A Pop of Pop Culture

I have been a delinquent blogger as the semester hit me like a ton of bricks. Work has been good, if a touch too abundant, with three long papers recently submitted as a culmination of a summer of hard work. And now it’s proposal-writin’ time.

I must admit I don’t have much of an inspiration to blog, but I will share a few bits of pop culture that I have been enjoying at the fringes of a very busy life.



Fiction (these days, only sci-fi)

North, Claire

This book is really excellent.  It is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. A really compelling story, beautifully executed, with thoroughly described characters.

(Spoiler alert: Harry is one of the kalachakra, people who keep on being reborn into their life over and over again, but retain all their memories from times past.)

Ancillary Mercy 

I am looking forward to receiving a copy of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy. It should arrive tomorrow!


(Note: I tend to start reading non-fiction kind of from the middle, jump around a little first, and then settle and read from the start. Or not).

Pinker, Steven
Ooooooh, it’s so delightful! It’s so happy, and bouncy, and just overfilling with joy! By the way, it’s a style manual. True to the title, it’s aimed at the thinking individual, basically applying the scientific method to analyze writing. Dissecting passages of different genres and trying to pinpoint what it is that makes them work or not, extracting common features that permeate fairly disparate pieces.

The book was beautifully written. Pinker deeply cares about the language and you can feel the love through his light, witty prose.

Schimel, Joshua

This one is objectively good. I think. If I try to be as dispassionate as I can, I admit it has all the needed parts and is definitely going to be useful to people, especially novice technical writers. It discusses the story arc, funneling, writing mostly with nouns and verbs, etc., all well-known tools that a good advisor would teach their students and postdocs about anyway. I guess it’s a good book if you are just starting out or are without much guidance. To be honest, it really irritated me. I found the writing patronizing and prescriptive. I suppose it was meant to be a textbook, but I found myself disagreeing with the author regarding some examples. Namely, Schimel would put up a bad piece of writing and then his own version that is supposedly much improved; I disliked quite strongly his improved versions a number of times. One trick for paring down text is to not overexplain what is assumed; yet I feel he assumes too much, and the text is often trimmed down to the point of obscurity. It may be the content of the examples, but being in a theoretical field, if I know one thing, it is that the writer ALWAYS assumes too much when discussing technical material. In one place he compacted a perfectly suitable syntagma into “this,” as in “… and the sky is blue because of this.” Longtime readers of the blog know that, at the sight of “this” or “that” without a noun following, I start twitching. So yeah. Objectively a good and useful book with a lot of examples, but I ended up very annoyed upon spot-reading it. Maybe I am not the intended audience. Or maybe the book just had the misfortune of me having read it after the beautiful “The Sense of Style.”


The Conflict: How Overzealous Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

Badinter, Elisabeth
I bought this one based on a recommendation without knowing much about it. I spot-read it and thought to myself “The writing is so direct and unapologetic. I can’t believe the book was  written by an American woman.” Lo and behold, it wasn’t; Badinter is a French feminist and professor of philosophy. It was refreshing to read a book without endless qualifiers and softeners and apologies for every thought and every statement that American female writers have to make when writing about motherhood or feminism (or perhaps anything else); I remember all the crap flying around after Lean In, which was as heavily edited into inoffensiveness and as apologetic as they come.  Badinter basically says the following (paraphrasing):  Just after the first-wave feminists had managed to tear down the barriers to female advancement, their daughters rebelled against their tired feminist moms for being bad, neglectful mommies and vowed to be different and completely devoted to their families; apparently, this mother-daughter conflict is as old as time, but now it happened at a time of a major social change and resulted in a global shift towards tradition.

She basically states that natural motherhood — endless breastfeeding and baby-wearing and complete focus on the child at the expense of the woman’s individuality —  are very effective at keeping women at home, out of the work force, away from professional advancement and economic independence, and they remove the father from the child-rearing sphere. The kid is the new tyrant. She is very much not the fan of the La Leche League and  describes them in very strong language. It’s been a little while since I read the book, but it was well researched, with plenty of data on natality throughout the world over time, how government support didn’t do very much to raise the birth rate in the Scandinavian countries (Swedish women have fewer kids than Irish and American women where the society protections don’t exist), and effects of government and society support for motherhood. I found it to be a interesting read, but be aware that I am by no means a third-wave feminist, my views are much more old-school.



The Martian

A great movie. Very well paced, well shot, suspenseful. Go see it. (I do love SF in general, so calibrate accordingly.)

I wish NASA were as well funded as the movie depicts.


Yours, Dreamily

by The Arcs

The album is good, but I wouldn’t call it great. If you were expecting The Black Keys, this ain’t it. The whole album sound like we’re underwater, which I presume fits well with the “dreamily” in the title. Other than “Out of My Mind,” I liked “Everything You Do (You Do For You)” and “Nature’s Child;” DH liked also “Cold Companion.” It’s a good album for proposal writing, unobtrusive. I have a feeling it will grow on me.


How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

by Florence + The Machine

I have been listening to this one non-stop, it’s lovely. Florence Welch’s voice is amazing. She and Chrissy Hynde have the kind of voice that you can recognize in a million. The radio hits “Ship To Wreck” and “What Kind Of Man” are what made me get the album, which turned out great a whole. “Delilah,” How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” “Queen of Peace,”  “Mother” are thus far my favorites, but the entire collection is excellent.


  1. I had the fortune to see Florence’s current tour, and oh my word, she and her music were fantastic! I do need to get my hands on the new album and I can’t wait for the Martian to open in the UK.

  2. Agree on Florence. She was my compatriot this summer non-stop through a bunch of heavy writing.

  3. Elisabeth Badinter is my favorite feminist ever. I have read Conflict quite a few times, and it is a very special book for me.This is the book that got me through my first few post-partum months, when I had difficulties breastfeeding, but didn’t want to put in a great deal of effort to resolve them. Everyone around me — doctors, family, friends — were very pro-breastfeeding at the time, and reading the book really helped me understand where they were coming from, and gave me the courage to ignore all the social pressure.

  4. +1 to “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.” That’s a really enjoyable read, developing the kalachakra culture, the little weirdnesses of time, just fun all around. (So good I like it even despite some nearly Deepak Chopra level quantum goddiness). Have you read The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet? That’s my most recent scifi find – kind of a Firefly-esque ensemble of aliens tunneling through deep space.

  5. Finally the reviews — yay! 🙂 I see what you mean about “Yours, Dreamily.” I thought the mariachi band would liven it up but it’s not quite like that.

    Will check out Florence, Badinter on the strength of these recs. You are an influencer, Xyk.

  6. OMG! Just read the Martian. Sooo good. Geek heaven. The movie was good, but could not possibly keep all the delightful nerdy details from the book. Could not put it down!

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