Monday, April 23, 2018

Publishers Weekly Likes My Book!


Here's what Publishers Weekly has to say about Fault Lines:


Jennings gives an intriguing glimpse of a much larger setting, hinting at a long-devastated Earth and humankind’s spread to the stars, but this initial offering remains tightly focused, almost claustrophobic, as it deals with high-level political and economic scheming. Fans of found family will love the portrayal of Velocity and her crew of scrappy underdogs.

More at the link! 


Sunday, April 22, 2018

100 Best Books


Someone asked me over on FB recently what my favorite book was. (Theirs was Farenheit 451.) This is a question that always sends me into a mild panic, since I don't have -- can't conceive of having -- a favorite book.

Instead, I have about 100 favorite books. And now I intend to list them for you.

These are all books that I have read multiple times, and love passionately. So if you dislike one of them, maybe just keep it to yourself. Though you should feel free to name your own top 10 or 20 in the comments!

(These are in no particular order, btw)


1)      Middlemarch, George Eliot
2)      The Word for World is Forest, Ursula Le Guin
3)      Lathe of Heaven, Ursula Le Guin
4)      The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin
5)      Paradise Lost, Ursula Le Guin
6)      Emma, Jane Austen
7)      Persuasion, Jane Austen
8)      Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
9)      Little Men, Louisa May Alcott
10)  Floating Worlds, Cecelia Holland
11)  Great Maria, Cecelia Holland
12)  Until the Sun Falls, Cecelia Holland
13)  Antichrist, Cecelia Holland
14)  Case Histories, Kate Atkins
15)  Life After Life, Kate Atkins
16)  A God in Ruins, Kate Atkins
17)  A Woman of the Iron People, Eleanor Arnason
18)  A Ring of Swords, Eleanor Arnason
19)  Hwarhath Stories, Eleanor Arnason
20)  City of Diamond, Jane Emerson
21)  Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
22)  Miss Pym Disposes, Josephine Tey
23)  The Female Man, Joanna Russ
24)  Fledgling, Octavia Butler
25)  Lilith's Brood, Octavia Butler
26)  Bloodchild, Octavia Butler
27)  In Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan
28)  Sunshine, Robin McKinley
29)  China Mountain Zhang, Maureen McHugh
30)  Necropolis, Maureen McHugh
31)  Hild, Nicole Griffith
32)  Kage Baker, The Company Series (all 12 or 13 of them)
33)  Kage Baker, The House of the Stag
34)  Kage Baker, The Empress of Mars
35)  Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
36)  The Awakening, Kate Chopin
37)  The Last of the Wine, Mary Renault
38)  The Friendly Young Ladies, Mary Renault
39)  The Middle Mist, Mary Renault
40)  Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
41)  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
42)  Joy in the Morning, Betty Smith
43)  I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
44)  Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson
45)  Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson
46)  We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
47)  Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
48)  Mainstreet, Sinclair Lewis
49)  Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis
50)  A Work of Art, Sinclair Lewis
51)  Howard’s End, E.M. Forester
52)  Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo
53)  Watership Down, Richard Adams
54)  Moveable Feast. Ernest Hemmingway
55)  Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
56)  Travels with Charlies, John Steinbeck
57)  It Looked Like Forever, Mark Harris
58)  The Southpaw, Mark Harris
59)  Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
60)  Perfect Circle, Sean Stewart
61)  To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis
62)  The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
63)  Firewatch, Connie Willis
64)  Passage, Connie Willis
65)  World War Z, Max Brooks
66)  Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
67)  Among Others, Jo Walton
68)  The Just City, Jo Walton
69)  Necessity, Jo Walton
70)  Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton
71)  My Real Children, Jo Walton
72)  Are You My Mother? Alison Bechdel
73)  Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
74)  The Truth, Terry Pratchett
75)  Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
76)  Nice Work, David Lodge
77)  The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
78)  Grass, Sheri Tepper
79)  Raising the Stones, Sheri Tepper
80)  Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Sheri Tepper
81)  The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
82)  The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
83)  Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
84)  Cider House Rules, John Irving
85)  Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger
86)  Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner
87)  Domestic Pleasures, Beth Gutcheon
88)  Five Fortunes, Beth Gutcheon
89)  The New Girls, Beth Gutcheon
90)  Fair and Tender Ladies, Lee Smith
91)  Saving Grace, Lee Smith
92)  The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Meg Elison
93)  The Book of Etta, Meg Elison
94)  Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
95)  Spin State, Chris Moriarty
96)  Spin Control, Chris Moriarty
97)  Moving On, Larry McMurtry
98)  Star Beast, Robert Heinlein
99)  Dragon Seed, Pearl S. Buck
100True Grit, Charles Portis



Living in the Clouds


The Kid sent me another pic from their dorm room window -- today they woke up and found they were living in the clouds:


Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Kid and the Apartment


At the Kid's university, freshmen are required to live in dorms. So this year they lived on the 7th floor of one of the older (cheaper) dorms on campus. Which they liked well enough -- it was close to most buildings where they had classes, plus the room has an amazing view of the Arkansas hills and mountains. (Here's a photo from the window.)



But even the cheap dorm room is really pricey, plus there's almost no privacy. So next year, they're going to live in a tiny apartment just off-campus. This past week, we went up to Fayetteville to see what we could find.

We had a short list of things we needed -- not too pricey, that was (A).

(2) was "close to campus." Since the Kid doesn't have a car and won't have one any time soon, we needed a place within walking distance of campus. This one could be set aside if the apartment was on the bus route -- though that would make it more difficult for them to get to class on time.

(C) If possible, close to a grocery store

(D) Pets? The Kid really wanted to take the little dog with her.

(E) Furnished if possible.

Everything after that was in the box with "that's cool but not necessary."

We found, finally, a little one-room apartment which pays all utilities including internet, which is only about two blocks off campus, and is right by a walking / biking trail which leads down to Dickson Street.  There's a dishwasher, and a washer/dryer included, which is nice.

Floor plan


It's unfurnished and it doesn't allow pets. But other than that, we're happy.

I will say that rents have increased enormously since I lived in FV as a grad student. I had a comparable apartment back then (1990's) which rented for 1/4th of what the Kid will be paying.

Wages have not increased at that rate, obviously.  I'm just sayin.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Language and Change


Over on FB, on a closed thread, I wrote a light-hearted post about students who misuse "whom" when they write.

I suggested that it might be okay to ban students from using the word "whom." This is something, by the way, that I actually believe -- that we should tell students not to use the word whom, ever.

Why do I believe this?

Well, as a student of the English language, I have learned that all living languages evolve and change. For instance, once upon a time, people who spoke standard educated English would say "thee" and "thou" for the singular form of the 2nd person pronoun. But around 1250 or so, these forms began to fall out of use in Standard English. (This happened for complicated reasons having to do with the influence of Norman French on the language.)

For awhile, we had only the two plural forms of the pronoun, ye and you. Ye was the nominative (subject) form, and you was the accusative (object) form.

But in spoken English, all non-stressed vowels revert to the schwa sound, and so people increasingly had trouble telling ye from you, or distinguishing between the subject and the object forms of the word. Shakespeare -- for example -- almost never gets it right, and the translators of the King James Bible have similar problems.

Fast-forward to the 18th century and only you remains -- people have stopped using ye entirely.

Something of the same process is happening with who and whom in current standard English. In another fifty years, whom will be as dead as ye.

I did not make this lengthy argument on FB, of course. I was making a joke, not giving a lecture.

But you can guess what happened. It's the same thing that happens whenever I point out that Standard English is a living, changing language in a public forum; or even when I note that many varieties of English exist, and they are all different, and all equally valid*.

Someone with a substandard understanding of English grammar and linguistics began to lecture me on how my attitude would destroy the language; on how change in languages was "cancer"; and on how my fancy Ph.D didn't mean I knew more about the topic than they did.

My attempts to use evidence and data resulted -- as always -- in this person only getting more angry. This person pulled the "when you get to be my age, honey" card almost at once. (Because, as you know, I am a mere child.)

It's exasperating, frankly. Would anyone argue this way with an engineer? Would you tell a heart surgeon that your understanding of human anatomy and medicine was superior to theirs, no matter what their training? Hell, would you even argue with an auto mechanic in this fashion?

But it's perfectly okay to tell professors of a subject that they know nothing valid about the subject.

I blame the GOP**, who has told us -- endlessly -- that educators are idiots and should be treated with contempt.






*Pro-Tip: Don't try to convince conservatives that Black English is a legitimate dialect. It's both pointless and exasperating.

** Before anyone gets incensed about this, I'm also halfway joking here. I wish it were only Trump-supporters who had a Dunning-Kruger level of understanding when it comes to English grammar / the English language.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday Links



Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah won the Pulitzer for this excellent story:

No one acknowledged that Dylann Roof had not once apologized, shown any remorse, or asked for this forgiveness. Or the fact that with 573 days to think about his crime, Dylann Roof stood in front of the jurors and, with that thick, slow tongue of his, said without any hesitation whatsoever, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”



Another long read, probably of interest only to writers and readers of SF


Your gender questions answered


Yet another problem with the high incarceration rate in the USA


LOL


Bias in the academy


Just a reminder



Monday, April 16, 2018

Jobs Meme


Over on twitter there's a meme going around, in which people list the jobs they've held throughout their lives. I'm game!

Age 9: distributor of leaflets ($4.00/month)

Age 11-14: babysitting (.50 cents/hour)

Age 15-22: Snackbar worker / snackbar manger (I know I started at $1.75/hour, but I don't remember how much I made as manager) -- this was just a summer job.

Age 16: McDonald ($2.40/hour)

Age 23: deli worker ($3.35/hour)

Age 23-26: Assistant librarian (started at $10,000/year; finished at $13,500/year)

Age 26-34: Teaching Assistant ($6000/year)

Age 35-38: Visiting Assistant Professor, Idaho State University (started at $25,000/year; ended at $28,500/year)

Age 38-41: Assistant Professor at Bad University ($30,000/year, though I made a little more by taking a ridiculous number of overloads)

Age 41 to Present: Assistant to Full Professor, UA-Fort Smith (started at $38,000, now making $64,000, plus extra for summer pay)

In between all of these, I did some editing work, roofed houses, and mowed lawns, but usually that was for no pay / very little pay.

What's your work history?



Thursday, April 12, 2018

In America We Hate The Poor


So our local station posted news about Trump's new proposal -- drug-testing some of those who receive benefits -- which is obviously just Trump feeding bullshit to his base.

But you can guess how the comments ran.

Hell yeah, drug-test them all!

If I gotta pee in a cup to keep my job at the gas station, so should some parasite on WELFARE!

A few people made the point that we've already tried drug-testing those on benefits, and found that almost no one on SNAP was doing drugs. (As one of my friends  pointed out, yeah, poor people can't afford to buy drugs, who would have guessed?)

Others made the point that testing people without cause is a violation of the 4th Amendment.

But this cut no ice with Trump's base, since the only amendment they care about is the Second Amendment, and since their aim is not actually to stop poor people from doing drugs -- their aim is to punish people for being poor. Because in America being poor is a crime.

How much you want to bet most of those screeching about making "those people" take a piss-test go around bragging about how Christian they are?





Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Update on Nextdoor


So I still check in with Next Door from time to time -- you know, just in case scary black people are jogging in my neighborhood, or a strange guy with a big truck is caught digging up people's yards under the spurious claim that he's from the gas company (you can't be too careful these days!).

Anyway, over the past two weeks, my Next Door has been on fire. 

What happened was one of my neighbors put out a request -- did anyone know of a good Christian dentist she could make an appointment with?

An actual dentist replied, wondering why the religion of the dentist mattered. Surely, he said, the skill of the dentist in fixing teeth should be her first concern.

About 9000 people piled on him, attacking him for being "too PC" and for "hating Jesus." Others sent little prayers. Others applauded the original poster for being so "brave" and for "standing up for Our Lord." A very long comment offered to give the objecting dentist a "history lesson" on how this Great Nation had been founded as a Christian Nation.

The dentist replied with his own history lesson, discussing the origins of that "Christian Nation" myth, and adding he knew far too many terrible dentists in the Fort to think religion made you competent.

9000 more comments from furious Evangelicals followed.

Today I got a notice that even more comments were on the thread.

I'm not sure this is an improvement over the racist paranoia posts.





Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Links


I have exams and papers I should be grading, and a short story I need to write; but here, have links!

See, if a guy wants to call for women to be lynched, why, it's sheer fascism if you don't pay him a huge salary. (What's that you say? This same blogger routinely calls for professors and students to be fired / expelled because they say things he doesn't agree with? BUT THAT'S DIFFERENT.)

See also this

Advice on Writing

For everyone who is still confused about trans people, also gender and dysphoria

See also this

Besides this, the new Roseanne is just not funny (I watched two episodes)


The problem with the "science" of racism

This has been my experience, pretty much throughout my life. I still remember the guy who dropped first semester Greek because I kept scoring higher than he did on every tests and quiz. The evidence that a woman could be smarter than he was just broke his fragile masculinity.

See also this

And this

Finally, have some cuteness








Saturday, April 07, 2018

What I'm Reading Now


A sudden cold snap brought snow (not much, and it's gone now) to our area this morning. The past two days have been filled with a relentless wet rain, along with occasional thunder.

So I've been reading a lot, is what I'm saying.

This are the ones I liked enough to finish:

Carrie Vaughn, Bannerless

Carrie Vaughn's Bannerless won the Philip K. Dick award this year, which is always (for me) an indication that this book will be worth reading. And indeed it is!

Thursday, April 05, 2018

But I Thought Gender was Real and Innate?


If Rod Dreher and all the other conservatives really believed that gender identity was innate, they wouldn't be screeching about this article.

Nor am I clear about why it's more abusive to do what these parents are doing than it is to dress your toddler in shirts that say "Slugger" or "Ladies Man" or "Daddy's Princess."





Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Life in the Lower-Middle class


Nicole and Maggie's post today, which led me to this post, has inspired this post.

I've blogged, briefly and glancingly, about our money woes before. But I've never talked about the details. Partly that's because I can clearly see that whining about living on just over sixty thousand dollars a year (my pay since I got the salary bump on making full professor) is not a good look, not when I'm surrounded by people who would love to make half that. And partly because it's just depressing.

When I was a graduate student, living on six thousand dollars a year, I used to get very scornful and judgy about people who complained that their twenty or thirty thousand a year wasn't nearly enough to live on. Try living on six a year, I would fume to myself. See how that works out for you!

How it worked out for me was that I didn't buy health insurance, which meant when I got cancer I had destroyed my entire future. But that's another post!

Here's life on $60,000/year.

First of all, we pay a ton of taxes. I worked it out once, and between Federal, state, and city taxes -- plus the 11% sales tax which we have in Fort Smith -- we're paying nearly forty percent of our income in taxes. Don't forget to deduct the cost of health insurance!

So even before we get to what we can live on, we're down to something like $38,000/year.

That's something like $3300 a pay check. From this, we deduct rent, utilities, and medical costs (co-pays on prescription drugs, paying off the standing debt to various hospitals and dentists, which right now is running me something like $400/month), and we're left with somewhere around $1800/month for other expenses.

That sounds like a lot! It would have sounded like a lot to me in graduate school as well.

But from that, we have to deduct food costs and household expenses. We have to put gas in the car. If there's an emergency that month (there is always an emergency) we have to pay for that. Does someone need new shoes? A new pair of jeans? (Someone always needs something.)

What about having fun? Subtract the cost of a Netflix subscription, also subscriptions to an online newspaper (right now, NYTimes, because they give me an academic discount), also the cost of subscribing to a couple of SF magazines, because it's my field, also monthly donations to the ACLU and a couple other charities (the local food bank is my big donation this year), and very quickly we are left with only four or five hundred dollars.

Again, this sounds like a lot! I should be able to save that money, against the next medical emergency, yes?

Except inevitably some OTHER emergency always appears. We only have one car, for instance, so if something goes wrong with it, we have to rent another car while that one is in the shop. Then we have to pay for repairs.

Back last summer, for instance, in the space of three months, the radiator in the car sprang a leak, and then the catalytic converter went. That last one cost us, in repairs and car rental, almost four thousand dollars. You know I don't have that much saved -- so it went on the credit card. Since then I've been fighting to pay that off. (Good luck, at nearly 30% interest.)

Or Dr. Skull's computer has some problem. (I don't own a computer -- the school provides me with a laptop, thank God.) Or the printer breaks. Or someone (me, this time) breaks a tooth. Or, or, or.

Theoretically, is what I'm saying, making what I make in this area, we should be middle-class. And we are!

But this is what life is like for the middle-class these days. Every single month, I struggle to save even just a little money. Every single month, I spend the last week of the month trying to find some way to make it through the week without spending our very last dollar.

Notice, also, what is not in this "budget."

We don't have money for vacations. (Sometimes we make a day-trip to Crystal Bridges. That's our big holiday.)

We don't have money to sock away for retirement (apart from what the school requires from me, which right now is about 3% of my paycheck -- they add another 5%).

No money is being saved for the inevitable day when we'll need to buy a new car. No money is being saved for any other emergency.

No money was ever saved for the kid's college -- I had to rely on my parents to come up with that. If they hadn't, the kid would have attended my school, lived at home, and probably taken out loans.

And remember! I'm doing well. This is a good salary for this area.

Try to imagine how people making $35,000 a year are living. That's the paycheck for Oklahoma teachers. Or how the guy who rents us our car is doing -- Enterprise Rentals pays him $30,000 a year. Or the woman who cuts my hair, or the waiter at a local restaurant, or the clerk who rings up my groceries.

I suspect all of them -- like me -- are carrying a load of debt, created by the fact that our paychecks do not stretch to cover such fripperies as dental work, medical bills, and car repair. Something like one-third of everyone in the US is being dogged by collection agencies. And in many places this is leading their arrest and jailing.

This is an untenable situation. An untenable economy.





Sunday, April 01, 2018

This One Scene


So I'm halfway through the second season of Jessica Jones, and I probably won't finish it, unless I'm really bored this summer (ha!). It lacks the coherence and energy of the first season, plus this whole addiction subplot is tired.

But! There's one scene I really liked, and I wanted to talk about it.

This guy, Griffin, who is Trish's lover/boyfriend. They've been serious for a bit, it seems. So one day he arranges this huge event, in which he invites all her friends and flies in all her family members -- so that he can propose marriage to her in front of all of them.

The same sort of thing happens in Love, Simon (a movie I highly recommend): this guy who has a crush on a girl asks her to be his boyfriend at a football game, in front of the entire school.

This sort of thing -- a man proposing to a woman in public, in front of a huge crowd, or in front of her entire family and all her friends -- is often played in our culture as being so romantic (squee!).

In fact, it's a terrible thing to do.

The pressure on the woman to say yes, in order to make everyone happy is enormous. Given how women in our culture are socialized from infancy in the expectation that their role in life is to make everyone happy, it will be difficult for any woman to say no.

In Love, Simon, the girl does say no. Because the guy who asks her out, Martin, has been played as an idiot and a semi-villain all through the movie, the school community attacks him instead of her. I didn't really like the character of Martin, because "funny-looking fat guy is evil" is a trope I don't much like. But I did like that the movie both had the young woman, Abby, say no, and did not penalize her for it.

In Jessica Jones, Trish more or less says yes to Griffin during the proposal scene, acquiesing to her social role as a woman who must make people happy; but later in private she rejects the proposal, and all through the scene we as the audience know she doesn't want to marry him.

The show lets us see, in other words, what a terrible idea this proposal was, and what an unconscionable burden it places on the woman in the situation.

And it is a terrible idea. I've never enjoyed those viral videos where some guy does this to a woman. Unless he absolutely knows that she wants this to happen, this is both manipulative and emotionally abusive. He is stripping away her power, replacing it with the force of social convention. Yes, some women will be tough enough to say no; but many, many are far too socialized to refuse him under that kind of pressure.

So I liked that this scene was played, in both these shows, for the terrible thing it is.

More of this, please, and far less of this.







Friday, March 30, 2018

Chag Sameach


Passover starts tonight at sunset. The kid's uncle drove down from Fayetteville to join us, bringing the Kid along. They arrived last night.

All day, the house has been filled with lovely cooking smells. Dr. Skull is making mazto ball soup, roast chicken, a mushroom-broccoli casserole, and other items I have not yet been made aware of. My contribution is the haroset and latkes.

We found some KFP cakes and macaroons at the Bentonville Fresh Market which we'll have for dessert.

It's a fine brisk sunny afternoon -- very festive!

Happy Passover to all y'all who celebrate!