Thursday, February 14, 2013

Back to school on my couch

This assignment calls for me to assess my own abilities and shortcomings as an online student and member of a team. I can't honestly say that I learned new information from the readiness assessments or the teamwork videos, but they did help me to internalize some things I have been avoiding.
I am a procrastinator. I have always been a procrastinator. (What's that you say? I'm supposed to be completely finished with this class in less than a week?) As a freshman at Reed, my advisor told me that, contrary to general wisdom, I appeared to function and write much better under a time constraint. In context, he found an essay I wrote during an exam, for which I had an hour, to be much better reasoned and written than the papers I had written for him with weeks of time. He told me to embrace my panic-induced brilliance (relative), and I faithfully wrote the final fifty pages of my senior thesis in the week, then hours, before it was due, in tribute to Nigel. Though I don't think Nigel intended me to take his advice quite so literally, it nonetheless served me well enough at Reed. However, as I have learned during these first few weeks of SLIS, online graduate school is a far different beast.
At Reed, my primary motivation for completing my readings or papers was to ensure my professors and fellow students didn't think I was a waste of space. I didn't know my actual grades until I opened up the copy of my transcript before sending it off to grad schools. The attitude among my friends and professors was that grades were a crass necessity needed only to give objective information to the venal administrators of graduate schools. Group projects, in addition, were unheard of. There was no middle ground between individual and collective.
Here I find myself at least a week behind in my readings for my classes, putting off this class because it's *just* a class about how to succeed in an online environment, having to confront the reality of grades and non-paper assignments for the first time in almost ten years. Alas, "I'm changing, fearfully changing!" I know that self-motivation is not an innate skill of mine but is a necessarily element of online courses. From now on, I will be assigning myself daily tasks in order to keep on top of my work, and work at it until it becomes a natural habit to work on things steadily rather than all at once, last minute. I hear it's possible.
As for group projects, because I've put off this class for so long, I've already encountered many of the problems of a poorly thought out group project for another class. I approached the assignment with all of the prejudices mentioned in the lecture - hating the idea of a group project because I could do it better on my own, avoiding possible conflict over group organization by doing as much of the work myself as I could, etc. Our group leader was very good at trying to include everyone and setting internal deadlines for the project, but our main issue was not setting expectations for the group at the beginning. I think a lot of the problem originates with the fact that most of us are in our first semester of SLIS and still navigating how the whole thing works without having the added complication of working with other people. With the explicit advice offered by the lectures, I'm hopeful that the next steps in our group endeavor will be smoother.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hello Fellow Info-philes!

I thought about creating a dummy blog for the LIBR203 assignment - so embarrassing to have people actually read what you've written and know that it's you (isn't "internet" synonymous with "anonymous" for us introverts?) - but I have several stuttering blog-starts scattered around the web already. I don't need to add more to the meaningless blog-clutter.

As you can see, I was enthusiastic about this blog for about a week two years ago and then abandoned it. I no longer live in Portland, OR, where I went to college and lived off and on for an additional three years. I would live in Portland forever if it weren't for that pesky ever-present cloud cover. It was too much for me, so I moved back to the Bay Area, where there is unending sunshine and a beautiful library system. Portland is full of overeducated underpaid blibliophiles, so the small (relatively) number of books the libraries have the budget to provide are nearly always checked out. I will never forget being 274th on a waiting list for The Marriage Plot. I caved to pressure and bought the book so I wouldn't have to wait two years to read it. At my local Santa Clara library, on the other hand, I've never been higher than 17th on a list, despite wanting to read some very popular books. What does all this mean? Mostly that I really like libraries.

And now, here's a list in no particular order of books I think everyone should read:
Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Strong Poison/Have His Carcase/Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
Anything by Madeleine L'Engle

Friday, December 10, 2010


Look at me go! Literature twice in a row, I don't know what the world's coming to. To be fair to my reputation, I already knew that I enjoy Forster, so it was not so much of an effort as it might have been.

A classic romance, about a girl (Lucy) who learns to expand her worldview on a trip to Italy. An unsuitable young man and his scandalous father teach Lucy to throw off the strictures of convention and be true to her own feelings. It takes her a great deal of lying and a stupid engagement before she gets it. I was quite taken aback by the happy ending (sorry to spoil the surprise). I didn't realize Forster - or anyone in the Bloomsbury group, for that matter - approved of happy endings. I thought they would be too, too bourgeois. I was glad to note, however, the vitally important sudden, meaningless death. If you haven't read Forster before (and you really should) it's kind of his shtick. This is the third novel of his that I've read, and it's happened every time. 

Grade: A

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I picked this up on the same hit-or-miss trip to the library as Practically Perfect (I really liked the cover. Also the mention of monsters). I hesitated because as we all know I am lazy, and the description struck me as Literature. No apparent easy romance. Possible effort in reading. All of these things turned out to be true, but I am Improving Myself.

Willie Upton returns home to the mythical town of Templeton, NY after she has a disastrous affair with her PhD supervisor. The day she returns home, the corpse of a huge monster surfaces in the lake. Willie's aging hippie-turned-Baptist mother informs her that she's lied about the identity of Willie's father all her life. It's a man in town, though she refuses to tell Willie who, and Willie puts her researching skills to work discovering who it is, reading through the history of her family for generations. Alternating between Willie's narrative are excepts from the diaries and correspondence of her ancestors, complete with photographs. The PoMo relationship between fiction, reality, truth, and narrative are here in full force* as Willie sifts through the layers of her and the town's history. Willie is a passionate and dynamic character, and there's the definite sense that life is messy and that's the way it should be. 

The Monsters of Templeton rocked my world. It is being added to the short list of books that have overwhelmed me with awesome and made me want to cry even when they weren't sad. If I hadn't already finished most of my Christmas shopping, this is what most people would be getting. 

Grade: A++

...And I am now officially caught up with the books I have read this month.

*Reminds me of my lone German lit class at Reed, with Ülker Gökberk, where we read W.G. Sebald's** The Emigrants and I struggled in vain to understand German way beyond my level and Post Modern German ideas.

**Any time I think of this author, which is surprisingly often based on my (lack of) comprehension of his book, I think his name in Ülker's crazy academic German: Vey-Gay ZAY-bald.


I have a soft spot for Sharon Shinn. All of her books without fail have romance, and I'm a sucker for women warriors stiff with fantasy notions of honor. Ultimate escape reading.

Wen is a great warrior with a tragic past that keeps her constantly wandering, searching for waifs to rescue. She rescues a young lady from kidnapping and ends up the captain of her guard, as difficult as Wen finds it to stay in one place. She doesn't believe she deserves happiness, comfort, friends, etc. Eventually she falls in love with the young lady's uncle (an unsuitable romance between a common soldier and a scholarly lord...), saves the day, finds redemption, and lives happily ever after.

As is often the case with Ms. Shinn, this book was quite silly. Wen's angst was a bit annoying, because she had no reason for it. I knew who the supersecret villain was as soon as she (sorry to give it away) was introduced. Though I flatter myself that I am supersmart, I don't think it was very subtle. This all isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it. Mindless fantasy is quite fun. Still, it wasn't Shinn's best*. 

Grade: B

*I think her best are probably the Samaria series, beginning with Archangel, which has a very interesting alternate world, hot and way more interesting romance, and better angst.


I may be one of the last people in Portland to read this (Mark hasn't yet, ha!), because it was 2010's selection for the "Everybody Reads" program. (I think the name basically explains it, but the idea is that everyone in Portland reads the same book, and even if they don't attend discussions or anything like that, we're drawn together more as a community. Oh Portland.) 

The book chronicles the last major outbreak of cholera in London, and its wide-ranging impact. It's a fascinating portrait of Victorian society and the evolution of scientific inquiry. As a person with a thoroughly literary, non-scientific mind, it was interesting acknowledging how certain things that I find to be natural and intuitive about science were completely ignored not so long ago (scientific method, anyone?). In the last two chapters, Johnson relates the epidemics of old to modern threats to civilization and their likely outcomes. It made me feel more sanguine about mass death and apocalypse. Perhaps not a great thing, but it was obscurely comforting to see the course of history as a continual pattern of overcoming and being brought down by tragedy. 

The writing was engaging, I learned stuff, it was good.

Grade: A

Chick Lit

This was the product of random browsing at one of Portland's tiny library branches (I've been forever spoiled by the vastness and quality of Santa Clara's main branch library. Portland's main branch is big and impressive-looking, but hard to navigate and surprisingly barren of books.) Random browsing is always hit-or-miss, and unfortunately this time it was a miss. 

Anna is an interior designer (which, she explains exhaustively, is practically an architect and much more important and interesting than being a decorator) who buys a cottage in the country to fix up and sell for profit. In the process she's handed an abused ex-racing greyhound, makes friends with the requisite eccentric harried young mother next door, and falls in love with the neighborhood. A man for whom she's nursed an unrequited burning love for THREE YEARS shows up and becomes an obviously unsatisfactory boyfriend. She gradually realizes that she should be with the local guy who is just as frumpy and unpolished as she is and they live happily ever after.

This book was for the most part boring, boring, boring. I like fluffy books, and dogs, but this one was just trying too hard. Anna's persona is somewhat appealing, since she wanders around in overalls and work boots and hits things with hammers, but anyone who waits for someone they never even went on a date with for three years is just dumb. The Wrong Man is excessively flat, and the Right Man is a bit spastic. Not a winner, alas. I have not found myself a new fluff author.

Grade: C