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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Back in the era of the paper book (before people started furtively reading Fifty Shades of Grey and Mein Kampf* on their tablets and whatnot) there were certain books that you'd see everywhere; bedside tables, in this hands of fellow commuters, and staking out beach-chair territory.


Even in the digital era, there are books that it seems like everyone is reading. When this happens, I exhibit a distinct (albeit self-defeating) behavioral pattern wherein if I don't read it hot off the presses, I then feel all late to the game, can't decide when it's the right "moment" for me to pick it up and, thus, miss out on all the fun.


For me, Middlesex fell prey to this cycle, so many thanks to Steve for suggesting I pick it up, because it was most definitely worth it. This book contains multitudes. It's a multi-generational epic (our narrator, Cal, invokes the muses), reminiscent of John Irving in that the passage of time shifts your focus as characters age, and cede the limelight to younger generations.


Middlesex certainly lends itself to the discussion of biological pre-determinism, the difference between gender and sex, and all sorts of topics pertaining to heteronormative cultural expectations. But, I just don't feel up to the task. Furthermore, I don't want to reduce the story arc to those standout frameworks. Cal reflects on his (as narrator he identifies as a male- so, go with it) own reticence to be an activist or icon, often leaning towards the path of least resistance (or avoidance) in his adult relationships. 

"A word on my shame: I don't condone it." 

Likewise, there is more to identity than gender and sexuality, and social stigma is bred from a variety of sources. This is a story of immigration, assimilation, wealth, race, inequality, generational disconnects, and the horrible, awkward, universal experience of adolescent becoming. 

“The adolescent ego is a hazy thing, amorphous, cloud like. It wasn’t difficult to pour my identity into different vessels. In a sense, I was able to take whatever form was demanded of me.”

The book is not without faults, but flows in spite of certain clunky edifices. It even made me laugh a time or two – the Canada commentary toward the end was a favorite moment of the jingoistic elderly in rare form.

“But who knew what would happen once he got to Canada? Canada with its pacifism and its socialized medicine! Canada with its millions of French speakers! It was like…like…like a foreign country!” 


* This is (depressingly) true. Hitler's Mein Kampf tops ebook download charts regularly (see article speculating as to the why here).

† I'm currently doing this with The Goldfinch, so someone make a note to remind me to get on that if haven't read it in a year or two.

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