About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What can I get you to drink?

Hi, welcome to Cafe Hazelthyme! Come on in! Can I take your coat? What can I get you to drink?

Yep, I guess I've finally joined the blogosphere. Never mind that everyone this side of my mother-in-law has had a blog for aeons, or that I've kept a pen-and-paper journal (off and on, anyway) since the Carter administration. When it comes to technology, I'm not an early adapter. I'm no Luddite either, but eh, computers are a means, not an end. Organizing my bazillion photos? Reading those reams of journal articles I went through in grad school, without needing to run from one library and photocopier to the next tracking 'em down? E-mailing or Skype-ing overseas friends who I'd never get to talk to otherwise? I'm in. But whiling away the hours downloading, cataloguing, researching, and commenting on more iTunes than I'll ever have the chance to listen to (hi, Mrhazel!)? Compulsively updating my Facebook status? (Yes, I'm well aware that anyone old enough to remember the Carter administration is way too old to be loitering about on Facebook. Guess I'm the e-quivalent of the creepy old neighborhood guy everyone recognizes but no one knows, hanging around the playground.) Keeping a cyber-journal like Father McKenzie, "writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear"? Not so much my thing.

Yet here I am nonetheless. Mostly, I started the blog to keep track of my reading. I'm a voracious reader, and have issued a challenge of sorts -- though so far, only I know about it -- to see if I can read 100 books this year. Trouble is, I get most of my reading material from libraries, and the downside of churning through 'em as fast as I do (well, aside from not getting much else done) is that I don't always remember the details afterwards. (OK, sometimes I don't even remember the full title, or the author's name.) It's been ages since I've written a proper book review, and I don't know that's my intent anyway. At any rate, here's the 2009 tally so far:
  1. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire. Meaning to read this one for a while, finally got around to it while visiting the 'rents over Christmas. (OK, I technically started it in '08, but as I finished it on the 1st, I think it counts.) Enjoyed it, though not as much as I'd expected to. Thought there was both more to it and less than I'd expected. More in that I guess I expected something fluffier, and the story has a lot to say about the roots and nature of good and evil, about family relationships, the significance of physical beauty, and so on. I'm usually a sucker for books that tell a familiar story from a different perspective; Mists of Avalon and The Red Tent are among my all-time favorites. Less in that somehow, I just couldn't connect with any of the characters the way I like to. Perhaps that's deliberate; Maguire lets us see just enough of Elphaba, Galinda, Nessarose, Dorothy, the wizard, et al. to suggest that there's much more to them -- to all of us -- than Baum's original series would ever admit, but we still don't and can't really know them. In the interest of full disclosure, I also admit that I read a good chunk of this while on vacation, with Mom's chatter, Dad's TV, and other distractions going in the background ... and in the time it took me to realize it was a bit weightier than the typical vacation book and needed more attention, I may well have missed stuff. I'll probably go back and re-read it at some point, and may read its sequels (Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men) if I come across them ... but I don't think it'll make my all-time favorites list.
  2. Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott. Started this one way back in 2008, reading a chapter here & there with Littlehazel at bedtime for God knows how many months. I'd read Little Women repeatedly as a child, but never either of its sequels. This one was first published in 1871, and it shows. By today's standards, the moralizing is a bit heavy-handed, the plot and characters rather predictable, and the constant marveling at the wonders Jo and Fritz work on their boys with their own brand of loving firmness gets a little repetitious, even sickening, at times. It's also hard not to chafe at some of what today would be horribly sexist -- especially if you were ever a little girl who adored and wanted to be Jo March. That said, there are some interesting characters, many parts that made me laugh ... and frankly, it's fun to catch up with the characters from Little Women and see what's become of them. There's far less to the story and I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as LW, but it was a good read, especially for a parent-child read-aloud, and we'll probably pick up Jo's Boys next time we have the chance.
  3. American Therapy: The Rise of Psychotherapy in the United States, by Jonathan Engel. I also read a good deal of non-fiction, though it usually takes me longer to slog through and I'm more likely to get to the point where I wonder if I'm reading something because I want to, or just think I should. This one wasn't quite like that as it was a pretty quick read, but I didn't find it all that interesting or new, either. The first 4 chapters are pretty much strict history, from Freud and his earliest followers, through the growth of psychiatry, psychology, and social work during and after WWII, to the advent of humanist, cognitive, and behavioral schools of thought. Interesting stuff, but really just a refresher for anyone who's had a college course or 2 in psychology, without much new insight or material. Liked the chapter on how American views and treatments of alcoholism have changed in the last half-century, and thought this was probably the strongest part of the book. From there, it almost seemed like Engel was either rushing to meet a deadline or struggling to flesh out what was really only half a book's worth of material, because the latter half of the book seems to have a lot less substance (the first part wasn't that meaty to begin with), and the writing is much weaker. The narcotics chapter spends too long digressing about the evils of marijuana and heroin and their impacts on society (I'm not sure I buy the former, but regardless, it's a different book), and the final chapter (titled "Biology," but "Psychopharmacology" would be more accurate) seems a little too glib about the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals, to the point that I wonder if the author has business dealings with one of the pharmaceutical companies. In a nutshell, it was an OK book -- I didn't dislike it enough not to finish -- but I'm glad I borrowed it from the library and don't think I'd bother recommending it to anyone else.
  4. currently reading Peripheral Vision, by Patricia Ferguson. A novel of interconnected stories, set in and around London: in 1995, a successful opthamologist with a much-older husband who doesn't know what to make of her newborn daughter, and a single, unemployed 30-something man who lives a life of quiet desparation caring for his dying, elderly mother; in 1954, a kind nurse engaged to an upper-class med student whose mother disapproves of her working-class background, and a housewife guilty and shattered after an accident injures her young son's eyes and leaves him permanently disfigured. I'm only a quarter of the way through it, but so far, the characters are compelling and believable, and the individual stories interesting enough to make me want to keep reading and see what happens next and how they all end up tying together.
So much for a quick introductory first post. Let's see where this goes from here.

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