Nerd expressed

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Since I wrote this elsewhere first, here the link, to my review of And the Band Played On (by Randy Shilts) on Goodreads.

I suppose if anyone cares or has been keeping track, the absence of a parenthetical number at the end of my previous post gave it away. I fell completely off the blogwagon in early December. I am so behind that its no point trying to catch up anymore. So perhaps I’ll restart again. But not at this time. Too weary and teary and etc. etc. I didn’t even make it half way 😦  Not proud of myself but not overburdened with guilt either. Overburdened yes but not with guilt.

Back in September last year I wrote about stepping stone projects and mentioned one that was in progress. Soon thereafter, sometime in October we (its a joint effort with a co-author) actually finished it and submitted it to the Journal of the History of Biology. Last night–or more accurately in the wee hours of this morning–I just received notice from the the editors that it has been accepted. True there are “minor” revisions suggested which are actually quite extensive but nothing that requires major rethinking or going back to the drawing board.

The paper is about the impact of electron microscopes the problem of defining viruses. While a stepping stone for me, it is quite the opposite for my co-author, who had written and presented a paper on the topic many years ago. Actually he was my co-author in my last stepping stone paper as well, but there our collaboration was a last minute thing. I was writing a paper and toward the very end found out that he had written one on a similar topic some 20 years prior. He kindly shared said manuscript with me and I found that our ideas were so much in synch that I asked him if he cared to join me in a renewed effort. He agreed and within 10 days we had the the paper ready for submission; a month later (Jan 2016) we learnt it was accepted–again with minor revisions except those were genuinely minor and after yet another month or so it was published online.

The current paper has had a slightly longer journey. Ton first sent me a copy of his paper very soon after the publication of our previous effort suggesting a new label/wine-skin for yet another vintage gathering dust in his unpublished archives. I set it aside then because of various other obligations, but wrote to officially revive it on August 30 because I was just beginning to embark on the chapter 6 of my book, which is where this topic was relevant. We broke apart his first paper and rebuilt it (except for one part which might have to become a second paper–albeit a spin-off in the future). This time around it took us closer to 2 months rather than 2 weeks. And the turnaround was 5 months rather than the less than 5 weeks window of the previous. Given that it’s JHB I’m sure everything from here on in will take even longer. But it’s a publication and in one of the premier journals in our profession.

One thing that took me much less time was adapting it for the book chapter… I managed that in 2-3 days I think, basically distilling the “good parts” (ringing any bells oh ye Princess Bride fans?) into a tenth of the size of the first submission.

This has been the first silver dot in a very dark could that’s been handing over me for a while now. Not yet a lining mind.. just a dot. But it brings to mind a song that I learned while in school in Fortaleza way back when. Something about a spark to get a fire going…

The following piece from The Guardian inspired me to indulge in a similar exercise, which is, to identify reading matter that my current self would (if I could) go back in time and give to my younger self as a must-read. But as I think about it, I must say, I can’t really, except for the Grand Master of High Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkein–him I didn’t discover until after I was 22 or so, and was so immediately absorbed that I missed sleep and school (everything in fact, except meals and even those desultory) until I’d read the entire Lord of the Rings. The experience was heady and my only regret is that I would have squeezed in reading it a couple of more times than I have already. Two other books that I can think of that I would have loved are The Book Thief and The Kite Runner, but both of these were written long after I was in my adulthood so I couldn’t have read them earlier. And well another fantasy series, I think I would enjoyed growing up with is Harry Potter, but again the ship of youth had long sailed and I was probably even past my tweens (Tolkein reference that) when J.K. Rowling put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as the case may be.

I am glad I read the C.S. Lewis Narnia series and Gone with the Wind when I did because I think an older me would have never gotten past the issues of religious and racial prejudice that pose serious hurdles when I read them now. They do deserve to be enjoyed for what they are–and especially for their ability to transport me to their worlds–but the not too subtle anti-anything-not-Christian flavor, especially of The Horse and his Boy–and the wistfulness for the privileges of being rich and white in the American South rub me the wrong way. Especially these days with the politics of Trump holding sway there.

I am also glad that I read the works of Hindu mythology and fictionalized mythology for the first time as a youngster. Rajgopalachari’s versions especially are simple and may seem over-simplistic now but they were great to read to get the basics down. Interpretations can come later–nowadays I will confess I like Shashi Tharoor’s Great Indian Novel just a wee bit more, but there’s no way I could have enjoyed it without knowing the plot and characters of the Mahabharata.

Are there books that I regret reading too soon, as some of the authors seem to have done? I don’t think so… younger self was too avid a reader.

So back to the original question–if I had the chance to head to the past armed with a bag of books to give myself at say 14, I think I’d repeat my experience of that summer when someone gave me or the owners of the home we stayed in for the summer two large grocery bags full of the novels of Agatha Christie. Impeccable English and interesting characters… what was not to love? (#27)

A long time ago I expressed my desire to live in a Peter Mayle (the first PM in this post) novel, and then in 2008, experienced a realization (of sorts) of that fantasy after a visit to the gorgeous Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, about which I’ve rhapsodized at length–just check out posts under the’08-Italia category. It wasn’t his stories or writing (in fact I have friends who positively dislike his writing) that I fell in love with as much as his descriptions of the food and environs; I wanted to be there, eating thatwhich depending on the particular book was a cassoulet from Bordeaux, the last morsel of truffle-imbued foie gras chased around the plate with a piece of crusty baguette or simple a really fine cheese with a glass of equally fine wine.

A good many years later, but still quite some years before today, I found myself loving another PM–Patricia McKillip–about whom frankly I have no idea why I’ve not yet written anything in this blog. In my defense though I have rated & reviewed her books both on Amazon and Goodreads. Now here’s someone whose writing I simply love–her books are a wondrous mixture of fantasy, good food and the world of academia of some sort (schools for bards or magicians for example) all packaged or presented in, as I just said, really fine writing. Any wonder that she is one of those people that I would, if I could, be? I recently found out she lives in Oregon, which might explain not just her foodie leanings but really great descriptions of sea-food.  Food doesn’t always play a role in her books but one of my favorites, called The Bell at Sealey Head and the recently completed Kingfisher, both featured food and beautifully, although there was a complex relationship with it and the protagonists.

I am not, these days, the happiest of people, but I have to say, McKillip’s books are a lovely escape for a time at least… (#28)

Arrgh… just when I thought I was on track to made good on my once a week blogging resolution to myself, I’ve fallen off the wagon again. In my defense I have been writing a lot–just not here. I was trying to get a paper done–or rather the revisions–done and submitted–which goal I sort of reached today. At least a version of the rewrite is now sitting in the online submission site of the journal. I just hope the results are closer to getting published .. will report on that in a few. days? week? weeks?…  not more than that, I can only hope.

Meanwhile I created a new category–to which I’ll quickly assign various past posts, because I realized how much I write and reflect on writing. Not always meaningfully–here for instance I’ve been mostly whining, but sometimes–but I recall even in my pre-blogging Dear diary-type days too I would look over something I’d written earlier and write about it. Not today though–today was just to acknowledge the fact that I’m behind.. and having done that, move on.  (#29)

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