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December 31, 2008 - 11:34am
“When at a loss how to go on, cough,” says an ancient Greek proverb. Or so claims 10,000 Jokes, Toasts and Stories: A Mammoth Encyclopedia of Wit and Humor (Doubleday, 1939, last updated 1965), one of several toasting anthologies I consulted at my local library in preparation for your party tonight. Ancient foxed tomes like these, and those that count as new ( Toasts, Delacorte, 1981) are one of many reasons bookstores will never supplant the delight of libraries.
December 30, 2008 - 10:25pm
The MLA convention in San Francisco this year is spread out over two hotels, one on either side of Market Street, near Union Square and all the good downtown shopping. Conference attendees rushing from one hotel to the other for interviews or panels get quizzical looks from the crush of slow-moving post-holiday shoppers taking advantage of sales; why would you look so tense on a Sunday afternoon when there are such bargains to be found? They are tense because they are hunting for scarce jobs, presenting their research and, perhaps, having their children cared for by strangers.
December 30, 2008 - 2:41pm
The panel titled "Negotiating Family and Graduate Studies", sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession, ranged far beyond its named topic, as well it should. Graduate students aspire to become professors in higher education, after all, and so it only makes sense to consider how the family issues facing graduate students change -- or not -- when they become faculty. The three presenters offered personal, statistical, and theoretical talks which were by turns enraging, depressing, inspiring and moving.
December 30, 2008 - 6:42am
My first San Francisco MLA, I didn't get any closer to the convention than the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. I was living in San Francisco and had just been accepted to UC Berkeley's PhD program in Comparative Literature. I wasn’t such an overachiever that I wanted to attend a professional conference before joining the profession, but my sister Libby, a grad student at UCLA (and now one of the Mama, PhD bloggers), was on the market, looking for a job teaching English literature. I offered to babysit for my two year-old niece so that Libby could get some sleep before her interviews.
December 29, 2008 - 3:27pm
For those interviewing at MLA this year, here are links to a couple of dispatches I did for McSweeney's on the conference two years ago. In which my family and I drive to the conference. In which I suffer in the wait for news. Good luck to each of you!
December 27, 2008 - 5:56am
I'm not sure when or why December 26 became Boxing Day but it always has been, at least in my experience. It's always been the day we gave presents to the postal carrier, and the newspaper delivery person, and tradespeople whom the family frequented and depended upon. Nothing like the presents key people in the auto trade or the financial services trade gave themselves, of course, but tokens of appreciation nonetheless. This Boxing Day, though, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two logically unrelated bits of information.
December 24, 2008 - 2:23am
Do you know the great children’s album The Bottle Let Me Down? Get it, even if you don’t have kids, for lyrics like these from Robbie Fulks that perfectly describe the magician at this year’s holiday party at our student union:
December 22, 2008 - 7:39am
A recent "Grand Avenue" cartoon shows a grandmother and two kids standing in front of a store window. One kid says, "Look, it's 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' DVD!" Grandma says, "Yes, it's about the over-commercialization of Christmas." The other kid says, " Cool! Let's buy it!"
December 19, 2008 - 7:29pm
I recently started getting daily environmental digests from ScienceDaily. Each newsletter has more items in it than I have time to read, but those I've checked out have been interesting, informative, and well sourced. Two items in this morning's update combined to reshape my understanding of anthropogenic climate change.

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