Thursday, January 21, 2010

Job land

The only thing harder than finishing a phd is using that phd to get an actual, honest to goodness job. Getting a job in any field is hard enough, but getting a job where that phd is a wanted asset--that phd that you spent the better part of a decade acquiring--now that's really hard.

I'm somewhere in the middle of job land. It's a weird and awkward place. I know so many other grad students and recent phds who are there too. I'm competing with people I like and respect for one of only a handful of jobs. I wish the profession was different, but I don't see any change coming immediately, with the number of phds produced each year so far outstripping the number of jobs available.

Actually (and this is part of a much larger rant), I get pretty mad at what I see as irresponsible graduate education. I don't think most people, when they start grad school, have any real idea of how difficult it is to get a job in academia. It's hard, and I don't think most grad schools are very upfront about how hard it is. Then again, why would they be? Most schools rely on very cheap grad student labor to teach. Knowing that 80 or 85% (I can't remember the actual number, but it's awfully high) of people who start phd programs won't get jobs in academia, would, I think, be a big deterrent. Most won't even finish the phd. If you manage to actually finish the phd, you then pretty much have to be able to wait around for a few years before you get a real (tenure-track) job, taking one-year positions or post-docs if you can get them. And this is after the years of grad education where you're not really earning (but at least hopefully you're not being charged for--in fact, note to potential grad students: DON'T GET A PHD IF YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT!). I'm very lucky, in that I was funded for grad school, and I'm coming out the other end with no debt. If I get a job, it'll all be golden. But I can tell you, if I ever have any students thinking about academia as a career, I'll make sure they know what all is involved, and what the prospects really are. It's not that I don't think anyone should do it (I'm here, aren't I?), I just want people to know what they're signing on for.

Back to the monstrosity.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

the Rubric

I should probably make my rubric clear, since all the grades are my own personal judgments, and something that absolutely didn't work for me might be someone else's bestest favorite ever.

A: Fantastic. Plot, characters, themes, writing--all worked for me. The book stayed with me, and might very well end up on my keeper shelves. Ex: The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer.

B: Pretty darn good. I might have some problems with the book, but it make me think, was over all well done, and is something I'd recommend. Ex: Spymaster's Lady, Joanna Bourne

C: Neither good nor bad. It's fine, but not something I'd recommend, nor something I'll reread, probably. Overall, the book might work, but not really for me, and I might have some big issues with it. Ex: Again the Magic, Lisa Kleypas

D: Not great. Probably leaves me thinking, why did I buy/read this. Has some massive problems, in theme, characterization, plot, writing. Ex: Dark Prince, Christine Feehan

F: Terrible. How did this get published? There's probably a massive fail in it. It might be something I'll pass on, but not in a good way. Ex: (nothing comes to mind at the moment, probably since I try and forget them as soon as possible, as soon as I remember one, I'll stick it in)

DNF: Pretty self-explanatory. Did not finish. Either because it's all around so bad, or it hits an absolute no-no for me.

Review: Awaiting the Moon, Donna Lea Simpson

Title: Awaiting the Moon
Author: Donna Lea Simpson
Publication Info: Berkley, 2006
Genre: Gothic romance
Grade: C

Ok. I just finished Awaiting the Moon, and my gut reaction is: Huh? I was very excited when I found this book at the UBS; after all, what's not to love about a historical romance with a hint of werewolves? So many of my favorite things combined. And it turns out, that's part of the problem--there's just too much going on in the book. A warning--massive SPOILERS ahead.

The premise of the book is that Elizabeth Stanwycke, an English woman, has arrived at the castle of the count of Wolfram, to tutor the niece of the house on the proper comportment and manners of an English woman of breeding. Elizabeth's in need of a job far away from her old home because she had an affair with her old employer's brother, who promised to marry her, but instead revealed the affair and left her with a tattered reputation, no home, and no means of support. A friend, Frau Liebner, happens to be in need of someone just like Elizabeth to tutor her great niece in Germany, and so Elizabeth and Frau Liebner (ne Wolfram) head to Castle Wolfram. Note to writers looking to set novels, especially ones with gothic elements to them, in German-speaking lands--STOP NAMING CASTLES AND FAMILIES AFTER WOLVES! If it's not Castle Wolfram, it's Castle Wolfenbach, or Castle Wolfheim, etc. How about a normal German name? Something without Wolf in it?

Anyway, there are strange goings on in Castle Wolfram. It's a gothic. Need I say more? Mysterious tragedy, nighttime wanderings, half-heard arguments, blondes wandering nude in the snow (I'm not making this up), murmurs of werewolves, secret drugging and/or opiate addiction, mute servants who know all but reveal nothing. You might be thinking, more or less standard gothic fare (except for the nudity, I suppose). The central mystery seems to be whether or not there are actual werewolves in the forests around Castle Wolfram. And there's also the matter of the mysterious blonde woman. And someone in the castle is spreading dangerous and destructive rumors about the other members of the Wolfram family. And on and on and on. Since I don't want to reveal everything, let me just say that there is not a single inhabitant of Wolfram castle without a secret of some sort. Not a single one.

But wait, there's more. As our various mysteries build and are eventually revealed (and really, isn't the world spooky enough without random secret keeping for what seem to be, at least some of them, somewhat flimsy reasons?), our intrepid Elizabeth and Count Nikolas are unable to keep their hands off each other, engaging in not-so-secret nighttime adventures (which everyone in the castle seems to know about within days, and take with no comments--huh?). Which is one of my biggest problems with the book--I mean, Elizabeth lost her home, position, and reputation for sleeping with a guy in England. Why in the world is she doing the same here? So technically they don't quite sleep with each other, just doing everything but, but pregnancy shouldn't be her only concern here. She's totally aware of the dangers of losing her reputation. After all, it happened before. And, I found it entirely unbelievable that Frau Liebner and Count Nikolas weren't more concerned about her past. It's one thing for them not to know, but another entirely, for that period, for them to know and keep her as tutor of a young girl. Plus, he's her employer. Part of me still just finds their relationship icky. I would have expected someone with Elizabeth's past not to take such a risk again, not even for Twue Wove. At least not without some stronger guarantee of how she'll be protected from any consequences.

Not to mention that Elizabeth is ridiculously assertive. To the point where I was thinking: she's an employee in the house! Why is she telling everyone how to better run their lives? Why don't they tell her to shut up? She'll think about how she's not supposed to be assertive, and how she should keep her nose out of everyone's business, and then do it anyway. It's not that people can't mean to do one thing and then do another; it's just that in her position in the household, I found it ridiculous that she got away with it.

Also, the big reveal about Nikolas? Totally threw me for a loop. Gothic is all about atmosphere and silly coincidences, not actual supernatural stuff. Given the big build up and eventual rational (ish) cause of one of the other Big Secrets, I found the revelation about Nikolas one secret too many.

I had such high hopes for the book, but then found myself getting more and more frustrated with it, especially the second half. I really liked seeing a setting outside of England, and I liked the snowy winter atmosphere that hangs over the book. But too many secrets, and too many decisions where I thought, Why would you do that? Don't you directly know, from you own personal experience, that the consequences are dire? Maybe as I mull it over, my opinion will change, but as it stands--Grade: C

Disclaimer: Bought the book myself.

a monstrosity in the works

I've been working on my dissertation for years now. I'm not slow in the wider grad. school scheme of things (unless you're talking about a science diss, in which came I'm way behind), but it feels like I've working on it forever. I remember a few years ago (!) when someone told me that for every grad. student, there comes a time when you suddenly spend 6 intensive months and finish the damn thing, albeit somewhat crazier and more badly groomed than you were 6 months before. But what's a little crazy and a few split ends against the satisfaction of a spanking new, complete dissertation? I thought the theory sounded bonkers, yet now I kind of long for a six months' trial by fire, as long as there's the promise of being done on the other end. Or maybe I'm in it now, and won't even realize till I'm a few months on the other side. There's enough misery going on that it would be nice to know that it's going to get better and not worse.

Ok, back to the monstrosity.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

What the old posts of First Page Saturday at Dear Author (and a whole bunch of other posts on that wonderful website) have taught me is that there is a whole world of crazy kink out there that had never, ever, occurred to me. I mean, stone statues as objects of desire!? Dendrophilia?! Look it up, I kid you not. Savage Love has always been my "weird stuff that exists in the world" point of reference, but romancelandia, and especially the suburb of erotica has really, when all is said and done, plumbed the depths of "weird stuff" far more effectively. Probably because it's a genre that's about extensive description at minimum, and psychological examination (for good or for ill) at best. And sometimes, it's a psychological place that makes me scratch my head in bemusement, or shrink away in horror and repulsion (you know you've got the wrong book when all you can think is "eww").

And, by the way, props to the good folks at DA for First Page Saturday. Being still in the abyss of dissertation writing, I truly relish the chance to let my inner editor off leash and sic her onto someone else's writing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Some authors I love-part the first

Dorothy Dunnett: She's my absolute reference point for beautiful writing, plotting, and complex characterization and emotional depth. Oh, Lymond! Oh, Niccolo! I spent most of the summer before college reading the Lymond chronicles, and probably far too much of my first year of college reading the House of Niccolo. I don't love her mysteries nearly as much, but the historicals--!!! They made me rethink what a talented author could do with historical fiction. If you're a Dunnett newbie, beware that the first of the Lymond books, The Game of Kings, was her first book ever, and it doesn't really take off till page 75 or so. If you can make it through that, it's all clear sailing.

Georgette Heyer: If you want to know what the Regency genre can and should look like, look no further. My first Heyer was Devil's Cub, and it was quickly followed by others. My favorites are Devil's Cub, The Grand Sophy, Sylvester, and Friday's Child. But how can I leave off The Convenient Marriage, The Corinthian, Cotillion, and Frederica? She showed me how funny and smart the most frivolous of plots could be. I'm not a fan of the historicals, which all suffer from Very Important History Syndrome, but the light, silly ones? I gobbled them up, they're all on my keeper shelves.

Jennifer Crusie: Oh, Jennifer Crusie, how I adore you. Rom-coms in book form, only better, smarter, and funnier than any rom-com you'll find in theaters today. Crusie is what the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s would look like if they could be transplanted to today--meaning, edgy, sharp, and actually witty. In true "show, don't tell" fashion, no one is described as witty, they just are. I love it. My favorites are Faking It and Bet Me, though you can't go wrong with Fast Women, Agnes and the Hitman, Charlie All Night, and Anyone but You. Am I forgetting a favorite? Probably. You can't really go wrong with anything by Crusie.

Connie Willis: For To Say Nothing of the Dog alone, she'd make my favorites list. If you haven't read it, it's only because you've never realized how much better your life would be with a mad-cap, time-traveling novel about the Blitz, Victorian times, ruffles, ugly art, dogs, and fate. Not to mention naiads, cathedrals, and punting. The plot's a bit complicated (how'd you guess?), but it's a book that makes me laugh just thinking about it. I love just about everything she's written--she's another rom-com writer, only with a sci-fi bent, but To Say Nothing of the Dog is far and away my favorite.

Shouting into the Void

Here's my yawp to the world. What do you need to know about me? I'm a grad student, getting my PhD. I love, and am sometimes infuriated by, romance novels, urban fantasy, paranormals, etc. These are the things I'll be talking about. I'll try and post a review or two a week, old stuff and new, and see where that gets me. And hey, if I pick up a few readers along the way, it could be worse.