Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides has an amazing way with characters. They're all so complex and yet so easy to get to know. I've been a fan of Eugenides from the start and it has always been who he writes about that draws me in. The plots are great too, but it's how the characters react to what's going on around them that truly makes Eugenides' book hard to put down (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, and The Marriage Plot).

The Marriage Plot follows three characters connected by the naive sense of love that emerges during one's college years. Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard are all attending Brown (in the 80's) when they meet as undergrads. All three are pretty smart and insightful students who thrive in academia. Madeleine is the literature lover, caught up in the world of writers like Austen. Mitchell is more of a theologian, thinking about seminary school. Leonard's area of study is science although he really just likes to philosophize and seem introspective. Mitchell (whose last name, Grammaticus, I just love) is in love with Madeleine; Madeleine is in love with Leonard; and Leonard is a manic depressive who need people more than he really feels any genuine emotion for.

The three graduate college and spend their first year in the real world coming to terms with their perceptions of love and reality. Expectations of the heart can really be unrealistic and over-romanticized and each character receives this rude awakening through their own personal journey even as their stories intertwine. In the end, you feel like everyone is going to be okay, that the big disappointment that first love can sometimes turn into will be something they'll all get over, but one of the three get a perfectly happy ending which just feels right as you're reading the story.

Eugenides shifts his focus between the three characters using a third person narrative that is extremely insightful into the mind of each character. You end up with the ability to view the same event from multiple perspectives with each telling feeling truly genuine. It makes you feel really present in the story no matter whose line you're following and a part of the inner struggles each character is facing. And you really do have to follow these characters as they travel all over the world from 1980's Calcutta where you could catch a glimpse of Mother Theresa to the opulence of Monaco.

Through this rich story of love, relationships, and personal growth toward adulthood, The Marriage Plot takes love and makes it difficult and real in an engaging and thought-provoking way and it's very much worth a read.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

As Printed Reference Books Become a Thing of the Past...

I'd like to take a moment to talk about the books I keep on the shelf in my office. These books have never made it to a real bookshelf, they've always been close to where I work. Hardly used, they still hold significance.
1. The reddish binder - this is my novel. First draft completed a long time ago with just a few edits in the margins. It needs a complete rewrite and someday I will accomplish that feat. Everyone has a novel in their heads - an idea they think the world would want to read and I managed to get a first draft of mine down. Who knows if I'll ever finish editing it and getting published isn't a high priority right now, but just having it here inspires me.
2. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language - College Edition c. 1964 - My Dad's college dictionary. I love the way the pages feel (so thin) and how the book smells (old) and that when I hold it I'm connecting with my Dad. I've never not found the word I'm looking up in it even though modern slang is missing from its pages.
3. The Newspaper Designer's Handbook - My education in design began with looking at newspapers. This is the only design textbook I ever bought and it's worth keeping just incase I need to go back to my roots.
4. The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual - While this edition is probably very out-of-date this was THE BOOK that taught me how to correctly  present information when writing. I learned useful things like Mass. is an acceptable way to abbreviate Massachusetts and that you should spell out all single-digit numbers. This book presented a whole new layer of detail to the way I wrote and has stayed close by ever since Freshman year of college.
5. MLA Handbook - who doesn't own a copy of this book? There are a lot of grammar rules and it's nice to have a reference tool close at hand no matter how often you write. More people should reread this book and give themselves a grammar refresher.
6. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont - This book focuses on what it's like to be a writer. I read this in college and it was the first time I connected with a non-fiction book on a personal level. Keeping it close by reminds me to keep writing.
7. Food Rules by Michael Pollan - while I don't adhere to most of these rules, this book reminds me you can convey your message simply. This book just screams, "stop trying to cram in all those SAT words and just say it," a useful reminder for writers.
8. Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors by Bill Bryson - Read this, it's just awesome.
9. The missing book (loaned out to my aunt) is Epictetus' Handbook. His philosophy is the only one I connected with in college and still agree with today. Among other things, he reminds me to not dwell on what's outside my control.

These books, all significant, make up my own personal reference section. They're not my all-time favorite books - I haven't even read them all cover-to-cover, but they mean a lot nonetheless. The reference book is a dying breed now that we can Google anything, but I'm going to hold on to my little office library. Not seeing these books every day would be a great loss.