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maura @ 9:26 pm
So before you’re all “OMG two posts in one day” I should probably mention that I wrote that last post last night, though wasn’t able to post it until this morning because we didn’t have internet at the neighbors’ apartment where we were staying. This year we’re having a mostly home-based holiday season — though we did travel to exchange gifts with some of my family before xmas, it was a quick trip of only 42 hours duration. Now we have family visiting and took advantage of our neighbors’ generosity to use their place as an extra sleeping space while they’re out of town. It’s nice to travel at xmas though it’s nice to be home, too, with a tree and the kitties.
I recently read two novels in a row about twins, each told from the perspective of one of the twins, which when added to the season has me thinking much more about family than usual. The books were great. First was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, about twin girls in Nebraska who write Harry Potter-esque fan fiction and the events of their first year away at college. It was a fun read: the characters were both super likable and since I spend lots of my research and scholarly time thinking about the academic culture of college students it was also interesting from an ethnographic perspective. (Is there a term for ethnographic fiction? Is all fiction ethnographic?)
I was particularly entranced by one scene in which the main character is accused of plagiarism by her English prof when she submits a fic for a creative writing assignment. I scanned those few pages from the book and plan to ask my students to read the excerpt when I next teach our library’s research and documentation course. Which is nerdily exciting — we talk a lot about plagiarism and remix culture and intellectual property, and I’ll be interested to see what the students make of the reading. Plus it’s only 4 pages which is absolutely fair use, so I can post the PDF of the scan on our course website.
Next (and completely accidentally re: the twin theme) I read Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. I’ve never read any of her books before — the cover of Prep, her first novel, completely turned me off and she fell off my radar after that. But reading Jenna’s review of Sisterland piqued my interest, and since it was available as an ebook and I didn’t have any other ebooks checked out it seemed like a good call (I like to have an ebook on my phone if possible, just in case I ever get stuck someplace with nothing to read). And it was! Like Jenna, I found the main characters unsympathetic, but the story was well-paced and interesting.
These twins are adult women who are both somewhat psychic, though one has suppressed her ability. The narrative of the book is framed by an event that happens early on, when the more-psychic sister predicts that an earthquake will strike St. Louis, where the book takes place. The bulk of the book (which is told by the less-psychic sister) recounts the story of what happens with the sisters and their lives and families between the time of the prediction and the date on which the earthquake is predicted to happen. There’s lots of flashbacks to the twins’ childhood and early adult years, and lots of discussion of their ESP and the circumstances under which they’ve used it. What I liked best is that even though the psychic powers lend the book a vaguely magical tone, most of the issues with which the characters grapple are pretty much just normal, everyday problems.
In both books the twin sisters are identical yet surprisingly different, with a relationship at least as complex as that between non-twin siblings. And I guess that’s what made me start thinking about my family. I love my family, though I’m often quite baffled when I think of us. While my nuclear family members — my parents and my younger sister and brother — are (of course!) related and have much in common, we are also each very different. And we all continue to change as we age, which along with partnering and childrearing adds other wrinkles (ha!). My parents are long divorced and we all mostly live far apart, and I wish we saw everyone more often. But I sometimes find myself torn: I don’t want to leave New York to live in one of the places they live, but living here makes it difficult for folks to visit us because NYC apts aren’t great for hosting sleepover visitors. And I wonder: are we all so different because we live in different places? Or do we live in different places because we are all so different?
maura @ 8:19 pm
The semester started over a week ago but the combination of Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah means that the public schools haven’t even started yet, not til Monday. So while things are still beginning-of-the-term nutty (enrollment is up! 3300 first year students! nearly 17K total students! CUNY’s tuition is so reasonable! 142 sections of English I! each has one session of library instruction! wheee!), the end of this week was a bit slower with no meetings, so we decided to hightail it to the Catskills for a last-couple-days-of-summer getaway.
Even though we were only going to be away for a couple of nights, we rented a small house on the recommendation of a friend (as opposed to staying in a hotel). In the summers that we’ve gone to the beach we’ve usually rented houses — with both of my sibs and all of their kids a house is by far the most practical option. Beach houses are pretty standard fare: sand-colored carpeting, VHS tapes from the 80s, dull knives in the kitchen, all manner of lighthouse/sand dollar/sailboaty knick-knacks, and leftover laundry detergent from the prior week’s renters if you’re lucky.
This house was different, and not only because it was smaller. This house most definitely seemed more lived-in. There was the usual random selection of books and board games and DVDs, but also a real kitchen with all the tools and cookware you’d expect for someone who actually cooks there. In a beach house the owners typically have one closet or a shed with their own stuff in it (often locked): the drawers are empty, and you have to bring your own sheets and towels. But in this house the owner’s stuff was right there alongside space for renters’ (our) things — two drawers in each dresser were empty, towels were on the (made) bed and extras in the wardrobe.
It was a lovely house and a nice treat to be able to actually cook dinner without having to curse our forgetting to bring some real knives. But I’ve found myself wondering how, exactly, it works with a house like that. Does the owner live there most of the time and just go somewhere else when there are renters? What if renters stay for a week? Or two weeks? And where does the owner go when she’s not in the house? To stay with friends? Does she have another house? There’s the trustworthiness issue too — how can she be sure that everything will be as she left it? There was a hefty security deposit to put down, so perhaps that’s the insurance. And we’re kind of fussy (unsurprisingly) about leaving things the way we found them so no worries there.
More than anything it seemed like this house had more stories in it than other houses we’ve rented in other places. Being surrounded by all of those belongings that clearly belonged to someone who cared about them made it impossible not to speculate about that person and her stories. I’ve also been reading Among Others by Jo Walton (intrigued by Jenna’s review), and stuff being infused with personal magic plays a big part in the book’s narrative, which I’m sure helped me think about the house in that way, too. I should have been finishing Debt; really I am almost halfway and have renewed it twice and I *do* like it, for real, but it’s just so serious and I was on vacation and wanted to read about fairies and interlibrary loan and adolescence instead. I have ’til September 26 to finish Debt, plenty of time, right?
maura @ 6:22 pm
Over last weekend while we were away I read Tracey Thorn’s book Bedsit Disco Queen. It’s a fast fun read that I found hard to put down, consuming it in huge gulps over two days. Not that I’ve read lots of them, but I’m finding that I really like reading memoirs of musicians I admire. A few years ago I read Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh and had many of the same feelings about that book. As an aside, thank you, reading journal, for reminding me that it was not last year but December 2010! Honestly I can’t believe I ever didn’t keep a reading journal.
Tracey Thorn is probably best known as 1/2 of Everything But The Girl (her partner Ben Watt the other 1/2), but she’s also famous in indiepopland for her earlier band the Marine Girls. More recently she’s been releasing solo records that are also fantastic (and not just because her lyrics sometimes speak to growing-older-lady stuff that resonates increasingly well with me). Her voice is frankly amazing, and it’s lovely that she’s back to recording again. I wasn’t cool enough to listen to Marine Girls when they were actually making records, though I came to them later during my serious indiepop phase in the early-mid-90s. Probably the first song I ever heard that featured Tracey Thorn’s singing was “The Paris Match” by Style Council. I feel like I used to own a vinyl copy of EBTG’s 2nd record “Love Not Money” — I have a vivid memory of listening to it in our living room when I was about 15, and my younger sibs giggling at the cover photo of the two little boys peeing into a puddle. But I can only find the CD in our house now.
The thing about reading a book about music (and this book sprinkles lyrics throughout, as did Kristin Hersh’s book) is that you can’t help but hear the music the whole way through. It’s a strange experience: as a fan I know the music side of the story, the discography and maybe the bare outlines of the musicians’ lives, in addition to occasional insights from the song lyrics. In some ways you’d think it would be boring to read this kind of a book because of what’s already known. But it’s fascinating, really. Context is added, details filled in (e.g. the story of “Hatfield 1980”). It’s also compelling despite the known bits: at one point last weekend Jonathan was calling me and I said “not just yet, I’m at the part when they release ‘Missing'” as if it were a cliffhanger — which, in a way, it was. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have 3 kids who are a little bit older than my kid, so hearing about them was naturally interesting for me, too (as with Kristin Hersh’s writing/tweeting about her kids).
Knowing those details changes the music for me, too. This week EBTG has been on fairly constant repeat — I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’d already ripped the CDs at work as well as home (go me!). The extra narrative in my head that now accompanies many of the songs is quite nice. The only down side is that all of this is making me wish I’d seen them in concert more than just the one (fabulous) time. Until about a minute ago I thought it was the “Walking Wounded” tour, but I just pawed through all of my old ticket stubs to reveal that no, it was Hammerstein Ballroom in November 1999, the “Temperamental” tour and the very last time that EBTG ever played live in the US. Hammerstein is a pleasant if somewhat-huger-than-I-prefer venue, and this concert was also one of the first that I remember feeling like I was really a grown-up: given the choice between the open dance floor below and the balcony with seats, we opted for the latter.
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!
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!
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!
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?
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!
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.
maura @ 8:58 pm
I just finished reading The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Guide to Narnia, by Salon.com’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?