What I’m reading this winter.

I must be a fast reader because, sometimes, I’m amazed at how much I actually get read. Eventually, I mean. I tend to read more than a few things at once, hopping back and forth from book to book, so I can’t exactly be called the most disciplined book-o-phile. Blame college for my bad habits. So despite the massive piles of stuff for my classes (which are thankfully winding down–yay finals next week!) I have managed to pick at a few delicious word-morsels that have definitely expanded my horizons.

First, I’m on this Victorian Gothic kick, so I’ve been thumbing through Joyce Carol Oates’ BellefleurI say “thumbing through” because the book is so massive, so densely formatted, and such an accurate depiction of the original art form that it’s almost unreadable. A highly difficult book, one that I doubt I will finish in the next ten years, but it’s chock full of dirty bits and Oates’ beautiful language. Well worth the time.

Also, I discovered (rediscovered) Pioneer Women by Joanna Stratton, first published in the 80s and full of compelling stories of women on the Kansas frontier. I remember my mom reading this book when I was a kid (and living in Kansas), so it’s a bit like a homecoming. While the writing itself is sadly plain non-fiction narrative, it features first-person accounts of life on the untamed prairie, from women’s perspectives, and there’s lots of wolves and guns and starving to death. Exciting and poignant. I’m working on a prairie gothic/alt fantasy series of short stories, so this will be a fine inspiration.

Along with all that, I’ve got a horrible one-click habit on Amazon, so I just picked up Laird Barron’s The Imago Sequence and Other Stories and Shirley Jackson’s uncollected stories in Just an Ordinary Day.  So far, both have been amazing. Short-form literary horror is, and likely forever will be, my favorite thing to read, and it’s just perfect that I can squeeze in a story or two before bed or in between classes. And the contrast between the two is so fun–Barron is so deliciously masculine (in that great women-get-to-be-people-too kind of way) and Jackson so marvelously feminine (with men-as-people, too) that the two of them together just round out a perfectly whole, dark vision of a doomed universe. Great stuff.

And, after finals, I’ve got a pile of stuff on my reading list, including Douglas Unger’s Looking for War, Ursula K. Leguin’s Birthday of the World and Other Stories, and a literary Xmas present my husband got me (which I know he got me, but I can’t say what I know he got me.) Altogether, it’s pretty ambitious (and perhaps indicative of an addiction). I hope my eyeballs can keep up.

Left or right brains taste the same.

I love neuroscience. I only barely understand neuroscience, but I love it all the same. I have a great respect for the great brains that are puzzling out how exactly brains work (which is kind of creepy when you think about it–it’s an organ, in our body, that is trying to figure out itself. What if it wakes up one day self-aware? Oh, god–it knows it’s self aware already! Ahhh!).

Paranoia aside, I love this sort of stuff so much that I volunteered for a project at work, in which I read a pile of neuroscience books and articles in hopes of applying some of that information to education and tutoring. It was a fun time. Among the many (many, many, many) works surveyed (I’d put my reference list up here, but it would look like I was showing off), I found the best stuff in the book Mind, Brain, and Education: a comprehensive guide to the new brain-based teaching, by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, PhD, and the Journal of Mind, Brain, and Education. Its an emerging field, this MBE, and Harvard even has a master’s program in it. Altogether, its just a evidence-based approach to education using neuroscience and psychology tinted glasses. I’ll probably be writing quite a bit about it, as it is my new favoritest academic thing evar.

One interesting thing to note (and I’ll write more about this later, as soon as I dig back up my sources, but it’s Sunday afternoon and that is not the time for digging up sources, and anyway, this is my blog, not my thesis. God, I always think I’m writing a thesis…) Anyway, notable is the fact that neuroscientists frikken’ hate the left-brain, right-brain thing. There is apparently no evidence to support that people are ruled by either hemisphere, and a vast wealth of information–particularly with studies involving victims of brain damage–shows that the brain is highly adaptable and often changes where it stores information.

Fascinating stuff, but even more fascinating is that, from what I read, neuroscientists will take every opportunity to bitch about it.

Article about the brain’s ability to form episodic versus semantic memories? Crammed in the middle is a paragraph about left-brained, right-brained. Book about developmental learning disabilities in traditional K-12 classroom environments? There’s a passage that says, by the way, that left-brained, right-brained thing is bunk. Literature survey on the history of cognitive neuroscience and psychology as it pertains to education? Whole chapter on that the left-brained, right-brained thing not being true. Hey–hey man. No, really–it’s totally not true. No one is ever just left-brained or right-brained. Really! It’s not–Damn it, why isn’t anyone listening to us?

So yes. After everything I’ve learned during my highly complicated reading, the main takeaway is: people really don’t listen to neuroscientists. It’s sad really–their brains are so self-aware. But, then again, I’m right-brained, so I may not understand anything unless its got a bunch of pictures in it.

I have made an astounding discovery.

So, in college (and in life, if I may be so bold to say), we are often forced to wrestle with stupid big tomes of Random Knowledge. In my case, my tomes are mostly composed of English literature, theory, and philosophy. These tomes are oftentimes so big, and the publishers so cheap, that the paper is this kind of pseudo-vellum saran wrap stuff that tears like an elderly diabetic’s skin and abhors all forms of pen, marker, or highlighter.

For ages–okay, the last year or so–I’ve wrestled with this paper of stupid delicacy in my urge to mark, highlight, and write in the margins. So far, my efforts have been met with despair. I’m not able to make a decent highlight in any of these books without the yellow/orange/green bleeding through to the other side of the page (and sometimes several pages underneath it) and forget using a red pen to add comments (or correct typos). But today, inspired by my darling toddler-beast who was trying to scribble in my Shakespeare, I had an epiphany:

Yellow crayon.

To my most voluptuous delight, it totally works.

highlight1To illustrate, Julius Caesar’s long-suffering wife Calpurnia has been lightly scribbled over with a Crayola brand “Yellow” crayon. Beneath is Brutus’ mettle-rich wife, drawn in a Sharpie brand accent neon yellow highlighter.

While of course the Sharpie makes a more vivid mark–me and all the other poor slobs in the English department who get this book will never again miss that Portia is Brutus’ wife–the Sharpie is so intense that it interrupts the narrative on the back of the page. As seen here:


The crayon, while visible, is not nearly as obtrusive as the Sharpie highlighter, meaning I can easily move through the subsequent pages without thinking I’ve highlighted mind-bending passages like “at the point of his” or “over the stage.”

While I am aware that this is one of those stuffy-white-intellectual problems–akin to “First World problems,” but for people who are opposed to using the colonialist monikers of “first-third” for designating hierarchies of civilization–I am still super pumped about it. When I go to class on Monday, I’m going to tell all my fellow students about it, and I feel that their worlds, too, will be blown. …They might even name me their hero-King among English majors and laud my name for generations to come!

Or, they might just all start bringing Crayons to class. Which would be fun, too.

What I’ve been reading this summer.

I never get to read as much as I want to – even when I have plenty of time, I’m generally too distracted by The Child, or by classwork, or with another stunning episode of Paranormal Home Inspectors to get much good reading done. It’s sad. I need a new prescription with my glasses anyway, which means I only get, oh, three or four good hours of reading in before my brain wants to explode. Reading is hard work.

Most (if not all) of my reading occurs either on the internet or on ebook. Yes, I am that terrible new species of reader – the one who has little patience for anything over 25,000 words and who prefers their fiction ambiguous, impermanent and frequent. Like lyrical shotgun blasts. I haven’t looked at a real paper book in a long time. (At least, not one that wasn’t required reading. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism is still sitting by the couch like I’ve got an assignment coming up.) Some may brand me as a pariah for saying such things, but I, for one, welcome our electronic overlords. They charge less.

Anyway, my favorite shotgun blasts these days are online magazines that do weird fiction, speculative lit, offbeat literature, and various slipstream fruitcake combinations of stuff. Among the best I’ve seen are Lakeside Circus, to which I have just purchased a subscription. The stories at Lakeside Circus are beautifully styled, short, and transportive, and they’ve got a lot of nice science fiction slipstream and weird magic realism. Occasionally, some of their stuff is a little too genre for me (so much time travel), but I only get miffed at genre when it fails to be obtuse and convoluted enough. Clarity is so pedestrian!

…There’s a real possibility that I may be a lit snob.

As long as I’m fessing up to such things, I can also admit that I absolutely love Paper Darts and Smokelong Quarterly. Both very different publications, Paper Darts gives me such lovely doses of literary weird in prose and poetry format, while Smokelong gives me nice, heavy mouth-punches of dense lit in tiny packages (while making me miss cigarettes). I love dense literature, but around the 1500 word mark, I develop a driving urge to drop everything and just go watch a freakin’ cartoon. (I’ve tried James Joyce – I’ve really tried. But my kid was watching Backyardigans and, at the time, that just seemed like a much better way to spend my life.)

Along these lines of weird and challenging is a new magazine called Quaint, which has come up with some really awesome, visceral stuff so far. Plus, their editorial team has stats, which is of great importance. If the people at the Paris Review had stats, then I’d be much more inclined to put up with their pompous nonsense. Maybe I’m not that much of a lit snob, after all.