Signs Taken for Wonders
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Looking for book recommendations? My list of the best books I've read for fun this year:
1) Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (fiction) - A young teenager deals with death of uncle. And it's bloody, bloody brilliant.
2) Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (fiction) - Housewife discovers butterfly migration and then herself. Some of the best characterization I read this year.
3) Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon (non-fiction) - Dry but compelling overview of parents whose children belong to a different identity category from them (autistic, deaf, musical prodigies, deaf, criminal etc.)
4) The Last Policeman/Countdown City by Ben Winters (SF/mystery) - Detective ignores apocalypse, focuses on solving crimes. Tackles some big philosophical issues in a convincing genre pairing. Mystery lovers - check this one out.
5) We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (fiction) - Young woman grapples with fallout after being raised to think of a chimp as her sister.
6) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fantasy) - For once, a YA novel that both made me root for its romance and seriously worry about the fate of the heroine. Also, it has terrifying carnivorous horses.
7) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (SF) - Tight plot, interesting lead.
8) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (memoir/graphic novel) - Bechdel describes her belated discovery of her dead father's secret homosexual life in graphic novel form.
9) On Saudi Arabia by Karen Elliott House (non-fiction) - Good overview of contemporary Saudi and its issues.
10) Wild by Cheryl Strayed (memoir) - It almost convinced me to hike the PCT, and that's saying something.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
So the Breaking Bad finale was good, and gave us the ending Walt's trajectory had suggested. But damn. I admit to having hoped for a happier end than that.
Conversation in the comments, those who've seen it?
Sunday, September 1, 2013
There's been a flurry of 'return to lj' posts from some of my f-list recently, so for the record, I'm still here & still reading. I'm also going gangbusters on academic book revisions right now, so I have basically no time for writing that is not let's-get-shit-done related. So: no posts from me for a while.
But I will quickly say that my semester has started up again and, for the first time ever, I have a student who needs accommodations after being struck by lightning.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
I tend to like mellow music on when I drive. This has been one of my favourites this summer:
Sunday, July 21, 2013
In a perfect world, I would post more on this lj. In a perfect world, though, I'd also have one of those Harry Potter time turners so that I'd get 36 hours out of every day. And various things like The Power of Habit (good book, you should read it) have convinced me that my writing/creative time is limited. So I'm focusing right now on academic manuscript revisions, which is tricky and irritating and occupying most of my time.
Also this week - a Barenaked Ladies concert (I have to say, they're fun performers), a local version of the Texas Chainsaw Musical, Pacific Rim, which satisfied a monsters-fighting-robots urge I didn't know I had, and Side Effects, which was a slickly made, well-acted and disappointingly misogynist movie from some very talented people. If they'd at least made the wife's character sympathetic, or anything other than a bitchy plot decice, I could have taken it. As it is
Books: I'm reading Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable; Parry's Account of 3 Voyages to the Polar Seas (research); and The Mad Scientist's Daughter.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
It arrived when I was at ICFA. It is, in fact, green! Apparently I'm supposed to keep it on me at all times. I'm going to ask other immigrants about this, because I don't like taking important, hard-to-replace documents with me to the gym.
As I sat down to write this post the following Guardian article popped up in my Facebook feed: Why the Left is Wrong about Immigration .
I read it with interest, obviously. And I was left scratching my head. Maybe it's because I'm in the USA rather than Britain, and I don't know Britain's cultural immigration battles that well. But as an argument I thought it was deeply flawed.
( Read more...Collapse )
As an argument against easy immigration, I give this article a C- . Being what Americans would call a "big government" person, I'm for the government exerting careful control over immigration,* but I'm anti-stupidity.
At some point I'm going to post a reflection on my immigration experience & American politics. But not today.
*P.S. Americans: Why is it that the same people who support small government and free markets tend to be the ones calling for more government control over the mobility of international laborers -- mobility that's dictated by the supply and demand of the free market?
Monday, March 25, 2013
So I once again had a lovely time at ICFA, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts down in Florida. The final day of the conference was interrupted by a tornado passing overhead -- excitement! -- but there was no damage. Just a green sky and the smell of ozone, which Kij Johnson pointed out to me and is indeed pretty remarkable.
I'll do a fuller write-up later. In the meantime -- it was great to see you all.
I've posted about the lack of male rape in George R.R. Martin's books before, so I was interested to read Sophia McDougall's much more developed essay on popular culture & male rape in The Rape of James Bond.
Some thoughts on the Evil Gay Man trope: Our culture is terrified of male rape. I wonder whether part of the rationale for the Evil Gay Man caricature isn't also an attempt to control the threat of male rape by positing that the people who would do THAT are <<Evilgay,>> and therefore not anyone the viewer would want to be. Only over-the-top Evilgay (TM) characters, or prisoners, would even contemplating raping a man and so that act becomes both evidence of and explanation for their deviant identity.
Meanwhile, it's perfectly possible for a character to be portrayed as both a rapist of women and normal. Even admirable. I'm looking at you, Rhett Butler, Thomas Covenant, etc. To rape a female character is merely to commit a crime, whereas to rape a male character is to define one's identity.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
For those of you who wanted to verify THE CAT's EXISTENCE: I bring you photographical evidence. Which given the camera-shy nature of said CAT, was hard to get. Much bribery, stealth, cursing, and running around with a camera phone was required.
>( THE CATCollapse )
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Here's the episode of The Prisoner I made my students watch. Heh, heh.
Current mood: Like a bunch of rotten cabbages!!!
Monday, February 18, 2013
On my way back from Boskone where, yes, I had a lovely time. matociquala introduced me and Fran Wilde to "Drink," a bartender's bar in which they make pale fruity things called Bohemians, which I'll be hankering after for a long time. Other things I'll be hankering after for a while included the Boskone art show, which had some of the strongest pieces I've seen so far at cons. But alas, the budget would not let me buy.
I didn't end up attending that many panels, but those I did proved interesting. Jim Kelly gave an intriguing talk on the Virtual Utopia, which gave me some ideas for my upcoming lecture on The Matrix. And the "gamechanger" panel added to my reading list, as I knew it would. Other than that, I mainly hung out in the lobby and caught up with familiar faces, including some of the ICFA brigade and mindstalk, who I had yet to meet in his new Boston habitat.
On Sunday we were kidnapped by James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle and taken indoor skydiving, which is, btw, AWESOME, and does not come with the same terrifying quantity of space and ground found in the other kind of skydiving. I thoroughly approve.
My observations re: indoor skydiving are limited to the fact that a) it's harder than it looks and b) I'd like to do it again. Actually, I'll add that the thing that constantly surprises me about skydiving is the nothing-beneath-you part. The hindpart of my brain equates flying with swimming, but there's a significant difference between feeling yourself supported by water and the what-the-hell-is-THAT sensation of being supported by wind. Wind's much less stable, and it's also full of light and noise and NOTHING, and to someone who's a confident swimmer, it's very odd.
Now: back to work.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
(Yoinked fro n6tqs )
Sunk: The Incredible Truth about a Ship that Never Should Have Sailed makes for some terrifying reading (at least for me, and I gather, via conversation, most people who have sailed). The author's a UD grad student, apparently, and she seems to have done a bang-up job of outlining and analyzing the Bounty's sinking. Her description of the rigging going into the water just horrifies me.
But what also horrifies me -- and tends to terrify me about survival stories in general -- is the way that social dynamics can force people into situations they are clearly realize are risky, even if the height of the stakes isn't clear. It's all very well to say, on shore and with hindsight, "I wouldn't have set sail." But clearly even crewmembers who weren't entirely comfortable with the decision to sail didn't break ranks and leave. I don't know if it genuinely occurred to them to do so, or whether staying in port was financially or practically feasible for them. Given that any departing individuals would have been shorting the ship on crew, I also don't know if it was *socially* feasible. The urge to help out your community is pretty strong.
Anyway. If you have time, it's a worthwhile read.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
....if someone said it on the Internet, it must be true!
Two weeks ago, my elderly neighbor died. She was a sweet lady who'd babysat my plants many times. And she had a cat. A cat that, for one reason and another, now had no home.
The upshot: I now have a cat. A 14-year-old grey cat that, from what i can tell, is determined to compete with me in world domination. And everything else, including the running of my life.
THE CAT has two interests in life: eating and trying to escape. Unfortunately for THE CAT, the first of these requires me to feed it. Which if THE CAT had its way, would be all the time.
For week one this resulted in an interesting standoff, in which the cat either yowled or pointedly ignored me, and I, having a cattish personality myself, pointedly ignored it.
We've now progressed to the point where we occasionally deign to notice each other's presence. And THE CAT has now learned, to its and my benefit, that just because I'm doing an impromptu song-and-dance performance of The Threepenny Opera in my kitchen does not mean I'm about to feed it. There's hope for us yet.
Current mood: Mac the Knife
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Yep, I'm alive. And I now have a revised draft of my academic book manuscript, even if there's still some tweaking to be done. So I emerge from out of my hermit hole for a quick "best of" roundup of the books I've read for pleasure this year. Just in time for Christmas!
Books read for Pleasure:
Memorable Fantasy novels:
Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death?
Okorafor takes the familiar fantasy quest narrative, moves it to post-apocalyptic Africa, anchors it with a strong female protagonist, weaves in interesting postcolonial themes, and includes a brutal scene depicting female circumcision that's going to stick with me for years to come. With that description I've either turned you off or on this book. You decide.
Valentine, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti
It's unfortunate that Mechanique and The Night Circus came out in the same year, because they're both lovely examples of magic-realist circus fabulism. But Valentine's writing is haunted by the trauma of war and by visions of flight, and in the end, I thought it was just splendid. By a hair, Mechanique takes the "best novel about a fantasy circus" award for 2012.
Urban Fantasy Debut, Honorable Mention:
If you've read the rest of this list you'll notice that I've included a suspicious number of books whose descriptions include the word "death" or "murder."
You know what book is NOT all about death and/or murder? And is frothy fun with an innovative magic system?
Michael Underwood's Geekomancy. In which characters "power-up" for battles by watching Buffy and The Matrix, because in this world, being able to recall dialogue from The Princess Bride translates into epic magic sword-fighting abilities. Mike's a friend of mine and his debut novel's a geekarific blast.
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
2 smart teens meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. The narrator, 16 year old Hazel, let's us know from the first page that she has a terminal diagnosis. As she and everyone around her know, this love story will not have a happy ending. But Hazel's story is witty, sharply-observed compelling and -- like love itself -- worth the trip.
Best Lit Award Winner:
Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
I don't know how Mantel managed to make a stream-of-consciousness novel about Thomas Cromwell so interesting the first time round, let alone for a sequel. If anything, Bring Up the Bodies is even better than Wolf Hall. This time, Cromwell's scheming not only serves Henry VIII's whims but Cromwell's desire to avenge his mentor's death. A bloody good book on all levels.
Memorable Psychological Thriller #1
Gillian Flynn, Dark Places
This was the year Flynn broke through with Gone Girl, the mystery every book club loved to read. But while I liked Gone Girl, Dark Places -- Flynn's 2nd novel -- was the one that really blew me away. The premise: as a 7 year old Libby Day famously survived the massacre of her family and served as the key witness in the trial of her older brother. 25 years later, manipulative Libby has blown through her charity money and is desperate for cash. So when a macabre club obsessed with notorious crimes invites her to be a paid guest speaker at one of their meetings, Libby is willing to go. What she doesn't expect is for the questions they ask to stir up ones of her own.
Flynn has a great command of voice, and it's on full display here as she jumps between time periods and points of view. Skillfully done.
Memorable Psychological Thriller #2
Tana French, Broken Harbor
It's not quite as memorable as In the Woods, but Broken Harbor is French's best since her debut. There's just something... unsettling about this story of a detective called in to investigate a horrific murder in a nearly-empty Irish housing development. The murder seems straightforward, but like the collapse of the Irish housing economy, so much turns on perception. And perceptions can't be trusted. For those of you who read Freud's essay on the Uncanny: Exhibit A.
Katherine Boo, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers
I heard Boo speak when she came to Delaware. Having heard her stories of the personal risks she took in investigating the murder of street kids in Mumbai, I think the thing that impressed me the most about the book is: none of those stories are there. Bucking the usual investigative non-fiction trend, Boo leaves herself out of this book entirely. Instead, we get to witness the unfolding lives of Mumbai slum-dwellers as though we're flies on the wall. The people we meet are memorable and their stories are devoid of the expected cliches of struggle and triumph. Well worth the read.
Preston and Stezi, The Monster of Florence
What if you decided to research an old murder case as famous in Italy as the Jack the Ripper murders are in the Anglophone world? What if, thanks to a corrupt Italian police system, you became a suspect? This non-fiction story is a jaw-dropping narrative about random - and institutional - forms of evil.
Allende, The Sum of Our Days
Didion's Blue Nights was excellent, but f***ing depressing. In contrast, Allende's description of the years following the death of her daughter is warm, poignant, and has stories about hallucinogenic tea and domestic scandals. So this one's my pick.
Best Academic Book (I.E. Book not read for pleasure)
Lauren Benton. A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
This meticulously researched history of legal geographies examines the ways that certain types of space -- mountains, rivers, oceans etc. -- challenged imperial sovereignty. Benton convincingly argues that certain types of legal problems -- mutinies, for example -- became associated with certain types of anomalous space. For those of us interested in imperialism and geography, Benton's book is a fascinating and elucidating read.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
I'm planning to post some kind of updatery thing once I get these papers / this manuscript / this proposal done. In the meantime though, why don't you just gaze upon one of The New Yorker's top television scenes from 2012: an awkward conversation between exes on Girls.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Go vote, Americans.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Monday, October 8, 2012
I just saw Looper and enjoyed the hell out of it. Props to the script: the foreshadowing was very, very subtle. Also, I appreciated the fact that the writers didn't rely on a cast of stereotypes, but developed their minor players. Hell, even red-shirt assassin-guy got some character development, and he was only on screen for, like, 5 seconds.
From the NYT, an article about defining productivity by work produced, not hours spent: They Work Long Hours, but What About Results?
"...a measurement system based on hours makes no sense for knowledge workers. Their contribution should be measured by the value they create through applying their ideas and skills."
It's aimed at a different work environment than academia, but I still found parts of it useful. Most notably:
"In general, don’t waste your time creating A-plus work when B-plus is good enough. Use the extra time to create A-plus work where it matters most."
This I have to keep in mind, particularly for teaching.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
The Master - aka Paul Thomas Anderson's film about the early days of Scientology, starring Joaquin Phoenix as a crazed veteran-turned cultist -- is pretty much everything you'd expect from the director of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. In other words, I'm still not sure what I watched. It was good, and Phoenix's performance was amazing. But the pacing of the movie was strange. It didn't hit the narrative beats I was expecting, or make them the focus of the scene when it did. I could talk about what I think the movie was about, but there's no point spoiling it.
I will say that at least one person walked out of the film screaming that it was disgusting, which was strange. This was made stranger by the fact that the "sex" scene that offended her wasn't even a real sex scene, but an odd masturbation scene, and the angry lady had sat through much weirder shit by that point. So this is a film that can really push people's buttons, apparently. Or, bore them to the point they fall asleep (the person in the aisle next to me.) So... yeah.
Cabin in the Woods was all it was rumored to be. I was charmed by it, and by the killer unicorn, and by the Japanese school girls with the happy frog. My only complain is re: the appearance of the Lovecraftian gods. THAT'S NOT WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE. The end.
A Separation -- the Iranian domestic drama that picked up the Oscar last year -- is definitely worth a watch if you like foreign films. It's an interesting slice-of-life in Iran. It's not a happy movie but it's not relentlessly tragic either.
That's it for now.
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