On ‘Middlemarch’ and grown-ups

9780141199795Every time I put down George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a quote by Virginia Woolf on the back cover admonishes me. Woolf famously lauded Eliot and Middlemarch especially, calling it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Naturally, publishers have splashed this quote on every edition of the novel as a ringing endorsement. It is, in fact, the only quote from a critic that is printed on the back of my version.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s true, and, if so, what it even means. Full disclosure: I have only read to the halfway mark, and so my wondering might be resolved in various ways in the next 400 pages or so (yikes). This is an enormous book with a sweeping scope that encompasses romance, politics, religion and morality while trying to present three compelling plots.

Right now, I am in the midst of a scene in which Mr. Brooke is trying to scold a tenant whose son has poached some sort of small animal — the tenant is not taking kindly to being told how to raise his son. While one feels for Mr. Brooke, who clearly views himself as a benevolent father-type figure to his tenant farmers, one can’t help but recognize that Mr. Brooke’s bumbling in this case is perhaps not as benign as first thought. The tenant farmer is incredibly angry, so much so that the reader comes to realize that Mr. Brooke is a terrible landlord, and his estate is in desperate need of management. He “collects his own rents,” as opposed to having an agent to do it for him, and this is viewed as a symbol of his lack of knowledge of how to run a successful country estate. (more…)

August 25, 2015 at 12:36 am Leave a comment

Library Loot: Week of August 17

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Welcome to my first Library Loot in Western New York! I’m finally settling in and getting (re-)acclimated to the latest version of my childhood library system. In the eleven years since I’ve been gone, I’m sorry to say the library is rather less welcoming than it used to be — for some reason, all branches now seem to feature a glowering librarian at the entrance who looks at you like you’re going to hold up the library and steal their large electronics.

To my chagrin, the library has also instituted a series of miserly fees for various services. Most infuriatingly for me, they now charge you to request a book, a service which, in addition to suddenly costing me money, now takes more than twice as long as it did when I lived on an island 30 miles out to sea. A both improbable and unwelcome development.

So, not a very satisfying library experience for me this week. On the bright side, I got a pretty good haul through a combination of requests I made before I was informed of their new fee policy and good old fashioned browsing:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Recommended by Book Clubber Sheryl to me innumerable times, I finally succumbed and am greatly looking forward to the escapades of Flavia de Luce, aspiring young lady-chemist. Also, one of the later books involves mummies somehow, so I’m so in!

by Naomi Novik
For some reason, I thought this was a graphic novel. Even though it turned out to be a novel-novel, I’m still looking forward to it immensely. It was featured in Book Riot ages ago (they get advance copies, darn them!) and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release ever since. Lev Grossman called it “wild, thrilling…an instant classic,” so let’s do this, Naomi Novik! (more…)

August 20, 2015 at 3:25 am 4 comments

‘Tea with Mr Rochester’ by Frances Towers

teaAges ago, when Corey was studying in London, she sent me this perfect little slate-blue volume from Persephone Books. Intriguingly called Tea with Mr. Rochester, the book had beautifully flowered endpapers and even a matching bookmark, betraying an attention to detail that I found endearing.

In fact, the book was so pretty that, um, it stayed on my shelf in my “To Be Read” pile for between four and five years (I don’t remember exactly when she sent it to me, but it was a long time ago). Finally, after finishing Far from the Madding Crowd, I was in need of a little palate-cleanser, and I cracked this one open.

I was completely surprised to find that it was a collection of beautiful little short stories, each independent of the others, but perfectly matched to portray the same sort of feeling — of England between the wars, mostly in the countryside, where the old ways are fading even as a certain magic clings to everyday life with tenacity.

Often, short stories are compared to multiple jewels set in the same piece of jewelry. In the case of Tea with Mr. Rochester, the stories are more akin to facets of the same jewel, or maybe a ring of mirrors, each reflecting the same thing from a slightly different angle. (more…)

August 18, 2015 at 12:30 am 1 comment

Rereadings: ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern

nightcircusI had been traveling for almost two months. I had just finished Perez-Reverte’s not-terribly-uplifting The Siege. And I was coming off a mini-family reunion that was anything but relaxing. My inner self wanted to curl up into the fetal position and be told a good, old-fashioned, beautiful story. And my outer self wasn’t too far behind in those desires.

So it was I ended up at Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport (yes, really) with my Kindle in hand six hours early for my flight; a flight, it should be noted, that would eventually be delayed, then diverted through Bologna for no apparent reason, and finally arrive in Paris about five hours later than it was supposed to in the dead of night. I was exhausted and I just wanted something that felt familiar and good and comforting.

Enter Erin Morgenstern. (more…)

August 13, 2015 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

“Show Dog” by Josh Dean

dogIt’s not a secret that I love dogs. Any dog. And I’ll read basically any book about dogs, even Inside of a Dog (denser than my typical nonfiction fare) and Dog On It, a delightful detective story written from the point of view of Chet, the detective’s canine. Travels with Charley, The Art of Racing in the Rain, even Clarence the TV Dog — I will devour anything about dogs.

All that is by way of saying that I enjoyed Show Dog by Josh Dean very much, but I don’t know how much others would enjoy it. You can keep me occupied for hours with stories about blow-drying dog fur, with discussions of toplines and chiropractic adjustments, with stories about dogs pooping in the show ring (just like yours would, no doubt). I’m an easy target.

The book’s main character is Jack, also known as ASCA/AKC GCH Wyndstar’s Honorable Mention NA NAJ, an Australian Shepherd who rockets to success during the 2010 dog show season. Dean makes the case that any dog could be a compelling story, but what makes Jack’s story marketable is that he’s a — har har — underdog, a puppy purchased by a single mom as a family pet. The breeder, however, sees the puppy’s potential and sells the puppy to the woman only under the condition that she retain half ownership and the right to show him.

And so this woman is thrust into the world of chalking white fur, of doggy braces and cosmetic surgery. Did you know that some poodles (illegally) have their eyelids tattooed black so they meet breed standard? I do, now. (more…)

August 11, 2015 at 10:03 am Leave a comment

‘The Siege’ by Arturo Perez-Reverte

the-siegeAs I’ve written about before, I have a summer tradition of reading Spanish literary fiction. This year, I found myself in even hotter weather than usual during a heatwave in Florence (105F!) and so I plunged wholeheartedly into both the pool and Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Siege.

The titular siege is the Siege of Cadiz, a French attempt to capture the Spanish port from 1810-1812. Limiting himself to those two years of the siege, Perez-Reverte assembles an interesting group of tales and ideas. All kinds of stories (each of which could be a book in their own right) are presented, from a serial killer murder mystery to the struggles of merchants in besieged Cadiz to a forbidden love story to the frustrations of a French engineer who just can’t get his bombs to land in Cadiz proper…among others! There are a great many plot threads running through this one, which I believe is Perez-Reverte’s longest novel.

This multiple-narrator style proves a fascinating way to tell the story of the siege, a historic event with which I was not familiar prior to reading this novel. Perez-Reverte plunges through nationalities, social classes, and locations to present a full picture of what the Siege of Cadiz meant and how it affected the lives of the people in and around Cadiz. (more…)

August 6, 2015 at 4:42 am 1 comment

My 20s in Amazon Book Purchases

Inspired by this post on Gawker about Amazon purchases, I decided that I, too, should share some of my Amazon purchases during my 20s. One of the great things about Amazon is that it’s been around so long that this is actually possible, and I literally now have a record of (some of the) books I bought during the past decade. Is this profound and enlightening? Probably not, but it’s a fun little exercise, and I urge you to do the same.

For your edification:


I was in my sophomore year of college when I bought these, and apparently this was my first Amazon book purchase — likely spurred by my first journalism class. I kept that stylebook until 2013.

2006 Amazon

August 4, 2015 at 12:16 am 2 comments

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