Sunday Lowdown #117


I haven’t done math problems since circa 2003, but maybe this is one? Grey weather + end of semester = academic constipation x napping too much. Basically, I’ve been researching like crazy for this linguistics class paper — but it’s not even that big of a paper. I wanted to analyze a conversation in a Zora Neale Hurston novel, but it’s just a lot of me finding articles that have an on-point abstract and wicked-confusing content. Like, the abstract is all about the art of manipulating people, which applies to the conversation in Hurston’s book because the whole point in the section I’m looking at is to make this one guy feel part of the group and then tear him down by insulting his mule. But then the academic article makes a sharp left and talks about manipulation in advertising, or specifically analyzes a TV show, or something. I finally had a breakthrough on Saturday, though now I have the kind of optimism that’s more akin to that moment in horror movies when someone gets attacked, says they’ll be fine, another person removes the dirty t-shirt they’re holding to their stomach, and all the intestines fall out.

At this point, I keep listening to my horror podcast to draw myself away from feeling grumpy about the project. I think my therapist calls this redirection. The problem now is I wish I had started research on a horror movie (based on a novel) called Pontypool, which is actually a zombie film in which the zombie element (it’s not a virus) is transmitted semantically. Like, whaaaat. I should have thought of this a month ago.

Linguistics class was cancelled Friday because he was going to be at a conference, so I used that time to nap. When I woke up, I felt so discombobulated that I texted Cupcakes & Machetes that I “woke up like a Muppet that somebody left in a moth-riddled attic for 40 years.” True story.

Friday morning Nick took off for poker weekend, which I’m now wondering if that’s going to be a yearly thing. He’ll be gone for four days, but fortunately for me it lines up with Biscuit and my dad coming back from their yearly vacation in Arizona. Who doesn’t love company when they’re home alone! I do, though I admit I felt a bit crusty when they arrived because I thought it would be a good idea to do a four-hour professional development workshop on the normative ethics of the demand-control schema via Zoom before they arrived.


Although I read If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman because it has a fat protagonist, I was extra happy to dive into a book set in a non-Western country that I don’t know a ton about. I also learned that de Guzman is part of a collective of writers from the Philippines who write romance in English.

But does anyone else feel weird when they read a book set in a country/culture unfamiliar to them and then comment on how realistic it was or wasn’t? I ask this question because A) I do feel weird and B) I’ve been seeing reviews of the new novel The Bandit Queens, written in English by a woman named Parini Shroff who, according to her bio, went to college in the U.S. I’m making the assumption from her name and phot that she’s Indian-American, but I don’t know. People have criticized her novel for totally missing Indian culture and writing too American. C) Now I’m questioning my ability to comment on the realism of novels set in other countries.


If you hand me a South Korean horror movie, I will tell you it is awesome even before I’ve watched it. But what about their fiction? And what if their writers’ ideas of horror isn’t horrifying at all? Did I waste my time, or was I given the gift of something different? Next week, check out my review of The Hole by Hye-young Pyun.


Books Bought Since January 2023: 1

Running Cost: $1



  1. Interesting question re commenting on the “realism” of books written in other cultures. I guess I think about it in terms of the characters. Do I believe that the characters are behaving like human beings within the context of the rules established in the story? In that sense, it’s rather like reading a fantasy or science fiction novel – are the characters thinking/acting in a way that is consistent with the world building? Of course I can’t comment on the realism of works written in other countries, but then I can’t really know whether a novel set at Eton College in 2006 or in a northern mining village in the 70s is realistic either. All I can do is comment on whether the book seems to follow its own rules and whether its characters are fleshed-out, three-dimensional people whose behaviour makes sense for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But if you were to think about any of those other places set in Canada, you would have a frame of reference for the culture; what is the thought world of the people in your culture, and in what ways would it change depending on their background, job, the setting, etc. I have no clue what the thought world of a Filipina is, so that’s what was tough for me. As for the romance, that I understood, but I also came to the assumption that dating in the Philippines looks just like dating in the U.S., and that doesn’t sound right.


  2. What Lou says, pretty much, but a good question. I suppose it depends on what we mean by “realism”. Wikipedia says this “the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding speculative and supernatural elements”. That’s how I’d view it snd I think by that definition you can fairly confidently assess a work about a place and time you don’t perfectly know as “realistic” – like, say , Dickens or closer to your home, Steinbeck?

    As for being home alone, I actually would love a little time to myself. Does that sound terrible? It would be nice to do what I want to do, eat what I want to eat when I want to eat, read in bed without disturbing Mr Gums, etc. Not all the time, but every now and then would not dismay me either!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I hear you about being alone sometimes. Back when I was in grad school I felt pretty happy if Nick went away for a weekend. Nowadays, it’s less wonderful because he’s so agreeable that him being here isn’t a bother. Plus, he lets me get my own way most of the time, lol.

      Actually, one of the reasons I have a hard time reading authors like Jane Austen is I don’t know the social conventions, and sometimes I experience that with Dickens, too. A character appears to behave oddly, and I’ve completely missed the social importance of his/her actions or words. In fact, if I look at a character like Mrs. Jellby, I might assume all Victorian parents were horrible, neglectful religious zealots.


      • Good on Nick.

        That’s an interesting point re social conventions, Melanie. I’m not sure how or why that’s not an issue for me. I suspect I have good antennae for social conventions – or perhaps for Anglo ones at least (across time and place). Or, even Western ones, to a degree. Perhaps because I am imbued with those cultures through literature, art, movies, music? Does that sound pompous? I hope not. Am just trying to understand Why I tend to “get”these authors. I may not be so cluey about cultures way different to my own. I could very well (probably do) miss nuances there.


  3. I think I approach the realism question from the other direction. I learn about other countries by reading their fiction. Even when Murakami for instance is going all Magic Realism on us he’s still telling us stuff about Japan. And then you read a few other authors and they’re all little bits of a big jigsaw where the bits don’t always fit together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true. I hadn’t realized the underlying sadness in many Hayao Miyazaki films because they look light and fun, for children, but they’re commenting on disease, war, environmentalism, etc. in subtle ways that apply directly to Japan’s history, so it was lost on my until someone directly told me.


  4. I am sure your Hurston paper is going to be fine, after all your prof said you were writing something he’d expect from a grad student, so if you have to dial it back a little that will be ok. Glad you had a nice visit from your parents.


    • I finished the rough draft, so that feels like an accomplishment. The limit is rather small to me (1,000-2,000 words) with the expectation that we will be an expert in what we write about (“expert” is his word choice).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad you had a good visit with your folks!

    I’m interested in the upcoming review – won the Shirley Jackson award!

    I don’t know if I can comment on the realism about the actual country, but I can comment on the realism of the characters – i.e., if they “feel real” to me. That’s one of the most important things I look for in a novel, actually. If the characters feel like caricatures – unless it’s explicitly satire – I usually end up DNF-ing a book. Actually, I don’t really like satire anyway, LOL. I want believability in my characters, regardless of setting (which I may know nothing about.)


    • If a character feels real to me, I have to eventually acknowledge that they basically read like an American person I have met, which is not what I’m looking for. It’s tricky! I should do something smart like pair a non-fiction book and a fiction book from the same country.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think you’re one of the busiest people I know. You’ve always have a million things going on and I’m not quite sure how you juggle it all. Maybe you should start an online class called, “How to be as Organized as Fuck like Melanie.” I would pay for it.


    • Am I really? I don’t have a job and I’m taking 10 credit hours. I think I’m able to blog regularly because I can listen to audiobooks while I exercise, and I only post one review per week. To be fair to you, you have loads of hobbies that I don’t think you count fairly, plus a full-time job, part-time student (almost graduate!!), and a long-ass commute.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not sure why, I can’t quite my finger on it, but The Hole book looks terrifying. Maybe because it has such an awkward title, but no one cares! The cover is disorienting too.


  8. I had the same assumption about Shroff but maybe I’m wrong. I liked the casualness of her characters but does that mean they were Americanized?

    Your parents always look so friendly!

    Your post-nap comment made me laugh. I am the worst napper. I wake up so grumpy that my family always discourages me from napping!


  9. I am awesome at naps, too – my husband comes out of them bleary and then can’t sleep at night, no problem for me on either of those!

    I don’t comment on the realism of books set outside areas of my experience or knowledge, but if it’s a modern book set in a different culture I will try to seek out reviews by people from that culture (most notably with The Girl with the Louding Voice, where I wanted to see what people thought of the language used). I have quite a range of bloggers I follow now, which helps. If there’s something I do know about in a book which I know is wrong, I do lose faith in other things the author is telling me that I don’t know about; in a book I’m reading with my best friend that has quite a lot of difficult scientific bits in, he got the geology right so now I’m trusting the rest of it. A clumsy policy but it works for me at this time.


    • I know that Bill, the Australian blogger, has a really hard time with books that get aspects of the geography wrong, whether it’s the actual location or things you would find in that location. I do tend to notice one thing off and get hung up on it. My spooky movie club watched a movie last night that everyone enjoyed, though we could agree it was obvious the actress playing a blind girl wasn’t really blind. We have a low-vision member of the group, and even her experiences with things like stairs is more challenging than what this supposedly totally blind girl faced.


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