Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today's Reading

I'm sitting in on a philosophy class this semester that is taught by one of my colleagues. I'm doing it to gain clarity on some concepts that I need for the dissertation. But as a part of this class, we're reading Plato's Republic, and this will be the first time I've read the whole thing. Can I just say, OMG! The whole censorship thing in Book III is killing me! Really, Socrates? Really? It would all make me laugh if it wasn't so creepy. And, also? So many contradictions! (I'm looking at you here, Plato).

Today in my Brit Lit class, we talked about the "picturesque" as defined by Gilpin, and then we looked at a satirical excerpt from Austen's Northanger Abbey, and then we talked about Mary Shelley's "Swiss Peasant."

Right now I'm prepping Anna Letitia Barbauld for Thursday (we're doing the poems "Washing Day" and "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven").

After that I will prep a couple of articles for tomorrow's composition/argument class on the "spectacle of violence." The articles are companion reading for The Hunger Games.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the workload, and it keeps me very busy, but at least it's all really, really good stuff. I am lucky to talk about these things for my job. And after I call it a day, I'll crawl into bed to start Foolscap. I finished Instruments of Darkness the night before, and it might be worthy of a review sometime in the future!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another Night at the Hotel

No, no, Hubby and I aren't on the outs. Rather, I've checked into a local hotel in order to get some work done on the dissertation. Some of you may remember previous hotel jaunts that I blogged about here, here, and here. Well, here I am again. I've had to check into a different hotel, however, because my favorite hotel (which is so beautiful and right on the bay and has a great bar and is where Hubby and I got married) is being renovated (which is kind of a drag because now their prices will go up).

But this new hotel is good, too. It's not as beautiful outside and the room is VERY flowery, but if I had a hankering to walk around the little town, it's much closer than my favorite hotel. But, since I'm here to work, I won't be walking around town, and I do have to listen to street noise. That said, I do have a little balcony, and I can hear the fog horn (or buoy noise or whatever it is out there in the bay). And let me tell you, the fact that I have to settle in and work for the next 20 hours (with some sleep in the middle) is a bit tough to take.

I'm not complaining. I love hotels no matter what I'm doing, but let me roll out the specs: I am two blocks from the bay. I am three blocks from an awesome, local, single screen movie theater, which is showing The Descendants. I am close to many restaurants and several coffee shops. I mentioned the balcony. I have a king-sized bed, cable TV, a GIANT tub, a fireplace, and a sofa. At 5:30, there is a wine-tasting hour downstairs*. I haven't checked yet to see if I have HGTV. but I also have a hardback novel, two magazines, and my Kindle. I also have a bottle of Bombay Saffire, a bottle of tonic water, and 1.5 limes. I have Snyder's pretzels and some Organic Peach White Honest Tea. And I have my iPad and a wifi connection. Check out is at noon tomorrow.

Am I doomed? Oh, it would be so nice to just settle into a pleasure reading / cable TV watching / movie going / wine tasting extravaganza. Wouldn't it? ZOMG. I'm dying just thinking about it. But, and pardon my French, I gotta get some shit done, so I'm gonna be strong.

I'll give you an update later to let you know how it's going.

*I've got scruples, but come on. You know I gotta go down for the wine.

Update #1: Yes. I have HGTV. *twitches*

Update #2: Just went down for the wine tasting. No cheese! So I got my glass of chardonnay and came on back up stairs. I'd probably be better off just drinking a weak G & T (less sleepiness), but damn if I didn't forget a knife for cutting the lime. As for progressing, I'm gaining some good clarity on methodology, but also finding that I need to read a lot more in the area and sub-areas of that methodology. Bah.

Update #3: How is it that I've been writing for over an hour yet have the same number of pages as when I began?

Update #4: Just turned on the fireplace. So awesome. I want one for my house SO MUCH.

Update #5: Shouldn't have had the wine. It made my rosacea flare, and now the heat of my face is distracting.

Update #6: I'm going out for a burrito. Wishing I'd brought shoes other than flip-flops.

Udpate #7: Less than 30 minutes later. I've eaten a burrito the size of my head and washed it down with a Mandarin Jarritos. After a chilly walk back to the hotel, I'm hoping that I won't promptly fall asleep. And, in order to get more pages finished, I've decided to stop fretting about the philosophical underpinnings that I don't understand and start writing about the literature, itself, that I do understand. So there.

Update #8: Woke up to a full power outage at the hotel. Fortunately, my laptop is full charged, so I can still work rather than just reading leisurely on the balcony. But I don't have access to hot tea, so I having to settle for semi-cold Honest Tea, along with cold Continental breakfast items: Frosted Flakes and mini-muffins.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Great Characterization and Setting, Iffy Plot and Dialogue

I will not begin to attempt the great Austenese that feMOMhist captures so well in her post on P. D. James's Death Comes to Pemberley. So, as a member of this cyber book group (cygroup?), I will present my post in utterly boring contemporary syntax.

First and foremost, I enjoyed the book. Before reading it, I had just finished reading Amanda Foreman's Georgianna, and it was nice to keep hanging out in a similar time period and geographic space. Also, I like Austen very much, and I enjoyed spending time with characters that she created and that James has perpetuated. (Unlike feMOMhist and many others, however, I did not read Jane Austen until I got to college. I was too busy reading Jackie Collins and V.C. Andrews because, dear Reader, I was a LATE BLOOMER.*) So, overall, I would say that James's book is definitely worth a read, especially for Jane Austen fans.

I should also say that I haven't read many books by P.D. James. My first one was for a Women and Detective Fiction class. I remember loving James in that class, but I might have loved Sayers more. Either way, I didn't pick up James for a while after that--not until I was overdue for the birth of my first child, and all I could bear to do was lie on the couch reading mysteries. But since, at that time, my mind was mostly absorbed with the pending any-minute-now reality of childbirth, I didn't retain much. So I'm coming to James without much prejudice, one way or another.

But I was disappointed with a few things. First, I found some of her exposition to be rather clunky. I was okay with the long prologue that served to remind readers of various plot events from Pride and Prejudice and indicate some of the events that occurred after the closing of Austen's book. However, once the main text began, I was surprised by the methods that James often used to introduce characters and present other expository details--one of those methods being long monologues from one character to another. As I read them, I could almost hear a fiction-writing teacher saying, "That's not dialogue! That's an unrealistic monologue. Is the other character just sitting there the whole time? At least make the other character take a sip of tea."

Also, I often felt that the character on the receiving end of the monologue would already know the information. For example, early in the book, Elizabeth asks her sister to remind her how Henry Alveston came to be a friend of the Bingleys. But I just don't buy the fact that Elizabeth wouldn't already know the answer to that question. As another example, when speaking to either Henry or his fellow magistrate, Darcy asks to be reminded about how certain parts of the court process would proceed. Maybe he truly doesn't know, but it seemed weird to me that, as a magistrate, he wouldn't be a bit more clear on the process even the parts of the process that go beyond his role**. These monologues seemed to be the lazy way to give information to the reader.

In addition to the occasional expository monologues that seemed to serve a purpose for the reader but not to make sense for the characters, I noticed some strange character silences as well. For example, when the Colonel starts taking over the search party into the woods, the other characters remain extremely silent. The Colonel is barking out orders and no one else says much. And although we're told that the 20 minutes that the Colonel took to visit the Woodlands cottage to warn the residents seemed longer than 20 minutes, we're not given any information about dialogue or observations that occurred during his absence. Two people are missing. Strange events have been going on. And Darcy, and Henry, and the chaise driver have nothing of interest to say?

Similarly, when the Darcys are in England for the trial, we don't hear much of anything from Elizabeth from the time they arrive until the time the trial is over. It's as if James has sort of forgotten about Elizabeth and left her behind. I thought we might have, at some point, cut over to a scene with her. Although these omissions weren't hugely problematic, there were several of these odd silences or places of inattention to characters, and I was surprised to seem them in James's book.

Those criticisms aside, I love the characterization overall. I liked the way James brought Darcy and Elizabeth to life, and I thought James was especially good with some of the side characters, such as Sir Selwyn and some of the other lawyer types in London. In general, I thought all of the character description was very good. I also really liked the writing that came along with trips into the Woodlands. In those sections, the suspense increased and the sense of atmosphere was great.

Finally, I have to say that I expected more mystery and suspense, and I'm surprised that Elizabeth didn't do more poking around. At one point, she finds the carvings in the tree, but I don't think we even hear the conversation that she has with Darcy about those carvings. But perhaps my expectations were just wrong. As I started the book, I thought that Elizabeth and Darcy were going to do a bit more detecting and that, at some points, they might even be in danger, but only a few parts of the book delivered on these assumptions. To me, it seemed like a lot of set up without much payoff, but maybe I just went into it with the wrong idea.

Whether right or wrong, I just get the sense that suggestions from a friendly editor could have made this into a much better book, but perhaps, these days, editors don't give the Baroness suggestions, which I can totally understand.

After reading Death Comes to Pemberly, feMOMhist went back to Austen. I think I am eager to go back and read one of James's best books so that I can make some comparisons to see if her other books are heavier on the mystery and detection. Anyone care to make a claim about which James is the best?

*And, these days, I think my favorite Austen book is Emma, perhaps because I've read it the most and it's the one I regularly teach. As I mentioned over at feMOMhist's place, I think the novel performs in really interesting ways that challenge readers and their assumptions and information, judgements, etc.

**In this book, James seems to demonstrate a keen interest with late c18 and early c19 court proceedings, and, at times, she seems to lose sight of her story as she gives the reader an account of the justice system and its problems during the time period.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More on "Mindful Inflexibility"

Well, now that vacation is over (and it was AWESOME! I love the mountains so much), I've been thinking about how to be more productive when school is in session. Recently, several bloggers have been blogging about how to make the academic work day as productive as possible. Dr. Crazy has been analyzing how to ensure that service work doesn't squeeze out her research. And during our winter writing group, Dame Eleanor brought up time management strategies that involve carving out dedicated research time. In the comments to that post, Sitzfleisch used the phrase "mindful inflexiblity," a notion that Dame Eleanor explored further in a follow- up post.

My first reaction to "mindful inflexibility" was that it couldn't work for me. Every time I try to set aside time to research or write, a meeting gets scheduled or the kids get sick or whatever. And for the past two years, I've held a reassignment position on campus which requires a lot of meetings and which requires me to be (somewhat) at the beck and call of other people. I teach every morning and have meetings almost every afternoon. So whenever I start to think or hope that I might have a couple of hours at the end of the day to do my work, I am thwarted.

But this semester, I'm auditing a class from 12-1:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's a philosophy class taught by one of my colleagues, and I think it will help me better understand the philosophical issues I'm dealing with in my dissertation. I was thinking about my concerns that other duties would interfere with that class, and I realized that there are very few meetings between 12-1. And then I started thinking about how, typically, meetings don't really get going until 2:00 or 2:30. And then I realized that I might be able to sneak in an hour of reading/writing after the class if I go straight to a back corner of the library. And this would be an especially great time to write since my mind will already be on the dissertation as I sit in the class.

So my plan is to set aside time for my dissertation work between 12-2:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm sure the transition back to meetings and service work will be unpleasant, but maybe it will seem less so since I'll know I made time for my own research and writing before hand.

It's worth a try.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Current Reading

I have just finished reading Amanda Foreman's 1998 biography of Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire. I'm not a historian, so I can't evaluate it on that count, but it was a good read overall. There were some threads that could have been clearer, but I was very interested in Georgianna's life (drama!) and the machinations of late c18 politics.

But what amazes me most is that this book--which was a NYT bestseller and which was turned into a movie with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes--was the product of Foreman's PhD thesis at Oxford. Yowza. Wouldn't that be great? To have your PhD work go Hollywood blockbuster?

And now, she has a new book that was included in this Year's NYT Top 10 list! It's a nearly-1000 page account of Britain's role in the US Civil War, and It has been optioned by the BBC.

And you know the real kicker? She has five kids. Five kids. FIVE. And she has a recent, bestselling history book of ~1000 pages.

Clearly, I should legally change my name to "Such A. Slacker."

In keeping with that new moniker, it's on to P. D. James.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Well, hello 2012!

We are up here, at about 8200 feet, in a little cabin by a big river, and yesterday it was almost hard to tell it was NYE. Reading a few online blog posts and FB updates last night gave me a sense of things. But, really, it's great up here, and it's easy to look out the window at the snowy frozen river and see the chance for a bright and glittery new year.

Yesterday, we went skiing, and I skied for the first time! It was a lot of fun, and I seem to be free of any major injuries. Hubby grew up skiing and even lived in Vail for six years, so he is an expert, and it gave him great joy to see the whole family skiing down the hill, pizza wedges and all.

Après ski, we had hot chocolate and played games the kids made up. Then we watched "Because of Winn Dixie." After the kids' bedtime, Hubby and I relaxed and read*. He isn't a big reader of fiction, but he's gotten completely sucked into the Hunger Games series. I read a little bit of dissertation stuff and then dug back into my biography of Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. I am the bookworm of the family, and seeing Hubby caught up in a novel, as we read side by side, made he as happy as he was when the family skied together. The good port and chocolate tied it all together.

It was a great, balanced day--injury free--and it hope it signifies the New Year. I could use some balance.

Today, however, that balance is on the brink, and it all rests on Tim Tebow and the Broncos. I hope for a win so I will have a happy Hubby for NYD.

Happy New Year, Everbody!

*We are without cable or satellite TV and, thus, are without House Hunters International. We miss it, but evening reading time has been fantastic.