As some of you know, I have an English degree. No one ever told me about the side effects of an English degree. I just hope they wear off one day. Seriously, academia should come with a warning: “May cause uncontrollable analysing of every piece of media, immediate recognition of the tiniest bit of symbolism, smartassery, and saying ‘actually’ a lot”.
For the first few months after completing my degree I was unable to read. Anything. Books had become so much a part of uni I couldn’t relax with them. Books = work. Why aren’t you taking notes on this? This is a vital plot point, illustrating the effect of capitalism on the common person. This is also a vital plot point, drawing directly on outdated concepts of psychoanalysis. This sentence echoes Foucault’s Discipline and Punish almost to the letter.
And it just went on and on and on. It’s bad enough that I can’t watch any TV show in German without my brain translating everything to English immediately and without my explicit order. On a more positive note, I think I finally got rid of the Thereforeitis. It’s when every sentence you say starts with therefore because after the fifteenth academic paper it’s just become a habit.
So for the last few weeks I have made an effort to read leisurely. It’s hard. It’s like training a muscle I haven’t used since the accident. Books can be fun, I tell myself. Reading is good for your mental health. Escapism is the goal here. Don’t think about how it might have fit in with your thesis.
Reading doesn’t exactly relax me. For one, I read a lot of sci-fi, which means action. And if it’s well-written, I can’t put it down. I have this terrible habit of devouring reading material like chocolate cake during a particularly bad period. And just like with cake, once it’s gone I feel empty. So I got to read more. And it begins to stress me because omg, can’t read fast enough, must know plot, arrgh!
Reading before bed is especially dangerous, no matter if fiction or something academical, and yes, I do still read scientific articles. Either I sit up until 4 am reading through someone’s adventure, or my brain is up until 4 am thinking about the topic at hand, composing my own paper in my head. You might think, well, there’s an easy solution: just write down everything you think. I can’t write that fast. I can’t even type half as fast as I think. I’ll be up until 6 am because I keep forgetting something. I tried, okay?
If I have to sleep, the number one priority is not to wake up the brain again. It loves thinking way too much. It’s not fucking healthy.
And if you’re now curious about what I could possibly read that is so interesting, here, have a list of books I read (or am still reading, because one book at a time is sooo preschool) so far this year for fun:
Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice:
I’m about halfway through with this one. The story… well, if I told you this is about the mind of a 2000 year old space ship trapped in a human body trying to get revenge on the multi-bodied demigod emperor of the galaxy you’d think you know what it’s about, but you really, really wouldn’t. This one has world-building and flashbacks galore, but that also makes the main story move very slowly. I’m smack in the middle and the protagonist is still on the same planet. And also in the same house. 2000 year old ships are patient, I guess?
Naomi Alderman – The Power:
Funny tidbit about this book: Way back at uni I once wrote a short story with an almost identical premise, just a different ending. Feeling kinda stupid now that I never did anything with it after that, but at least this proves my hypothesis that people across continents can have the same idea at almost the same time without ever interacting. What’s it about? Well, three points: Women get power that makes them stronger, men get scared, paradigm shifts occur. Do youself a favour and read it. Like, right now. I liked it, overall. I had kinda wished for a different conclusion, but you can’t have everything. Most of the plot twists are kinda forseeable (it is a kind of dark comedy satire that way), but there was one that hit me out of nowhere, so good job, Naomi. The narrative is told through the lens of multiple characters, the plot is interspersed with drawings of archeological finds that already hint at where the story is going. It was something different, which I liked a lot.
Ann Aguirre – Grimspace:
This is the exact opposite of Ancillary Justice. I’m one fifth in and already there have been three fights, one flight on a spaceship, an attack by alien wild life, and at least five deaths. It’s a riot! The book is sectioned into many small chapters, which is good as you need a breather between all the action. What I particularly like is that protagonist Sirantha Jax (yes, that’s her real name) is not a teenager or twenty-something, as sci-fi space operas are wont to include, but a woman in her thirties who swears like a pirate. Woo for old women in space! I feel so understood! The motley crew seems diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation, too, that’s a plus for me. I don’t think I’ll be getting any hot lesbian space action any time soon, but hey, you take what you can get.
Mary Beard – Women and Power:
In these two reproduced lectures originally held in 2014, classicist Mary Beard takes on the relationship between power and gender, focusing mainly on ancient Greek and Roman times. But you don’t need to be an expert on antique history to get into this. Got it at the same time as The Power because my academia-addled brain thought it would make for some nice secondary literature. I heard people complain about the book being too short, but hey, it’s two lectures, and it is very concise. Not every academic pulls a Foucault and rambles on for 500 pages.
Arthur Machen – The Great God Pan:
I came across this little late Victorian horror gem on this post. I mean, I had told myself no more books that months, but as the great poet Macklemore once said, shit, it was 49 cents (Kindle edition). It’s more of a novella, so I finished it within a few hours. The story is simple: A scientist who insists he’s not mad does experiments on a young woman, everything goes horribly wrong, twenty years later a mysterious woman is terrorizing London and people die, two men decide to play detective. Like most Victorian horror, you couldn’t scare a fly with this thing, it’s super foreseeable, but it was interesting, always alluding to something, but never being precise about what exactly is so horrible about the god Pan or the woman everyone’s afraid of. But if you’re looking for an easy read and like seeing Victorian men scared out of their wits, this is one for you.
Right now, that’s it! Since I’ve declared No Fun February I can’t get any books until next month. Until then, I’m taking suggestions.