Friday, June 06, 2008

Light reading update

I've had some very decent light reading recently; it's whiled away an hour or two, at any rate....

(Tidying up my apartment also means that all sorts of interesting things to read have resurfaced and rendered themselves accessible and interesting by virtue of no longer being buried in insane mounds of book!)

Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon was excellent. It's a hardboiled/cyberpunk hybrid of a most attractive kind, with the shades of Sterling and Gibson and Stephenson hovering on one side and Chandler heavily weighing down the other end of the see-saw. An attractively baroque plot (in fact I found it virtually impossible to follow, but not in a bad way--that's well within the confines of noir tradition!), and an extremely appealing narrative voice. The fundamental notion the novel explores is that in this intergalactic 26th-century future one's personality is stored in a cortical stack that (if one is wealthy enough) can be backed up frequently enough to render the death of the body virtually irrelevant, as it may be "resleeved" in a new one (a cheap synthetic or, preferably, a real one whose occupant has been temporarily punished for some transgression by long-term custody in a sort of storage chamber). A minority Catholic movement seeks to restore the integrity of the soul by abjuring the practice of resleeving, a notion most of this world's inhabitants greet either as absurd or as an opportunity for various forms of skullduggery. The working-out of the arguments about identity and embodiment is thought-provoking and interesting, and the writing's of a very high quality.

(An aside: I couldn't shake the feeling, right from the set-up of the crime investigation at the start, that in spite of the way this book wears its hipster credentials on its sleeve, the real underlying impulse--surely Morgan had this consciously in mind?--was to pay homage to the extraordinarily memorable opening scenario in Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel? This playful indebtedness gives Morgan's novel the feel of an elaborate intertextual joke--puzzle-like, engaging....)

Tricia Sullivan's Double Vision engaged my attention immediately by offering me an immensely likable though superficially uncharismatic heroine who is preoccupied with her martial arts training and reads Anne McCaffrey novels in the bath!

(Vivid memory of childhood: the pages of my twenty-times-reread copy of Dragonsinger [I cannot find an image of the cover of the edition I had, but it was the companion to this] all bursting out of their mass-market-paperback spine in the way that says I was once dropped in bathwater by a careless but devoted reader who is too attached to this particular copy to replace me!)

Again, aspects of this book are reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll on the one hand (in the fantastical sequences) and several of my favorite urban fantasy writers in the more real-world scenes, and it's occasionally a bit Matrix-ey, but it's a very fresh and imaginative and funny and original-feeling book, I liked it very much indeed.

(Sullivan has a blog that includes a fascinating two-part post on her history of martial arts training that is indispensable reading for anyone who's ever applied him- or herself to mastering a discipline that required submission to the authority of its gatekeepers. And check out the training film she posts here! Hmmmm, my life might be better if I could punch something like that, but it is deeply not in my nature....)

And then I read in lovely huge gulps--because she writes the kind of novels that are impossible to put down once you've started--Joshilyn Jackson's Between, Georgia and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. The first is more my kind of book than the second, I think, but this is an absurdly talented novelist...

I won't be posting much over the weekend, as I'm off to Philadelphia tomorrow to attend a celebration for my mother on the occasion of her retirement. I am proud of her and look forward to seeing the interesting things she will do in the next stage of life! She has taught at Germantown Friends School since 1977, and it has been a rich and honorable career, one that I always hold up in my mind as exemplary. I learned many immensely valuable things from her that help me every day in my work life, both when I teach and when I try and figure out how to make things happen in a tactful but efficient way in the institution I work at!

I quite often have occasion to quote the two things I learned at my mother's knee (she is an elementary-school music teacher, although that title does not really do justice to the scope of her professional life), certainly well-entrenched in my psyche by the time I was six years old:

Sit in the front row and sing loudly.

If it looks like the furniture needs to be moved, just get up and start moving it--don't wait for someone to ask you!

The second point is at odds with the advice commonly given to people on the tenure-track, which is never volunteer for anything and say no as often as you can when people ask you to do things, but though it has sometimes been a tough standard to live up to, I wouldn't have it any other way!

And I suppose I must take this opportunity to make a small announcement, though it feels very strange to do so in public like this. I learned late this afternoon that I have been given tenure at Columbia. I've taught here for eight years, quite a long time in itself, but in another sense it represents the culmination of many more years than that of reading and writing and thinking and learning. Strange indeed--I think it will take a while to sink in....


  1. Enjoy the festivities in Philadelphia (I do hope your mom enjoys her retirement festivities).

    And congratulations on well-deserved tenure!

  2. Yes, good news about the tenure.

  3. congratulations on the tenure--it's an oddly anticlimactic thing, in some ways, and it does take time to sink in. But it's nice that you have a celebratory weekend going on, even if it's not officially your celebration.

  4. YAY!!!!! I knew it, but still wonderful news of its confirmation!!

  5. Hi Jenny, It's been a while but Huzzah! & Congratulations!

    I still think fondly of your manners & morals lecture and your satire seminar from your first year at Columbia (and I like the blog too).

  6. Congratulations! Wooohooo!

  7. As you know doubt know, getting tenure is a fantastic cure for insomnia! Congratulations! Obviously, you deserve it and Columbia is lucky to have you, as your devoted students show.

    Hope you celebrate tenure with a banquet of light reading and bonbons! I happened to be alone when I heard and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but it honestly tasted extra delicious because for the first time in years I felt free of nagging anxiety.

    Hope you savor the moment and indulge yourself in something you really like. And don't forget that important genre of "tenure present"--usually one gets some kind of raise and should spend a bit of it on an extravagance (some kind of triathlon gear you want but think is too expensive?). Now is the time to get it!

  8. congratulations! This news gave me a flash of fondness for Columbia. (even though the decision to give you tenure is a no-brainer, I'm still proud of them for not fucking it up!).

  9. This is wonderful, your tenure and your mother's retirement coming together. A true transition for you both.

    And as always: we'll sit down for that coffee one of these trips!

  10. ps-- sorry for that obscenity.

    --bitter ex-Columbia faculty member

  11. Public congratulations!!

  12. Congratulations on tenure!!! That's wonderful.

  13. Hurrah and many congratulations!