Thursday, March 29, 2012

Middlemarch, book two

Okay, now I'm really getting into Middlemarch. Eliot's writing is blowing me away. It's slow to get into -- as others have noted -- but once you pass page 150 or so, you're hooked.

So here are some passages from book two, "Old and Young":

I think any hardship is better than pretending to do what one is paid for, and never really doing it.

No comment.

Most of us who turn to any subject we love remember some morning or evening hour when we got on a high stool to reach down an untried volume, or sat with parted lips listening to a new talker, or for very lack of books began to listen to the voices within, as the first traceable beginning of our love.

"Don't you think men overrate the necessity for humouring everybody's nonsense, till they get despised by the very fools they humour? ... The shortest way is to make your value felt, so that people must put up with you whether you flatter them or not."

How could a man be satisfied with a decision between such alternatives and under such circumstances? No more than he can be satisfied with his hat, which he has chosen from among such shapes as the resources of the age offer him, wearing it at best with a resignation which is chiefly supported by comparison.

I can imagine this is what it feels like to be a voter in the republican primary this year. Should we pick Top Hat (Romney) or Propeller Beanie (Santorum)? It's enough to make you miss Cowboy Hat (Bush or Reagan, take your pick).

So fuck it. Fedora 2012.

Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we would die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

I should like to make life beautiful--I mean everybody's life. And then all this immense expense of art, that seems somehow to lie outside life and make it no better for the world, pains one. It spoils my enjoyment of anything when I am made to think that most people are shut out from it...

I should be quite willing to enjoy the art here, but there is so much that I don't know the reason of--so much that seems to me a consecration of ugliness rather than beauty. The painting and sculpture may be wonderful, but the feeling is often low and brutal, and sometimes even ridiculous. Here and there I see what takes me at once as noble...but that makes it the greater pity that there is so little of the best kind among all that mass of things over which men have toiled so...

I have often felt since I have been in Rome that most of our lives would look much uglier and more bungling than the pictures, if they could be put on the wall.

If my life were a picture it would probably be a velvet painting of a sad clown eating a bag of cool ranch doritos.

I'm discussing one of the most highly respected English language novels ever written and this is the best I can come up with. Feel free to unfollow at any time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

B*tches in Bookshops

Couldn't wait for an internet lovelies post to share this.

Don't read in the dark
I highlight with markers
While laying in the park
And wearing Warby Parkers
Marriage Plot broke my heart
And it made me read Barthes
I special ordered a copy
Softcover, not hard

Thanks, Dusty, for sharing it with me!

Monday, March 19, 2012


Finished Stripped, a collection of flash fiction edited by Nicole Monaghan. The collection focuses mainly on relationships and gender roles, but not exclusively. What makes this anthology unique is that the bylines have been removed, so the author for each piece remains anonymous. All the author bios are listed at the end, but names won't be matched with stories until a year from now. The idea is that the anonymity of the author's name will "strip" away their gender. It's an interesting way to explore how, or if, we read and interpret writing (especially sex/relationship writing) differently when an author becomes androgynous.

The collection was a really enjoyable read, but now I'm a bit frustrated that I can't follow up on exploring the writers' other work, since there are some really standout pieces. Alas! Guess I'll be firing up google and searching the names of the 44 writers I don't already recognize. I can't wait a year!

Here are some passages:

From "The Distance Between the Bridge and the River"
The river is not safe for swimming, so the city built a bridge to span it. To get to work, Amanda walks across the bridge. She crosses at 8:22 a.m. and at 5:07 p.m. She walks on the right side of the bridge in the morning and on the left side of the bridge in the evening. She never lingers. She cannot see where the river begins and ends. She thinks the distance between the bridge and the river is not far. Maybe three or four seconds, if that.
If that.

From "Seven Happy Endings"
I see her from time to time, grabbing coffee at Starbucks, going grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, reading at Barnes and Noble. Once I saw her at the farmer's market buying a block of cheese, and she gave a small piece to her Golden Retriever and I felt like dying.


I don't care anymore. She probably took so many drugs she floated away. Soon I'll adopt my own dog, a Beagle, tell everyone he is graduating from training, have a party for him. His graduation cake can be made of cheese. I can buy a house just for us and we can decorate it with other people's junk. But these plans, they're not my life, yet. I'm enjoying this in-between state. Now it's just me and I'm going to do big things with my time.

From "Grover Cleveland Has It Out with America On The Eve of His Second Inauguration"
America, I am feeling vulnerable tonight. I am bright gold foil over melted chocolate. I am the moon made of mercury, cinnamon, and asbestos. I am more machine than man but my heart, my heart is soft as nougat and sad as the end of seasons.


Oh, America. WTF, as Thomas Jefferson would have said. This country is a bowl of dick--yet, I feel such love for you. You have a young, bright spirit, lit in you like newborn stars, like fireflies over flame. I expect great things of you. Your future is a Mad Lib: you can be brave and foolish and cruel and clean and kind and murderous and hopeful and yes, even sexy. You can be anything you want to be, America.

No, I don't know what that has to do with gender roles or relationships, but it's hilarious.

From "Jerry's Life as Sung to 'I Think We're Alone Now'"
I ran and ran but they kept moving the finish line. After two and a half decades I realized that the finish line was in their heads, not mine. I stopped running. Even now, so many keep running, faster, faster--how do they do it? Bare feet. Gravel.

If anyone knows the author of the Grover Cleveland piece, could you let me know? Yes, yes. Of course the story I'm most interested in uses the phrase "bowl of dick."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Internet Lovelies

I didn’t even want to go on the date. That sounds terrible but I just went because I thought, well, he asked and, “Who am I to say no?” That sounds terrible too. I’m a feminist! I mean, come on. The entire time, I thought, “I do not want to be here. I do not want to talk to him. I want to go home.” It’s a situation I’ve been in countless times. I write about it sometimes, this sense of entrapment where I feel unduly obligated to say yes to things...

...He said something “jokingly” and inane about how if he stayed all night we could do some work together. It was supposed to be charming but it was not. I smiled and said, “No thanks.” He said, “Let’s at least finish the movie, the wine.” HULK MAD HULK SMASH MAN FACE! I politely said, “I need to end the evening,” and he was still on his own agenda. He is truly a nice guy (he is, just maybe not good at reading cues). I didn’t know what to do. I felt like… I was speaking English and I did so clearly and somehow that wasn’t translating into whatever the hell language he hears when people speak to him. For now, I am going to call that language DICK.
Roxane Gay, Link

You know that Aaliyah song, "Try Again"? Well men, please don't listen to that. If at first you don't succeed, that's it. Please stop. Because you're coming off as rapey. I'm talking to you, creepers of the library.

When I see a fresh red heart in facebook’s “is now in a relationship” status update, I secretly wait for its full metastasis into a tumor.
Jimmy Chen, Link

I picture a bunch of unsatisfied people in this country, this grand first world country with clean water and dirty Gods, going to a country with dirty water and clean Gods, to negotiate happiness, to bargain for it, to try to find “something” in a world whose atomic constituent was built, literally, upon nothing. And we wonder why we’re empty.
Jimmy Chen, Link

In support of my "save the bookstores" tips from awhile back: GalleyCat reports that the sale of mass market paperbacks is down 41% from last year. If you're a small indie bookstore, you should maybe consider discontinuing selling cheap paperbacks of bestsellers. The consumer type for this market is more likely to own an e-reader. Or will just buy them from the grocery store anyway, along with their frozen burritos. Do you sell frozen burritos in your bookstore? Then stop selling James Patterson.

Remember the VIDA statistics I talked about last year? Well they're just as dismal this year. We're in the future!

I personally was on Facebook for two weeks as part of a piece of journalism I was writing — it seemed sort of dumb to me. Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium.

People I care about are readers…particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.
Jonathan Franzen, Link

*cough* *hack* Sorry, just trying to wave away this cloud of 'smug' that materialized from my computer monitor and enveloped itself around me.

Franzen, you don't need to yak about yourself. Freedom was an Oprah's Book Club pick. A writer who uses social media to gain an audience for their work can be "serious." Whatever you mean by that. Although in my opinion being part of Oprah's book club automatically strips you of whatever "seriousness" you once held, in my own interpretation of the term.

I've never attempted a Franzen novel, mostly because he says shit like this all the time. And writes vaguely misogynistic articles about Edith Wharton. I've always found it difficult to separate the artist from the art. No matter how many times the Ender's Game series is recommended to me, my mind keeps going back to the fact that Orson Scott Card is a hateful homophobe. And maybe I'm missing out on some really good books. But there are a lot of good books out there--more than I'll ever have time to read--so I may as well support the ones written by 'good' authors.

I'm a bit on the defense here because I spend a disproportionate amount of each day on twitter; that most "irresponsible medium." I don't do it for recognition or to market myself (what would I even be marketing!?). I don't care how many followers I have. I just enjoy having a creative outlet that's challenging and allows me to be anonymous (translation: this blog has my full name attached to it, so dick jokes are kept to a minimum. Hi future employers!).

I understand what Franzen is saying about "writing a novel without a P." The format of twitter is a gimmick. You get just 140 characters. It's a challenge that he would utterly fail; you can't craft a tweet containing a word like 'semaphoring' and expect it to fit under the limit. But no one's trying to tweet longwinded intellectual arguments--the medium just doesn't support it. That's no reason to completely dismiss it. As Roxane Gay aptly puts it, "It’s like Franzen is saying, 'I cannot swim in my car and therefore my car is not useful.'" I have been introduced to SO many great writers through twitter (albeit ones Franzen probably wouldn't consider Serious™). And they didn't need Oprah to gain my attention. Just great writing.

Middlemarch, book one

I'm determined to read some Big Ass Books™ this year, and right now I'm working on George Eliot's Middlemarch. Here are the passages I marked from "book one"; the first of eight.

Sane people did what their neighbours did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

...a kind Providence furnishes the limpest personality with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition.

We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, "Oh, nothing!" Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts--not to hurt others.

"Confound you handsome young fellows! you think of having it all your own way in the world. You don't understand women. They don't admire you half so much as you admire yourselves."

Thank you, Eliot.
"He has got no good red blood in his body," said Sir James.
"No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying-glass, and it was all semicolons and parentheses," said Mrs. Cadwallader.
"Why does he not bring out his book, instead of marrying?" said Sir James, with a disgust which he held warranted by the sound feeling of an English Layman.
"Oh, he dreams footnotes, and they run away with all his brains. They say, when he was a little boy, he made an abstract of 'Hop o' my Thumb,' and he has been making abstracts ever since."

I seriously lol'd at this part. I feel sorry for Casaubon right now. But as the passage below points out, I can see foresee future events unfolding that may change my opinion. So happy to be reading a classic novel of which I don't already know the plot.
But any one watching keenly the stealthy convergence of human lots, sees a slow preparation of effects from one life on another, which tells like a calculated irony on the indifference or the frozen stare with which we look at our unintroduced neighbour. Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatic personae folded in her hand.

...correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.

In one hundred years correct English will be the slang of twitterers and youtube commenters. Shit is cray. But whatevs.