February is moving slightly faster than January did, but that was a very low bar. As TheH says, it’s a bar the Corgis could walk over, no jumping required. It’s still mostly gray and cold and damp, with the occasional sunny and slightly warmer day to taunt us.
My Privacy class finally clicked. We’re out of the heavy theory section and reading older work on the online world as it used to be, which they find kind of interesting. And one of the examples was about free speech vs. writing violent material that can be accessed by younger teens. It was interesting. 50 Shades even came up, and I startled them by telling them more about it (and my involvement in the 50-related Romancelandia stuff) than they could ever have expected. It was amusing for all of us.
One of my weekly seminars featured a paper by a colleague from anthropology who is working on fashion and sustainability, which is extremely relevant to my interests these days. So that was another unexpected crossing of streams. We had a lively discussion; everyone can relate in some way to fashion, ecological issues, and the omnipresence of consumption capitalism. One person raised the interesting point that even among people who are focused on improving conditions and products at the local level, they opt to become entrepreneurs rather than to join with other like-minded people to improve existing labor and supply-chain conditions. Being a capitalist is still the default choice.
We returned to Maigret, but rather than watching the next episode of the TV series we opted for a 1950s film starring Jean Gabin as Maigret. It was terrific. The print had been remastered and all of the performances were excellent.
I had two library holds come in this week and finished one of them: The Story of a Goat, by the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan. I have his previously translated novel in my TBR. That one earned him death threats from the Hindu nationalists and led him to declare that he would no longer write fiction. Luckily for us he changed his mind, but he made the main character an animal rather than a human. The Story of a Goat is exactly what it says on the tin: we meet Poonachi when she is a very young kid and is handed into the care of an old couple by a mysterious stranger. The story follows Poonachi’s growth to adulthood and all of the events that transpire during her life. The cast includes humans as well as the other goats among whom she lives and whom she encounters along the way. It’s an excellent novel, poignant and yet almost completely unsentimental. It’s not a happy story, but it has upbeat episodes along the way. Murugan is explicit that this is not an allegory, and I think that’s right. Poonachi and the other animals aren’t stand-ins for humans; instead, Murugan is showing us how the life cycles of humans and animals are not only intertwined, but more similar than we would like to believe, especially in terms of the lack of control most humans have over the circumstances of their existence. It reminded me somewhat of the works of Premchand, the great Hindi writer who frequently put animals at the center of his stories. Murugan’s novel is not the easiest read, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while, and unusual in the best ways.
My other library hold is the long-awaited outside-Canada release of Eric Dupont’s 2018 novel. It was shortlisted for the Giller Prize under the title Songs for the Cold of Heart, but it’s been re-released as The American Fiancée, which is much closer to the original French title. I’ve had the Canadian print version on my shelf almost since it came out, but now I have the ebook as well and will be reading it soonish.
SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for February is coming up this Wednesday and the category is “friends.” I pulled out a couple of romance novels and even started one, but I didn’t get very far. The novel was fine but I wasn’t falling into it. I think I’m going to give up reading romance entirely for a while. I can use non-romance books to fulfill the challenge, and forcing myself to pick a romance novel even once a month is becoming counter-productive. What is the point of supposedly fun and relaxing reading that is neither? So I decided on The Hobbit, which is about friendship and which, amazingly, I have never read. Even if I don’t finish it by Wednesday I’ll write up a post.
Rohan Maitzen has a blog post in which she describes a number of issues I also have with reading romance today. The lack of editing, the fact that so many authors start publishing before they’ve mastered the craft, the overlap between Twitter conversations and what shows up in 19thC dialogue: all of these pull me out of the zone that I associate with romance reading. And the endless, endless, selling. We validate our in-group credentials through what we buy, although of course we describe it as “supporting our favorite authors and genre.” But it’s morphed from buying the book to buying coffee/tea mugs, t-shirts, buttons and stickers, and who knows what else. Does no one remember Naomi Klein’s No Logo, which came out over two decades ago? When did it become OK to be consumers primarily, whether we are reading or not? Slap that bookternet-related sticker on your water bottle or pull a “Romancelandia never forgets” t-shirt over your head and you’re good to go. Just reading a book? GTFO.
I’m diligently making ToDo lists and it definitely helps. It also helps that my days aren’t wall-to-wall appointments and deadlines.
Despite the weather I managed to walk home from work once this week, motivated by TheH who has been doing it for a while. If I can’t get my butt to the basement to row or walk uphill on the treadmill, I can at least fill up my backpack and skip the bus/train/shuttle. We’re also walking in our neighborhoods and Forest Park on the weekends when the weather isn’t completely off-putting.
I have been mulling over what to make next. I should really whip up a pair of fingerless mitts for the TheH, given I promised I’d make him a new set this year, but I’m dragging my heels and looking at sweater patterns. The very cool fashion designer of Skif is based right here in St. Louis, and their exposed-seam, asymmetric, one-size-fits-most sweater patterns are calling to me.
Only two seminars and one faculty meeting, plus the usual teaching and other stuff. I have a paper assignment due in one class this week and I’ve already received requests for extensions. Some things never change.