GRAD SCHOOL – week four

Being a university student at 31 is extremely different from being a university student at 21, and by “different” I mean “much, much better”. For one thing, I occasionally have money. For another, I have friends who aren’t uni friends (the people on my course are great, which is lucky as there are only four of us, but having a Life outside School is very helpful in terms of perspective/mental health/not getting sucked into UNI IS EVERYTHING, THERE IS NO LIFE BUT UNI). I do not have to live in student accommodation, I can generally manage getting around London/libraries/awkward conversations/deadlines, and am still excited about gleefully waving my student discount card at anyone in proximity of a cash register.

The most unusual and bizarrely charming part so far has been how all the university student workers talk down to me. On registration day, I had a few seconds of trouble swiping into the library with my student ID card. A weedy child with a lanyard came over to explain to me, in kindly supercilious tones, how to hold it against the light. It was baffling, until I realised he was just used to dealing with 17-year-olds who have probably never lived on their own before and don’t generally understand how things work. It made me realise how much I generally take it for granted that people I meet will treat me like an adult who e.g. knows which side up to hold a coffee cup.

The coursework is a lot of fun, although I have an unfair feeling that I’m playing catch-up. In my non-university life, sometimes when I tell people what I’m was studying (early modern English/European literature), they will say things like “Ah, yes, like Montaigne, right? I read him at A-levels – Des Cannibales, right? It’s so interesting where…” Now I don’t know enough about the British education and class system to tell whether this is usual, or I just happen to be surrounded by a bunch of poshos (probably that one?), but it is a bit unsettling to have more than one person spontaneously go “ah yes, I fondly remember doing what you’re doing, when I was a literal child”. (Of course it’s not the same approach and it’s very different reading, say, Othello in high school and Othello in a grad program, but I still have a little niggle of insecurity that I am only now getting up to speed with where most of the country has been since they were teenagers. Better late than never!, I cheerfully tell myself, while the guy at the coffee counter screws my lid on extra tight and hands it to me with a look of concerned trepidation.) That said, I do appreciate that grad school is to personal insecurity like a damp warm room is to mold, and if the worst I’ve come down with so far is “argh, humans exist who have read books that I have not yet read”, that is probably Fine. Read more...

Reading print books

It’s pleasing to see what kinds of books used bookstores in different places have. Chicago’s Myopic Books has a “history – labor history” section, which I’ve never seen before and half-ran over to, and Green Dragon in Ashland, OR has shelves of scripts and acting technique books marked up by Oregon Shakespeare Festival alumni.

I’m in Ashland for my best friend from college’s wedding, and yesterday we went out wine tasting with the wedding party. One of the bridesmaids works for an audio book publisher, and her company has recently started putting out print books. “Interesting time to be getting into print!” someone commented ironically. But it turns out her publisher’s print books have sold very well, and – for example – in the UK, also, print sales are rising and e-book sales are falling. (Overall book sales are also rising which is reassuring!)

Most books I read are still e-books, mostly because I do a lot of reading on my commute and it’s much harder to keep a paper book open and at eye level when you’re clinging one-handed to the pole on the Northern line, but I’ve been making more time to read for pleasure and those are usually print books. Read more...

April 2017

Dad’s funeral

People have been asking, “How was it?” It’s hard to know how to answer about a funeral, because the usual response to that kind of question is a bright, nodding “Really nice, thanks!” But it was actually really nice. Someone said it was noticeable how there was no friction or  “oh, you know how he could be…” or “well, we had our issues but…” Everyone there had the same thing to say about him, which was: what a good guy. And then we went back to a friend’s house to drink beer and tell stories. It wasn’t what I would call a FUN event but it was pleasurable to spend time with people who knew my dad when he was younger, and to get a fuller picture of his life than you get from inside the child-parent relationship. Also actually it was sometimes fun, there were lots of jokes and great stories.

Portland

Hamlet: “the Devil made them do it” version

Ten years ago, my flatmates and I had an ongoing conversation about doing a horror production of Hamlet where the Ghost really was a devil. In Act Two, Hamlet wonders if the Ghost is an evil spirit preying on his depression:

The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape: yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.

and we thought it could be fun to see what would happen if he was right to wonder that. Read more...

Back to school

Berowne: What is the end of study, let me know?
King: Why, that to know which else we would not know.

I just finished a weekend at the Open Talmud Project, an annual community-run weekend aimed at Talmud study for everybody. It was a bit of a shock as I haven’t done Talmud properly for a few years, since my hardcore phase just after university when I was missing academia.

What I like best about Talmud study is that it’s very difficult lifelong learning that doesn’t have a point. Read more...

I’m already not reading books by white men in 2015! Here’s how it’s going

Last week my friend Lydia retweeted a mention of “that widely discussed no-white-male writer challenge”, and I said “Er, what?”, and she linked me to this XOJane article by KT Bradford:

I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.

This was both pleasing and surprising, because I’ve already been doing this in 2015 – I decided to do something like it last November, and here’s what I wrote then (on Booklikes – I like Booklikes a lot for keeping track of my reading, and it’s not-popular enough that I feel comfortable sticking unfinished and quick thoughts up): Read more...