Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This week's books

So, despite the fact that I've been snowed under by work for my Yeats class, I've spent a fair amount of time reading for myself and a little time reading for my preliminary exams, all of which has been productive. Incidentally, I've also written a twenty-page paper for Yeats, and while I should be doing homework right now, I'm choosing to write this instead. Perhaps I will work on Yeats later this evening. I do need to get some work on it done, as I've a quiz due tomorrow and the final paper is due Thursday, but I only have some minor revisions that need completed for the paper. Still, I want to be able to spend time with the Snarky Writer and Fitz's Person tomorrow for FP's birthday tomorrow.

But anyway, back to my procrasti-blogging. SW, as previously mentioned, has started me on Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan books, and in the last week, I've devoured The Good, the Bad, and the Undead and this evening I've raced right through Every Which Way but Dead. Both were amazing--the protagonist has a singular ability to get herself into trouble that I've perhaps only seen happen to characters like Stephanie Plum and Harry Dresden. Also, hello, Kisten? I've got an image of him being David Boreanaz--hey, if I'm going for good-looking vampires, why not?

I also indulged myself in a nice long soak in the tub this week with Julie Garwood's latest, Sizzle, which was so-so. The plot wasn't quite there, but the first line of the second chapter made up for it: "Grandmother was stealing holy water again." For those unfamiliar with Julie Garwood, this has nothing to do with Gramma trying to ward off vampires, as a grandma in Kim Harrison's books might, and everything with thinking that blessed waters would help her flowers grow. There was also a strange bit with the hero being a dual citizen of the U.S. and Scotland. I'm sorry, but I would imagine that having an FBI agent with a Scottish brogue might result in some operational security issues, in that he would be really, really noticeable.

Last night, I also finished Charlotte Bronte's Villette, which I've been working on a bit at a time over the last several weeks, and was fairly unsatisfied with the ending, as I had thought I might be. Still, I have to agree with the critical interpretation--it's a much better book than Jane Eyre. Part of that is Bronte's characterization of women--she's less concerned with creating the Gothic imagery that's so evident in Jane Eyre and focusing more on the character itself. And it is a powerful lesson in what can happen when you're too scared to make opportunities for yourself. I couldn't help but feel bad for poor Lucy Snowe--she got so close to happiness, first with Dr. John, and then with M. Paul, but neither really panned out. She still leads a productive life, though, and seems to be happy with that, so I suppose there's a lesson in there about lives well lived or something.

In other news, I just realized that Catherine Coulter has a new FBI thriller out, Whiplash, which I would be very excited about it Knock Out hadn't been sitting on my bookshelf in hardcover since it came out. I've also got A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book on the shelf, Christine Golden's Star Wars: Allies is now out, and of course, how can one forget that Stephanie Plum is returning in Sizzlin' Sixteen? Lula and Grandma Mazur are entering a barbeque contest. This does not bode well for anyone involved.

So, I'm going to add a sidebar to this blog with the books I want to read, because there tend to be so many at one time that I will forget I want to read them.

I also need to add to the reading list another book from my prelim list. I'm inclined to put Fanny Hill on the list, just for the hell of it (hey, it's on the reading list, I kid you not) but I don't have a copy of it at the moment. Still, I'm going home this weekend, and I saw it the last time I was at the half-price bookstore. No, I need to focus on a book that I already actually own. At the moment, this means I can finish reading Bleak House (I'm about three-quarters of the way through it, which means I've got about three hundred pages yet to go), can read Gulliver's Travels, or I can attempt to find my copies of Persuasion and Mansfield Park, which, to be honest, are probably what I'm going to end up going with, since Austen tends to be somewhat easier to read and I rather despise Jonathan Swift.

In any case, that is the update from the bookshelf. When you hear it groan, you'll know I've started in more on the 18th century list.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A two-part update

I moved to Murfreesboro not quite a year ago, and thought it was a pretty welcoming community. That was until the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro wanted to expand and all of a sudden, hatemongers started coming out of the woodwork. (In case you watch Diane Sawyer, this was the center covered by ABC World News last week.) I had a lot of thoughts about this, starting with a puzzlement over some of the protesters and their misunderstanding of Islam, Christianity, the First Amendment and zoning processes. I even had a full argument laid out about just how wrong they were.

But the more I got to thinking about it, I had to wonder if it would do any good. Those that agree with me agree with me, and those that don't aren't going to change their minds because of my well-thought-out and incredibly snarky rebuttal. So I won't offer my opinions on the issue. Instead, I'll offer the following:

This whole situation brought up something that we've been talking about in composition class. In the past, composition teachers were kind of the unnamed moral police of the university, teaching our students the way they should go. Part of our duty as composition teachers is not to simply teach composition, but to also teach critical thinking skills.

This brings me back to the whole idea of students having a right to their own language (as established by CCCC in 1974). If they have a right to their own language, then they also have rights to their own beliefs, as backwards and intolerant as I think they may be. I also know that it's impossible for me to keep my own political and religious biases out of the classroom, though I try as much as I am able. And I have dealt with hate speech in the classroom before (not particularly well that first time) and I've taught selections from the Qu'ran, as well as from Genesis, Matthew, the Dalai Lama and the Bhagavad gita.

I've seen students with certain viewpoints about Islam or Mormons or Catholics or Buddhists or Christians and done my best to help them apply their critical thinking skills to the situation. Some of them followed what I was trying to say and started thinking about it. To be honest, I don't know that there was a student I was more proud of than one who did apply critical thinking skills to it and then presented me with a well-thought-out argument for why he believed what he did. I didn't agree, but I could respect his conclusions.

But my question is not if I have a duty to introduce my students to these different viewpoints, because I firmly believe I do. It is whether or not I have a right to push them towards changing their own views. Or am I? If I can respect the student above, am I pushing them? I don't know.

The adventures of teaching in a multi-cultural society.


Back to what this blog is really supposed to be about: books! I've read a lot of Yeats research over the last week, and finally finished my annotated bibliography (I think). I read a very interesting book by Virginia Moore called The Unicorn which gave an overview of Yeats' occult beliefs and how they intersected with the Christianity of the day.

Also, my favorite Snarky Writer loaned me Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking, which was a very entertaining read. I had to laugh that the Hollows (the supernatural portion of Cincinnati in the novel) was across the river in Kentucky. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Covington, the Midwest's supernatural crossroads. I got far too much joy out of that. I also got a lot of joy out of the protagonist transmuting herself into a mink. That squeaked at her pixy friend. Definitely looking forward to the next one, but it may have to wait as my Yeats paper is due next week. Time to put in some quality Word time.

I'm also halfway through Charlotte Bronte's Villette, which is much more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be. Despite the fact that I know, I know, that there's not going to be a happy ending (have you ever met a Victorian lit novel that did?), I keep hoping that Lucy Snowe is going to stop fearing heartbreak and let herself be swept away by her handsome doctor. Not going to happen, but a girl can dream. If it wasn't on my prelim reading list, I'd stop there and let myself pretend she lived happily ever after.


Okay, so this is a three-part update, despite the post title. Leave me alone.

My dad is awesome. Seriously, he rocks. He works awfully hard to keep our family above water, and I don't mean just financially. I mean that he works on keeping us together--on keeping us a family, rather than a group of people who sometimes share the same space. He's taken care of a lot more than any man should ever have to, and he's done it with grace and courage.

I know he doesn't read this, but I'll say it anyway.

Happy Father's Day to the best dad in the world. I love you.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

All kinds of Fae

So, despite the fact that I have been inundated with Yeats homework and focusing mainly on the 50 entry annotated bibliography I have due in little over a week, I took a break from focusing on poetry, symbolism, Rosacrucians, hermetic orders and other seemingly endless references this afternoon and read Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone.

Still some faeries there, but whatever. I wasn't looking for a complete un-faery-related read, just something non-academic but not quite as fluffy as the stack of romance novels. Not that there wasn't plenty of romance in Dead and Gone (thank goodness!). I think I may have to watch True Blood for no other reason than to have Alexander Skarsgaard firmly in my brain when reading the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, but I have to admit that I've been on Team Eric since the beginning, as I find Bill kind of skeevy.

Not that Eric's that much better, mind you, but I do also keep wondering in the back of my mind when Sookie's going to realize that the vampires aren't going to do it for her and get together with Sam. But that's beside the point. I was very pleased with the developments of this particular novel (Team Eric woo!).

Yes, I realize that there has been a new novel released since then: Dead in the Family. But I showed remarkable restraint in not buying Dead and Gone in hardcover--and in fact borrowing the paperback from my favorite Snarky Writer instead--and now we are both waiting for Dead in the Family to come out in paperback or to at least show up at the library. It's not that Charlaine Harris isn't worth putting the money out for--I just don't have it.

And to be honest, there are a couple of novels that are ahead on the list, money-wise, the first being Christine Golden's Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Allies (it's something when a book title requires three colons to get through). I do have a friend who has read it already and was pleased with Golden's addition to the Star Wars author roll (I enjoyed her first in the series as well, Omen, much more than anything Troy Denning has ever written, though Aaron Allston remains the best writer in the trilogy, hands down).

I've also got Star Wars: Crosscurrent on the to-read list, but I do actually have a copy of that, as it came out in paperback. I'm also waiting for Mary Balogh's newest, A Secret Affair to come out in paperback, which I imagine will be sooner rather than later, since it is a romance novel (but a much higher quality than the romance novels I have been reading--yes, I've been reading Harlequins. Leave me alone. Or go take it up with the gals at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.) Also waiting on Stephanie Laurens' newest (in paperback) to come out at the end of the month: The Brazen Bride. It will be my "Yeats is over, hallelujah!" treat to myself, I believe.

Also still on the list? Charlotte Bronte's Vilette, which SW gave me a copy of, but which I haven't gotten to. I need to get a few more of the preliminary exam books on the to-read list, as I now have to provide an accounting of my summer "research project" to the graduate school, and I don't suppose "I read. A lot." is going to suffice for that particular report. (It should.) Certainly, "I had classes in Yeats and Comp/Rhet, went to my brother's wedding and played World of Warcraft" is not going to suffice, no matter how true it might be of my summer activities....

But for now, I will take Virginia Moore's The Unicorn: W.B. Yeats' Search for Reality to bed with me, along with my notes and hope I don't dream of faeries. You never know when they might take off with you.

Monday, June 7, 2010

St. Augustine, Part 2

So, where was it that I left off? Saturday morning, I believe. I don't really have much in the way of nerves presenting anymore, but the stress that it had been had certainly laid off a bit. Snarky Writer, however, was presenting Saturday morning and was continuing to stress out over her first presentation (and chairing her session). I helped her do her makeup, and Poe Girl did eventually roll out of bed after an incident with a malfunctioning alarm clock (damn time changes).

SW did present her paper without hyperventilating or having to club other panelists over the head for going too long (it might have been close on the last part), and she did an excellent job, just as PG and I told her she would. We discussed going to the fort and to the beach, but the plans to return to the beach were nixed with a look at the radar. So we ran out to Winn-Dixie and got ourselves some lunch time food (and ice cream) and returned to our room and ate before heading back out towards the shops and downtown St. Augustine, kind of wandering in and out of stores.

Then one of the thunderstorms hit with a vengeance, scaring the living daylights out of people and pouring the rain. We hung out in one of the indoor shop corridors until it mostly ended, then went for our last hurrah at Scarlett O'Hara's, celebrating what had been a very successful trip with alcohol and sweet stuff.

After that, we were ready for naps. Mine was interrupted halfway through by a call from my dad with an update from home that was not particularly uplifting. In any case, that evening, they screened Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog and "Out of Gas" from Firefly, and there's nothing quite like sitting in an entire roomful of people singing the "Ballad of Serenity."

We sat around and talked and learned what a small world academia really is--people who know people who know people! Then we returned for one last night's semi-sleep on uncomfortable beds, happy, exhausted and ready to go home to our animals and our own beds. (Hold on to that thought for a minute.)

After a small snafu trying to get checked out of the dorms Sunday morning, we finally packed up and headed out. Fortunately, SW had checked Google Maps again, and we discovered to our chagrin, that we could take I-75 almost all the way from Jacksonville to Chattanooga, avoiding what we had not so politely termed Podunk, Georgia. I should note, SW did not hear banjos until we stopped in East Tennessee for gas.

PG was kind enough to drive most of our way through Georgia, as by the time we stopped to fill up, I was having trouble staying awake, and she had napped some in the car. There was also plenty of swearing at traffic and weather on the trip northward, as well as the obligatory road trip parts: getting stuck in traffic, having a skeevy guy perv on you (or he was getting ready to go through a serious road rage issue, neither of which was comforting), and a stop at Cracker Barrel.

We did arrive home, and I was terribly happy to come back to my apartment. That would be until I got in the door and discovered a broken lamp, a farked up monitor and a full-blown flea infestation. Since then, I have washed all of my bed linens, banned my cats from the bedroom, treated them with new vet prescribed flea medication, combed them out, and bought a flea fogger which I will use in the morning before I go to class. Still, as SW was unfortunate enough to be in her truck this morning when her brakes failed, I will (mostly) cease my complaining and instead give thanks that SW made it to school safely.

And on that note, I am going to go let the freshly treated Cat out of the bathroom in here to play with Bergie, and go to bed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

St. Augustine, Part 1

Thursday morning, my favorite Snarky Writer, myself and Poe Girl loaded up my car with the necessities and began the journey towards St. Augustine and the 4th Biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses. The trip took us about eleven hours, all told, and we only got lost once, which right there was enough to officially declare it a road trip. (By the way, Google Maps sucks terribly.) Lots of laughing, lots of music, lots of swearing at idiotic drivers. SW navigated (and no, it was not her fault we got lost) and PG sat in the back seat and dispensed snacks and drinks and "That's what she said" jokes.

We did arrive, got checked in with little difficulty and made our way up to the reception, where we met up with Dr. Buffy (yes, I am being facetious with his name). As PG put it, there's not much better than drinking free alcohol--in Florida--for work. SW took part in the Not Ready for Prime Time Whedon Conversationalists--Dr. Buffy does a rather interesting and comical impression of Joss Whedon, complete with evil laughter.

We are staying in the dorm here at Flagler College, which is a beautiful campus in the historic district of St. Augustine. Palm trees, Spanish moss, and the combination of Spanish/Moorish architecture all combine, especially at night in the lamplight to create what looks like set pieces from Pirates of the Caribbean. It's also a private college, about 2500 students, and--well, the nicest dorm room I ever spent time in at Eastern was less than half the size of these and much more dilapidated.

After supper Thursday night, we went out to find dinner, which was very tasty, tasty pizza. Then we hit up a bar called Scarlett O'Hara's, which attracted quite a number of Slayage conferencers that evening, and walked back to the dorm in the dark and the almost quiet.

Friday morning, we got up and got breakfast before heading to the keynote speech, which was absolutely fantastic. I wish that I had more background in music, because I might then be able to explain what she talked about better, but it was about musical themes in Buffy and how they build upon one another to create emotion. Very interesting.

After the keynote speech, we had time to spare, and being in St. Augustine and close to a beach...we went to the beach at Anastasia State Park. Swimsuits and towels in hand, we made our way through soft, white sand to the ocean. We frolicked in the waves--which was fantastic--before settling down on the sand. PG swam a bit longer before joining SW and I on the beach--SW read, and I, in a fit of regression, built a sand castle, which I completed just as it began to rain.

Packing back up, we came back to the dorm, by which time it had, of course, finished raining, so after a brief dip in the shower, we went in search of lunch and through some of the shops that had been closed when we were wandering last night. It was much busier, being Friday, and I expect that it will be even busier tonight as the tourists get in for the weekend. We returned to the dorm for a nap--because we were exhausted--and then I gave my presentation, which was considerably less academic than the other two papers on the panel, but went well nonetheless.

A trip to Target (which required a scenic route - read: we got lost again) was then in order, as PG needed a pillow, SW needed some makeup, and I needed some soap that wasn't Bath and Body Works Enchanted Orchid, which while smelling really good, is making me itch like crazy. We also picked up (cheap) dinner, and came back to the room, ate, talked, laughed and finally went to bed--fairly early--because again, we were exhausted.

Which leads us to today! We missed the keynote speech this morning, unfortunately, but exhaustion, the inability to get out of the bed and on PG's part, a malfunctioning alarm clock caused us to hang around here a bit longer. I gave SW a makeover (though she really didn't need makeup for her presentation, she's beautiful the way she is) and now we are waiting to go to her presentation. After that, I'm not sure what our plans are, though I do believe another trip to the shops is in order, and we may go visit the fort. The beach may even be calling us once again, but it depends entirely on the cooperation of the weather. Tomorrow, we will not be leaving as early as we might have liked, but we will head back to Murfreesboro, exhausted and happy--and then we start school Monday.

Personally, I vote that all conferences be in Florida.