Saturday, February 24, 2018

Quit Lit Junkie

So, back during grad school, I made myself two vows. First, I wouldn't read any more "quit lit" (i.e., academics writing about leaving academia), and second I wouldn't read any more diatribes bemoaning the academic job market. Those decisions were simply good psych management. If quit lit was depressing, akin watching a car crash, then reading about job market woes would had even Pollyanna looking for the nearest tall building.

Anyway, they're both related subgenres of academic writing, since the job market is the major reason we leave academia. While I'd personally never stop trying to read, write, and publish everything I could, academia's still the only occupation (other than lottery winner) where you can do that full time. Even today, though, I still can't believe my unimaginable good luck in landing a lectureship at the U of Arizona. Although anything less than a tenure-track position at a major research university can't honestly count as a "dream job," but still, landing a lectureship at a major research university is certainly a "daydream" job. It's beyond anything I could have reasonably hoped to have expected.

What brings on these ruminations, however, is a recent piece of quit lit that's been making the rounds. A historian named Erin Bartram wrote on her blog the following post, The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind. It's a powerful piece of writing. After the post went viral, though, I was even more struck by Bartram's follow-up, an interview she did for The Chronicle of Higher Education, which can be found here.

Some of the highlights of that interview:

  • "There are countless people who have . . . go look at my CV and find reasons why I didn’t get a job." 
    • Yes. Although I'm as bad at c.v.-stalking as anyone else, it's also a cop-out to "explain" her lack of job by what's on her c.v.. You must do everything you can to bolster that document, but luck will always be the major reason anyone gets a job in this market. As proud as I am of my c.v. at this stage in my career, I still just got lucky to find the right job at the right time.
  • "people I know have been turned down for jobs when their CVs as candidates already had more publications on them than senior members of that committee. That hurts."
    • Understatement. And -- anger, although deep down we all know that it's not really the fault of those academics entrenched in the system.
  • The "survivor's guilt" of someone getting an actual academic job.
    • Yes, yes, and double yes. Even reading about the murderous workloads of my friends who got community college jobs (and these are the "lucky" grad school survivors who weren't forced out of academia), my own sense of guilt is fine-honed. Once again, no matter how diligently one works on one's c.v., the most important factor at the end of the day is still just luck. And that realization makes life seem very, very precarious.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Finally completed my reading of Paul Edwin Zimmer!

Of all the Zimmer stories and poems I've had to track down, "The Border Women" excited me most -- women don't often make a large appearance in his fiction. Unfortunately, I've had the damnest time finding the darn thing. First, I interlibrary loan'd it. Took forever and, when I got tired of waiting, I purchased it from two different sellers on Amazon. The first seller cancelled on me. The second, after missing his first Amazon-imposed delivery deadline, also missed the second self-imposed one after I contacted him. So I just cancelled that one as well. 

But the book has arrived at the U of A, and I pretty quickly saw why it was relegated to Special Collections (meaning that I couldn't check it out of the library). The book itself was in good shape, but apparently it was part of a limited 300-edition volume. That limited edition business explains why I had such a tough time finding it on Amazon itself.

Anyway, what do I think about the story itself?

Well, first, it's cool that it's set at the very end of events from The Dark Border -- the story's about a group of women alone in a redoubt when the Border flares, their men all away fighting Hansio's war. 

It's also cool that PEZ's sense of horror, which is usually relatively muted in his other Dark Border fiction, comes out in full force here.

And it's also cool that PEZ tries working with a range of non-martial characters unusual for him.

Some things, though, were not necessarily bad but, well, off. This story clearly runs afoul of the "How do you add swearing in a genre without swearing" problem. One character keeps yelling "you rotting thing!", which gets annoying after about the 4th or 5th time. Also, PEZ has a slight tendency to reuse plot points from previous work. For example, the encountering-a-former-friend-turned-vampire plot point also appeared in "A Swordsman from Carcosa," which in turns re-uses the "Istvan has recently lost his son" theme from The Dark Border.

All in all, though, the story's decent enough, and I'm glad to have finally gone through the entire Paul Edwin Zimmer corpus. I'll begin writing my essay as soon as my current project is done (hopefully soon!).

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tweeted by a Tolkien Scholar!

So, a super cool thing happened to me about two years ago . . . and I didn't notice until just the other day.

Back in 2016, I published an article in The Journal of Tolkien Research about Saruman, rhetoric, and Plato's concept of thumos. Well, what I noticed the other day was that Dimitra Fimi, one of my favorite Tolkien scholars, actually tweeted the link to that along with a compliment. I always read her work whenever I come across it, and I even had the pleasure to review her edition (co-edited with Andrew Higgins) of A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, so that tweet just tickled me pink.

It took me two years to notice that tweet, btw, since I so rarely use my twitter account. I should probably use it more, though, especially as the forum has been kind to me. Within my first week of opening my account, as a matter of fact, I saw the CFP for a festschrift of. Verlyn Flieger, edited by John D. Rateliff, and that actually turned out to be one of my first official academic acceptances.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Wow -- N. K. Jemisin

I first encountered Jemisin through her novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I didn't care much for it, I remember. Really, I only read it because she seemed to be earning as much praise for being an African-American fantasy author as for writing good books,*** soI was curious about her work. But, although the book wasn't good enough for me to continue the series, it was nonetheless good enough that I didn't mind giving her most recent series, The Broken Earth, a try. I read The Fifth Season (2015) about a year after it came out, and it utterly absorbed me.

Now, over the last week, I finished The Obelisk Gate (2016) and The Stone Sky (2017).

Let me say -- well, damn. Wow wow wow. Words fails me. The term "masterpiece" can be thrown out too cavalierly, but I don't know if even that quite cuts it here. It's been a long time since I read something so original and so gut-wrenchingly powerful. 

Part of me cannot help wondering how more deeply I would have reacted to the book had I read it twenty or even ten years ago, when the sense of grief the books articulate would have been even more poignant for me.

I won't mention my thoughts on the series here -- I suspect it'll take me a long time to process them completely. The experience of having read The Broken Earth is still too raw, Jemisin's themes too complex and deeply layered. I had a similar experience reading Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia, although Jemisin's series is longer and more immersive. For now, though, I think it safe to say that this may be one of the best works of speculative fiction ever written -- maybe even a landmark of modern literature period, no matter the genre categorization.

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***At least, that was the case in the online articles where I first encountered her name.