ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: productivity

January recap

The groundhog said six more weeks of winter, and right on schedule an Arctic blast is heading toward us. We had days of rain this week but now snow and sub-zero temperatures are on their way. Good times. In other news, while I can’t say that every day is just like the one before, they are way too similar for my liking. At least Bill Murray was eventually able to modify his behavior to escape Groundhog Day. Meanwhile, here in Missouri, the vaccine has made it to hospital staff (which is very good) but not much past that.

WORK

I been teaching my undergraduate class in hybrid format for the last two weeks. This means that some students come to class and the rest log in remotely on Zoom. I’m in a classroom that has a non-pandemic capacity of 84 and a pandemic capacity of 31. So far I’ve had four or five students show up in person out of the 29 total in the class. I may get more, although probably not this week, what with the cold snap. But even having a handful makes it feel a bit more like a normal class. I am not good yet at managing the balance between the two groups, although we’ve had some stretches where people from both sites are talking. I’ll get back on our Teaching & Learning Center’s website and see if they have tips I haven’t thought of yet. It’s a work in progress, and it’s tiring, but it is so nice to be back in the classroom. And the mask isn’t nearly as inhibiting as I thought it would be; I have frequently forgotten I’m wearing it.

We have had several department meetings, none of them particularly enjoyable. We did revive our longest-running seminar as a Zoom meeting this week, and that worked well. It was lovely to see everyone again, and the paper was good, with excellent analysis from the discussant and equally insightful questions from the rest of the participants. Scholarship occurred!

Papers are being revised for resubmission to journals. Grant proposals are being written.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished one novel and part of a second in January. That was it. It’s the least I’ve read in years, probably more than a decade. I wanted to read, I wasn’t having reader’s block, I just didn’t have the time. The one book I did complete was excellent: Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about BBC people during the early years of WWII and the Blitz: Human Voices. It follows the fortunes of a handful of producers, assistants, and voice talent over the course of a few months. It’s very episodic with not much plot to speak of. People come and go, they experience love, career events, and sorrows. She drops the reader into the setting without explanation and you have to navigate any number of acronyms and jargon, but I just went with the flow.

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2021

It did seem at times as if 2020 was never going to end, but I guess it had to one way or another. I haven’t blogged since September and I’m of two minds about blogging regularly (mostly thinking no, but never say never). But it felt weird not to do some kind of year-end post. So here I am again. Hello!

Reading

I read 54 books in 2020, which is considerably fewer than in recent years, but not bad considering the circumstances. I read most in literary fiction, then mysteries, then SFF, then finally romance. The romance genre and I have finally broken up for good, or at least for the foreseeable future. It’s been coming, as you’ve no doubt noticed. I’ve enjoyed going back to mysteries, mixing new authors with old favorites. And my classic novel readings have been rewarding.

I’ve basically given up challenges and reading awards lists; I mostly ignored the Booker lists (both international and English-language) and not much on my favorite Goldsmith’s longlist appealed this year. I also just didn’t have the headspace for challenging books unless I knew in advance I wanted to read them. I kept up my focus on translated novels and found some gems in Korean and Japanese fiction. And early in the year (it really was still in 2020) I read the most recent Javier Cercas.

I read a lot from my TBR, with half of the 54 coming from that. I cancelled library holds and/or sent back requested books unread. I have a handful on hold for this winter, but they’re familiar authors. I was one of the few people who seemed to like and value reading the Don Delillo novella, The Silence. Yes, it was a lesser Delillo in some ways but it also speaks so much to our current conditions, or at least it did to me.

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Weeknote 7

Happy March! We were granted another sunny weekend with temperatures in the 50s. February did not feel nearly as long as endless January, but it didn’t fly by, either. But I think we are out of the bitter cold days, finally.

WORK

It’s grading time! Papers in Privacy and an exam in Political Protest. I am blessed with excellent graduate assistants, though, so I am very fortunate. And I have a couple of guest lecturers in protest, so I am easing into spring break. I’m on a law school panel about the Hong Kong protests this week, and there are a couple of committees for which I have to do some work, but otherwise it’s pretty quiet. Now that I’m not part of the governance apparatus for my department I can actually catch my breath and do things I want to do.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

On Sirius’s recommendation we also started watching the British TV series Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn, and were immediately hooked. The show is based on a series by Ann Cleeves and is set in northern England (the Angel of the North appears in the opening credit sequence). Vera is the stereotypical gruff loner detective but gender-switched. She doesn’t like children, has few friends, drinks, and is devoted to her job. But she cares deeply about the people around her, she just can’t/won’t show it. Blethyn is just as good as you’d expect. She plays the role with warmth and depth, and I love that she’s not playing her as the more common tough-as-nails type. There are several season so we have plenty of episodes to look forward to.

We also watched a very enjoyable independent film starring Keanu Reeves, called Henry’s Crime. Reeves is a highway tollbooth attendant who is tricked into driving a bunch of acquaintances to a bank robbery and is convicted of the ensuing crime. In prison he meets James Caan, who’s been in for years and is avoiding parole. When Reeves gets out he meets Vera Farmiga, an actress, and starts to have the first real adventure of his life. It’s entirely unbelievable and very low-key (to the point of being comatose, according to some reviewers), but the acting and Buffalo setting work well. If you’re a Keanu fan, check this out (we found it on Hoopla); you’ll get to see him performing scenes from The Cherry Orchard as a special bonus. He’s pretty good!

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Weeknote 6

It’s still February. It’s still winter, with the occasional warm day to suggest spring might show up eventually and the regular single-digit-degree morning to suggest otherwise.

WORK

We’re halfway through the semester, so time for midterms and papers. The poor students have been felled by one of the worse flu seasons we’ve seen in a while, so I’m just impressed when they show up to class and participate. Which they’ve been doing admirably, in both classes. In the Privacy class we watched and discussed CitizenFour, the documentary about Edward Snowden. Many of the students weren’t aware of the extent to which the government was hoovering up data on not just supposed terrorists but also citizens. And when your surveillance list comprises over 1.3 million names, that “supposed” is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished The Hobbit and will post my TBR Challenge review on it in the next couple of days. I enjoyed it a lot, and I probably would have adored it as a young person. The writing is occasionally quite lovely, although there are also sentences which I had to read two or three times to make sense of. It’s the ultimate Quest story, of course, and it’s very episodic. It isn’t really clear why each of the encounters and episodes needs to be in the story, except to introduce another part of the world and another set of interesting non-human characters. I also don’t understand at all why the film adaptation required three separate installments, except for the obvious motivation of that sweet, sweet financial return. I appreciated that in contrast to Peter Jackson, JRR Tolkien didn’t consider battles worthy of long descriptions. I got a good sense of what was going on and the characteristics of the participants in the amount of space he accorded them. I will move on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but after a break with some human literary companions.

We’ve been listening to music in the evenings rather than watching movies or TV shows. I know we watched something this week, but it must have been very timepass because I can’t remember what it was. I got back from a work function Friday night and enforced socializing left me fit only for a Midsomer Murders episode, which turned out to be one of the ones where the people are particularly unpleasant. And the policeman sidekick was the middle one who never clicked with Barnaby and was gone after a couple of seasons.

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Weeknote 5

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.

WORK

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.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

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.

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