Monday, July 30, 2018

Money money money

At the end of June, I got the first of the two checks I will get for teaching Summer I classes. This one was the larger one, and after taxes it was just over $3500. (The second check will be much smaller -- just under a thousand dollars.)

What have I done with my astounding wealth?

(1) Got the car fixed. We needed to replace two tires and the battery, and to fix a brake light which had been out for some time. We *ought* to have replaced the windshield, which has a pretty serious crack in it. But this will have to wait for some future windfall.

(2) Paid off two credit cards, the ones with small balances.

What we haven't done:

(1) Paid off the credit card with the larger balance -- a couple thousand dollars. (Medical bills and car repairs.)

(2) Gotten new glasses, which I desperately need.

(3) Fixed the dryer, which has been broken since early May. Dragging all the laundry to the laundromat is getting old fast, too.

(4) Paid off the remaining medical bills -- about $800 to my surgeon for my gut surgery, $300 to the Kid's doctor, $700 to the dentist from when I broke my tooth.

(5) Saved up enough money to move.  We would really, really, really like to move into a smaller, cheaper house closer to the university. But we'd need (probably) about a thousand dollars (maybe $1500) to pay deposits and first month's rent and hire a moving truck and so on. I'm starting to think we'll never have that kind of cash on hand. Ever.

We do have enough money to rent a truck to move the Kid up to FV, come Fall. So there's that.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Cat Picture

Here's a gratuitous picture of Jasper the cat for your viewing pleasure

What I'm Reading Now

I'm still in the four or five weeks between the end of Summer I and the start of Fall semester, so I have lots of time to read and write. It's bliss.

Here's what I've been reading lately:

Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver
Image result for spinning silver naomi novik
Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire series, is one of the few fantasy writers I like to read. In 2016, she wrote the acclaimed Uprooted, which I liked a lot. So when I saw she was bringing out another fairy-tale based fantasy novel, I put it straight on my wish list.

As with all of Novik's books, this one is pretty wonderful. Great characters, great writing, a narrative drive that will keep you reading long after you should be in bed. It's (very loosely) based on the folk tale about the girl who can spin straw into gold; but it's really about these people in this culture. Novik is really good at bringing a culture and its people to life.

Here, the main characters are three women and their families; but all of them live at the borders of cultures, and deal with code switching and conflicts between those cultures throughout the novel -- not in a "poor me" kind of way, but in the way that people just do, who live in multiple cultures.

It's a very heteronormative book, which is the only reason I didn't recommend it to my Kid, because otherwise it is totally the kind of book they would like. Except no dragons or werewolves either. But lots of complex politics and complex people and a couple trashbaby prince or two. And so much snow.

Rachel Pearson, No Apparent Distress

I picked this one up browsing the new books at the library. It's non-fiction, written by a young doctor who got into the field because she wanted to help people who needed the most help -- the poorest among us. Pearson starts her story with an account of her own childhood, growing up in trailers and campgrounds while her father did day labor and her mother worked her way through college. She and her brother worked right alongside their parents, building the house they would eventually live in and the houses her father would rent to the working poor.

Her father's dream was for his kids to get to college -- to move into the upper middle class through education. Pearson started out want to be a writer, but her childhood, filled with days in which she had done things, made things, fixed things, led her to want a life in which she did that. So she ended up in medical school, and then working at what she thought would be a charity hospital in Texas.

Except even as she started at that job, the charity aspects of the hospital were vanishing. More and more, medicine in the USA was becoming a for-profit business.

That's what Pearson's book chronicles -- that change in how America does medicine, and what that change means for most of us.

This is a brilliant and very readable book. Pearson also includes her sources, which I like in a writer. If you care about medical care in the USA (and if you live here you should) this book is a must-read.

Charlotte Voiklis, Becoming Madeline

I like Madeline L'Engle a lot as a kid (who didn't?). In my early 20s, I discovered her adult books, and liked them too. I like her a little less these days. (She's a bit too eager to believe the worst of people she disagrees with, and has some of the flaws of a religious writer who hasn't ever examined her faith.) But she's still a sentimental favorite, and when I saw this one at my local library, I picked it up.

Written by her granddaughters and based on her letters and diaries, it's a biography of the early years of L'Engle's life. Don't look for deep insights here. It's a labor of obvious love, and thus very sweet and touching. Very readable too.

Recommended for fans, not scholars.

The Girl Who Stopped SwimmingJoshilyn Jackson, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

Another one I found on the new book shelf of my local library. I took this one home based on the first few pages, in which the main character wakes up to find a ghost in her bedroom. Not the usual ghost though! This is a new ghost.

Okay, I was sold.

Set in the South, and written by a Southerner, this one is pretty good on the inherent class issues Southern culture is so rife with. (Jackson doesn't touch racism at all, but I guess not every book about the South has to, even a book set in Alabama.) The fucked-up family stuff is really good, too, as is the ghost story.

Also, the main character is an artist, and her art form is quilts, which I really like.

And it's very readable.

There's a child death right at the start, so if that's too much for you, maybe stay away from this one.

Anne Tyler, Clock Dance

I used to like Anne Tyler a lot. Her Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was one of my favorite books for a long time. And she is still very readable -- I read this one all in one sitting, for instance.

It's the story of a woman from the time she is ten until she is in her sixties. We drop into her life at ten year and then 20 year intervals, at the places in her life where she makes choices and so changes the direction of her life's course.

As I said, it's readable. It keeps your attention. But when you're done, you're left with a vague feeling of blandness. Meh, you think. That was okay, but so what?

I can't say what's wrong with these books, because really nothing is wrong exactly. It's just that nothing is really outstanding about them either.

Maybe that's it. They're about average people doing average things, making choices that lead to average lives. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's nothing all that interesting about it either.

On the other hand, that's what Anthony Trollope's books are about, essentially, and I really like his books. I don't know why Tyler's books leave me lukewarm and his fill me with satisfaction. It's a mystery.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Here's a game I'd forgotten about, until a reader asked me to update a link which was dead. (Thanks!)

How well do you know geography?

Interestingly, it's Canada that's killing my score. It's so big, and I don't know where anything except Alberta is, really. :(

UPDATE: This seems to be the original game!  Thanks, D. Shannon!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Kid

The Kid has been visiting their sweetie (the datefriend, as these kids today call it) for the past week. Today they are flying home, from PA to Fort Smith, via Detroit and then Atlanta. (My parents got the tickets with their Frequent Flyer miles -- we could never have afforded plane tickets, though we were considering a bus tickets for a time.)

The visit was a lovely success, the first time they and their sweetie got to meet IRL, though they've been dating for over a year, via Skype and Messenger and Twitter. (This is life in the future.) They hung out, watched movies, visited Gettysburg, ate together, lived together.

The Kid and their Sweetie Standing on a Monument at Gettysburg

And now the kid is flying home. This is the most anxiety-laden part for me. I mean, intellectually I know my kid is 20 years old and well able to navigate airports on their own. But some lizard part of my brain still consider this kid my tiny baby. My tiny baby, in a giant airport in Atlanta, trying to find the correct gate, all on their own! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

(I am, of course, fretting over nothing. They are doing fine, despite their slight phobia of escalators.)

I'll be glad when today is over however.

Friday, July 13, 2018

What I'm Reading

I'm done with teaching until August 20, so I'm writing a ton. Also reading more fiction than usual. (Whaaat!)

Some of it is re-reading old favorites. I'm not going to list those. I'm also not going to list the books I've started and tossed aside after 10 or 20 pages. There were a number of these, by the way. I'm just not interested in reading another book about another rich straight white guy (rich straight white woman) who is bored with their life or marriage or having a midlife crisis or whatever and in which nothing happens except we hear about their feelings. Oh, and they have sex with people. Author-insert sex, usually. Author-insert-creepy sex.

This is why most new fiction in the Literary genre is so bad. Young writers have stopped using plot. When you get rid of plot, what's left? Just your characters, mooning about feeling moody about their dull lives. And it's not that their lives are inherently dull -- it's just that you left out the plot.

I mean, take two of the best books written in the past 20 years: Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Both of these are centered on mundane existence and on straight white people. Russo's Donald Sullivan is a 60 year old day-laborer in a small, dying town in upstate New York. Atkinson's Ursula Todd is the third child in an upper-middle-class family in pre-WWII and post-WWII England. Both books deal with the minutia of their lives. Both books are wonderful for two reasons: excellent writing, and a compelling plot.

Atkinson's plot is slightly speculative -- she imagines a world in which reincarnation is real, and then shows us Ursula's life, over and over (life after life). The plot bit is that it's the same life. That is, Ursula is always Ursula Todd, born on February 11, 1920, to this family, in this house, during this snowstorm. But after that, changes can and do occur. What happens when Ursula-the-soul begins to remember previous reincarnations? Especially with WWII hitting her and her family and her country square in the middle of her life?

Russo's plot is straight literary fiction. Sullivan is trying to make it through another year. He's damaged, both physically and psychically, and he's inflicted damage on those around him. But he lives in a community of people he cares about, and people who care about it. And we, the reader, come to care about him. We want him to make it through another year also. That's the plot. That's the entire plot. Can Sully make his life work? Can he help his son and grandson? Can the other main character, Miss Beryl, help Jane and Tina (shadow figures to Sully's son and grandson, the child and grandchild Sully won't claim)? Will the community of North Bath survive another year?

Just as George Eliot makes us care about Middlemarch and those who live in that community, Russo makes us care about North Bath and the fate of those who live in this community. That's his plot -- can they make it? We want to know, and so we read on.

I think this is why I like genre fiction more than what is being published in the genre called literary fiction these days. Those who write genre fiction know they're supposed to have a plot. Too many people writing "literary" fiction think they can just write "lush" or "intricate" prose and substitute that for plot. Bah.

Where was I?

Oh, right. What have I been reading?

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Calculating Stars

I almost skipped this one because our library didn't have a copy and I'm trying not to buy books because we need to buy new tires for the car soon. But then Amazon had it cheap on Kindle, and I went for it.

Very much worth it! This is an alternative history in which an asteroid hits Earth in 1952, just off the coast of Maryland, obliterating Washington, D.C., where both Houses were in session, and President Dewey and most of his entire cabinet were present. The highest ranking survivor is the Secretary of Agriculture -- which turns out to be a good thing, since having a President who understands the effect of weather on crops and thus on humanity becomes key to the survival of humanity.

This is definitely genre fiction, and the plot is central: the asteroid strike creates a crisis, and our main character (a "computer" for NACA, this time-line's version of NASA) is central to solving that crisis. She and her husband and their community of colleagues and friends work desperately to get the space program kicked into high gear in time to save the human race from the disaster the asteroid strike has caused.

Lots of math in this one, and lots of science. Very readable, though! And the characters are great.

Holly Black, The Cruel Prince

Also definitely genre fiction, this one is fantasy. I don't usually like fantasy much, but the Kid gave me this one and ordered me to read it. And the Kid is right! It's really good. I'm going to try not to give spoilers.

It's told from the point of view of a child, Jude, whose mother was romanced off into the land of the Fae. Fast-forward 17 years. The child is now on the cusp of adulthood, and the kingdom of the Fairies is having political issues.

I love books with political issues.

Jude wants to be a knight, which is something mortals can be but usually aren't. Her Faerie father can make this happen, if he wants to. He gives Jude ambiguous answers. Meanwhile, Jude and her two sisters (one is half-fae, the other mortal like Jude) are having trouble with their fae coevals, most of whom are royalty.

Plot abounds. Who is to be trusted and who is not? It's like a Tudor drama. Very much worth reading. But fair warning -- this is the first of a trilogy, and the next isn't out until January. Also, just as with Tudor England, we've got blood and abuse and intrigue everywhere in this one, so if you like your books without violence, maybe skip this one.

Ian Mortimer, The Time-Traveler's Guide to Restoration England 
Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

I blogged about one of these already. They're both really good. Both of them I'm reading for research on this one tiny story I'm writing. But worth reading if you're interested in the period even if you're not writing a story about trickster time-travelers! Mortimer is good for his period details -- he's written several of these books -- and Gordon's analysis is excellent.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


So I had this terrible nightmare last night in which I'd had two children and I had both forgotten to love them and lost them.

These were very real children. I could draw you their pictures now, and in the dream they had names, though I can't remember their names now. I was very upset in the dream because I didn't love them -- I'd forgotten the part of parenting where I was supposed to bond with and fall in love with my children.

And then I realized I had no idea where they were. I couldn't remember if they were at a friend's house, or at school, or if they were visiting their grandparents, or what I had done with them.

Then I woke up in sheer terror and lay there for maybe a full minute, trying to remember where my children were, before I remembered I had one kid,who was in the very next room, sound asleep.

I think this is my new version of my anxiety dream. I used to have anxiety dreams in which I'd forgotten to attend a class all semester, and now it was time for the final, and once I became a professor, for awhile I was having dreams in which I'd forgotten to teach a class all semester and now it was time for the final. Now that the kid's 20, apparently I'm going to have dreams in which I've forgotten to raise kids all their lives and now it's time for the final.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Dinner the way, was chicken piccata, a broccoli and cheese casserole, French bread, and a nice Sauvignon blanc.

No pics today, sadly.

Conversation at the delagar Household

Me: Hey, dadzo is making dinner tonight

The Kid: He better.

Me: Yeah, I told him how sad you were he didn't last night.

The Kid: Yeah.

Me: He's gonna make that broccoli cheese casserole.

The Kid: Oh, worm?

Me: ... ... ...

The Kid: You know what that means, right? Oh, worm?

Me: Yeah, no.

The Kid: (Big sigh)

We need a Duolingo for 21st Century English, y'all.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Reading for Research

For some time I've been thinking up a story about a family of time-travelers, and last week I finally started to write it. For reasons I won't get into here, part of the story involves an encounter with Mary Wollstonecraft.

When I reached that point in the story, I realized I needed to know more specifics about Wollstonecraft's life -- details, facts, how she would react to things my characters said.

No problem, I said. The library has a biography, and look here, Amazon has another that is cheap on Kindle. Couple of hours of quick reading, and back to work.

Three days later, I'm still reading. This is not so much because I need to learn more as because Wollstonecraft is fascinating. Also, one of the books, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon, is excellent. I knew a little about Mary Shelley and her life with Percy; and I knew a very little about Wollstonecraft's life (that she had written Vindication of the Rights of Women, and that she had died giving birth to Mary Shelley); but this book is a revelation.

What Gordon does is, via alternating chapters, contrast Wollstonecraft's life and writing careers with that of her daughter's, detailing the events that shape them, and how they react to and resist these events.

This is a long but excellent book. Unless you're an English professor, or interested in the Romantics or feminism, it might not be for you. If that's your jam, though, snap this one up.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy 4th

Happy 4th from mine to yours:

From left to right, the Kid, me, and Uncle Charger. Not pictured: Dr. Skull, who is taking the photograph.

Le Menu: smoked lamb, chicken cacciatore, grilled asparagus, peach ice cream, and French bread with butter or sauce. Choice of Ginger ale or regular ale. Peach ice cream with homemade Maraschino cherries (bottled with last year's cherry crop) for dessert.


The Year's Best Science Fiction: 35th Annual Collection is now available, with a certain story from our favorite author in the TOC.

(You can Look Inside to see me. I'm on page iv of the TOC.)

ETA: Watch out, apparently there's a glitch when you try to buy the Kindle version. You get the 5th Annual Collection instead. Maybe wait a few days?

Links for Your 4th

If you haven't seen this, you HAVE to see this

Grandmothers matter

Ortberg translates Sappho


Fact v Opinion (I scored 100%, but then I better have)

It me

I know we're sick of Jordan Peterson, but...

Yes, we do have alternatives


Sunday, July 01, 2018

My Guilty Secret

I know I'm an English professor, but the minute I read in a review that someone's prose is "lush" or "ornate," I roll my eyes and cross that sucker off my list forever.