Weeknote 15

by Sunita

It’s almost fall, and the weather is already there. Now if the mosquitoes and biting flies would just take a hike, it would be perfect.

It was a “normal” week. TheH has his teaching routine down and my second class finally got going, so where we are is where we’ll be until Thanksgiving week, at least we will be if we don’t get shut down again. So far, so good; our Covid dashboard is not exploding. But we’re only partway through testing all the students.

WORK

I thought that campus would be busier once all the students came back, but it still feels pretty empty. Not as bad as before classes started, but with so many classes online and all the requirements of distancing and spacing if you do come to campus, there aren’t a lot of incentives to be present. From what I can tell everyone is adhering to the rules when on campus. I’ve heard stories of parties and gatherings off-campus, like every other school, but if they cause infections to spike it will take a while to show up in the numbers.

Work is pretty routinized at this point. I go in twice a week and teach from my office, which is easier and quieter, but there’s not really much to report. Everything is done via video-conferencing, even meetings with people who are local, because we’re not supposed to meet in person except when necessary. If you want to hold meetings outside you have to sign up for one of the designated spaces. It’s all in aid of abundant caution and effective contact tracing, I imagine, but it discourages anything spontaneous.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

One of my new-release library holds came in and I managed to finish the book in less than a week. It was Red Pill by Hari Kunzru. I really enjoyed White Tears a couple of years ago, and this one was not quite as good but well worth reading. The narrator is a writer who goes to Berlin on a three-month residency at a center/retreat, but he still can’t find a way to write and he winds up becoming caught up in intrigues about privacy, stories about surveilled life in East Germany, and crackpot alt-right theories about how the world works. He slowly loses his grip and the novel spirals into something even less grounded in the last third or so, but then returns to reality at the end. It’s a hard book to describe without giving away the whole storyline. It doesn’t quite succeed in what it’s trying to do, and Kunzru has as hard a time writing about the alt-right as most non-alt-right authors, but he is so smart and writes so well and in such an interesting way that I was swept along on the ride. As with White Tears, I continued to think about the novel and its ideas after I had finished.

I also finally, finally finished The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni. It really is a classic 19thC novel and once I got used to the fact that it was about three or four things at once, the least of which was the titular romance, I was all in. The chapters on the plague are really something, and as I found with the Defoe, the world Manzoni describes has a lot in common with the way we are behaving today. Humans gonna human, I guess, no matter how educated or worldly we think we are. I switched back and forth between the audiobook and the text, and I am sad to say that Nicholas Boulton, whom so many of you love as a narrator, did not really work for me. He is frequently dramatic in his interpretations, and the book is frequently dramatic, so it was almost too much. It created what I don’t like about audiobooks: the narrator fills in the emotions that with text I get to imagine. He’s not bad in any way, he’s just Not For Me.

After two plague books I needed a palate cleanser, so I’m currently reading an old Colin Dexter Morse mystery, The Way Through the Woods. It was written about midway through the series, so the integration of book-Morse with TV-Morse is pretty complete. It is most enjoyable, just as I expected.

The Booker shortlist didn’t appeal to me much more than the longlist did. There are a couple of books in the Booker Dozen that I’ll undoubtedly read at some point, but as I said in comments last week, I find it hard to believe that four debut novels are better than all the other 150+ books that were submitted. Whatever the judges’ criteria are, they’re not the same as the criteria that are guiding my reading choices these days.

On the other hand, the National Book Awards Fiction and Translated Fiction lists look great to me. I’ve read or have on my TBR a number of the books in each list. I especially recommend Perumal Murugan’s The Story of A Goat. It is exactly what the title says it is and it is phenomenal. Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri is very, very good as well.

Our TV watching is the usual: rotating through our stable of mystery series and the occasional movie. The Premier League started back up and I’ve been watching some matches, but I can’t get myself to watch baseball or football. The pandemic has really done a number on my sports attachments. I hope it’s temporary, but you never know. We tried to watch college football and failed, and I keep meaning to watch baseball (the A’s are doing well!) and then forgetting to turn it on.

PRODUCTIVITY

The Pomodoro logging is definitely helping. It forces me to sit down and work whether I feel like it or not. And it’s almost always the case that once I’m working I feel better. Just like once I’m exercising I feel better. Our worlds are so shrunken now that it’s easy to not do anything, or to find that time has slipped by when we weren’t paying attention.

THIS WEEK

The upcoming week looks a lot like the one before it and the one after it. With fall weather teasing us (lower temperatures and humidity are SO welcome), we may get out more, but that’s it.

Oh, my trip to the dentist was fine. They are taking lots of precautions. Go see your dentist if you need to! It’s safe than most settings, at least mine was. Air purifiers in every room, only one person in the waiting room, and the like.