hello friday! (150515)


I FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH LAST NIGHT.  fucking accomplishment, y’all.  i’m so happy to be done with it, which might seem to contradict the fact that i did actually enjoy it and find it refreshing, especially with eliot’s poking of the marriage plot, but 838 pages is too damn long.  no book needs to be 838 pages.  i remain unapologetic in my aversion to long books.

as you've probably ascertained from the title, this is not a middlemarch post.  there will be more middlemarch posts, at least two more.  thanks for being patient!

one of my favorite things i did in LA was go to a bookstore with the illustrator friend and look at covers.  she bought me renee adhieh’s the wrath and the dawn (putnam, 2015), which is stunningly designed, and i showed her the beautiful black edges of kazuo ishiguro’s the buried giant (knopf, 2015) and the beauty that is michel faber’s the book of strange new things (hogarth, 2014).  we oohed over sara novic’s girl at war (random house, 2015) because circle! (we both like circles) (which means we both like the covers to rebecca solnit’s a field guide to getting lost [penguin, 2005] and the faraway nearby [penguin, 2013]), and we came across taylor antrim’s immunity (regan arts, 2015)which is so fucking beautiful and consistently designed that we were both tempted to buy it, even though we’d no idea what the book was about or if it were any good.

which, y’know, we could’ve done something about by actually reading the book, but there were more covers to see.

we saw caryl phillips’ the lost child (FSG, 2015), and i said, this is inspired by wuthering heightsand she said, i can see that; the cover reflects it.  she liked daniel handler’s we are pirates (bloomsbury, 2015) -- the color-blocking of the wraparound cover (i don’t know the technical terms; in another life, i would’ve been an art school kid and known these things), and the contrast to the more rollicking cover on the actual book -- i thought that was nifty.  i talked about jeff vandermeer’s the southern reach trilogy (FSG, 2014)*, how it was totally the cover that made me pick up the books in the first place because, holy shit, they’re beautiful and how can you talk stellar book covers and not bring them up.  afterward, after we’d exhausted the new fiction section, we went to a cafe, and i pulled up FSG’s redesigns of flannery o’connor’s work**, and then i scrolled through twitter to show her alex mar’s witches of america (FSG, 2015, forthcoming) because (01) circles and (02) gold and (03) isn’t that gorgeous? -- after which, we fell back on what the hell happened to purity?  though purity (FSG, 2015, forthcoming) is so wtf that it's memorable, so i suppose the design can be considered a success.

spending time in a bookstore looking at covers sounds like a weird thing to get excited about, but it’s one of the things we do, this friend and i.  she's also one of my closest friends and one of very few people i know who get excited over book covers like i do, who understand what i mean when i open a book with a great cover only to find that the layout has been haphazardly done.  or who laugh when i say i can’t buy rachel cusk’s outline (FSG, 2015) because i can’t do the sans serif (seriously, i’ve tried; i can’t) (good thing i subscribe to the paris review).  or who understand what i mean when i open murakami’s colorless tsukuru tazaki (knopf, 2014) and point at the jagged right margin and make my :| face.  (one day, i’ll learn these technical terms.)  small things, maybe, but we have a lot of fun, and i miss her constantly because she's across the country in california.

* this might be a weird link because it's talking about the spanish covers, but the spanish covers are gorgeous, too.  the paperback US covers can be seen if you scroll down.

(also, here's my review of the trilogy.)

** this is a cooool post.  make sure to go through the slideshows of each cover to see the work-in-progress!

currently reading margaret atwood's stone mattress for book club tomorrow, and i don't know what it is about me and leaving book club books to the day before we meet.  it's miraculous that i manage to finish (i have this thing where i must finish all books for book club), though i do think i should start reading them earlier, so i can have time to mull over them and think on them.  

i love how this book club came around, too, because it was totally by chance.  i took part of a vocational intensive at redeemer, and, last october, i went to a marilynne robinson reading in park slope.  as i was leaving, someone stopped me because she recognized me from the intensive (i was part of the artists' cohort; she was part of the educators' cohort), and we met up for coffee and, eventually, invited other people and decided to start a book club!  our first "unofficial" book was robinson's lila (FSG, 2015)then we read alice munro's the beggar maid (vintage, 1991, reissue), kazuo ishiguro's an artist of the floating world (faber and faber, 1986), and, now, atwood's stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014).  we're planning on reading some toni morrison soon, too; maybe it'll be our next read!

heh, i should be reading right now ...

my april recap is forthcoming; i will write about the books i read last month.  i got caught up with my read of middlemarch, though, and then i was in california, and we always have excuses for these delays, don't we?  in the end, i haven't written it yet because i haven't written yet.  i will write it over the next few days, though, and have that up by the end of next week as well!

... or maybe i continue to be stupidly ambitious ...

pause, part two.

mmm, okay, i'm declaring a pause until friday.  i did very little reading today and will most likely not get a chance to do much reading tomorrow, then i'm taking a red eye tomorrow night, which means my entire being will be out of commission on thursday -- so we shall return to this on friday!

have a great week, all!  see y'all when i'm back home in brooklyn!

hello monday! (150511) aka middlemarch, part six.


currently in california, which means family, friends, and tons of amazing food that is not as great in new york.  like korean food.  and tacos.  and philz, but philz isn't even in new york.

i [clearly] did not finish middlemarch last week (oh, well, stupid ambitions!), but, luckily for me, middlemarch is available on oyster books!  i'm glad i didn't have to lug that brick of a book across the country with me but still get to progress along in the novel and hopefully finish it soon.  it's hard in california, though -- i only have so many days to see so many people and eat so much food.  ^^

i've been much too immersed in the world of middlemarch.  i dreamt that i was in middlemarch yesterday.  that's a sure sign that i'm obsessed or preoccupied with something ...

i must confess that i'm a little weary of middlemarch.  it's been over a week since i dove into this world, and i haven't been reading anything else, which in and of itself is pretty remarkable because i tend to have a few books going at the same time.  and, when i pick one to stick to, i finish it relatively quickly.

it's not that middlemarch is dull or not interesting.  i am drawn to the characters, some more than others, and i have opinions on all of them.  like, i don't necessarily like dorothea, but i sympathize with her -- i understand why she deferred so much to causabon, and i get most of her motivations, though i also find her "goodness" irritating.  i like will because he tends to say things out loud.  i can't stand rosemary and her general immaturity, her self-centeredness, her lack of substance, and i decidedly don't like her after she told will about the condition in causabon's will -- she didn't do so out of concern for a friend but for her own ego in her own self-centered way.  fred's silly in similar ways, but he seems generally harmless, though, i don't know, i don't want mary to marry him because she deserves better.  i like farebrother.  i don't think much of lydgate, honestly, except that he has no one to blame for the financial problems he's gotten himself into because he went into marriage with these stupid ideals (there's a passage about this, but i marked it up in my hard copy, and i am not willing to scroll through middlemarch on my ipad and find it at the moment).  i have no patience for mr. brooke because he seems like a slitherer-outer, and i don't like bulstrode, either, because what the hell -- lying to a woman about the whereabouts of her daughter so he could marry her (the mother) and inherit her fortune, then, decades later, telling the grandson that, oh, i knew where your mother was, but i didn't tell her mother, but, here, i'll give you x-amount of money per year and offer you these other financial incentives now, so we're cool, yeah?

at the same time, though, i don't necessarily care.  i'm not that invested in any of the characters or in any of the happenings, and part of it is also the writing.  eliot doesn't linger in moments, and she doesn't really explore things beyond what is happening in the scene -- like, we do get to get inside these characters' heads and see what they're thinking and why they are or are not saying the things they're thinking, but then that's it, and we're continuing along this ride.  the closest analogy i can think of is the backlot studio ride at universal studios:  you sit on a tram that travels through different sets, whether it be a town set or an earthquake set or a flash flood set or a collapsing bridge, but you don't sit and linger in the feelings each set is staged to make you feel because the tram moves steadily on.  middlemarch makes me think of that because eliot doesn't make much of the emotional beats -- in fact, i find the novel rather flat emotionally.  it's not that emotion or feeling is entirely absent, but middlemarch lacks resonance, so it fails to take deep root, even if i'm spending so much time with this book, in this world, with these characters.

i wonder if i'll remember this book because of the sheer effort of the project?  blogging it has definitely helped, though, because it's made me pay better attention and try to think about things, like the role money plays, which i'll talk about on another day, or prejudices or generally just big picture things i might lose track of usually.  blogging has also helped in maintaining motivation in pressing on with this novel because, to be honest, i probably would have set it aside if i hadn't committed to blogging it.  and i would still be tempted to set it aside if it weren't the blogging thing.  and if i weren't so fucking close to the end.  i'm on BOOK SEVEN.  seven of eight!  OMG.

at the same time, i must add that i have been enjoying middlemarch.  sure, blogging it might have been extra motivation not to give up, but middlemarch has genuinely been enjoyable and generally entertaining.  the pages haven't been lagging much, and eliot really is an insightful, comprehensive writer, so middlemarch has also been a very thoughtful read.

that said, i'm also excited that the end is nigh, and i'm sooooo looking forward to diving into other books.  i can't wait to start atul gawande's being mortal (metropolitan books, 2014), and, once i get back to new york later this week, i have to read margaret atwood's the stone mattress (nan a. talese, 2014) for book club on saturday.  i'm not quite sure where i'll go after that -- thinking of picking up kate bolick's spinster (crown, 2015) and still have to finish michael cunningham's the hours (FSG, 1998) and amy rowland's the transcriptionist (alonquin, 2014) -- but we'll see what my reading brain desires when we get to that point.

i'm going to focus on middlemarch until i've finished it, then finish rebecca mead's my life in middlemarch (which i LOVE -- i'm glad i read middlemarch if only because i got to read my life in middlemarch), so my last middlemarch post will focus on the mead!  thanks so much to those who've stuck with my middlemarch posts!  we're almost at the end!  woohoo!


hullo!  there was supposed to be a middlemarch post today, but it's been a busy day, and i'm still not packed or fully cleaned, and i'm leaving for JFK at 4:30 a.m.  i did start writing a post, though, but i'm thinking i'd like to get a smidgen of sleep at one point -- or at least be able to pack and clean and such.  therefore, i'm going to say we'll take a weekend off from middlemarch, and i will leave you with two important things to note from today:

  1. i got to hear michael ondaatje (as part of a panel called "the art of mentoring") (i volunteered at the pen world voices festival today).  one of my favorite books is the english patient (god, the language in that book; it's so rich and lush and beautiful -- the kind of language you get drunk on), so this was a huge, huge deal.
  2. i saw an advanced copy of purity out in the wild.  it walked past me before the event, then i walked past it after the event, and, as hyperbolic as this sounds, i died a little inside both times because, omg, i want it.  it's so ugly pretty, and it looks nice and long (yes, i know i wrote about being wary of long books two days ago, but i've never really felt like franzen's novels felt too long), and fuck september for being so far away.

have a great weekend, all!

hello friday! (150508) aka middlemarch, part five.


(sprinkles cupcakes are terrible.)

in chapter 4 of my life in middlemarch, rebecca mead writes:

"we all grumble at 'middlemarch,'" a reviewer for the spectator said.  "but we all read it, and all feel that there is nothing to compare with it appearing at the present moment in the way of english literature, and not a few of us calculate whether we shall get the august number before we go for our autumn holiday, or whether we shall have to wait for it till we return."  with book four, we are approaching the very middle of middlemarch -- and even though i know well how the novel concludes, the riddle posed in chapter 30 always beguiles me with its suggestion of alternative fates, of different love matches, of other possible endings.

certain genres of fiction derive their satisfactions from the predictability of their conclusion.  the reader knows where things are going to end up:  in a romance the lovers are united; in a detective story the murder mystery is solved.  there is a pleasure in the familiarity of the journey.  but a successful realist novel necessarily takes unpredictable turns in just the way real life predictably must.  the resolution of middlemarch, even as seen in prospect halfway through the book, cannot possibly be completely tidy.  (an example:  mary garth has two possible suitors, fred vincy and mr. farebrother.  both have qualities to recommend them, but at least one is bound to be disappointed.)  middlemarch permits the reader to imagine other possible directions its characters might take, leading to entirely different futures, and as so often in life, love is the crossroads.  (mead, 113-4)

one.  imagine a time when novels were serialized and people anticipated the next installment, couldn't wait to read it and discuss it and simmer in anticipation for the next.  imagine that.

two.  this made me think of hillary kelly's article in the washington post about the serialized novel, which was linked on melville house's fabulous blog with discussion, all of which makes me think of the paris review, which recently serialized rachel cusk's outline (published in book form by FSG in 2015) (excerpts from the paris review:  part 01, part 02, part 03, part 04).  also i swear the paris review recently said they were going to start serializing another novel in their next issue -- or the fall issue -- but this is the problem with following all things literary on twitter, instagram, tumblr, facebook, and subscribing to publishing newsletters and reading blogs like the melville house blog, the paris review blog, lit hub -- i can't remember where i read this (spent the last 15 minutes trying to find it), but i swear i did, and it makes me happy, the end.

three.  that last sentence in the paragraphs quoted above is one reason i feel compelled to keep going with middlemarch.  i honestly don't know what's going to happen, not in any constructed narrative way but in the way that it is in life with life's penchant for throwing curveballs as it pleases, and i'm finding it just interesting enough to keep the pages flipping.

four.  mr. farebrother > fred vincy.

five.  ... because i don't like the number four?

book four of middlemarch is when i decided that i despised causabon.  what a selfish man.  it wasn't even the stupid clause in his will that did it for me; it was the stupid request he lay before dorothea after waking her in the night because he felt restless so she had to wake up and read to him so he could edit via dictation, when he says:

'before i sleep, i have a request to make, dorothea.'

'what is it?' said dorothea, with a dread in her mind.

'it is that you will let me know, deliberately, whether, in case of my death, you will carry out my wishes:  whether you will avoid doing what i should deprecate, and apply yourself to do what i should desire.'  (eliot, 477)

oh my god, you selfish man, you'll be dead -- what does it matter to you what she does with her life?  she's a human being, not something you can control and order around, and i was glad that dorothea hesitates, doesn't give him an answer right away and asks for more time.  it's not fair for her, either, because she ends up getting no sleep and struggles away, aware that he's asking for too much:

still, there was a deep difference between that devotion to the living, and that indefinite promise of devotion to the dead.  (eliot, 479)

in the end, it's moot because he dies, and, instead, dorothea's left with a stupid, petty condition in his will that bars her from the property if she marries ladislaw.  she can marry anyone else, but she can't marry ladislaw, all because of causabon's small-minded jealousy -- and part of me laughed over all this because i couldn't help but think that, if dorothea so bends herself under her husband's will and causabon is so selfish and petty, they must have had some incredibly unsatisfactory sex.  if they had sex at all beyond the consummation of the marriage, that is ...

it's already saturday, which means, drat, i'm going to have to haul this brick of a book to california after all.  i was planning on taking atul gawande's being mortal (metropolitan books, 2014), but i'm thinking maybe i'll just take middlemarch and my life in middlemarch instead.  that should be enough reading because i don't have a lot of free time in california, anyway, especially when i only have four days to cram as many people in as i can.

i'll still be posting a middlemarch update tomorrow, though, so check back for that!  and i promise to talk about characters other than dorothea and causabon.  :D