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Category: personal

Harlequin TBR Housekeeping

I’ve been knocking more books off the Harlequin TBR. For those of you who weren’t around when I started this TBR last year, it came into being when I downloaded all the books I had purchased directly from the Harlequin website (which I began doing in 2007). I went through this because HarperCollins decided to stop letting readers download their (DRM-protected) books to their computers; now they are only readable online or through a dedicated app. Good times.

While I was pretty sure I had most of them backed up in local folders, I downloaded every last one of them just to be sure. I wound up with 620 books, and I wasn’t sure how many I’d already read (Harlequin titles tend to run together). My first pass at the list got me down to 516 books. Then, as I would peruse the covers looking for new reads, I realized I had read more of them that I initially thought, so I went through and struck off a few more.

My next move was to get rid of author backlists if I didn’t like a book I’d read or was sure I was done with their work. As a result of these purges my last TBR read was #466.

But I’m still culling. A recent and very persuasive review by Miss Bates (Kay) sent me to see what I had by Maisey Yates in the TBR. I only had one book from my Harlequin purchases, surprisingly, and it was a novel in a Harlequin connected series in the Presents line called The Santina Crown. I’ve enjoyed some of Harlequin’s themed series, and I bought a number of these. But when I started reading her prequel novella for the series, The Life She Left Behind, I had trouble with it. It’s well written and it features reunited lovers, which is a trope I enjoy and which works well in a shorter format. But the hero is an Arab prince (named Taj for some reason) and I realized that I just can’t read Sheikh or Fake Middle Eastern Royal Hero books anymore. I’m probably also going to balk at books that glorify men in the military or the police, unless maybe if they are Regular Joe kind of guys (I’m pretty sure Janice Kay Johnson has written a few of these).

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Weeknote 17

This is our last week before we hit the road and start the school ratrace again next week. And it starts up as soon as we get back. I’m just hoping for decent weather and no big thunderstorms in the plains.

WORK

I managed to get some more work done this week! Amazing. My coauthor and I have found some interesting things going on with a survey we fielded via mTurk, which may be worth a research note in the end. It’s not completely surprising that mTurk workers are not always who they say they are and that has consequences for research, and many of us have been suspicious of the platform for years, but the way this survey was skewed was intriguing.

My committee is humming along nicely. Everyone is doing their bit and we disagree without being disagreeable. Is there higher praise? I think not.

I have one more almost-finished paper draft to get off my desk and then I will breathe a sigh of relief. And start packing up.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished An Orchestra of Minorities this week. It is an unusual novel, mixing Igbo cosmology with a plot and characters which owe a great deal to classical Western literature from Homer to Milton to Shakespeare. The main character suffers so many tragedies in his life, and in the final section he becomes consumed by a desire for vengeance. The story took some turns I wasn’t expecting, which was enjoyable, and I found the main character Chinonso’s journey sad but believable and important. I agree with reviewers who say the women characters weren’t well developed, but given everyone felt like an archetype I could live with it. I also appreciated the way the trajectory Ndali, the main female character played out, neither vilified nor idealized. The ending is tragic but given the storyline, it was always going to go there somehow.

I also finished Ironopolis, one of my 20 Books of Summer picks, which I had been picking up and putting down for the last month. It’s very good, but it’s a hard read. Set in Middlesborough from the mid-1980s through the present, it tells the story of a sink estate through the voices of half a dozen characters who are connected to each other in various ways. It negotiates the difficult line between sentimentalizing and condescending, but there’s no way around the fact that the lives of people in these positions mostly became worse over this period, as jobs went away, housing fell into disrepair, and drugs and alcohol became plentiful and/or cheap. Of the various books I’ve read with spirits and rural-English mythical beings, I thought this one handled it as well as any. I’ll write up a full review of this and the Obioma soonish.

No TV or movies this week, because we had a friend visiting who helped TheH with necessary household work. We now have a new floor in the guest bathroom and various other improvements. Go them. We ate well, though; lots of fresh fish from the boats at Half Moon Bay.

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Weeknote 16

It was an uneventful week, with very little out-and-about-ness. I minimized movement to give my knee time to recover (tendons and inflammation cannot be exercised/powered through) and it’s the dog days work-wise, so I read and did house stuff, mostly.

WORK

My coauthor and I wrapped up the first draft of our conference paper, so yay for us. It’s a very good paper, at least I think it is, and I can say this because I feel as if my coauthor did most of the work. He’s presenting it as a poster at the conference and I don’t have much left to do.

This week I get to nudge my committees and colleagues to the next stage of our tasks. So email! As I write these weekly notes, I realize how much time I spent either writing email, responding to email, or thinking about which emails I have to deal with and in what capacity. I guess it’s just the 21stC equivalent of memos, but somehow it seems more endless.

I should probably start thinking about what I want to change up in my classes this semester. I’m doing an overload this fall (don’t ask) and for scheduling and other reasons I have three, which I’ve only done one other time. It’s doable as long as I’m very organized (hahahaha) but it’s tiring. One of them is on immigration, which went really well last year but with everything going on I probably need to think about how I’m going to approach it.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished up Lost Children Archive, my fourth Booker longlist read, and I need to write the review. The first half was a slog and I can’t say I really enjoyed it, although it was interesting and I think I could see what the author was trying to do. The second half was much better and very powerful. The book as a whole made me think a lot about where my limits are to reading autofiction: what kind, what works and what doesn’t, etc. I’m now reading the next two more or less together: Ducks, Newburyport and An Orchestra of Minorities. The latter is from the library and I need to get it read before I have to return it. It’s quite compelling and I’m finding it hard to put down even though the style is more ornate than I usually go for. Ducks is hypnotic, at least I’ve fallen into the rhythm quite easily. I don’t know how it will feel for 1000 pages, but so far I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s really accomplished.

We watched the next Maigret and Foyle’s War episodes, both of which were about attitudes toward immigrants. They hit a bit close to home and I wouldn’t say they were entirely enjoyable, although they were excellently done. I’m just so worn out and my ability to cope with endless, avoidable tragedy is at a low. The Jackson Brodie installment we watched, which was merely about routine corruption and murder, seemed almost mundane in comparison, and how sad is that?

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Social Media Downsizing

As advertised, I’ve deactivated my main Twitter account. I kept it for the year I was off Twitter because the other two times I killed my accounts someone immediately grabbed the username. But Twitter will have to become something entirely different for me to return, and since that is unlikely it doesn’t matter to me if @ProfNita is swept up into Botland.

I’ve also deleted my Goodreads account. Longtime readers and friends know about my love-hate with Goodreads and my hesitance about going back. It’s been a much better experience this time and I’ve enjoyed a lot of my interactions. But as usual, I have negative visceral reactions when Someone Is Wrong on the Internet, and it sucks up my time and energy to fight my inevitable desire to correct them. It’s a stupid trait but not one I’ve been able to eradicate. I love talking to people about books, but the people I most want to talk to aren’t the only ones I wind up interacting with or paying attention to.

Thanks to Laura Vivanco I just read a post by Meljean Brook that describes my condition exactly, because it’s apparently her condition as well:

Twitter has a constant stream of info coming at you from people who really do have a lot of interesting and important things to say. But I wasn’t doing a good job of prioritizing my own mental health and needs.

(And ha, this was explicitly demonstrated to be the right move, because I deleted my Twitter right before the plagiarism/ghostwriting scandal erupted, and although I of course followed it…not having a Twitter account that is connected to so much of romancelandia made it all much easier check in on the few people I still follow, then go. So I was informed but not obsessively checking, and it made a huge difference.)

I have done this exact same thing with Twitter (especially before the recent Horrible Redesign) and I do it with GR too. There are key public groups whose discussions I can compulsively read and with which I am mentally arguing on a too-regular basis, and I don’t seem to be able to stop. They’re not as bad for my well-being as rabbit holes and kerfuffles of the past, but they’re not good either and they distract me from producing rather than consuming. I’m so much better than I was, but I’m still not where I want to be.

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Weeknote 15

I didn’t write a Weeknote last week, so this is two weeks’ worth.

WORK

Work has been slow and unproductive. I’ve had trouble sitting down and writing (probably why I didn’t do a Weeknote last week, it’s hard to report lack of progress. But not talking about it doesn’t make it go away).

I was also avoiding work email, but I’m catching up now. The summer is really almost over, because the work emails that aren’t about stuff that had to be done in the summer are starting to roll in. *cries*

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

While avoiding work I managed to get a fair bit of reading done. The Booker list came out on the 26th (at midnight BST, so at 4pm CDT on the 25th) and I dove into the ones I had access to. I read and reviewed My Sister the Serial Killer and I also finished John Lanchester’s The Wall, which I need to review. I then started Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive. In addition, I made progress on Ironopolis and read a Regency anthology from the Harlequin TBR, both for my 20 Books of Summer challenge. I have a feeling I won’t complete the challenge, but I still have five weeks to go so you never know. Barb said I’d picked a challenging list and she was right. It doesn’t help that I have a bunch of long and/or concentration-requiring books on it.

Or that I’m reading and listening to books that aren’t on the list! I’ve had the audiobook of Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? on the TBR forever. I read all the Palliser novels back in high school, but I’ve wanted to reread them. The narration is by Timothy West and he’s wonderful. I’m listening when I hike or jog by myself, and the audio is over 32 hours long, so it’s not going all that fast but it’s great. I’m impressed yet again by how Trollope can combine unsentimental acuity with empathy. I just finished a seaside party section that is up there with Emma‘s Box Hill scene.

On the watching front, we continued with the second Maigret (just as good as the first) and started rewatching Foyle’s War from the beginning. Everyone is so young! I’d forgotten how good the early seasons were, and how much Horowitz shows you the complex and not always admirable ways that different Brits reacted to the early months of the War. The first two episodes take us up to Dunkirk. I’m assuming you’ve all seen them, but if you haven’t, get started! And Michael Kitchen is brilliant.

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