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27th May
2012
written by Steph
I want to write a nice long post about how on Friday, I defended my dissertation, first by giving a talk, then by answering questions posed to me by my committee. But really, what I want most of all, is just to enjoy doing absolutely nothing for a little while, as well as starting to reclaim those things that make my life so wonderful, but which I've had to put on the backburners lately as I focused in on getting through this last graduate school hurdle. The good news, is that it was all worth it, because I PASSED! I know, many of you will say you didn't doubt it for a moment, and truth be told, when the day came, I felt really calm and prepared. In many ways it was a very surreal day, because seven years is a very long time, and there were definitely some significant potholes along the way. I have seen defense day (or D-Day, as it is referred to around these parts) come and go for a lot of friends at this point, but part of me just stopped expecting that it would also happen for me. I either thought I would somehow be a graduate student forever, or I would leave without my doctorate (believe me, this came very close to happening several times). There are still times where I can't believe that I managed to write an ENTIRE dissertation, and that I got to a point where I was confident in my abilities, and knew that I knew my topic very well. I fully expected to be a prickly bundle of nerves come D-Day, but in the end, I was very zen, and I actually found this final committee meeting to be the one I had the most fun at, and also the most laid-back of all my experiences during my time in graduate school. I felt in control and like I knew my future, like more than anything, the people who have watched me grow as a researcher and a scientist these past seven years were just happy to be there to celebrate and mark this final rite of passage. So, yes, I passed, and am now officially Dr. Steph! Thank you to all of you for your supportive comments cheering me on these past few months, even as I let this blog go into hibernation mode. I've heard people say that following their dissertation, they were mentally useless for a week or two, but I kind of feel the opposite! I want to relax, and enjoy the weird reality of not waking up in the morning with a tight not of panic already hard in my chest, and that if I want to lie on the couch and watch an entire season of The Vampire Diaries or play a video game, I can! I can start working out again, without worrying that half hour would be better spent revising or making tributes to the gods of academia.  Best yet, I love knowing that all these mental resources in my brain are now freed up for some serious (or light-hearted!) fiction reading! I can't say that I have missed reading these past few months, simply because I've been so burned out that I just haven't had the energy or interest to read, but now I look at all the wonderful books that are waiting for me, and I am excited to learn their secrets. But I'm also excited to learn the secrets that the future holds, because for the first time in a very long time, I no longer have a five-year plan, or an obvious "next step" on a traditional career trajectory. It's time to spend some time rediscovering the joys of a life unplanned, and I look forward to taking some time to think about my passions (and maybe discover some new ones!), and think about what I want the next phase of my life to be. I should be done making plans at this point, but I doubt I'll ever fully tame the Type-A planner inside me, so hopefully, starting next week, I'll finally have some new bookish content for this blog. My life is my own once again, and I'm so excited to channel this renewed energy and enthusiasm into the things that make my heart soar. Right now, that means, jumping back into bed, and cuddling with Tony and the dogs, and then possibly lounging by the pool on this long-weekend Sunday and cracking the spine (only figuratively though!) of a new book. To those who have read this far, I hope your Memorial Day weekend is just as lovely! Doctor's orders!
12th May
2012
written by Steph
Hallelujah! Months of programming experiments, running experiments, analyzing data, reading papers, writing and re-wring have finally paid off. On Thursday morning, I did one last proof read through my dissertation and then I attached a PDF version of it to an email and sent it off to my committee! (For those interested, the final page count was 102 pages). In two weeks, I'll give a public presentation of my dissertation experiments, and then I'll undergo my final graduate school oral defense, and I will finally be Dr. Steph! It's hard to believe that after years of ups and downs, that my time as a student is finally drawing to a close. I haven't quite parsed the enormity of that just yet, but I've found through this whole process that I'm best off just focusing on getting through one day at a time, so that's what I'll keep doing.

Home by Toni Morrison

Of course, immediately after submitting my dissertation, I began to show signs of a horrible cold. I have felt awful for the past two days, and while I am definitely on the mend now, I am still not back in full fighting form. But I am well enough that I can finally write my monthly BookPage post, where I tell you about what I've reviewed in the latest issue. In the May issue of BookPage, I had the great good fortune to review Toni Morrison's latest masterpiece, Home. I'm a huge Morrison fan, so it was a huge honor to review one of her books in a professional capacity. It also didn't hurt that Home is her shortest book to date; in a time when my pleasure reading time has been severely limited (and I've had essentially no attention span), it was nice to have a book that needed my attention but didn't need a huge time investment. If, like me, you've been eagerly awaiting Morrison's latest slice of literary greatness, you can read my full review here. Obviously, I'll still have dissertation brain for the next few weeks, but despite being super ill, I've felt a lightness come over me this past week that has long been absent, and I'm optimistic that I'll soon recapture my full book-blogging mojo. In truth, writing this dissertation hasn't been nearly as awful as I thought it would be (though I'm totally fine with never doing this ever again), but I am still so looking forward to reclaiming my life. For at least a month, that is, since Tony and I are officially leaving Nashville at the end of June. We'll be moving up to Toronto for a couple of weeks to get our dogs settled in with my parents, and then we'll be heading off on our big world tour! (Don't worry though, we're bringing our e-readers so we'll have plenty to read on the myriad planes, trains, and buses we'll be taking!) So life will be busy for the foreseeable future, but with one of the biggest stressors finally stripped away, I am looking forward to refocusing on those things that enrich me and nourish my spirit.
1st May
2012
written by Steph

The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

[Note: this review is also posted at travel blog, Twenty Years Hence. Sorry for the cross-post for those of you who are subscribed to both (but thanks for supporting all our endeavors!).]
For me, the very best books, regardless of genre, are the ones that whisk me away from my own life and allow me to see and understand the world in a way I hadn’t before. If there’s one type of book with an innate affinity to do this very thing, surely it is the travel memoir! The very best of their kind aren’t just about traveling around in strange lands, encountering odd social customs and nibbling on questionable foods—though those anecdotes are fascinating in their own ways)—but are about the personal transformation that occurs when we venture out of our homes and leave the safety and security of the familiar behind.
As my own big trip looms larger with each passing day, it’s no surprise that I’ve been increasingly drawn to travel writing these past few months. Maybe I’m hoping to pick up tips and tricks along the way to ensure my trip is more successful, or maybe I’m hoping for inspiration… deep down, I think I just want reassurance that Tony and I aren’t alone in this dream and that leaving our current life to travel will turn out ok. I know that even in the pages of books, happy endings aren’t guaranteed, but I still can’t help but search for them nevertheless. To this end, I’ve been really gratified to find that the Nashville Public Library system has an awesome digitial travel collection, the irony being that now I can travel the world without even leaving the comfort of my home, not even to get a book! If that’s not the best of both worlds, then I don’t know what is. Anyway, NPL has a pretty bitchin’ selection of titles, ranging from actual travel guides to help you plan your stay, to memoirs and pieces of writing to inspire you to get off your lazy butt and actually go somewhere. This is how I stumbled across The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost (known as TGGG henceforth). (more…)
23rd April
2012
written by Steph
First, thank you to all of you who have been so patient with me regarding my lack of updates here at S&TI! I also really appreciate the supportive comments you left on my last post; the past few weeks/months have been über stressful and any handhold of strength or confidence I can find, means the world to me. On the work front, I have just one last chapter left to write for my dissertation, which I'm hoping to knock out this week along with continuing edits on my remaining chapters (though in happy news, my advisor got back to me about my Intro chapter yesterday and said she thinks it's pretty much done!). I've also set a date for my defense! So, if I keep my nose to the grindstone for the next few weeks, come 4 pm CST on Thursday, May 24, I should finally be Dr. Steph! I am simultaneously excited and terrified. Please bear with me as I push through these last few hurdles and finally close what has been an extremely tumultuous chapter of my life and get ready for the next one!

Our new travel site: Twenty Years Hence

Speaking of which, clearly what I need to do right now is start a new online writing venture, right? Probably not, but after some serious thought, Tony and I decided it would be best to document our impending RTW trip on a separate site specifically dedicated to this trip and to travel. I know not everyone who visits S&TI! is interested in things other than books, and given the scope of what we want to do, we realized it would just be really hard to fit our upcoming adventure into the existing framework of this site. So, for those of you interested, all of our trip-related posts will be housed over at our new site: Twenty Years Hence (www.20yearshence.com). We just launched it yesterday night, so we still have some tweaks to make to it, but our first post is already up, in which I explain the meaning behind our new blog's name. There are surely some kinks to work out, but we wanted to give our longtime readers a heads up and first look at our new digs! If you're at all interested in following us on our adventures, we'd love if you bookmarked 20YH or added it to your feedreaders. Also, for those of you worried about the fate of S&TI!, please don't! I fully intend to continue/re-commence blogging here about books once my dissertation is finished. I have no idea what my reading life will be like while we're on the road fulltime, but rest assured that anything I read, I'll document here. S&TI! is not being replaced or phased out, we're just starting a new venture to coincide with a big change in our life and a shift in our priorities. Our hope is that by taking this trip, our lives will be richer and fuller and we'll have more time to devote to the things we are really passionate about. Like this site! So thanks again for your patience and your support and Tony & I look forward to having double the fun with y'all!
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14th April
2012
written by Steph
Guys! The dissertation! It is killing me! BUT. It is also kind of almost done! I don't want to jinx myself (despite being a scientist, sometimes I am oddly superstitious), but I now have about 75% of my thesis written! While there will surely be plenty of edits to occupy me, the bulk of the writing that remains at this juncture is the intro and discussion for my final experimental chapter, and then my final, general discussion chapter. That's it! Somedays I wake up thinking I am never going to slay this beast (it's like the Hydra... I never seem to have a chapter completely finished and put to bed), but I know I've been working hard and so long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other (or I guess, one word in front of the other), I'll eventually win out. I've read somewhere that writing a dissertation is largely an exercise is perseverance rather than brilliance, so luckily I have stubbornness in spades. Right now I'm hoping/planning/fearing defending sometime mid-May, and once I have, then I'll finally be freeeeeeee! And I can fling myself black into blogging's sweet sweet embrace. So yes, I'm sorry that I pretty much only update once per month around these parts when I have a new review up at BookPage, but if ya'll can give me just another month, hopefully my rag-tag blogging will be at an end as I'll have the mental real estate to properly devote to this space. Tony and I have also been making some headway on planning our big trip, and I keep saying, "Oh, I should write about this! This would be helpful/useful." And then I don't. But again, once I'm no longer writing a 100+ page document that culminates my academic career, I will also be more revealing on the trip front as well. Mostly, I want to thank all of you who commented with words of support and offered up ideas and suggestions. Right now we're just taking things one day at a time, but the earliest we'd be setting out is late August, so there's still plenty of time to get all the tips and low-downs before we head out to parts unknown!

What are these "books" of which you speak?

Anyway, back to books (like back to basics, but better). In the April issue of BookPage (which has been out for TWO weeks now... April, why you gotta go so quickly?!), I review Kiwi author Alex Adam's first installment in a post-apocalyptic thriller, White Horse. Fiction editor (and good friend), Trisha, was really surprised that this is what I chose to go with, but y'all know I need at least one dystopian fic per year. Plus, when you're writing your thesis up, it feels like the end of the world, so apocalypse lit just seemed right. I'm no stranger to "the world is dying but I must sally forth in order to survive" type novels, and to some extent, this is well trod ground, but Adams manages to make it all fresh. It was incredibly harrowing to read, and the writing was rather sublime in parts, so if you've got a hard-as-nails  constitution that can stand books that get rather explicit in their gore, then I recommend it. Check out my full review here and let me know what you think!
1st March
2012
written by Steph
By now apologies about sporadic postings here seem to be rule rather than the exception, which I truly am sorry about. It was really exciting to hear from so many of you regarding my last post where I outlined our plans for our RTW trip (and I promise I will respond to all of your comments and will certainly be emailing some of you too!), so even though reading has been somewhat sketchy around these parts of late, I am definitely hoping to cobble together some more pre-trip posts where I go into more detail about the various countries we plan hope to visit, as well as keep you all abreast of the less theoretical/research-based elements of trip planning as well. But of course, I know all of your are book-lovers at heart, so when I do have bookish content to post, I certainly will do that too! Now, is one such instance, because even though I have hardly read anything in the past three months, my gig reviewing things over at BookPage has made it so that I still read at least one book a month. In the case of March's issue, two books were simply irresistible to me, so I pulled double duty and covered something for both the fiction and the non-fiction section (a first for me!).

Look! A book! And I read it!

On the fiction front, I read and wrote about Heidi Julavits' trippy new novel called The Vanishers, which you can read here. This was my first Julavits novel, and boy was it weird! Given that I knew it revolved around psychics and astral adventures, I don't know why I ever would have thought otherwise, but this book really did surprise me at every turn. I think I really hit the proverbial nail on its head when I compared this book to the films of David Lynch, so if unusual, mindbending stories that question the limits of reality are your thing, this is the book for you.

I read this one too!

The Vanishers was a very good book, but my other read, I absolutely loved. I absolutely use nepotism to my advantage and put in a personal plea to the non-fiction editor to let me cover Jeanette Winterson's memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and I have absolutely no regrets on that front. At a time where reading has often felt like a chore, this is a book I could not stop reading. Even though I was reading a completely unfancy galley copy of this book, I would cradle it like it was the most precious thing whenever I picked it up because there were times when I felt like I was staring into the very contents of someone's soul (perhaps my own?) as I read it. I seriously cannot say enough positive things about this book (if I could have its babies, I would!), but if you want to read some of my adulatory thoughts on it, you can check those out here. Ultimately, I may not read very many books this year, but I kind of think 2012 will be known as the year I read this book no matter how many other books I wind up finishing, so there is that. Hurrah for books! I'm desperately trying out many different books on a daily basis hoping to find one that sticks, so fingers crossed that one of these days you see me posting about something that I read for personal, not professional, reasons!
23rd February
2012
written by Steph
In my last post (I don't blame you if you don't remember it... it was a loooooong time ago!) when I was lamenting about my awful reading dry spell, Softdrink over at Fizzy Thoughts reminded me that along with my dissertation, I also have that huge impending Round The World (RTW) trip I've been planning so why not talk about that some if material for bookish posts was somewhat lacking at the moment. And of course, as soon as I read that comment, I thought it was brilliant! It has always been Tony's and my intention to continue blogging when we embark on our grand tour—it's a lot easier than trying to fit you all in our backpacks!—so it makes sense to start the process a bit earlier. I know that whenever fellow bloggers have shared holiday pictures in the past, I've always really loved the vicarious thrill of seeing a place I've never been through someone else's eyes, so I hope others will feel the same. Also, planning a regular 1 - 2 week holiday is an endeavor in itself, but planning a RTW trip is a whole different ballgame... like the Olympics of trip planning. So some of the behind-the-scenes details showing just what goes into this kind of endeavor might actually be interesting (fingers crossed!). For those of you not at all interested in travel (! is that even possible?!?), I apologize for my terrible book blogging of late. Thus far into 2012, I've read 4 books, three of them for BookPage, so while I do have one book to write about (and hope to do so soon), things on the literary front might be a little dry for the next while. (more…)
25th January
2012
written by Steph
So, I've been dragging my feet something fierce when it comes to finally wrapping up 2011 with charts and graphs and whatnot. Not to get all spoiler-y on you, but as we will see, the end of 2011 was marked by a dramatic plummet in my reading–I think the technical term for it is "reading slump"–which also accompanied a blogging slump. Alas, a new calendar year has not managed to allay my reading burnout (I've only read two books thus far, and those were both in an official reviewing capacity. If not for that, I would probably have nothing really read by now.), so perhaps that's why I've been in no rush to write this post. Once it's done, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkus. A few years back, a friend of mine was finishing up her dissertation and she would often lament about how the whole process sapped her of all her reading mojo and pretty much the only thing she could read for months was Middlemarch. No, that isn't a typo, and no I don't understand it. Slowly but surely I am dragging myself to the finish line of my own doctorate degree so who knows what bemoth will be my salvation through this all. Moby Dick? A Suitable Boy? Shataram? I suppose only time will tell... Tony is actually out of town the next few days so perhaps without my favorite distraction close at hand I'll finally remember what it is to look at words on a page again. Fingers crossed. Anyway, let us finally tour the wreckage that was my reading in 2011, shall we? (more…)
9th January
2012
written by Steph
Excuse the cliché, but for me, 2011 expired with a whimper rather than roaring to its close with a triumphant bang. The year ended filled with a lot of stress and mental exhaustion due to school, and I spent the last week or two doing some heavy thinking about where I would like 2012 to take me. Because my brain was preoccupied with so many other tasks, my reading slowed down a lot—I read just one book in December, and that was at the very beginning of the month— and I was just so tired that for the first time in four years, I entered books into my spreadsheet and didn’t bother to write anything about them. And the thing is, the last three books of 2011 were ones that I would normally have tons to say about, but my brain was stubbornly moving towards hibernation mode and the thought of generating words just seemed far beyond my grasp, so I gave myself a reprieve and simply logged them and left them. I do still want to mention my last three reads of the year so that I have a clean slate delving into 2012, so I’m going to do a mega-post here and talk about THREE books instead of devoting one post to each book. Without notes, I probably don't have enough to eloquently say about each one to justify unique posts (remember, I have a notoriously bad memory regarding books anyway, and when I’m stressed, my memory gets even worse), so while I almost never do this, here I go. (more…)
5th January
2012
written by Steph
So, first question: how can a book about SEX be so, well, boring? I mean, the word “sex” alone is so incendiary, that not only am I sure that seeing it boldly placed there in that first sentence immediately grabbed your attention, but I can also only imagine the deluge of weirdo spam this post is going to incur. So you’d think that a book that essentially revolves entirely around sex (even when people aren’t having sex, it’s still all about sex) would be cause sweaty palms and racing pules, or at the very least an occasional cocked eyebrow and maybe a knowing smirk, right? And yet, no! In spite of a rather inspired premise, this book can best be described as “MEHsmerizing”, that is a book the inspires intense feelings of apathy and disinterest in its reader despite ostensibly scintillating subject matter. [And yes, I just coined that term, but I think it’s going to take off in a big way…] And just what is this neat-o premise of which I speak? Essentially, it is this: an enigmatic drama teacher moves to a small suburban town and decides that the local high school will put on a production of the classic Greek comedy Lysistrata – a play in which all the women of Greece decide to abstain from sex until their men agree to end the Peloponnesian War. In an uncanny twist of events, as production on the play advances the women of the town are slowly overtaken by an enchantment that also causes them to spurn the advances of their husbands, lovers, and boyfriends. As sex lives become a thing of the past, tensions rise and soon the whole town is thrown into upheaval. It’s only a matter of time before someone reaches their breaking point, and when they do, things are going to get ugly… (more…)
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