Monday, January 14, 2019

GoodReads Challenges

Screencap of a 2019 GoodReads challenge. One book behind, zero books read out of forty-eight.
So it begins.

I recognize that I should probably hate GoodReads. I'll be the first to admit that its overbusy, hyperactive layout and tools are Not For Me. I don't care what my friends are reading (sorry, y'all!) and I don't need to see a constantly updated list of their ratings and reviews. I also don't care about what the GoodReads/Amazon algorithms think I should read next, or what crappy and undeserving book has been voted the GoodReads Readers' Choice. I care about keeping track of books I want to read (so easy to just send someone a link to my "to read" shelf!), keeping track of the books I have read, and motivating myself to actually get reading done—trying to keep pace with my GoodReads goal and the little thermometer on the homepage is the best way I've found to light a fire under my ass to actually finish books. I've been successful in all of them since I started officially keeping track, and I recall even using GoodReads to keep track of my annual book count as far back as 2009.

Which is why I'm posting about how it's January 14 and I'm officially one book behind because I haven't finished a single book out of the four I'm reading all at once.  To be fair, one of them is Ulysses, another is L'étranger in the original French, and the third is a Swedish textbook. The fourth is Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows, a book that's been in my library since it was initially published but I seem really resistant to actually reading. Maybe I should grind that one out first, just to get something done.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Friday 5 on Sunday: My Dreams, They Aren't as Empty / As My Conscience Seems to Be

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

What’s got you behind the 8-ball?

Nothing in particular, but I'm posting this at around 11 PM and I'm struggling to think of anything I actually accomplished today. I don't like days where I don't get anything done—or more specifically, where I look back and I can't really account for all of my time. It makes me feel like I've wasted my day.

Who would you like to see a VH-1-Behind-the-Music-style documentary about?

No one, actually. At this point we live in an age where if I want to know all the dirt on someone, there's probably a tell-all biography or two I can pick up.

What are you likely to find behind your sofa?

Dust bunnies and the occasional sock.

What’s something you’d like to put behind you this year?

A couple of health issues and some less-than-beneficial relationships.

What’s something you don’t want to eat if there’s no ketchup?

Nothing, because ketchup is a foul, unholy creation that belongs nowhere near food.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What I Read: The Short, Sad List of the Best Books I Read in 2018

Other years I've had to split my 5-star books into two posts, but this year I think they can comfortably be combined into one. Here were my reading highlights of 2018!

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

My criterion for rating a nonfiction book 5 stars on GoodReads is that it has the potential for widespread appeal, or that it masterfully addresses a major social or everyday question. Reza Aslan has done an excellent job of outlining the historical context of early Christianity and Jesus Christ.

Rien où poser sa tête

I stumbled across this thanks to the review of the English translation in Asymptote. Its chance rescue from obscurity mirrors, almost too well, Frenkel's own brushes with death in Vichy France. Out of all my reading in 2018, this one was probably the most relevant to today's events and politics.

Cover of Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

Proust and the Squid

I waffled on whether to give Proust and the Squid 5 stars rather than 4, but decided in the end to be generous. While the story of the brain learns how to read isn't the same urgent issue as Nazis or Christianity, it's something almost all of us do and whose complexity we should all appreciate.

Sacred Economics

While Eisenstein might be more optimistic and naive than warranted, his explanation of economics, credit and inflation is the most cogent I've read and he dramatically shifted my attitude towards money and how I save and spend it. That's what earned this book 5 stars from me, despite Eisenstein's occasional lapse into conspiracy-adjacent tangents.

Ancillary Justice

This one was a selection for Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club, and it's books like this that make me glad I'm allowed to lurk as a satellite member in Stockholm. Leckie's world building and vision of technology is polished and nuanced. This is how space opera should be.

I mentioned before that 2018 was a weird year for my reading, and that's reflected pretty clearly in the fact that I only gave one novel a 5-star rating. Historically, I've done much better than that. Thanks to studying for DipTrans and Kammarkollegiet, my way forward in nonfiction is pretty clear and structured at this point (though ironically none of those 5-star titles are related to translation!); my way forward in fiction is still grasping at random and hoping to find something good. All while trying to finish Ulysses, at that!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Happy New Year, I'm Not Dead, Here's Some Statistics on the Books I Read in 2018


This was a weird year for the blog and I feel bad about that. Part of the reason this was a weird year was that I accidentally-on-purpose scaled back my Etsy investments in terms of time and energy. I simply don't have the desire or the savvy to gain traction for my ~~brand and with that realization came a steep fall-off in motivation to blog here, when I already have a personal blog elsewhere AND my freelance dayjob blog to maintain.

But I like having a casual public face (as opposed to a professional public face and a casual private face) so I still want to do something with this space. Or maybe I'll loosen up with the professional public face a bit and just fold this blog into that one. I don't know. Whatever! I have a couple of custom items I made last year that I should share here, at least.

This year was also a weird year in books for me. It was the first year in almost a decade where I didn't have a checklist of books I wanted to finish, so I was more adrift in my reading habits than usual. However, book clubs and the DipTrans recommended reading list provided some much needed structure, and they contributed a lot to my reading this year, in particular the Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club.

I also want to document my favorite books of 2018, but this little widget is provides some interesting extraneous data not covered by a simple list of 5-star books. Not pictured in the screenshot above is my average rating for the year: 3.3. As it should be, statistically speaking.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Talky Tuesday: Walden and Bibliotherapy

I moved! And then stopped updating this blog because I was flipping tired. I'm less tired now, theoretically, because instead of freelancing and hauling ass all over creation I have a proper grown-up office job that means I leave work at work instead of bringing it home and also I have weekends and time off and paid vacation days.

Is that what's bringing me out of my dry spell? you may ask. I mean, sure. In part. Mostly, though, it's the shitshow that was last Friday and the Kavanaugh hearings. It was a shitshow for a bunch of reasons, actually, and not all of them related to Kavanaugh. In my rage and frustration, I turned to my books (cheaper than therapy!) and pulled out Walden.

A stone bench by Walden pond on a sunny day.
That time Theophanes and I went to Walden Pond

It's a book I've loved since high school, and there's always something comforting in going back to the books of your formative years. It's like a hug from a loving parent, or your favorite comfort food. But more than that I needed a reminder of what I miss from America, what I'm proud of, to reorient my inner compass.

"Reading" is always my favorite essay in the whole collection. It has precious little to do with anything I was upset about on Friday, but still, it helped. I might even commit the entire essay to memory, so soothing is the act of reading it. For now, two of my favorite quotes:
The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed.
And this one, which struck me the first time I read it. I copied it on to the notebook cover for my English binder immediately after I read it for AP English in the summer before 11th grade; if I were the artsy type I would cross-stitch it or write it out in calligraphy, frame it, and hang it on the wall alongside my bookshelves.
A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.
The choicest of relics, indeed.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday 5: Opposite Day

A white van parked in front of neighboring rowhomes, one red and one green.
Photo by Abraham Wiebe on Unsplash

What food, normally eaten cooked, do you prefer uncooked?

I don't know if it counts as "cooked," or if I would say "prefer," but I'm comfortable having my bagels untoasted.

What food, normally eaten uncooked, do you prefer cooked?

When I was a kid, all I could think about every time I made (or helped a parent make) cookies or brownies was how when I was an adult, I would make cookies or brownies and then just sit down and eat the whole thing raw.

Now that I'm actually an adult, I have zero desire to do that. Licking the spoon after I'm done scraping out the last of the batter for the cookie sheets or brownie pan is more than enough for me.

What food, normally eaten cold, do you prefer hot?

We only serve beer cold because the temperature dulls the taste of crappy beer. Anything good should probably be served at room temperature.

Also, have you heard the good news about pineapple on pizza?

What food, normally eaten hot, do you prefer cold?

Again, "prefer" is a strong word, but I can live without having my kladdkaka straight out of the oven or warmed up in the microwave. Especially in the summer.

What are your favorite dinner meals to have for breakfast and breakfast meals to have for dinner?

I don't like to have anything dinner-like for breakfast. I generally skip breakfast anyway, since I'm not hungry in the mornings, but anything like a dinner would be too much heavy food too early in the day. The closest I get would be dumplings, maybe, but that's it.

But I'm all about breakfast for dinner, though. Brinner. Pancakes? Omelettes? Waffles? Cereal? Yes. All of it. In my mouth.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What I Read: Proust and the Squid

I looked back at my Goodreads a couple days ago and realized I hadn't finished anything in June. I don't know what happened—a combination of the worldwide dumpster fire getting worse, reading too many books at once, getting ready to move—but I didn't like it. There's a pretty strong correlation between "not finishing books" and "not feeling well" when it comes to my mood, so it was a relief to finish up Proust and the Squid.

Also it was fucking delightful and a welcome distraction from said dumpster fire. There's a lot to despair of when it comes to humanity, but have you ever realized how incredible it is that we came up with written language and taught ourselves to read?

Image courtesy Icon Books, Limited
Wolf tackles the subject from three perspectives: the history of reading and written languages, what happens in the developing brain when it learns to read, and what goes wrong in some brains that makes reading hard (dyslexia and other reading disorders).

Wolf is a neuroscientist by trade, so Proust and the Squid draws heavily on her research and the research of her peers. However, she's also an engaging writer (perhaps unsurprising for someone who is also an avid reader) and presents the research with clarity, so that the non-neuroscientst layperson can also follow along. (Shout-out to the copyeditor who worked with her; I'm sure they contributed a great deal to this book's engaging readability!) I also appreciate her casually mentioning the titles of other interesting books as they pertained to the subject, because I could add them to my own reading list. (As if it weren't long enough...)

The one downside is that Proust and the Squid was published in 2007, which means it's over ten years old, and a lot of research can happen in that time! I don't know if there's an updated edition but I'd love to read one either way.