ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: reading

Weeknote 1

Thank you all for the lovely and welcoming comments on my last post. I have no idea whether this blogging thing will take again, but weeknotes seem like the best way to get back into the swing of posting.

I read novels! I finished Percival Everett’s Telephone, which I’d started in December 2021. It was excellent. If you’ve read anything about the book you know that there were three published versions. They don’t differ that much, but the few changes do have an effect on the way readers see the character and also the way the ending is presented. I read the “C” version, which is probably the saddest but still has a feeling of hopefulness about it. The story involves a sick child, character deaths, and a less than entirely sympathetic narrator, so I can’t recommend it to every reader without caveats, but Everett is a tremendous writer and his depiction of academia and academics is pitch-perfect. I also read an early Maigret, The Saint-Fiacre Affair, which was also very good but had so many exclamation points. I don’t know if it was the translator’s choice or in the original, but I don’t associate Maigret with those. And I just finished A Far Cry From Kensington, by Muriel Spark. It draws on Spark’s experiences working in publishing and it’s wonderfully astringent. There were a lot of angry, extremely talented women in the 1950s, weren’t there?

If you’re wondering how I managed to read 2+ books in a week after taking a year to read 18, well, it’s winter break. And the latter two were short. I love a big baggy novel as much as anyone, but short novels are really handy when you aren’t sure your concentration will hold up, especially when they’re as well written as these are. It does make me want to read a 19thC doorstopper, though.

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TGIF and the end of 2021

Well hello there. It’s been a while. Except for a quick post back in April, I haven’t blogged since January. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I didn’t want to add to the online cacophony and I’ve been trying to live my life offline as much as possible. Looking back, I realized that I’ve blogged less than a dozen times since May 2020.

But I miss blogging in a number of ways:

  • I miss my regular visitors and knowing how they are.
  • I miss writing; no, that’s not accurate because I write quite a bit in other venues. But I miss the kind of writing blogging is, the musing out loud and then having it go out into the world. Despite not wanting to participate in the online world much, I missed this kind of participating. Social media is so different from the old blog world.
  • I miss documenting my existence in a way that isn’t entirely self-referential. I still journal semi-regularly, but that’s just for me. The in-between of expressing oneself in public in an informal way isn’t really captured elsewhere, at least not that I have access to.
  • I like end of the year posts!

Having been away so long, it’s hard to know what to write. Year-end format to the rescue!

READING

I read less fiction this year than I have in decades. A grand total of 18 books. There were a couple of months where I didn’t finish a single novel. And I only got to 18 because I read a handful of really short books, barely novella-length. I can’t tell you why I read so little this year because I don’t know. There was the Euro not-2020 tournament in the summer, but that’s not stopped me before. And I’ve been reading for work without any trouble. Ah well, I just hope 2021 was a one-off, because I missed reading even when I couldn’t manage it.

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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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