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How Hard Can It Be?

July 25, 2018

I read How Hard Can It Be, by Allison Pearson, a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, marking a few passages to write about and putting it on my stack of books that I’ve read and mean to review. The stack started to teeter and fall over.

This means it is time for the cleaning of the desk. The desk I use is an antique Chinese traveling desk (the top lifts off the side pieces), and it came to me from my parents, who got it from my great-aunt. When my great-aunt had it I remember it being covered with papers and books all the time, so even though my parents kept it polished and pretty, with just an ornamental bowl and a stand for pens, I don’t feel bad actually using it. Every now and then I do feel the urge to clean it off, though, so the piles of books I haven’t made the time to review have got to go; some of them have been there for months.

IMG_1723The most recent books on the pile are Hope Never Dies: an Obama Biden Mystery, by Andrew Shaffer, and Amish Vampires in Space, by Kerry Nietz, which I had hoped to review together but then Hope Never Dies wasn’t any fun, so it didn’t turn out to be a great idea to compare them as romps. Although I enjoyed Amish Vampires in Space, there weren’t any real surprises.

You can see evidence of my recent Caitlin Moran enthusiasm, with Moranifesto, How to Build a Girl, and How to Be a Woman. These were my bedside table reading for a very brief period, as I read through them faster than I might have hoped. Same with the new Laurie King novel about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, Island of the Mad, which I’ve already returned to the library.

Because of other bloggers’ recommendations I read Michael Baker’s Borderline, Emma Newman’s Planetfall and After Atlas, Kiese Laymon’s Long Division, Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, Julie Buxbaum’s What to Say Next, Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, Kat Howard’s Roses and Rot, and A.E. Kaplan’s Grendel’s Guide to Love and War. They all had good things about them, but not enough IMG_1720that I had much to say.

Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves are the sequels to The Lies of Locke Lamora. By Scott Lynch, these are excellent novels and terrific airplane reading; I recommend them. They were recommended to me by Walker’s girlfriend (and one of my Writing Center student managers) Ariel.

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, by Charlie Jane Anders, was fun; it’s a volume of short stories that I picked up last March at ICFA. Another book I picked up there is So Lucky, by Nicola Griffith. It turned out not to be much of a novel, but an autobiographical exploration of what it’s like to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn, is a terrific new YA novel and a homage to Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, so after I read the Vaughn I had to reread the Heinlein, which needs to go back downstairs in our SF section.

Will Save the Galaxy for Food, by Yahtzee Croshaw, was as advertised, “a satirical sci-fi adventure,” and I enjoyed it. Much of the delight is in the details, like that the main spaceship is named the Platinum God of Whale Sharks.

Margaret Killjoy’s novella The Barrow Will Send What It May has some necromancy that doesn’t pay in it, so I had to read it and include it on my list. Although it’s the first book of a planned series, I was irritated and occasionally disconcerted by the prominence of backstory that hasn’t yet been told and the positioning for more story before this one really got going.

The best book that I’m not going to review is Kat Howard’s An Unkindness of Magicians. It’s a clever new YA novel about magic and young people, and I enjoyed it without feeling too much urgency to say anything about it.

That brings me back to How Hard Can It Be, which starts out as a great sequel and updating for women like me who read I Don’t Know How She Does It when our kids were small and were delighted to find a new one now that the kids are grown. I was a little disappointed by it personally, however, as the woman eventually has to divorce her formerly supportive husband in this one. That is not the level of difficulty I expected.

IMG_1724The rest of the books piled on my desk are mostly work-related, and since I will be working at home more than ever this year while I share my campus office with students, I’ve been thinking about where to find bookshelf space so I can pull them out when I need them. Eventually I cleared out some space on the big bookshelf near my desk, resulting in two big piles of books on the floor, to be taken downstairs (note: my use of passive voice indicates that I hope Ron will carry them down the stairs).

In addition to going through stacks of papers and folders, I picked up many postcards sent to me by other people and some of the blank ones I collect, to be put in a drawer of another desk. Most of the sticky notes I threw away, but one had a joke that Walker made last time we were at an Indian restaurant: “what do you call a person who brings bread back to life? A naan necromancer!”

I found my list for a clickbait page tentatively entitled “Five Insane Tricks to Make Your Writing Perfect (you won’t believe how simple these secrets for writers really are)” and put it aside; maybe I’ll make that page someday soon.

At the bottom of my “to blog about later” pile I found a list I’d made with my friend Jodie back when she was blogging at Bookgazing, a list of things that “there’s nothing sadder than.” I’m sorry we never did anything with that; it had some interesting ideas. The one that makes me laugh now is a quotation from Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale of the Time Being: “there’s nothing sadder than cyberspace when you’re floating around out there, all alone, talking to yourself” with my scribbled response: “oh yeah? How about remaindered novels? How about poems sewn into fascicles and left in a drawer?”IMG_1725

Once I’d cleaned everything off the top of the desk, I used oil soap on the top surface and then rubbed lemon oil all over it. I let that dry for a while with the ceiling fan on and the doors open.

Now I’ve put back the stacks of papers I think I need for this year’s administering and teaching and blogging and poetry reading and writing and political activism (in that order, from left to right across the back of the desk). I feel more organized. And doesn’t it look better?  IMG_1726


20 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    July 25, 2018 2:39 pm

    I’ve always thought that desk is lovely.

    • July 25, 2018 2:56 pm

      Thank you for saying so. I think so too, which is part of what makes it worthwhile to keep it oiled and a bit more presentable, since it’s in the middle of our living room.

  2. K D permalink
    July 25, 2018 2:40 pm

    It looks great!

    Hey, should I hunt up An Unkindness of Magicians for D1? I wonder if the nearby libraries have a copy…

    • July 25, 2018 2:55 pm

      Yes, you should hunt for a copy, although it would be okay if the hunt took 6 months to a year. He’d be reading up a little. I’m trying to remember, and I think there are some kissing urges, if not actual “kissing stuff” as the kid says in The Princess Bride.

  3. PAJ permalink
    July 25, 2018 2:42 pm

    Shouldn’t the political activism be on the left?

  4. lemming permalink
    July 25, 2018 3:55 pm

    I do not trust a clean desk. That having been said, my desktop is due for a cull. I’m noticing how many items I took off in the last cull have returned, which suggests that I need to rethink this.

    • July 25, 2018 9:19 pm

      I need a somewhat clean desk, as I tend to organize by piles.

  5. July 26, 2018 7:30 am

    It looks wonderful! I don’t know how you can review a book awhile after you’ve read it. If I dont write about it right away, I forget too much to be able to present a cohesive post. Good for you!

    • July 26, 2018 8:02 am

      Six months is about my limit, but the way I turn down pages reminds me of what I wanted to say about each passage, and once I’ve done that, there’s usually a main idea.

      • July 26, 2018 10:24 am

        Good idea!

        • July 26, 2018 10:59 am

          Although I tell students there’s no magic key to being able to write, leaving the introduction and conclusion until last is certainly a good shortcut. Maybe I should put that in my “5 insane tricks to make your writing perfect”!

  6. July 26, 2018 12:19 pm

    Wow – nice job on the organizing. I’m behind on reviews too (6 books?) and that means some mini-reviews coming up. Lately I just can’t seem to get excited about writing about what I read. I go through phases like that, though, and then I’ll read something that I just must write about. Did you like the Kiese Laymon? Wasn’t it weird? I read his memoir is coming out this fall.

    • July 26, 2018 2:10 pm

      No I didn’t like Long Division, although I didn’t dislike it entirely. There are good things about it. I don’t think he has mastered the experimental form he is trying out, including what he tries to do with the title. I picked it up because some of the reviews called it “satiric” but I wouldn’t call it that.
      I don’t mind reading mini-reviews and I also think it’s good to give yourself permission to do any amount of reading that you don’t write about. I never write about re-reading, for example. I guess I might if I changed my mind about something in a big way.

  7. Jonna permalink
    July 26, 2018 6:05 pm

    Jeanne, I love your desk, and your pile of books. We are in the process of moving to New Mexico, so I’m forbidden to buy any more books for the time being (except the Uppercase Box and Unicorn Box subscriptions that I screen for my nieces). But the advantage of not being allowed to buy new books is that I have been making great progress on my TBR pile.

    • July 26, 2018 9:07 pm

      Good luck with the move! I’m glad you make progress on your TBR pile when you can’t buy new books; I’d probably just go to the library more often.

  8. July 28, 2018 7:30 pm

    Wow, your newly clean desk looks amazing! I should do something similar except I know I’m not going to because I am terribly lazy.

    I am also really interested that you preferred An Unkindness of Magicians to Roses and Rot! I thought Roses and Rot was a terrific debut and I was really interested to see the author change and grow, and then An Unkindness of Magicians was a bit of a letdown by contrast.There wasn’t any conflict in it! Everything that might have been a conflict got resolved straight away!

    • July 29, 2018 10:06 am

      I have a much higher standard for fairy stories, especially versions of Tam Lin, than I do for stories about communities of magicians. I found Roses and Rot a little overwrought. I did give it to a young person as a gift, though, so I liked it enough for that.

  9. July 29, 2018 5:32 pm

    That’s such a beautiful desk! I felt the same way about An Unkindness of Magicians — I enjoyed it, but then I didn’t really have much to say after that.

    • August 2, 2018 2:15 pm

      I’m glad to hear that! I had some pages marked, but didn’t summon the energy to write about it when I still felt the impetus.

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