misce stultitiam consiliis brevem

Archive for February, 2012

Non-fiction for pleasure

OK, so now I’ve had two humanities people tell me more or less categorically that non-fiction reading is not pleasure reading. (The first instance prompted much of what I’ve written here in the past year and a half; the second came initially as a comment on this weblog.) I would not have expected that particularly of humanities people, honestly. I suppose I had assumed that English or classics or folklore majors and suchlike were more likely to be into any and all reading.

In both cases there has been the clarification that the information gained (“understanding stuff about the world”) may give one pleasure “even when reading about it feels like work.” And yet … this still implies that the readers approach vast categories of written documents strictly from a utilitarian point of view—news, debate, most forms of essay, and (most pertinently to these discussions) academic and non-academic book-length works: pop science and ethnography, self-help and philosophy, history and historiography, history of science, biography, literary and art criticism, poli-sci. It truly does surprise me if the ‘not-for-pleasure’ category is that broad for either elisabeth or the grad student who told me she doesn’t read non-fiction.

I am accustomed to expansive, voracious, and usually compulsive reading from my close associates in the hard sciences and social sciences. My dad, an old-school sysadmin, keeps on hand nearly the complete œvres of Faulkner, Vonnegut, Lessing, and Erdrich (one of his most evocative comments on the last: “… so fierce that I can frankly understand her husband committed suicide“). He also keeps a personal subscription to Science magazine, setting himself the goal of understanding one article per issue (an ambitious goal that is by far not always reached). The mother of a mathematician friend had to set a rule during middle school that she would select every other book for his pleasure reading: she chose good classic YA, he plowed through the local library’s math collection. This is the same person who introduced me to The Ancestor’s Tale and, on my recommendation, read The Archivist in a day and a half. My little brother, a history-major-turned-‘financial-analyst’ of whom I was seriously proud when he started (with The Fourth Hand) recommending to me books based on his own taste, is an Andrew Jackson buff who is also my original source for King Leopold’s Ghost. A chemistry undergrad friend of mine, now in graduate school, recruited friends for ‘salon’ book groups in two states in which he’s recently lived.

King Leopold’s Ghost and The Ancestor’s Tale are both written with exceptional clarity, perceptiveness, and outreach towards the audience. I have actually “grown” a favoritism for interdisciplinary non-fiction author Steven Johnson, and have wished that I had been a Harvard undergrad more recently so I could have become a disciple of Daniel Lord Smail, whose academic training is in 14th-century French legal documents, but who also is passionately advocating for historians to claim as their field all of human history, the way they used to before Western culture imagined how many orders of magnitude longer than Biblical history all is.

And non-fiction can inspire such awe—often for its subjects (Catherine of Aragon or the early epidemiological triumph of 1854 London, and more shrouded figures/incidents such as Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, and the training of medical residents), but also for the brilliance of the research (Montaillou) or the mind (An Experiment in Criticism).

Truly … people can dismiss all the vast variety of non-fiction as not intended for pleasure reading? Is this another case where I am failing to understand what kind of pleasures others seek from their reading?


HRSFANS Reunion Registration Now Online


The 2nd Quadrennial HRSFANS reunion will be occurring March 16-18, 2012, at Harvard, alongside the 12th annual Vericon. This is an occasion to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, to reminiscent about the past and to plan for the future–and to attend a convention featuring open gaming and open anime, alumni-written LARPs and a HRSFA-written MST3K, a masquerade ball, a charity auction, and guests including Lev Grossman, R.L. Stein, and Guest of Honor Vernor Vinge. We’ll be adding information as it comes in on the HRSFANS wiki–you can check there to stay up-to-date on all the details.

Who’s Invited?

Members of HRSFANS and former members of HRSFA are invited. Guests are also welcome, provided a member assumes responsibility for their conduct and their enjoyment of the event.

All attendees are requested to register for the reunion. Anyone attending the Saturday dinner must indicate so on their registration and pay the additional cost.

Current members of HRSFA are welcome to stop by and say hi! Since we expect members of HRSFA will want to spend very little time at the reunion instead of Vericon, current student members of HRSFA are not required to register for the reunion unless they plan on seriously raiding our snack stash. So as not to draw people away from Vericon en masse, we’d like to discourage undergraduates from attending the Saturday dinner.

Reunion Schedule

The reunion will host “Alumni Central”, a space in Boylston Hall where Alumni can meet up throughout the weekend. Alumni Central will be stocked with snacks and low-key reunion activities. In addition, we’re planning the following events:

  • Friday night late: relax and hang out after the con in the Quincy Qube
  • Breakfast with the Board on Saturday morning: Let us know what’s on your mind, and brainstorm with us about plans for the future!
  • Saturday night Dinner: a sit-down dinner in Kirkland House
  • Saturday night “Classy Soiree” after the masquerade ball: party in the Lowell Senior Common Room–snacks, booze, and the alumni edition of non-constitutional elections.
  • Activity for alumni and their children TBA: If you’d like to be part of that discussion, contact Rose Martin, or email contact at hrsfans dot org.


You can register for the Reunion here.

You can register for Vericon here.


There are, of course, a variety of accommodations options in Harvard Square. Some of these are described below. We’ll add information as we continue researching options, and if you know of a good option we’ve missed, feel free to let us know and we’ll add that.

Short-Term Apartment Rental

We believe that the most cost-effective (though not necessarily the least labor intensive) commercial accommodation strategy is to pool with a small group of people and rent an apartment for the weekend. There are a variety of such listings here, which can often offer accommodations for 4 people at $50/person/night (give or take), in addition to common space and kitchens (for people who like that sort of thing). In order to get the best search results, I recommend the search terms “Harvard Square Cambridge MA” and guests “1”.

Some Examples


  • In most of these cases, the budget-conscious strategy is to sleep two people in each bedroom and also some people on living room couches. Since living room couches are less private, it’s recommended that people sleeping on couches pay less per night than people with private rooms.
  • In some cases, the price of the accommodation is fixed, regardless of how many people are staying there. In other cases, the owner will specify an additional charge per person over some number. You can get an idea about this from the page, but it’s always worth checking with the landlord explicitly, since the answer will often be different. In either case, you can make a calculation about privacy vs. cost-cutting when you decide how many people you’d like to recruit to share a space.
  • Some of the spaces advertised on are actually private rooms in the landlord’s apartment or house. This may require less coordination with other reunion goers, and it may again be less expensive, in exchange for less privacy and less social common space available.
  • Keep an eye on cleaning fees. Note that these rentals usually require security deposits.
  • Questions or concerns about this approach to accommodations? Contact Elisabeth Cohen, or email us at contact at hrsfans dot org.

Hotels and B&Bs

For those who find the “rent an apartment” plan daunting, renting a hotel is of course easier. The Harvard Square Hotel is unfortunately closed for repairs during Vericon this year. Other options include:

Coordinating Roommates

Looking for someone to fill out your room in an apartment or hotel? You can post what you’re looking for here (this will involve signing onto the HRSFANS wiki, which takes about 30 seconds if you’ve never done it before).

Other Local Information

Vericon maintains information about parking, local eateries, game stores, and hotels here


Reunion Costs

The full reunion registration (including the Saturday night sit-down dinner in Kirkland) costs $60. Registration without the dinner costs $20, and registration by-the-day costs $10/day.

Financial Assistance

If you’d like to attend the reunion, we’d like you to be able to attend without cost as an impediment. The registration form includes the option to request financial assistance. If you would like to contribute to financial assistance in order to help other HRSFANs attend the reunion, that option is also available during registration. In either case, you’ll be contacted by a member of the reunion staff to discuss specifics. We will treat both financial aid requests and offers as confidential (“double-blind”)

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Bimonthly Roundup: Spring 2012

In the coming days, this may come to be known as the “Trimonthly roundup”. But for those still shivering in the depths of winter, there is hope! For spring is filled with a number of conventions and events of interest to HRSFANS; we bring them to you now, in an attempt to list and discuss events (like sci-fi or gaming conventions) which HRSFANS are going to. It is also announced on hrsfans-discuss, and the updated list is kept on the HRSFANS wiki.

Are you going to any of these events? Got anything coming up that you’d like HRSFANS to know about? Like to see other HRSFANs? Great! Just drop a note and let people know!


  • 2/9-12: Capricon: Wheeling, IL. Nicely sized general SF convention. Mystery Spatula Theater 11 and Gozer Games will be there.
  • 2/12-17: Boskone: Boston, MA. Put on by NESFA, a major Science Fiction/Fantasy convention.
  • 2/19-20: Boston SF Film Marathon: Somerville, MA. 24 hour SF film marathon, noon Sunday-Monday. Drew G will be attending.
  • 2/24-27: Dreamation: Morristown, NJ. Weiyi G, Jason B., Alden S. and Kay S. and Dev P. and Laura S. will be leading a New York HRSFANS contingent


  • 3/2-3/4: Intercon L: Chelmsford, MA. The much larger sibling of Intercon Mid-Atlantic. Matt E and Mindy K are going.
  • 3/16-3/18:

    Vericon XII/HRSFANS 2012 Reunion

    : Cambridge, MA

  • 3/21-3/25 IAFA: Orlando, FL. HRSFANS author Marie Brennan will be attending.
  • 3/30-4/1 [ FOGcon: San Francisco, CA. HRSFANS author Marie Brennan will be attending
  • 3/30 – 3/31 Emerald City Comicon: Seattle, WA. Tony V is interested in attending.


  • 4/6-4/8 PAX East: Boston, MA. Like PAX, but in Boston. Kevin G is interested in attending.
  • 4/6-4/8: Anime BostonBoston, MA. Ada P and Alessandro will be running cosplay events
  • 4/6-4/8 Sakuracon: Seattle, WA. Tony V is interested in attending.
  • 4/27 WACcon : Seattle, WA. Diplomacy tournament. Tony V will stab you.
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