June 11th, 2021
|04:52 pm - Anonymous commenting turned off|
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December 14th, 2013
I 98% finished the revised proposal for my new book. (The 2% is mostly collating and emailing, but I do have a tendency to procrastinate really awfully on that sort of thing, so I am On Notice to try to get this out Monday.)
I made significant progress on Yuletide!
So that's something.
I used to be pretty much at peace with my self-doubt. It's like, of course I think everything is terrible; that's just what it feels like to be writing a book. These days it's hard not to see that as a sign that everything is, in fact, terrible. Really, it's pretty irrelevant.
It's hard not to get fixated on getting it right. But the story about the pottery teacher who graded half their students on quantity of pots, and half their students on the quality of a single pot has some truth in it. It's not just that you need to practice as much as possible to get better; it's that greatness is not achieved by trying to be great, but by stepping up to the plate again and again and again, trusting that one day you're going to get just the right pitch at just the right time.
Bad metaphor segue! Whee!
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December 1st, 2013
The pinnacle of schadenfreude is when people who have sniffed at you, "Well, I guess extensive reading is okay if you don't actually care about being fluent in the language," get destroyed on the N1 (the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test) because they can't read fast enough.
Thanks, Past Self, for those anxious evenings gulping down Fujimi Orchestra novels.
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November 29th, 2013
|04:06 pm - Cooking win|
As is the case with most Thanksgivings, my sister and I got a little ambitious.
"You know," I said. "[hip Brooklyn pie shop] Four and Twenty Blackbirds has a cookbook out."
"Salted caramel apple pie?"
"Salted caramel apple pie."
We had never before made caramel.
After getting some advice online to add the butter after caramelizing the sugar, not before, we stirred together the sugar and the water. It heated, and slowly started to boil, and then... all the water boiled away, and it started to get dry and crystallized, and just when it looked like a lost cause it started to melt. We added the butter when it turned coppery, and the butter melted, but then it didn't incorporate into the sugar and suddenly everything turned into a giant slab of crystallized sugar.
We had one more try. We didn't have the butter, the sugar, or the time to try again if we failed.
Sugar and water, again. Heat, again. A little higher, this time, in the hopes that the sugar would caramelize before all the water boiled off. We replaced the battery on the meat thermometer. Slowly, the temperature went up. Slowly, the sugar changed from white to weirdly off-grey to pale yellow to light brown. The butter went in, and melted. The heat went off; the cream went in.
It was caramel.
It was a ridiculously good pie.
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November 24th, 2013
The problem with having grown up pretty well-off and not being quite so well-off as a young adult is that there's all sorts of little minor comforts that you never realize were there until you no longer have them.
The other day I had to shampoo myself with very, very cold shampoo, and I was thinking, "Rich people must have some solution to this problem. Surely there must be some kind of electric shampoo warmer in one of those ridiculous airline catalogs?"
And then I remembered: the rich people solution is to keep your house warm.
The heat in my apartment is extremely inconsistent. Perhaps to the point of violating the law; I may have to get a decent thermometer so I can check. This morning was pretty bad, but now I have a hot water bottle stuffed inside my shirt, which is okay.
The hot water is also not satisfactory during the wintertime. Mostly it comes on, eventually, but inevitably the water pressure will drop to nothing in the middle of a shower. Or it will take so long to get warm that by the time it starts getting warm you have two inches of cold water in the bottom of the tub, so you have to wait for that to drain out, and then start up the hot water again.
I went to see Thor on Saturday and got blasted with high winds and wintry mix as I was walking back to the station. I was not really okay with what was happening to my face.
My coworkers have been teasing me for showing up to work in a short wool tweed blazer. I say it's because I'm Canadian. But actually I'm not at all ready for it to be winter yet. (Tomorrow, I will break out the real coat.)
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November 14th, 2013
|07:30 pm - Leftovers|
Saturday: made carrot buns from the Dirt Candy cookbook. Turned out pretty good, if perhaps not worth the effort of making the dough from scratch. (I love the cookbook, but it ranges from 'aspirational' to 'I do not have the equipment to do that.')
Had a lot of filling left over, because I got tired of rolling out the dough.
Tonight, went to make ma-po tofu with mushrooms. Found that my mushrooms were starting to go off, and -- at the moment I am trying to err on the side of not eating things that are going bad. So I still needed some sort of vegetable so that I wouldn't just be eating spicy braised tofu, right?
Enter my leftover carrot bun filling.
Speaking of cooking, I also made balsamic sweet potatoes on Saturday, which are ridiculously good for the amount of effort involved.
Peel some sweet potatoes and chop into bite-size-ish pieces. Braise in a skillet with some water for a few minutes, until the sweet potatoes start to tender up. Then pour in a little balsamic vinegar and a little soy sauce, and heat on medium-low until the balsamic is reduced almost to nothing, stirring occasionally.
I did not have any leftovers of that, for some reason.
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November 13th, 2013
|03:24 pm - Effing prosody.|
I used to know a lot about the prosody of what linguists refer to as expletive infix, but no matter where you put the infix, ridiculous sounds... ridiculous.
Absolutely is two trochees -- AB so LUTE ly -- so expletive infix (also a trochee) slides nicely right in there, but ridiculous is an iamb and two unstressed syllables -- ri DI cu lous.
I think expletive infix works better if you put it in after an unstressed syllable, so maybe the XKCD person's "awkward" way of saying it is the best one there is, but they're right about the awkwardness of that last syllable.
No word yet from Language Log, usually the foremost authority in webcomic linguistics.
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November 12th, 2013
I have reached the end of my tolerance with every silly web meme getting a book deal.
I mean, it's possible to be brilliant on your blog/twitter/other social media and translate that into a great book (cf. Hyperbole and a Half.) But it seems far more frequent that it's the kind of thing that's everywhere for two weeks and then goes away, and there's not enough there there for there to be any point in making it into a book. (Especially a book that's going to come out 18 months after the thing was popular in the first place.)
It looks to me like a bubble on the verge of collapse, like all the silly web companies that started up during the bubble of the late-90s.
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October 31st, 2013
|09:29 pm - Three quick things|
1. Sometimes I like to watch go lectures on YouTube even though I'm not playing at all these days. (I would like to magically get better without having too endure too many more ignominious defeats.) I think these guys are my new OTP. It's just the right amount of dudes-in-glasses-friendly-banter-trash-talking. (Why yes, I do ship Akira/Hikaru!)
2. Recent reading: The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly, a book on writing short stories from a moral/ethical perspective. My problem with this is that I agree in general strokes with the author's politics (anti-war, anti-environmental destruction, anti-big corporations making nerve gas) but there's a leap for me where her hypothetical stories are about the ethical anxieties of the wives of nerve-gas-company executives, or the wives of nerve-gas-company employees, and noble guys whistleblowing and getting fired. Why not women who are nerve-gas-company executives? Why not husbands of nerve-gas-company executives? More than that, I guess, I feel like no individual decision is going to stop people from making and using nerve gas, and no individual decision is going to stop environmental destruction, and it is a good and noble thing to think about your complicity with the wickedness of the world and try to do your own part to resist it, I really can't find it in my heart to blame someone who's struggling to keep food on the table for going along with any of the terrible parts of the world.
Maybe my real problem with this line of thinking is that it seems to reduce moral complicity to the people who work in terrible industries and the people who are married to them. That's too simple, I think.
This may be a book I need to read twice to get what I need to get from it, after I've thrashed all this around for a bit.
3. Hilarious fusion cooking: made a simplified version of the potato flatbread stuffing in Vegan Eats World, forgot the tomatoes. Put it on a taco, it was good anyway.
Ate leftovers with ketchup. EVEN BETTER. Mmmm. (It's the acidity, I think.)
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October 28th, 2013
|04:57 pm - September Girls|
I had some complicated feelings about September Girls; I really enjoyed the book, I found the writing vivid and powerful, and the first half of it read as a nuanced deconstruction of masculinity and femininity, the narrowness of the roles available for both women and men. (The second half, I thought, didn't bring quite as much nuance to the boy-saves-girl story; not a fatal flaw, but I wish it had followed through a little more on the impressive beginning.)
Then there was the GoodReads dust-up -- a couple of people called out the book (with a fair amount of mockery and derision) for sexism and bad writing, those people got called out as bullies, things proceeded pretty much as you'd expect because GoodReads, and the conversation got focused around a bunch of tone-argument stuff, which I thought was a shame because (a) it's actually quite a good book, and (b) at least in this instance the author did not embarrass himself with defensive rebuttals.
So anyway, I was glad to see this post on Book Smugglers; partly because it legitimizes my own gut reaction, and partly because it's at least a step away from the "proof texts of horribleness" approach that tends, at worst, to be infinitely self-reinforcing.
And the thing is, I think most good writing -- if it's anything but crisp and bland -- is pretty easy to mock; because it builds up its own rules, and a lot of it works in context that wouldn't work out of context, and often it's right on the edge of falling over into purpleness or melodrama or sentimentality. It's pretty easy to just go "LOL, terrible!" and it's everyone's right to have that reaction -- and nobody's wrong for thinking that September Girls is in fact a sexist book, or that it's not worth their time to find out -- but -- hmm. I've been seeing a lot of criticism lately that I find hyperbolic, and that pushes me to thinking, "I can't write with that fear in the room, the fear that if I try to be genuine and honest I'm just going to be opening myself up for pointing and laughing." And on the other hand, ultimately honest criticism is more important than the writer's personal feelings, I think.
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October 27th, 2013
If you ever catch yourself thinking, "How did my pre-cut butternut squash go bad so fast? Well -- there's only a few little moldy bits, I guess I can just cut those off, I shouldn't waste food, and anyway I've already got the recipe going..." --
This is the voice of experience telling you to order pizza.
(Maybe I can find frozen squash, in the future? It's just that hacking at the squash takes so long, even with a good sharp knife...)
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October 24th, 2013
I've been more optimistic about Agents of SHIELD than a lot of people, but it would be great if it didn't try to cash in on WikiLeaks rebel hacker cred while coming to the conclusion that the government totes knows what it's doing with all that surveillance and confidential data.
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October 22nd, 2013
|10:18 pm - Not pretty, but gorgeous|
It's an easy-to-mock cliche to write something like "She was not pretty, but [three things that are clearly intended to give one an image of a pretty person]" -- I wonder if it's at all possible to do it well and without irony.
I like to write characters who are not necessarily squarely in the center of mainstream beauty standards, because I don't have much patience for mainstream beauty standards, and because my own experience is that finding someone attractive is often more about thinking they're interesting-looking or striking than thinking they're hot.
I guess at worst, "Not pretty but--" can be a lazy way to signify that the viewpoint character (or the reader, or the narrative voice) can see past mainstream beauty standards and see some subtle physical sign of the not-pretty character's goodness and suitability as a love interest.
But I guess there are less lazy ways to handle that. (And anyway, it's an artifact of the omnipresence of the male gaze that female characters get evaluated so often on the "hot or not?" scale in the first place, right? Not saying it doesn't happen with male characters, but somewhat less, surely.)
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October 17th, 2013
You are now a Time Lord. The object closest to your left hand is your Sonic item. One of your parents' occupations is your title. Your last text is your catchphrase
I am The Engineer, I have a Sonic pamphlet on library policies, and my catchphrase is "Hope I did not delay you too much."
I might be the worst Time Lord ever.
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October 15th, 2013
|07:41 pm - Short things about books|
1) Wow, there sure are a lot of YA books with suicides or suicide attempts in them this year! I don't want to be one of those scolds complaining that YA books should be less dark, because I think there's a lot of value in talking honestly about suicide (and less value in talking about suicide in a way that's cheap and sensationalistic, but what can you do?) -- I suspect there's a little bit of riding the coattails of Thirteen Reasons Why</a>, and a little bit that's just coincidence, and a lot of these books are genuinely good but I could use a kitten chaser, basically. (Fangirl should have been my kitten chaser but it made me cry buckets, so.)
2) Patrick Ness, we already knew this, but you are a bastard and a genius.
3) I have NO IDEA what I'm going to booktalk for Fall New Books this year. I have to game it a little because I don't want to be redundant and talk about anything we're going to discuss for Mock Printz, but we're only doing 5 books for Mock Printz this year so I don't want anything to fall through the cracks. It will probably be More Than This, Fangirl, or Rose Under Fire?
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October 13th, 2013
|06:09 pm - Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl|
So, apparently, twins fighting with each other goes in my "It's too sad, I can't read this" column. Fangirl might have been even worse with twin stuff (by worse I don't mean bad, I just mean FEELS) than Among Others.
Before reading this I was a little apprehensive that so few writers get twin stuff right, so it's interesting to me that Rowell writes a twin relationship that's so different from my own but totally believable in its own way. (I'm very much like Cath in that I tended to rely on my more outgoing twin to take the lead in social stuff when we still lived at home, and we've always gotten along better than Cath and Wren, but we didn't even seriously consider going to the same college.)
This is one of the books I wish I could send back in time to myself, but not for twin stuff or writer stuff; it's the being in a new place thing, and being terrified of going to the cafeteria and talking to other students, and trying to manage the anxiety around that, and being afraid that everyone else can see how scared and weird you are.
I don't want to read the Simon Snow books -- I read all the Harry Potter books, that's fine for me -- but I do want to read Carry On
I think (because we're talking about this for Mock Printz) that Eleanor & Park is a little bit of a better book, objectively -- it's a little tighter -- but as a person who basically is Cath except for the whole BNF thing, I just felt for her, so hard.
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September 24th, 2013
Sitting in Greenwich Village, eating a Honeycrisp apple, thinking about whethe I get ice cream or a real meal : I believe I have just won fall. Bring it on winter.
(Sadly, I cannot decide if I would rather brave another bike ride over the Brooklyn Bridge or try to take my bike into the subway so close to rush hour. Must decide soon, because darkness.)
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September 22nd, 2013
|02:57 pm - Book banning: NO. Material challenge forms: YES.|
I am vehemently pro-intellectual-freedom, and especially when it comes to public libraries, but I winced when I read this argument in favor of throwing out our material challenge forms.
Now, just to say where I'm coming from, 99.5% of the time people who fill out a material challenge form are not going to be successful in getting a book removed from the library in my system. (The other .5% is things like, we have "Tintin in the Congo" available by request but not on display in the children's shelves -- and I grew up on Tintin but that book is pretty racist.) And that's as it should be. The purpose of having a materials challenge form is not so librarians can be bullied and harangued into removing materials from the collection. It's because a library is an institution of democracy, and that means that free speech should be one of our highest values, but it also means that the collection development director shouldn't hold dictatorial fiat over what the collection includes and doesn't include.
"What we say, goes," just isn't a great message to be sending to people. I think it's much better to say to people, "Hey, if you have a problem with this, let's talk about it -- and generally we're going to err on the side of having a wide variety of materials including some that you might find offensive, but let's talk about it."
(On the pragmatic side, not having an official channel to deal with material challenges means that the patron doesn't have any recourse but to yell at whichever staff member happens to be on desk, so I can't think that's an ideal solution.)
As for the the author's contention that books with authority problems (unreliable information presented as fact, typically) should be caught by the collection development process -- well. Isn't it pretty to think so.
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September 20th, 2013
|01:24 pm - Libraries are not retail, but --|
The library where I work is open from 1:00 to 8:00 two days a week. Most of the libraries in the system work that way; we need to have SOME late hours during the week (not nearly enough for a lot of people who work in Manhattan) but we don't have the staffing to be open in the mornings and nights.
So what happens is that people will try to open the door in the morning, and find it closed, and keep pulling it and banging it for a minute. And then the door handle comes off from all that banging and we have to have it fixed. (Really!)
And everybody is really annoyed when this happens, because it makes a lot of noise, and we have our hours posted on the door in two different places, but: you cannot blame people for expecting that a library will be open from 10:00 or so every weekday. That is how retail works, that is how government offices work, that is how people expect the world to work. And the majority of casual library users are not going to even think to look up in advance to make sure that we're going to be open on any given weekday morning.
My supervisor said, "If I was going to the library I would know to bring a canvas bag with me," and that's what the world looks like to a librarian (although I sure do forget to bring my canvas bag to the grocery store all the time.) But if you go to the store and you buy something, you expect to get a bag to carry your stuff in. It's not a terrible assumption to think that the library's going to give you a bag. (Unfortunately, books are heavy and have sharp corners; you need thicker plastic bags if you're going to give out bags, and they're not cheap.)
We can't afford to just cater to the relatively small percentage of people who come to the library often enough to memorize our hours, and know they have to bring their own bags with them. And we can't say "Wow, how do people not know how the library works???" as if there aren't people who only come in once a year, of every couple of years. I don't want them to get the message, "You should already know the rules." I want them to get the message, "Hey, maybe this is easy enough that you could come here a little more often?"
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September 17th, 2013
Talks canceled for YA authors Meg Medina and Rainbow Rowell
This makes me sad because both Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Eleanor and Park are really good books, and they're books I'd unreservedly recommend to anyone who's dealing with bullying, or who wants some reassurance that life is broader and better than the narrow slice of awfulness that you get in middle school and high school. And they're both actually pretty clean. (I was genuinely surprised that Eleanor and Park has 220 swears in it -- I'm not sure how they were counting. It's a hard book to read because of the abusive family dynamic, but I never thought "Oh yeah, that's a lot of swears." I am not so desensitized that I don't notice these things when they come up!)
But what makes me angry is this:
Though the book portrays the lived experience of bullying in a way that brings it home for teens, district superintendent Amy Giffin said they decided Medina and her book weren’t appropriate. She added that the book “really more to me seemed to address high school and inner city.”
Yeeeah. Pretty obvious that "inner city" is code for "poor people of color," but it's inaccurate besides; I can't remember the precise neighborhood in Queens that Piddy lives in, but it reads to me as a stable working-class neighborhood like the one I live in. Indeed, the story starts after Piddy's mother gets fed up with the neglectful landlord and moves to a better place.
(It is very possible to be middle-class in New York and have an extremely neglectful, even criminally neglectful, landlord. LOLsob.)
And does Giffin really think that Piddy's problems are "inner city" problems? Her problems are not about being poor; her problems are not drugs, gangs, or any of that stuff that comes up when you think "problem novel about the inner city." She has ordinary teenage friction with her mother; and she gets terribly, viciously bullied. These are things that can happen to people in urban areas and rural areas and suburban areas, to people who have a ton of money or none at all. As somebody who grew up in very different circumstances from Piddy, I found everything in the book very relatable and compelling.
A Chat with Rainbow Rowell about Love and Censorship
It makes me angry that the public library board decided it wasn't appropriate for Rowell to visit the library. I understand that when you have a school-sponsored event, sometimes there are thorny issues there about what you're endorsing for the entire student body, but with a public library -- everybody's free to go or to not go. Anyone who doesn't want to go hear Rowell doesn't have to.
And there's this:
One of the most horrific parts of their challenge was that they asked that the librarians who chose my book be officially disciplined.
I get a little bit nervous, when I recommend books, that whatever book I'm recommending is going to strike the parent as too weird or too mature or too inappropriate -- it's impossible to be perfect about these things when I'm dealing with books I haven't read in a couple of years, and when I don't know more about a patron than I can find out in two minutes of sullen conversation. But I also know that if it ever came up as an issue, my supervisors would pretty much have my back. And if I were ever put in a position where I could choose a book, relying on good reviews and my own judgement, and have that come back to bite me like that? That's scary. (I hope and expect that the library board will have the good judgement to say NOPE, but still, it's scary.)
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