Reading

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Finished Tinker Tailor. Waiting for Honourable Schoolboy. Reading Fandorin in the meantime — Special Assignments.

Would it be okay if I just went up and hid in the cafe and read all day?

Probably not.

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Phew. Saturday we went for a bike ride along the bay. It is hard to describe what a beautiful day it was.

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There is that bridge, and can you see the spinnakers on the little sailboats?

Saturday we went to our neighbors for dinner where we stayed until 2. I have not been up til 2 for quite some time.

But Sunday we were up bright and early (well, early anyway) for a hike.

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Lovely.

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But now I am really ready for a nap.

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Friday

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The weekend is coming up and it’s a good thing.

I’m going to take that old tv to the recycling place, thus freeing up a chair in the dining room. Good idea!

I’m going to go for a bike ride with one friend and a hike with another.

I might go out in the garden and poke around. I might even think about planting some chard. Maybe.

We’re invited to the neighbors for dinner, which I’m really excited about, and I really want to go see a movie.

Also, I’ve started reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and my first feeling, just reading the preface, is that it’s so much better than the Art of Fielding.

Interesting.

Okay — got to go.

Doldrums

We’re stuck in the middle of January, that’s what’s going on.

My book group met last night. I am grumpy about it. My desire to read the stack of new books I’ve got is not coinciding with their desire to read old paperbacks. Hmm. It’s fine. I read fast. I can read both. I can talk to people at work, who are sort of an informal book group anyway, about new things. Bah.

What else.

I’m not sure about the brown color of these tights.
I have to call a woman and say I don’t want her product.
I have to call another woman and talk about stupid stuff.
A woman at my book group terrified me with the report that her daughter was working at H00ters. I don’t want my daughter to work at H00ters. Is that likely to happen? Please say no. (I think I can put this into the category of irrational worries.)

Grumble grumble grumble.

The onion grass is sprouting out in the garden. Is this a good thing? Time to go out and garden? or a very bad thing — it’s January, for chrissake. No one should have to be gardening. There should be a blanket of snow out there keeping anything of the sort from happening.

There is a black cloud hanging over my head. Maybe I need a cup of tea.

On the upside, I walked down to BART last evening on the way to my book group. Downtown in the early evening is as entertaining as it is in the morning. Streams of people heading for BART. Streams of traffic, including a skateboarder, driving by. Cafes and restaurants spilling out into the sidewalk. A brief moment when the downtown is full and bustling.

Bah.

This is not my beautiful house

Now I am reading The Art of Fielding, which I like okay so far. . . .

Lately I’ve had to walk to work through town, which I don’t usually do. It’s because I’ve had to go to the post office.

There’s something nice about walking by people doing things that apparently happen in the morning — vacuuming zipcars, emptying the street bins — as well as all the other things you’d expect — walking to work, sitting at a counter drinking coffee and eating a scone.

Book group tonight. We read The Swerve, which I did not altogether love reading, but am glad to have read. Jeanne asked what time you’d like to time-travel to, and my answer is some time like the 1400s which I cannot really quite imagine. Greenblatt does a good job of making it imaginable, kind of.

Here’s what he says:

For me, the fascination is not the rise of secular humanism as such, but the extraordinary notion of the survival of fundamentally intolerable, unacceptable ideas during periods of quite ruthless persecution. How do they make it? And not only how do they make it during the very, very long periods during which the text disappears and somehow survives as a ticking bomb on a monastery shelf, but how does it survive after 1417 when it comes back, carrying a set of propositions that are utterly unacceptable — more unacceptable than they were in the early years of Christianity?

But actually, the survival of the physical object bearing those ideas is as interesting to me. That’s the part that I can now almost imagine.

Another really good book about imagining the dark past, I’m now remembering, is Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book.

Okay — things to do.

The Marriage Plot

I liked the Marriage Plot a lot, but is it just my personal circumstances? It’s a book about three students about to graduate from Brown in 1982. I graduated in 1981. It felt incredibly familiar.

Madeleine Hanna majors in English, but is seduced by Semiotics. (I was not, but it was in the air.) Mitchell Grammaticus majors in Religious Studies. (I took many religious studies classes.) Eugenides nails what it was like to be at Brown. He nails what it was like to be anybody there, convinced that other people knew exactly the things that you did not know, and which you needed to know in order to know anything at all. He also nails what it was like to graduate, having no idea what you’d do. The beginning, where those things happen, is probably the best written part.

I like the marriage plot idea. Madeleine writes her thesis on the marriage plot, which I presume is just the plot — common to Shakespeare’s comedies and to many of the novels I read in college — where all conflicts are resolved at the end by a marriage. What does this mean? It was a major moment of discovery for me when I realized that this was such a common plot trajectory. I’m glad to know that this thing has a name.

I think Eugenides also nails what we felt at the time — that what we were studying had a direct relevance to our lives — closer than that, even. Madeleine’s love affair with Leonard is shaped by, and can be understood through, her reading of Roland Barthes. Mitchell tries to understand India through Thomas Merton and the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It was Ulysses for me. I read Ulysses and I had found the road map for my life.

It’s a very novelly book. The marriage plot is part of this plot as well, and in fact there’s a great reference to Ulysses buried here — turned on its head, actually. Mitchell’s prayer seems, in a very secular way, to encapsulate one theme of the book. The heroes have to learn eventually that perfection and the ideal are impossible — we’re all just sinners and flawed human beings doing the best we can. Growing up, of course, is learning just that, so we’re dealing more with the coming of age plot rather than the marriage plot — although, in someone like Jane Austen, or in Middlemarch, are those actually the same thing? And part of growing up, I suppose, is learning that the marriage plot may resolve all conflict in books, but probably not in real life.

It’s probably not a perfect book. In some parts it felt more like we were being filled in on the back story. I can contrast it here with Tinker, Tailor where you are shown many things and discover what’s going on rather than having Leonard come in and just describe himself and his view of things. But I’m a sucker for a novelly book that references novels, especially novels I love. And I’m a sucker for those particular characters, who are so much like people I knew, including myself, at that time of life when we were all just figuring stuff out.

Well

What an exceptional weekend.

We have houseguests! Which is really fun —

Saturday we went for a walk in our neighborhood, up all kinds of secret stairways. Saturday night we had friends over for dinner and then walked to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I liked.
I finished The Marriage Plot.

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Sunday it rained and rained and rained and I put the ornaments away (finally!) and vacuumed and cleaned out a major closet and then we watched the football game (I did not actually watch the football game) and ate crab and then watched Sherlock. It was very good, and I realized I had already seen one before — the last one of the last season that ends at the swimming pool.

So — all very good.

It is great having house guests. They cook, for one thing, and that is great. But also it’s nice to have people around to do stuff with. They are looking for jobs, though, which is slightly stressful for them.

That seems to be the way it is — if you have time, you are worried about not having a job so you can’t really enjoy it. If you have a job, you have money, but no time.

I really enjoyed Tinker Tailor. The theater was crowded, so our friends sat together and K and I sat together, but we weren’t all together. As we were leaving, K said, “What happened? I did not understand any of it!” The we met up with A, who said, “”What happened? I really did not understand any of it!” So we had the whole walk home to figure out what had happened. It was excellent! I think because so much was shown but never explained, and because Smiley talked so little there were little pieces that you only realized later, much later, were really important. Also, I loved that the cart belonging to the woman who wheeled the files around had a sad little Christmas garland taped to it. I really liked it.

I am still planning to come back and tell you how much I enjoyed the Marriage Plot. Jeanne, have you read it? I think you might like it, too.