ReaderWriterVille

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Category: reading

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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20 Books of Summer

It’s June 1 and time for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, one that I never manage to finish but enjoy putting together and working on. Despite giving up all reading challenges, and despite having read far fewer books at this point in the year than usual, I’m making a list.

I consulted my list from last year’s challenge, which I failed dismally, but one of the nice things about this challenge is Cathy’s emphasis that it doesn’t matter how you do it or whether you succeed, just have fun with it. I did manage to read 10 of the 20 from last year, but as Barb remarked, it was an ambitious list, and it turned out to be too ambitious. But here we go again. I’m picking a bunch of books that are half-finished (or less), some of which I’ll probably have to start over because it’s been so long; different books by authors whose books I didn’t finish last summer; and entirely new books.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. I read half of this a couple of summers ago and loved it but somehow didn’t manage to finish this and am not really sure why.

Street of Thieves by Mathias Énard. I failed to read Compass last year, so I’m picking a shorter, less demanding book of his from the TBR.

In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina. Yep, this was on the list last year. Let’s give it another go.

Occupied City by David Peace. A different Peace book than last year. This is #2 in his series of postwar Tokyo crime novels. I read the first one and thought it was brilliant (like all his books) and this has been staring at me from the bookshelf. I picked GB84 last year and failed to read it, but I can’t face that one this summer.

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Reading Notes: Genre edition

I read a bunch of books! I’m not sure how I managed that, since I’ve been grading and DUS-ing. But I discovered I’d finished three books in about a week: two mysteries and a romance/WF.

First up was The Janus Stone, the second installment in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Ruth and Nelson go to Norwich, where bones have been discovered in the foundation of a large Victorian house that was most recently a children’s home. The property is now being turned into tiny but luxurious and expensive flats. The novel is set shortly after the previous one, and Ruth is experiencing the joys of first-trimester pregnancy, complete with morning sickness. Her born-again Christian parents are very upset that she is pregnant and refuses to name the father. At first she can hide her pregnancy but as the story progresses and time elapses that becomes more difficult.

I had mixed feelings about the pregnancy storyline at the end of the last book, but it is a good way of keeping Ruth and Nelson connected without turning them into an insta-couple. Nelson loves his wife and has no intention of breaking up his family, and Ruth doesn’t want him to. Nelson’s wife Michelle is an appealing character, and I’m not sure how this triangle is going to be resolved (by which I mean, Michelle is going to have to know at some point and what’s that going to do to their marriage and family?) but so far Griffiths has written it in a way that earns my trust.

As for the mystery itself, the bones turn out to be that of a child from decades ago rather than centuries. Are they those of the little girl who vanished from the home, or are they someone else’s? The story widens to include the former priest and nuns who ran the home, the past owners of the house, and others. Cathbad returns, and Ruth is in jeopardy once again. I didn’t see many of the twists although by the end the villain was fairly obvious. It took a while, though. And the Norfolk countryside was as well portrayed as before.

Next up was Death in Devon, the second installment of Ian Sansom’s County Guides mysteries. These are only nominally mysteries and mostly about Morley, Sefton, Miriam, and the people they encounter as they travel around England for Morley’s project. I found Miriam just as annoying as in the first book and unfortunately she’s around more, but Morley is definitely growing on me. The story is set at a minor public boys’ school in Devon, where Morley’s old friend is headmaster and has asked him to come and give a keynote address. A smashed car is found on the beach below the cliffs and solving this mystery (suicide or not) leads them to other weird happenings. There are plenty of characters and at times there is an air of real menace. And there are caves.

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Reading Notes

I know, I can’t believe it either. It’s not a virus post! But as we talked about last post, the days are merging into weeks and I’m managing to read a bit, so let’s talk about that for a change.

I finished The Fellowship of the Ring, which I enjoyed immensely even though I kept seeing the movie actors instead of my own imagined characters. This was fine in some cases (Viggo as Aragorn, Ian McKellen as Gandalf) and not so fine in others (I’ve had enough Sean Astin as Sam to last me several trilogies, and ditto for Elijah Wood as Frodo). But that’s a small complaint. Finally I get to see why TheH always remembers and references Tom Bombadil and I can join him in lamenting Tom’s absence from the films. So far, I find the film’s changes to the books to be not horrible and even understandable, and I’m usually a curmudgeon when it comes to adaptations. Overall I prefer the book characters to the movie characters; they’re less pretty, more complex, and in the case of Merry and Pippin, less ditzy-annoying. But I can understand the changes and they’re not nearly as bad as they could have been.

fellowship 2011 cover

I’ve also been struck by the extent to which the film tracks with the books scenes and language. There are so many verbatim sections of dialogue and Jackson and his team did an amazing job of recreating some of the physical settings. New Zealand feels (and is) much bigger than Tolkien’s world, but it’s like looking at New England mountains and valleys and then the Rockies; they’re different in scale but somehow still part of the same continent.

But what about the book, you’re probably asking? What about my actual read of the actual novel? It was great. Just what I needed. In fact, it was so much more satisfying than I expected it to be. Maybe that’s why it’s a classic and beloved by millions? Heh. But yeah, I was totally swept up into it. I really appreciated that even in this, the more adult story (compared to The Hobbit), the violence is present but the worst bits are played down or fully off-page. It makes me realize how much of the films were devoted to grisly scenes, which when you read the source material you can see were pretty unnecessary from a storytelling point of view. Tolkien’s approach is a reminder that graphic and explicit aren’t necessary to communicate emotional and intellectual material.

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