ReaderWriterVille

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Book de-stashing

“De-stashing” is a yarn-hobby term for when you get rid of yarn, either by selling, trading, or giving away. I have a bunch of mass market paperbacks in reasonably decent to good condition that I’m finally letting go. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s time to say goodbye to another batch.

These are all romance novels, mostly historical. A lot of them have been digitized, but not all, and some you may not have heard of. I got rid of a couple dozen Marion Chesney Regency Trads quite a while back, but I held on to one series and to her books written under the Jennie Tremaine label:

The Tremaine books are mostly Edwardian-set, which is unusual in the historical romance/trad genre, and they are often hilarious.

I also reluctantly decided to let go of my Georgette Heyer paperbacks. Some are in dire shape and they’re going in recycling, but these are all OK and certainly readable:

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SuperWendy's TBR Challenge for January: Big Trouble in Old Shanghai by Jeannie Lin

Argh, I’m a day late. But the “short shorts” prompt for January is my friend. I meant to read all of Jeannie Lin’s newest release for this month but I ran out of time and only had time for the first story. Even this brief return was enough to remind me why I like Jeannie’s work so much.

“Big Trouble in Old Shanghai” is the first in a 3-story collection set in her Gunpowder Alchemy world, and the connection is made in the title of the collection: Tales From the Gunpowder Chronicles. I read the previous two novels and one of the short stories when they came out and really enjoyed them. They’re not straight romance, rather they are wuxia-inspired adventure tales with romantic elements, but they are written with the same careful attention to the historical context of all her stories.

I was halfway through the story before I realized that the title was a riff on Big Trouble in Little China, the 1986 adventure film directed by John Carpenter starring Kurt Russell as Jack Burton. Lin says in her author’s note that the American main character here, Dean Burton, is a tip of the hat more than a recreation of the movie Burton. The narrator and main protagonist is Ming-fen, a young woman who works in the Western concession zone of Shanghai. She has only her elder brother, Ren, after her parents were exiled as traitors by the Manchu Dynasty. Shanghai is roiling with rebels plotting to overthrow the Manchu, and Ren turns out to be smack in the middle of it. Ming-fen has no love for the Manchu rulers, but she doesn’t want to get caught up in rebellions that are bound to leave hundreds if not thousands of innocent people caught in the middle.

But when rebels stark attacking, she’s forced into running for her life. Ren has armed her with a red sash, which signals that she is sympathetic to them, and she is slowly trying to make her way back to her home and hopefully safety when she falls in with Dean Burton, an American businessman she knows from the Dragon’s Den bar where she works. She becomes embroiled in Dean’s furtive activities in ways I won’t detail because the story is best read without spoilers.

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Weeknote 1

I’m starting over numbering the 2020 Weeknotes. Let’s see how many I can manage; I had 21 in 2019, but I didn’t start until partway through the year.

WORK

The spring semester began yesterday. I’m teaching two undergraduate classes, both of which I’ve taught before and which I enjoy a great deal. They also require regular updating because things are constantly happening, but that also means that the students are interested. And I have enough assistants that I don’t have to do all the work myself. It feels like a light semester even though technically it’s not.

I got to throw a drinks party for a visiting professor and his family, whom we’re trying to recruit. The weather was awful but the party was fun. Fingers crossed.

I’m on one (and a half) committees this semester. The one is a college scholarship committee that is always enjoyable. There’s nothing like interviewing whip-smart high school students to make you feel as if maybe the world isn’t so bad after all. The half is the end of the Committee That Ate The Second Half of 2019 and Part of My Sabbatical. It shouldn’t be too much work, maybe a couple of meetings and a memo.

Which means I may actually have time for some writing! Which is good, since the pile of to-be-written is rivalling my pile of to-be-read.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Liverpool, all through the holiday fixtures. I’m almost starting to believe that at 16 points clear of the 2nd place team in the EPL, they can win the title for the first time in 30 years. Almost. I’m not counting ANY chickens.

I’m also watching the NFL playoffs and rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. We went to all their games for five years in the early 2000s when we had friends on the staff. They been shut out almost as long as Liverpool has, and I’d love to see them make it.

I read a fun, unjustly obscure book when we were away for the weekend right after New Year’s. It’s called The Ascent of Rum Doodle and it’s a satire of the mountain-climbing memoir genre of the 1930s and 1940s. We found it in a store in London and I bought it because the Mt. TBR Challenge has Rum Doodle as its first level. I’d never heard of it before but as I was reading, I was reminded of passages of various serious mountaineering books I’ve read, including the excellent Into the Silence. The satirical tone gets a bit heavy-handed at times (as satires do), but the book is short and sustains itself well.

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2020: News/Infotainment Detox

Like so many other people, I’m exhausted and stressed by reading the news every day but I don’t seem to be able to stop. I’ve written before about how frustrating I find the conflation of reported news, speculation, and opinion/analysis. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started to read a story only to find that it’s not actual news, just someone’s take on what might happen given particular scenarios.

Last month, I proposed a news detox to TheHusband, who has been in the same stress boat. I suggested that we completely avoid reading the news online and return to the old ways of acquiring information: the television, radio, and printed newspapers and magazines. This would be a big change for us, because both of us read news sites more than any other on our phones and computers. But after the daily frenzy of impeachment “reporting” we had to do something. Impeachment was a textbook case of the problem: there was actual news, as in hearings, votes, etc., but that took up a minority of the virtual inches devoted to the subject. So much of the coverage was about what might happen, how it might affect the Democratic race for the nomination, and so on.

We started in mid-December and set some ground rules. We decided that we could continue to read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times because they have clearly delineated news vs. opinion sections, and they have very little gossip fluff of any kind. We also allowed ourselves to check in on local newspapers for similar reasons. We could read the front page of any paper as long as we didn’t click through on an article. And I kept reading sports and book sections. So we weren’t completely offline for news.

At first it was pretty disorienting. It turns out we spent a LOT of time on The Washington Post (both of us), the Guardian (me) and CNN and BBC’s mobile versions (mostly TheH). The WSJ and the FT take a lot less time to read online, too, so we were done pretty much when our morning tea was finished. Over the rest of the day we had to find other sources of timepass, which meant reading more on our ereaders, me knitting, and even playing card and board games.

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2020: Wardrobe adjustments

I’m trying a few new strategies this year and I’m planning to write posts on them so that I can go back and revisit how I’m doing in a few months. First up: changes I’ve made to my closet. I decluttered using the Marie Kondo method back in 2015, but now my closet and drawers are full again and I need to purge a bunch of stuff. I also discovered technical clothing last spring and summer, mostly because of one-bagging the Wales vacation and then going minimal on weekend trips. But I also like having clothes that I can wear for a while and that all go together. I wear a lot of neutral colors, but I’ve been buying a few individual pieces in brighter shades to mix things up.

I decided to try a version of a capsule wardrobe called Project 333. The idea is that you have 33 pieces that you wear for thee months and then you choose another 33 for the next three months, etc. It’s more season-friendly, which is handy for people like me who live in places with well-defined seasons. I thought about doing the uniform thing, wearing one outfit all the time, but I can’t see teaching in the same clothes over and over. I’m still scarred by a friend’s teaching evaluations where her clothes were critiqued for not being varied enough. I’ve received evaluations that made observations about my clothes and even my jewelry; they were friendly ones but it’s a bit weird to me that students would notice and comment.

I expanded the 33-item requirement a bit by not counting cold-weather accessories (gloves, hats, and outdoor-only scarves) and jewelry. For the latter I’ll stick to a small rotation which is what I usually do anyway. But I wear multiple bracelets at a time and those add up fast. The point, I think, is to reduce choice, which I practice without really thinking about it. I have a bunch of jewelry but I tend to cycle through rather than making new choices every day. And according to the rules I don’t have to count loungewear, exercise clothes, and underclothing in the 33.

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