Archive for July, 2010

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Word

July 25, 2010

I just finished and all I can say is “Word.”  Part II of House of Mirth quickly turned into a sort of misfortune porn as Wharton threw more and more travails Lily’s way.  Abandoned in Europe–check.  Disinherited–done.  I know let’s make her a total failure in the professional world too and while we’re at it throw in a nasty drug habit as well.  Sheesh.  It’s like Wharton read Sister Carrie and took it as a challenge. “Oh Dreiser thinks he can mistreat a lady!  Well he ain’t seen nothing yet!”

As to your question about Selden…I can answer that question in two words…Douche. Bag.  With his cowardice and his spouting of sub-The Alchemist style truisms.  Blecch.

But the second half of the book wasn’t all doldrums and sad faces…there was the touching scene with Lily and Nettie Struther’s baby.  And I liked how upon learning that she was disinherited Lily still ponders the larger questions of life

Gerty paused, and then continued firmly: “The important thing is that you should clear yourself–should tell your friends the whole truth.”

“The whole truth?” Miss Bart laughed. “What is truth?”…

Nothing like finding out that you’re penniless to inspire philosophical ponderings.

I was also intrigued by the concept of “hired friend” that seemed to be the role that Lily and Carry Fisher played in this society.  I was unaware this existed…it reminded me of an episode of Pushing Daisies that I watched recently (“Frescorts”–you should watch it–boy I like Pushing Daisies!).

The last question I was left with is what is the word that came to Lily as she entered her final chloral-induced slumber?  And the word that comes Selden that he whispers at her bedside?  Do you think it was the same word? Or do you think that this pair remained out sync to the very end?

Well twin it’s done.  I’d be interested to hear what you thought of the book overall (me–I liked it…I could have used a little less sadness, but it was wittily told).  Also you should hunt yourself up a copy of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien–for that is what we shall read next!

If there aren’t three policemen in this book…I’m done with reading. I can’t take another ironic title.

Best,
Jon

P.S. If folks are interested in hearing people who actually have something interesting to say about House of Mirth you may want to check out the Slate Audio Book Club discussion of it. (I like the Slate Audio Book Club almost as much as I like Pushing Daisies!)

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Finished!

July 22, 2010

That’s all.

Just wanted to let you know.

Oh, and, by the way, House of Mirth = most misleading title ever.

Ever.

Justin

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What Are We Supposed To Think of Lawrence Selden?

July 21, 2010

Is he supposed to mysterious? Rebellious?

Are we supposed to like him?

Why does Lily Bart have this undying attraction to him?

Because I think he’s kind lame. Actually, I take that back, I think he’s really lame.

Perhaps, it’s because I do not typically find myself attracted to male characters in literature, I don’t know. But at least I can usually get it. I can see why characters are attracted to them. Why others want them, and those that don’t want them want to be them. I get that Mr. Darcy is dreamy, I even see the draw to Mr. Rochester and his air of mystery is somewhat magenetic, but Lawrence Selden?

Meh. Even on his best days he’s only okay. And whenever I see the pendulum start to swing in his general direction he starts spout off profound-ish mumbo jumbo like this nugget towards the end of the book (that’s right I said near the end of the book):

“The difference is in yourself–it will always be there. And since it IS there, it can’t really matter what people think: you are so sure that your friends will always understand you.”

Oh, thank you Obi-wan. Next perhaps you can teach me the secrets of The Force.

And that my friend, is why what I think about when I think about Lawrence Selden is: Not much.

Oh, by the way, did I mention I am almost done with the book?

Justin

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Lily’s Ticket

July 19, 2010

Lily’s Ticket #1 — A boat ticket.  I’m not one to judge how someone reacts to stress (when I’m stressed I know I like nothing more than a cold beer, raisin and pepperoni bbq pizza and a marathon of Murder, She Wrote reruns–so no stone throwing here).  But I do find it odd that Lily chooses to react to her overwhelming financial woes by…booking a ticket on a pleasure cruise to the Mediterranean.  That seems…counterintuitive.

Or stupid.  Really, really stupid.

Lily’s Ticket #2:  The unerring eye of Carrie Fisher (not that Carrie Fisher) sees into the true Lily Bart–surprising (because up until this point she hasn’t really been much of a character).  Here’s her observation:

“Sometimes,” she added, “I think it’s flightiness–and sometimes I think it’s because, at heart, she despises the things she’s trying for.”

Well played minor character (I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten her name again).  While she’s stood on the sidelines of the narrative action, Mrs. Fisher has been watching.

And was I the only one who, upon reading the first chapter of book two and the insipid conversation regarding where the Wellington Bry’s should eat lunch, threw the book down and muttered “New money” with disdain?

I also have questions about upper-class American’s use of “ain’t” in the early 20th Century…you see it in many books written in that period–I always thought it was British representation of American English and then Wharton busts it out…was it really so prevalent?  Ain’t that something.

But there’s no time for more questions (perhaps someone could call A Way With Words for me?)…I’ve got to get back to reading.  We’ve been reading this book FOREVER and it’s time to put this one to bed.

Putting the book to bed,

Jon

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Yada, Yada, Yada

July 16, 2010

SPOILER ALERT

(I am going to mention plot points here, so if you don’t want know, don’t read on.)
(You’ve been warned.)
(Read at your own risk.)
(I like parentheses.)

So, am I the only one who’s noticing that Edith Wharton has a curious sort of literary tic? Throughout Part Two of this book she keeps throwing shocking plot twists at us and then as soon as they’re mentioned they’re over.

It reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld (thanks to Google, I can tell you it is episode 153 or if you prefer episode 19 of season of the 8th season) where an elision-happy girlfriend of Jerry’s (or George? or Kramer? or Elaine!?!) who likes to by-pass boring aspects of anecdotes with a “yada, yada, yada.” The only difference is that instead of skipping the boring parts with a yada here and a yada there, our friend Edith just completely skips over potentially awesome plot twists.

An example:

After the untimely death of Mrs. Peniston, Lily is convinced to travel to Alaska. I know what you’re thinking: Daisy Miller meets Northern Exposure. Visions of Lily riding a moose, stealing salmon from bears, or meeting a hapless gold prospector name Yukon Billy, with whom she has a star crossed affair that is doomed to failure (She’s all Fifth Avenue and fancy dresses; he’s all pickaxes and prospecting pans) dance through my head, but is that what happens when Lily heads to the great Northwest?

Only, we’ll never know.

Why, you ask?

Because Edith Wharton skips it entirely!

Here’s a quick plot summary: Lily gets on a train to Alaska, yada, yada, yada, and then she come back to New York.

No moose. No snow. No prospectin’ (if you know what I mean). No fun.

Read on, Twinner, read on.

Justin

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Frailty Thy Name is Gerty

July 10, 2010

In the past I’ve written (quite eloquently, if I do say so myself) on how I inspire you.  Well twin brother the inspiration is a two way street!  A veritable thoroughfare of creative stimulus.  We are a roomful of muses.

Oh, for you see I had let my HoM reading fall to the wayside.  The picture of Edith Wharton on the cover of my Libary of America Paperback Classic peered at me with a look of woeful neglect.

Then!  Then I log in and find that you are tearing through the book with an alacrity and speed that I’ve only seen you possess at a wedding buffet (wings and tips indeed!).  Well, needless to say I picked up the book at once and now Edith-on-the-cover peers at me with a look of benign distaste (I said excuse me E!  It’s natural…and that burrito was beanie).

I am slightly puzzled over your puzzling in the last post.  Why would Gus’s “tips” be ironic?  According to dictionary.com the meaning of tip is “a piece of private or secret information, as for use in betting, speculating, or writing a news story”.  So I think he’s just using it’s proper meaning with no irony (and no reference to Tip O’Neill–anachronism alert!).

I was disappointed to learn that Book I ends with Lily fleeing to the Mediterranean (I learned it here, because I still haven’t got that far).  If we learned nothing else from Laverne and Shirley we learned that changes of locale cannot save a flagging story line (I mean Laverne and Shirley in L.A.–what’s the point?). (Nota Bene:  I actually learned lots and lots from L&S–like that Milk and Pepsi is disgusting [remember that experiment!] and that monograms are the height of fashion)

Next thing you now Lily will be adopting a charming and precocious six year old for comic relief.

I did like the fact that it looks like Lily’s downfall will come at the surprisingly mannish hands (unexpectedly!) of Gerty Farish! How quickly she turns on Lily when she fears that her amateur theatrics partner, Lawrence Selden, may not be quite so available for their two-handers if he marries the lovely Lily.  I can just see her tossing her copies of Oleanna across the room in disgust (Anachronism #2!)

Well I’m off to continue reading….I can’t wait for Lily to hit the tropics!

Adieu,

Jon

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Chicken or “Tips”

July 7, 2010

Whoa, it’s been a long time since either one of us have posted. Oddly, this time it was not due to me avoiding even logging into the blog because of my lack of reading. (I don’t log in when I haven’t been reading because I sort of feel like the blog, and by extension, you, are judging me–And who are you to judge me?!?)

This time it was actually because I have been hithering and thithering lately. Hithering to San Diego, thithering to Wisconsin, and sitting here celebrating the 4th of July. But between flights and pondering the eternal Wisconsin wedding conundrum of “Chicken or Tips?” (my answer: Both!) I have read a few chapters.

First my obligatory comment to make the title of this post relevant. Have you noticed that every time Gus Trenor mentions a piece of investment advice he refers to it as a “‘tip.'” Is he being ironic, like his “tips” aren’t really sound advice? (Like the way “tips” is used in the following sentence: Jon gave me some excellent “tips” on how to run my fantasy football team.)

Or is “tips” his nickname for something else, like former Speaker of the House Thomas Philip “Tip” O’Neil?

Either way I am confused.

Now onto other things:

I recently finished part one and have now made it through a portion of Part II. But I find myself distracted by the abrupt “about face” the action took at the end of Part I. I had mentally prepared myself for a marriage of convenience between Lily and Rosedale and then the next thing I know Lily’s high-tailing it for the Mediterranean.

What the?!?

Now, as I read then the less than stimulating description of late 19th century European decadence, I can’t help but wonder what the book would have been like if Lily had married Rosedale. Would Selden and Lily be forced to live a life of unrequited love, the closest they ever come to love’s embrace would be a stolen glance across the table at one of Welly Bry’s nouveau riche dinner parties.

I keep hoping for a Sliding Doors-esque third act. But my hopes are not high.

Justin