Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Favorite Podcasts: January 2017

More than a year ago, I shared some of the podcasts that I enjoyed listening to at the time.  Now, several months on, my subscription list looks radically different; so, I thought I would update everyone on what I am listening to.

For the most part, I listen to podcasts while I am correcting student work, writing blog posts, or cooking using the podcast app on my iPhone.  After years of teaching, I find it difficult to work in silence-- even if I am doing a simple manual task--and podcast fill the quiet space and manage to both entertain and educate me in the process.

Here are five podcasts that I am currently loving.

My Favorite Murder

Full disclosure: My Favorite Murder is my favorite podcast.  I can, in no way, do its awesomeness justice in a short paragraph, but . . . here it goes: My Favorite Murder is a comedy podcast hosted by actresses/ comedians/ television personalities/ amazing lady people Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.  In each episode, the two discuss true crime cases that have peaked their interest; episodes unfold like a conversation between two friends that is fueled by a late-night trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole.  MFM also has an active fandom (Murderinos, UNITE!), a mascot (Elvis, the crosseyed siamese cat), and a bevvy of catch-phrases.  If, like me, you LOVE Forensic Files but are also afraid of life, you will love MFM, too.  Newcomers to the podcast should start from episode one and work their way forward; believe, you'll get caught up sooner than you think

The Last Podcast on the Left

Along the similar lines as My Favorite Murder, The Last Podcast on the Left is a horror/ comedy podcast that explores true crime, the paranormal, and just about any weird topic you can imagine. Hosts Ben Kissel, Marus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski approach heavy topics (serial killers, Japanese death cults) with black humor and a surprising amount of credible researched.  I am particularly fond of listening to The Last Podcast on the Left when I am grading papers.  You'd be shocked at how many unit exams you can grade while listening to Henry Zebrowski do a Richard Chase impression.  If you're new to the show, it's a good idea to pick the true crime topic that interests you most and start there.


Are you starting to sense a theme?  Crimetown is another podcast that I have binge-listen to.  The show, which is hosted by Marc Smerling (Capturing the Friedmans, 2003) and Zac Stuart-Pontier (The Jinx, 2015), follows the crime culture in a specific city each season.  This season, Crimetown is focusing on Providence, Rhode Island and how organized crime infiltrated all levels of government, particularly during the mayorship of Vincent "Buddy" Cianci. If you are interested in the opperation of organized crime in America or American political theater, Crimetown is up your street.  Because the show unfolds like a mini-series (duh, it's from the people who did The Jinx), new listeners should start the series from the beginning.

You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This is a podcast devoted to the dark historical recesses of Hollywood's first century.  Host Karina Longworth does a deep-dive each season into a new area of Hollywood's forgotten past.  In 2016, Longworth explored the life of Joan Crawford ("Six Degrees of Joan Crawford") and as well as the exploits of the Manson Family ("Charles Manson's Hollywood").  Each series is expertly researched and compellingly presented.  I would recommend newbies explore You Must Remember This's back catalogue of episodes and explore a topic that interests them most (btw, "Six Degrees of Joan Crawford" is AHMAZING).


For my last podcast recommendation (and binge-listen love), I had to return to another true-crime show: Stranglers.  The show, presented and produced by Portland Helmich, is a deep-dive into the Boston Strangler case.  While many people erroneously believe that Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler, a serial killer/ killers responsible for the murder of nineteen women between 1962 and 1964, there is reason to believe that multiple killers were operating in the area and attempting to make their attacks look as though they were the work of a single killer. Helmich approaches the case from multiple view points and interviews individuals who investigated, reported, or were involved in the case.  I would recommend new listers start Stranglers from the beginning because, as with Crimetown, the series evolves over time.

So, these are some of my favorite Podcasts at the moment.  What are you listening to?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What You Aren't Going to See in 2017

I apologize for posting a day late; I had an event yesterday evening at work and didn’t get home till after eight o’clock.  Sometimes commitments in my day-to-day world make it difficult to stick to my blogging schedule . . . which I promise I am trying to keep in 2017!  This week will be slightly different as a result; instead of posting on my normal Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will be posting on Wednesday and Friday. 

Today, I wanted to speak with my readers frankly about what you are not going to be seeing on the lexicon devil in 2017, namely any book or audiobook that is published by Simon & Schuster or any of its imprints, which I will list at the end of this post. 

Late last year, it emerged that Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions had signed a book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos, the technology editor of the right-wing blog, Breitbart.  If Yiannopoulos’s name sounds familiar, it is probably for one of his attention-grabbing, social media hate campaigns against, among others, Ghostbusters and SNL actress Leslie Jones, trans peoplefeminists, females who express an opinion country to his own, and (despite having Jewish heritage, my his own admission) has expressed anti-Semitic opinions, as well as an opposition to gay rights . . . though he is gay himself (?).  It should be noted that Yiannopoulos’s campaign against Jones got him kicked off of Twitter.  The man has been a central figure in the Internet’s culture war for a several years and, to put it mildly, has become the locus of all opinions I find hateful and loathsome in the world. 

In a free society, people I disagree with (however strongly) have a right to express their views, insofar as they don’t incite violence or violate the ability of individuals to live their lives without harassment or fear. 

Simon & Schuster has a right to sign Yiannopoulos.  He has a right to write a book.  Consumers have a right to purchase his book, if they so choose.  

I, for one, will not.  As someone who buys and reads a lot of books (I read 75 books last year; the average American reads an average of 12 books a year), I will not be supporting Mr. Yiannopoulos’s book.  Similarly, when it comes time to purchase and review books for the lexicon devil, I will not be featuring works published by any of Simon & Schuster’s imprints.  Part of freedom of speech and freedom of expression is the ability to protest those institutions and individuals whose actions stand in contrast to your ethical beliefs.  I find Mr. Yiannopoulos’s publicly stated opinions and actions to be offensive. 

the lexicon devil is my hobby, my pet project, the corner of the internet where I am able to share what I am passionate about with people who share my interests.  Hate speech, its practitioners, and those organizations that capitalize on the inflammatory language of these individuals will not have a spot on this blog.  End of story. Following the example of the Chicago Review of Books, I will no longer be buying, reviewing, or otherwise publicizing works published Simon & Schuster or any of its imprints, which are, for reference:

  • Atria
  • Emily Bestler Books
  • Enliven
  • Folger Shakespeare Library
  • Free Press
  • Gallery
  • Howard
  • Jeter Publishing
  • North Star Way
  • Pocket
  • Pocket Star
  • Scout Press
  • Scribner
  • Threshold
  • Touchstone
  • Aladdin
  • Antheneum
  • Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
  • Beach Lane Books
  • Little Simon
  • Margaret K. McElderry
  • Paula Wiseman Books
  • Saga Press
  • Salaam Reads
  • Simon Pulse
  • Simon Spotlight
  • Pimsleur
  • Simon & Schuster Audio

That is all.

Read. Resist.  Repeat. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Review: Nicotine by Nell Zink

Nell Zink is a perplexing anachronism to me.  She is a late-blooming novelist who, through a combination of quirky charm, prolificness, and popular acclaim, has achieved literary fame;  Zink is to literary fiction what Grandma Moses is to art. Think of her as "Grandma Moses: The Salad Days."

Prior to her latest novel, Nicotine, appearing as a Book of the Month Club selection in November,  neither of Zink's previous works (Wallcreeper, 2014; Mislaid, 2015) appealed to me.  However, Nicotine, caught my eye--there's a squat, there are anarchist collectives, it's BRIGHT GREEN-- and it  thusly became my November pick.  In retrospect, I wish I would have went with the new Zadie Smith novel because I hated-- HATED-- Nicotine.  This isn't to say that Nicotine isn't well written or that it isn't an easy read-- it's both of  those things-- it is just deeply problematic.

The novel is about a recent college graduate named Penny whose father, Norm, was the head of a shamanistic faith healing business (CULT).  When Norm dies, his estate is in shambles and Penny's family left to sort through their patriarchs complex finances.  With no job and no place to stay, Penny is tasked with evicting the squatters who have taken up residence in one of her father's properties-- the burned-out remains of his childhood home-- and prepare it for sale.  However, once she arrives at the property, Penny finds that it is occupied by a group of anarchistic squatters committed to smoker's rights.  Penny then befriends the squatters and finds herself at odds with her family.

As a premise, Nicotine sounds great, right? Well, the premise is one of the only great parts about this book.

One of my major gripes with Nicotine was its treatment of POC.  There are two central characters in the novel, Penny and Jazz, who are women of color; however, instead of approaching them with nuance and revealing these women to be multifaceted beings, they were underdeveloped and fetishized.  Both women are described in animalistic terms and their brown skin described in seductive terms; they exist to be desired, objectified, used, abused, and discarded.  It's a cliche, the white writer "getting it wrong" in their representation of non-white characters, but it's a cliche Zink descends into time and again.  If you want to read the work of a white woman who "does diversity well," read Carson McCuller instead.

While I also took issue with Zink's treatment of mental health issues--namely raising the issue and then never satisfactorily addressing these complexities, even when they are connected to major plot points!-- my major issue with Nicotine was its treatment of asexuality.  One of the novel's central characters identifies as asexual and briefly mentions being assaulted by women who didn't believe him.  However, later in the novel, he no longer identifies as asexual after giving up cigarettes and alcohol.  Asexuality isn't pathological, it's a sexual orientation in and of itself.  You don't "become" asexual because of what you do or do not consume: you either are or are not asexual.  There are a lot of misconceptions about asexuality already without a Zink muddying the waters.

At the end of the day, what galls me most about Nicotine is that it is a novel that tries to sell itself as being progressive (anarchists! squats! people of color! LGBTQIA+ characters!), but only manages to deliver the the same hackneyed tropes that we've read before.

You're better of reading McCullers again.  Trust me on this one.

Read.  Resist.  Repeat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017 Reading Goals #1: Reading Broader, Reading Better

Well, we're a week into the new year and it seems like 2017 is happening.  If this is going to be a "thing" that actually happens, it stands to reason that I should make some bookish goals (this is a bookish blog, after all) for myself . . . at least until the U.S. is restyled as Gilead (fingers crossed I'm a Martha, I look terrible in red).

I want to read for fun again and I want to grow as a person because I am a reader.  As bleak as things seem right now, I want to be able to find glimmers of hope.  Rephrase that: I NEED to find glimmers of hope.  Reading has, for most of my life, been one of my primary sources of hope.

The specter of impending doom aside, I have ten reading goals for 2017.  If you read my "deep dive" into my 2016 reading, you will remember that I was displeased with so, so many aspects my reading last year.  Each of my 2017 goals are meant to not only remedy the shortfalls of last year's reads but also broaden my worldview in the process.

In 2017 I am going to continue mood reading.  It is a strategy that has worked well for me historically and, even when I am working from a finite list of works, this approach has given me the flexibility my schedule necessitates.  With this in mind, here are my 2017 reading goals:

One. Read 50 books.  Last year, I originally set out to read 100 books and later lowered my goal to 75 books.  In either case, I found that having such a lofty goal meant that I was gravitating towards shorter, quicker reads.  As a result, I read a lot of books (namely graphic novels), but I wasn't thrilled with what I had read and what I did enjoy didn't "stick with me."  With a more manageable goal (roughly one book a week), I am hopeful that I will choose my reads more judiciously and be prompted to read longer books.

Two. Read at least 17,000 pages.  If I only read 50 books this year, this works out to about 350 pages per book.  Last year, I read just over 14,000 pages with an average page count of just under 200 pages per book.  In 2017 I don't want to avoid reading longer books for fear of missing out on my GoodReads goal.  Screw bet hedging.

Three.  Read longer books (200 pages or more). Not every book that I am going to pick up in 2017 is going to be 350 pages or more; however, I think it's entirely possible that I will be able to consistently read books that are 200 pages or more in length.

Four. Read at least one book from David Bowie's 100 Favorite Books list each month.  Last year, we lost Bowie, one of the most iconic figures in western culture.  Reconnecting with Bowie via a mutually appreciated pastime seems like an appropriate way to sooth the pain of his loss in an evermore uncertain time.

Five.  For each book I read by a white author, read a book by a person of color (POC), member of the LGBTQIA+ community, or by another marginalized or community under threat.  In addition to wanting to expand my worldview, I want to support the work of individuals whose voices are marginalized, particularly in today's political climate.  I'm an avid reader and a book buyer; now, more than ever, I need to make my consumption [rightfully] conspicuous.  If people like me aren't supporting amplifying marginalized voices, who will?

Six. Have at least 30% of my reading be by a POC.  Again, in today's political climate, it is especially important that I am actively listening to the voices of POC, digesting this information, and applying it to my own interactions with the world.  In actuality, I would hope that this figure would be closer to 40%, to be on par with national demographics, but I think 30% is a good starting point.

Seven. Have at least 20% of my reading be by an LGBTQIA+ authors.  Last year, I had a deeply troubling encounter with the depiction of an asexual character in a novel by a straight cis-gendered female author.  At that point, more than ever, the importance of reading own voices literature as it relates to the LGBTQIA+ community became startlingly clear.  I plan on addressing this state of affairs (at least in my personal reading) in 2017.

Eight. Read at least 4 books by authors whose political views are different from my own.  Recently, I was discussing my 2017 reading goals with someone else when they rightly pointed out that, in my quest to read diversely-- by reading POC and LGBTQIA+ authors-- I actually wasn't.  I could very well end up reading diverse authors that reaffirm my a priori assumptions about the world.  As such, I should also make a point of reading books by people on the other side of the political spectrum if, for no other reason, to be better able to argue with them point for point.

Nine. Read more non-fiction, at least 15% of my reading.  I didn't read as much non-fiction last year as I should have.  Again, given the current political climate, it feels particularly important to be better informed on any number of issues.  I can't underscore this point firmly enough, it feels as though the noose is tightening on the free-flow of information and I worry that I won't be able to read ALL THE THINGS before NONE OF THE THINGS are available to me.

Ten. Read the entire, unabridged version of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  Even before the threat of prison camps for political dissidents stopped being the thing Dead Kennedys songs and liberal "kidding, but not really" jokes I had wanted to read this mammoth quazi-(non)fictional history of the Soviet gulag system.  Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of my favorite books,  however, unabridged hardback copies of Gulag are harder to come by.  Luckily, my mom scored me two of the three volumes in a library book sale and I found the volume I am missing online.  I've decided that this will be my summer project.  If there is a summer.

Anyway.  To 2017!

Read.  Resist.  Repeat.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Reading Wrap Up: A Deep Dive Into my Reading Trends in a Year of Crisis

Hello, everyone and Happy New Year!

After a rough twelve months, I am optimistic about what 2017 will hold.  For the first time in a very long time, I feel empowered to make positive changes in my personal life and in the world.

To feel optimistic at this point is no small feat.  2016 was, hands down, the worst year of my life.  I was plagued by loss and ill-health while it seemed Western Society as I knew it crumbled around me.  Not surprisingly, my read suffered and my the goals I had set at the beginning of the year had been all but abandoned by April.  By midyear I lowered my GoodReads Reading Goal from 100 to 75 books and focused my efforts on achieving that one goal.

To my credit, I met my GoodReads goal, but in retrospect I am not pleased by the quality of my 2016 reading.  Even though I would just as soon never speak about 2016 again, I think a deep dive into what I read can provide me with some insights that I can apply to my goal setting for 2017.  That being said, here is how I got on last year:

Quantity and Quality of My 2016 Reading

  • In 2016, I read 76 books totaling 14, 876 pages.  

  • My average GoodReads rating for the books I read was 3.3.  
    • I read five books that were 5 star reads.
    • I read nineteen 4 star books.
    • I read forty 3 star books.
    • I read eleven 2 star books.
    • I read only one book that was a 1 star read.

  • On average, each of the books I read was about 196 pages.  
    • The longest book I read was A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (422 pages).  
    • The shortest book I read was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (12 pages). 

Overall, I am not happy with how much I read last year.  Even though I met my GoodReads goal, I predominantly read shorter books that I wasn't passionate about.

I am stingy with my five star ratings; I reserve these ratings for books that have changed my life or way of thinking in one way or another.  To earn a four star rating from me, a book has to be enjoyable or compelling enough for me to recommend it to others.  A three start rating, on the other hand, only has to be a book that is "okay" but not necessarily be one that I would recommend to others.  A two star book is one that may not have been entirely unreadable, but is problematic in some way.  Lastly, a one star book is one that is so bad that I would wallop the author with their own crappy book if I had the chance.

My passionless reading, I believe, had a lot to do with my desire to meet my GoodReads reading goal; I used shorter books to get closer to my goal because I was crunched for time.  In retrospect, I can also see that being grief stricken and ill most of the year had an impact on what I read: I consumed easy reads and graphic novels that I could mentally escape into, even though I didn't find enjoyment in them.

For 2017, I have set my GoodReads goal at 50 books to encourage myself to read longer texts.  Also, a smaller reading goal will also help me to make more judicious choices.  In 2017, I want to feel enthusiastic about what I read and learn from what I pick up.  Having a manageable reading goal, approximately one book a week, will help make this possible.

How I Read in 2016 

  • 77.7 percent of what I read was in print format.
  • 10.5 percent of my reading was in audiobook format.
  • 11.8 percent of my reading was in ebook format.
  • 88 percent of my reading was fiction.
    • 12 percent of my fiction reading was short stories.
    • 34 percent of my fiction reading was graphic novels.
    • 54 percent of my fiction reading was in traditional novel format.
  • 4 percent of my reading was poetry.
  • 2 percent of my reading was drama.
  • 6 percent of my reading was nonfiction.
Overall, I am happy with the format that my reading took in 2016.  I generally prefer to read in print, but I do find the occasional audiobook or ebook a convenient when I am on the go or suffering from a migraine.  However, I am less happy with the genres that I read.  In retrospect, I read far too many graphic novels and not enough non-fiction.  Ideally, I would like twenty-five to thirty percent of my reading to be nonfiction.  This year, I intend to read fewer graphic novels; I will only be continuing with series I have already started or reading nonfiction graphic novels (I've recently started Congressman John Lewis's graphic memoir March).

Diversity of What I Read in 2016 

  • 46 percent of the books I read were by male authors.
  • 54 percent of the books I read were by female authors.
  • 78 percent of the authors I read were white.
  • 22 percent of the authors I read were people of color.

  • 89.5 percent of the authors I read were cis-gendered/heterosexual.
  • 10.5 percent of the authors I read were LGBTQIA+. 

I am happy to see that I read more books by female authors this year than by male authors; broadly speaking, my author distribution is not all that different from the gender breakdown in the general population.  So, I am happy with this.  However, I am displeased that I haven't read as many works by people of color or by members of the LGBTQIA+ community and I am actively looking to have at least 50% of my reading be by POC or LGBTQIA+ authors.  Given how tenuous things look geopolitically, I think it is important that I read more works by authors from minority populations, not only to support their work, but to educate myself in a time of misinformation.

So, even though I had a rough reading year in 2016, I have plans to make 2017 a better, more diverse reading year.

What are your reading plans for 2017?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev.