December 10th, 2007

Reading List 2007 (10/268)

Strange Travelers, Gene Wolfe
C is for Corpse, Sue Grafton
The Bride Wore Black, Cornell Woolrich
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
D is for Deadbeat, Sue Grafton
E is for Evidence, Sue Grafton
The Time Machine, H. G. Wells
The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter

… I wonder whether I’m going to manage to hit 300 books for the year this year. Probably not, unless I have a reading orgy in the last few days before New Year’s; I’m coming up on finals and probably can’t keep up a 10-books-a-week pace through those.

One of these years, I’m going to get a publisher or somebody to pay me to write a book on “My Year Of Reading,” and I’ll actually have the free time to bump my numbers to 365. That’s part of the reason I started tracking what I read in the first place. I got severely pissed at all these books that are like, “Wow! I’m so awesome! I read a book every week this year! Look at me write about my experience as if it were special!” So now I think that someone ought to pay me to write a book about reading a book a day. I could do it, easily, and it would be way cooler than just reading 52 books a year.


I saw The Golden Compass (the movie) and decided I had to re-read the books. What was odd to me is that the movie had pacing problems - but the book really has the same pacing issues. Despite the fact that the His Dark Materials series is among my favorite books ever, it’s weirdly stop-and-go. This gets particularly bad in the third book, where Mary Malone’s story comes almost entirely unhinged from the rest of the narrative. But Pullman is so enchanting (and his worlds so convincing, and his characters so human) that you just don’t care - or at least I don’t. Fuck beautiful narrative structure; give me fierce, tight scenes and unforgettable characters any day.

Gene Wolfe’s the only other person on this week’s list who compares, either in smarts or in emotional impact. His short stories are bizarre, eerie and very, very sharp. My favorite may have been the one in which a little boy’s Christmas season comes very badly unraveled, but there isn’t a dud in the bunch. I think I may have to read the whole collection again, though, because at least two of the stories connect to each other and I suspect that there are other connections that would appear on a second reading.

The rest of this week’s reading was solidly good, if not up to the Pullman/Wolfe standard. Grafton writes solid, entertaining mysteries; even if you can be sure that Kinsey Milhone will do at least one stupid thing that will put her in direct jeopardy, you believe that it’s in her character and not just the author making her behave bone-headedly. Woolrich’s novel was an earlier (and less dramatically successful) draft of Rendezvous in Black, so I probably should have read the two in the opposite order. Still, it was suspenseful and clever, and it was nice to see the damsels not being in distress for a change. Finally, Stephen Baxter’s counter-text (later-text?) to The Time Machine was surprisingly good, considering that as far as I’m concerned, the man can’t write for shit. The solution seems to be for him to parody Wells’ style, and to write a character who doesn’t require much characterization or emotional depth. And I’m a sucker for time travel!

Until next week, friends! Happy reading!

Why I Hate This Class

(The one I’m sitting in right now.)

Teacher: “Grades? No, I don’t grade on the content of the assignments you turn in. I just download them and delete them. You get full marks if you handed something in.”

Me: “So … you don’t … read … our assignments?”

Teacher: “I don’t think you should do the work to get grades! You should want to learn!”

Me: “You don’t read our assignments.”

Teacher: (gleefully) “No! Never!”

Me: …

Yeah. At least I’m not paying money for this class, but it’s still immensely frustrating. And it’s required for our department. God help us all.

For the curious, my philosophy on grades is that they’re best used as a formative, not an evaluative, assessment. In other words, the value of a grade is in telling you how well you’re learning and giving you feedback on what you need to be focusing on better. When I assign grades to my own students, each grade comes with at least a page of commentary about what the grade means and how they can improve. I also don’t ever give grades without the opportunity to redo an assignment, or to improve one’s work, or to engage in a learning process.

But … I do read my students’ work and pay close attention to it. Anything less is just insulting. And I’m fucking insulted. Gah!