It’s still 2007, right? Things have been a bit blurry since my last post, a not unexpected product of cold medicine, Christmas celebrations involving Bailey’s on top of the cold medicine, packing, realizing we had no one to look after the cats for the first five days of our vacation b/c my sister also got time off, flying to Michigan, being devastated by the news from Pakistan as soon as we got off the plane in the spiffy terminal of the DTW, and getting semi-snowed in yesterday. When we got here, the snow cover was pretty much down to a few iced over piles where the large drifts used to be, but now we have a nice fluffy layer, which does improve the aestethic somewhat when the sky is permanently grey. Unfortunately, it was a wet snow, so the roads quickly turned into rivers of gelatinous brown slush, the kind that your feet kicks and gets all over the backs of your pant legs if you are not exceedingly careful. If I had SOS’s camera skills, I’d try to illustrate, but I think she pretty much captured that whole winter in the Midwest scene pretty accurately already.

That’s pretty much the run down from up here in the hand state. Scorecard so far:

Sun sightings: 1

French Canadian bean soup sightings: 1

Crazy metal ring puzzles solved by my father: at least 5

Times the poodles have tried to eat my shoes: 0

Times my brother has explained his smoking while driving system to me: 2

Movies taped off of television that D has been subjected to by my father while I am not around: 3

Times my father has gone into fits of apoplexy over what I am willing to spend for a six pack of a local microbrew as opposed to something… well, anything cheaper godd***it: 1

Okay, back to the merrymaking and wrapping for belated exchanges over lunch at the restaurant that used to be a train station!

Marathon update!

December 23, 2007

For those of you following, I am pleased to report that my sister (who really needs a pseudonym already…I’d go with a simple “The Bean Counter,” but that would piss her off royally) completed her 20 mile training run today w/ no endurance problems. She can’t walk anymore, but whatevs. It’s not the marathon’s fault she killed her knee in marching band. I tried to get her to send me a pic of how she looked after those 20 miles, but for some reason she thought that was a bad idea… silly accountant.

Shameless re-link for all your end of year Leukemia & Lymphoma Society donation needs–and I am thrilled to say that some of you blog peeps have come out strong already and will later reap your beery rewards, so if you are one of those and you know who you are, disregard.

So, Friday Red turned into Saturday Orange Juice when D felt those telltale signs of a post-stressful semester cold as soon as he got out of school on Friday. Sucks how your body’s idea of a trade for protecting you while you really didn’t have time to spare is often to let you get zapped as soon as you could be having fun w/ your free time.

Still, with a little caution thrown to the wind and some help from our Netflix queue, we are making the sniffles into sniffle-ade and catching up on some stuff, which so far hasn’t included the massive amount of cleaning we haven’t been doing, but there’s time…

First off, we finally went to No Country for Old Men last night, and were as thoroughly impressed as we expected to be  after the rave reviews from all sides, except for Stephanie Z on Salon who I think we can now all safely declare a true hata. Many intelligent things have been said about No Country, so I won’t try to add anything, but I did find it an interesting example of a little game we liked to play in southern lit called “how would this have fared in workshop?” In particular, I was struck by how the script (which D tells me is composed largely of dialogue lifted straight out of the book) never really felt the need to settle on a single register of language. You had the pop culture (“I work at the Walmart”) mixed with the mythic (pretty much anything said by Tommy Lee Jones… can’t remember an example word for word enough to type, something would get lost) mixed with the more or less completely silly (“hells bells, sheriff!). And I’d say it worked nicely, and there were a lot more laughs than I was expecting. So, that was interesting. Also, I’m definitely in the camp of this movie being all about Iraq… I’m pretty sure that camp exists… but as we saw with The Wind That Shakes the Barley, I tend to find those parallels fairly often.

Today, we got through the first disc of Lost season 3, which is crack.

Then, b/c I’m trying to make season 4 of The Wire last as long as possible and saving Mr. Damon and his Ultimatum for later on in the break when long periods of time in family members’ living rooms may need to get filled, we perused the movies for free on demand with our cable, and found that Carrie was available. I just read the book this summer, and I have to say I really liked it (I am generally a fan of Stephen King though). Some parts of the movie haven’t aged all that well, but Sissy Spacek’s performance as Carrie is still perfect, and like Black Christmas, it reminded me that we’ve done a bunch of backsliding when it comes to popular movies. First off, Carrie opens with a girls’ locker room scene that has more full frontal nudity than I’ve ever seen in a movie… kind of weird, but realistic given the setting. Second, all of the actresses playing hot chicks in this movie would look heavy by today’s standards–not a stick among them. They are all slim, but none of them remotely have thighs that narrow toward the torso or skeleton arms. Third, it takes a kind of dead on, unrepentant look at the inherent inanity and potential darkness in teenage life. When they pull the stunt that sets Carrie over the edge, finally, you completely believe they would do something like that–they are not spared from their own cruelty by suggestions that they have an excuse or a basically good nature.

In between, I have had the distinct pleasure of not letting D do anything for himself while he tries to recuperate. Most of the time he is so on top of things w/r/t cooking that I end up sitting on my bum and being needy, but not this time! I’m SJ on the spot with all of his OJ, kleenex, and ibuprofen needs, reminding him that no, a glass of wine would not be a good idea right now… or wait maybe it would! Busting out the  corkscrew now. The only thing I didn’t do was make him chicken soup–we’ve got too many leftovers to get through before we fly off to Michigan. Not even a cold can save you from leftovers around here.

Okay, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and wine glass full so that I don’t wake up tomorrow having what he’s having.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

(variously attributed)

Most of the time and to a much larger degree than I ever would have expected when I started this dual master’s program, my two worlds (library “science” and English/academic)  are parallel worlds, discovering similar things and having the same anxieties but hardly ever talking to each other. I’m not the type who thinks that this needs to change in general–faculty members do their jobs and librarians do theirs–but I often wonder if these two worlds will ever get together in time to see that they could do a lot for each other in certain, underexplored areas. And that this might actually be necessary sooner rather than later.

I started thinking about this today as I was reading this article by Mark Bauerlein on a new anthology of writing by the New Critics. The article is half an explanation of why such an  anthology is important even if much the NC’s work is seen as outdated in the contemporary academy and half an expose of just how difficult creating such anthologies is likely to become if intellectual property that was once stewarded by academic-leaning institutions becomes part of the asset package of for-profit publishers. This is hardly news, but I found this discussion of it particularly thoughtful and grounded in details that hit home w/ me, b/c this is my field. B writes that this is an anthology that:

…almost didn’t happen. And the reason why raises broad questions about how humanities fields progress, and what becomes of prior works and ideas once professors assume they have progressed beyond them.

Bauerlein names prices and names to describe what the anthology editor, Garrick Davis, had to do to secure the rights to the essays he wanted to include. A couple of the pieces were in the public domain, and many were in the hands of people who understood both their value to the anthology and their lack of commercial value to the marketplace and so let them go for reasonable, one-time fees of $50-100. And I was proud to see that the literary magazine of my own alma mater was very much among this crowd, licensing essays by Robert Penn Warren, Delmore Schwartz, and Randall Jarrell for only $50 each. This is responsible stewardship of scholarly heritage.

That all changed when it came time to deal with those essays that, by a process of little publishers getting eaten by larger publishers, ended up in the hands of publishers who are grounded in a for-profit model and have neither the inclination nor the staff to recognize that they wouldn’t be losing any money by licensing out obscure essays  and that they would be doing a great disservice to the scholarly record. Davis “asked Harcourt Inc. for permission to reprint an essay by Blackmur entitled “A Critic’s Job of Work,” and Harcourt came back with the outlandish price tag of $2,350.” He wrote back to clarify that he was not expecting to make any money of of it, and asked for a lower price. A paralegal wrote back and said not only were they not lowering the price, they were closing the offer b/c he had refused it. The conclusion is predictable: no Blackmur for that anthology.

Bauerlein draws a parallel between this “disappearing” of essays under a curtain of excessive copyright and the revolutionary impulses of literary theorists who want to pretend that they arrived on the scene w/ no intellectual help from the tradition, and he concludes:

Whether the threat comes from revolutionary feelings among scholars and teachers who erase their forebears, or from business enterprises’ selling intellectual goods at exorbitant prices, professors need to stir up a counterforce. If they won’t respect their predecessors, why should anyone else?

Indeed, and you know who talks about exactly this? Librarians.

We are well aware of the consequences of letting intellectual material, created by scholars and often paid for by public funds, into the hands of people whose only interest is to make money off of it.  I could talk about this for quite a while, but I’ll use an example: the percentage of the library acquisitions budget that is devoted to paying for journals in the fields of science, technology, and medicine (STM). That percentage is huge and typically growing. It is not uncommon for the price of STM journals to jump by 20-30% in a given year, and seeing as STM departments are the darlings of the research university with all of their mad grant funding, libraries usually pay it and then cut from the humanities acquisition budget–I’m painting in broad strokes here, but that is the general idea. And of course in hard times, STM journals get cut like everyone else’s. Onward–this plays into a vicious cycle for humanities scholars, where their funding for not only journals but also for monographs gets re-directed to help pay for the STM rate hikes. Publishers in turn slash their budgets for humanities monographs, all while tenure requirements go up for new professors.

So it’s a raw deal for everyone involved. Librarians have been working on ways to get around this raw deal. We’re working to promote the open access publishing model and institutional repositories for scholars to deposit pre-prints and other forms of their work before it falls into a publisher’s copyright. Most likely, your institution already has one, it’s just underused (that link is to an article by one of my favorite library bloggers, Dorothea Salo–who, perhaps not coincidentally, also has advanced academic training in a humanities discipline).

Humanities scholars are also clearly thinking about alternatives to relying on the journal and monograph marketplace for scholarly communication. The other week I was reading a piece published a year ago about the MLA’s ongoing discussion about tenure requirements, and how eventually it might be better to base it less on what happens to get published by publishers swamped with submissions they can’t sell and more on the faculty’s assessment of the true intellectual value of the work–seeing as there might be ways for universities to take responsibility for publishing the work of their own scholars in a manner that makes it pretty powerfully accessible and relatively cheap to steward. (As an FYI, for all of their expensive journals, the STM people are way ahead of us on this. For them, an article published in a journal is an afterthought. By the time their research hits literal print, it’s been read and used and cited many times already. They stockpile all their grey literature and preprints and keep each other updated as to what they are putting in, not just via blogs but through more systematic means. It’s pretty awesome.)

What I’m trying to say here is, we’re all having the same problems and we all want things to get better. Librarians are waging a range of daily battles to get better prices on journals (it’s a bidding process–every time I find an article I need readily available to me through online databases my library pays for, I mentally thank the tough as nails librarian who likely held her ground to get a better price), to lobby our lawmakers to require publishers to allow public access to publicly funded research, to write better software for storing and retrieving scholarship. Humanities scholars are of course producing the scholarship that librarians work to steward and also becoming more engaged in what happens to that scholarship when it leaves their hands and gets them one step closer to tenure.

This is all good, and while I don’t expect two change-resistant creatures to change overnight, I do hope that eventually these two conversations spill into each other. I also hope that, wherever I end up in this spectrum of academic life, I can continue to have enough of a foot in both worlds to gently suggest that they try to at least become aware of one another’s efforts. Proselytizing isn’t really my thing–we don’t need converts, we need collaborators. If I do manage to make the switch from librarian to scholar, I like to think that I will be more open-minded than most when it comes to collaborating on projects to get control of the scholarly record b/c of my library experience. And if I stay in library world, I like to think that I will have the sensitivity to scholars’ needs necessary to be useful to them as they figure out what fits into their workflow in this area.

Until then, academics and academic librarians are usually like two hummingbirds who have also never met.

Ignorance of the crowds

December 20, 2007

The Explainer’s top unanswered questions of the year.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite:

Why are some cats softer to the touch than others? Is it possible I have the softest cat in the world?

Why do male ice skaters have routines that are so feminine in execution? After all these years, there should be some kind of movements on ice that would be more masculine-looking. The gymnastics shows have them.

Wouldn’t we all like an answer to these ones?

Hello. I am an editor and writer and I would like for everyone to change some letters that are now in lowercase to uppercase. An example would be the 18th century to the 18th Century. Where does one go about starting to do this?

I have been looking for an old movie from about the late ’60s. I was born in 1960 and watched it as a little kid. It was a Santa movie and it had the Devil in it. It was like the Devil was trying to stop Christmas. I remember the Devil was wearing red PJs. Santa has a magic powder that would make people sleep. It was a cute movie. Please help.

Is it possible in any way to prove that someone was on crack cocaine nine to 10 years ago?

And one I can answer right now:

Mitt Romney is running for president. His father, George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968. Is “Mitt” named for the mitten-shape of Michigan?

NO! Mitt Romney is not allowed to be named after my beloved hand state.

NPR’s All Songs Considered Podcast’s Holiday Mix.

Some goofy, some sad, some weird-ass.

Great for streaming while you’re getting shnockered on Bailey’s and raw cookie dough.

UPDATE: I should have put in the playlist. Here it is. My personal faves = Your Christmas Whiskey, Christmas Island, and Mr. Mistletoe.

01. Amiina: “Hilli”

02. The Knife: “Christmas Reindeer”

03. Sally Shapiro: “Anorak Christmas”

04. The New Pornographers: “The Spirit of Giving”

05. The Minus 5: “Your Christmas Whiskey”

06. Daddy Bone: “Zombies Eating My Brain (for Christmas)

07. Umbrella Men: “Jingle Bells”

08. Frank Lee Sprague: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

09. Bob Atcher & The Dinning Sisters: “Christmas Island”

10. African Guitar Summit: “Afe Hyia Pa”

11. The Magnetic Fields: “Mr. Mistletoe”

12. The Apples in Stereo: “Holiday Mood”

13. Amiina: “Hilli” (feat. Lee Hazlewood)

14. Trio Mediaeval: “Solbonn”

Good Things: 2007 edition

December 19, 2007

All it took was a Moonshine Martini post to get me in the mood to list. It’s that time of year when everybody’s putting in their two cents about what was most world-rocking in Aught Seven, so I’m going to give it a whirl. This is actually more for myself than anything else, because yesterday as I was trying to come up with answers to Reading for Writers query about the best books I had read this year, I realized 1) I don’t keep enough records of what I’ve actually done and 2) that most of the lists I could come up with were actually lists of the best books I had started but never finished. (And the other night, when D got me sucked into a half-hour infomercial for Firebrand.com, a web channel where you can watch all the world’s “best” commercials, I think I figured out why.) It’s true–I started a lot more than I finished this year, which is an issue I hope to deal with in in the coming year, but it’s too late now, so for the time being, I’m just going with it. Because you know what they say about good things: they come in threes. Also, things on this list aren’t necessarily new, but they were new to me.

Top 3 Novels I Finished This Year

  1. Tripmaster Monkey (Maxine Hong Kingston)
  2. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card, not like a literary masterpiece or anything, but I read it at the same time I started reading Jane McGonigal’s disseration on ubiquitous gaming and it hit a nerve)
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (You know I’d be lying if it wasn’t on this list)

Top 3 Memoirs/ Creative Nonfiction

  1. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (Nick Flynn)
  2. A Good War is Hard to Find (David Griffiths)
  3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)

Close call: Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert–I feel that this book is more than a little annoying due to the sell-out factor plus the spoiled rotten factor, but I laughed my ass off right at a time when I really needed to because of this book)

Top 3 Movies I Watched All the Way Through This Year

  1. After the Wedding
  2. Black Christmas
  3. Deja Vu (this made the list b/c of the strength of its surprise factor–I feel that it was much better than any trailer let on and I won’t say anything more than that for fear of giving something away, plus it got bonus points for being set in New Orleans (American city of the decade), and having a version of my top joke of the year (more cowbell!)).

Close calls: Stranger Than Fiction, HP5, 28 Days Later, The Lives of Others, Tony Takitani

Top 3 Documentaries (I watched so many, they deserve a category)

  1. The Heart of the Game
  2. Blue Planet
  3. Jonestown

Top 3 Television Shows

  1. Friday Night Lights
  2. The Wire
  3. Lost

Close calls: The Countdown, Weeds, Veronica Mars, Freaks and Geeks, the Nova documentary on training for the Boston Marathon

Top 3 Books of Poetry

  1. Curves to the Apple (Rosmarie Waldrop)
  2. case sensitive (Kate Greenstreet)
  3. Leaves of Grass, 1855 Edition (Walter Whitman, via the Whitman Archive, like wow)

Close calls: almost every other book of poetry I’ve read this year and one that I plan to: The Middle Room (Jennifer Moxley)

Top 3 Biggest Wastes of Space on my Netflix Queue

  1. Flightplan
  2. Rumor Has It
  3. The Break-Up

I swear I have nothing against Jennifer Aniston.

Top 3 Movies I Am Shocked I Haven’t Seen Yet

  1. The Bourne Ultimatum
  2. No Country for Old Men
  3. Away From Her

Top 3 Songs I Never Tuned Away From While Driving (ie, Top 40 songs)

  1. What I’ve Done (Linkin Park)
  2. Shut Up and Drive (Rihanna, b/c Umbrella is just too predictable)
  3. Apologize (One Republic feat. Timbaland, okay fine, I’m predictable)

Top 3 Songs It is Somewhat More Respectable to Admit to Liking (By Women)

  1.  Fidelity (Regina Spektor, I know, I’m behind)
  2. Mushaboom (Feist)
  3. Central Reservation (Beth Orton, it took me forever to figure out the name of this song)

Top 3 Songs It is Somewhat More Respectable to Admit to Liking (By Men)

  1.  Black Cab (Jens Lekman)
  2. That Was the Worst Christmas Ever (Sufjan Stevens)
  3. Oh What a World (Rufus Wainwright)

Top 3 Beers (keep in mind, I like wimpy beer)

  1. Lamar Street Pale Ale (I think this has a lot of B Vitamins in it, I always feel stronger after I drink it)
  2. Sam Adams (never had a taste for it before I made some good Boston memories to associate with it)
  3. Stella & Guinness going halfsies

Top 3 Wines (you can tell I’m a slacker b/c I didn’t keep track of the vintage, just the name on the pretty label)

  1. Cono Sur 20 Barrel Pinot Noir (limited availability, alas)
  2. Vieille Ferme Red (can’t beat the price or the drinkability, my credit card bill won’t lie–we’ve bought more of this than anything else this year)
  3. Conclass Verdejo (most likely to be gifted by us this year)

Close calls: Anything Portuguese, Bitch (not just a pretty name!), cabernet sauvignon in general

Top 3 30 Minute Meals

  1. Good Fennels Pasta
  2. Creamy Artichoke Saffron Pasta
  3. Roasted Portabella Mushroom Burgers with Red Peppers

Top 3 Ways to Get My Nerd On

  1. A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography (Sidonie Smith)
  2.  Ties that bind : the story of an Afro-Cherokee family in slavery and freedom (Tiya Miles)
  3. PMLA Genre Issue

Top 3 Lessons Learned

  1. Never give your prospective landlord cash before you see a lease AND a roof w/o holes in it (this lesson learned vicariously, courtesy of my sister and her beau and their move to Miami)
  2. Tequila shots: no. (this lesson not learned vicariously)
  3. Don’t give up on your faith, fool, love comes to those who believe it. Keep everlastingly at it and don’t let yourself off the hook with a cheap out, please the in-law’s, I need to settle down and have kids excuse. Try before you decide you’ve failed.

Close call: Don’t waste summer reading time on summer books. I think I went seriously astray there, spending weeks reading fluff like The Ruins when I could have been reading Faulkner.

Top 3 Punctuation Marks

  1. colon
  2. comma
  3. dash

Top 3 Cities I Fantasized About Moving To

  1. Washington, DC
  2. New York, NY
  3. Columbus, OH

Top 3 Things Totally Worth the Extra Money

  1. DVR
  2. a night in a bed & breakfast instead of a motel
  3. new running shoes

Top 3 Publix Premium Ice Cream Flavors

  1. Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  2. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  3. Buckeye

Top 3 Babies (in alphabetical order, you know I can’t rank babies)

  • Charlotte
  • Luc-Luis
  • Nathaniel

Okay, that’s as silly as I can get right now, and if I think of any more between now and December 31st, I’ll post.