Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Posts of 2018

So the best things that happened in 2018 -- we took the House back, my book was published, and I got the perfect schedule for Spring 2019. Also, I got a lot written. Everything is better when I'm writing well.

My top posts of the year:

January: Ursula Le Guin

February: The Kid Does Art

March: Soul of a Nation

April: Language and Change

May: Booklist on my Book

June: My book appears on Scalzi's Big Idea

July: Best books

August: The Kid's Apartment and Georgia O'Keefe

September: Performative Reading

October: I Give Advice

November: Unicorns

December: My Kid Does Art

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Louis CK

Here's the thing about conservatives -- they're not smart, they're not cute, they're not funny.

All they have going for them is how mean they are.

That and a lot of whining.

(As someone noted over on Twitter, this 'humor' is exactly what we see in the comments section to any third-rate Right-Wing blog. "Ooo, I identify as an attack helicopter, LOLOL.")

Best-Selling Books

I wrote about book lists for 2018 here; but here's yet another. This one is for the books that sold the most copies in 2018.

You won't be surprised to find that a hefty number have to do with how to lose weight or how to eat some specific sort of food which will magically make you a better person. I think many people are replacing religion with food cults. Which, okay, I guess. Better an obsession with your diet than an obsession with heresy.

I've read only a few of these books, so I can't speak to whether this list has anything to do with quality.  I'm dubious that we can use capitalism to decide what a good book is, however. And I will say that the books I've read from the list weren't anything special.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

What's this? A PATREON?

I'm starting a Patreon. You can find it here!

For as little as $3.00/month, you can read chapters to Triple Junction (sequel to Broken Slate) as I post them, as well as reading my essays on science fiction and writing science fiction.

For $10/month, you can suggest books for me to review, or essay topics for me to write about.

All this AND you get to support a working writer.

What I'm Reading Over the Break

Mostly I am writing over the break. But in the evenings I read.

Here's a couple good books I've read lately:

Sherry Thomas, The Hollow of Fear

This is the third book in the Lady Sherlock series, which I am liking quite a bit. Sherry Thomas is apparently better known for her romance novels, so maybe I will try those next. In any case, in the Lady Sherlock series, Thomas has gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes, and in an interesting way -- Charlotte Holmes, unable to find a way to make a living as a (fallen) Victorian woman, creates a fictional persona, her brother Sherlock, a recluse. She acts as his Archie Goodwin, more or less. The mysteries in these are fine, and there's an over-arching mystery that will apparently encompass most of the books; but the real treat here is Thomas's writing and the interplay of the main characters.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher, The Bent Twig

If you've heard of Canfield Fisher at all, it's because of Understood Betsy, a kid's book that was popular back in the early-to-mid years of the 20th century. If you haven't read Understood Betsy, and you like children's fiction, I highly recommend it.

Canfield Fisher also wrote books for adults, however, and I've been reading those that are available for free online (attempting to keep my book expenditures down). This one is the story of a family and specifically of one of their children, Sylvia. The family is a big part of the story -- the father, who comes from the East Coast upper class, married a farmer's daughter, and they moved to the Midwest (This is all set sometime in the 19th century) where he works as a professor at the local state college and she runs their tiny farm.

Class issues are a big part of the story, as are racial issues and sexism. Like Middlemarch, this is the story of a specific place at a specific time, and the small group of people who live there. I enjoyed it very much. It's available free through Gutenberg.

Rex Stout, The Mother Hunt, The Rubber Band, The Black Mountain, The Father Hunt, Where There's a Will

More Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe books. If you like mysteries set in the 1930s and 1950s (Stout mostly didn't write during WWII, because he was doing war work), you'll like these.

They're very relaxing, which is probably why I'm reading so many of them over this break.

I also watched the new Watership Down on Netflix, as well as Bird Box and the third season of Travellers. These are all watchable, though the new Watership Down isn't nearly as good as the book, or the 1970s movie. Read the book, that's my advice.

Friday, December 28, 2018

About That Wall...

In case you're wondering why the wall is a terrible idea

(Note that this doesn't address the immense amount of money a wall would cost, money which will add to the deficit, since there's no way Trump is going to cancel that tax scam for the wealthy any time soon.)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Curious Cat

I have no idea what this is, but I have it now: Curious Cat

Why I'm Poor

UPDATE: In case I didn't make it clear, but this isn't just why I'm poor. It's why most of America is poor -- medical costs are too high, public transportation (realistically) doesn't exist, and wages are far too low. I don't even have childcare costs to worry about, which adds to the problem for many workers.


Even with insurance, Dr. Skull's root canal was $300.

Plus I'm supposed to have these medical tests next month. Did I mention our $5000/deductible? (That's for the entire family. My personal deductible is somewhere around $1200.)

Plus the car, which cost us upwards of $3000 on repairs this year alone.

Plus everyone in this family needs glasses. I do have vision insurance, but it covers almost nothing.

Plus I looked at my end of the year paycheck stubs. Holy hell, do I pay a ton in taxes and social security.

But yeah, tell me how if I just quit buying lattes* and eating at fancy restaurants, we'd be fine.

*I do buy more books that I should, I'll admit that. But I'm a junkie and our local library is grotesquely underfunded, so that I can't feed my habit that way. :(

Best Books of 2018

Lots of publications are putting out Best Books of 2018 lists.

Here's the NYTimes, for instance. I read several of these books, and while they were readable, they not only wouldn't make my list, they didn't make my list. That is, I read them, and decided not to write mini-reviews of them on my blog. For instance, The Perfect Nanny and Educated -- I read both of those. The Perfect Nanny struck me as yet another tool of the mommy wars, designed as it is to terrify mothers. And Educated, while it probably was eye-opening for some people, just seems like old news to those of us who live in Red States.

Likewise, Small Fry, also on the NYTimes list, while readable, hardly reaches 'best books' category. It's basically a tell-all about what a terrible parent Steve Jobs was. Which, wow, who would have guessed?

Frankly, after a couple of years of reading books that make the NYTimes recommended list, I'm starting to think whoever writes these lists doesn't actually like to read.

NPR's list is better, both because it allows you to sort for interest, and also because it actually has some good books on it. For instance, N. K. Jemisin's collection of short stories, How Long Til Black Future Month, and also Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver.

I've read almost nothing from this list, but I might now.

Anyway! My very own best of 2018 list. Mind you, these are just books I read (for the first time) in 2018. No doubt lots of better books are out there. And not all of these were actually published in 2018.

Helen DeWitt, The Last Samari: This is probably the best book I read this year. Highly recommended.

Laurie King, Califia's Daughters. Not published in 2018, but excellent. The dogs in this are great, if you like books with dogs in them.

Holly Black, The Cruel Prince. A portal fantasy, more or less, but really good. The sequel comes out in a few days, and I can't wait.

Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws. This looks at the life of Mary Wollstoncraft and Mary Shelley, kind of in tandem. Excellent read and an excellent book.

Carrie Vaughn, Bannerless. Y'all are going to start think I love post-apocalyptic books. Which, yeah.

Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy. Apparently this is the year I discovered Georgette Heyer. If you have always wished for more Jane Austen, Heyer is the writer for you.

John M. Barry, The Great Influenza. Goes into great and fascinating detail about the pandemic that killed so many people (a third of the world's population, by some estimates) in 1918.

Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni. Fantasy, but the best sort of fantasy.

The Odyssey, trans. by Emily Wilson. You haven't read the Odyssey until you've read this translation.

Meg Elison, The Book of Etta. I love, love, love Meg Elison. Another post-apocalyptic book, by the way.

Helen McDonald, H is for Hawk. A memoir about the author's life with hawks. A wonderful book.

Those are my best reads. What about all y'all? Have you read anything good?

Oh! And don't forget that this book came out in 2018!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


We don't really celebrated Christmas here at chez delagar, but I did make pancakes for the Kid, so that was a kind of festive occasion.

"Thanks for making pancakes," the Kid told me.

"Pancakes and latkes," I said. "I make them once a year."

"Pancakes and latkes," the Kid said: "The dualities of life."

My pancake recipe


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Holiday Message

Our current chancellor made a YouTube video:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Links for your Thursday

I'm writing and writing right now, so light posting ahead.

Have some links!

I'm considering a new page for my bibliography -- what do all y'all think about this one?

In case you missed this: A Poem for academics

And in case you missed this, an amazing short story from Naomi Kritzer

Where your taxes go

I'd love this even if I didn't love bagels

Science says this

From Daniel Ortberg, who is a national treasure

A follow up to the previous, due to all the online harassment Ortberg got for his essay

Women in science

The quintiles, in case anyone is confused about the state of American wealth and poverty

What the above translates into

On the other hand...

This one is just funny

Also funny

Image result for comic about trump

Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Kid Does Art

We're doing Hanukkah late because the kid was still up at the U during Actual Hanukkah.

Anyway, one of their presents was a new Koi watercolor set, and this is the first thing they painted with it:

This is something they drew for their final portfolio in their Fall art class:

And finally! A self-portrait:

Friday, December 14, 2018

Winter Break

I finished my grading early (go me!), so now I have nothing to do for almost four weeks but write, read, and catch up on Netflix. (Winter break is my favorite, because it's cold and dark and I can write for hours.)

Here's my reccs for those of you trying to decide what to Binge Watch over the break:

The Good Place: I assume all y'all have all already found this wonderful show, but if you haven't, now's the time -- we're halfway through Season 3 and it's just getting better. Premise: Four people wake up dead in the Good Place, none of whom are actually supposed to be there. They have to fool everyone if they're not going to be sent to the Bad Place. Since one of them is a professor of Ethics and Philosophy, he agrees to teach the other three how to be good people. It's a mix of SF, philosophy, and wonderful characters and writing. First two seasons for free on Netflix.

Travellers: Time travel! Need I say more? Okay, I'll say more. In the future, earth is a wreck. A band of survivors from a scientific bunker build first an AI and then a time-traveling gizmo, which lets them 'travel' back into the bodies of those who would have died, otherwise. Their mission is to avert the catastrophe/s which left the planet wrecked. Season 3 just dropped. Available on Netflix.

Dr. Who Season 11: Jodi Whittaker as the Doctor! Who could ask for more? But there are also wonderful British accents and typical Dr. Who plots. You gotta buy this one, sadly.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: This is a deeply entertaining comedy set in the 1950s in New York City. A young Jewish mother sort of stumbles into the desire to be a comedian. As with Mad Men, much of the charm comes from sets and other period details, but the characters and the comedy also work to make this fun. Free on Amazon Prime.

Brooklyn 99: Just renewed for another season, this is an adorable show about police officers in Brooklyn. Every character is wonderful, and Andre Braugher plays Captain Holt, which was enough to sell me on the show right there. You gotta buy this one too, but it's available on Amazon Streaming.

Steven Universe: Best cartoon ever. Excellent LGBT characters, and a wonderful attitude toward life. Available on Amazon Streaming.

What are your suggestions?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

More Trouble

The tire on our car blew out this morning. We picked up a piece of what looks like shrapnel somewhere, and it slammed into the wheel rim itself and totaled it.

This is the third repair work I've had to do on this car this year. Two last year, and three the year before that.

There is only one possible conclusion. Our car is possessed. Obviously I should perform an exorcism.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Vague Posting

Did you ever spend literally months trying to figure out just what was wrong with someone, to make them continually say such odd and ignorant things, and then have a sudden realization that this person just... isn't very bright?

I mean, here I was blaming Fox News and maybe some lack of experience ("Could it be that they just don't understand irony?" "Is it really that they aren't able to tell propaganda from facts?"), but nah.

Just your standard bone-headed ignorance, which they lack the intellectual facility to correct.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

What I'm Reading Now

Tana French, The Witch Elm

I'll pretty much read anything Tana French writes. Among other things, I love her use of Irish dialect. This one has an unreliable narrator, and also a fairly unlikable narrator. It's a mystery novel, more or less, as French's novels always are.

Early on in the novel, the main character, Toby, is badly injured. The injury leaves him unable to trust his own memory. He ends up at The Ivy House, his family house, where he and his cousins spent their summers and holidays growing up. Then a body is found out in the Witch Elm in the house's garden -- a boy who was murdered ten years before.

Because Toby can't trust his mind, or his memory, he can't be sure what is true. He doesn't know to believe about how the body got in the garden. This is where French's first-person point of view really pays off. Because Toby doesn't know, we don't know either.

As with all of French's novels, this one is page-turner, filled with great characters and a twisty little mystery.

Johanna Sinisalo, The Core of the Sun 

I read this one for the science fiction class I'm teaching next semester. It's a feminist dystopian work, set in a mythic near-future, grown out of an alternate past in which Finland began practicing 'domestication' of women around 1870. Women were bred like foxes or dogs, so that the adult traits were bred out of their species, and the juvenile traits reinforces (a process called neoteny, which I'm pretty sure you can't actually sex-select, but let's go with it).

By 2016, which is more or less the year the novel is set in, women are either elois or morlocks -- elois being slender childlike blonde creatures, stupid and obedient; morlocks being dark-haired and stolid, built for labor. Morlocks are sterilized at puberty; elois are married young, and often beaten to death by their owner-husbands, or remanded into state custody when their owner-hsubands grow tired of them.

The novel is told from the point of view of Vera, a morlock born into the body of an eloi, who is planning an escape from Finland, but who wants to find her missing sister (an actual eloi) first. As with most dystopian novels, it spends a great deal of time taking us through the culture.

Vera is also a junkie -- addicted to chili peppers, which are illegal in this dystopia. I'm still trying to work out what this might mean. I have a feeling there's some obvious metaphor I am missing.

I like the structure of this novel a lot: diary entries, snippets from history texts, school essays, newspaper articles. It reminds me of Dracula, a bit.

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South

I read this one mainly because I'm reading Ursula Le Guin in order to review her for Strange Horizons, and she mentions Gaskell's works. It's one of the Industrial Novels, written about the problems of industrial England -- in this case Manchester. Gaskell did her time in Manchester, living with her minister husband there, so she knew the lives of the mill workers. The book is worth reading for those details alone.

On the other hand, it's very clear that Gaskell is on the side of the mill owners in this book. She thinks the workers who join unions and go on strike for higher pay are fools -- she honestly believes that the mill owners are paying workers as much as they can, and to ask for more pay is not just unreasonable, it is entirely unrealistic. (We're still seeing this notion with people today, who claim raising the minimum wage will destroy American business.)

In contrast, Gaskell presents the mill owners as God-like heroes, creating the economy England ex nihilo -- and certainly creating it without any help from the mill workers they hold in such contempt.

The two classes, those who own the mills and other property, and those who work for the owners, are two different sorts of beings. Both are human: Gaskell is clear about that. But one, the workers, should be submissive. Like a child, these workers should do as they are told. They should ask for anything they want, and obey the owners. The other, the owner and creator, gives orders and can expect obedience. He is wise, knows best, and never need explain anything to anyone. The workers must trust him to do what is best, as children trust their father.

Margaret Hale is our main character. She comes from the rural South into the industrial North, and briefly wavers between the two classes -- worker and owner. She is, for a few months, not quite sure which class is justified in the strike, or to which class she belongs. But never fear! It is the owner class. Soon she sets the workers straight in their mistaken belief that they have a right to strike, or demand fair working conditions, and all rights itself in the end.

This is a very readable book, but the classicism might make you queasy.

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered

I'm just not sure how I feel about Barbara Kingsolver. I liked her first three books a lot, and then didn't much like her next few books. This one is readable, but odd.

It's certainly a book for our times: the premise is a family -- an immigrant grandparent, parents, 20-something child, and infant grandchild -- are, like many of us, broke. They inherit a house which has been in the family for generations, and all of them move into it together. The father had a (terrible) job at a local university; the mother is a freelance writer; the daughter works various minimum wage jobs; the grandfather is dying.

Once they have moved in, they find the house is not built to code, and is, in fact, falling to pieces around them. Also the dying grandfather's health insurance sucks. Also, he's rabidly far-right, and because of his dementia says appalling things, most of them in Greek, luckily. (Everyone in the family at least understands Greek, though only the grandfather and the husband, his son, speak it.)

Meanwhile, interspersed with the story of this family, we have flashbacks to the story of another family, about a century earlier, who lived (as we think) in the same house. (It is also not to code, it is also falling down. We wonder through much of the book how, if the house is in such bad shape, it can still be standing a century later -- but as it develops, the houses are not the same. Oops, spoilers.)

All of this is obviously heavily freighted with anvilicious metaphorical meaning, as Kingsolver's books tend to be. It is readable and engaging, and I stuck with it to the end, but I don't know that I would read it twice.

Carrie Vaughn, Martians Abroad

A lot of YA books are actually being written for adults these days, but this one is definitely aimed at kids, and younger teens at that. It's a ripping yarn of the sort we saw during the 1950s and 1960s -- it's been compared to Heinlein's Red Planet, not without cause.

Here, a pair of siblings from the management class of the fledgling colony on Mars are sent to an upper-class boarding school on Earth. Their mother, who runs the colony, sends them, without giving them a sensible explanation, so that from the start we suspect something is up. Polly, our point of view character, is something like Podkayne, from another of Heinlein's books, Podkayne of Mars; Charles, her twin brother, is a bit like Clark from that novel, except older and not nearly so sociopathic. (He's a bit of a sociopath.)

So we have a fish-out-of-water story; and a boarding school story; and a travelogue, since the boarding school takes its very wealthy students on field trips around Earth and to its moon; and a mystery. What is up with Polly and Charles' mother?

It's a lot of fun, in other words, even if it isn't exactly original. Also, Polly and Charles are a lot more likable than Podkayne and Clark.

Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance, League of Frightened Men, Too Many Cooks, Some Buried Caesar

Rex Stout wrote mystery novels, among other things, from the early years of the 20th century until the 1960s. His Nero Wolfe novels, which all of these are, are his most famous. Some Buried Caesar was a novel assigned to me in my American Lit II class, back when I was an undergrad, and it was my first introduction to Rex Stout. What I remember most about the class is how the other students whine and moaned about having to read a mystery novel. "This isn't literature," one of them complained to the professor. "What are we supposed to do with this?"

I read Some Buried Caesar for that class, and then a ton of other novels by Rex Stout -- this was back in the days when we were limited to the books we could find in local libraries and bookstores. Previous to the internet, there was no other way to get books (or rather no way that I knew about -- I could have ordered books via the bookstores, if I had known that, but I didn't).

Anyway! When I put my books in order last summer, I found the two Rex Stout novels I had bought, way back then -- Fer-de-Lance and Some Buried Caesar.  And when I was sick, I re-read them, and then read the Nero Wolfe books our local library has, and then bought a few (Too Many Cooks, League of Frightened Men) from Thrift Books, which I highly recommend, by the way.

These are all early Nero Wolfe novels, written in the 1930s, and I'll admit I am reading them more for the pleasure of visiting that era and Nero Wolfe's house and life in that era, than for the actual mysteries. Though the mysteries are just fine.

In Too Many Cooks, for instance, Wolfe travels by train to West Virginia to attend a kind of convention -- he's a gourmand, and this is a meeting of the 15 best chefs in the world. There is of course a murder and subsequent mystery attached to it, but most of the pleasure of the book comes from traveling by train in the 1930s, and visiting a West Virginia resort, and watching Stout write about racism* in the 1930s, since the West Virginia resort is staffed almost entirely by local black men, who are being set up for the murder.

Stout is a bit of a jingoistic patriot, and definitely a conservative, but this was before conservatives turned bat-shit crazy. He's an old-style conservative, in other words, which makes him (by current standards) very nearly a progressive.

The books are all told through the point of view of Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's secretary and go-fer, who in these earliest books is written as a bit of a dope. (He gets smarter later.) The later books are not as good as those written in the 1930s and 1940s, but all of them are readable.

*When people lecture me about "presentism," and tell me that people back then didn't have the same attitudes "we" have today, so we can't judge them by our standards, fap fap fap, Rex Stout is one of the writers I think about. Sinclair Lewis is another.