Category: personal

Snowmaggedon 2019: Adventures in driving

We spent the holidays in mostly sunny Northern California, but we knew our drive back to the Midwest could be … unpredictable? Fraught? All of the above? Our drive out was blissfully weather-free, but that’s just a gift. We’ve done the December/January drive a few times over the last few years, and our experiences have ranged from one kind of memorable (discovering the best Hatch chile-infused enchiladas in New Mexico) to other kinds of memorable (needing six hours to drive 80 miles down the western slope of the Sierra and scoring a Motel 6 room in Auburn only because we were at the beginning of the convoy). The blizzard in Wyoming that closed I-80 behind us as we drove may not even make the Top 2.

But anyway, let me tell you about this year! Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable, because this is going to be LONG.

TheHusband always pays attention to the weather forecasts so that we can leave earlier or later based on what we’re likely to face. On Monday we started hearing about an impending Weather Event at the end of the week, in which St. Louis was prominently featured. It was supposed to peak Friday night, which was awkward because we planned to arrive early afternoon Saturday, and we know how St. Louis snow clearance (doesn’t) work. But, as the weather people are quick to remind us, early models have a lot of uncertainty, which may be worse right now because of the shutdown and the lack of support at NOAA.

We decided our best response was to assume there would be Weather, but not change too much since we didn’t know what would happen. It would be be difficult to leave Tuesday, but we would leave early Wednesday morning for sure, so that we could compress the travel frame a bit and get in on Friday night if we had to. We had already decided to take the southern route (I-40 to I-44) because the conditions in the Sierra and the Rockies were too unpredictable.

We set off right after rush hour on Wednesday and made excellent time. That evening we heard that the snow would start falling heavily Friday evening, around rush hour. So we drove 750 miles on Thursday and arrived in Amarillo, TX that night. It still sounded like the storm would arrive late afternoon Friday in St. Louis, and the snow line was pretty far up our route, so with luck we would have rain until the last couple of hours.

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2018: The reading year in numbers

For the last few years I’ve maintained a file of spreadsheets that track my reading challenges and overall reading for the year, categorizing books by obvious and maybe not so obvious characteristics.

Total books read: 120. This is the most I’ve read since … well, at least since I was mainlining Betty Neels, Mary Burchell, and other Harlequins quite a while ago.

Total books written by women: 60/120. Reading half women pleased me because I was afraid that reading more lit fic would mean reading far fewer women. Obviously it’s fewer than when I read primarily romance, but it’s still a good number. My non-romance TBR is probably skewed toward men, but my romance TBR is overwhelmingly by women, so this proportion shouldn’t change much in 2019.

Total books written by new-to-me authors: 74/120. This is more than I expected. It’s probably a consequence of reading awards longlists and also “it” books, since they’re often by authors I’ve heard of but not read. I’m glad to have found a lot of new authors, and my TBR has grown as a result (of course!).

Own voices authors: 30/120. This is OK but not great. I struggled with this category in terms of how to define it. Last year I used AOC, but I wanted to capture how many authors I read who were writing about their own cultures and experiences. I only had a handful of non-white authors writing about non-white cultures that were not their own, and I didn’t include those; it would have raised the number by a few but not significantly. I also had a handful (more than a handful, maybe?) of white authors writing POC, and breaking out own voices allowed me to get a better handle on that distinction.

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2018: An overview of my year in reading

It is almost time to see the back of 2018 and the end cannot come too soon. If only I could have faith that 2019 will be better, but at long as it’s not worse I suppose we’re ahead of the game. Maybe.

The political year may have been full of not-great things, but my reading year was very rewarding. I read more books than I have in a very long time and I enjoyed a lot of them.

Challenges

I completed all my set challenges: PopSugar, Bookriot’s Read Harder, and Mt. TBR at the 24-book level. I enjoyed them for the most part. I was surprised at how few TBR books I read organically, since the only social media I participate in now for book talk is Goodreads, and I’m not nearly as active there as I used to be on blogs and Twitter. But I guess even a little bit of social reading is enough to get me to pick up plenty of shiny new books. On the plus side, that participation made fulfilling the non-TBR challenges easier. I had them both basically done by August.

Awards reading

I did a ton of longlist and shortlist reading this year, more than ever before. I read a number of books off the Tournament of Books longlist and shortlist in the winter. Then, in the summer I tackled the Booker Prize longlist, reading 12 of 13 despite having to order some of them from overseas. I really enjoyed reading them one after the other; unlike previous years I didn’t find it a burden as I went along. By the time the shortlist came out I only had a couple of them to go, which meant that the beginning of the school year didn’t derail me the way it often does.

I also read all the books on the Goldsmiths shortlist. That continues to be my favorite award and the one where I am most likely to find novels that are personally rewarding. There are also always new-to-me authors, and this year I discovered and loved Gabriel Josipovici and Will Eaves.

I read a handful of the Giller Prize longlist, with some of the books making it to the shortlist. As usual, I found a buried treasure: Our Homesick Songs, which didn’t make the shortlist but which was a lovely story about a fading culture in eastern Canada and how its inhabitants cope with the changes. I still have a couple of books in the TBR and look forward to reading them in 2019.

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2018 Reading Challenges

Stack of books and ereader

The year isn’t quite over, but I’m done with all my reading challenges except one, so I might as well report the results. I took on three challenges this year. I did the PopSugar and Mt. TBR challenges for the third year in a row and the Bookriot Read Harder challenge for the first time. In addition, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of all my reading for the year. 

2018 PopSugar Challenge

I did the main and the “advanced” challenges for a total of 50 books. I completed all but one of the categories by August, and I only sort-of cheated on one to get there: “A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place.” Readers, I looked and looked, on planes, trains, buses, park benches, you name it. But either I couldn’t see the book title or it was a book that I would rather stab myself with a fork than read. (No, I am not going to read The Shack.) I turned in despair to the Goodreads group and found that people were fulfilling the prompt via photos of people reading books. Success! 

My only unfinished prompt was “A microhistory.” As a social scientist who does a lot of historical work, I’m familiar with this term. However, the way reading challenges define microhistory is weird and inaccurate. Both Bookriot and PopSugar consider books like Mark Kurlansky’s Cod, i.e., books about a single commodity, to be microhistories. They aren’t. A microhistory is a study of a person, event, or locality that is not “important” but which sheds light on larger processes and trends. In other words, it’s anti-famous-person, anti-global, anti-sweeping. But don’t tell the PopSugar and Bookriot people that. As far as they’re concerned, Empire of Cotton fits the category despite having “empire” and “global” in the title. 

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Spring (ha!) update

Spring is supposedly here, but there is snow on the ground and the temperature is below freezing. In April! This is so, so wrong.

It’s been ages since I posted here. Work has been very busy, and whatever writing I’ve accomplished has been in other venues, mostly work-related. I’ve been reading a lot, though, which has been greatly facilitated by staying off the internet in general and social media in particular.

My January plans included multiple reading challenges, Muriel Spark readalongs, autobuy romance authors, and manga. How am I doing?

Reading challenges: These are going well. I followed the Tournament of Books again this year, reading more than half the shortlist. I was happy to see Fever Dream take it all, especially since it beat Lincoln in the Bardo in the finals, but a lot of other books I thought were excellent were taken down, sometimes in early rounds with judgments I totally disagreed with. Which is par for the course, honestly: the TOB longlist is one I always look forward to, but the shortlist and tournament decisions are rarely in sync with my preferences. I did read some very good books I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, though, and I think everyone should read White Tears and Sing, Unburied, Sing.

My Muriel Spark readalong started well but then got overtaken by TOB reading and library-hold books. I really enjoyed what I did read, though, so I plan to get back to her novels. Mid-century women authors deserve a lot more attention than they get. The intelligence, insight, and acerbity they provide are hard to find elsewhere in one package.

I haven’t been reading romance much. Mysteries have filled in the comfort-read slot for the moment. I’ve reread a few  early John Le Carré novels, as planned, a Dick Francis, the first Martin Beck mystery, and the first in Mick Herron’s Slough House series. Hard as it is to admit, I think I’m just burned out on the romance genre. The new books and authors aren’t working for me (I’ve DNF’d quite a few highly regarded romances across different subgenres) and even my beloved autobuys aren’t doing the trick. It’s OK, it’s happened before when the zeitgeist and I were on non-overlapping tracks. I’ll come back. In the meantime, though, I don’t have much to say in or about Romanceland.

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Et tu, PBS?

I’ve written regularly about online privacy issues, and readers of this blog know that I teach a course on the politics of privacy. I’ve more or less made my peace with where I leave my data trails and who is harvesting my personal information for material gain. But somehow I did not expect to have to make this kind of calculation for PBS.

I know PBS is a shadow of its former public self; it gets less and less funding from government agencies and more and more from corporations. “PBS” as a national broadcast network is really an aggregation of local stations, and those stations range from tiny and poor to large and influential. Even at the big, well-known stations, money is always tight and they are always looking for ways to get more.

[An aside: PBS is sometimes compared to the BBC. It shouldn’t be, because they are totally different in funding, organization, and cultural context. PBS has always, from its inception, been dependent on federal funding, and its shows are produced by private companies, by tieups between local stations and production companies, or both. It is not-for-profit and it has a stable of well-known public affairs shows, but it also has terrible infomercials and endless fundraising drives.]

In the olden days of online availability, some shows would be available for a brief period of time after their airdates (two weeks to a month), while other shows, mostly the “public affairs” shows like NewsHour, Frontline, etc., were available for much longer. All of them were free, and while you were strongly encouraged to identify your local PBS station, you didn’t have to set up an account or pay anything to stream what was available.

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Back online

We got back a few days ago after spending most of the last days of our vacation completely devoid of both data and phone signals. We had an emergency contact nearby, but my only access to news was the local public radio station and a Christian radio station. So I caught the US headlines but no sports to speak of (sports tends to be a “feature” subject on NPR). In many ways it was refreshing, although I longed for my Euro 2016 updates.

I’ve finally caught up with the comments here at RRW as well as most of my RSS feeds. And of course the news. We did have internet for much of the first week so the Brexit vote and immediate aftermath were closely monitored, but that was about it.

The news is so awful and so depressing. Just when you think 2016 can’t get much worse, it lets you know how wrong you are.

I have plenty more photos to post, and while I didn’t get much reading done on the trip, I’ve made a bit of progress on my 20 books of summer challenge and will update that as well.

Sad news about the moose calves in the last post: they were indeed orphans. Some horrible person deliberately shot and killed their mother near the Denali post office. On the bright side, however, the calves were captured and are being rehomed in a sanctuary.

Humans. Ugh. Here, have a photo of an adorable bulldog Boston Terrier* with a ball in its mouth to make you feel better.

Bulldog with ball

 

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*Of course it’s a Boston Terrier (thanks for the catch, Nate). I had French Bulldog stuck in my head for some reason (they do look alike but this is a classic Boston Terrier).

Settling in

SF bay, southern section, looking east

We have arrived at our Left Coast location for the summer. The dogs are recovering. As usual, when we got within sight and smell of the San Francisco Bay, the two Olds perked up and started paying attention. JimiArthur in particular stuck his head out the window in the stop-and-go traffic through Berkeley. JA hates, hates, hates being in the car, so when he gets close to home he wants to jump out. This year he climbed onto the console between the front seats, shaking and panting, and he wouldn’t go back. So I dragged him onto my lap, all 40+ pounds and 2 1/2 feet of him, and let him pant on me for the last 40 miles.

Once we pulled up in our driveway he hopped out, waited for us to open the front door, and recovered his equilibrium. The other two dogs followed suit more calmly, reconnoitering the house and making sure there was nothing lurking in the corners.

As you can see from the photo, we’re in that lovely weather pattern where we have morning fog/clouds followed by afternoon sun with a breeze. It’s the best.

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