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2020: Wardrobe adjustments

I’m trying a few new strategies this year and I’m planning to write posts on them so that I can go back and revisit how I’m doing in a few months. First up: changes I’ve made to my closet. I decluttered using the Marie Kondo method back in 2015, but now my closet and drawers are full again and I need to purge a bunch of stuff. I also discovered technical clothing last spring and summer, mostly because of one-bagging the Wales vacation and then going minimal on weekend trips. But I also like having clothes that I can wear for a while and that all go together. I wear a lot of neutral colors, but I’ve been buying a few individual pieces in brighter shades to mix things up.

I decided to try a version of a capsule wardrobe called Project 333. The idea is that you have 33 pieces that you wear for thee months and then you choose another 33 for the next three months, etc. It’s more season-friendly, which is handy for people like me who live in places with well-defined seasons. I thought about doing the uniform thing, wearing one outfit all the time, but I can’t see teaching in the same clothes over and over. I’m still scarred by a friend’s teaching evaluations where her clothes were critiqued for not being varied enough. I’ve received evaluations that made observations about my clothes and even my jewelry; they were friendly ones but it’s a bit weird to me that students would notice and comment.

I expanded the 33-item requirement a bit by not counting cold-weather accessories (gloves, hats, and outdoor-only scarves) and jewelry. For the latter I’ll stick to a small rotation which is what I usually do anyway. But I wear multiple bracelets at a time and those add up fast. The point, I think, is to reduce choice, which I practice without really thinking about it. I have a bunch of jewelry but I tend to cycle through rather than making new choices every day. And according to the rules I don’t have to count loungewear, exercise clothes, and underclothing in the 33.

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Art break: Kara Walker's Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern

At the end of our Fen Rivers Way walk we spent a couple of nights in London. One of our main goals was to go to the Tate Modern and see the current installation in the Turbine Hall. I’d read about Kara Walker’s new work in the Guardian and we felt really fortunate that our trip would overlap with the exhibit. We were staying in Holborn and it was one of those cloudy/sunny London days, so we walked down to the Tate in the morning. There wasn’t much of a crowd yet, and the Turbine Hall is free to enter.

Walker’s sculpture is a reimagining of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. That original piece was commissioned as a celebration of the Queen-Empress and her accomplishments, complete with a Winged Victory statue at the top. Walker’s has Venus in its place, one who spouts water from both breasts as well as from her neck.

It’s a breathtaking piece which interrogates imperialism, the 19thC fetish for nationalist and imperial monuments, and the UK and US’s still under-examined and very partial understanding of the consequences of their imperial enterprises. The nautical aspects of the original work here call forth memories of the Atlantic slave trade, with the ships lost as sea, the families torn apart, and the sharks that filled the waters (the sharks are also a reference to the famous Damien Hirst shark in formaldehyde).

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2019 reading review and plans for 2020

In the hellscape that has been 2019, my reading was a bright spot. I didn’t read as much as I did in 2018 and I failed a bunch of challenges, but I enjoyed what I read. I broadened my reading horizons and revisited old favorites. I’m not going to make a Top 10 list, but here are some books and patterns that stood out to me.

2019

I read 70 71* books this year. The first half had me on pace to read 100 again, but by summer I was mired in work stuff, and my vacation and other travels were less reading-friendly than usual. Fall semester was even worse, and there were stretches where I barely read at all. Given those developments, 71 books feels like an accomplishment. And last year I wondered if I’d read too many books, because I want to remember what I read. Anyway, the total number is fine. I didn’t have a total books goal, so what I read is what I read. I’ve been cataloguing them at LibraryThing, so you can see the full range of my 2019 reading there.

Of the 71, the majority were 4 stars or above. That isn’t great for a reviewer’s distribution, but for a reader it’s satisfying. Apart from a couple of lists with a range of types of books (TOB) and challenges (especially the Romance TBR Challenge) I tended to pick books I expected to like. As opposed to when I was reviewing for Dear Author, I didn’t feel as if I had to cover a particular swath of the genre.

I read more books in translation than I have in the past, in part because I followed the Man Booker International award in the spring. I also read a few more translated mysteries by Japanese authors, and I paid more attention to translated Quebecois fiction. And I continued to buy books from Fitzcarraldo, who publish quite a bit of translated fiction.

My standout translated novels were The Sound of Things Falling, Soldiers of Salamis, At Dusk, and Life in the Court of Matane. I still have Songs for the Cold of Heart, Dupont’s Giller shortlisted book, in the TBR and plan to read it soonish. A friend strongly recommended Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling, and I have two more Cercas novels in the TBR (and he has a new one coming out this year). And while I DNF’d two highly regarded translations, I think I’ll revisit both of them, because I may have just read them at the wrong time.

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The Honorable Schoolboy by John le Carré

My reread through the Smiley novels continues, and this was a big one. I’ve never revisited The Honourable Schoolboy after the initial read, and I’m pretty sure I powered through it way too quickly on my way to Smiley’s People, because I remembered very little of the story. This installment is highly rated by most reviewers, although Clive James panned it in the NYRB when it first came out. And he’s not wrong about the “elephantiasis, of ambition as well as reputation” that seems to undergird the novel. But I agree with the majority who praised it. Yes, it’s baggy and long and there are a multitude of storylines. But it’s not that way only (or even primarily) in order to produce a novel that is more than “merely entertaining” any more than The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is merely entertaining.

The novel takes a while to get going. We are first introduced to a group of foreign journalists in Hong Kong, who are hanging out and speculating about the sudden rolling up of the British government office there. We then move to Tuscany, where the Honourable Jerry Westerby has rented a small house, taken up with a young woman he refers to as “the orphan,” and is desultorily writing a book. There’s a surfeit of local color and stereotypically colorful characters in both settings, and I had to force myself to keep going. But then Westerby receives a telegram that send him back to London, the Circus, and George Smiley. The Circus is in dire straits after the discovery of Karla’s mole in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the atmosphere is funereal. But Smiley and his much shrunken band of investigators discover, during their wrapping-up operations, that there may be an important Moscow agent operating in East Asia. Jerry Westerby assumes the guise of a journalist and heads off to Hong Kong, while in London Smiley puts together a team of Soviet and China hands (the former led by Connie Sachs) to pore through the records and connect whatever dots they can find.

In addition to the main two storylines, there are a number of subsidiary ones involving the raft of characters le Carré introduces. He builds a thick context with backstories not only for them, but for even minor figures who appear once or twice. Westerby’s mission is to trace the movements and relationships around Drake Ko, a prominent and powerful Chinese businessman in Hong Kong whose interests extend into China. This leads him to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and other sites of the Vietnam War. Ko’s mistress, Lizzie Worthington, provides an avenue to other associates, and since she is beautiful, mysterious, and in jeopardy, Jerry naturally falls in love with her.

Meanwhile, back at Cambridge Circus, Smiley and his group are doing battle not only with the British foreign policy establishment (readers will note the reappearance of several characters from TTSS), but also with the Americans, known to the British as the Cousins. The Cousins were in the background before but now they are front and center, and le Carré brutally depicts the way the balance of power has shifted between the two nations and their intelligence operations. Britain is barely hanging on in Hong Kong while the US owns the Southeast Asian theater, for good or ill. Smiley is constantly battling unholy alliances between ambitious and amoral members of each side, who use the opportunity to advance personal rather than collective goals.

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Holiday road trip (outbound)

We drove out to CA again for the winter break, taking the southern route. The weather was mostly with us, except for the snowstorm across Arizona:

It wasn’t too bad at first, and we were at the front of the storm, but that meant we drove into it and it got worse:

But TheH deployed his excellent driving skills, the snow turned into rain, and we came out on the other side. Kingman to Barstow was easy and fast so we went on to Tehachapi and overnighted there. We made an early start and got in by lunchtime, to a cool and cloudy day. I love winter light.

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