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Tag: reading

Weeknote 3

This post is coming in just under the wire.

WORK

Classes are classes. Meetings are meetings. Lots of email. Nothing very interesting to report; I’m getting back into the rhythm of the semester. We figured out next fall’s curriculum for our program in the night school and fixed some summer school scheduling issues. Zzzzzz. (Yes, these tasks are part of the Director of Undergraduate Studies job, presumably because the classes are at the undergraduate level.)

The grad student I work with the most came back from a very successful six weeks of interviews and data collection, so that’s been fun to hear about. We have lots to catch up on and more work to do. But in a good way.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

We (re-)watched Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 this week. How’s that for popcorn viewing? TheH loves this series and I’ve finally gotten the hang of what’s going on. In further timepass opportunities, it turns out that Pluto TV has a dedicated Midsomer Murders channel , which has provided an alternative when the PBS NewsHour is preempted by wall-to-wall impeachment coverage. And no, we’re not watching. We read about it and listen to the recaps on the news programs. That’s more than enough.

I had a couple of fiction library holds come in and sent them back again because I’m not getting much reading time. I am working my way through the Cercas and it continues to be excellent. I’m also reading a couple of nonfiction books related to my Project 333 endeavour, The Conscious Closet and The Curated Closet. They’re both pretty good, although I’m skimming parts. I plan to write up my experiences with the first month of limiting my wardrobe and I’ll talk a bit more about them there. The books are very good for offering alternatives to (and reasons for avoiding) fast fashion, but since I’m not much of a fast fashion person that isn’t directly useful to me. But there are other aspects that are, and we should all be thinking about ways to limit our textile consumption given its effects on the environment.

Liverpool is 19 points ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League, and Anfield has finally decided it’s OK to sing the We’re Going to Win the League song. Me too. đŸ™‚

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Weeknote 2

School, snow, freezing rain, ice; all the fun stuff.

WORK

Between the intro sessions and the MLK holiday, I’ve only taught 50 percent of my class periods over the last two weeks. One is going very well, the other is only OK, perhaps because I haven’t taught it in three years and I’m still feeling my way to a rhythm. They’re both set up the same way, with theoretical and abstract readings to provide a foundation, but I walk out of them feeling quite differently. Oh well, it’s the beginning and it’s me, not the students. The OK one will improve.

I forgot to mention that I’m the Director of Undergraduate Studies this semester. A colleague and I have split the work for the last two years and this is the last of it. I describe being DUS as comparable to being nibbled to death by ducks: there are rarely big crises, but there’s always something. So. Much. Email.

Nothing else I can really write about, just the usual meetings. My two regular seminars start up again this week and next, so that will provide a rhythm along with class times. I have some letters of recommendation to write and a bunch of research papers to write up comments on.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

The Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl! I’m so happy for the team and the fans. They are a blast to watch, and it should be a great game. As a long-time 49ers fan as well I suppose I should be rooting for them, but it’s Chiefs all the way. Time to dig out our magnetic car logos and wear my logo wool varsity jacket.

One of my 2019 holds from the library came in, Javier Cercas’s latest “nonfiction novel” Lord of All the Dead. It’s a companion work to Soldiers of Salamis and so far it’s really good. I love his writing style, which is deceptively informal and feels unselfconscious, but the words and phrases are beautifully chosen. You notice how well it’s written almost after the fact.

I’m also continuing to work my way through The Steep Approach to Garbadale, which is starting to be work. Much as I love Banks, this is not his best novel by any stretch, and the audio format makes the digressions and quirks more apparent to me. I just hit a chapter where the breasts of not one but two women are described in detail and I was grateful to have a reason to stop listening for a while. I’ll keep going because it’s Banks, but I’m bummed he is yet another male author whose characters are obsessed with breasts over other body parts. I hadn’t noticed this is his other books, but then I’ve mostly been reading the M. novels up to now.

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Weeknote 1

I’m starting over numbering the 2020 Weeknotes. Let’s see how many I can manage; I had 21 in 2019, but I didn’t start until partway through the year.

WORK

The spring semester began yesterday. I’m teaching two undergraduate classes, both of which I’ve taught before and which I enjoy a great deal. They also require regular updating because things are constantly happening, but that also means that the students are interested. And I have enough assistants that I don’t have to do all the work myself. It feels like a light semester even though technically it’s not.

I got to throw a drinks party for a visiting professor and his family, whom we’re trying to recruit. The weather was awful but the party was fun. Fingers crossed.

I’m on one (and a half) committees this semester. The one is a college scholarship committee that is always enjoyable. There’s nothing like interviewing whip-smart high school students to make you feel as if maybe the world isn’t so bad after all. The half is the end of the Committee That Ate The Second Half of 2019 and Part of My Sabbatical. It shouldn’t be too much work, maybe a couple of meetings and a memo.

Which means I may actually have time for some writing! Which is good, since the pile of to-be-written is rivalling my pile of to-be-read.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

Liverpool, all through the holiday fixtures. I’m almost starting to believe that at 16 points clear of the 2nd place team in the EPL, they can win the title for the first time in 30 years. Almost. I’m not counting ANY chickens.

I’m also watching the NFL playoffs and rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. We went to all their games for five years in the early 2000s when we had friends on the staff. They been shut out almost as long as Liverpool has, and I’d love to see them make it.

I read a fun, unjustly obscure book when we were away for the weekend right after New Year’s. It’s called The Ascent of Rum Doodle and it’s a satire of the mountain-climbing memoir genre of the 1930s and 1940s. We found it in a store in London and I bought it because the Mt. TBR Challenge has Rum Doodle as its first level. I’d never heard of it before but as I was reading, I was reminded of passages of various serious mountaineering books I’ve read, including the excellent Into the Silence. The satirical tone gets a bit heavy-handed at times (as satires do), but the book is short and sustains itself well.

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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 CarrĂ©

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 CarrĂ© 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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