied!

les tags: , ,

come out, come out

maura @ 8:34 pm

I have a big long list of things I’d hoped to get done this weekend, but so far I haven’t done very many of them because over the past 36 hours I’ve read the entirety of books 1 and 2 of the Hunger Games trilogy. I’ve wanted to read them for a while now and Jonathan bought them for me a month or so ago. They are really, really good — there’s lots of post-apocalyptic dystopian future YA novels out there these days, but these books are top notch. Compelling world + characters and a plot that moves fast but not too fast, with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.

I should have more self-control, but more likely than not I’m going to walk into the living room and pick up the third and final volume as soon as I’m finished writing this post. I have worked very very hard this semester and have read very very little that’s non-work related, which I suppose is the reason for this binge. And as far as binges go it’s certainly mild — there are few ill effects that one can suffer as a result of too much reading. But it’s still a binge, and still means that I’m essentially avoiding the other things I could be doing instead. Which will all be waiting for me when the last page is turned, right?

les tags: , ,

what i had for dinner tonight

maura @ 10:36 pm

Date night! At a restaurant we love, that we haven’t been to in forever. It was yummy.

Wine: Lambrusco. Like grape soda for adults!

Appetizers: ravioli stuffed with beets in butter and poppyseeds, gnocchi made of chard + cheese in brown butter. (Mmm, buttery!)

Mains: rabbit with gravy on polenta with oil-cured black olives (I could eat that every weekend and not get bored); saltimbocca (pork with prosciutto and sage) with smashed roasted potatoes

Dessert: shared a pear cake with chocolate chunks and vanilla whipped cream

Also there were some fancy after dinner drinks, not tokaj but looks like it, don’t remember what they were called (hint: it was Italian). Very yummy.

I never knew what tokaj was until reading The Golden Compass, and now I have a very strong association of the book and the drink. We got a bottle once with a very thin long neck and a pretty scrolly gold label. Also Hungary! A very interesting country, not in the least because Hungarian is not an Indo-European language.

Thus ends tonight’s randomfest. Tune in tomorrow for tales of woe as I try to finish up all of my work before heading up north to the anthropology conference later this week!

les tags: , ,

experimental results

maura @ 10:19 pm

Last week we took a vacation in Vermont and I put myself on an internets diet. In some ways it was fairly easy to do — cellphone and internets can be wonky up there, and I didn’t always have access in the places we were visiting. But with all of the bajillions of articles recently about information overload and hyperabundance and how our brains/behavior do or don’t change with all of the internet info we consume, I thought it might be an interesting experiment.

My rules were:
– Check work email once/day (I get kind of anxious when the work email piles up so I rarely ignore it entirely, even when we’re on vacation. But I only answered the few that seemed like they couldn’t wait.)
– Check home email once/day (Since we had catsitters I felt like I couldn’t completely ignore home email. And I get much less email at my home account anyway.)
– No Twitter
– No RSS feeds
– No other internets reading/browsing, e.g., New York Times (If you can’t ignore the news for a week is it really even a vacation?)

I also promised myself that I wouldn’t feel bad about skipping all of that info, or try to catch up on it later. Which for the most part was successful: though I did end up reading a couple of things published last week in the early part of this week, I also went into my Google Reader when we got home Sunday night and pushed the magical Mark All As Read button to clear out the feeds. (Oh, the power!)

The results were hardly earth-shattering, but they were sort of interesting. In practice what happened is that I didn’t use my computer phone to fill in the gaps between activities. Usually I’ll check Twitter or read feeds or check email in the myriad little bits of time I encounter throughout the day: waiting in line or for the people I’m with to be ready to go do something, watching Gus (in this case while swimming in the pool or pond), sometimes while riding in the car (though this is dicey because it tends to tweak my carsickness).

Without the internets I spent those bits of time last week thinking, spacing out, watching the world go by, etc. It was relaxing in a way, kind of soothing and boring at the same time. I was happy to learn that it didn’t make me all twitchy, which I’d feared since I am definitely susceptible to the mini-endorphin rush of a new email alert or a pile of new tweets.

For the longer stretches of time I did lots of book readin’, just like in the olden days. I read one from start to finish, finished up another I’d started a while ago, and read parts of two others. It’s definitely easier to read while on vacation, and I appreciated having the stretches of time while Gus was happily splashing around to get some reading in.

Now that the experiment is over I’m back to the usual stuff at work and at home. Though I do think I’m interacting more thoughtfully with the internets than before. Of course, it’s still the slowish summer — I’m sure my internets serenity will go right out the window once the semester (and the course I’m teaching) begins in (eep!) 22 days.


further up and further in

maura @ 8:58 pm

I just finished reading The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Guide to Narnia, by’s Laura Miller. Yeah, I know, late to the party again — the book’s been out (and on my list) for a couple of years now. But Jonathan read it earlier this year and raved about it so much that we decided it passed the library test, and I put it on my list for my birthday last month.

The book is sort of a mashup of literary criticism of the Chronicles of Narnia and a biographical exploration of C.S. Lewis’s life and influences, with a hefty dose of Miller’s own history as a fan of the books, from her love of them as a child through her teenage disillusionment when she realizes that the books are full of Christian themes and on to adulthood. The whole book is a great read, but if you’re at all a Friend of Narnia it’s especially wonderful for her discussions of her own (and others’) childhood fascination with the books. In many ways the books are much more complex than they seem, and Miller is adept at exploring what makes them so compelling to so many children that those children continue to love Narnia as grown-ups. Our girl name was Lucy and our runner-up boy name was Eamonn (which is Irish for Edmund), so as you can imagine both Jonathan and I fit into that category.

It was also really interesting to read about her disillusionment with the books when she discovered their pervasive Christianity, which she realized after reading a piece of criticism of the Chronicles. In many ways Miller and I have similar backgrounds: I was also raised Catholic (though we weren’t the most devout by any means), went through all of the sacraments, and as an adult I am not Catholic. As far as I know there wasn’t a specific incident that drove me away from the church — I think that as a kid I just found Mass to be dull (though I did like the singing) and then as a teen I decided that all religions were hypocritical (as teens are wont to do). But as an adult I’m most comfortable as an agnostic, so that’s where I am now.

Unlike Miller, I don’t remember feeling betrayed when I reread the Chronicles as a teen. I think I was a bit older — late high school? — by which time it was readily apparent that Christianity ran through the whole series. But I don’t think the knowledge made me think negatively of the books.

It’s curious to think of it now. I’ve read them so often that I can’t actually remember when I read them for the first time, maybe age 10 or 11? A little late, if then. It’s been a while since I’ve read them as an adult, and reading this book makes me think it’s high time I started them again. We’ve tried to get Gus to read them but sometimes he’s really resistant to our book suggestions. Perhaps the best strategy is for me to read them to him?

les tags: ,

happy lincoln’s birthday!

maura @ 8:10 pm

Today is the only day during the year that CUNY is closed but the public schools are OPEN. As if I needed another reason to like our 16th president.

In honor of this day I am doing no work at all. None! And also a couple of errandy things. And reading something for fun.* And I took a very small nap. Woo hoo!

* Just because I’m reading a book about plagiarism doesn’t mean it’s not fun!

Anyway, I have a couple of partially-written things to post here (or elsewhere) but I’m too tired from my day off to finish them now. Here’s some Twitter to tide you over.

RT @notjonathan My first iPhone app is live! (iTunes DM or @ me if you’d like a free promo code #tarot
1:22 PM Feb 11th from Tweetie Retweeted by you and 1 other

A brisk snowy walk, the quiet of the office before the library opens, taking some time to write. Happy Thursday!
8:40 AM Feb 11th from web

From the parent coordinator at my kid’s school: school is OPEN tomorrow. Best. Email. Ever.
6:27 PM Feb 10th from web

@alevtina Go, City Tech! Snow can’t stop the awesomeness, oh yeah. :)
8:20 AM Feb 10th from Echofon in reply to alevtina

RT @kittenwithawhip: RT @DrinkWellDoGood Southern Foodways Alliance seeking interns for Oral History programs.
11:36 PM Feb 8th from Echofon

Dear printer, Actually, paper is *not* jammed in the transport unit. Please get a grip. Thanks, Maura
4:07 PM Feb 8th from web

One of the cats likes to nap on the shelf next to my desk. Study buddy!
10:23 AM Feb 8th from Echofon

RT @mwesch Check out “The Class” a parody of The Office on technology in the classroom from @LynnSchofClark ‘s class at DU
7:48 AM Feb 7th from web Retweeted by you and 16 others

Watching Fringe + swooning over Olivia Dunham’s awesome black wool coat, as usual. 3 buttons on the sleeves!
10:41 PM Feb 6th from web

Brooklyn, NY = NOpocalypse. Bummed.
3:11 PM Feb 6th from web

Already disappointed that we are not going to get enough snow. Bah.
7:40 PM Feb 5th from web

Gus would like me to know that he does NOT have a giga-memory, GOSH, how can he POSSIBLY remember all of the THINGS he has to DO before bed!
8:41 PM Feb 4th from web

les tags: , , ,

the future and the south pacific

maura @ 7:35 pm

This has been a weird day. I woke up with a sore throat and a headache and the sinking feeling that I may be getting sick at what’s really not the best time of the semester for it. (Though is there ever really a good time to be sick?) So instead of using this partly sunny + fairly warm day to go for a bike ride with Gus in the morning and maybe schlep us all to the Bronx Zoo in the afternoon, I sat on the sofa and read 400 pages of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and drank herbal tea.

I always feel kind of guilty when we spend the whole day inside if it’s nice out, even when there’s a good excuse. Gus played video games and read nearly a whole book (The Great Cheese Conspiracy, a refugee from my ’70s childhood) and played D+D with Jonathan. Over dinner Gus asserted that he didn’t want to go for a bike ride today anyway. But it still seems somehow wrong to spend the whole day inside. Maybe I am also feeling a bit guilty that I just read today rather than tackling all of the other stuff on my list, much of which can be accomplished perfectly well from the sofa with my laptop.

We did get out yesterday, and in far more inclement weather. We went to Manhattan to see Fantastic Mr. Fox (surprisingly only playing in 2 theaters), which was a good time for the adults + the kid. Gus <3s Roald Dahl, and for the adults the movie was pretty much standard Wes Anderson fare with puppet animals instead of people.

Cloud Atlas is really good. I’m still in the middle of the other Cloud Atlas, which is a bit surreal. And the Mitchell book has a sticker in the back with the correct author information that’s covering a sticker that mislabels the book as the Callanan book. Woah, meta.

I could get to those other tasks now (Gus + Jonathan are playing a little Super Mario Galaxy before bed), but there’s only about 50 pages left in my book and I’m dying to know how it ends. Later, gators.


and i don’t feel so bad

maura @ 10:15 pm

This morning* I had an idea for a short story/novel/work of fiction, the second this month. I don’t want to write it, but I do want someone else to, because it sounds like a cool story.

* Where this morning = 4/29, because that’s when I started the draft of this post.

Today’s idea is about pens. Yesterday I went to a meeting and passed around my own pen with the sign-in sheet, and of course it didn’t make it back to me. Which is not a big deal — frankly, the library is nothing if not a repository for pens left behind, so I never want for pens. But I started thinking about pens, how they move around between people. What if there were tracking devices in them, cameras and recorders? What if the pens were semi-intelligent and they had a plan, an agenda?

(Probably this was inspired by the evil pen that kills people in The Lost Room, btw.)

Pens left behind in the library might be part of the story, too. You decide!

The other idea actually got a bit more fleshing out because I started thinking about the last time we visited my mom; it’s a 2-ish hr drive, so I made Jonathan talk to me about it for a while. The basic framework sprang from archaeology: archaeologists assemble knowledge of prehistory from an incomplete record.* No one knows how incomplete it is, and while they work in scientifically rigorous ways there’s still never 100% certainty with any interpretation of the past.

* I remember a great diagram in the shape of an inverted triangle from my archy days that depicted the estimated amount of stuff (animal bones, I think, because that was my bag) that makes it into the archaeological record. Each level of the triangle depicted something else that happens to the bones: carried off by scavenger animals, crushed by accumulating sediment, etc. Probably under copyright; I can’t find it on the interwebs.

(This goes for historical archaeology too, but I feel like the existence of historical records can make a big difference in interpretation.)

Anyway, then I started thinking about ground-penetrating radar, and how it’s been such a boon to archaeology to have the technology to “see” sites before digging them up (and even instead of excavation, in some cases, since excavating a site essentially destroys it). And I started to wonder: what will the next technological breakthrough be? What if a machine were invented that could not only see the shapes of buried objects and features but actually tell you with certainty, this posthole is from a dome-shaped structure made of wood and skins, or this bone fragment is from a domesticated goat? That kind of technology could potentially completely rewrite prehistory and even history as we know it.

As Jonathan and I talked about it we tried to come up with a plot, since this is really just a setup, but we couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve aliens, which is kind of lame (and makes the whole dealie too much a derivative of Battlestar Galactica anyway). And this is probably a book only an archaeologist would love, sigh.

So if anyone wants to take these ideas and run with them, please do! Just write them quickly, because I’m almost out of things to read.