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The Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. In the arts prizes. Richard Powers won the fiction award for The Overstory (I was not a fan) and the finalists were The Great Believers and There There. I was very pleased to see Carlos Lozada win the criticism award since he’s a book critic. How often does that happen? And Darrin Bell became the first African-American to win the editorial cartooning prize. I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet I am.


I really enjoy Tim Parks’s posts in the NYRB blog. He is an novelist, translator (of Italian) and essayist, and I’ve been reading him since I came across his book on Italian soccer. This is a departure from his more recent essays on global literature and translation issues. It’s an exploration of the relationship between modes of travel and the novel:

I want to go further and suggest that there is actually a deep affinity between a book and a means of transport, just as there is an evident analogy between a story and a journey. Both go somewhere. Both offer us a way out of our routine and a chance to make unexpected encounters, see new places, experience new states of mind. But without too much risk. You fly over the desert, or race across it, but you don’t actually have to experience it. It’s a circumscribed adventure. So it is with a book. A novel may well be shocking or enigmatic or dull or compulsive, but it is unlikely to do you too much damage.

He closes with an unabashed love note to the way trains and novels go together, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about the pace and sound of rolling stock that goes with a big, thick novel. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains and reading everything from romantic sagas to Henry James has been an integral part of the experience. Ereaders have made traveling with books a lot easier, but I kind of miss sitting in a train compartment with a big fat book, working my way through the chapters as the miles roll by.


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Weeknote 3

It felt like a busier week than it probably was, in part because I had unexpected appointments (and cancellations) that changed the way I thought it would unfold.

Work

I’m done with letters and recommendations for the season, I’m pretty sure. But I kept meeting with grad students and undergrads. They are rewarding, no question, but I have to prepare for them.

I was supposed to be in town in part to participate in the campus visit of a distinguished professor of South Asian studies who would be giving public lectures and smaller presentations as well as lunching and dining with faculty and university officers. Alas, the giant storm that blew through the center of the country made it impossible for the Distinguished Visitor to visit. It was a big disappointment, not only because these visits are organized months in advance, but also because the talks and meetings promised to be particularly interesting. I hope it can be rescheduled.

I also had impromptu meetings about department issues that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. And yes, I’m supposed to be not meeting on this stuff, but that’s not always feasible. At least I’m out of town for this week’s slate of important stuff. Here’s hoping I won’t retrospectively wish I’d been there for them.

Writing, what is that? Oh yeah, I remember!

Reading/Listening

I finished the two books I talked about last week and they were just as good as I thought they’d be. I owe you reviews of them, and they’re coming, I promise! I paused for a bit, because when you finish two excellent reads it can be hard to pivot to something new. I burned time reading about the books on the BTBA longlist and tracking them down via Overdrive, Hoopla, and ebook vendors. I’m still not going to read them all! But there are some intriguing books on there and at least half of the longlist is available either on loan or at reasonable prices to buy.

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Weeknote 2

Another Sunday, another Weeknote. And already I’m feeling a bit stressed because I didn’t finish what I meant to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything, just other things.

Work

The paper is closer to being off my desk but not yet off my desk. I cracked something that had been eluding me for a couple of weeks, though, so that was progress. Now it’s a matter of getting it down on paper. I should have the bulk of it to my coauthor by Tuesday and then it will take another day or two to polish off the rest of what I need to do, while he’s working on the part I’ve given him.

I had multiple meetings about administrative stuff with colleagues this week. Of course I’m not supposed to but that’s the price you pay when you go to the office. And when things need to get done or they’ll be bigger and much worse when it is the proper time to work on them. But I think we solved a couple of issues that I couldn’t have addressed by myself, and I should be able to move stuff on to the next round this week. If I tie myself to a chair, since writing memos is not in the top 100 things I enjoy doing. Bullet points! Problem-solution format!

One more letter of recommendation and some emails. A doddle.

I was about to type: and then maybe I can get back to other writing I’ve been wanting to do. Which is exactly the wrong way to think about it. It has to be incorporated into all this other stuff I’m doing. One of the mistakes academics who devote a lot of time and attention to teaching make is to think you can do the other work, the non-outward-facing work, in down times like weekends, non-teaching-related days, summers. But that’s not how it works. It has to be part of your regular practice.

Reading

I’m in the midst of a couple of books this week. I took a break from the Man Booker International list and started Country by Michael Hughes, which I’ve had out via ILL for the last two months but haven’t managed to read. It goes back this weekend so it’s now or never. So far it’s really good. Hughes relocates the characters and storyline of The Iliad to 1990s Northern Ireland. We have characters named Achill, Pat, and Nellie. The writing is musical and recalls Homer while still being entirely modern and Irish. Cathy of 746Books has an excellent review here. It doesn’t come out in the US until October, but I hope it gets a good promotional push. And for you audiobook fans, look for it in that version.

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Weeknote 1

This is the first in what I hope is a regular Sunday series. I got the idea from Baldur Bjarnason, who got the idea from Amy Hupe and other people. A Weeknote is pretty much what it sounds like: a weekly report that is similar to journaling but more public. I don’t journal, and while I’m good at making to-do lists I’m very bad at doing the week-in-review or week-to-come lists which are also cornerstones of many productivity systems. I’ll use my weeknotes to talk about work, reading, and miscellaneous stuff.

Work

I have been working on revisions to a paper that needs to be sent out sooner rather than later. It’s our third round because every time you submit to a journal you need to tweak it for that particular audience. It’s been rejected twice, which is not unusual in my discipline, especially when the paper appeals across several audiences but isn’t necessarily core to any of them. This is the biggest tweak we’ve done since our initial post-conference-presentation revisions, and my part has taken me a while. But I was finally able to get myself into the headspace I needed (changing disciplinary audiences is harder than moving to a different audience within the same discipline), and I’m almost done. Which is good because I’m thoroughly sick of this paper and need it to go away.

I also had some teaching and tutorial work to do this week despite not being in residence. Recommendation letter, grad students, and recruitment do not go away just because I want to.

Reading

I finished a couple of books this week, both library reads that were about to expire. Both were excellent. I read Claudia Rankine’s The White Card, which is the script of a play she wrote that was produced last year in Boston. I have a review of it scheduled for tomorrow. I also finished Juan Gabrial Vasquez’s The Shape of the Ruins, which I read as part of the Man Booker International longlist. I’ve only read two plus parts of three others, but it is going to be hard to beat. Review to come.

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Productivity 2019

For a number of years I was in the habit of writing posts on my productivity tools and habits every January, but then I fell off the wagon and missed a few years. This year I decided to write one again, but it’s taken me until March to put fingers to keyboard. Part of the reason is probably that I haven’t changed many things over the last couple of years. I bought one medium-priced and one inexpensive fountain pen in 2017/18, I’m using the same planner I have for the last three years, I use the same color scheme in my planner to make looking at teaching-related stuff easier, and I’ve generally been happy with my tools. My issue is not the tools but making sure I use them.

Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile having a record. I do go back and read previous years’ posts, marveling at how many different things I tried and how much seems to remain the same across time. So many notebooks! A range of planners! Pens, pens, pens. And of course computers and files and all the odds and ends that go in an everyday carry bag. I’ll do a “what’s in my bag” post at some point, but here I’ll talk about the actual tools and what I do with them.

Planners

I’m still using the Hobonichi Techo planner (the English-language version). It’s worked well for me over the last few years and I love having the full day-per-page format and the thin but fountain-pen friendly Tomoe River Paper. I’m also still using the compact leather cover I picked up a couple of years ago. I couldn’t resist the Alaska cover in this year’s collection, but I switch back and forth between the two. My pen is a Sailor Profit fountain pen with a 14k EF nib. It’s perfect for the Hobo because it lays down a smooth line and dries quickly. I also keep a small notebook in the inside back of the cover, and it stores my IDs and a couple of credit cards so I don’t have to carry a separate wallet.

This year I also started using the Hobonichi 5-year planner in the A6 size. I looked at it last year but didn’t get one. But it’s nice to be able to see past years’ activities quickly, or it will be after the first year. We do a lot of the same travelling every year, and I wind up digging out the previous years’ planners to remember where we went, what route we took, restaurants, etc.

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