Saturday, December 31, 2005

no turning back

I've spent New Year's Eve babysitting.

I've danced the night away.

I've had too much to drink and danced the night away.

I've lit fireworks.

On Y2K I fell into an in-depth discussion over the various physical merits of Tom Brokaw vs. Peter Jennings. No, alcohol was not a factor in this conversation.

During my last pnuemonia bout I went to bed at about 8 PM.

This year? This year I will be curled up on the sofa with a book written by one of the most dense, difficult, dull authors in my field. That is, I find him dense, difficult and dull, not to mention dictionary-driven. Nevertheless, he's a hugly important and revered name in the field and I can no longer procrastinate rereading this 515 page (with teeny-tiny print) doorslab of a classic if I am to get a chapter in the mail by January 4.

Happy New Year to all - please stay safe.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

books! books! books!

Following my last, rather blissful, post, John B. asked for titles. I'm in the midddle of a writing binge, so I will post briefly about three of them.

1) Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir. Isabella, wife of Edward II, is generally described as an odious, ambitious, adulterous, teacherous murderer without any redeeming features apart from her beauty. Weir argues that while Isabella certainly had a strong sense of self and what she deserved based upon her royal status, historians have misjudged and misunderstood many of her actions. In the 21st century we're still unlikely to condone adultery, but we have a better understanding of its whys and wherefores; being married to a man who has no sexual interest in you and actively places you in harm's way does tend to contribute to marital breakdown.

2)Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands - I first discovered Brands when I read his excellent and extensive biography of Benjamin Franklin. This is his latest work. Jackson, though much admired in his own time, now often ranks as the worst of the worst for his policies on Indian Removal. I've always felt that while he did possess admirable qualities and a calculating intellegence, Jackson did not rank among my favorite presidents. I've seen a few presentations by Brands over C-SPAN, in which he has mounted a spirited defense for Jackson. I may not agree with Brands after reading the book, but I am looking forward to it immensely.

3) The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. "A murder mystery with bells and bell ringing as the central motif??!!" I hear you cry. No, really, it was excellent. Sayers drops just enough clues that the reader could guess at what happened, but you can also just read along and enjoy. Great fun.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Boxing Day!

Not surprisingly, people tend to give me books for Christmas. Generally they fall into three categories:

1) one book that I start reading right awayand devour before Boxing Day

2) a few books that look really interesting and I'll read at some point in the next year

3) one or two books that I would read if I had nothing else to read, but that really hold very little appeal for me

This year, every book given to me falls into category #1, despote ranging across a great many genres and fields. Happiness, happiness, happiness

(melts in bliss)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

a six-pack

"Hello, Kind Friend."
"I've brought you a six-pack!"

A six-pack of brownies, that is. Not that there are six of them anymore...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I have yet to hear Mariah Carey sing "All I want For Christmas is You." I am bummed.

I have yet to hear "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas." I am beyond bummed.


P.S. to yesterday's post - I was wrong. (It happens.) The first Jewish community in the colonies was established in Newport in 1654.

P.P.S. I spelled 'hippopotamus' correctly from memory, thank you very much.

Words Written: hope to do some tonight
Lessons Graded: waaaaay too many

Monday, December 19, 2005

the good, the bad and the ugly

Thanks to all for kind comments and assurances - I do think that neurotics are drawn to academe in part because it plays on our best and worst personality charecteristics.

The good: I woke out of a sound sleep on Saturday night suddenly struck with the thought: Red book - why the heck haven't I looked it that index? I read Red Book for qualifying exams, but I haven't touched it since - oh, I could tell you the basic argument and evidence used, but I haven't really looked at it since then. Sure enough, Red Book has some really juicy quotations and great bits that I can work in. Hurrah!

The bad: Sam broke into my chocolate stash. It's been an exciting morning. Let's just say that dogs and chocolate don't mix and leave it at that.

The ugly: I went to the P.O. to mail Christmas packages this A.M. The line was long but moving and everyone seemed in good spirits. One man in the queue insisted upon saying "Merry Christmas" to everyone and getting a cheery reply. What a nice man thought I. "After all," he added, "Christmas is for children. All of these ignorant foreigners come here and destroy our culture to suit themselves by getting rid of Christmas."

Do not, I repeat, do not mess with a stressed out doctoral candidate in American history. "Oh, really? Tell me, when did your ancestors come to this country?"

"Huh? Oh, I dunno, sometime in the 1880s."

"Well, Jewish people have lived in this country since the early years of the 1700s. I'd hardly call them 'ignorant foreigners.'"

"What? That's impossible!"


Words Written: have said a great many nice things about the author of Red Book and only thrown Green Book across the room once

Lessons Graded: that's next - not going to be pretty

Thursday, December 15, 2005

is this progress?

It's been horrifically chaotic around here lately.

Ive been reading quite a bit, but not written a lick - too terrifying each time I sit at the computer. I own a very large teddy bear; wonder if I could type with him on my lap?

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: ten
Books on Floor: twenty-two
Books on Desk: seven
Books on Bedroom Floor: fourteen

Friday, December 09, 2005

snow and snowed under

Sam faces a serious problem. He loathes snow, cold and wet. Thus he choses to avoid lakes, rain, baths - oh yes, and snowstorms.

On the other paw, there's eight inches of snow on the ground, so pretty hard to avoid when nature calls. He even slid out on a patch of ice, a thoroughly undignified moment for a serious dog.

Yesterday nearly every yard we walked by had children and grown ups playing in the snow. A few brave souls had shovels out, but it did seem rather like a waste of time, given how quickly the cleared areas filled up again.

I woke up around 2 AM from a series of dreadful nightmares with a dozen good ideas for the diss, half the introduction and half for detail chapters. I'm trying to push the literature as much as possible, without getting into the excruciating detail that drives me mad. I repeated the list a few times so that I wouldn't forget any of them - and then, of course, couldn't get back to sleep. (yawns) Please pass the coffee.

Now comes the challenge of integrating the ideas, most of which actually seem pretty good in broad daylight, into what's already present. You know what this means? Right: more books on the floor.

Words Written: lots of little scraps of paper
Lessons Graded: twelve

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

dueling librarians

My second favorite reference librarian works at my local library branch. He’s smart, funny, and does me the compliment of understanding why I might be curious about something. Over the years he’s looked up all sorts of obscure and not so obscure information for me, always with a grin and a “Well now, that is a good question.”

Not only is he good at reference but he’s recommended several wonderful novels and biographies that kept me sane when I desperately needed a break from academics. In short, this is a Very Important Person in my day-to-day life.

Alas, my second-favorite reference librarian will be working at another library in 2006, so my remaining time with him is sadly limited. When he broke this news to me, he also issued one last challenge: was there anything else I wanted him to look up?

Now, as it happens, I’ve always wondered about the death of John Bellairs. Bellairs was a truly amazing author, one with oodles of research behind his novels, as well as great turns of phrase and he wrote books that I can’t put down. (The covers were all done by Edward Gorey, need I say more?) I knew that he had died suddenly, but not his age or cause of death.

“All right, SFRL, what was the cause of death?”

SFRL leaped into the fray. Within a minute he had dug up all sorts of references and information, but nothing on the cause of death. The digging continued. After five minutes, another librarian walked up. AL sized up the situation, and began to dig, too. In less then ten seconds, he had found the answer, while SFRL was still looking.

“What? Where? How did you--?”

I love librarians.

By the by, Bellairs died from a heart attack at age 53.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

wait a minute, I think I have it

I've blogged before about my inability to understand the president and the war in Iraq. It's felt as though I was just missing one little piece of perspective, and then I would get it. I didn't expect to agree with his reasoning, but I really need to know why.

I think I've figured it out. This isn't Vietnam or the Persian Gulf to GWB. It's post-World War II Japan. He believed (and probably still believes) that following a short but powerful attack (dropping the atomic bombs) the US military would be able to spend a few years writing a constitution, holding elections, and weakening the monarchy.

Now, this thesis has a few holes. After all, Japan had spent quite a few years fighting prior to 1945 and was considerably weakened even before the bombs fell. At the same time, I think I understand why GWB has dragged us into war, and I feel better.

Back to work.