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Tag: reading

Weeknote 19

I meant to write a post at the beginning of the week. Hah. It’s already Friday and I’m not sure where the days went.

WORK

It’s he start of school, which means finishing up the syllabi (always at the last minute for me, always), remembering to hit the “publish” button in Canvas if you want the students to have access, and negotiating a waitlist that is almost as long as the size of the seminar. I drove a few students away with the class requirements, but not enough. I’m almost there, though. The annual meetings always disrupt this process because we teach a class or two and then go away for the rest of the week and then come back and have Labor Day off. I wish we started on the Tuesday after, the way sensible east coast universities do. But the midwest schools have a long semester calendar. Thanks, annoying accreditation association.

I don’t always go to the meetings because they’re disruptive, but this year I had to go and I wound up having a good time. Did the work I needed to do and got to spend time with old friends.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for my committee’s work, at least for this iteration. We’re not done by any means but we’re winding down for a while. But there are still visits to confirm and plan (so many emails) and memos to write. But I’m not behind. It’s a miracle.

My grad classes are starting out well and the students look interesting and engaged. One of them is half lecture, half seminar, and the other is all seminar. Come to think of it, I’m mostly teaching in seminar format this semester. That’s unusual for me.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Reading, what is that? I did not come anywhere near finishing my 20 Books of Summer challenge, although I enjoyed what I did read and I started a bunch of the books on the list. Barb was so right when she said it was a challenging list. I’m not sure why I read less this summer than last year. Part of it was that our holiday didn’t have much reading time, and I think the other part is that I was working more this summer than I was last year, so there was more academic reading in my schedule. And the Booker reading swallowed a big chunk of time. Still, I enjoyed the challenge and I’ll definitely keep on with the list. I’ll write up a separate post soon.

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Thoughts on the Booker Shortlist and the Giller Longlist

Yes, it’s awards season again. Labor Day is over and my library holds are coming in with a vengeance, what with all the Big September Releases. The Booker shortlist and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist are coincidentally released on the same day. I woke up to the Booker news, which had been announced at 10am BST, and then waited for the Giller announcement to be delivered from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 8:30am my time.

The Booker shortlist:

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I’ve only read one of the six (the Obioma, which I reviewed here). That seems unusually low for me, but I do own three of them and have a fourth coming from the library in two weeks. And I’d read five of the seven longlisted books that didn’t make it. I will probably not read the Atwood any time soon. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 1980s and still have my ancient mass-market paperback edition. It made a big impression on me then but I haven’t wanted to revisit it, and I had no interest in the TV adaptation. So I’ll wait for the reviews and word of mouth to see if I want to read the sequel. The Rushdie is getting mixed reviews, but I’m curious about it and I got in early on the library hold list so I can at least sample that before the winner is announced.

I was sorry not to see the Luiselli on the shortlist, especially after listening to her talk about it and read from it at the National Book Festival. My reading and reviewing of it was shaped by my knowledge of her personal life and Alvaro Enrigue’s work, but the panel I attended helped me separate that from the text, and the further away from it I get the more I think it is an excellent novel. But there are plenty of US awards coming up, and I’m sure it will be in consideration for at least some of those. Of the others, I don’t have strong feelings about their omissions from the shortlist. I enjoyed the Braithwaite and the Lanchester entries but they each had shortcomings and I don’t see them as Booker winners., I think the Barry, which I have finished and need to review, is stronger but a bit slight compared to some of the other entries. And I was the outlier on the Porter from the beginning.

On to the Giller longlist:

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Weeknote 18

It has begun. School, that is. There’s something weird about spending one’s entire life on an academic schedule, but it’s too late to change now. August means ramping up the work, stress, and pace. I do feel refreshed from my semester off, though. Now if I can just keep up my exercise schedule.

WORK

Our road trip back to St. Louis was uneventful and relatively quick (2050 miles in three days). The dogs were very cooperative and so was the weather. The house was in one piece when we got back (always a relief, and once we hacked away the hydrangeas and viburnum from around the a/c, the house cooled down well (don’t worry, the plants are fine, it’s just that all the rain made them grow enormously despite being cut back in the spring).

My committee work is proceeding well. A couple of complexities that had to be dealt with, but they eventually were and we’re moving along. Lots and lots of phone calls and emails and meetings, but then, it’s a committee.

My classes look like they’ll go well, at least the two that have already met look good. The undergrad one has a waitlist as long as the enrollment (it’s a writing in the major seminar on immigration, so it ticks a lot of boxes). But eventually it will resolve with some happy students and some disappointed ones. The usual. I’m happy with the tweaks I made to my syllabi, though. I have to completely revamp the grad one but while it will be a pain to do, it will greatly improve the course. The only blot on the landscape is Canvas, our online teaching “aid.” I thought I hated Blackboard, but Canvas is even worse. It has many ways of doing things I don’t care about and no ways of doing the things I want. I copied a previous course and then had to update everything manually. No bulk changes and the syllabus doesn’t let you upload a syllabus. You have to type everything in manually. Yeah right. Grrr.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I haven’t been reading, as in eyes on page, much the last couple of weeks. I managed to enjoy and finish my TBR Challenge book, but I’m in the middle of one that really should be read in a couple of sittings and I’ve been dragging it out for a week. It’s Kevin Barry’s Booker longlisted novel, and it’s good, but I’m just not in the mood for it right now. I’m feeling kind of—I don’t know what the right word is … frustrated? grumpy? dissatisfied? Some combination of the three—about my reading choices right now. This happens to me on a regular schedule: I started chafing against lists and challenges and reading the new new thing. I want to read all my 20 Books of Summer books, for example, but I don’t necessarily want to read them now. I think next year might be a year for classics and books in the TBR that have been there forever. Just avoid the new new things for a while. On the other hand, I am thinking about reading Anniversaries a chapter per day (it’s written as a chapter a day in 1967-8), so I’m probably incorrigible.

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Harlequin TBR Housekeeping

I’ve been knocking more books off the Harlequin TBR. For those of you who weren’t around when I started this TBR last year, it came into being when I downloaded all the books I had purchased directly from the Harlequin website (which I began doing in 2007). I went through this because HarperCollins decided to stop letting readers download their (DRM-protected) books to their computers; now they are only readable online or through a dedicated app. Good times.

While I was pretty sure I had most of them backed up in local folders, I downloaded every last one of them just to be sure. I wound up with 620 books, and I wasn’t sure how many I’d already read (Harlequin titles tend to run together). My first pass at the list got me down to 516 books. Then, as I would peruse the covers looking for new reads, I realized I had read more of them that I initially thought, so I went through and struck off a few more.

My next move was to get rid of author backlists if I didn’t like a book I’d read or was sure I was done with their work. As a result of these purges my last TBR read was #466.

But I’m still culling. A recent and very persuasive review by Miss Bates (Kay) sent me to see what I had by Maisey Yates in the TBR. I only had one book from my Harlequin purchases, surprisingly, and it was a novel in a Harlequin connected series in the Presents line called The Santina Crown. I’ve enjoyed some of Harlequin’s themed series, and I bought a number of these. But when I started reading her prequel novella for the series, The Life She Left Behind, I had trouble with it. It’s well written and it features reunited lovers, which is a trope I enjoy and which works well in a shorter format. But the hero is an Arab prince (named Taj for some reason) and I realized that I just can’t read Sheikh or Fake Middle Eastern Royal Hero books anymore. I’m probably also going to balk at books that glorify men in the military or the police, unless maybe if they are Regular Joe kind of guys (I’m pretty sure Janice Kay Johnson has written a few of these).

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Weeknote 17

This is our last week before we hit the road and start the school ratrace again next week. And it starts up as soon as we get back. I’m just hoping for decent weather and no big thunderstorms in the plains.

WORK

I managed to get some more work done this week! Amazing. My coauthor and I have found some interesting things going on with a survey we fielded via mTurk, which may be worth a research note in the end. It’s not completely surprising that mTurk workers are not always who they say they are and that has consequences for research, and many of us have been suspicious of the platform for years, but the way this survey was skewed was intriguing.

My committee is humming along nicely. Everyone is doing their bit and we disagree without being disagreeable. Is there higher praise? I think not.

I have one more almost-finished paper draft to get off my desk and then I will breathe a sigh of relief. And start packing up.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished An Orchestra of Minorities this week. It is an unusual novel, mixing Igbo cosmology with a plot and characters which owe a great deal to classical Western literature from Homer to Milton to Shakespeare. The main character suffers so many tragedies in his life, and in the final section he becomes consumed by a desire for vengeance. The story took some turns I wasn’t expecting, which was enjoyable, and I found the main character Chinonso’s journey sad but believable and important. I agree with reviewers who say the women characters weren’t well developed, but given everyone felt like an archetype I could live with it. I also appreciated the way the trajectory Ndali, the main female character played out, neither vilified nor idealized. The ending is tragic but given the storyline, it was always going to go there somehow.

I also finished Ironopolis, one of my 20 Books of Summer picks, which I had been picking up and putting down for the last month. It’s very good, but it’s a hard read. Set in Middlesborough from the mid-1980s through the present, it tells the story of a sink estate through the voices of half a dozen characters who are connected to each other in various ways. It negotiates the difficult line between sentimentalizing and condescending, but there’s no way around the fact that the lives of people in these positions mostly became worse over this period, as jobs went away, housing fell into disrepair, and drugs and alcohol became plentiful and/or cheap. Of the various books I’ve read with spirits and rural-English mythical beings, I thought this one handled it as well as any. I’ll write up a full review of this and the Obioma soonish.

No TV or movies this week, because we had a friend visiting who helped TheH with necessary household work. We now have a new floor in the guest bathroom and various other improvements. Go them. We ate well, though; lots of fresh fish from the boats at Half Moon Bay.

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