I read books

My comic shop has been having a hell of a time lately. For those of you who aren’t comic geeks, Wednesday is New Comic Books Day. Every comic book shop I’ve ever frequented was closed on Tuesdays, because Wednesday is the day every week when new books come out and that meant that they needed to remerch everything in their damn store once a week. DC Comics recently decided they were going to take responsibility for shipping and fulfillment themselves, and they started shipping everything to be available for Tuesday. My comic shop shrugged and didn’t change anything, knowing that nobody was going to get pissed about having to wait that extra day, and if they’ve caught any grief from it I’m unaware of it.

The problem is that for the last several weeks all of their indie and Marvel books have been getting caught in weather nightmares and have been late. You can probably imagine that with this business model a comic shop makes a huge percentage of their weekly revenue– 75% or more– on Wednesday, and so if something prevents the books from being there on time it can cause serious cash flow problems. Last week’s Marvel books just got put on the shelf today, and last I heard they were hoping this week’s Marvel books would be available tomorrow. I popped in yesterday anyway because I had dinner plans with my dad and the comic shop is near his house, and since I’m not buying much DC stuff nowadays there really wasn’t much of anything available. So I picked up Nubia: Real One, a 208-page original graphic novel written by L.L. McKinney and drawn by Robyn Smith. You might recognize McKinney’s name from her books A Blade So Black and A Dream So Dark, both of which I have read and really enjoyed. This isn’t quite her first comics work, but it’s certainly her first major work– she’s done a story here and there, but debuting with a 200+ page OGN is … not a thing that’s really done, to be honest. I had a conversation with the owners about various prose authors who have made the transition into comics work recently– Daniel Jose Older, Saladin Ahmed, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jodi Picoult, of all people, all came up. Some authors have trouble with the transition, because in comics so much is handled visually.

LL McKinney is not one of those authors, and I’ll stop burying the lede: Nubia: Real One is one of the best comics I’ve read in quite some time, and to pull something like that off with a character I wasn’t terribly aware of or invested in is a hell of an accomplishment. I’m also completely unfamiliar with Robyn Smith’s work, and honestly a quick scan of the book didn’t initially impress me, as this is far from traditional superhero work. That’s not automatically bad, mind you, but Nubia is an Amazon. This is a DC book.

Well, all those concerns got blown to hell once I started reading the book. Smith’s art and in particular her character designs are just beautiful– it can be difficult to draw regular folks in a way that makes them instantly recognizable in a comic book (there’s a reason superheroes wear brightly colored costumes) and the characters are all distinct and clear without looking, other than Nubia’s towering height, disproportionate or exaggerated. And then there’s Nubia’s tooth gap. This may seem like a weird thing to fixate on, but she smiles a lot in this book, and she’s got this gap between her front teeth that just did an amazing amount of work in making her seem like a normal kid and a regular person. I have been reading comics for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character with a gap in their front teeth that wasn’t supposed to be a small child. She feels like a real person, with real problems, and so do her friends, and so do her parents for that matter, and while anyone who knows anything about the character already knows what the big twist is (this is an origin story) the story itself is great as well. I loved this book unconditionally, and if you’re even a little bit of a comic book person you owe yourself to check it out.

I can’t find a properly high-resolution version of this cover, unfortunately, but I also finished Tochi Onyebuchi’s Rebel Sisters this week. This is the second book in a series, the sequel to his War Girls, which ended up in fifth place on my Best New Books of 2019 list. The sequel has a very different feel to it from the first book. War Girls was, in the author’s words, “Gundam in Nigeria,” only it ended up being quite a bit more weighty than that description implies. That said, there were giant mechs and blowing shit up, but for all that it was a cool action book it also had a lot to say about revolution and civil war, and it was all-around a hell of a thing to read.

(I have said it before, and I’ll repeat it again: if you are not reading African and African diasporic science fiction and fantasy right now, and particularly Nigerian science fiction, you are missing out. This is a real movement and you need to get in on it.)

Rebel Sisters is set after the future civil war that takes up the bulk of War Girls, and stars Ify, who was one of the main characters of War Girls. Ify has left Nigeria and moved to a space station and is working as a doctor, when a mysterious illness takes over among the children of many of the refugee families who live at the station. She ends up returning to Earth in an attempt to find a cure for the disease, and finds out that the Nigerian government has … well, they’ve dealt with moving on from the war in a unique way, I’ll just say that. Rebel Sisters is a quieter and more contemplative book than War Girls was, and bounces back and forth between Ify’s perspective and that of one of the synths from the first book, a character I won’t spoil much about. You kind of get the feeling that Onyebuchi got the “big robots smash punch BOOM!” out of his system in the first book, and this one is more About What It Is About, if that makes any sense, although it’s no less an accomplishment for all that. One interesting detail from the author’s afterword that I’m going to make sure you know about going in, because I wish I had: the disease the kids come down with may strike you as … rather narratively convenient, for lack of a better word. It is– and this kind of blew my mind and made me read more into it– actually based on a real phenomenon that has happened among refugee children.

Check it out.

Finally, from the This Book Doesn’t Really Need My Help department, I’ve also read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I bought both of the other books in this post because of preexisting fandoms, but while I had heard of Coelho before ordering The Alchemist, I couldn’t have told you anything about him other than that he was an author. Well, I decided I wanted to find a book from Brazil for #Readaroundtheworld, and a search for Brazilian authors brought his name and this book up, and … well, if they’ve done a 25th Anniversary Edition of it it’s probably pretty good, right?

It is. It absolutely is.

If I had to compare The Alchemist to anything else I’ve read, two books come to mind immediately: Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. There are a number of commonalities, but what stands out is the length of the books (Haroun is easily the shortest of Rushdie’s works, Jonathan is basically a novella, and Alchemist is around 230 pages) and the fairy-tale feel of the stories themselves. Jonathan and Alchemist come off as more didactic than Haroun does, but all three books have Feelings About How We Should Live, and, well, Jonathan and Haroun are both books that have been intensely rewarding rereads, and I suspect Alchemist is going to be as well.

I don’t speak a word of Portuguese other than where it overlaps with Spanish, but for what it’s worth this is also a pretty superb translation, good enough that I actually made sure it was originally written in Portuguese and not English. There can be a certain awkwardness to translated works from time to time, where you have to sort of wrap your head around the style of the language of the book before you can get into it, but either Portuguese translates very smoothly into English or Alan R. Clarke is very, very good at his job. He’s translated several of Coelho’s books, and I enjoyed this enough that I’ll definitely want to read more of Coelho’s books in the future, so I’m glad they seem to be in the right hands.

Oh, let’s see…

Can confirm: I will be pursuing National Board certification. So we will see how that goes.

I spent another nine hours staring at numbers today, then went to the comic shop and had dinner with my dad, and I actually do have stuff to talk about (short version: read Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist and Tochi Onyebuchi’s Rebel Sisters, full reviews probably coming, and there might be a video game review in the near future too) but right now all I want to do is put a wet rag over my eyes and sit in the dark for a while. Tomorrow will be another 8-9 hours of test watching plus avoiding spoilers for WandaVision.

I really do need to make “tired” one of my categories.

Well, shit

I have, I think, an above-average number of friends who have doctoral degrees, at least for someone who doesn’t have one. This is something that having spent your twenties in grad school does to you; if you don’t actually finish your program, a lot of your friends do, and while there has never been a single second where any of my Ph.D-holding friends have looked down on me for not reaching a terminal degree (I decided not to move forward after my MA in Divinity school, having discovered that I didn’t enjoy the research nearly as much as I thought I would, and finances fell apart at the last minute for my planned doctoral work in ed school) it has always sort of rankled that I never got one myself.

Now, note how I’m phrasing that: I’m treating a doctorate like it’s something you get and put on a shelf, like a trophy or a Batman statue or some shit like that. I have no intention whatsoever of becoming a professional researcher, nor do I really want to be a college professor, so at this point even getting a doctorate in education would literally be something done to soothe my ego and nothing else. And that’s … really not a good enough reason, unless I can do it for free, and that seems unlikely.

Enter National Board certification. This is really exactly what it sounds like; teacher certification is handled on the state level, and so there’s an insane patchwork of different requirements from state to state, and some states are much more restrictive than others about who can become teachers. Moving from state to state can be a hell of a mess, especially if you go from one with low requirements to one with higher requirements. NBC circumvents all of that; it’s basically the highest level of certification a teacher can reach (as opposed to being an educational credential like an MA or a doctorate) and most states end their certification requirements with “… or you could get your National Board certification” and leave it at that.

Most states also give you a hefty salary bump when you reach that level. Indiana, unfortunately, is not one of those states, and part of the reason I’ve not gotten my NBC in the past is that Indiana wants their teachers uneducated, young and cheap and I am none of the three already. I’m kind of stuck in my current district because the way state salary guidelines work, districts aren’t allowed to recognize irrelevant things like education when determining teacher salaries any longer, and most neighboring districts won’t recognize any more than five years of service if you’re from out of district, so I’ve been stuck in this position where if I were to change districts I’d be guaranteed a pay cut. Which … nah. I do not want a pay cut. No thank you.

There was a brief informational meeting today about a new initiative my district is setting up to try and get more teachers NBC certified. Turns out they’ll pay all of the fees for the certification (about $2200, apparently, if you don’t end up having to redo anything) and while they want a cohort (certification usually takes 2-3 years) you do the certification at your own pace, so in theory you could get it done very quickly or if you needed to put parts off you could do that as well. One of the parts is subject matter knowledge, which, pff, and another is reflecting on practice, which … well, look around. You need ten essays about my teaching practice, that’ll be done in a week. So that’s half of the four domains that I really don’t think will require a lot of work on my part unless I have to learn calculus or something; I’m not sure how expansive the math test would be. (Even if it would, an excuse to relearn upper mathematics would actually be a plus.)

Someone asked the presenter at one point how many teachers in the district were already NBC-certified. The answer, which surprised the hell out of me: zero. None. There are 16,000 kids in this district and who the hell knows how many teachers. Zero? Seriously?

And suddenly, between those three things: free, at my own pace, and one of the first teachers in the district to get this certification, and I think I’m in, when I was only attending the meeting to help talk myself out of this.


In which that’s just, like, your opinion, dude

I didn’t actually intend for that survey to be yesterday’s only post, but Life intervened, and I didn’t get back to the blog. At any rate, it’s pretty clear that no one is interested in the podcast option. I may look into it anyway just because I’m curious about how it works– I can think of two ways to convert a blog into a podcast, and one is expensive and the other would not result in an acceptable podcast– but I think the only reason to do it would be to make the blog more accessible to the blind, and I suspect that by and large blind folks who are are interested in reading blogs probably already have some sort of screen-reading software that they use.

That said, I am a White Guy with Opinions, and as such hey, I should do a podcast is on my bucket list of shit I might want to do sometime, just as soon as I actually come up with an idea worth of the work it would take. That’s been the position I was in for several years and no podcast has surfaced, so I wouldn’t worry too much about audio being imposed on your Infinitefreetime.com experience.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last two days– and will also spend the next three– watching numbers slowly increment upward from 1 to somewhere between 50 and 53. It’s Spring NWEA time, so I’m wasting an entire week of my school year trying to convince children who are not in the same room with me to take a standardized test that will provide me with no useful information. I know they’re behind. I’ve never once in my career taught at a school where even just a majority of my kids were at grade level. I wouldn’t know what to do with 8th graders who were on grade level. They’re behind. A year of pandemic has not made that better. They will remain behind. This test will let me know that they’re behind, but will attach a number to it.

(And that number? I don’t trust it, for what should be obvious reasons– every single one of these kids is taking this test out of my sight, and of course I have no way of monitoring who actually took the test, or if they got help, or for that matter if they were taking it in the kitchen while their parents were fighting and the baby they were supposed to be taking care of was crying. One kid left for half an hour because his dad made him walk the dog. The test already wasn’t especially helpful, and it is even less helpful than usual this year.)

I will not rant about state accountability tests, which have not been cancelled yet. Not today.

The picture at the top of this post is not my house– it’s the customize-your-house thing that our roofing company uses, with the shingles we’ve selected on the roof. We’re going on faith to at least a certain degree here, because comparing the actual shingle samples we were sent to any photograph of any of the three colors we settled on results in a certain amount of confusion. I’m hoping a photograph will be more representative than the, like, four shingles we got sent in these samples, but ultimately everything was so close together that it didn’t end up mattering. The white and green on the house up there match the color of my house and the accent color of my house closely enough for government work, and our shingles don’t match the brown one neighbor has or the black the other neighbor has, so whatever. We’re good.

Neither of us are going to remember what the hell color we picked when they come to install the new roof anyway.

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