I have to shout out Post-Academic Athenas and Self-Employed PhD, two communities that have radically expanded my network and have put so many valuable resources at my fingertips. The stars aligned this past week and between Monday and Friday I had the opportunity to chat or collaborate with ten amazing women with PhDs. I am working with half of them on scholarly research, teaching, or writing support, and the other half are a stalwart braintrust--women from whom I have learned everything I know about how to leave academia for entrepreneurship. Lately I have been thriving on the energy generated through all these collaborations and friendships, and feel immense gratitude for these relationships.
Here's what captured my attention this week...
I'm reading: I finished Thomas Mullen's Darktown a few nights ago and thought it was a solid detective mystery. The selling point for me was how Mullen used the standard plot of a murder investigation to shine a light on the racism and violence directed towards Atlanta's first African American policemen, not only by white Atlantans and but also by those black Atlantans who profited from the underground economy of moonshine and prostitution. These petty criminals aligned themselves with the white cops that protected their rackets, selling out the black cops who threatened to clean up the city's black neighborhoods. By following the deteriorating relationship between one ethical white cop and his unscrupulous partner, Darktown reveals how corruption within the predominantly white police force enabled racist violence against their black colleagues. If you loved In Cold Blood and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and enjoy a good detective story, you may also like Darktown.
Yesterday, for the first time in a very long while, I sat down and read an entire book in one day. My friend Amanda enthusiastically recommended Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus--she actually included it on her 10 favorites of 2017 list--and it lived up to her hype. Montgomery is a naturalist who, around 2011, began visiting the octopuses at the New England Aquarium in Boston. She quickly became fascinated by the intelligence of these cephalopods and began learning about the biology, psychology, and social behavior of these animals. Montgomery introduces you to all of the octopuses and octopus lovers that she meets throughout her research, while also demonstrating how octopuses can challenge our belief that consciousness and sense of self are distinctly human traits. It's a beautifully written, informative, and thought-provoking book.
As I am writing this, I am realizing that The Soul of an Octopus forms a trifecta with two other books I have loved over the past few years. In 2016 I read Helen MacDonald's H is for Hawk, which is a stylistic masterpiece of nature writing that also focuses on a single animal. MacDonald's memoir is about how, after her father's death, she trained a goshawk as a way to deal with her grief. More profoundly, however, in H is for Hawk MacDonald is trying to understand and explain why modern society simultaneously pushes away and hungers for wilderness and wild animals. Montgomery, by contrast, uses her octopuses to challenge the reader to see animals as less wild and more conscious--more like humans than we would ever suspect. Then in 2017 I read another memoir, William Finnegan's Barbarian Days, whose central obsession is surfing rather than an animal. Through the lens of surfing, however, Finnegan portrays an ocean that is at once filled with life and with real danger. Certainly, there were octopus burrowed within the coral reefs over which Finnegan surfed in Hawaii and Australia and the islands of the South Pacific, but the author tells us more about the waves and the tides and how water behaves when it strikes against land. Surfing (Barbarian Days) thus marks the boundary between human land (H is for Hawk) and the fish's sea (The Soul of an Octopus). Ultimately, all three books drew me into a fascination with subjects about which I previously had no interest.
I'm listening to: an album recommended to me by my co-coworker Seth. Two weeks ago he was listening to Frank Ocean and we both jammed to Blonde for a few days, and then last week when I asked what I should listen to he suggested Black Up by Shabazz Palaces. During my first listen-through of the album, I was struck by the atonal, jazzy samples on first few tracks. I mentioned to Seth that it reminded me of Digable Planets, and after staring at me for a second he told me that it's because half of the duo that is Shabazz Palaces (Ishmael Butler) was one-third of the trio that was Digable Planets. So... nailed it!
I'm watching: The World's Most Extraordinary Homes, a BBC production that's now a Netflix exclusive. A pretentious but very knowledgeable architect and a by-turns sarcastic and enthusiastic actor-slash-property-developer tour homes across the Americas, Europe, and New Zealand and comment on how extraordinary they are. It's porn for the devoted HGTV viewer, albeit with more of a Great British Bake Off sensibility.
What are you reading, listening to, and watching this week?