30 Books in 2018 #14 and The Epics Project #3: Middlemarch by George Eliot

By it’s nature, the Victorian novel forces you to take your time with it. The writers were generally paid by the word, so the words are copious. Also, the books were divided into chapters and volumes and sometimes sub chapters. They aren’t easy, but I’ve never read a Victorian novel that wasn’t worth it in the end.

Unlike a lot of her contemporaries however, George Eliot doesn’t utilize filler. There are no flowery descriptions, or needless digression, which makes Middlemarch’s length all the more astounding. That said, her female peers also didn’t use those kinds of crutches, Austen, The Brontes, a bit earlier, Baroness D’Orczy and Edith Wharton a bit later also tended to be succint. And also, amazing, there are really three novels going on at once in Middlemarch, the angsty star crossed love story of young Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw, the nearly farcical bad marriage of Dr. Tertius Lydgate and Rosamund Vincy, and the sweet childhood love makes good story of Fred Vincy and Mary Garth. These stories all connect and overlap in the delightful everday ways that these things do in small towns, but otherwise operate independently.

The modern art form that most resembles the Victorian Novel is television as they were consumed in much the same way. They’re serialized, they have huge casts and they often wrap up in a way that feels hurried and disappointing! Not the case here, there was something deeply satisfying about seeing the way that the small dramas of Middlemarch all interweave and contribute to the happiness and unhappiness of our protagonists.

I’m always dismayed that I haven’t read more Eliot. Every time I read something of hers, I pledge to read more. The problem is, well, Victorian novels are long, and often difficult, and before last year, I’d sworn off both of those things in my reading (unless there were dragons…obviously) because well, I was tired. Since I’ve decided to dive back into challenging my reading brain since The Vonnegut Project (I’ll finish someday!!!) and being back in the habit of reading, I think that’ll be different now. I’m certainly not going to rush out and pick up one of the other books. (Not with Children Of Dune and my next two epics staring back at me from my TBR pile. Not to mention the other worthy books hanging out there at the moment.) But I’m committed to knowing her at least as well as I know Dickens and Austen as she fits quite snugly between them in my mind, chronicling a time and place I will never get sick of learning more about.

The next book is Rebecca by Daphne DeMaurier because HOLY CRAP HOW HAVE I NEVER READ REBECCA! The next Epic is David Copperfield and I mean it this time!


The Wound Is Where The Light Comes In

I have no real nostalgia for A Wrinkle In Time, I didn’t read it as a kid. I read it when I was 22, and I didn’t really get it’s charms. I sometimes wondered if I had come to it earlier if I’d have loved it, or if I came to it later, when I got better at meeting stories on their own terms rather than my own, I would have liked it more.

Regardless, Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved novel was not one that meant anything to me at all, beyond, the experience of reading it one time and thinking, “huh.”

Ava Duvernay’s film version, however, won me over in it’s first five minutes. As I have stated from time to time, I’m a sucker for stories about familial love. So a movie that has a lengthy scene where a young girl sits with her parents and they tell her how they love her and that love will never ever leave her, hits me right where I like things. (And having her dad played by Best Chris, Chris Pine, well, that’s just a bonus!)

That’s how we come upon the Murrys, who’s daughter Meg, and son Charles Wallace, are two members of our space-time travelling trio in the movie. The third is Calvin, a classmates of Meg’s, who’s nursing a big bad and obvious crush on her. Well, obvious to everyone but Meg, who is kind of convinced he’s making fun of her.

Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin go off in search of Meg’s father, who has gotten lost on his five year mission to go where no man has gone before…I mean, who discovered a science magical form of space travel known as tessering, but is in fact missing. They are guided on their journey by three mysterious women, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. The Mrs.’s are played with whimsical joy by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah respectively.

This movie isn’t complicated. It’s a straightforward kiddie adventure about the power of love and faith and family, but it’s a well executed and deeply felt take on that story. Duvernay guides her actors well, particularly young Storm Reid as Meg. Meg’s not easy, she’s prickly and insecure and not entirely nice. But she’s good which is more important, and she has Oprah giving her personal pep talks, so she gets it together.

Overall, I was deeply impressed. I cried a few times. (This happens, like a lot, but the reunion between Meg and her father is incredibly emotional) It’s a visually stunning movie, that manages to transport you to the many worlds the kids stay and all of the adults that pop in do a great job without hogging up too much time and they share gracefully.

I can’t speak to how a hardcore fan of the book would react to this adaptation, I remember very little about it, but it’s quite good, on it’s own as a movie and worth seeing.


30 Books In 2018 #13: Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

It started when I read Salinger. I didn’t know how to describe it then, I was in high school, like most everyone is when they read The Catcher In The Rye. I couldn’t describe why, but I didn’t like it.

It rubbed me the wrong way, all that internal angst, all that, “the world is on my shoulders and no one sees,” and “no other person has ever felt this ever,” just made me angry, not like I was understood at all. In college, I learned to voice it and it’s a term that I’ve used explain my dislike for a certain branch of light literary fiction, “I have no patience for adolescent male jackassery.”

Call Me By Your Name is beautifully written, and genuinely wrought with feeling. It’s also full to the gills with adolescent male jackassery. It’s queer jackassery, and very European, so it’s different, but I see you Elio, I see your longing sighs and over dramatic explanations of your lust, and I sigh and think, “we get it.”

Maybe I’m too Irish-American, too New England, too middle class. Maybe I’m too proud of myself for crawling out of my own butt to see the sun and the wonder of the world around me outside of my bubble of depression and “deep feeling.” But I can only take so much of lounging around talking about ennui and lust before I have to put my kindle down, make a cup of tea and do something. 

Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful book, that I know spoke to many people, and the film more so (I’m seeing it next week with Crystan, so not by my Oscar deadline, sadly), but seriously, y’all, it’s not my thing, I’ve known it wasn’t my thing since I was seventeen and I need to stop trying to make it my thing, because intelligent people who I respect happen to hold it as theirs.

I’m not a lit student anymore, though I miss elements of that (and frankly, Elio and Oliver making jokes about the classic together absolutely killed me, I miss that sort of thing.) there are good reasons I didn’t go into academia, but I deeply miss having that base line of understanding with the people I talk to daily. I miss reading the same books and arguing about what they say.

That’s the magic that this book gave me, it was just hard to get through because it engaged in so many of my least favorite writing tricks. And I am looking forward to the movie, because this is the kind of story that I digest much better in film, probably because I have to be less immersed in it.

Up next is Middlemarch by George Elliot for The Epics Project! It was supposed to be David Copperfield but then I realized that for Women’s History Month, I should read something written by a woman!

30 Books In 2018 #12: Dune Messiah By Frank Herbert

I read a lot in February you guys! Go me!

Anyway, Dune Messiah.

I was so excited to get my hands on this one, and dig into it. And uh. Well.

I didn’t like it as much as Dune. It’s definitely weirder in spots, but unlike it’s predecessor, which hints at a larger really cool world while telling a fairly straightforward story, Dune Messiah, feels like much more straightforward court plotting. About characters who, as I stated when I wrote up Dune, I don’t care that much about.

I mean, there’s still oddness and cool sci-fi world hinting, but it’s much more focused in on the politics of Paul Astreide’s reign as emperor, and specifically how he’s going to produce an heir. He’s vowed to never have sex with his wife Irulan, who at the behest of the Bene-Gesserit, has been secretly feeding his concubine Chuni a contraceptive. Also, The Bene-Gesserit sort of what Paul to impregnate his sister Alia? For reasons?

Oh also, Alia is falling in love with the reanimated zombie corpse of Paul’s sword master Duncan Idaho.

Like you do.

So, about that last part, there is a society which creates zombie slaves, like, on the reg, just for fun, in this universe and it’s thrown away in a single line? WHAT THE HELL, FRANK HERBERT? That is way more interesting than Paul sighing about how he doesn’t get to run around the desert with the Fremen anymore, or vaguely talking about his visions being a pain in the ass, or whatever.

Paul, no one made you eat so much spice you saw into the total consciousness of time, and no one made you marry poor Irulan and declare yourself emperor. You did that all by yourself, buddy, so quit moping about it. That said, I do appreciate the way Herbert plays with chosen one narratives, by making the chosen one sort of a dick.

Anyway, I think if I liked or cared about the characters here more, I’d have enjoyed the book more. Normally everything that happened is right up my alley, but it just came up short because I’m not invested in the people.

I’m still going to keep going on this series, because it’s fun easy reading and it feels somehow essential to my ongoing nerd education to get this one under my belt. And I want to find out if Alia ever does manage to get it on with that zombie….so sometime in March I’ll pick up Children Of Dune.

Up next is Call Me By Your Name because I want to read it before I see the movie, and I want to see the movie before the Oscars. YAY!


30 Books in 2018 #11: Crazy Rich Asians By Kevin Kwan

I will never ever get sick of quick read books, fluffy movies, or long drawn out TV soaps about the super-rich. (My Gossip Girl obsession should have tipped y’all off to this one.) I particularly like when there’s an outsider character at the center (there nearly always is.) I love a good makeover montage, even when it’s described in a chapter, rather than being cut together to a Madonna song. (You can ALWAYS play the Madonna song in you MIND friends. David Bowie’s “Fashion” will also serve.)

This all primed me perfectly for Crazy Rich Asians, which deals with the internal social politics of uber-wealthy and aristocratic ex-pat Chinese families living in Singapore. It’s all seen (naturally) through the eyes of Rachel Chu, a 29 year old American Born Chinese (ABC) woman, as her long-term boyfriend, Nick Young brings her home for his best friends wedding.

There are scheming mothers, jealous exes, and a twist about Rachel’s origins at play, plus a set up for sequels galore. (I know there are two more books and I can’t wait to read them.)

Kevin Kwan writes with rapturous and bitchy delight about the social climbing, the designer clothes and exotic locales, and sketches some fun characters in Rachel, Nick and their friends. If everything ties up a little too neatly, that can be forgiven in Romantic Comedy, and hey a movie is coming staring Constance Wu as Rachel. (She will be flawless!) (This movie will make me want to buy so many shoes.) I also appreciate how no corners are cut with the weird blend of Asian cultures at play in Singapore and especially with the combination of language, which Kwan uses footnotes for.

It’s a joy of a book, laugh out loud funny at points, and surprisingly sweet at others. I like learning about cultures I know little about through reading, and this was the perfect example of that.


30 Books in 2018 #10: Persepolis: The Story Of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

I became seriously interested in stories about the Iranian Islamic Revolution about five years ago when I read Reading Lolita In Tehran. (THAT BOOK IS SO GOOD!) I’m pretty sure I watched the movie of Persepolis in college, but I watched a lot of things in college that I don’t really remember. (SO MUCH CHEAP WINE! And Yuengling.)

Anyway, Persepolis reminded me of Reading Lolita a lot, actually. It’s about the same group of people, the academic class of Iran, and specifically the women in it. Satrapi’s father was an engineer and her parents were staunch communists. The revolution started as something great for them, overthrowing the Shah, and creating a new more equal regime was something they’d work for.

But as fundamentalism took hold this group of people found themselves strangers in their own country. That’s explored much more deepy in Lolita, because Persepolis is about a girl, it’s about Marjane. And it captures the wierdness of being a kid in the best way.

Everytime Marjane gets in trouble or is confused because of adult contradictions, it’s perfectly executed. She doesn’t understand how her parents can be screaming about injustice and forgiveness one moments and then condemning others the next. She talks back to teachers, she loves western music and fashion.

Overall, there are a million little moments in Persepolis that are perfect encapsulation of that weird space in adolescence between childhood and adulthood. You think you know everything and the people around you know nothing. And every day it feels like the world will end.

But for teenagers who are literally living through a reset of their society and a deadly war, their world might actually end, not just figuratively and Marjane’s does, and also begins when her parent’s decide to send her to school in Europe to  give her a shot at a better life.

Seriously, though, one of the best things about reading memoir, particularly memoirs about people who’s lives seem different from yours, is finding the moments of universal intersection.

Up next is, Crazy Rich Asians because two memoirs of horrifying but not childhoods needs to be chased by some romantic comedy and conspicuous consumption.

30 Books In 2018 #9: The Glass Castle By Jeanette Walls

My years at college gave me a lot of things, but the thing that I took away from my studies that crops up unexpectedly is my love of creative non-fiction, more commonly called memoir, as a genre. Over the long five years I spent in Scranton I took courses in reading and writing this strange new world to me.

I’d read a few memoirs before college. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings obviously, and Our Mother’s Daughters by Cokie Roberts (my mom had been given this as a gift…) but I don’t know when, exactly, but I stumbled into reading incredible memoirs in college, for class and for pleasure, and I still make sure to read a few every year.

All of this prelude is to say, I’m not sure how I didn’t find The Glass Castle before the movie was released, but I missed it somehow and it’s sat on my TBR list for nearly six months now. (To be fair, last year was pretty well consumed by Vonnegut and King…but still.) I grabbed it a few weeks ago when I went to Barnes & Noble to tide myself over until the kindle returned.

Sunday night, I settled in and read the whole thing in four hours. I was absorbed by Jeanette Wells and her extraordinary and impoverished childhood. Her and her siblings escape from the poverty and cycle of addiction and despair is truly special. Walls’s pain at recounting her family’s despair, but also incredible hope is palpable on the page. And I fell into the book in a way I haven’t in so long.

My favorite thing about memoir is the reminder of the power of storytelling. Memoirs aren’t always history. My favorites are when they’re not about extraordinary people at all, but about normal people, every day people who’ve decided that their story is worth sharing. Walls feels like that. While what she and her brother and sister did, pulling themselves free of their parents is amazing, it’s not magical. It’s just true, it’s simply life.

Life is enough sometimes. Those small stories are great. They can be funny, and sad and wonderful and awful. Memoir has a power in that way that fiction doesn’t.

A long quiet weekend means a lot of reading for me. But also, as was sort of the plan with this project, I’m just back in the habit of reading. And, not forseen; I’ve fallen back in love with physical books. I’m still planning on using my kindle, it’s the best for trips, for things like YA series, when I don’t want to buy the books out of embarassment and ease. And I still have space constraints. (Although, I’ve left most of my old books at my moms, I’m building a new library here.)

Up next is Perepolis, which is another memoir I can’t believe I haven’t actually read. Frankly, I’m more shocked at this one. We read a bunch of graphic memoir in college. So much Bechdel. Even more Pekar. I haven’t read anything graphic in ages. (Well, I’ve been reading the Duck Tales comics, but that barely counts.)