Monday, January 31, 2011

Riffday: cleaning, unplugged week, and frigidity

Yesterday my mind was teeming with ideas for blog posts.  I dutifully jotted them down so I would have ideas in the future when it was MWF.  But of course now none of them appeals to me.  So I will just riff and see where this goes.  Maybe Mondays will be Riffday.

We're cleaning here.  We don't clean well together.  We have different ideas of what clean means.  If we each cleaned the bathroom, Dh would leave it with the counters clear of clutter, no dirty clothes on the floor, and each towel hung or folded up in its correct place.  But he wouldn't notice that there was still toothpaste in the sink, or that that yucky orange-y slime was accumulating under the shampoo bottle in the shower.  I would leave the sink and the chrome fixtures sparkling, the tile in the shower gleaming, the grout scrubbed down, but there would still be eight different kinds of hair product, three face lotions and two types of toner ranged around the sink, and I might not notice that my pajamas were still on the floor next to the shower.  (and to be entirely honest, it would probably only happen about once a month.)  You see the problem.

After twenty-six years, we've learned to appreciate each other, but we haven't learned to clean well together.  (I used the bathroom as an example, but in 26 years I don't think we've ever cleaned a bathroom together.  It was just a theoretical example.)  What works best, in my opinion, is for him to do his thing first, and then I come along after him and do mine.  Minimum of fuss, end result=whatever we cleaned is the kind of clean that works for both of us.  You'll have to ask him what works best in his opinion.  This is not something we discuss well.

So maybe you can predict that tensions have been a little high the last few days.  But-- that 26 years again-- we've kind of figured out how to manage this.  He lets me gripe at him for getting all snooty about how much neater he is than I am, and I acknowledge that he really is neater than I am and don't add under my breath "eventhoughitsreallyjustadifferentkindofneat."  And we're still married, so it must work OK.

Key change.  (we're riffing here, remember?)  We tried out "unplugged" week around here last week.  We borrowed the idea from our neighbors.  One week out of the month, no XBox.  Computer time is limited (for the kiddo) to fifteen minutes so that he can check his e-mail and Facebook.  No TV shows--although we do allow movies.  Since he's seen all the movies we own, he doesn't get sucked into them that much, and also there are no commercials, which drive me crazy.  So MadMax spent the week learning how to tie knots while working his way through the Harry Potter movies, also did a little reading, ran errands with me, etc.  He and his dad went skiing on Saturday.  I liked it.  He didn't seem to mind it as much as we thought he would.  Success.

Bridge.  After a couple of weeks of what amounts to "mild" winter weather (for us), we're back in the deep freeze again.  It was -4 when we got up this morning, and it's supposed to get down to -12 tonight.  The payoff is that we finally get blue sky and sunshine.  That's always the way around here-- it's reasonable winter temps and cloudy/overcast, or it's bitterly cold and perfectly clear.  It was nice to see the sun, but I hate those below zero temps.

What do you call the recap after the bridge?  Third verse?  we haven't had a chorus yet.  I don't know.  I borrowed the language without really knowing what I was talking about.  Oh, gee, really?  Well, on that note (ark), here's something you didn't know about me (well, unless you're one of the half dozen readers that I know irl):  I play the flute.  I love it.  I don't do it often enough.  There are few things as soothing to me as pulling out my flute and playing through some of my old pieces.

So what about you?  any musicians out there?  what do you play?  do you sing?

Friday, January 28, 2011

new semester, new classes, and audiobooks

Classes started this week.  They were surprisingly good.  As has been true every semester since I started driving down to UTown, my choices were dictated less by what I wanted to take than by my driving schedule, so I wasn't really looking forward to them.  But, as has also been true the other semesters, I think they will end up being interesting anyway.  But ohmygod do I have a lot of reading to do.  *AB quails before the thought*

Starting The Drive again reminded me about audiobooks.  I neglected audiobooks when I did my post about the books I enjoyed reading last year because I completely forgot about them.  It doesn't feel like reading when you're listening, or at least not to me.  But I depend (heavily) on audiobooks to keep me sane during my interminable time in the car, so I almost always have one in progress.

My requirements for audiobooks are a little different than for regular reading, though, so take these with a grain of salt.  I spend a lot of time in the car on the days I'm headed to UTown, but not so much on the other days. So I don't want an audiobook that I'm so sucked into that I end up listening to it around the house after I get home.  In other words, I want something entertaining, but not too entertaining.  Also, I've found that a good narrator makes a mediocre book interesting.  All three of the ones that come to mind from last year are books that I'm sure I would not have liked if I'd read them in print.  But with a good narrator doing voices and inflection and bringing the story to life, I'm hooked, even though the book itself isn't all that great.  So the three I remember are David Rosenfelt's Open and Shut, the first in a series of books about a nutty lawyer in New York City who solves impossible crimes; Julia Quinn's It's In His Kiss; and ...oh, I'm really embarrassed to admit this... Robyn Carr's Whispering Rock.  

I'm a so-so fan of Quinn's.  I've read half a dozen of her books in print, and only one or two of them are ones that I thoroughly enjoyed--but they were good enough that I keep trying others of hers just in case.  Her heroes often have a subtly condescending, isn't-she-cute attitude toward the heroine that just grates on me.  But either the hero of It's in His Kiss isn't that bad, or the narrator (Simon Prebble, who is terrific) more than made up for it, because I really did enjoy this one.  The plot kind of wanders around in a way that would have made me crazy if I'd read it in print, but while driving, stopping for gas, getting something to eat, not listening for a couple of days, etc, I lost track of that and just went along for the ride.  It was great.  And Robyn Carr...honestly, it's like listening to a soap opera.  Everybody in her little town is perfect, even their flaws are perfect.  but you know, soap operas can be addictive, and it was just what I needed for the drive last fall.  I'd be utterly hooked while I was listening, and then forget all about it when I was out of the car.  Perfect.  apparently there are 8 or 9 in that series (Virgin River, I think it's called), so if I ever am in the mood for another one, they're just out there waiting.

The only one I can recommend unequivocably is House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, narrated by Eleanor Bron.  It's a great book and a great narrator (make sure you get the right narrator, because there are several different versions on audible).  Bron's delivery is crisp and elegant, but subdued in a way that reflects all the stuff that's going on under the surface of that repressive New York society.  Although as I've said before, it's a great book because it so accurately describes a particular time and place, not because you'll like it or any of the characters. 

So what audiobooks and/or narrators have you enjoyed? any recommendations for me?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

um, the act in romance novels

I just realized that it's Wednesday!  I'm supposed to blog today!  (still not used to this)  Since I still have a couple of hours of reading to do for class tomorrow, I'm pulling this one out, which I wrote a couple of weeks ago but never posted. Let me know what you think. I didn't post it before because I was worried it would be controversial and I hate controversy, but I'm up against the wall here, so here it is.

So you already know Agnes and the Hitman is one of my all-time favorite books.  Usually with genre fiction I feel the need to say it is "one of my favorite plane reads" or "perfect for the beach," but I'll just go ahead and crawl right out on a limb here and say that Agnes is one of my favorite books.  Period.  So I have handed it to friends occasionally, friends who don't usually read genre fiction, thinking it would convert them.

(**warning: spoilers ahead** but only from the first hundred pages-- there are no spoilers about the ending.  But if you like to go into books completely blind, you should stop now.) 

So, I hand Agnes to them and assure them that this is a really good book, even if it is a mass market paperback.  And so far, none of them (except my spouse) has agreed with me, and I think I know why:  because they find the angry sex scene to be offensive.  About a hundred pages in, Agnes--who has problems with controlling her temper anyway-- is deservedly furious with her jerky fiance' Taylor when she finds out he is already married.  Not only that, he lied to her about his marital status in order to swindle her out of the house they own together.  She's so furious that she has a hard time controlling herself, and she ends up exorcising her anger by having really, um, vigorous sex with Shane, the hero (and he's a really good hero, one of my all-time favorites), whom she has known for about 24 hours.

If you're a regular reader of contemporary romance novels or chick lit, this is nothing too far out of the ordinary.  Well, maybe a little out of the ordinary, since I have yet to read another book with a similarly angry scene, but the idea of sleeping with a guy soon after you meet him is certainly nothing new, especially when it is accompanied (as it is here) with post-sex confusion ("I can't believe I just slept with a guy I barely know"). 

But if you don't read these kinds of books very often, it's a little shocking.  Obviously, I don't think that-- I love this book, remember?  so don't mix me up with them.  (Oddly, the one thing that bugged me about that book (she slings boiling fruit in the face of a guy attempting to break in to her house and then whacks him with a frying pan) doesn't seem to bother anybody else.)  I'm just trying to explain how people who don't read romance novels think, because I think it has a lot to do with why romance novels are looked down on by literary types.  Crusie and Mayer aren't even close to the most explicit writers out there-- in fact, their lovemaking scenes are pretty classy.  I've read some where a single act can go on for ten or twelve pages.  I start to get bored.

I've only been reading romance novels for a couple of years.  Before that, although I read sci-fi and mysteries, I completely disdained romances, with the same kind of attitude these friends of mine have.  When I started reading them a couple of years ago, I can remember practically dropping one of the first ones and looking at it in shock:  "You can buy this at Target?" because it felt like I was reading pornography.  There's a reason people call it "female porn," as much as that offends romance writers.

In fact, several months ago, the phrase "female porn" was mentioned in connection with romance novels on a romance writer's blog I frequent and it caused a mini-firestorm among the other romance writers there.  The writers were outraged that someone considered their carefully plotted and choreographed sex scenes to be porn, since they are often the most difficult scenes to write. 

But I think they were missing the point.  Yes, the scenes can be beautifully written.  Yes, they can reveal a great deal about the characters.  But the fact remains, if you don't normally read romance novels, and then you pick one up, the detailed, fantasized sex is astonishing.  Jaw-dropping.  Book-dropping.  I thought:  You mean you can just walk into a store a buy this stuff?  Wow.

So, what about you?  Did you find the sex scenes surprising when you first read a romance novel? (if you have, and if you haven't try Agnes.  Seriously.)  And on a slightly different note, what romance novels do you hand to friends if you're trying to convert them to reading romances?

Monday, January 24, 2011

this and that, in other words: catching up

We went to see The King's Speech last night while MadMax was at a sleepover-- they don't have school today for the second Monday in a row because of some kind of teacher training thing.  Great movie.  Like all good anglophile chick-flick devotees, I love Colin Firth, and if Geoffrey Rush's wife looks oh-so-familiar but you can't quite place her, it's because she's Jennifer Ehle, HELLO, Elizabeth from the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice.  (I said that like it was obvious, but I had to go home and look it up on imdb because I knew I recognized her from somewhere.)  We both enjoyed it thoroughly and I blubbered through at least 14 minutes of it.

Next up:  We repainted our playroom last weekend.  We've lived in this house for 12 years now, and have re-painted almost all of it except our bedroom, the laundry room, and the playroom, so now the playroom is done.  Nothing spectacular, just a medium tan sort of thing, but since before the paint job there were approximate three thousand thumbtack holes and dart holes, not to mention the usual playroom scuffs and smears, it looks considerably better.  It took dh an entire afternoon to spackle all the holes in.  Perhaps the dart board while our daughter was in junior high was a mistake.

So anyway, now the former playroom is an office, with desks for all three of us in it, and we're pretty happy with it.  That meant that the two huge bins of nerf dartguns and the laundry basket of legos had to go somewhere, so MadMax is turning the basement into a Man Cave.  He's very excited about it, I swear it sounds like he's nesting.  The XBox is going down there, too.  It's about 50 degrees down there most of the time, so we'll see how it works out. 

And finally:  There's a Buddhist teaching called "detachment from outcome" that has been coming to mind a lot.  It's been a long time since I've read any Buddhist stuff, or even thought about it, honestly.  But for several weeks now, it keeps popping up in the oddest places.  It's a pretty simple concept, really.  You do things because you're doing them, because you're choosing to do them (because at some level we always choose to do everything we do), not because of anything that will happen, not because you want a particular outcome.

You live in the moment, applying yourself fully to whatever it is you're doing (even if it's relaxing in front of the television.  Relax fully, dammit.)  And you do this regardless of how it will turn out, without having to imagine that someone will love you or approve of you, or that you'll be the best at it, or that if you don't do it the world will end, or whatever outcome it is you're hoping for (or dreading).  You come up with the most interesting, engaging presentation you can, regardless of whether or not you get the sale. You write the paper for the learning experience of writing the paper, not because of the grade you'll get.  You eat healthy food because it provides nourishment for your body, not because you want to lose weight.  You help a friend in need out of compassion, not because she'll like you better.  You react out of an open, compassionate heart without worrying about whether you'll get something back. 

It's a giving up of control, and for control freaks like me, that's always a challenge.  My usual motivation for doing things is because I want a particular result. Letting go of that need for a result of my own choosing is a giving up of control.  It should be easy, because the result is rarely under my control anyway, but it's remarkably difficult for me to do.  It's also a reminder to stay in the moment, to do things because they are in front of you, not because of something off in the future.  It's the old thing of being mindful, present, focused.  Which is an elusive goal for me at the moment, especially the focused part, but it's what I'm working on right now.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

thanks, I needed that

Hi, y'all.  Hope everyone had a good week.  Mine wasn't particularly pleasant, but restful and just what I needed.  It is the bane of my existence to be both an utter blockhead about social skills and also hyper-sensitive.  So I get my feelings hurt and have no one to blame but myself because I've caused my own problems.  Sometimes I just have to go off and lick my wounds.  By Saturday, a lot of rest and the passage of time had worked their usual magic and things are pretty much back to normal.  This didn't involve any of you, of course, just one of those things. 

I didn't spend a lot of time on Ulysses, but I did get through chapter 8.  Which means I need to summarize 5-8 sometime soon.  I don't know if any of the rest of you are doing this, but it's helping me to type out summaries so I'm going to keep doing it.  I thought I would start putting them in separate posts, clearly marked, so you can easily avoid if not interested.

I met with the professor for my independent study on Thursday and got a little bit better idea of what we're doing.  It looks like I'm going to spend the next couple of weeks doing a crash course on Javascript and maybe a little Flash, which makes me more happy than I can tell you.  It just feels so much more manageable than theory at the moment.  Only a few of you have been around for more than a year, so you missed the two semesters of Java programming I took at our community college right before I got the crazy idea to finish my master's, and I've worked with HTML, XHTML and CSS before.  So this feels like homecoming, like picking up something familiar. Unfortunately Java is only marginally related to Javascript, but still the language of coding is not entirely foreign to me.

There are a few other things knocking around in my head, but I'll save them for tomorrow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm taking an internet vacation this week.  I'm going to try to keep up with posting on MWF, just not this week.  Have a good one.

Friday, January 14, 2011

the zyrtec clouded mind

I finished Ulysses chapter five yesterday and made it through about half of chapter six today.  Will finish six and summarize both tomorrow (I hope).  Six seems to be considerably longer than the others have been, or maybe it is just that I'm starting to get bogged down.  You can't ever pick up any speed while reading Ulysses because you have to pay attention to the actual words as you read.  Or at least I do.  So it goes pretty slowly-- it takes me about two hours to get through a twenty page chapter, which would take twenty minutes in a more "normal" novel.  It hasn't helped any that I'm a zyrtec zombie today.  I've still had lingering headaches this week (not nearly as bad as last week), which I don't think are  from caffeine withdrawal, so I thought it might be allergies and took a zyrtec this morning.  It helped with the headache, but I've been so sleepy all day I'm not sure I'll take another one.  I just want to go to bed and sleep for ten hours.  Since dh is working and MadMax is at a sleepover, maybe I will. 

A few more thoughts on eReaders (which I found out is the generic term for all of the digital reading devices.  The Sony I have is just a Sony Reader).  Or maybe this is just about digital books in general.  I'm wondering as the shift to e-publishing becomes more widespread, how will I know what to read?  I sure as heck haven't liked every published book I've ever read, so the fact that a book has been traditionally published is no guarantee.  But a book that has gone through the usual process has a) been edited and b) presumably been selected in preference to many others that are similar, giving it some stamp of quality.  Whereas the books that I've read that were self-published, or e-published without going through a traditional publisher, were (with some major exceptions) lower in quality.  They had grammatical errors, typesetting errors, or were just poorly written.

But you know, that's where we're going, so there's no point in whining about it.  I know too many writers, good writers, who are having a near impossible time getting their work published, and they're all thinking about e-publishing (my mom, for example).  Why shouldn't they?  Sure, the holy grail is to get an agent and a 3-book contract, but it's not happening for many of them.

So what does this mean for me as a reader?  It means it's going to be a lot harder to find the books I want to read.  Even if traditional publishing was a guarantee of quality, you can't immediately tell if a book has gone through the traditional publishing channels anymore.  Already--even several years ago-- I've ordered books from Amazon and had no idea until I sat down and started reading that they were self-published--some of them are so poorly edited and badly written that it is quite evident practically from the first page. But as non-traditionally published books become more common, better writers, writers who write very high quality stuff, are going to start publishing that way.  Which will mean that the number of books to choose from is going to skyrocket.

Thankfully since I'm not a writer, I don't have to worry about the opposite end of the problem, which is how are they going to compete with the big publishing houses to get the word out about their books.  I just have to worry about how I'm going to find good books, however they have been published.  In the long run, I suppose my methods won't be all that different than what I do now.  I read reviews on Amazon, I've found the blogs of readers with similar tastes.  I don't think there's ever going to be anyone who has exactly the same taste as me, but I've found people who match up enough that I get good recommendations. 

if this makes no sense, blame it on the zyrtec.  writing it bored me to death, but let's blame that on the zyrtec, too. Did you even notice that I changed the typeface?  I was editing the other day, and even with my cheaters on I couldn't make out the i's and the l's in "responsibilities" when it was in Arial.  I decided I need serifs.  Let me know if you have any trouble viewing it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Several of my favorite bloggers try to blog every day.  I can't do it.  But I said in an intemperate moment that I would try to blog Monday, Wednesday and Friday for awhile.  But here's the problem, and it's exactly the reason why I've never tried to blog on a schedule-- because on any given day, or series of days, I can be in a real bitch of a mood and I hate to spread that around.  Especially not to anyone who is kind enough to stop by to read my blog.  So you're forewarned.  Let's see what happens if I just sit down and riff.

It's snowing here.  And snowing and snowing.  Oddly, the weatherman predicted that a big wave of snow would hit and we would get dumped on from 5 to 7 p.m.  All kinds of things were cancelled.  But although it snowed all day, sometimes pretty heavily, it had slowed way down by late afternoon and by about 6:30 it had stopped altogether.  My son is still hoping for a big dump overnight so that school will get cancelled tomorrow, but I think chances are slim.  We probably got about 3" today, and that is plenty for me.  I just checked NOAA and according to them, we got less than an inch, but the layer of snow on our deck begs to differ.

Dear daughter is spending spring quarter in Prague.  I am thrilled for her, and she is so excited she's having a hard time remembering that she still has to get through winter quarter before she goes.  The extra good news, though, is that we may get to go visit her.  Dh has agreed, but we still have to figure out if the finances will work.  How often do you have a good excuse to go, though?  and a guide?  she will have been there almost three months by the time we get there.  I think this is one of those times where you just make it work.

We are having the usual midwinter problems getting MadMax away from the Xbox once his allowed two hours are up.  It's always difficult, but when the weather is this bad, there's really not much else for him to do.  If it were a little warmer, he could work on projects in the garage shop, or they could go sledding or whatever.  But it has been in the single digits for several days now.  This dump of snow is supposedly coming from a "warm" front which will bring the temps up into the low 30s, thus making other activities possible again.  Phew.

I've read a surfeit of genre fiction in the last three weeks (I am still working on Ulysses, but it's my break, after all.  It can't be all work and no play, right?)  Some of it was truly awful and shall be unnamed.  I bought a couple of romance novel "bundles" for my eReader-- because they were cheap --for the beach.  Out of the six or seven novels I read that week, one was worth the time.  You get what you pay for, I guess.  But it was all my brain could handle, so I'm not apologizing.  and it was kind of fun, in a rebellious sort of way, to read complete trash after a semester of academic reading.  Then read Garden Spells on the plane on the way back, and although I thought it was going to be a little too-too sweet during the first chapter, I ended up loving it.  Once we were home, I read Crusie's slightly updated Trust Me on This, which was even more fun than the first time I read it, and another one of Lani Diane Rich's, Wish You Were Here, which was also excellent.  Restored my faith in the genre--both of them are fun and intelligently written, as you would expect from those two.  Then read a few more that shall not be named.  Then yesterday read Goodnight, Tweetheart by Theresa Medeiros and How To Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn, both well above average.

OK, finally, there's something I can write about.  BFBetty wrote a post a couple of months ago about whether or not to blog book reviews (rather than me summarizing what she said, you should just go read it if you're interested).  It had never occurred to me that it wasn't a good idea to review books in your blog.  In fact, about 90% of the entries in my first blog were book reviews.  That was the reason I originally started a blog, because no one I know around here wanted to listen to me yammer on and on about the books I was reading.  So her post caught me by surprise.  Whaddya mean we shouldn't blog book reviews?

But the more I've thought about it, the more I've seen her point.  Not that I'm trying to get published, because I'm not, but just in general.  Now that I follow the blogs of so many writers, both published and pre-published, I'm coming to realize how enormously disheartening it is for them to read anything critical of their work.  It seems entirely presumptuous to think that any of the authors of the books I read will ever stumble across my blog way out here in the internet hinterlands.  I average less than 50 pageviews a week--which is perfect for me, but it's not like I'm generating a lot of buzz here.  But on the other hand, now that I'm getting to know some of these people (not that they know me, but I'm getting to know them a little from reading their blogs), I just can't stomach the idea of writing negative reviews, or even reviews that are less than positive, even if they'll never see it.  It takes so much courage to write a book.  And the amount of work that goes into it is staggering.  I had no idea.  I'm in awe of anyone that does it, now that I know, and I don't want to throw any negativity in the way of that.  I think that brief mentions of books that I liked and can heartily recommend, like in the previous paragraph, are as much as I'm going to do now.

There.  In spite of an enormous aversion to sitting down and blogging today, I did it.  Let me know what you think about the book review question.

GS: for those who are interested

Stanford has re-vamped its English major in interesting ways.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kindles, eReaders, and electronic books

Quite a lot has been written recently about the future of electronic publishing.  It sounds to me like the publishing world thought that they could comfortably put off worrying about a major transition to ebooks for several more years.  But the Kindle has been wildly popular, more popular one suspects than even Amazon thought it would be, and the future of ebooks seems to be right now.

I know very little about publishing other than what I've read in the past few weeks, so I can't really comment on that.  But I can talk about it from the reader's point of view, because I'm making the transition myself.  Last Christmas, my sweet spouse wanted to get me a digital reading device of some kind, but he doesn't really feel comfortable ordering things online.  So he went down to Borders and got a Sony Reader. Then this Christmas, after my mom had a bit of a financial windfall, she got all three of us (my sisters and me) a Kindle.  So this is based on a year of using the Reader and two weeks of using a Kindle. 

Like many booklovers, I love the physical object that is a book.  I love the feel of them.  I love having shelves of them in the house and stacks of them on my bedside table.  I love the way they smell.  I love opening up a new read and getting swept away in it.  And you lose that with these devices.  So I wasn't sure i wanted one at all.  In general terms, the two devices have the same pros and cons.  The pro, the big one, is that you can take the entire stack of books that you need to get through a week of vacation in one small little device that will fit in your purse.  It's amazing how much you can get on these things.  My Reader, after a year of use, has the complete works of Shakespeare, all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, the Narnian Chronicles, the Bible, a couple of Jane Austens, and probably a dozen other books on it, and it's about a quarter full.  The cons, from my perspective:  You lose the book experience.  You can't spend twenty minutes rearranging the books on your shelf.  You can't flip back ten pages to remember exactly what the hero said as he gazed into the heroine's eyes.  You can't turn the book over and re-read the back cover when halfway through the novel it turns out to be entirely different than you expected.

And pricing.  good Lord, what a mess.  Sometimes it's a bargain to buy an ebook, but often it's not.  and since I'm a pretty big cheapskate when it comes to buying books, this is a pretty big obstacle to me.  I'm just not going to pay $9.99 for a new version of a Georgette Heyer ebook when I can order a used paperback for $4 (including postage-- in fact, most of that is postage since the used books on Amazon are often one cent, plus 3.99 for postage).  And some publishers clearly just don't get it at all.  Tana French's books keep showing up on the year end "best of" lists, so I thought I'd try them. Since the first one (In the Woods) has been out for several years, I thought it would be cheap and a good one to get in Kindle format. ha. The paperback from amazon is $9.  The Kindle edition is $14.99.  go figure.  Maybe somebody is so addicted to their Kindle that they'd be willing to pay extra, but I'm definitely not one of them.  

So.  on to details.  to compare the two of them.  The Kindle has the better screen, hands down.  It's much easier to read-- brighter and clearer with a better type face.  If you set them next to each other, the Kindle looks bright white and the Reader looks gray.  And the page-to-page navigation buttons are slightly easier on the Kindle-- there is a page forward and a page backward button on each of the two sides of the Kindle, large enough to easily hit with your thumb as you hold it, whereas on the Reader, there are two thin metallic buttons at the bottom of the screen, that aren't really placed at a place where your fingers would naturally be while holding the device.

But other than that, the Reader is better.  (That isn't to say that the Reader wins, because having the better screen is huge.  It makes it much, much more pleasant to sit and read on the Kindle).  The Reader has a touch screen, which so simplifies navigation through the menus that I keep touching the screen on the Kindle and being surprised when it doesn't react.  Jumping around to different locations in the book is easier on the Reader, too.  You touch the page number at the bottom of the screen and a slider pops up.  You can drag the slider forward or backward to jump to a few pages--or a lot-- forward or back.

There is no similar way to move around a book on the Kindle, or at least not that I've found.  In fact, the Kindle has done away with "pages" altogether, in favor of "locations" which seem to be about a paragraph or so.  So if you want to jump back ten pages to check what somebody said or some other detail, on the Reader you would just drag the slider back a half-inch and there you are.  but on the Kindle, you have guess how many "locations" back it would be and type in the number, which can be something like 10980.  And there are no numbers on the Kindle's "keyboard" so you press "Sym" to pop up a submenu of Symbols and Numbers, then use the arrow keys to move around the numbers and press Enter on the one you want, or the five you want in the case of a number like 10980.  You can, I've read, press Alt plus a letter to get to the numbers, but since the numbers aren't anywhere on the keys, you'd have to memorize which numbers match to which letter.  To summarize:  other than page-forward and page-backward, navigation on the Kindle is a pain.

Also, the Sony Reader store is specifically designed for the Reader (obviously), whereas on Amazon, it can be confusing to know if you're looking at the paperback, hardback, audio, or Kindle version of a book.  The reviews are also all lumped together on Amazon-- the dozen or so versions of Ulysses that are available for the Kindle all have exactly the same reader reviews, making it difficult to figure out what is the difference between them.

So.  Honestly, I have to say that even with my gripes about the Kindle, I still prefer it.  The screen is that much better.  But I still use the Reader, and I have to say that in many ways it is much more thoughtfully designed.

I'm obviously not a professional reviewer as this has been all over the place.  Sorry for the lack of organization.  but just in case you wanted to know.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ulysses, chapters three and four

In the third chapter, Stephen is walking along the beach.  That's pretty much all the action, but he thinks about all kinds of things, and you get to try and figure out from one sentence to the next, sometimes from one word to the next, what he's thinking about.  The opening words of the chapter:  "Ineluctable modality of the visible."  They're never really precisely explained, although you begin to get some idea of what he's talking about because in the next paragraph he moves on the ineluctable modality of the audible.  He's thinking about perception, how we perceive things, and the unknowable contrast between appearance and reality.  Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes it's not.  He sees two midwives walking along the beach, carrying a sack, which he thinks must contain a stillbirth.  He thinks about his own birth, and his mother, and conception-- the moment of his own conception, and the immaculate conception. There's a long bit about his time in Paris. He sees a dog and its owners.  The dog sniffs a dog carcass that is lying in the surf.  Then he takes a piss and picks his nose.  Honestly, I missed the piss until it was mentioned in the commentaries.  I had to go back through the chapter to find it, and I'm still not entirely sure I've got the right spot.  Here's my best guess:  "In long lassoes from the Cock lake the water flowed full, covering greengoldenly lagoons of sand, rising, flowing."  Could be piss, if you ask me.  The whole thing is like that, and sometimes you can follow it, and sometimes you can't.  But picking his nose is obvious:  "He laid the dry snot picked from his nostril on a ledge of rock, carefully.  For the rest let look who will." 

It's quite lovely sometimes, although you're not entirely sure what he means.  Try this, his thoughts either while he's scribbling poetry on the back of Mr. Deasy's letter, or right after he's finished, I'm not sure which:  "His shadow lay over the rocks as he bent, ending.  Why not endless till the farthest star?  Darkly they are there behind this light, darkness shining in the brightness, delta of Cassiopeia, worlds.  Me sits there with his augur's rod of ash, in borrowed sandals, by day beside a livid sea, unbeheld, in violet night walking beneath a reign of uncouth stars.  I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back.  Endless, would it be mine, form of my form?  Who watches me here?  Who ever anywhere will read these written words?"

Chapter Three ends the part where Stephen is the point-of-view character.  And by the way, Joyce didn't call them chapters, or number them-- that's all been added by commentators.  The only division Joyce made was to divide the whole thing into three parts, and what the commentators call "chapter three" or "episode three" ends the first part.  Chapter four starts part II, and we move on to Leopold Bloom.

While the style continues to be stream-of-consciousness, it's (so far) much easier to follow.  Bloom is fixing breakfast for his wife Molly and his cat.  He's quite sweet about the cat, which (at least for me) makes him an immediately sympathetic character.  When he realizes there is nothing for his own breakfast, he decides to go to the butcher's.  He realizes he doesn't have his key, but he would have to go back into the bedroom and wake up Molly to get it, so he pulls the door mostly shut and goes on to the butcher's.  (a key again!)  He enjoys the warmth of the sun.  He's wearing black for a funeral later in the day, and he notices how much the sun's warmth is magnified by the black clothes.  At the butcher shop, he stands in line behind a woman neighbor, and notices her hips.  He hopes he can walk home behind her and watch her walk.  At home, he fixes his breakfast, takes the mail up to his wife (which includes a letter from Blazes, who--according to the commentary--will become her lover), and brings his own letter from his daughter Milly back down to read while he eats his breakfast.  Then-- there's no way to say this politely, sorry-- he goes out to the outhouse and takes a dump.  The, um, product isn't described in detail, but the process is.  He is happy with his regularity, shall we say.  He reads the paper while he's there, then tears off half of a prize-winning story to wipe.  He checks to make sure that his pants are still clean, since he still has to go to the funeral.

the style in this chapter is quite different.  Bloom thinks in much shorter phrases, that come at you more abruptly.  he thinks about his daughter's ripening sexuality:  "O well: she knows how to mind herself.  But if not?  No, nothing has happened.  Of course it might.  Wait in any case till it does.  A wild piece of goods.  Her slim legs running up the staircase.  Destiny.  Ripening now.  Vain:  very."  Quite a change from Stephen's long abstract thoughts, that twine around from one subject to the next.  with both of them, though, the reading experience is the same.  You understand five or six lines, and then there's five or six (or twenty) lines that are incomprehensible, and then suddenly you pick up the thread again and there's another five or six lines you understand.  I can see why you have to read this several times before you start to get it.

To back up a bit:  this next semester, I'm taking a seminar on Jane Austen and ... wait for it... the History of Feminist Theory.  Sorry about that, because if you follow along here you know you're going to have to live through it with me.  As if I haven't already typed enough about that.  But it's a very small department, and there weren't very many graduate classes being offered next semester.  And given my driving schedule, there really were only those two classes that would work.  But we're supposed to take three courses per semester, which left me in a bit of a dilemma.  So I started poking around looking for something interesting to do for an independent study, and came upon one of the professors I had last year who is working on Ulysses.  I e-mailed him, he agreed, and voila.  But I need to get Ulysses read for the first time before the semester starts so I can be of some use to him.  I'm sure I'll have to read it at least once more before I can even begin to comprehend it, and who knows what else he'll assign me to read.  I'm looking forward to that more than either of the regular classes.

Friday, January 07, 2011

GS: then and now, part 2

So I'm not sure why I'm sitting down to type this out right now, because it knocked around in my head for the last six weeks of the semester, but here it is anyway.  I was trying to come up with a way to explain the difference between the way the study of literature worked back in the 80s and how it works now, and why I'm not all that happy with the new way, and the best i can come up with is to describe something that happened in my theory class this fall.

We were studying New Historicism, which is--roughly speaking-- going back and studying original historical documents like maps and advertisements and newspaper copy to see how they shed light on a particular work of literature.  Usually the idea is to show how the author misrepresented what was really happening, or distorted it, and then you examine why they might have done that.  The classic example is Wordsworth's famous poem, "Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey."  The poem is about a walk that Wordsworth takes in the woods, where he sits at some elevated point and looks out over the River Wye and describes the beauty of the scene.  He talks about how he is trying to store up the beauty in his memory so that when he's back in the city, he'll have something to sustain him through the soul-draining dreariness of urban life.  It is noteworthy that although the title says that he is "above tintern Abbey," the Abbey doesn't appear in the poem at all.  So he is having this transcendent spiritual moment in the natural world that is unrelated to church and religion, which would be a pretty significant break for the time period.

It reminded me of a poem by Philip Larkin, "Church Going," in which the narrator, out on a bike ride, stops by a deserted church and meditates on the state of religious belief.  He wonders "When churches fall completely out of use / what we shall turn them into...shall we avoid them as unlucky places?"  But even though he thinks the churches no longer serve a purpose, he finds himself drawn to them:

It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much can never be obsolete
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious.....

so there you have Wordsworth, or his narrator, sitting a few miles above Tintern Abbey, aware enough that it is there to put it in the title of his poem, but not feeling that he needs to be in a church to meditate on what transcendence means.  And you have Larkin's narrator, pulling off his cycle clips as he walks into the empty, echoing chamber of a church, and trying to sift out what is still important about the religious experience the church represents, even though the church itself has become obsolete.  And then you have me, asking many of the same questions about my own experience-- which of the beliefs I was raised with have validity outside the narrow interpretations of my youth?

And that's what I love about the study of literature.  That feeling of connection, that you and somebody who was writing two hundred years ago, or fifty years ago, or in a blog ten minutes ago, have something in common, in spite of all the things that make you different. 

but the theory perspective, the new way of doing the study of literature, is to take the opposite tack.  To take Wordsworth's poem and show how what it really is, is a facile, self-serving homily that reinforces his position as a white male who takes advantage of the capitalist system to operate from a position of power, while consciously or unconsciously relegating women, minorities, and the working classes to marginalized, voiceless positions.  a New Historicist will go back into whatever historical records they can find about the place and see if they can reconstruct what Wordsworth actually saw as he sat looking out over the River Wye.  And according to at least one critic, what he would have seen was industrial waste and pollution, because the town where Tintern Abbey was located was the site of a coal factory that spewed smoke and pollution into the air.  Also the town had a number of poverty stricken homeless people or beggars.  So the fact that Wordsworth described the beauty of the scene without discussing the pollution and the poverty of the workers makes a statement about what Wordsworth thought was important and what he chose to say and not to say. 

It's just a choice about how you want to look at it.  You can choose to find the ways that Wordsworth or Larkin are similar to you, and have something to say that's relevant to you.  Or you can choose to pick away at what they say and show how it doesn't really have a universal meaning after all, because it ignores so much of the rest of what human experience was like.  The New Historicist is trying to prove that what Wordsworth and Larkin were saying is not universal, and certainly not Universal, that there is no transcendent human idea or experience that we can all relate to in literature.  But you don't have to think that their ideas are universal in order to find them relevant to your own experience.  I'm not claiming that their ideas are universal, I'm just saying that they mean something to me.  Not in some remote, detached academic way, but as one human being speaking to another through the medium of the printed page. 

I see the point of the New Historicist.  It's interesting to know what Wordsworth chose not to say, and it does tell us a lot about the state of mind of an educated white male who lived at the time.  But I don't see the point of getting up on a moral high horse and judging him for having the mindset that he had, for having cultural blinders on, like we all do (who knows what they will find interesting about our era two hundred years from now that we don't even notice).  We can't go back and change it.  It's something that's worth noting and then moving on.  It's not the place to stop and set up camp.  That hyper-critical, righteous indignation is not a place I want to live. 

So that's it.  I think.  It's why I don't fit in very well in grad school, and although I'm trying to approach the experience as an opportunity to learn a different way of thinking and to stretch my brain to work in a different direction, it's not really a direction I want to go.

Nothing to be said

I just dove into the wreck and pulled out this post from my first blog, which was about the British poet Philip Larkin.  Because I need it as background for the next post.  Originally posted 11/30/2004.

You have to imagine me, little miss southern small town evangelical, graduating from high school and heading north for my excellent college adventure. It was a huge adventure in a way-- I went so far, and all alone. After my mom dropped me off the weekend before freshman orientation, I didn't see anyone I had ever seen before for a very long time. But on the other hand, I went to an evangelical christian college (to start, I transferred later), so it wasn't as huge as it might have been. I was innocent in just about every way there is to be innocent. For one thing, although I read voraciously, I had read nothing other than the standard high school stuff-- Hard Times, MacBeth, A Separate Peace-- and loads and loads of science fiction.

So I spent my freshman year taking all the required courses. Then my sophomore year, I took a class on British Lit from the Romantics to the present. At the end of the course, the professor assigned each of us a modern poet-- not in the literary sense of "Modern" but a poet that was still living. I got Philip Larkin, who was still living then, but died shortly thereafter. I had never heard of him. I didn't think much of poetry at the time and I never did particularly like that professor, whose name I can no longer remember (Rollins? Rolle? Raleigh?) but somehow or another I took a shine to Philip Larkin. Various lines from his poems still surface in my mind even though its been 25 years.   "he chucked everything and just cleared off" ('Poetry of Departures'); "they fuck you up, your mum and dad," ('This Be the Verse'); "saying so to some means nothing; to others it leaves nothing to be said" ('Nothing to be Said') and so on. I had no idea until about a month ago that he and Ted Hughes represented two entirely different directions for English poetry, and are each thought to be the best representative of their "school." Well, I should re-word that. Maybe I Professor R. told us those precise words in that long-ago class, but I have no memory of it.

In case you've never run into him before, here is a bit of 'Poetry of Departures.'  I can't print the whole thing because it's still copyrighted, but you can probably google it if you want the rest.

We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
Its specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?

Ulysses, chapter two

This will be quick because I didn't get much sleep last night and I want to go to bed.  So Chapter Two starts off with no transition-- we are in a classroom, and Stephen is teaching spoiled, wealthy boys about Pyrrhus, the Greek king who won battles while sustaining such heavy losses that the term Pyrrhic victory comes from his name.  Stephen isn't exactly paying attention, and neither are the boys.  In between his questions and theirs, his mind wanders on all kinds of topics, sometimes coming back to his mother's death.  One boy starts to recite Milton's poem Lycidas, but instead of doing it from memory, he is cheating so blatantly that Stephen calls him on it, but he doesn't seem very mad.  The boys leave to play hockey.  Before they go Stephen asks them a riddle, which no one (including the reader) really understands.

Stephen stays behind with one of them who needs help on his math homework.  He isn't a particularly appealing kid, but Stephen helps himself be patient by imagining the kid's mom and the positive quality of mother love.  Then Stephen goes to Mr. Deasy's office, who is him employer.  Mr. Deasy pays him and Stephen must sit and listen as he lectures him on how to live within his means, how the jews are responsible for the downfall of england, how women are responsible for original sin, etc.  Then Mr. Deasy makes him sit and wait while he finishes a letter to the editor about cattle diseases that he wants published in newspapers-- Stephen knows some of the editors.  So Stephen says he will see what he can do.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

after Chapter Two

OK, go ahead and laugh. :-)  I just finished chapter two, and I think chapter one must be the free space in Ulysses bingo.  It is going to be just as obscure and difficult as I had heard.  But maybe more fun along the way than I expected.  More tomorrow after I have a chance to read the commentaries.

Ulysses, Agnes, hot flashes and withdrawal

So after reading the first chapter of Ulysses and two commentaries on it, I have to say:  who knew?  it is funny.  And entertaining.  It isn't anything at all like what I was expecting.  You definitely have to exercise suspension of understanding (to warp a phrase)-- there are things that are incomprehensible and that aren't explained anywhere in the first chapter.  But if you just plow through those and keep going, it's really good.  You could knock me down with a feather.  I've been dreading this for years, and it's really not that bad.  So far, it is the story of three graduate students, living in a tower that they rent from the government, ribbing each other while they shave, eat breakfast, and go down to the river to bathe.  Well, actually, it's mainly Mulligan that does the teasing, but still-- it's a scene that anyone who ever lived with roommates in an apartment in their twenties will immediately understand.  In the course of the chapter, Stephen, the serious, introverted one who is still reeling from the death of his mother, decides that even though he's the one that's been paying the rent, he can no longer live there.  So he hands over the key at the end of the chapter.  That's about all that happens, but it's really well done.

It takes place on June 16, 1904.  If you hang out with English major types you know that Ulysses takes place in Dublin in the space of a single day, and June 16th is the day, although it's not stated anywhere in the first chapter. (I think I would have been able to tell you it was in June, but I'm not sure if I would have known the 16th and definitely not the year.  Got that from the commentaries.)  I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a sophomore in college (Ulysses is the sequel to Portrait), and understood it not one whit until the professor went through it with us.  I guess that's what I was expecting this time, too.  I'm not sure if the difference is just that I'm 25 years older now or something else, but so far, so good. 

If you're reading along, here are the helpful things I gleaned from the commentaries.  The Latin phrases are all from the Catholic mass-- the first one, at the very start, is the first line of the mass as the priest and acolytes approach the altar, and the whole scene, with Mulligan carrying the shaving bowl and shaving implements, is a parody of a Catholic mass. The second one, later on, is a line from the last rites and is in reference to the death of Stephen's mother.  I think there is another one, too, but I don't remember it at the moment so we'll assume it's not particularly important.  The lines about Fergus that Stephen recites to his mother in a flashback are from Yeats, an Irish poet.  The lines that Mulligan recites as he's jumping in the water are blasphemous nonsense of his own composition.  Ireland, as you probably already know, is extremely Catholic, and (according to the commentaries) the examination of the influence of Catholicism and the interaction between belief and unbelief is one of the central themes of the Ulysses

So we're off.  I'm actually way more excited about this with the first chapter done than I was before.

I am almost always reading some kind of genre fiction at the same time that I am reading my academic stuff.  It keeps me sane.  This time it is time for my annual ritual re-reading of Agnes and the Hitman, one of my all-time favorite books, a book I'd recommend to anyone.  My spouse, of course, isn't a big fan of romance* novels, but of the (probably) couple hundred I've read, I've handed him only two--and Agnes was one of them (the other was Lord Perfect, but that's another post).  Anyway.  It interests and amuses me how often there is interplay between the genre fiction I'm reading and the more serious stuff.  This time, there is a key that becomes significant in the first chapter of Ulysses, and apparently later on there will be a Keyes Tower that becomes significant.  And by page 4 of Agnes you find out that it takes place in Keyes, SC.  A little thing, but it made me smile. 

I'm feeling better today, not because I'm done with withdrawal (see previous post), but because I finally gave in and took more drugs.  My usual migraine treatment is one Maxalt (thank God for Maxalt) and half of a 5 mg percocet.  Usually that's all it takes.  but caffeine withdrawal is one tough mother and today, a couple of  hours after the original dose, I took the other half of the percocet.  This is day five.  If I'd had any idea how bad withdrawal was going to be this time, I would never have let it go this long.  I was barely having any caffeine the last week or so, just enough so that I wouldn't go through withdrawal while we were on vacation (half a cup of coffee, or a Dr. Pepper).  I just didn't think it would be this bad.

Excuses, excuses.  I'm weak, what can I say?  It's difficult being a mere mortal and living with my spouse, who has near perfect self control.  If he found out that caffeine or some other substance was a problem for him, said substance would never cross his lips again. Three or four years ago he decided it wasn't healthy for him to drink soft drinks, and as far as I know, he hasn't had so much as a sip since.  But I'm not quite that good at it.  It takes me many tries to rid myself of my vices, probably infinitely many.  In fact, that is my new year's resolution for this year, and instead of an entire post on it, I'll just give you the one sentence version:  keep starting over.  I know what I need to do, I know the issues I'm working on and the ways I want to treat myself more kindly, more healthily, and more .... grown-up-ly?  But I keep screwing up.  So the idea for this year is to keep starting over, keep getting back on the bandwagon.  Not to let failure de-rail me.  I guess that was more than one sentence.

Whoa.  what else can I fit in this post?  One of the main things I was going to write about hasn't even appeared yet, which was my trip to the pharmacy on Tuesday to get more Maxalt.  But this one is plenty long enough, so I will save that one for another day.  And in case you're wondering about the hot flashes of the title, that was just because when I sat down to type, I had to open the door to the deck, which is practically at my right elbow, even though it is about 25 degrees outside because I am so fricking hot.  Internal combustion is my middle name these days.  It's too bad we can't harness the energy of all these hot flashes my friends and I are having because it would pretty much solve the energy crisis.

And that's it for today.

* Agnes is definitely not your typical romance novel--it's more of romantic suspense, or something like that--but it's sold in the romance novel section at Borders.  And also in the literary fiction section.  It sort of has a split personality.  My favorite.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Ulysses-- only because I have to

I have to read Ulysses (the James Joyce one) for one of my classes (more about that later).  So I'm starting tomorrow.  Just thought I'd let you know on the off chance that you want to read it along with me.  I have two reader's guides and I'm reading a synopsis of the Iliad and the Odyssey today, so will post what I can to be helpful.  this is also a warning if you're not interested, because that's likely to be what I'm posting about for a couple of weeks.

I just got the grade back on one of my papers from last semester, a B-, the lowest grade I've ever made on a paper.  It was the third paper, the one that had the least amount of effort put into it because I was working on the other two.  It deserved a B-, so I can't complain.  But I'm still feeling a little yucky about it.  I got an A on the first one, and I haven't seen the second one yet-- haven't been down to UTown since the semester ended, and I'm not going till next week.  (the one I got today was e-mailed to me).

And I'm also feeling physically awful-- I let myself get re-addicted to caffeine at the end of the semester (too many nights in a row of four hours sleep) and I'm weaning myself off of it again.  Well, I guess "weaning" isn't the right word, because I stopped cold turkey on Sunday.  It is pretty miserable, but not as bad as the first time.

whine whine whine.  Today is one of those days where I have to remind myself to extend unconditional positive regard to myself.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

And now for 2011

I wrote my first check today with the new year on it, and I remembered.  Was proud.  But I always remember the first time-- it will be some time a couple of weeks from now that I will have forgotten about it, and I'll write 2010 on a check, and the clerk I hand it to will look at me like I'm eighty and have alzheimer's.  Which isn't really very funny because most days I'm pretty sure it's happening. 

So anyway, the first check of the new year was written to my daughter to cover her utilities and food for the month, handed to her as we hugged her tight and left her at the train depot so she could make it back to school in time for classes to start tomorrow.  She's on the quarter system, so they don't get much of a break-- but on the other hand, they didn't start until the end of September. I don't start classes until Jan 25th, and can I just say, thank God, because if I had to go back to school this week I think I would just go ahead and pull all my hair out and be done with it.  I finished last semester on a Thursday, did all the laundry and chores and errands I had put off for the previous three weeks on Friday, drove 9 hours to Seattle to pick up Nell and her boyfriend on Saturday,  drove back with them on Tuesday, and then had a mere three days to do practically everything to get ready for Christmas.  It was nuts, and the packages to our out-of-town relatives didn't get mailed until Christmas Eve.  I was a bad elf this year.  Then Christmas day, we left at 7 a.m. to spend the week in Florida and got back last night.  So you can see why starting classes this week would be just a little bit too much.

So this week I have all depressing things to do, but it's January, so what else is new?  Unpack, do all the laundry, put away all the christmas stuff, send the Christmas letter (which I never do until the week after Christmas, so that's not all that unusual).  So it will be awhile before I get caught up.  I did manage to get online briefly to post the beach update from a few days ago, but other than that, I've hardly been online in the past two weeks.  I have almost 300 e-mails built up in one of my e-mail accounts, and several dozen in the other. whine, whine, whine.  More soon.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Books I Enjoyed in 2010

In years past, I've called this list "Books Worth Reading," but I'm trying to cut down on pretentiousness (is that a word?), so I'm going with the slightly less snooty "Books I Enjoyed in 2010."  I seem to always come up with about a dozen, out of many dozens that I read.  If you've been reading along all year, I don't think there are any surprises this time.  If there's a link, it's to the review I wrote--which may be further down the page than where you land with the link. 

Coop-Michael Perry
Little Ray of Sunshine-Lani Diane Rich
Spell of the Sensuous-Abram
American Gods-Gaiman
Equal Rites-Pratchett
Good Omens-Pratchett/Gaiman
Last Exit to Normal-Michael B. Harmon
Guards! Guards! Pratchett
Age of Innocence-Edith Wharton
House of Mirth-Edith Wharton
Wild Ride-Crusie/Mayer
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Larsson

It seems to have been a Pratchett/Gaiman kind of year but I'm not going to complain because all the ones I read by them were great.  I read all the Tiffany Aching books with my kids, but I'd never made it past the first couple of Discworld books, so I have lots of catching up to do.  and as long as I'm still typing along, I will just add that I don't think the review I wrote of David Abram's book (Spell of Sensuous) came anywhere close to doing it justice.  It's not so much about environmentalism as it is about perception and ways of knowing.  His ideas about language will be familiar to anyone who read Snow Crash (loved that book, but it's been at least ten years since I read it)(and the ideas probably weren't original to Neal Stephenson, either), but his ideas about the way we exist as physical, perceiving entities in the world are really fascinating.

Click on "booklist" below to see lists from previous years.  (p.s., not that you care, but this is a scheduled post, I didn't really write it on the day we drove four hours to New Orleans, then took two flights to get back home).