June 11th, 2021
|04:52 pm - Anonymous commenting turned off|
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October 8th, 2015
|12:35 pm - I'm not standing still, I am lying in wait|
I think, as a Canadian who moved to the US at the age of twelve, it was inevitable that I become really cynical about American patriotism and a lot of the baggage around it (especially the whole "we can never have sensible gun laws because of an ambiguous sentence written over 200 years ago" thing); there was a whole lot of "you are not as great as you think you are, you know!" in my head. When I was in ninth grade (we were assigned to read Ayn Rand!) we had to write an essay on freedoms that you have as an American that you wouldn't have elsewhere, and, like, I grew up elsewhere. If you don't want to own a gun, it's not much of a freedom differential.*
And my attitude about the American revolution was fairly colored by the fact that Canada continues to be part of the British commonwealth and, you know, it's fine? I can't remember if I have any Loyalists in my family tree or not, but if you're an Anglophone from Quebec, it's fairly likely that you have ancestors who said "Revolution? Nah, let's not." I think I never learned a way of engaging with American history that wasn't based on a kind of unnuanced, unquestioning cheerleading of the revolution and the constitution and the founding fathers -- the most you could do was put in a little footnote there to say "Oh, yeah, slavery, that was bad."
So, I was joking before about listening to the Hamilton cast recording while filling out my citizenship application, but it was also kind of serious, because besides being some great music, I think it's actually provided me with a different way to engage with that history -- as rap battle, as soap opera, as the kind of thing where you care deeply about these people making TERRIBLE LIFE DECISIONS and it's not about passing judgment on these people as Good People or Bad People, but you can't help but be kind of impressed with all of them. It's total sincerity without the hagiography. And it's a story that feels suddenly really close -- Alexander Hamilton went to Columbia (as Kings College is now known)? I've been there! The Hamiltons are buried at Trinity Church downtown? I've walked past there! I kind of actually want to arrange a little American History Walking Tour for myself (which I might actually do because I have a 4-day weekend coming up?)
I still joke that I'm not actually a Shakespeare person, I'm just a Slings & Arrows fan -- well, I probably will continue to have lots of Complicated Feelings about the US and citizenship, but at least I can be a Hamilton fan?
* There is also some free speech stuff, but if I had been aware of that in ninth grade I definitely would not have wanted to write an essay on the right to hate speech and hardcore porn!
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Did you think, while listening to the Hamilton cast recording, "If this were a manga, Aaron Burr's kid and Alexander Hamilton's kid would end up together"? No? Just me?
Anyway, magneticwave wrote a modern AU in which 10-year-old Philip Hamilton is a little too quick to defend his honor at school... and luckily, Olivia Pope gets called in.
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September 22nd, 2015
|05:11 pm - Optimism: a definition|
"Ancillary Mercy is coming out soon? I'm gonna catch up on that whole series!"
"The last book of the Raven Cycle is coming out soon? I'm gonna catch up on that whole series!"
"Someday my Printz Will Come is back? I'm gonna read everything on that list!"
Also I reeeeeeally want to read Steve Sheinkin's new book on "Daniel Ellsberg and the secret history of the Vietnam war."
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September 21st, 2015
"Wow, these MBTI things, always so simplistic and reductive; on the other hand, I AM a crying potato that doesn't like conflict."
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September 20th, 2015
|10:39 am - Book Report: recent young adult|
The Dead I Know, Scot Gardner.
Published in Australia several years ago, only recently published in the US. Aaron Rowe finds employment as an assistant to a local funeral director; as he learns to deal with the dead, and with his new relationships at work, he starts to come to terms with the deaths in his past and his own present precarious situation (he lives in a caravan park with Mam, whose dementia is becoming more severe.)
When I read this book I was startled all over again by the occasionally-huge gap between "literary" YA and "commercial" YA, and -- once I realized it was Australian -- the gap between American and non-American YA. (I don't know if US/non-US is the right distinction; but even within the Anglosphere there are very different cultures when it comes to YA fiction, and I keep being surprised by these GREAT YA books coming out of Australia.)
It's a quiet book, written with a great deal of crisp precision; it reminds me a bit of Adrian Chambers, who writes boy characters who are sensitive and emotional in very believable ways. It's not a perfect book -- I think the development of the book's central antagonist could've been better, and I question how the book dealt with one of the funeral home's dead clients, who is fat. But it is deeply honest and complicated and emotionally affecting.
Show and Prove, Sofia Quintero.
Smiley King and Nike Vega are growing apart as friends. It's the south Bronx in 1983, and while Smiley is trying to negotiate being one of the few black students at the prep school he attends on a scholarship, Nike fears being left behind. They spend their summer working at the day camp of St. Aloysius church -- and (for Smiley) getting involved with an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, and (for Nike) falling in love with a girl who he doesn't realize is a refugee from Lebanon.
It's a book with a lot of issues (HIV, crack, conflict in the middle East, gangs, tensions between blacks and Puerto Ricans, welfare) and not a strong overarching plot, but the voices are very strong, and the way it evokes the atmosphere of the early 80s -- the rise of hip-hop, roller discos, Donna Summer giving a free concert in Central Park, break-dancing, the crushing poverty that exists alongside with the ordinary joys of life -- gives it a real energy.
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge.
When Triss wakes up, all she knows is that she fell into the Grimmer and has been ill. Her memories are fuzzy and untrustworthy, and she can't seem to stop eating; her mother coddles her, but her little sister Pen is terrified of her, insisting that she's not really Triss.
And she's not. But there's more than just the mystery of what happened to Triss; there are the letters that keep arriving from her brother Sebastian, years after he was killed in action in 1918; there's the snow that keeps falling on Violet, Sebastian's fiancee; there are those who Pen made a bargain with, a bargain that isn't over yet...
This is a book that is firing on every cylinder. The writing is lush and atmospheric. Hardinge intertwines a very personal story -- of Triss trying to recover her identity and peel back the layers of her family's lies and denial -- with a magical adventure story, and with a social story of the destruction wrought by the war and the sudden changes in the social order. Violet in particular is a fantastic character, a young woman who rides a motorcycle and goes to jazz clubs and yet has a lot more to her than being a signifier for a Cool Flapper Girl.
It reminds me a lot of Franny Billingsley's "Chime," but I think I might like it even better?
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September 15th, 2015
Trying to track down information on the pushback against humanities in Japanese universities, I found one article on the Yomiuri Shinbun site talking about arguments that it's more important to teach tips for getting a high score on standardized English tests than to teach English literature.
Maybe worry about basic communicative competency in English before worrying about either of those?
And probably, all else being equal, the person who studies English literature will get more English communication skills and more cultural competency than the person who just studies for the standardized test?
You don't have to go into any arguments about being a more holistically well-rounded human being; as a foreign language learning method, reading is just better than most of the drill stuff and nitpicky grammar stuff on standardized tests.
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September 14th, 2015
Whoa. It did not occur to me until just now that perhaps the reason the only library jobs that exist are the ones where poor people live (that have very bad salaries) and the ones where rich people live (that are located in extremely expensive areas, where the salaries would be perfectly good if rents were not ridiculous) has something to do with the ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor, shrinking of the middle class, etc.
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September 1st, 2015
Every time people talk about how expensive it is to live in New York, you get some people saying, "Well, just move somewhere cheaper, then, there's lots of places to live where you're not paying $1800 for a one-bedroom."
And, you know, there are a lot of reasons why this is not a feasible idea for a lot of people, including:
- The difficulty of searching for jobs long-distance, especially for lower-income-to-middle-income jobs
- The expense of a long-distance move, especially for parents
- How much poorer people depend on local social networks in emergency situations and may correctly judge that they're better off poor in an expensive place than poor in a cheap place without those social networks
And all of this is stuff that I knew before, but also
- I spent well over $500 getting myself licensed, and that's when I already had a decent amount of experience as a licensed driver. If you are starting from scratch and don't have family to teach you and lend you their car, it would be very hard to get out for under $1000.
We have a stereotype of what urban poverty looks like. But in a lot of cities, living where the rents are cheap means spending two or three or four hours a day commuting, and often buying old and cheap cars that you have to pour a ton of money into for repairs because you certainly can't be without a car and you certainly can't buy a newer one.
And I know that I'm in a position of privilege as somebody who CAN say, "Hey, rents are too expensive, I'm gonna try to go live somewhere else." But I'm still obviously not having the easiest time of it ^^;;
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August 26th, 2015
|09:34 am - Schoolbooks & Sorcery|
My story "The Delicate Work of Bees" will be in the upcoming Schoolbooks & Sorcery anthology! There are some great authors in the lineup -- including Nina Kiriki Hoffman, who I've been a fan of since I was in high school!
I swear I wrote this story before Jupiter Ascending came out and all of fandom simultaneously started going wild over bees. (The main character is a young witch in training, who is apprenticed with her beekeeper aunt.)
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August 23rd, 2015
Sometimes it's hard being a Chomskyite in a world of people who don't know linguistics.
Like, at one level it doesn't even matter to the majority of language learners whether language is represented in your brain as deep structure (a little like computer code, with strict rules about nesting and syntax and recursion) or just a huge database of statistical data that, like my Swiftkey keyboard, can predict that when I type "most," the next words are often "important thing." I don't know that it much impacts the best strategies for learning languages either way.
But I do end up chasing down a Theory now and again, because "more comprehensible input" is usually the best advice I have, and that leads back to Krashen, and the whole idea of comprehensible input as the foundation for everything else sort of sounds like weird magic snake oil unless you go all the way back to Chomsky and his ideas for how your brain processes and models language.
There are not a lot of people writing at a curious-amateur level for people who want to know basic linguistics. Steven Pinker is actually pretty good when he's writing about linguistics instead of writing wrong political stuff (he represents a lot of stuff as true that's actually pretty controversial, but I agree with him about most of the controversial stuff, so I don't mind as much as I should). Bill Bryson is just incredibly wrong about most things.
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August 22nd, 2015
It is the worst when you have a seemingly very good interview and a specific time frame for hearing back, and then you don't hear back, and you don't know whether it's the silence of rejection or the silence of very long time frames for library hiring.
("THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL," THE LIBRARY DIRECTOR SAID TO THE DEPUTY DIRECTOR. I TELL YOU. No matter how diligently I try to practice Not Getting My Hopes Up, I was thinking I could get my hopes up a little.)
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August 20th, 2015
Riding the subway today, I had the strange impression that it was Cecil Palmer reading the subway announcements.
Alas, I don't think I'm going to write that fic; but I can tell you it almost certainly has the line,
"Remember, courtesy is contagious; but it's rarely fatal."
(Footnote for those who have not been on the NYC subways recently: one of the pre-recorded announcements exhorting passengers to give up their seats for people who are elderly, pregnant, or disabled ends with "Remember, courtesy is contagious; and it begins with you.")
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August 10th, 2015
|08:17 pm - Adam Sobel - Street Vegan|
I was very excited by this book! It is by the guy who ran the Cinnamon Snail food truck and he has many amusing anecdotes about running a food truck in New York and New Jersey. (His food truck career was rather full of mishaps. I cannot decide whether he ran into the food truck biz without sufficient knowledge and preparation, or whether that's just the life of a NYC food truck owner).
( Contains a lot of foodCollapse )
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August 5th, 2015
I am GREAT at telling stories to toddlers and LESS GREAT at handling it when a 3-year-old decides to flip out because we have to clean up the markers now.
I was doing a "scary animals" storytime -- I don't often do themed storytimes because usually I'm doing them on fifteen minutes' notice, but this time I got a couple of good dinosaur books and a good giant squid book and then decided that I'd put together a couple rhymes and "I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor" and have a storytime. At the last minute, I decided to put in "Where the Wild Things Are."
It's been a while since I've read it, and longer since I've read it out loud, and -- I just had that rare experience of being totally blown away by the music of the prose, and feeling carried off by it as I was reading out loud.
That very night in Max’s room a forest grew
and grew -
and grew until his ceiling hung with vines
and the walls became the world all around
and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max
and he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.
The ALA award committees are supposed to have very secret proceedings, but the year Where The Wild Things Are won, someone did not heed the warning. As Kathleen Horning writes:
Then she spilled the beans about how many ballots it took before they had the winners. (Also verboten.) “The Caldecott was decided on 5 ballots — an unusually large number, I was told by those who had served in previous years.” Well, that is a tasty morsel of Caldecott gossip right there, especially as the Caldecott Medal in 1964 went to Where the Wild Things Are, a book widely considered today to be the best picture book of the twentieth century, and definitely the best Caldecott Medal book ever. (Even other Caldecott medalists would likely agree.) How on earth could they have argued about that choice through five ballots, especially given that its rivals (thanks for the list) were such eminently forgettable books as Adrienne Adams’s Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella and Helga Sandburg and Thomas Daly’s
Joel and the Wild Goose?
The Caldecott Award is for illustrations, and not for writing -- but while wordless books have won, I can't think of any with outright bad prose that have. I am not an art person, and I'm probably the last person to nominate the best picture book of the twentieth century, but: yeah.
And I'm so mad at Dave Eggers for trying to turn it into a novel, because how on earth can you improve that by piling thousands and thousands of words onto it?
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July 29th, 2015
After many Travails, we arrived at Coney Island.
S: There was this lady on the train who was going on about Jesus, and gays, and abortion, and... and reptilians...
Me: Coincidentally, I also spent much of the last hour yelling "Jesus Christ!" But that was because I was trying not to die.
I am SO FRUSTRATED sometimes by how much I like cycling and how much I dislike fearing for my life. Even the road that goes up to Prospect Park, which is only a mile away from me, has a vicious intersection right near the park, and that's the only road where I've actually had a collision with a car.
It is possible that if I cycled more, then I would trust myself more and not get angry and scared at every near miss; but between my own anxiety and the fact that South Brooklyn roads are in fact pretty bad to ride on (no bike lanes, or bike lanes in awful shape), there may not be much I can do about that.
I guess my long-term plan is to not live in Brooklyn, but, well.
Thinking about this because I do want a bike that fits, but it seems like such a silly indulgence if I don't actually ride that often...
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July 20th, 2015
After way too long in the Crying Toddlers Convention that is Park Slope Whole Foods, I came back with supplies for dumplings, and made a lazy veg take on pork chive dumplings: soy crumbles, chives, thai sweet chili sauce, sesame oil, mirin.
I made half a dozen dumplings before I started to wilt in the kitchen heat, so I packed the rest of my mix up. This morning, I decided I did not have the energy to make dumplings but I still had to do something with my leftovers, so... I fried patties of my dumpling filling and made it into a sandwich.
It was a good sandwich.
Ultimate Terrible Fusion Cuisine Idea: the Dumpling Burger!
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July 16th, 2015
When I first heard about Wassail, I was thrilled that someone had opened a restaurant JUST FOR ME -- a vegetarian restaurant and cider bar?
Well, almost. Not just a vegetarian restaurant but a vegetarian restaurant that does tiny plates and molecular gastronomy -- foams and purees and a dessert of figs and tiny cakes of medicinal herbs, which is perhaps the strangest (and least sweet) dessert I've ever had. All the food was great -- with the exception of the figs, which the NICEST WAITER IN THE WORLD took off the bill even though I did not ask -- and the drinks were good and afterwards we had cupcakes.
Because those were some extremely tiny plates.
And that was a birthday!
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July 10th, 2015
In every endeavor, you get the first flush of enthusiasm, and then the entirely-too-high ambitions, and then you run into the first thing you don't know how to do, and every attempt to solve the problem just further reveals the limitations of what you know how to do, and then you keep putting in new keywords into search engines to bang at this one little thing that won't come out the way you want it, and you get stuck in a trough of despair because to make any real progress would involve going back and trying to get a better ground-level understanding of things, and then you give up and decide you aren't going to learn Drupal after all.
Well, I'm going to go back and try things again, but it'll have to wait till I pull back from the whole trough-of-despair thing.
I'm also in the three months of the year when I can't use my desktop because my living room isn't air-conditioned, so that doesn't help.
I would really like to be a good enough just-for-myself/just-for-fun web designer that I can hack together something simple that looks good, without having to rely entirely on other people's themes and code. But I suspect it's like writing, where there are absolutely no shortcuts to good taste and trial-and-error successive approximations toward something that works.
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July 8th, 2015
|09:42 am - Books versus other books: fight!|
The Washington Post has an interesting article on tensions over print book and e-book collections in libraries.
1) I keep seeing job ads for librarians who can do 3D printing, and digital media, and coding, and makerspaces, and I think these are all great things in general, and great things for libraries to do and participate in, but I really question the perception that public libraries will be irrelevant unless we can do those things. As a really valuable blog post says, We don't have to be cutting edge to make a difference, and the kid who's at the library because they need a safe place to do homework, or because they need a book for school, is as much an essential part of the library's mission as the kid who wants to use the recording studio or the 3D printer. There is good research out there on just how few books low-income kids have access to. This is a serious problem. It's not boring, it's not old-fashioned, it has been one of the best reasons to invest in libraries from the beginning of free public libraries, and it's still relevant in the 21st century.
2) When two things seem to be in competition with each other, the question we sometimes miss asking is: why don't we have enough funding for both? How can we convince people to invest in libraries so that there are enough print books for the people who want print books, and enough e-books for the people who want e-books, not forgetting that these are very often the same people?
3) Let's not forget that there are still a lot of unsolved problems with libraries lending e-books. Publishers have reasons for putting restrictive licensing terms on their books, and they're not evil (mostly), but when they can result in an e-book being significantly more expensive than a print book on a per-checkout basis... I think we have to be a little skeptical. Public libraries, as well as most academic ones, are not-for-profit institutions that depend on for-profit institutions for so much of what we do (some libraries outsource more and some do more in-house, but my library outsources book processing, catalog software, collection development tools...) and that's not a bad thing but it means that we can never take for granted that our missions and goals are going to be aligned.
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