Sunday, December 10, 2017

What I'm Reading

I am mostly grading final portfolios and exams, as well as working on the edits for Fault Lines. But I am reading, because I'm always reading.

Here's what I've been reading lately -- these are just the ones I've finished. I've started about a dozen others and tossed them aside. There are so many terrible books out there. As I told the Kid recently, I just don't want to read about book about some rich person whining about their rich white person life, especially if their big problem is something self-induced (o should i have an affair/ o should i get divorced / o why is my marriage so empty when I married this shallow person / o why does my life have no meaning when all i do is drink and fuck why)


Sherry Thomas, A Study in Scarlet Women, A Conspiracy in Belgravia

The premise here is that Sherlock Holmes is actually Charlotte Holmes, a young woman from an impoverished (though noble) family. She has three sisters, one of whom seems to be severely autistic, and faithless parents. Rather than allow herself to be married off to someone who might support her, Charlotte flees home and -- eventually -- sets up as a private detective.

All the other players -- Watson, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, Moriarty -- have their counterparts in these books, though none is the same as in Doyle's series; and Charlotte is solving mysteries. But the books are part historical fiction and part feminist fiction.

Nice writing, and good characters. Charlotte is especially well-done, but her sister Livia is also very good. A well-done sibling relationship is rare in fiction, outside of Jane Austen. This one reminds me of Austen.

Thomas has only two books out in this series so far. I'm hoping for more.

Fiona Barton, The Widow

I'm still not sure what I think about this one. It's very readable, and the two main characters -- the wife and a reporter -- are well done.

It's entirely a premise book, if you know what I mean: an elevator pitch book. Two year old kid goes missing, woman finds out her husband is the suspected kidnapper, and that he's a pedophile. What next?

The book works -- if it does -- because we feel something for Jean Taylor, who is married to Glen Taylor, the suspected pedophile and abductor of the infant Bella.

But whatever we feel for Jean, it's not pity or sympathy. It's not fellow feeling. It's that base instinct Plato identified which makes us gawk at piles of bodies near executions (his example) or at accident on the freeway (to use a modern example).

That's the main energy in this book. Barton is playing on those base desires, the same ones that keep Fox News and scandal magazines in business. She knows this, too: her main character, besides Jean Taylor, is Kate Waters, a star reporter for such a scandal magazine. It is through Kate's eyes that we learn much of the story.

Both Kate and Jean are well done. I especially believe Jean's character: she's an incurious working class woman with the best of intentions who would have done fine if she had married someone better, but who is entirely incapable of rising above her circumstances. Married to a decent man, she'd be a decent wife. Married to a Nazi, she'd be a Nazi. (Left unmarried? But unpossible!)

As I noted above, this is readable. But we don't come out of it edified.It's just another book using the rape and death of a girl -- an infant girl, in this case -- to sell copy.

Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year

This is a memoir, not fiction. I read it because I have a love/hate relationship with J. D. Salinger. Well, who doesn't? (Except people who have a hate/hate relationship with him I suppose.)

You remember up there at the beginning when I said I was sick of reading about rich people whining about problems they created for themselves? Yeah, this book.

This young woman drops out of graduate school in Paris, because she's bored with it, and comes back to work in New York City (why not!), where she gets a job as an assistant to a literary agent. It's the 1990s, and she doesn't have enough money, though this seems more a plot device than actual fact, since we never see her short of any cash. That is, she is never short of money to spend on whatever the fuck she wants, for someone who has no money. At one point, there's a scene where her parents surprise her with the news that she has students loans and two huge credit card bills (they took out the loans in her name, and led her to believe they had been paying for the credit cards, also in her name.) But we never see her worrying about those ever again either.

Meanwhile, she wants to write. So does her boyfriend, who writes impenetrable prose about how beautiful women want to have sex with him. When she starts getting poetry and short stories published, she has to hide this from him. (Why? I think we're supposed to believe because he would be jealous, and they would break up -- but why would you stay with a guy who would break up with you if you were successful?)

Now and then she talks on the phone with Salinger, who is thinking of publishing his last short story as a novella. But then he doesn't.

The end.

Don't waste your time on this one, unless you like period pieces about rich young people in New York in the 1990s.

Elif Batuman, The Idiot

I kept seeing this one recommended all over the internet, plus my library had a copy, so I checked it out.

It's supposed to be a hilarious story of a freshman at Harvard in the 1990s (what is it with novels set in the 1990s all of a sudden?). "Charming" and "capacious," with "genuinely likable" characters. Comparisons are made to Russian novels.

I made it almost all the way through this one before giving up in bemusement. Whatever other people are finding here, I'm not finding. Maybe there's some nostalgia for the 1990s other readers have that I don't share? (Lots of reviewers squee about Selin's discovery of the internet.)

The characters and the dialogue and the details in this one all strike me as contrived. The plot is both Byzantine and dull. I didn't go to Harvard, mind you, so maybe I'm wrong about this, because Harvard might be different, but the academic details strike me as entirely unrealistic.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Cover Art

The artist has sent thumbnails for the cover for Fault Lines -- the near-final version of the cover is due in mid-January.

I am ridiculously excited (and pleased) by the prospective covers.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Saturday Links

I have finished Blackboard training! Go me!

(I whined to my kid about having to do Blackboard training, and they were entirely unsympathetic. "Mom. I use Blackboard all the time."  These kids today, I swear.)

Friday, December 01, 2017

What's Middle-Class?

On another blog, I saw a naive blogger making the claim that $160,000/year was "middle-class," and that she didn't understand this claim that "people like her" weren't middle class. After all, her family only took a few "very modest" vacations* a year, and only ate out a few times a week. The claim, she said, that people making $40,000/year were middle class had to be nonsense. That was abject poverty! (For the record, up until a few years ago, I made just over $50,000/year. Since I became a full professor I make somewhat more than that.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


I have succumbed, y'all.

I am finally allowing myself to be "trained" in the use of Blackboard.

I resisted this training for years, because I loathe online courses, think they are a terrible way to teach anything, think students do not and cannot learn well that way, and did not ever want to teach one.

But I have to teach what is called a "hybrid" class next spring, which is a class that meets one day a week in the classroom, and the rest of the time online; so I have to know how to use the system.

This is my Angry Face

Of course, this will leave me vulnerable to being assigned online courses in the future. Curses! I am foiled!

Monday, November 27, 2017

What I'm Reading

T. Kingfisher, Clockwork Boys

T. Kingfisher, as we all know, is the nom de plume of everyone's favorite, Ursula Vernon. This is the first installment of a serial adventure novel about a young forger/accountant, a demon-possessed knight, an assassin, and an even younger priest/scholar who are drafted into a suicide mission: they must stop the giant clockwork assault monsters that are coming to conquer their city.

Adventure ensues. This works because Vernon is such a wonderful writer. The characters are charming, the mileu is even better, and the dialogue is perfect.

The sole down check is that the next installment will not be out for at least two months. :(

Parenting Pro-Tip

Teach your kid to sew a simple seam and sew on a button BEFORE they leave for college.

Trying to explain that shit over FB is no fun at all.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

New Post at Cooking with delagar

Get yer sweet potatoes here

Sweet Potatoes cum Marshmallows

Thanksgiving at the delagar House

Dr. Skull and the Kid are currently making marshmallows, which I will use for my sweet potato casserole. This is the only thing I cook for our Thanksgiving dinner. Dr. Skull makes everything else.

What are we having?

Turkey smoked in the Big Green Egg, grilled asparagus, a cauliflower casserole, potatoes dauphinoise, sourdough bread, pumpkin pie, and French onion soup.

Also crudites. I am making the crudites.

Happy TNX to all y'all!

Monday, November 20, 2017

TNX Break

Tomorrow the Kid comes home for their Thanksgiving break, and also I teach my last classes before my TNX break.

I am very much looking forward to both the break and the Kid being home.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What I've been Reading

I haven't done one of these posts in a long time, mainly because I've been focusing on writing.

This doesn't mean I've quit reading! Just that thinking about reading has been occupying less of my attention.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

No News

Not much happening here, which is good -- I need monotony in order to write effectively.

The Kid continues well, and is making excellent art.

I'm working on revisions of Fault Lines.

The weather is (finally) cooling off. This week we had highs near 80 again, but tonight the low is in the 30s. I work so much better in winter than summer.

Thanksgiving approaches. The Kid's uncle will be in town, and the Kid will be home as well.

After TNX, only a week and a half of semester left. I am really looking forward to the winter break.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Links for your Monday

Due to the good news about the Kid's health, we're spending far less time driving up to Fayetteville. We did go this past weekend, however, because the Kid missed their dog.

Heywood worshiping the Kid

Heywood got many, many walks -- we took him to Wilson Park, as well as Lake Fayetteville. It was an overcast, chilly, windy day. My favorite weather.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Good news

I received some excellent news today -- my story that was published in the May/June F&SF, "History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs," will be republished in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best Science Fiction: The Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection.

I am extremely pleased.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

My Weekend

I'm having a hectic weekend.

Normally my weekends are spent drinking coffee, writing fiction, and doing laundry. On Monday, I prep for my big teaching days -- Tuesday and Thursday.