ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: personal

Weeknote 8

We’re settling in for the summer, which should mean that except for a trip in June, blog postings should be more or less normal. Which is good, because I’m finding these Weeknote posts both enjoyable to write and useful.

Work

The semester is officially over, which means I’m only working with graduate students (those are a 12-month responsibility) and doing the off-semester admin that never goes away.

Not much this week, since the first half of the week involved the road trip to get here. But I spent half a day doing necessary administrative work and another few hours unpacking and setting up my home study space. Now I have no excuses, which is good because it’s time to get to work.

Reading/Watching/Listening

I read Spring, the most recent installment in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet. I didn’t find it as enjoyable or satisfying as the previous two, but I’m still not sure I’m being entirely fair to it. My review is in the previous post and Janine’s questions expand on some of the review points in helpful ways.

I also spent a few hours trying to read one of the new It Books in the rom com subgenre, Red, White, and Royal Blue. I tried it because a friend and I were having a long discussion while she was reading it and it was easier to just read parts of it myself. I abandoned it after 4 chapters or so because it was just so dire. It has loads of 5-star reviews at Goodreads, which reinforces my belief that people read books for a wide variety of reasons. I can only conclude that the readers who love this one are reading into the book a great deal that is not there and ignoring what is actually on the page. The characterizations are inconsistent and insubstantial, the setting bears no resemblance to anything in the supposedly real world in which it’s set (it’s an alternate timeline but not an alternate universe setting), and it is clearly supposed to be snarky and witty but for me it failed on almost every attempt. Some of the other negative reviews have described it as Tumblr-type fanfiction, which seems about right to me. The author has written an RPF fanfic of actors in The Social Network and after reading a bit of that story, I can see definite similarities in the approach and writing style.

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Weeknote 7

I’m so late this week! Blame it on more cross-country driving. We had beautiful weather and we had the chance to visit relatives and catch up, but I’m glad we’re done and settled.

Even though this week is more than half over, for consistency’s sake I’m writing this weeknote about last week.

Work

More meetings. Most went well. More tasks assigned to me, some of which are fine and some of which I wish I didn’t have to do. But what else is new! If I manage my time well I can take care of the administrative and teaching stuff without sacrificing research and writing time. I could write lots more on the work front, but I’d rather talk about other things!

Reading/Watching

I finished North and South. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I finally read it. There were passages that felt as if they fit the world we live in today, especially those which talked about Milton’s workers and how they were constantly busy and had almost no time to stop and think about their lives. I found the way Gaskell brought John and Margaret together to be quite interesting. Margaret slowly lost everyone around her that she most cared about, which pushed her toward John. She also had a chance to visit her home in the South and she discovered that it had changed and so had she. And John suffers setbacks which bring him closer to Margaret. By the end they both knew they were meant for each other and that each was right for the other person. It was an interesting way to bring about the happy ending. A bit contrived, obviously, but effective.

My library holds are coming in with a vengeance. I’d suspended a bunch because I knew I wouldn’t have time, and I cancelled some as well, but apparently I have a hold problem. 😉 One long-awaited hold was welcome, though: Ali Smith’s third installment in her Seasonal Quartet, Spring. I’ve read about a quarter of it so far. It’s very good in places and I like the characters she introduces first, but it hasn’t grabbed me the way Autumn did. It might be that I’m not giving it enough attention. I’ll finish it this week and report back.

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Weeknote 6

The flu is dragging on but I’m definitely improving.

Work

No writing this past week because (a) it was a short week in the office and (b) I was swamped with admin and teaching stuff. My sabbatical is basically over, whether it is supposed to be or not.

I had hours and hours of meetings with students and colleagues once I got back. The student meetings were enjoyable, the colleague ones a mix of enjoyable and difficult-work-related. More of the latter to come this week. Isn’t it always the way? But they’re necessary.

It’s interesting to write up these weeknotes and realize how much time I spend in appointments and meetings. I think I block that information from my memory, even though most of it is written down in my calendar. But the impromptu ones aren’t, and they are more frequent than I realize.

Reading/Watching

I continued reading North and South, which I’m about 3/4 of the way through at this point. I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m still not crazy about the dialect but I know it’s accurate (Gaskell’s husband wrote about Yorkshire dialect, I read somewhere), and it reminds me of Heyer. I also started and then set aside a Man Booker International shortlist book that I’d picked up last year: Annie Ernaux’s autofiction-memoir The Years. It is highly rated by the various MBI readers on GR and whose blogs I follow, but I found it a slog. The tone is unvarying (I’ve read the first 50 pages) and Ernaux charts her life through private and public events. I don’t mind when I don’t recognize the cultural references, but every single paragraph is related in the same pitch and style, and I just couldn’t keep going. I might dip into it again, but not now.

I also read a library book that was close to expiring: Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans. I’d been looking forward to it because it is a book set in the Mojave Desert area of California featuring stories about immigrants and other residents in a small town. I wrote a brief review at GR. It was mostly successful on its own terms, and at times I really enjoyed it, but I wasn’t crazy about the style, and the characters, especially the supporting ones, tended to show up when needed and then disappear. The main characters were engaging, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m just not part of the audience for contemporary books about educated, cosmopolitan people in their 20s and early 30s. Their lives are so different from what I and my similarly educated and placed cohort experienced, and I find myself impatient. Not so much in a #getoffmylawn way, but more in the sense that yes, things are bad for you, but not orders or magnitude worse than for a lot of people then or now. I think that’s why I’m enjoying the historical and 19thC fiction I’m reading. These days I prefer socially engaged fiction that isn’t mostly inward-looking.

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More social media trimming

Warning: navel-gazing ahead.

I thought about deleting my Goodreads account today. GR is the last social media platform I participate in, and I’ve been active there for the last couple of years. I returned to it when I started reading a lot of literary fiction again; I swore off the romance and related genre discussions quite a while ago, but the lit fic reviewers and groups didn’t seem to have the same kinds of recurring kerfuffles (NARRATOR: they do, just not as often). But they have their own idiosyncracies, like focusing to an obsessive degree not just on group reads of awards longlists and shortlists, but also choosing to spend lots of time and energy debating the worthiness of the books on those lists.

At first I found these discussions informative and mildly amusing. Having been buried in the romance genre for more than a decade, I hadn’t really paid attention to the proliferation of prizes in the lit fic world. But my goodness, they have not just multiplied but become much more prominent in terms of promotion through newspapers, magazines, and blogs. (#notallmedia, of course; the LRB, TLS, and NYRB don’t seem to care much about which books win prizes, but they’re in the minority.)

What isn’t different is the extent to which GR readers and reviewers depend on ARCs for their reading. Just as much as genre bloggers and reviewers, they try for Netgalley and Edelweiss, as well as obtaining ARCs directly from publishers. And there are a lot of small publishers in lit fic who are increasingly important to the health of the book industry in terms of innovation, creativity, and as incubators for new or new-to-English authors. This creates an intimacy between publishers and readers which is more similar to the relationship between authors and readers in romance than I’m comfortable with. One of the reasons I stopped reviewing romance novels and requesting ARCs was that I wanted to increase the distance between the author and/or publisher and me and decrease the distance between the book and me. I still don’t take ARCs, but when I review and discuss books at GR I know that authors and editors may be listening in. Which is absolutely their right, but it makes me think twice about what I post.

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Weeknote 5

Sorry for the delayed Weeknote and the radio silence over the last few days. I’m still recovering from the flu and we drove cross-country so I was mostly offline.

Work

I managed to do some this past week! I got out my unkillable zombie manuscript and started mapping out revisions, chapter by chapter. And they actually work. Maybe letting my brain wander around through the various options was a good idea. All that not-writing has turned into writing. Go me. I still need to finish the chapter outlines, but I will be able to keep quite a bit of what I have, which I wasn’t expecting. And the new parts are mostly things I’ve already been working on, so I don’t have as much to figure out from scratch as I originally thought.

I’m also back in meetings and admin. I am really going to pay for this semester off, I can tell already. One task is going to start this summer. Blergh. I thought I would be able to ease into old-person-colleague status and let the newly tenured, newly promoted, eager younger colleagues take over and I would just teach and do research. Ah well. Maybe next year.

Reading/Watching

I’m still reading North and South, which I’m enjoying a great deal. It’s more dramatic than I remember Cranford being, but now that I’m halfway through the romance is definitely picking up and we’ve got the impending deaths out of the way. My hold on Ali Smith’s Spring came in, so I will take a break from Gaskell and read that over the next week. It’s received some very good reviews and I’m curious to see where she goes in this seasonal installment.

In addition, spurred by an intriguing Goodreads review, I read Jarett Kobek’s latest work, Only Americans Burn in Hell. He’s the author of I Hate the Internet, which I haven’t read but now want to. OABiH is like being hit over the head with a mallet for 200+ pages, but it says a lot of things (over and over again) that I think need to be said. Kobek links consumption, surveillance, and capitalism in ways that I wish more people would pay attention to. We’re getting better with our realization that online life makes us give up a lot of privacy and control, quite apart from the cognitive effects it has on our modes of thought and interaction. But we’re still not really willing to acknowledge that the system itself is broken. We talk about the great friends we’ve made online (which is true) and the way it offers a window into the world for people who are isolated (which is also true), but we’re not really willing to confront the full individual and social costs.

I can’t decide whether to review the book on Goodreads, because (irony alert) that’s giving Amazon free content, which is part of his argument against GR and other platforms. And I’m not sure I can fully recommend it, given the mallet-to-head aspect. But I’m glad I read it.

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