Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fraught Parent-Child Relationships in Daniel Deronda

Like other novels by George Eliot, Daniel Deronda is dense and rich. Eliot has an exquisite sensitivity to the inner life of her characters and the way they're struggling with or making sense of their place in their society and culture.

Three of the characters (Daniel, Gwendolen, and Mirah) struggle to find a place for themselves in the world. For different reasons, they're not at home in their own lives. Parent-child relationships are a key reason they feel lost or are experiencing a crisis.

Gwendolen isn't a likable character, but she's rendered sympathetic by Eliot, especially as the novel unfolds, and she begins to question who she is and how she can ever learn to be good. She's raised out in the country in a respectable family that's fallen on hard times. The most influential adults in her life are her mother and uncle. Her mother, who seems to have known only unhappiness in marriage, clings to Gwendolen, and often Gwendolen needs to be a mother to her. Her uncle is short-sighted in some ways and fails as an adequate father figure for her.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Week in Seven Words #379

Canceled plans give the weekend a deflated feeling.

The fat trophy on his desk, the one I can imagine filled with mead, is a trophy he made for himself, celebrating something athletic (the inscription is small).

When he makes a nasty comment, it's similar to how he might squat and defecate in public and look you in the eye while doing it. Even if you turn away, you're left with the image of him exulting over his excrement.

She has another nightmare, but this time she also has someone's hand on her shoulder, comforting her.

She likes affection, but what she values more is trust. Let them give her the keys to a car or house, the permission to plan a wedding or offer investment advice, and she'll be happy.

One of them is enthusiastic about life and wants to learn more about it; he'll open his window and take pleasure in a tree branch, crooked like an elbow. The other one, who is roughly the same age, keeps the windows shuttered and rarely opens the door, but acts as if she knows exactly what's going on in the world.

It isn't a good idea for her to read true crime novels, just like it wasn't a good idea for her to look through WebMD for hours. Now she'll think someone is going to brain her with a statue, possibly because she has rabies.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Week in Seven Words #378

He brings out a glass bowl with six strawberries bathed in whipped cream.

The kid is determined to pretend that she's happy. She speaks in greeting card platitudes and draws smiley faces on her work. It's her way of getting through a childhood that's starved of love.

The day is flush with sunlight, and the air smells clean. I walk for an hour and feel calm.

He spins the fidget toy on the surface of the desk (spin spin spin), his attention focused entirely on it and not on his book.

The silver din of utensils and the voices sparkling and roaring pin me to the doorway for a moment, before I step into the restaurant bar during happy hour.

The cat doesn't belong to anyone in the building. He moved in, and some of the residents took responsibility for veterinary fees. Now he wanders the corridors and curls up for hours in the courtyard among potted plants and folding chairs.

Her gratitude catches me by surprise, and I don't know if it's deserved. I smile awkwardly, and the thoughts seem to empty from my head to make room for confusion.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Book recs from what I've read over the last few years

I plan to make these an annual post. What I have here are some recommendations from among the books I've read between 2014-2017.

I've read more from the Classics Club Challenge than I’ve yet written about (like Daniel Deronda by George Eliot and The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty, both recommended). Some of the others from the past few years that I recommend: Villette, Of Human Bondage, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Country of the Pointed Firs, The Periodic Table, Ivanhoe, Persuasion, The Living Is Easy, The Age of Innocence, and Old Goriot.

Here's an ongoing list of short stories I recommend; I've added many over the last few years, and I mention where I read each one, so hopefully you'll find some good short story collections to check out.

One of the standout history books is 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson, a fascinating look at major cities around the world in 1913, including London, Buenos Aires, NYC, and Vienna. Full of rich depictions of politics, economics, and other elements of culture. Also, it's eerie reading about various predictions or other analyses people made at the time in light of future developments.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Week in Seven Words #377

Revisiting the same text, I find in it something new. Better yet, I have someone to discuss it with.

There's a snow globe approach to history that preserves a golden moment. It's untainted and unchanging, this little world of pretty homes and valleys and people smiling without end. It never existed outside of the glass, but that doesn't matter to the people who admire it.

The meal is in some ways about endurance. It's about not losing my temper when faced with crassness, disrespect, and a smarminess that's tempting to smack off someone's face.

As he opens his mouth, he realizes that no one he wants to talk to is paying attention. He looks around the room once more, hoping for eye contact, before settling back in his chair and staring at his plate.

The tree leans over the path to inspect the fire hydrant hidden in the shrub.

The mistake was preventable, I was careless, and I hurt someone else too.

The soup makes for a complete meal. Each spoonful of this amazing soup is a blessing.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Week in Seven Words #376

The park is a narrow strip of grass by the river. Mostly, people pass through it on bikes or jogging with their dogs, but few linger. One guy though has laid out bowls of food for pigeons and stray cats. The pigeons have appeared, but not the cats. They'll come, he says.

Jets of water from the firefighters' hoses form successive arcs in the sunlight. (There's no sign of a current or recent fire. Maybe it's a test of hose functioning or a training session.)

They're the kind of teens that would be portrayed in the media as troubled or wild. They're polite and give us precise directions that help us find our way through a neighborhood hit by unexpected street closings.

Her spine curves along the underside of the boulder as she searches for insects in the grass.

The river looks like Turkish coffee, and the bridges are the open mouths drinking it.

Barbed wire loops along the stone walls that enclose the drug rehab facility. The building is an old stone structure with narrow windows, the shades drawn on most. There's silence from the yard behind the wall.

By the rail yard, there's a broken water fountain. Grass springs out of its nozzle.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Dyker Heights and Its Extravagant Lights

Yesterday evening I joined a local branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club on a walk that had nothing to do with mountains, forests, or hiking trails - it took us through Dyker Heights, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its elaborate display of Christmas lights and general winter holiday decorations (like smiling snowmen waving from front lawns).