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What I’ve been reading, № 2

2.April 2014

Here’s the next installment in this series – What I’ve been reading for the last month. This list includes two books that I read ENTIRELY FOR FUN, which was refreshing. I’d highly recommend both of them, as well as all the rest!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I expect most of you will have read this already. It was my first time and it was great, great fun. I will say that having seen the movie actually almost felt like it spoiled the book (I am NOT saying that the movie was better than the book, but that the movie effectively took the surprise out of some of the best moments in the story.). It’s a good, silly read and a great way to unwind from heavier material.







The Marriage Plot – Purely pleasure reading book number ONE. I read almost the whole of this book on the flight (and during layovers) back from Germany to the US last week. It is WONDERFUL. The story is riveting and ultimately satisfying without being too cloying or cliché. And for those of you out there who are literature students (past, present, or future) this book has a lot of delicious little literary theory moments. I mean, a relationship inspired by a class on deconstruction?! Wonderful.







 Eine Frau in Berlin (English here) – This first-person account of the lives led by survivors of World War II in Berlin as the Russians rolled in is absolutely amazing. It’s beautifully written and absolutely heartbreaking. This book is one of the very best accounts that reminds us that not all Germans in the war were villains, not all of them were Nazis, and that, in fact, many of them were victimized as well. It is also unique for its focus on the lives of women immediately after the war, a time when most women were depicted only as Trümmerfrauen – women cleaning up the rubble – which has the effect of glossing over some of the less savory sides of living in the occupied city.







John Saturnall’s Feast – I’ll admit I haven’t finished this one yet, but I will say this. Historical fiction, witchcraft, cookery, and blurbs by A.S. Byatt. I’m sold. Also it’s a totally engaging story AND it’s not often you pick up a book that’s printed in two colors on every page!  Fancy! Seriously. Read it.








Berlin: David Clay Large – The new definitive history of Berlin. Well written and researched, very readable.







The Ghosts of Berlin: Brian Ladd – A slightly more theoretical take on some of Berlin’s history, particularly focusing on architecture and design as expressions of problematic historical practices. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in architecture who is visiting Berlin. Or just interested.








More next month! Read on, friends!

In brief: Travel bulletin

13.March 2014

The Darby O’Shea crew is heading to Munich and Berlin next week. Please bombard me with comments about your favorite things in those cities. Suggestions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Bakeries
  • Neighborhoods
  • Shopping
  • Touristy things
  • Places to get out of the city

What I’ve been reading, №. 1

12.March 2014

A handful of friends have asked me recently what I’m reading. I’d love to give you all a list this long of the books I’m reading purely for pleasure, but – alas – it cannot be. These are all at least tangentially work related, mostly books I’m teaching with a few thrown in that are research for an upcoming class. That being said, I have the pleasure to teach at a place that lets me teach exactly what I want. This means that course reading is a delight! With no further ado, this is what I’ve read since January 1, with two additions from November and December. I recommend all of it.
Voices from Chernobyl – This collection of oral narratives about the time during and after the meltdown at Chernobyl is utterly devastating, but also a really beautiful document of how articulate – almost poetic – normal people can be in the face of disaster. Highly recommend, but not for beach reading.





At Risk – Fascinating academic book about vulnerable populations and disaster preparation.  Again, not necessarily fun reading (this time because the tone is also not fun-reading-y).






Zeitoun – You’ve all probably heard of this Katrina memoir-cum-novel. It’s great. Yes, the recent headlines about the title figure in the book are upsetting, but that doesn’t make this book any less of an achievement. Eggers hits the sweet spot between journalistic reporting, straight up fictional narrative, and personal memoir (albeit through someone else’s eyes). It’s a feat. Also not exactly *light*, but riveting.





The Marquise of O – and Other Stories – Revisted “The Earthquake in Chile” for a class I’m teaching. Granted, I reread this in German as well, but these novellas stand up fairly well to translation. Bite-sized, bizarre, and beautiful.






A Guide to the End of the World – This is a flippant, sometimes snarky, sometimes paranoid layman’s science book about the many ways the earth might come to an end. Massive earthquake, volcano explosion, climate change, nuclear holocaust, all that good stuff. Very readable.





Irrungen, Wirrungen – I taught this this semester, which meant rereading it for the first time since college. It’s SO GOOD. Much much better than I remembered. (English here.) It’s a story of an ill-fated love affair, social stratification in Berlin just before 1900, and a vibrant portrait of  the rise of the metropolis.





Briefe aus Berlin – Heine’s letters to his friend from 1822 describe Berlin before it became the metropolis. Hilarious snarky portraits of the monarchy, early 19th century foppish students, and Berlin’s art world before it became saturated with expat hipsters.





Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – This is the novel that inspired Bladerunner (admittedly not my favorite movie). This book is a quick read, but not unchallenging. This particular dystopia is really, really upsetting. The vagueness of the disaster that precedes and necessitates the circumstances we see in the novel heightens our nervousness that we might be on the brink. Go. Read. Now.





The Time Machine – This is a little, tiny book, but a touch slow to start. However, when it becomes apparent that what we’re dealing with is basically alien Downton Abbey, it becomes much more exciting.






The Left Hand of Darkness – This one is a masterpiece. Le Guin creates a totally believable, but thoroughly alien world. It’s another one that is a bit slow to start, but the second half is some of the best writing and storytelling I’ve ever experienced. Ironically, it’s when the set dressing is less prominent and the action is most predictable that the narrative really takes off. And now, having read the last half, I can’t wait to go back and really soak up the first half while rereading. Go read this one right now too.





2312 – Full disclosure: I read this before January 1, but I’m including it because I can’t stop thinking about it. As one who is (or WAS) VERY skeptical of Science Fiction as Literature, this book knocked me right off my feet. Beautiful descriptions of astounding events and environments, really innovative concepts and images of a mid-apocalypse world and humans’ attempts to arrest it, space-based terrorism, inter-planetary political intrigue, terraforming on Earth, etc. All great.





Teaching Science Fiction – This in response to my afore-mentioned former skepticism. I’m over it now.






A Tale for the Time Being – This one is also a holdover from last fall/winter, but it might just be my #1 favorite new novel of recent memory. It fuses faux-memoir set in the Pacific Northwest, magic realism, Japanese pop culture and history, Continental Philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and quantum physics. Need I say more?





Berlin, Alexanderplatz – Rereading this for a class. Fantastic, innovative narrative. If you like Dos Passos, you’ll like Döblin. (English here.)

Oscars 2014 Liveblog!

2.March 2014

It’s Oscar time! Hooray! This year we’re watching from the west coast for the first time! How weird to be watching in the middle of the afternoon.

3:58 PM: We’re watching without cable this year, so I’ve missed the early red carpet show. The Fug Girls should be able to catch you up at their liveblog. Who’s looking good? Who’s not?

4:01: The ABC red carpet show is kicking off! Very exciting! Already caught a glimpse of Lupita Nyong’o and Amy Adams, both looking lovely.

4:02: Sidney Poitier – so classy. So above all this nonsense.

4:03: Jared Leto is going as Jordan-Catalano-Ironically-Goes-To-Prom.

4:05: Viola Davis – GORGEOUS. Love the green even with the little gapping in her armpits.

4:06: Bruce Dern and family. Beautiful. Laura looks like just a proud daughter rather than also a movie star in her own right. Kind of nice.

4:07: Harrison Ford looking younger. Dye? Fillers? What?

4:09: Commercial break: The nominations, in case we forgot.

4:11: Anna Kendrick. Is it a cool dress? I like the middle and the bottom, but I’m not at ALL sure about hte illusion netting and the collar thing. Weird. Also, dude, don’t waste your interview by warning Anna Kendrick about how slippery it is.

4:13: Amy Adams! Looks beautiful. Lots of very formal, kind of stiff hairdos this time. Not bad, but very different.  I hate her earrings. Love her dress. Updated to add: That dress photographs with the best of them. Flawless.

4:14: Kevin Spacey! Blue tux! Favorite so far.

4:15: Sally Hawkins? I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine and I’m sure she’s wonderful, but that dress looks like it is intensely uncomfortable and way too heavy. Like it grew on something. Not in a good way.

4:16: Olivia Wilde in Valentino maternity. GORGEOUS.

4:19: Commercial break: Jezebel has the looks.

4:20: Kerry Washington in Jason Wu’s First Ever Oscar Gown. I find that really really hard to believe! It’s a beautiful, if shapeless dress. Actually, I think that maybe it could be a touch more tailored, even if she is very very pregnant.

4:23: Naomi Watts. LOVE the necklace. Hate the dress. Looks like a toilet paper cover.

4:25: Just checked in on Lupita Nyong’o. That is the kind of dress you wear when you’re going to win. (Anne Hathaway’s situation last year notwithstanding.) I mean, look through the history. Lots of princess dresses there.

4:29: I’ve got to say, I bought an antenna for this event today. That means these are my first local ads in this small town. Wow. That’s all. Just wow.

4:30: Just saw snippets of Cate Blanchett and J.Law. All good things. Now Jennifer Lawrence is being interviewed! Her hair is very American President. Love love love the necklace. The dress looks familiar. In a not fantastic way. Seen it before.

4:33: Cate in Armani and Chopard.  The dress is lovely, but … a little too bedazzled? Can it be she’s missed this time?

4:36: Just saw a clip of Charlize Theron. LOVE it.

4:38: It’s another one of those Oreo ads! Kind of obnoxious. How long has this been going on?

4:39: Leonardo DiCaprio looks pretty great. I love when actors bring their parents to the Oscars.

4:41: This year things have gotten really really bad. I haven’t seen almost ANYTHING. I mean, really almost nothing that’s nominated. It’s shameful. So all opinions I’m about to voice about who should win are based only on my generic preferences.

4:51: Jamie Foxx brought his GORGEOUS daughter with him. Her earrings are so great.

4:53: Dear K reminded me that we’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence in red at the Oscars before. That one was much more surprising.

4:55: Jessica Biel looking monochromatic as always. Yawn. Emma Watson looking AMAZING.

4:59: Who will deliver me a chimichanga?

5:00: I loved Bradley Cooper before it was cool to love Bradley Cooper. Will Tippin forever.

5:02: Just saw Brad and Angelina from above. Her boobs look like they came through her surgeries all right.

5:01: Lupita Nyong’o wins. She looks AMAZING. Love her hair, love her jewelry, love love love her dress.

5:04: Julia Roberts. I hate that dress. Hate hate hate hate hate. Gorgeous earrings and bracelets, though.

5:05: Bill Murray looks older than I thought.

5:07: Here’s blessed, beautiful Charlize Theron

5:09: What the hell was that? The mean-tweet skit with Jimmy Kimmel. Stupid and weird.

5:12: Will Smith knows the cameraman from Fresh Prince. I love it. They both look beautiful. But is he wearing a scarf? Jada’s hair is a little aggressively straightened for my taste. It’s like Donatella made it a prerequisite for wearing Versace.

5:15: GAGA in Barbie pink for a nanosecond. That was wild.

5:16: Sandra Bullock looking lovely in blue Alexander McQueen. Which just reminds me that Alexander McQueen was way more interesting before AMcQ died. I Mean. Really.


5:23: People who are missing: Brad and Angelina skipped the interviews, Emma Watson ditto. Meryl Streep AWOL.

5:26: That’s it for the red carpet. Now four minutes of ads before the main event.

5:30: Anne Hathaway. I feel weird about this.

5:30: ELLEN! It’s Oscar time! I don’t love that suit, however. K says “like a 60’s Beatle.” Not wrong.

5:33: Philomena is there! That Liza Minelli joke! Ha!

5:34: Dan says Ellen is wearing a great Dr. Who costume. Ellen for Doctor.

5:35: Meryl Streep looks amazing. And, by the way, EIGHTEEN NOMINATIONS.

5:37: Ellen ribbing Jennifer Lawrence is the greatest ever.

5:39: “Possibility number 1: 12 Years a Slave wins for best picture. Possibility number 2: You’re all racists.”

5:40: I don’t like Anne Hathaway‘s dress, though I appreciate that she’s kept her hair short. BTW, a little too much blush.

5:41: Fassbender is sexy in that Ralph-Fiennes-in-Schindler’s-List kind of way.

5:42: And Jordan Catalano wins an Oscar! Weird. That’s a prepared speech. Probably a good thing, given his other acceptance speeches of late. Also his brother is pretty attractive.

5:46: Jim Carrey. He makes me uncomfortable. But I love his jacket.

5:47: Whoopi Goldberg is wearing some serious hand candy.

5:48: U2!

5:50: I do love a movie montage.

5:51: Pharrell Williams wearing that hat again. And GIANT red sparkly sneakers. I want some shoes like that. It’s pretty good if Bono cheers for you.

5:57: Just found Angelina Jolie. That dress is a miss for me. Frumpy.

5:59: Catherine Martin wins again for costume design. What a wonderful dress! Also, who knew she’s MARRIED to Baz Luhrman?!

6:00: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa got an Oscar nom? Funny.

6:02: Harrison Ford enters to Indy music. Amazing. He must be so sick of it, though. Also, EARRING? Yikes. He does NOT seem well.


6:06: That big rose curtain was weird, right?

6:10: I love love the consolation prizes! KIM NOVAK! She’s … well … preserved?

6:14: I love when Frenchies win Oscars.

6:17: Sally Field – my grandma’s perennial favorite. She looks wonderful.

6:20: I’ll say it again, I do love a movie montage. Really.

6:20: EMMA WATSON! She’s so lovely.

6:24: Karen O should be everywhere always. What a lovely song!

6:26: You know, I’m all for more Muppets everywhere but  really Disney buys beloved brand –> Disney pimps out beloved brand for random tie-in.

6:30: Kate Hudson looks wonderful, but I miss her cape.


6:36: Ellen wants pizza. I just ordered pizza. STARS THEY’RE JUST LIKE US.

6:38: Caitrin Rogers, producer of 20 Feet from Stardom, looks as good as any of the actors in the audience.

6:40: Spacey as Frank Underwood!

6:44: It’s always so great when Brad Pitt gets a haircut.

6:46: That Google Play ad was excellent for the Oscars.

6:48: Ewan McGregor is so charming. Even with long hair.

6:50: I also always love when Italians win Oscars. Even if this guy is no Roberto Begnini.

6:51: Tyler Perry presents Nebraska! (See what I did there?)

6:54: BRAD PITT. That’s all. GAH AND U2! I can’t handle all the awesome!

6:57: Three thoughts on Bono. 1. He thinks this is a stadium show. It isn’t. 2. Bradley Cooper is going to play him in the biopic in about ten years. 3. LOOK AT HIS HUGE TALL HEELS.

7:18: Pizza is here and I’m only interrupting to say that I am firmly in Lupita Nyong’o’s camp. That was a wonderful acceptance speech and so nice to see it so surprising and felt so deeply. Take notes, all other nominees for the rest of time.

7:44: Whoever put Jennifer Garner and Benedict Cumberbatch on stage together was thinking of Dan and Me. (Celebrity Top Five Fantasy On Stage.)

8:01: Ugh. So sad about Philip Seymour Hoffman all over again. And seriously. Bette Midler? I never hear that song without crying.

8:05: COOGAN! I want him to win that screenplay Oscar so, so badly.

8:13: Jamie Foxx is a national treasure.

8:17: The normals (The Anderson-Lopezes) just accosted Bono on their way to the stage. Way to seize the day.

8:25: Poor Coogan.

8:27: Spike Jonze! Nice, surprising!

8:35: Alfonso Cuaron! I haven’t seen Gravity, but I like him.

8:44: I love it when Cate Blanchett is happy. And hooray for making the case for woman-centered cinema.

8:51: Matthew McConaughey it is.

8:56: Best Picture time! Exciting! 12 Years a Slave! What a happy bunch up there.


That’s all, folks. More next year.

Things I miss in Boston: Tatte

10.February 2014

We’ve been away from Boston for about six months now. In that time we’ve eaten at most of the exciting spots in our new town (You’ll hear about them soon. I haven’t had time to write!), but I find myself seriously missing a few places in our erstwhile hometown. Tatte bakery on 3rd St. in Cambridge is one of them.

Fig. 1. They call this breakfast sandwich the BÉCHAMEL HEAVEN. And it is. Ham, cheese, croissant, bechamel. Ridiculous and delicious.

Fig. 2. Yogurt parfait. I’ve only had one better.

Fig. 3. It was a favorite place to take visitors for long, leisurely brunches (after throwing a few elbows to get seats at a table). Pictured here: the lovely Christine.

Fig. 4. That is a white shakshuka. Potato and bacon with cream and thyme. Outrageous.

Clip Show: Lucy and Calvin see the country

3.February 2014

Good grief. Has it really been six months? Well. Here’s what happened. In late July we set off, leaving our beloved hovel on Hurley St. behind and heading West to new adventures. This is just a brief catalog of us and our dogs with some of the impressive sights we saw on the way.

Fig. 1. The dogs and their owners damp and windblown at Niagara Falls.

Fig. 2. The dogs and their dad at the St. Louis Arch. Damp and windblown again.

Fig. 3. The dogs and their dad at the Corn Palace. Not damp. 100 degrees and sunny. Brains beginning to cook.

Fig. 4. The family sees Badlands National Park.

Fig. 5. Background: past presidents of the USA. Foreground: future canine presidents. (All around us, but not pictured: bikers headed to Sturgis.)

Fig. 6. Dogs and Crazy Horse. Both more impressive and more insane than Mt. Rushmore.

Fig. 7. And then we arrived at our new house. That we bought. And then we panicked.

A little list

30.September 2013

(I would submit it to McSweeney’s, but instant gratification is so much better.)

Things in my new (old) house that aren’t actually attached to anything:

  • One coaxial cable that runs from room to room
  • Two telephone lines (different eras)
  • One wall socket (connected to electricity, but not to the wall)
  • The vinyl floor in the basement
  • The handle of the faucet in the main bathroom
  • Two light fixtures
  • One ceiling fan (connected to the ceiling, apparently not to power)
  • About half of the slats on the fence
  • Apparently half of my silver maple tree
  • Most of the woodwork in the basement

Luckily I’m quite attached to the house.