Archive for September, 2007

sorry for the absence and a meme!

It’s been a rough week here, so the blog has been largely silent as I try to work out some snarls (both literally and figuratively: right now I have unspun fiber and a sweater project vying with books and a temperamental cat on my desk). But Eva over at A Striped Armchair gave me a perfect excuse to step outside of my frustrations when she tagged me with a meme that originated with Kimbooktu (my first!):

Hardcover or paperback? Why? I actually like both, although I draw the line at mass markets and really, really cheaply made trade paperbacks. I think that overall I tend to prefer hardcover just because it gives me a sense that it will last longer, but my shelves are liberally adorned with both (and if they have rough-cut pages, even better, because I can also be a rather shallow person when it comes to the appearance of my books). I only wish that hardcovers were prettier without the dust jackets, as those tend to go the way of the recycling bin rather early on.

If I were to own a book shop I would call it… Unabridged. Bring on the loose baggy monsters!

My favourite quote from a book (name it) is… I don’t really have a favorite. Although I’ve long thought I should start recording some of my favorite passages a bit more rigorously.

The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be… I can’t choose just one but I have three possibilities: George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, and Isaiah Berlin. Eliot and Tolstoy have such fascinating ideas regarding history and I have an intellectual crush on Berlin…

If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be… I’m going to have to go with either War and Peace (and perhaps in Russian so it would take me a bit longer to read), or Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (I’m going for length here). Although I recently acquired Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate, so perhaps that one would win out. They’re all doorstoppers…

I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that allowed me to automatically understand every foreign language so that I would be able to read any work in its original language.

The smell of an old book reminds me of… Doing research in the archives and the feel of history under my fingertips.

If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be… Miss Marple from the Agatha Christie mysteries. I would love an excuse to let my inner nosy old woman out…and I’d get to incorporate knitting into my detecting, which is always a plus.

The most overestimated book of all time is… I don’t know if I can answer that, honestly. There are a number of books that others have loved that I just can’t get into, but c’est la vie.

I hate it when a book… looks beautiful and promising and then leaves me cold. I like my big fat novels to have some umph to them (and not just as potential missiles).

As far as tagging five people goes…I’ve seen this one around quite a bit, so I’m taking the easy route: anyone who is interested….you’re it!

For anyone reading Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

When you’ve finished, you must go read W. M. Thackeray’s parody, Rebecca and Rowena. It was first written as a “Christmas Book” under the pen name of Mr. Michael Angelo Titmarsh (Thackeray loved using pen names) in 1850 (it might have actually been published a bit earlier in the late 1840s as the Christmas book and then published later on its own in 1850–the information I’ve been able to glean has been rather conflicting on this score). In the introduction to the Hesperus Press edition that I have, Matthew Sweet describes it as the Victorian period’s version of Monty Python. He isn’t kidding. It’s a quick read (only about 100 pages) and it’s hilarious. I caught myself laughing out loud throughout most of it (which seemed to rather disturb the other people in the library so I recommend reading it somewhere more conducive to vocal outbursts).

For an etext version, try this. And if you want a pretty version to call your own, you can get it here or here. Enjoy!

In the works…

This week has witnessed a slump in my reading. In part this is due to my genuine sadness at having finished Caleb Williams, which I enjoyed wholeheartedly, even if the ending didn’t feel completely satisfying. In fact, I think I like the book even more because the ending wasn’t satisfying. I rather like it when authors play with readers’ expectations. It never fails to force me to take a deeper look at the novel as a whole.

And my challenge reading will have to take a backseat this week due to an enormous avalanche of course reading. Actually, it’s not so bad. More philosophical novels (these more narrowly focusing on gender), the first 42 chapters of Vanity Fair (which I already read so this will just be a re-read), and then research books: Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Thackeray’s Rebecca and Rowena, and Grace Aguilar’s The Vale of Cedars. On top of this I need to finish the first three books of Middlemarch for my 19th-century reading group meeting next week.

I’ve also been rather sidetracked by life lately. I mean, there’s a neighborhood street fair this weekend that I have to go to. I love these little festivals and to top it off, the local branch of the library is having a book sale (can’t pass that up). And then there’s the fact that I’ve become obsessed with the idea of knitting my husband a sweater. I found the perfect pattern in brooklyntweed’s “Cobblestone.”  And for the first time I found an entire sweater’s worth of yarn in my stash–it’s a sign that this was meant to be (I hope). I have a rather abysmal track record when it comes to finishing sweaters, but I attempt to cover this up by arguing that I’m really a “process” knitter and that I’m not really interested in the end product as much as the experience of knitting. This is only partly true.

But in order to keep myself honest, here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in the near future:

  • a post relating to Middlemarch
  • a post relating to Makine’s The Woman Who Waited for the Slaves of Golconda (I will participate in this one, I swear!)
  • get back into the creepy world of Dracula (thank goodness I’m a wimp who can only handle a little bit of peril)
  • get back to Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (particularly as Jane Eyre is coming up on the syllabus–I love it when my “fun” reading and my “fun school” reading mesh so well together!).
  • Bake some apple cider cupcakes (we’re having a little potluck with the neighbors upstairs this weekend–I love my new neighborhood).

Time to stop slacking around and get to work! But first I’ll read some blogs…

Where’s the Love?

I’ve often joked about my decision to go through life with low expectations from now on in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised (rather than disappointed). My experiences in grad school have largely led to this rather cynical outlook on life (surprise, surprise). At the moment, I am currently involved with my third graduate department: the first was where I received my M.A. in history, the second was my aborted Ph.D. program in history, and the third is my not-quite-official M.A. in English. In each of these programs I was/am surprised by the number of people who leave me asking: “Where’s the Love?”

Let me explain. Grad school is rough–if you didn’t already know that, someone is sure to tell you many, many times. I often spend my days feeling like an imbecile, doubting my abilities, and trying to justify my very existence. The pay sucks (particularly as I’m not actually in a program now, so there’s no funding at the moment) and the workload is often insane. It is not a 9-to-five kind of job–it spills over into every moment of free time that I have. That said, it’s a hell of a lot of fun as well and I actually cannot imagine doing anything else. I’ve had other jobs, I’ve taken time off from school, but really, I feel at home in academia. But there are some students who make me wonder. Do they like their subject? Do they even like to read? Why are they going through all of this if they don’t love what they do? (And I know that a simple answer to the last question is that they do it because they can’t think of anything else to do, but I find this to be a lazy response and rather sad).

The reason I ask is because I have a gift for picking programs that are often dominated by people who seem to actively dislike what they’re doing. I’m not talking about the everyday complaining that everyone (and this includes people in the so-called “real world”) participates in at some moment or other. I’m talking about the people who can barely seem to sit still through a seminar. Who apparently already know so much about the subject that they have no need to respect their colleagues or professors, and who refuse to engage in discussions about their subject outside of a classroom. Closely tied to this group of non-lovers is the group of people who are so narrowly focused on their subject matter (which nevertheless seems to bore them to tears) that they have little or no time for any other subject. Perhaps this is my obvious interdisciplinary bias speaking, but I can find something to like in almost everything I study (and believe me, I wish at times that I didn’t because I might have an easier time picking a damn program). My literary interests are leaning more towards the Romantic and Victorian periods in British lit, but that doesn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying my American lit courses. As a historian I studied Russian and American Jewish history at the Ph.D. level, and predominantly 19th-century American history as an M.A. student. But within those areas I also focused on gender, Chinese-American history, environmental history, immigration, labor, cultural history, etc. I am always shocked when I hear fellow students who feel the need to go beyond mere disinterest to actively denigrating other fields of study. Then there are the students who are actually angry that they have to take qualifying exams, or participate in department functions/speaker series (particularly if they aren’t directly tied to their pet subjects), or who are asked to…gasp…demonstrate at least a basic reading knowledge of one foreign language (and I know that languages are not easy for everyone, but if it’s an integral part of learning–to be able to participate in a wider critical discussion–then isn’t that something that one should think of before signing up for grad school and a career in academia?).

I know that not all graduate programs are like this. I was rather spoiled by the camaraderie I witnessed in Apparent Dip’s geology grad program. Students had other interests to be sure, but it wasn’t surprising to find them “talking shop” at parties (which could get quite interesting as people imbibed more alcohol). They were never exclusive to outsiders, but one could tell that they loved what they were doing. Their excitement was contagious, and even though my geology background is rather removed (I finished college nine years ago one course shy of a geology major), I couldn’t help but get caught up in the fun. Because while they worked hard, and they definitely had bad days/weeks/months, AD’s colleagues also made it clear that it was fun.

This is the aspect of graduate study that I feel has largely been missing from my experience(s). I’m doing this because I love it. I love the pursuit of knowledge, I love talking about books I read or want to read, and while it might seem that I have a love/hate relationship with writing, I have to admit that deep-down I love that part as well. I thoroughly enjoy doing research. But where are the late-night conversations about theory/books/authors that no one has really heard of? Where’s the nerdiness? And let me make it clear, my Ph.D. program was the worst case–I should have taken a clue from the lack of organization when I visited the campus and the fact that I only met with 3 students. It was not a group of people who were excited about being in grad school. My english program is a huge step up. But there’s still something a bit off. And don’t get me wrong: I can deal with buckling down and just focusing on my work and getting to the next stage. But I miss the coffee-shop meet-ups. I miss conversations that you wish would never end. I miss the excitement of sharing ideas. Has anyone had a similar experience? Any words of advice on how to deal with wet-blankets within a program (or life in general)?

Eye Candy… (food and cat edition)

I have utterly failed when it comes to accomplishing the tasks I set for myself this weekend. I’ve been knitting instead of reading (must change that) and I’ve let Apparent Dip do most of the painting. And cleaning? Hah!

But…I did make Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes yesterday from the ever-tasty Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. They are our favorites so far:

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The tops are rather fragile, and mine did indeed collapse. But when the world gives you collapsed cupcake tops, I say: make chocolate ganache!  Mmmmm….

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These are incredibly rich, and oh so tasty (and in my illogical world, I like to think that “vegan cupcakes” means “healthy, calorie-less cupcakes”). The ganache started running on this one, so we had to eat it right away (bummer).

Lest you think everyone in my household was as lazy as I was yesterday, I can assure you that our youngest cats spent most of their day vigilantly guarding the house against the biker gang of sparrows that likes to hang out on our front yard:

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Their work never ends (the oldest kitty did spend most of the day sleeping, but hey, somebody has to, right?). Ok, enough of the silliness…I’m off to do some actual work now (I swear).

TGIF: Random edition

It seems that after writing papers my brain turns into jelly and the only thing I can really accomplish when it comes to posting, are bullet points. So here are some more!

  • I just got my morning cup of coffee on campus: eggnog flavor! I mean, I know it’s getting cooler outside, but Christmas already? Of course I had to order it, because the coffee on campus isn’t the greatest, and at least the flavoring keeps it interesting.
  • I hope that Vegan Cupcakes do take over the world some day, because I would love to live in that world. I first encountered this baking book in a friend’s kitchen, and then Stefanie at So Many Books mentioned it a while back. So then I had to try it. Last week I made peanut butter cupcakes with a chocolate ganache . They were so amazing that I can’t even describe them. Last night I decided to make a simple vanilla cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting (containing neither butter nor cream). Another hit. This weekend I might go for the Apple Cider cupcakes for my birthday instead of a cake (Apparent Dip and I have a tradition: we make each other birthday cakes and then decorate them horribly. At first it was because we suck at decorating cakes. Now we do it because we still suck at decorating cakes and it’s really funny to see the results.)
  • We enjoyed the vegan cupcakes so much that we went out to buy Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s other cookbook, Vegan with a Vengeance. And coming in October: Veganomicon. Also, check out her cupcake blog here and her cooking blog (The Post Punk Kitchen) here. Apparent Dip and I are not vegans, but as vegetarians we like to mix things up a bit and eat vegan a couple of times a week–we’ve really enjoyed her recipes so far.
  • My reading is still wonderful, but I’ve been slowing down a bit. I’m hoping that I’ll pick up the pace again this weekend, if only to clear the way for next weekend, when I’ll be reading more philosophical novels (that I’m afraid won’t be as engaging as William Godwin’s Caleb Williams has been) and re-reading the first half of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. By the way, if you want a great version of VF I highly recommend the Oxford edition that I’ve linked to–it’s the only one that includes all of the illustrations that Thackeray drew.
  • I have been attacked by the knitting bug again. I’ve been working on Elizabeth Zimmerman’s pattern for a Baby Surprise Jacket, but I had stalled out, and the poor thing has been sitting on my desk staring at me in a rather reproachful manner (note: I linked to brooklyntweed’s version of the BSJ.  He is an amazing knitter and I stand in awe of his work.  Moreover, he’s a fantastic photographer.  I recommend you take a gander at his blog if you like to look at beautiful creations). No longer! Last night I picked it up again and although I have yet to finish, I am now scouting yarn stores for yarn to make more of these. They’re quite addictive and they’ve even made me like garter stitch. Since everyone I know seems to be having babies lately, I see no end in sight for potential recipients. (I will see if I can get Apparent Dip to take pictures of the progress this weekend. I would take the pictures myself, but they never turn out, and goodness knows, I don’t need another form of artistic expression. I have enough as it is–it’s tough being a Renaissance woman!)
  • In addition to knitting I’ve also been spinning (or attempting to). It’s slow going as I’m a newbie at this, but I joined a fiber club at Hello Yarn. You sign up for three-month segments, and then once a month you get 4 – 6 oz. of hand-dyed fiber to spin. It’s quite fun! (Again, I’ll try to get pics of the progress or lack thereof). And anyone interested in beautiful yarn/fiber, check out her blog and shop, she has some great stuff.
  • This weekend may be my birthday weekend, but we have a lot to accomplish around the house. First: clean. I’m afraid the dust bunnies will start attacking our actual bunny, and that would not be a pretty sight. Second: paint the dining room/office. Third: realize that no matter how clean the place is, the three kitty bandits will mess it up the first chance they get (note: these bandits sometimes pose as snuggly cats–don’t fall for it, that’s just a ploy to get you to take them home so they can wreak havoc. We fell for it three times, and boy, are we paying for it).

Ok, that link-fest was tiring, so I’m off to knit for a bit before hitting the books once again. Happy Friday everyone!

Random Tuesday Bullets

Things I need to do today:

  • Write paper on Victorian poetry

Things I have managed to accomplish today:

  • Read old blogs, discovered new ones
  • Spent an hour playing with different word processing programs
  • Spent another hour creating a “paper writing” playlist in iTunes
  • Spent yet another hour dancing around my living room while listening to said playlist
  • Mastered the art of procrastination as yet another semester begins

Things I haven’t really touched today:

  • Writing the paper on Victorian poetry–but I did think about it, does that count?