Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

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[For information on top ten tuesdays visit thatartsyreadergirl.com! And for other answers to this particular prompt, take a look here.]

I’m so glad that I am getting to finally see the sun shine more and more again! If it was for me, winter could be much shorter – I love me a handfull of cozy snow days, but mostly I look forward to the days getting longer and warmer again.

Today’s prompt made me finally put together a tiny spring TBR that isn’t about my master thesis! Yay!

  1. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
    This was one of those classic strolling-thru-the-bookstore finds – the cover caught my eye immediately! If the story inside is as surreal, confusing and colorful as it promises, I’ll be very happy. BLRW
  2. Erasure by Percival Everett
    This one was a present from a friend, and I think she’s gonna be really, really angry if I don’t finally read it! 😀 (But I am also really looking forward to it!)
  3. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
    In spring I often feel like reading Victorian and neo Victorian fiction, and this one was such a hype on instagram that it is about time I read it!
  4. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
    Now for an actual Victorian novel. I liked Tess of the D’Urbervilles, my first novel by Thomas Hardy very much and I am looking forward to immersing myself in his writing style – with all the wonderful descriptions of landscape – again!
  5. Math Made a Bit Easier by Larry Zafran
    I actually liked maths in school, until in year 11 I got a pretty bad teacher and lost all motivation. Now I want to start from scratch again!
  6. The Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury
    I love dinosaurs and I love (natural) history, so this book on how the first fossils were discovered should be right up my ally.
  7. Zami – A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
    I friend lent me this, since I am currently planning and preparing a legal name change.
  8. The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
    This one was given to me by a friend, too. I told her about how much I like campus novels, secret societies and mysteries, she immediately thought that this would be the perfect book for me.
  9. Tell It To The Moon by Siobhan Curham
    A recommendation by my little sister! I’ll keep this one for a day when I’m very exhausted and just want to cozy up with an uplifting young adult novel.
  10. The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
    Another Victorian book – and a campus novel! (I use the concept pretty loosely and include stories about high schools as long as they are written for a mainly adult audience.)

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Review: „We Need To Talk About Kevin“ by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin is an epistolary novel in which Eva Khatchadourian (Kevin’s mother) recapitulates the story of Kevin’s life – from the point on at which she and her husband decided to get a child, during her pregnancy, Kevin’s childhood and adolescence until the day she now only calls Thursday, when Kevin did something so horrifying it changed the life of his family (and not only theirs) forever.

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I have to admit, I went into reading this book with completely erroneous expectations as to what the novel was going to be about. One reason might be the fact that I was reading it as part of the „syllabus“ of the #YearOfHorror bookclub established by chapterstackss on youtube – hence, I was expecting it to be a horror novel, which for me always includes a supernatural element, otherwise I personally tend to classify it as a thriller. Therefore I assumed that the eponymous Kevin would be a boy possessed by a demon or some other external force that made him evil. Instead, the story does not offer a clear-cut explanation for Kevin’s behavior, be it psychological or supernatural. The reader is confronted with a cruel and sadistic character treating the people around him with intelligent malvolence. Just because.

Kevin seems to be carrying with him a great deal of coldness and hatred towards the world has such and especially his mother even as a baby. In the years to follow he does not only scare away one nanny after another but also every potential playmate and their parents. The only one not creeped out by him is his father, who clings to seeing his son as the perfect all-American boy with whom he can play baseball and visit history museums. Kevin’s capability to keep up this illusion of the ideal son works to underline the inventive cruelty with which he treats other people – even his little sister, who, after all he is doing to her, still puts childish trust and loyalty into him.

You can only punish people who have hopes to frustrate or attachments to sever; who worry what you think of them. You can really only punish people who are already a little bit good.

There are scenes in this book which will probably haunt me for years to come, and at times it was difficult for me to continue reading because I was already preventively horrified of what Kevin would do next; afraid of how Kevin always managed to find out what exactly could be the worst thing he could do to a person. Regardless, We Need To Talk About Kevin has become one of my favorite books, because it is so much more than simply a mindless stringing together of sadistic acts!
This novel made me be immensely emotionally involved and made me feel for people, all of which are not even really likeable. Lionel Shrivers way of writing is dense and at times complicated (our letter writer, Eva, is intellectual bordering on pretentious, and her letters and choices of words display this excellently), she oscillates between writing out cruel truths bluntly and directly and hiding them between the lines. In this way, the book pulled me in, and as hard as it sometimes was to read on, it was even harder to put the book down.

So many topics are mentioned in the book, like motherhood, guilt, responsibility, American-ness, and so many different opinions on said topics that it provides endless food for thought. All in all, We Need To Talk About Kevin goes far beyond being „just“ a book about a priviledged teenager committing a massacre and I highly recommend it!

Review: „Cop Town“ by Karin Slaughter

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Some years ago I was quite a big fan of her Grant County series, but after [SPOILER —] Jeffrey was killed I angrily chose to ignore her writings for a bit…

cop town, though, made me very glad that I stopped sulking and picked up a book by Karin Slaughter again! I immediately remembered why I used to love her books and I definitely agree whenever I read that she is claimed to be one of the best thriller writers around.

cop town is more than a mere thriller, though. The novel takes places in Georgia, Atlanta, in 1974; it is a story about the suffocating atmosphere in a town with extremely conservative views on women, people of color, jews, gays – minorities in general. The reader accompanies two women, Maggie and Kate, trying to make their way in a police department dominated middle-aged straight white males who have a hard time accepting women as their colleagues.

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As if it wasn’t enough that those male officers try to make their job as hard as possible, both protagonists have a lot to handle besides police work.

Maggie is the third police officer in her family. Both her uncle and her brother work at the same department as her and won’t even stop putting her down at home. Things get even more complicated when her brother seems to lie about some aspects of his meet-up with the cop killer the whole force is looking for.

Kate may come from an overall supportive family but they still make it quite clear that they would like her to have a less risky job. Additionally, she is still dealing with the death of her late husband; furthermore she is being stalked by a creepy stranger into whose mind the reader gets some glimpses.

The book is dripping with an atmosphere of violence and prejudice. While it does not hold the thriller-typical suspense I expected, I enjoyed it even more than I had thought I would. Maggie and Kate are real, believable and totally badass characters. It was an interesting experience to dive into this world, at times seeming as if from a violent and prejudiced past, but, of course, all the more real today.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Platonic Relationships in Books

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It has been long since I last posted on here. Very long – almost a year, to be precise. I feel very motivated to blog more again, and what better way to remain motivated than with a weekly challenge? Therefore, today I post my first entry for the Top Ten Tuesday hosted on thatartsyreadergirl.com 🙂
(I cannot promise that I will always find up to ten points for every topic, but I intend to not put too much pressure on me – this, too, helps with keeping motivated!)

Today, participants where asked to list their 10 favorite platonic relationships in books; it could be sibling relationships, parent/children relationships or friendship. I found five books with amazing friendships I want to share with you all.

  1. The four hobbits, but mainly Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
    Oh, the childhood memories! I remember reading the books in elementary school, together with my then best friend. Every day we would meet up and discuss how far we got in the story. It was wonderful sharing that journey through Middle Earth with her. We often likened our friendship to the one of the hobbits!
  2. One of my favorite reads this year has definitely been The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and the crew of the Wayfarer rightly deserves a place on this list! I loved reading about the interspecies connections they form.
  3. Also a book I read this year is My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. The friendship of the high schoolers Abby and Gretchen is depicted realistically and vividly and I really felt for them.
  4. Another friend group I would love to be a part of are the grad students in Tana French’s The Likeness, the second in the series about the Dublin Murder Squad.
  5. The German novel Mädchenmeute [„Girl Pack“ or „Girl Gang“] by Kirsten Fuchs sadly has not been translated into English. It is about a group of girls running away from summer camp to spend some weeks sustaining themselves in the forest, far away from adults and their „normal lives.“

 

So much for my first Top Ten (well, Five) Tuesday! See you next week,
❤️, Rosa

Review: „The Slow Professor“ by Maggie Berg & Barbara K. Seeber

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[I have published this review before on my Hell Yeah, Campus Novels! blog]

I know, the cover kind of gives off the vibe of an kafkaesque but adorable story of a professor turning into a snail, but that’s not the case.

Instead, in this Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber combine the ideas of the Slow Movement with issues in academia.

I might be – as usual – ten million steps ahead of myself reviewing this as a student and not a professor (slow or otherwise), but I’ll do my best. But, because, student’s, too, deserve reminders for taking it slow, have three very good blog posts about the benefits of just chilling the fuck out: On Graduate Destiny & Academic Disenchantment and Reading My Way to Recovery by @ablogwithaview and this answered ask by @dukeofbookingham.

Anyway. Time to finally get to the review, right?

The Slow Professor is, in a way, part self-help book, part manifesto. As is says on the cover, it challenges the culture of speed, the culture of always publishing the most, of always being (or at least looking) the busiest and of always having the commercialise-able-estest findings. Because in that way you not only might lose your passion for teaching, alienate the students, make your research ultimately more superficial BUT also, and, in itself a reason to listen to this book: damage your mental health.

„We need time to think, and so do our students. Time for reflection and open-ended inquiry is not a luxury but is crucial to what we do.“ (x)

Something that made the reading experience very intimate was that it is written in the first person and that the authors don’t shy away from talking about their own experiences. They begin by talking about how they, at first, found it difficult to admit to others that they struggle – “Academic training includes induction into a culture of scholarly individualism and intellectual mastery; to admit to struggle undermines our professional identity. (4) – but, as they did, found out that they are not alone.

They talked about academic guilt, the feeling of never doing enough and how flexible working hours “can easily translate into working all the time or feeling that one should.” (19) Other problems are the corporatization of higher education with both the need for extremely fun, orignial and sellable findings and an emphasis on “customer satisfaction” when it comes to the treatment of student. (With regards to this, they mention that the stress students in higher education experience, was supposedly widely acknowledged nowadays. These are things I cannot really agree with – I do not really have the feeling that student’s stress is acknowledged, many people still seem to think being a college/uni student is all light and breezy and 50% holidays of the year. The idea of ‘customer satisfaction’ is, in this context, strange to me, too, but after all I luckily don’t study in a country were university is as expensive as in The States/Canada/The UK …)

The feelings of guilt are, of course, especially prevalent in the humanities, which are, useless and rightfully underfunded after all. (I’m being sarcastic, friends. I run a literature blog.)

After talking about the problems they tell the reader about their experiences with conventional self-help books for academics. While I often think I am too bitter a person to still be surprised by anything, I was quite shocked at the horrendous working hours they proposed and at the uncollegiality of simply externalizing your pressure and let the research assistants to everything, or the simple (and asshole-ish) little tip of just don’t make time to have a chat with colleagues.

But, once we’ve swallowed all these depressing things, it’s time for chapters containing the advice! Yay! This part of the book consists of four sections: Time Management and Timelessness, Pedagogy and Pleasure, Research and Understanding and Collegiality and Community.

Of course each section contained way more than I could put down here, otherwise I would just reproduce the book, but as a short and sweet summary:

The chapter on time proposes the idea of making space for something you could call an un-managed time, the state of timelessness were you can spend hours on really getting into your research and writing, basically losing yourself without constantly looking at the clock were the deadlines inevitably tick closer.

Pedagogy and Pleasure is mainly about the athmosphere in the classroom and offers detailed step-for-step advice on how to make teaching sessions more enjoyable both for the professors and the students, which leads to a better group climate and, ultimately, to more fruitful discussions.

In Research and Understanding they talk more about the above mentioned need to publish not only fast and frequent but also put forward extra-original findings which are hip and trendy and easily marketable. To counter this, they propose ways to engage more deeply with the research topics, not to compare yourself to others with their impressive publication lists (after all, you don’t see their list of rejected writings), and to maybe let your stuff simmer on a low flame for a while before you present it half-cooked to the public.

The last chapter is about the atmosphere on campi where every one follows this horrible advice from the self-help book above (I’ll never be over this) and instead of chit-chat with colleagues you are confronted with empty hallways, in a kingdom of isolation and you are its queen. (I have not even watched Frozen. I just want to be marketable to The Youth™!)

The conclusion, aside from being a conclusion, is about how enjoyable it was to write the book in team work. Which was sweet. My heart was happy.

Well. All good things come to an end so I should maybe slowly get to the point where I shut up.

All in all the book is an enjoyable read I full-heartedly agree with. I want to do the Martin Luther and nail it to university doors!

The only drawback of it is, that not literally every person in the world (or in academia) has read this book yet. Which, sadly, makes it harder to actually live in line of all those ideas about slowness. While you, as a single person can take all this to heart, it will not change the fact that there are people who don’t, and those are probably the people who’ll keep their jobs. This is very sad and I wish it weren’t so, but it was something I could not help thinking while reading all these humane, friendly, agreeable thoughts.

Well – all the more reason to nail it to the doors, then!

Thanks for reading my (really super long, sorry!) review,
Rosa


Berg, Maggie & Seeber, Barbara K.: The Slow Professor. Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. Published by the University of Toronto Press in 2016. It has 128 pages & the ISBN is 978-1442645561.

On Fear and Beauty

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Flying whales are absolutely amazing & are the closest thing too ‚beauty/fear‘ I could think of.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I am currently reading Mary Ruefle’s lecture collection Madness, Rack, and Honey. This morning, I read a chapter titled “On Fear”, which prompted me to think about my relationship to some of the thoughts presented there.

Mary Ruefle takes up the connection between hope and fear which has often been made: “[…] what are we to make of Wordsworth, ‘Fostered alike by beauty and by fear’? Or Milton’s ‘equal poise of hope and fear’? Or Blake’s ‘fearful symmetry’?”

Another quote, which might be known to most from #aesthetic photosets from tumblr is “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it” from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a book I loved even though I probably would not have remembered this particular quote if it weren’t for the tumblr fandom.

I like all these quotes, especially the phrase fearful symmetry, because, I don’t know, the words just sound really well together and are a joy to pronounce.

But: even though I came across this beauty/fear thing quite often in my readings, I never felt any connection to it. I do not want to – I obviously cannot – say that all those quoted people are in any way ‘wrong’. Still, I somehow wonder where the idea comes from and most importantly, why I do not share it.

There are people and things I find beautiful and there are things and people I fear. There is no overlap.

Developing a fascination for things you fear, yes, I can understand that. When I was a child, I was very afraid of hot air balloons. Sounds ridiculous, but the mere sight of these things catapulted me into a state of panic – even more horrible it was when they were so close that you could hear the sounds they make! (While they do not trigger panic attacks anymore, I still do not like the sight of them.) Summer evenings were difficult; sometimes I hardly dared to look up when walking the streets, for fear one of those colorfully looming threats had managed to sneak up on me. And while this phobia limited my ability to fully enjoy the summer, I also had a folder in which I put pictures of hot air balloons as well as drawings I made. I definitely found them fascinating. But beautiful was not and is not a word I would chose.

Both fearing something (somebody) and seeing beauty in something (somebody) are extremely powerful experiences and I can understand why people would want to connect them. Same goes for the idea of hate and love being so incredibly close together, and I can understand this (a little bit) more than the other one.

Still – what I find beautiful I do not fear not, even when I revere it.

Maybe it is because – for whatever reason – beauty for me is very closely connected with a sense of warmth and safety, which leaves no space for fear.

Maybe I fear too little? I do not think so. A wonderful and for me really relatable quote from the same lecture by Mary Ruefle is “As far back as I could remember, every minute of my life had been an emergency in which I was paralyzed with fear”.

Maybe I experience too little beauty? I do not think so, either.

I could keep wondering where this connection is that other people see and I don’t, but I decided not to. I’ll just file it on this pile of things I do not understand about many people and many people probably do not understand about me. Maybe one they I’ll see, maybe not. It’s really ok.

Instead, I’ll talk a little more about things that sprung to my mind when reading “On Fear”, or rather the whole book.
It’s a collection of lectures on poetry, by a poet. Therefore I should have had expected that the subject of poets would crop up now and then.

This is always very difficult to read for me. Look: Poetry, both writing it and reading it and also writing about it is a very central part of my life. But almost every time someone says something about the writer or the reader I feel super alienated. I know that most people do not seek to hurt me personally by giving me the impression that I am not real enough. I know (I guess) that Mary Ruefle does not want me to hide both my poetry and my thoughts on poetry where no one will ever find them because they are wrong simply by existing. This is why I will not quote specific examples, neither from Madness, Rack, and Honey nor from other sources.

It is just … I wonder, if people who make statements about writers honestly believe in what they say or if I am supposed to recognize that they just extending the personal into the general as a stylistic device?

Somebody once asked me, if I wanted everyone to always clearly and precisely state the exact premises which they work with before they make a statement. In all honestly: yes.

Yes, in such a world, there would probably much too many words floating around and nobody would ever get to the point. Sometimes I myself forget to mention the premises on which I work. Sometimes I do, and then I overexplain and people get impatient. Sometimes I do not even know what the hell the foundation is on which my my impressions and opinions are built.

Still, some silly, naïve part of me thinks that this could give an additional level of safety to daily communication. So many people complain how difficult (or even impossible) communication is, but I hardly see people actually trying.

The reason why I am especially adverse to statements the like of “all real writers do …” is, that most of my life I spent wondering if I was a real human at all. Which is sad. And I am, by now, mostly over it. Yes, I am human. Very much so. And I will not let anyone take that away from me ever again.

Anyway. This entry extended into directions I could not pre-estimate. I enjoyed writing it, so I guess, that even when I started out in disagreement – or at least, confusion – I am thankful for Mary Ruefle for making me think.

Maybe somebody reads this and feels the same. Or reads this and feels weirded out. In either case: thanks for reading!

❤️, Rosa.


Mary Ruefle: Madness, Rack, and Honey. Published by Wave Books in 2012 & the ISBN is 978-1-933571-57-5.

The whale gif was made by tumblr user knightofleo and is taken from this music video by Emilie Nicolas.

Currently Reading: 9/1/16

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Since this blog is pretty fresh and new and shiny  yet and I made it quite spontaneously without a Great Big Plan behind it, I am still in the process of figuring out what categories of posts I shall put up here.

I think it’s a nice idea to record a weekly “Currently Reading” status. I mostly read several books at a time & this way I can keep track of what I am reading, which books I finish faster, how my opinions change and – most importantly – I can help myself not to accidentally leave any books behind, which is way too easy for me, since I am very easily distracted. 😀

I plan to post my current reads every Thursday. This is a pretty random decision based mainly on the fact that today’s a Thursday, & that I guess I’ll have enough time to blog a small update on all the Thursdays in the near future.

So, without further ado: let’s get down to business! 💪

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux: Not only a fun book to play “spot the ❤︎ of Darkness reference” but an exciting read in itself. At least I think so, having read about 40 pages. Enjoyable style, somehow dark and hot atmosphere. The central character – the narrator’s father – is already making me aggressive; nicely done, book. (This wasn’t irony! There’s a difference between characters making me aggressive because they are, as fictional characters, horrible & characters making me aggressive because they are extremely good horrible fictional characters. U feel me. Probably.)

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‚Mosquito Coast‘ in the park

“Know how they do it? Kill you? I’ll tell you, Charlie boy. They hollow you out.”

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle: Very interesting! Some thoughts make me go “yes!”, others “no!”, but most of them “huh!”, which is the thing that matters. I already know that this is gonna be a book of many rereads.

“If your teachers suggest that your poems are sentimental, that is only half of it. Your poems probably need to be even more sentimental. Don’t be less of a flower, but could you be more of a stone at the same time?”

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Madness, Rack and Cute Stationary

The Child’s Child by Barbara Vine: This is the fourth book by Barbara Vine I read so I feel I already know that I will not take long to get really suspenseful. There’s already this underlying atmosphere of aggression and anger which makes me super anxious. In some respects I’m a very soft and mushy reader who just strives for boredom. And while I know that this ‘comparison’ between the oppression of gays & of (19th century) unmarried pregnant women is central to the plot because it fuels the anger of one of the main characters, I also hate reading about it, because people ranking and comparing societal ills ruin enough things in real life, I don’t need to also read about them in books. But I trust in Barbara Vine to make me become immersed in the book nevertheless.

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader edited by Karen Hellekson & Kristina Busse: I expected this one to be an interesting read & a good introduction into the field, and as for now it’s fulfilling these expectations. I have only read the first few essay and it is kinda cute reading about the iffstudies aufm balkonnternet being such a new and exciting thing. 😀

“It may not be coincidental, that the specter of authorial intent, cast out with the rise of poststructuralism and postmodernism, coincides with fan fiction’s beginnings.”

 

In other book-related news, I have spent part of my afternoon sitting on my floor, eating pasta and unboxing some of the unspeakable fucktons of books I ordered recently. I am ashamed. But I hope the fact that I buy 90% of my books from used-book sellers is a redeeming factor.

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❤️, Rosa