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.
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”.

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.