ReaderWriterVille

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Tag: productivity

Weeknote 14

A week full of work stuff, but mostly moving forward on a number of projects and meeting deadlines, so the next week will be freer.

WORK

I had a bunch of phone meetings which were very productive and pleasant. If you’re going to have lots of admin, it helps to have a minimum of conflict.

I’m bored with writing about work. It’s summer!

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished Iain M. Banks’s Matter and found it extremely satisfying. It’s a mashup of medieval fantasy, family drama (which of course goes with medieval fantasy), Big Dumb Object SF, and space opera with Banks’s patented Mindships. The ending comes all of a rush, as usual, and there is a ton of exposition, as usual. Some readers dislike this installment of the Culture novels a lot, some love it. I’m in the latter camp. Oh, I alternated reading and listening to the audiobook, which had someone that wasn’t Peter Kenny as the narrator. Sacrilege! He was fine, but I missed Kenny. I hear his voice whenever I read Banks now.

On the watching front, we discovered that our library’s Hoopla (which we can use via Roku on the TV) has a bunch of the original French Inspector Maigret TV shows. They are from 1992 onward, but they feel as if they were made in the 1970s, and they are set in the 1950s, so they feel very vintage and noir. The whole cast is excellent and Bruno Cremer is perfect as Maigret. I haven’t seen Michael Gambon or Rowan Atkinson in the role, but I have trouble believing either can embody the character as well. One nice thing about the language is that it is straightforward enough that I can understand a lot of it (although the subtitles are very good for non-French-speakers). Anyway, I recommend the series if you have access to it and like the novels.

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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. 😉

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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ReaderWriterLinks

I found this article in Wired really interesting, not least because I’ve been working on “unquantifying” my life (the quantified life is one in which you track your behavior, health, etc. to try and improve outcomes). I hadn’t heard of the “nocebo effect” before but it makes sense:

“The body’s response can be triggered by negative expectations,” says Luana Colloca, a University of Maryland neuroscientist and physician who studies placebo and nocebo effects. “It’s a mechanism of self-defense. From an evolutionary point of view, we’ve developed mechanisms to prevent dangerous situations.”

For Golden, a 38-year-old patient advocate who began with an Excel spreadsheet and later used specialized apps, tracking initially helped her provide better information to her doctor. But she became focused on every possible factor that could make her headache worse. “I’ve seen people become very obsessed with it. I was at one point,” she says. “What did I do at lunch? What did I do at dinner? It can be all-consuming.”

The symptom tracker doesn’t just reveal your highs and lows. It produces a state of anxiety—and possibly more pain.

As always, I’d like to see more studies and the underlying data, but it’s an interesting finding.


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ReaderWriterLinks

Courtesy of the Chronicle, here’s a depressing story about the decline in reading (both the act of reading and reading comprehension):

The scores of fourth- and eighth-graders on reading tests have climbed steadily since the 1990s, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But those of 12th-graders have fallen. Just 37 percent of high-school seniors graduate with “proficiency” in reading, meaning they can read a text for both its literal and its inferential meanings.

The problem seems to extend to life after college. In 1992 and 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics studied American adults’ prose, document, and quantitative literacy (respectively, the ability to do things like read news articles, to read maps and food labels, and to balance a checkbook). The results, experts said, were “appalling.” College graduates’ math skills, statistically, hadn’t budged. But their prose and document literacy had declined. While those with bachelor’s and graduate degrees maintained the highest levels of literacy overall, those groups also experienced the steepest declines. Just 31 percent of college graduates were considered proficient readers in 2003, by that test’s definition, down from 40 percent in 1992. (International studies show similar trends. More data allowing comparison of adult literacy over time is expected this year.)

I teach a writing-intensive course for upper-level undergraduates every year, and I force them to write short response papers on the readings (you can’t write about a subject if you don’t understand what you’ve read on it). I teach at a highly selective institution, my students work very hard, they are able to devote most of their time to their studies, and yet they mostly don’t complete the assigned reading unless they are penalized for not doing so. It’s frustrating but it’s something we need to confront. Reading is just not that popular an activity anymore, even among the most highly educated. And even prestigious, selective colleges emphasize social and other non-academic aspects of student life as much as they do in-class learning, so there are more officially certified, built-in distractions that we didn’t have when we were in school. I don’t want to make college only about class experiences, but if people who clearly do enjoy learning aren’t treating scholarly and leisure book and article reading as integral to their daily lives, how can we expect it of everyone else?


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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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