ReaderWriterVille

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Weeknote 13

It’s July. Good grief. Oh well, at least I have six weeks left before school starts. And we finally have a stove, so we can cook normal meals again.

WORK

Same as it ever was. Although this past week I’ve been doing as much reading as memo writing and phone meetings. That makes a nice change and reminds me of why I got into this profession in the first place. It’s especially rewarding to read work by younger scholars and see how my fields of research are advancing.

But have no fear, the admin isn’t going away. Our chair just sent out next year’s operational memo and everyone is overburdened as usual. I’m grateful to be in a department with no slackers, but it would be nice to have a light year without having to go on leave. Still, our department is more fortunate than many and I’m not complaining. Much. đŸ˜‰

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I’m a bit bogged down in my reading, in the sense that I’m having trouble finding books where the reading experience is fully satisfying. It’s not the books, it’s me. I’m about a quarter of the way through Ironopolis by Glen James Brown and it’s very good. But it’s also reminding me of how depressing and sad the world is in some ways, and I’m burning out on that. I’ve been reading more lit fic than anything else for the past few years and while I’m enjoying and appreciating the books a great deal, they’re emotionally demanding.

To get back into the reading groove I turned to genre fiction in the form of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I had DNF’d the first one years ago but this time I was prepared for the sort-of-procedural it was and I had a great time reading it. I fell into the world she created and wanted to stay in it when I finished, so I went straight to the second installment. That one I didn’t love quite as much; as Liz and Barb remarked at Goodreads, it was probably the back-to-back reading, which never works that well for me. You start seeing all the author’s trademarks and tics. And this one was even more ruminative and discursive than the first book. Still, the two novels together had the intended effect of helping me immerse myself in a fictional world.

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Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson just released her fifth Jackson Brodie novel after a years-long hiatus in which she wrote acclaimed general/literary fiction novels. I started and put aside this one years ago, and then I intended to go back after watching and enjoying Jason Isaacs in the TV adaptation but it has languished on my TBR. Discussion of the latest Brodie piqued my interest again, though, so I picked it up and started over from the beginning. This time I was prepared for the discursive, meandering style and the lack of emphasis on the actual investigative procedure aspect, and I enjoyed it a lot. So much, in fact, that I went straight on to start the next installment, One Good Turn.

Jackson Brodie is a 45-year-old PI. He’s an ex-military policeman and an ex-detective, born in Yorkshire but who has lived in Cambridge for the last decade-plus. He is recently divorced and shares custody of his eight-year-old daughter. His ex-wife, who when married to him neither wore a wedding ring nor changed her name, is now living with a Cambridge lecturer and knits, gardens, and generally does the hausfrau things she scorned with Jackson. Jackson doesn’t drink too much, but he has recently gone back to smoking too much and spends a lot of time musing about his life in internal monologues.

The plot itself comprises three crime threads, all of which we see from the characters’ POVs. The first thread involves the disappearance 35 years ago of a young child, Olivia, who is beloved by her sisters and her mother (the father, a self-described brilliant mathematician academic, is barely involved with his family). Her now middle-aged sisters discover her favorite stuffed animal among her fathers’ things after his death, which leaves them stunned and looking for answers. The second thread is about the senseless, unsolved killing of an 18-year-old young woman named Laura ten years previously and her father’s inability to stop looking for the killer. The third thread concerns a young family in which the wife was convicted of her husband’s brutal murder and their baby daughter Tanya was given to her paternal grandparents, but who as a teenager has disappeared. There is also a fourth character, Binky Rain, a very old woman who has dozens of cats and who calls Jackson every time one of them goes missing.

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ReaderWriterLinks

Readerlinks are back!

This article on McDonald’s as a community space resonated with me because I see these kinds of groupings in small towns when we drive cross-country. It’s the only time we eat in McD’s, and we don’t always go inside. But when we do, whether it’s small-town Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nevada, or Wyoming, we’ll often see tables of old people, moms with kids, or some other community group having a meal together.

For America’s graying cohort, often sectioned off by age at places like senior centers, the dining room of a fast-food restaurant is a godsend. It’s a ready-made community center for intergenerational mingling. The cost of admission is low—the prices beckon those on fixed incomes—and crucially, the distance from home is often short. And that’s just one demographic.

In spite of the plastic seats, the harsh lighting, and in many cities, the semi-enforced time limits for diners, people of all sorts can sit and stay and stay and stay—at birthday parties, first dates, father-daughter breakfasts, Bible-study groups, teen hangs, and Shabbat dinners. Or at supervised visitations and meet-ups for recovering addicts. For those who crave the solace of a place to call home that is not home, a fast-food dining room offers it, with a side of fries.


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Weeknote 12

Weeknotes are back. Which means, sadly, that my vacation is over and normal life has resumed.

Work

I spent the week catching up. Emails, phone meetings, memo writing, and other sundry administrative tasks. Don’t you love forms that must be signed the old fashioned way? That means receiving the form, printing it, signing it, scanning it, and then emailing it onward. An electronic signature would take a fraction of the time to sign and send back. And no, this isn’t a legal document or a HIPAA/FERPA form. Sigh.

Reading/Watching/Listening

I am behind on my 20 Books of Summer list. I am reading, but not as much, and I’ve been reading non-list books like Iain M. Bank’s Culture novel, Matter. It’s very good, although frequently quite discursive in that patented Banks way. But I’m enjoying it. I did manage to read Sarah Morgan’s most recent release, which I wrote about in a previous post, and I liked it a lot.

I’m still thinking about the Women’s Fiction/Genre Romance debate. A lot of my romland friends are bummed by the switch to WF by longtime romance authors, but the market for contemporary and historical romance is just not very profitable for publishers anymore. If you don’t want to self-publish then you pretty much have to move into a romance-adjacent genre, or at least that’s how it seems to me. It isn’t new for romance authors to shift to more high-profile genres with hardback options; category authors started doing it in the 1980s and 1990s. It might just be that social media amplifies the voices who dislike these moves, or it may be that social media and the internet more generally allow more people to see publishing shifts happen in real time than was the case in the past. Anyway, I’m still going on a author-by-author, book-by-book basis.

I fell way behind on my podcasts but have been catching bits and pieces of the Women’s World Cup. England v. USA on Tuesday should be something. England demolished Norway and the USA did not look its best while beating France, so who knows.

We watched another episode of Good Omens (still fun) and the first episode of the most recent season of Endeavour, which has finally premiered on PBS. We were gone for the first one and missed the second one, but PBS gives us a few weeks to catch up for free if we give them our email. It was good! Although Endeavour’s moustache is not. It’s very true to 1970s style, I admit, but I keep wanting to reach into the TV and brush it off his face.

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20 Books of Summer: Books 1-3

It’s almost July and I’ve only finished three of my 20 books. Ack! Oh well, better than zero I suppose. One was for the Romance TBR Challenge and two others were on my list.

A Month in the Country by JL Carr.

So many people have raved about this book, including Barb and Liz, that I was sure I’d love it, and when I found a gently used copy in my local used bookstore I snapped it up. It has sat on my shelf for quite a while, though, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dive it. It is a short book, more of a novella, and it was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980.

I don’t know why I expected this to be a relatively spare, unemotional book because it’s quite the opposite. The language is lush and the reader is immediately enmeshed in the atmosphere of a Yorkshire village just after WW1. The narrator, Tom Birkin, is a veteran who has come to this village to uncover a mural buried under coats of whitewash in a village church. He is separated from his wife, suffering the aftereffects of battle, and generally at a not-great place. As he works on the mural he slowly makes connections with villagers and with another veteran who is working there and comes to a more peaceful place. The novel has been described as elegant and poetic, and it is that.

It took me a while for the book to work its magic on me, perhaps because I was (for no good reason) expecting a different style. I didn’t warm immediately to Tom himself, but when he started to interact with the villagers and become part of the community, it came to life. There are some sad scenes and some quite funny scenes (e.g. when Tom substitutes for Mr. Ellerbeck at a church meeting). Overall, though, it felt like a book written in mid-century, not the late 1970s. Reading Carr’s biography it is clear he was an unusual person, so that might account for the tone. Anyway, it was excellent, even if I appreciated it more than was captivated by it. I imagine if I read it a second time I will start raving about it too, though.


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