Austin Books c18 Travel

My hot weekend


Originally uploaded by Katharine B.

Things I saw at the Pedernales River:

  • a water snake of undetermined species
  • a tarantula, briefly captured by T. and his brothers
  • more cardinals than I’ve ever seen in one location
  • the skeletons of large fish trapped in potholes along the river
  • small bleak towns near the park (Johnson City, Dripping Springs)
  • vultures circling the campground
  • minuscule but still extremely gross leeches on the rocks of the broad falls you see in the picture
  • a tiny olive-colored soft-shelled turtle
  • lizards of various types
  • a small green bird
  • a lot of beer

I slathered myself in SPF 50 and only got a bit pink on the end of my nose, which is a minor miracle. Also, no sun headache! Shocking. I credit the beer.

A few more pictures are up at flickr.


Over the weekend, I read David Liss’s A Conspiracy of Paper, one of relatively few mystery novels set in eighteenth century England. (I can state this with some confidence because my mother loves mystery novels and sent me a list of mystery novels with historical settings.) I enjoyed it, and I think it makes a pleasant and very readable introduction to the culture of paper credit in the 1710s-20s; not necessarily an easy thing to accomplish in fiction. Interesting to read it not long after reading Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin and Life Mask, and to compare the ways in which the authors manage worldbuilding and exposition — something which varies even between Donoghue’s two books. Liss’s historical explanations are foregrounded in a way that startled me at first, as I’m much more accustomed to the naturalistic seamlessness of, say, Slammerkin or Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. Some of that is authorial choice, of course, but some of it is also generic variation — the appeal of a mystery relies on the reader’s ability to understand the dramatic situation and the web of social relationships in which that mystery takes place. And that, I think, is why many mystery novels seem more given to straightforward first-person explanation than are many literary novels: because the social relationships need to be explained quickly and clearly so that the mystery can begin. I found the tactic surprising because I’m out of practice at reading mystery novels, and it’s very good to be reminded that my default way of thinking about historical fiction is in fact a particular kind of literary model.


  1. That’s very interesting – your comment about the straightforward first-person explanation. While you have been reading principally novels, I have clearly been reading way too many mystery novels. It will be interesting to talk with you about other specific comparisons. Obviously I need to be encouraged to pay more attention to stylistic conventions of the genre; I am not a critical reader, tending instead to simply say: “I liked it.” or “I hated it.” Is there a category of reader called the “visceral” reader?

  2. Well, I don’t think one needs to read critically, especially when reading for pleasure. If you do end up wanting to write mysteries, paying attention to genre conventions and the structure of other novels could only help, but I think you’re selling yourself short as a critical reader, on that front. I bet if you sat down and thought about the way mystery novels are structured, especially with a book or two in hand, you’d be able to articulate those conventions well, just based on the accumulation of visceral reactions you’ve built up by reading widely in the field.

    Besides, visceral reactions are good! A lot of the grad students I know bitch about having lost their ability to read viscerally and claim that they’ve been trained out of pleasure-reading. I don’t feel that way, because critical reading is part of my reading pleasure; in fact, I’d say that learning to be a better critical reader has enabled me to take pleasure in reading books I wouldn’t have enjoyed before I came to grad school. But, again, that doesn’t mean that “critical” reading is the best or only way to read.

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