Links, updates, and what I’ve been reading

Hey folks. Here’s a little random blog post:

1. This week in my classes, I’m teaching a widely anthologized and very famous critique of utilitarianism by Bernard Williams.  The Williams article contains a very famous thought experiment, Jim and the Indians, designed to stimulate criticism of the utilitarian idea that we are responsible for what we fail to do, as well as for what we do.

It so happens that the very first post of a new blog called Moontime Warrior: Fearless Philosophizing and Embodied Resistance  (h/t Feminist Philosophers for the link), discusses what it feels like to be a Native youth exposed to Williams’ stereotypical rendering of Indian experience. In her post, Good Philosophers Don’t Have Anxiety Attacks: on mental health, race and belonging in the classroom, Erica Violet Lee, a Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) student at the University of Saskatchewan, reflects on the effect of the case on her:

After the professor read this aloud, I sat there with every muscle in my body tensed, wishing for the class to be over so I could leave. The worst part, of course, was that no one objected or even questioned the use of this thought experiment – not even me. I didn’t have the patience to explain why it’s messed up to teach an unnecessarily racialized, stereotypical story that deprives Indigenous people of autonomy, in a classroom where you have one Native student, in a discipline that struggles with inclusion of People of Color and women at all levels.

I had become convinced that I was not welcome and that I did not belong in this classroom, maybe not even in philosophy, and “Jim and the Indians” solidified that thought in my mind. I was rendered voiceless. This is a feeling I wish I could share with the professor who told my peers and colleagues that my anxiety was a made-up excuse; who believed that I just wanted it easy.

After reading that post, I couldn’t walk in to my classroom this morning and teach the article the same way I have for twelve years, with a mere disclaimer. I shared Lee’s post and we talked through both Lee’s perspective, and also ways to get at the issue Williams wants to illuminate without resorting to problematic narratives about race and gender. I am very grateful to Lee for sharing her story. I’ll never teach this article the same way again.

2. I finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, my Big Fat Book for March. The narration is excellent, and I switched back and forth between audio and digital.  I just love her writing. I love being in the worlds she creates. Here’s a reflection by the main protagonist and narrator on the loss of his beloved mother at age thirteen:

But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead. [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 93). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]

Here’s the main character describing his father:

Maybe he wasn’t drinking any more, but all the old late afternoon wanting-a-drink edge was still there, scratchy as sandpaper. [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 186). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]

Here’s a character describing her Swiss boarding school:

“And the view is like the mountain on the Caran d’Ache box. Snowcaps and flower meadow and all that. Otherwise it’s like one of those dull Euro horror movies where nothing much happens.” [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 387). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]

Loved it. I’m a little mixed on the ending. I might write about it.

3. Outlander, on audio. Ok, someone has to explain the character transplant Jamie undergoes when he finally returns to Lallybroch and berates his sister for getting raped. So far in the book, some 25 chapters or so, Jamie has been calm, rational, and very mature for his twenty-three years. His uncle basically prostitutes him for his scars, to drum up support for Scotland,  and he bears it with equanimity. Same for his forced marriage. He has a wisdom beyond his years. But he returns home, sees his sister pregnant, and assumes the worst, that she copulated with the evil Captain Jack Randall of the British Army:

“Aye, so ye chose to sell yourself rather than beg! I’d sooner have died in my blood and seen Father and the lands in hell along with me, and well ye know it!”

“Aye, I know it! You’re a ninny, Jamie, and always have been!” his sister returned in exasperation.

“Fine thing for you to say! You’re not content wi’ ruining your good name and my own, ye must go on with the scandal, and flaunt your shame to the whole neighborhood!”

Gabaldon, Diana (2004-10-26). Outlander: with Bonus Content (pp. 374-375). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The thing is, he’s not a ninny. So far in the book, Jamie has been masterful at reading signs, deciphering facial expressions, interpreting the way people hold their bodies, even the way horses move, and yet, he can’t figure out he’s all wrong about his own sister? I felt this scene was very out of character.

4. I’m not sure how I found this, and yes, it’s on Reddit, but it’s a really fantastic motivational article. This may be all the self-help advice anyone will ever need:

tldr; 1. Nonzero days as much as you can. 2. The three you’s, gratitude and favours. 3. Forgiveness 4. Exercise and books (which is a sneaky way of saying self improvement, both physical, emotional and mental)

5. Soccer season. In full swing. DS14’s team is outplaying expectations, and the expectations were high to begin with. We all have this feeling there is no stopping them. (Check back in with me mid season!) I was standing on the sidelines somewhere in fucking Massachusetts, at least four hours from home, on a Sunday night, and freezing my ass off, when a fellow soccer mom imparted some wisdom to me. I was remarking that there is so much pressure now, college coaches, showcases, national rankings. And the boys are bigger and the knocks are harder, and I’m so fearful of injury I can hardly stand to watch. She said — maybe the fact that her husband has just had a life saving major organ transplant had something to do with her attitude — that she’s just so grateful her son can run and kick and play and do something that he loves with a team he cares about and coaches he respects. When he gets off the field, she only ever says one thing: “I just love to watch you play.” She said she found the phrase in another mom’s post online, and it made a huge impression on her. It made a huge impression on me too.

6. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but I’ll be at the Popular Culture Association conference in Chicago in April. I’m presenting in the Medical Humanities area, on Harlequin medical romance, but I expect I’ll be spending most of my time in the romance area. I’m super excited that one of my all time favorite writers, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, will be there, and also for so many of the romance papers I can hardly fit them all into my schedule. I plan to blog about it as much as possible.

7. I’m reading Sarah Mayberry’s Satisfaction ($2.99 for Kindle), which just came out and everyone is reviewing. But then I read Brie’s post about the penis-in-vagina syndrome it succumbs to and I had to put it aside. And that reminded me of another great post, by Pamela at Badass Romance, on Some (More) Scattered thoughts about Romancelandia, Overthinking and Balance:

If I do want to have fun with what I read, and immerse myself in an emotional journey along with the characters, is “overthinking” and writing a critical response part of the fun, or does it spoil the fun? Our fun, or other people’s fun, if one asks too many questions in the wrong space? What about the pleasure of reading as a social practice, which many bloggers have noted can deepen the reading experience?

8. I started Beeminding a once a week blog post. That’s the only reason I wrote this. Yes, I’m pathetic. But at least I know how to turn my patheticness to advantage!

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Hope you are having a good week.

This ‘n That: Long ass version

4-up on 1-24-14 at 7.55 PM (compiled)

Unsurprisingly, being back in the classroom after sabbatical has hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a goal of posting once a week, but to my surprise, it’s been two weeks since my last post. I was moved to write this tonight because since WordPress just kindly auto-renewed my domain registration, premium theme, and other unfree goodies, I figure I better use them.

Things are going very well at school. The students in my classes seem really attentive and interested. I’m getting excellent questions, especially in 100 (contemporary moral problems), which most students take to check a gen ed box in their transcript. We got into a fairly non-superficial discussion today of whether Kant would have argued against abortion on the grounds that no one would consent to be aborted.

I also got to make a couple of Justin Bieber digs. Bieber is one of the very few celebrities I actively — and irrationally, since I don’t know him — dislike. But (based on what I realize is probably a skewed media image) his contempt for working people, his failure to show appreciation for any of the blessings he has received — many unfairly–, his lack of respect for his fans, his inflated ego … add up to “I’m so glad he got arrested.” The other side is his young age, the influence of irresponsible adults including his own parents who should know better, the fact that in teen boys impulse control is hard enough without having everything laid out on a silver platter, etc. Anyway, his arrest made for a good case study in a class about ethics.

One of our VPs sent me a section of a college guide that singled me out as a good teacher. I was really flattered for about five seconds. On the sixth second I realized it was a publication from a conservative organization. They were ranking professors solely on whether their “liberal bias” showed and whether they welcomed religious and conservative students. While I’m glad religious and conservative students feel welcome in my courses, I wasn’t pleased with the way this “guide” ranked faculty, and I have to wonder if the VP who sent me a congratulatory note was even aware of the political agenda of this book.

This is my last semester as a rank and file professor. Beginning in July, I’ll be chair of the department. It’s something I’ve put off for a while, but we are such a small group (five full time, and about three adjuncts) that it makes sense to do it now. It looks like my spouse will be chair of his department as well, so we’ll be seeing a bump in both income and stress levels. I warned him that I won’t be sitting next to him at chairs and directors meetings. His response: “Does that mean we can’t make out?” Men.

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My #AcWriMo plans

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

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This is my #AcWriMo accountability post. Like #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this event is geared to help people make writing a daily habit, to set specific measurable goals, and to provide the social support and public accountability to help meet those goals. The event is sponsored by the website PhD2Published. The public accountability is in the form of a spreadsheet, here. And the social support comes in the form of a very active Twitter hashtag (#AcWriMo), and a Facebook group. Lots of participants (there are over 600 the last time I checked the spreadsheet) also have their own blogs and are writing posts like this one.

I’ve made academic writing a focus in the past twelve months. I’ve tried a number of different tools and techniques to help me establish a daily writing habit and produce results:

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Compost 1

Real_Compost

Like compost, a post full of decomposing and recycled material. Possibly nourishing. Potentially fertile.  May contain shit and piss.

It’s a post that’s a combination of things.

We’re just back from a four day trip to my home state, Rhode Island, for the regionals soccer tournament. Maine teams typically get crushed, thanks to demographics and not having a strong soccer culture. The highlight was tying the 31st best team in the US. My son scored the lone goal that day (he’s a striker), and he did a Wayne Rooney style celebration. I wasn’t sure about the celebration, but I was happy to see him so overjoyed. He’s a nonfiction guy, currently reading I Am Zlatan on his ipad mini and Why Do Men Have Nipples in paper. Here’s an action shot:

davidatcoastal2013

My other little guy is having a great summer on his own terms, which means a lot of all-day-in-his-PJs, meeting his friends at the park, watching episodes of the Simpsons and playing Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and Minecraft on the computer. He’s way into The Walking Dead comics on his ipad right now, but also reads a little in his paper Hitchhiker’s Guide set (he’s on book 2). He also likes to just sit and think about things. He’s a natural philosopher, as you can tell from this picture:

photo (1)

In other news, I’m still working on my Penhally Bay paper. I’m very undisciplined and prone to forgetting my original research question in search of some more foundational issue. I guess it’s a hazard of being trained in philosophy. So, I haven’t even gotten to talking about the actual romance novels. Instead, I’ve written several pages on method in popular fiction studies and on the dangers of mimetic representational analysis therein.

One thing that’s helped is being part of Jo Van Every‘s Monday writing group. Every Monday we all call in to a conference line and share what we plan to work on. We work. Then we call back 90 minutes later. Over the past year I have tried a few different writing groups, coaches, apps and writing strategies. I keep meaning to write a post on that.

One of the papers I’ve read recently is a classic article in reader response theory from its heyday. The author says reading involves an interaction between self and other. The nature of that confrontation depends on the background of the reader and upon the specific text. 

She says there are three modes of reading, including the dominant pole:

The dominant pole is characterized by detachment, observation from a distance. The reader imposes a previously established structure on the text and in so doing silences it. Memory dominates over experience, past over present. Readers who dominate texts become complacent or bored because the possibility for learning has been greatly reduced. Judgment is based upon previously established norms rather than upon empathetic engagement with and critical evaluation of the new material encountered. The reader absents the text.

Second,

The submissive pole, in contrast, is characterized by too much involvement. The reader is entangled in the events of the story and is unable to step back, to observe with a critical eye. Instead of boredom the reader experiences anxiety. The text is overwhelming, unwilling to yield a consistent pattern of meaning.

Third,

Productive interaction, then, necessitates the stance of a detached observer who is empathetic but who does not identify with the characters or the situation depicted in a literary work. Comprehension is attained when the reader achieves a balance between empathy and judgment by maintaining a balance of detachment and involvement. Too much detachment often results in too much judgment and hence in domination of the text; too much involvement often results in too much sympathy and hence in domination by the text. 

The author of that article makes some claims about gender, etc., which are not my interest (namely, that men are more likely to take the dominant mode, women the submissive). I also would not characterize the three modes of reading in the way she has (her interests were pedagogical, and her readers were students). But I found it interesting to think about my own reading somewhat along those lines. for example, I just listened to a Bella Andre Sullivans book, From This Moment On, which I did not like at all. I could not get into it, and instead of enjoying the text, I kept judging the text (for example, thinking things like,  “If a computer were programmed / or a committee hired / or a focus group consulted to write a romance novel, this would be the product. Utterly bland.” Or when the heroine thought,

Oh God. He was beautiful, but so big. Bigger than her brain had computed, even though she’d seen him, felt him inside of her, more than once already.

…and my immediate reaction was “this is clearly a problem with your brain, not with his penis.”

On the other hand, I’m half way through Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do, and am so engrossed. I’m not anxious, but I am immersed and not judging, just enjoying. It’s a very funny book, and full of the kind of self-aware characters I love.

Google reader is dead. Long live Google Reader. I’m actually now a contented Feedly user, but this was my favorite tweet from today:

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 6.53.38 PM

A few people have noticed that my old blog, Read React Review, is defunct. The reason is simple: I stopped paying my web host. I just couldn’t stand the idea of paying for a blog I don’t update. I *thought* I had moved it over here to WP.com, but apparently not. I’m definitely pleased that people remember specific posts well enough to miss them, and I apologize for the inconvenience.

On that note, I’ve been thinking about the many significant ways Romanceland has changed since I started reading blogs (2007). I hope to write a post on it this month.

 

I hope you are having a good Canada Day or Independence Day week, or July, or whatever it is where you are. Let me know what you are up to!

On Her Profession’s Secret (Blogging) Service

dbhgyt7

I received an invitation the other day to join a new academic blog in my area. I would be emailed news clips and items of interest by a coordinator and produce 1-2 posts a week.  My first reaction was that while 2 posts a week is insane, I might be able to do one. Yes, I thought, I could do this. And we really need a blog in this area! And how nice to be asked! And isn’t this great! I drafted an immediate affirmative response. But something happened (my dog was probably trying to eat someone again) and…

Thank God I did not hit “send.” It’s true that I love to blog. I am blogging right now! About blogging! But if I took this on, I would be in the following ridiculous situation: I am a member of a professional academic organization, I review article and conference submissions for them, and I blog for them. But I have never actually published a peer reviewed article in their journal.

I asked myself if the fact that I truly support academic blogging and that I truly believe we need a new blog in this (feminist) area means I am being hypocritical not to sign up. But I have to look at my own situation. I’m an academic for whom academic writing is a tremendous challenge. And not just a challenge, but, if I’m honest, the area of my professional life in which I am the least accomplished and (this is very hard to admit) underachieving.

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Trying this blogging thing again

Romance_Aniceto&Francisca-Luppi

I quit blogging about 5 months ago. I have missed it all that time, but haven’t been able to really start up again. I am completely disinclined to go back to my old blog, and I wish I could intelligently articulate why.

It may have something to do with the wrong turn I made last year in blogging. To shore up my flagging enthusiasm, I started taking ARCs, signed up for book tours, attended Book Expo America, started to develop relationships with publishers. In no time, blogging felt like work. I was reading to blog, on someone else’s timeline, not reading for the fun of it, so even reading felt like a chore. In short, at a time when I needed to (a) take a break, and/or (b) write more for myself, I (a) committed to writing more reviews, and (b) wrote more for some mythical audience than about what I was really thinking or feeling.

In January of this year, I didn’t buy a single book. I donated most of my paper books to local charities, and got to know my digital TBR a bit better (I have about 400 books on it). I’d like to continue mining my TBR (although I can’t promise a complete book buying ban for 2013. I’m reformed, not insane.) and chatting about interesting bits on this blog. Right now, I cannot imagine being able to write a formal book review — I’m exhausted just thinking about it —  but then again, five months ago, I couldn’t imagine writing a blog post for a new book blog.

I still read so many great book blogs. I have a follow list of those on WordPress in the footer, and plan to add the rest to a links widget. It’s reading the blogs that inspire me that has made me feel like blogging is a worthwhile hobby to get back to someday.

I recently read four posts that coalesced into a concrete direction for a new blog, and to which I owe this blog’s name. My thanks, or apologies, to the following:

A crossroads, a break, the end, who knows?

I’ve been putting off writing my annual blogversary post — my fourth — for weeks now. I have to confess it’s because I have no idea what, if anything, I am going to do with this blog going forward. I feel as if I’ve run out of steam, and I have a sense that taking a break won’t help. I don’t know how other people feel when they quit blogging, but for me, it’s really hard to look back at four years of posts, of friends, of conversations, and of visitors, and just abandon it all, especially when more people are reading RRR than ever before. But it shouldn’t be about all the effort I’ve “invested” over the years, but about the pleasure I get from doing it now. More importantly, you’ll all still be tweeting and blogging, and I don’t have to stop talking with and learning from the wonderful people of the book blogging community.

I’m not sure if it’s a hiatus, a sabbatical, or The End, but am sure that I’ve had a great four years here, thanks to you.

Thank you so much for reading!

Edited to add: You can still find me on Twitter (@THRJessica). Cheers!

Update: What I've Been Up to

Just a quick personal update, hopefully to get me warmed up for writing a few real posts this week:

I’ve been traveling a lot with family the last few weeks. First we went to Florida, as we do every year, and finally got to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. I was the only person in my family to enjoy the butter beer. It’s like cream soda with an extra buttery thick head of foam. I’m also the only person who loves funnel cakes (I actually call them doughboys, but I seem to be in the minority) as you can see here. My son took about ten pics and this is the only one in which I am not covered in powdered sugar.
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Seeking an alternative to iGoogle. Any ideas?

In November of 2013, Google is discontinuing iGoogle, which has been my homepage for years. With iGoogle, I had all these useful widgets: Calendar, Reader, Gmail,Weather, To Do list … right on my homepage where I could easily access them. (I may also have had useless widgets like Pet Turtle. Not that you’ll ever know.) I realize this is a lesson in how evil Google is: that it won’t support something that doesn’t make the company lots of money, and that I should never count on a big corporation to help me organize my life. But I still find the company’s explanation weak:

“With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for iGoogle has eroded over time,” he wrote.

I compute at my desktop 95% of the time, and don’t want to open a new page or an app every time I need some quick info. With iGoogle as my homepage, all of that info is there in front of me.

Here’s what it looks like:

I realize I have over a year to make the switch, but I’m so annoyed I want to start now. so… any ideas?

My son Max's latest literary venture

Some long time readers might recall Max’s turtle story, the one that got him in trouble with his third grade teacher. A year later, he’s almost finished fourth grade, and he has a new story — BACON QUEST —  to share. However, as his agent, I’ve decided to post only select pages.

In his author page, Max notes that he “goes to school, where his brain becomes useful” and “now has a no-pay job as a writer.”

I’m happy to report that Max is right on top of the newest literary trends… appropriating other authors’ established characters:

With apologies to Mr. Conley

Have you noticed kids today can make a character out of anything?

Some of Max’s trademark humor:

To find out whether BACON QUEST* was successful, buy the book. BACON QUEST will be available for $299.99 on Smashwords after content editing, copyediting, and graphic design. By which I mean: look for it in 24 hours.

*Max has been a vegetarian for exactly one year.

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