1. I forget how much I really enjoy cleaning house until I’m actually down on my knees, forcing a paper towel between the seams in the shower’s fiberglass panels. I’ve been kind of down this summer, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to do anything beyond half-heartedly run the Swiffer over the floors a couple times. But I guess I snapped out of it today, because all of the sudden I’m bleaching the toilet bowl and scraping grease off the oven knobs. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this alive. It’s weird how my body doesn’t distinguish among the products of my labor. The high I get seems to be tied to the amount of effort, rather than the work accomplished.
2. Finally finished House of Mirth today. You remember all of those Classics they made us read in junior high that were heavy on exposition and light on plot? Yeah, you do: about halfway through, you start having a hard time reading more than 10 pages at a time, despite the elegant prose and penetrating truths. But then you hit the final, say, quarter of the book, and the carefully-engineered set-up surges into motion, and you plow through the final 100 pages, and you realize that the climax wouldn’t have been nearly so rewarding if the author had sacrificed any characterization or setting for action early on. Tale of Two Cities is the first example that comes to mind.
Anyway, House of Mirth represents that form at its peak. It took me about twice as long to read as The Age of Innocence, because it lacks the gripping love story that yanks you through to the end (it has, to be fair, its own love story, but it’s more subtle and initially less gratifying), but I’m betting you Mirth is going to stay with me a lot longer. She takes all of the oppressive atmosphere and character intimacy she’s steadily built up throughout the book, and uses them to make the final few scenes as wrenching as possible. It almost feels like she wrote the entire novel in anticipation of the final sentence.
Wharton is kind of like Jane Austen’s brazenly cynical American cousin, and Austen’s stories are more fun, but Lilly Bart makes Eliza Bennett look positively two-dimensional by comparison. You’re desperate to like Lilly in the same way that you’re desperate to like yourself, but Wharton’s too honest about Lilly’s inner motives and calculations to make it easy. But the cynicism stops itself short of bitterness, and by the time Lilly starts being honest about herself and her fate, you realize that instead of liking her, you kind of love her. It makes the ending that much more powerful.
All this is a rather overdone preamble to me saying that I recommend the book, and will gladly loan it to you if you’d like.
3. What’s more fun than having a few beers too many and writing overwrought book reviews on your blog? I don’t know; you tell me. Lord knows I’m always looking for ways to have more fun.
4. So apparently you can simulate mashed potatoes with millet and cauliflower and a blender. Go figure. I didn’t actually believe it would work when I found the recipe, but it honestly tastes like the real thing. This is fortuitous, as mashed potatoes are one of the few non-vegan foods that I still regret leaving behind (around Thanksgiving, late at night, I swear I can hear them crying out to me, and the pain of the loss washes over me afresh, and all I can do is shut the window and wrap myself in the conviction in my decisions, and wait for the longing to subside). I’ll pass on the recipe if any of y’all are interested. They’re much healthier than real mashed potatoes.
5. It’s finally, about a month later than usual, starting to cool down out here. Today was the first day since July it’s been too chilly to run the air conditioner — which, by the way, I don’t know where the hell I’m going to store over the winter. It weighs about three fourths what I do, and it scratches the floor wherever I set it. Oh, well; it’s still the soundest investment I’ve ever made. If it’s not going to help you get to sleep when it’s 105 outside, then your rate of return is just too low. Ten year T-Bills can suck it.
Anyway, the leaves are starting to change, and I’m going to try to make an excursion next week. Naturally, there’ll be pictures if I do.