Book Log – Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Elliot (Mary Anne Evans/Marian Evans)

There was a Facebook meme that posed the question “Austen or Elliot?”

A lot of people disparaged Austen in their responses, and thus since I have enjoyed Austen recently (2008: The Year of Reading Austen), I figured I should give Elliot a try.

I will have to say that I found Middlemarch fights a good, strong, somewhat superior fight, but Austen was not totally KO’d1.

The writing is engaging, the characters many, and much wit is to be had.

I had bookmarked several quotes that stood out as I read, but looking back at them, they lose something out of context, so I’ll just have to ask you to take me at my word that it’s an amusing book.

Perusing Wikipedia, I see there’s a new film adaptation coming out 2009/2010.
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1 See Nick Hornby’s March 2004 essay involving battles between artistic works in his Stuff I’m Reading column, including Middlemarch vs. “The Magic Flute”.

The First Third of Summer

RocketBoy’s final swim meet was last night. Not his most stellar performance, but he had a strong start. He was two lengths ahead of the swimmer next to him, but squandered it in the last 5 feet by more or less stopping and looking around at the other lanes to see whether he was winning.

I remember doing that, too. And I remember not heeding my father’s advise on it as well. May the circle be unbroken.

At any rate, the 6th place ribbons are a pretty pink.

He seems to really enjoy swim team, so I guess we’ll sign him up for more swim classes this fall/winter/spring to polish up his technique.

Somehow or other, I’ve gotten myself signed up for a Karate class. RocketBoy peer pressured me. I had thought that I could take it at the same time as he on Saturday mornings with some other adults that are working at the same time, but apparently I need to do some beginner classes first on Monday or Thursday nights first to get up to speed.

Some vacations are coming up fast, and I’m really looking forward to them. Both Kentucky and New Jersey, including a vacation-at-home where both the kids will be in Kentucky. I am totally going to knock out some home projects those evenings, especially the kids’ clubhouse.

I’m reading my first George Elliot novel (Middlemarch) via gutenberg.org, prompted by the Facebook Quiz question “Austen or Elliot?”, and so far I really like it, but I’m going to still say tossup between the two.

On an economic fit of geek, I note that one of the Middlemarch characters is struggling economically, and suggests moving from a 90 pound/year house to a 30 pound/year house, given that they have an income of 400 pounds a year. Which indicates that an optimal housing expense ratio for the time was 7.5%, as opposed to 22.5%. Or the 25% or 33% numbers I hear thrown around today.

Though, I assume the 30 pounds doesn’t include servants.

I feel a Big Ole Post about Health Care brewing in my head. Also, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But not today.

Book Log – Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

Sometimes one abandons a book, and then later tries again. Often, the book fares no better the second time, but in this case I’m glad I gave Special Topics another go.

It’s a well written, engaging and quirky book about a 17 year old Blue Van Meer, a high-IQer who lives (or rather, travels) with her eccentric, brilliant and charming dad, an itinerant college professor.

In the introduction, Blue quotes her dad regarding speaking as a professor: “And remember. Always have everything you say exquisitely annotated, and, wherever possible, provide staggering Visual Aids, because, trust me, there will always be some clown sitting in the back– somewhere by the radiator– who will raise his fat, flipperlike hand and complain, ‘No, no, you’ve got it all wrong.'”

And so with that premise, every other sentence in this book is relentlessly, gratuitously annotated, and some hand-drawn Visual Aids are also presented. Really, the annotations are somewhat breathtaking in their extent, and often tangential and amusing. One imagines it doubled or tripled the length of time it took to write the novel. Of course, some of the references are invented, but still.

This book is essentially a mystery, and I’m reminded of a Northern Exposure episode where they discuss the “idealized teenage girl world” nature of Nancy Drew: Single, independent, highly intelligent girl lives only with her father (none of the teenage typical mother-daughter clashing) and solves mysteries. This book sort of takes that idealization and turns it on its head, like a grittier reimagining of Nancy.

I looked up Marisha Pessl to see what else she’s written, and discovered that she attended my alma-mater for two years before transferring to a school in New York. She studied Radio/TV/Film, which I “minored” in, albeit 5 or 6 years after I did. She said the father character was based on an amalgam of two of her film professors there, though I can’t figure out who. Perhaps they were new.

A movie is reportedly in the works.

She has another book coming in 2010, also a mystery. Given the somewhat gimmicky nature of the book, I’ll be interested to see if she can pull off another intriguing story.