This week in books.

Have made it to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in my re-reading of the HP series. Every time I re-read the series I find it harder and harder to like Snape (even though a lot of people find him heroic or whatever based on the revelations in Deathly Hallows). Even putting aside the personal vendetta he has against Harry because of his resemblance to James, it’s hard to ignore that he is an extremely  abusive teacher, verbally and emotionally. Like, there’s this throwaway detail at the beginning of chapter 14 of Goblet of Fire:

The next two days passed without great incident, unless you counted Neville melting his sixth cauldron in Potions. Professor Snape, who seemed to have obtained new levels of vindictiveness over the summer, gave Neville detention, and Neville returned from it in a state of nervous collapse, having been made to disembowel a barrel-ful of horned toads. (185)

First, it’s maybe not a great teaching method to respond to errors in the classroom with punishment. The classroom is supposed to be a place where people who don’t already have a set of knowledges and skills learn a set of knowledges and skills, and do so by practicing things they are not yet good at and therefore are going to make mistakes.

Second, this punishment is particularly heinous given that we know Neville’s beloved pet Trevor is a toad. Earlier in book 3 Snape also tests Neville’s shrinking solution directly on Trevor with the comment that ‘If, as I don’t doubt, he has done it wrong, his toad is likely to be poisoned’ (97). This is some specific and deliberate cruelty designed to emotionally torment a student just because he isn’t good at the subject and it is awful and gross.

3 June 2016

Works Cited

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.Vancouver: Raincoast, 1999.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2003.



JUNE2Today  I was doing some lecture prep on John Evelyn — a writer  with whom I am becoming a bit more familiar (he’s writing near the end of the early modern  period, and certainly outside the scope of Jacobean drama, so is definitely not in my immediate research field). Out of curiousity I started poking around his works on EEBO and discovered just how much he wrote on plants: gardening almanacs, treatises and talks on tree planting and cultivation (including one work on which trees could clean the London air), works on edible plants.

There’s something really charming about almanacs and manual, bestiaries and miscellanies: I think it’s something to do with the combination of the everydayness of the knowledge presented and the variety included in such texts: we get to  learn the everyday habits and opinions of people related to all aspects of fishing, or animals, or gardening and there’s something really fun about that. I loved reading Walton’s The Compleat Angler in comps year, and last year I read through Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts just for fun. I think the next extra-curricular early modern text I’ll read is Evelyn’s Kalendrium Hortense, which in addition to displaying lots of interesting snapshots into the world of early modern gardening, is sort of adorably tiny.

1 June 2016

(Also, I find Evelyn’s advice to look after the bees incredibly poignant, given everything that’s going on, bee-wise, these days.)

Speaking of impatience…

one of the things I’ve had to learn how to do in the last year while unfolding the mystery of my increasingly injured knee is to adjust my expectations of what I can do in a day. I tend to have a limited amount of walking around’ (or standing) time in day, after which things get incredibly painful and exhausting (or my knee just decides that nope I’m not going to have any more of this ‘doing things’ nonsense altogether). I tend to prioritise the necessary things like work and appointments — as well as basic life stuff like cooking, groceries, and taking the garbage out — all of which require an annoying amount of standing and walking.

If I want to do other things in the day I have to make sure I’ve done the necessary things first, to make sure they definitely get done (because apparently I’m an adult and this is what responsible adults do in life). But this means that in the past year there’s been a lot less room for things like socialising or going to art galleries or even just enjoying a nice walk.

I also find myself missing the basic freedom of movement involved in just hopping on the bus or even walking to campus or the library when I would rather work Someplace Else. (It’s hard to navigate busses without knee stability.) I’d rather save my energy for the necessary things, but this means a lot less variation in my environment, and generally my day-to-day life.

On the plus side, I’ve actually learned how to prioritise, and how to more realisitically assess what I can get done in a day instead of idealistically committing myself to way more things than are humanely possible like I did the whole time I was in grad school (which just leads to the never-ending sense that one hasn’t worked enough). I suspect these are Valuable Life Skills. But for the moment, I still find myself resisting the impulse to do more things every single day.

25 May 2016


Scholarly tedium.

In the past few weeks I’ve been slowly reacquainting myself with the world of research — for RA work, and editing, and course prep purposes, but also for a New Thing that I’m starting to work on. I feel deeply out of practice in regards to research. Particularly I feel like I’ve lost my patience with the tedium of research: of surveying databases and bibliographies to get an overall sense of the field, of sifting through hundreds of search results, summaries, and abstracts, in order to find the most relevant work on the subject, of saving, and photocopying articles and chapters for literally hours at a time.

Research has generally been my favourite part of scholarly work: I find the initial stages quite soothing and the process of reading work and thinking about texts and ideas exciting. But it requires a cultivated patience — a resignation that you’re about to spend hours of life in that state of tedium. Teaching feels much faster-paced —  and after doing that for several months, I’m finding it difficult to get back into the slower, more repetitive rhythms of research. And I’ve been finding myself feeling frustrated a lot of the time.

But on the other hand, I could be writing. Nothing is more terrifying than writing.

25 May 2016

Today it was gloriously nice outside…

and I thought again how I’d really like a small potted-plant garden of some variety on my balcony. But I never do it because I’m pretty sure I will kill all my plants (or the withering heat will). Also I’d want to have useful plants (like vegetables) and am not really certain you can grow anything but those teeny tomatoes in a pot. I tried an herb garden a few years ago but they all died overnight when it got hot.

Also there’d probably be a lot of lifting and carrying and bending etc involved in the setting-up process and I’m not allowed to do that stuff until my knee is better.

So maybe next year?

16 May 2016

Happy birthday, Cynthia cat.

Already curled up to the Jonson.Cynthiabirthday

Six years ago my first cat Celia died suddenly from congenital kidney failure. It was already a bad time for me and after spending a horrible week in my catless apartment I packed up and went back to my parents’ home for a week or so. On the day before my birthday my amazing friends picked me up to go out and celebrate — which for us meant an afternoon of coffee and bookstores. But at the end of our trip we went to the pet store across from the Humane Society. It was one of those set ups where they host animals from local rescues, including the HS.

I met Cynthia (formerly named Domino for obvious reasons), as well as another very large and very charming tuxie boy.

I convinced myself that I should probably not impulsively adopt the first cat I met and went home. But it turns out I am terrible at convincing myself not to adopt cats. When I went back the next day I found myself asking who would be more likely to tolerate me reading and writing for long periods of time and was told that Cynthia was a little more of a lap cat than Mr Giant Tuxie.

Actually I was told, in somewhat ominous tones, that she was needy. Really needy. Maybe more needy than I would be ready for.

The first night was pretty telling. After a couple of hours of wandering around, calmly inspecting her new kingdom, she flopped down on the floor, stretching lazily in a ‘you will adore and pet me now’ pose (see above).

In the last six years I have learned that ‘she is a bit needy’ actually means ‘she will insist that you pay attention to her at all possible moments and even when you are busy you will pay attention to her’.

I’ve spent the last six years typing with a cat on my lap, a cat who occasionally reaches a paw upward to pat my face when I go too long without adoring her. Or with a cat laying beside — and then inevitably on — my laptop. And learning to read around a cat who insists on sitting on my books or directly in my field of vision. And waking up in the middle of the night to a gentle paw on my nose or snuffly nose in my eyeball (because I have to say good night to her when she goes to bed at 3am).

I have come to redefine my understandings of the term lap cat.

And no one escapes Cynthia’s demands. Anytime someone new comes to visit she will climb on a table and stare and meow  and reach out her paw to snag their clothes if she can. Or just flop at their feet in her ‘adore me’ posture.

I’ll never know how she ended up as a shelter cat because she’s pretty much the sweetest and gentlest and easygoingist cat around. I do know that I am always very grateful for her company and her affection. Especially in years like the past one where things have been not-so-good. Especially at the times when she intervenes at moments when I’ve been working too long, and forgetting to take breaks, and generally getting caught up in my anxiety that all the things have to be done.

But also at 3am.

So happy birthday to Cynthia cat: my best birthday present ever.

15 May 2016

This week in books.

I haven’t had much time to read in the past few weeks because of paper grading, and exam grading, and then lots of  medical appointments in the morning (which is when I do most of my free reading). So I am mostly in the middle of things. Those things being:

Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004.

B. and I are reading this together and then having a Skype-based book club. I’m finding re-reading it very odd because I have such strong memories of really loving the book, but it turns out I have only the vaguest memories of actual plot details. Which is kind of nice, because I really want to know how the first story ends and am not in any way deprived of the puzzle-structure of the book the second time around.

But also I’m worried it’s not as good as I remember? Updates forthcoming.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Vancouver: Raincoast, 1999.

I’ve been re-reading Harry Potter while I sit in waiting rooms, waiting for x-rays and ultrasounds etc, because they’re comforting, and you need something to do there, and because I find it really difficult to read something new in the fragmentary space-and-time of the waiting room. Snoopy Mrs Norris is still my favourite.

Yeats, William Butler. W.B. Yeats: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney. London: Faber, 2000.

I used to really love Yeats in undergrad. And now I find I still love him, but like different poems. I’m more annoyed by his use of ladies as mediums for talking about how beauty is fleeting and the poet is old and life is fleeting and everyone dies one day (because ladies are people and not just empty pictures, Yeats) but ‘Easter 1916’ just about broke my heart in a way it never had before.

But also I love that Heaney included ‘To a Squirrel at Kyle-na-no’ because in the midst of Yeats talking about the ache of age and loneliness and the tragic history of Ireland you just get this little imagist moment:

Come play with me;

Why would you run

Through the shaking tree

As though I’d a gun

To strike you dead?

When all I’d do

Is to scratch your head

And let you go. (56)

Yeats is pretty great.

13 May 2016