Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Marriage Plot

This might be stating the obvious for some, but Jeffrey Eugenides can tell one heck of a story. His third and most recent novel, The Marriage Plot, though not without a few flaws, was every bit as compelling as his first two. This time around, Eugenides centers his story around Madeline, an English major at Brown in the early 1980's whose interest in traditional writers of marriage plot novels, like Austen and Gaskell, is at odds with the campus trend toward postmodern theorists like Derrida and Barthes. During her time at Brown and beyond, Madeline ends up in her own marriage plot of sorts, caught between the enigmatic and unstable biology major Leonard and the nerdy, spiritual theology major Mitchell.

The reviews I've seen of this novel have been quite mixed, with one of the main points of contention being the literary and academic references that are packed onto just about every page of the book. Naysayers seem to think that Eugenides overdoes it with these, making the book too obtuse and pedantic. I actually enjoyed all of this literary name dropping, even when they were names I wasn't all that familiar with. My initial problem had more to do with the way that academic theory was used as a means of kicking the characters into motion. Madeline meets Leonard when she takes a class on semiotics after discovering that it's what the "cool" kids on campus are into. A small part of me was impressed by the use of such an unconventional catalyst for action, but a larger part just had trouble buying it. Admittedly, I'm no expert in postmodern criticism, but having studied a few of these writers in college (with, for some reason, a very vivid memory of a class discussion about this guy), I have to roll my eyes a little at the idea that semiotics would be such a hot issue that it would be a deciding factor of popularity for college kids--even in the 1980's, even at an Ivy League school.

Despite this complaint, Eugenides's storytelling ability kept it from being the stumbling block it might have been in less skilled hands. I was so interested in seeing what happened next that soon enough I overcame my skepticism and found myself speeding through chapter after chapter, all the way to an ending that was both satisfying and not at all what I was expecting.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I'm in danger of becoming ever so slightly vain about my glasses. I currently have two pairs that I alternate between depending on my mood and both have garnered more compliments than I would have ever imagined, especially when I was in DC last week. (Delicious cupcakes and compliments from strangers? Washington, you really know how to win a girl over.)
I'd like to add to my collection, but now I'm feeling the pressure to continue the streak and pick a pair that will live up to the other two. I'd really like a pair of chunky, clear frames (1), but then I'm also drawn to frames that are still bold, but a little thinner and more rounded in shape (2). I could also go for another vintage pair- maybe a blush colored cat eye frame (3)? There's even a part of me that's tempted by a fancier, sparklier take on a cat eye shape (4).

Which do you like the best?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Just for Fun

I had initially planned to devote today's post to The Marriage Plot, but found myself suffering from a bit of a fried brain due to the unseasonably early heat we've been having. When I saw this meme--a garden themed story where, in Mad Libs fashion, you fill in the blanks with titles of the books you've read this year--I knew it was just about all I was cut out for today. Take a look below for the result.

(image via here)

Early this morning as I was Loving/ Living/ Party Going, I stepped out of The Night Circus into the garden and bent down to touch The Moonflower Vine.

As dawn broke and I took in my surroundings, I noticed several things: Peter Pan was struggling due to Rules of Civility and The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt had been dug up in The Winter Sea under Glaciers, but with help from Maisie Dobbs and knowledge gleaned from The Marriage Plot, I was able to bury it with The Sense of an Ending.

Later, The Pioneer Woman popped in to take a cutting or two; she told me You Deserve Nothing, but pointed out that it was Midnight in Austenland.

Taking a well-earned rest from weeding and chatting over the wall with The Girls of Slender Means from next door, I mentioned The Murder at the Vicarage and remarked on Sydney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, but then after 1Q84, we said And Then There Were None and I went back to do a little light pruning.

My garden was once Wildwood but tending it is a joy and part of Housekeeping.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Fancies

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! Hope you're unofficially starting summer in grand style! As for me, I'm hoping that at least part of my weekend involves sitting outside, listening to some of my classic Dave Matthews Band CDs while sipping some Dreaming Tree wine.

Here are some highlights from the past week:

I just discovered Aubin & Wills. They had me at "modern British design inspired by the past, living in the present".

Recreating scenes from You've Got Mail? Pretty much the best photo op idea ever.

When I was in DC, I was so surprised by the calm, low key, low traffic atmosphere that I kept saying "this feels more like a town like Princeton than a major city!" Next time I actually do visit Princeton, I'll have to take this city guide with me.

Would you ever try magnetic wallpaper?

And what do you think of the new trailer for The Great Gatsby? I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I'm not loving what I've seen so far.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In the District

I just got back from a trip to Washington, DC, where I spent a couple of days at a conference for work followed by a couple of days visiting a friend from college. The last time I was in DC was for my 8th grade class trip, so this was a chance to rediscover the city as an adult and realize what a fantastic place it is! We hit a nice combination of tourist spots and local favorites. Of course I snapped pictures along the way, if you'd care to see.

We started out Friday night with a Nationals game. I'm not a baseball fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I was more than happy to spend a few hours enjoying our good seats (in the very last row, which was the prime spot to catch the nice breeze coming off the water), good food (from Shake Shack), and good company.

Saturday started out with a pretty latte and a Nutella scone, followed by a stroll around the Capitol Hill neighborhood and a trip to the Eastern Market farmer's market (only to be followed up the next day with a visit to the second farmer's market of the weekend at DuPont Circle).

Then it was time for some marathon sightseeing. Starting out at the Capitol building, we walked down the Mall, visited a few monuments, circled around the White House, and ended up in DuPont Circle. We made a few pit stops along the way, looking in the Folger Shakespeare Library, stopping at an Asian cultural street festival, and grabbing a couple of pick-me-ups in the form of a slice of rhubarb custard tart from Paul bakery and an iced chai from Teaism.  

I was especially impressed by the fairly new World War II memorial, which I got to see for the first time.



Now I have to devote some time to gushing about the amazing food that seemed to be everywhere around the city. We ate delicious Spanish tapas at Jaleo (which I failed to get any pictures of as I was too busy feasting on things like deep fried bacon wrapped dates and fancy pigs in a blanket, with chorizo "pigs" and thinly sliced potato "blankets") and brunch at the Tabard Inn, one of the oldest inns in the city, where we began our big breakfast with their famous freshly fried donuts and whipped cream.

And saving the best for last, our final stop on Sunday was Baked and Wired in Georgetown. It's a great little cupcake and coffee shop where everything is baked by hand in small batches and the cupcakes are displayed under individual sized glass bell jars. Unlike the charming, cutesy decor of most cupcake shops, this one has a decidedly hipster vibe that carries over into the cupcake flavors offered. I tried a dirty chai cupcake (a vanilla chai spice flavored cake topped with espresso buttercream frosting). Now, I'm fully aware that what I'm about to say is a big statement coming from me, but it was one of the best, if not the best, cupcake I've ever had! Everything from the size of the cake to the amount of frosting to the  the wrapper was perfectly done. Most new cupcakes I try fall somewhere in the middle of the pack--tasty, but nothing extraordinary. Baked and Wired managed to jump to the top of the heap, earning a place among my top cupcake shops of all time.

A great weekend all around. Despite being jam-packed with activity and half devoted to work,  it left me feeling completely refreshed and recharged. I'll be back, DC, I'll be back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Charmingly Mysterious

Sydney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is novel comprised of several short mysteries all involving Sydney Chambers, a young vicar in a picturesque English village just outside of Cambridge. There's nothing earth shattering about the mysteries themselves; they flow into one another at a leisurely pace and only one of the plots feels at all suspenseful. That being said, you won't be disappointed if you're looking to read something purely for a dose of idyllic British atmosphere.

I'm going to keep this short and sweet since I'm still winding down from a long weekend trip (pictures on the way!), but I will say that I think it's no small feat to pull off creating a character who's a vicar and also really likable and relatable. In most British novels I read, clergy figures seem to be most frequently portrayed as elderly and a bit tottering. When they are younger, then tend to veer towards the smarmy ridiculousness of Austen's Mr. Collins. As a character, Sydney Chambers avoids these traits completely. Living in the 1950's, he brings an early era Mad Men sensibility to a pastoral and aristocratic world that's not too far off from Downton Abbey, all while meandering through crimes like someone out of an Agatha Christie novel.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wrapping Up

If you'll excuse both the seasonally inappropriate topic and the terrible bathroom mirror iPhone pictures, then I thought I'd share the last knitting project I finished, a shoulder cozy from a pattern by Churchmouse Yarns & Teas, an incredibly charming looking shop on Bainbridge Island, WA.

It can be worn pulled down around the shoulders like a wrap or draped around the neck like a cowl.

Now I'm thinking of trying this wrap from Purl SoHo the next time I'm in the mood for a big project.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Fancies

I've been on the go most of this week, so in the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that this Friday Fancies post was actually written way back on Tuesday! Luckily there were plenty of things that caught my eye early in the week, starting with artist Jane Staffier's pretty watercolors of scenes from the campus of my alma mater.

(all images via here)

I have to admit that I've never been much of a fan of William Faulkner's work, but after seeing these pictures of his historically preserved home, I do admire his taste in wallpaper.

Aren't these some of the prettiest backpacks you've seen?

Madewell makes some of the best scarves. I'll take one of each. (And I can't this cute bag, which I actually bought!)

And if money were really no object, Cartier's nail bracelet is pretty cool.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Random Pair

And now for two completely unrelated current favorites of mine:

This plaid boy shirt from Jcrew. I've been wearing it at every possible opportunity this spring, with boyfriend jeans on the weekend and with slim ankle pants to work.

And this trailer for Mindy (a.k.a my celebrity best friend) Kaling's new show on Fox. It looks like a funny romantic comedy in the form of a TV show. I can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Cute Pair

My parents are pet-sitting for Millie this week and next, which means that she and little miss Olive are getting to spend some quality time together.

For the most part they get along well, although Olive, being small and cute and a stereotypical younger sibling, has a tendency to, shall we say, weasel her way into getting exactly what she wants, whether it's the best toy or a prime spot on someone's lap. Which is all to say that I wasn't surprised to see that she had claimed the big, plush, shearling lined bed (left), leaving Millie with the plain, utilitarian, foam bed (right)....

...or that, another time, she was enjoying a nap in the bed while Millie napped under the bed!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Interesting Pair

I always find it interesting when I unintentionally read two books that compliment or tie in with each other in some way. That's exactly what happened when I recently read Snobs by Julian Fellowes and, continuing in the spirit of Muriel Spark Reading Week, followed it up with Symposium.

Despite what the cover design above seems to hint at, Snobs is a far cry from Downton Abbey, though no less enjoyable. Set in the 1990's (which, somewhat oddly, is a fact that is strongly reiterated throughout the book), it follows social climber Edith Lavery as she marries into, and then later falls out of, the British aristocracy.  The true heart of the novel is its unnamed narrator. Through his eyes, we witness the social dramas that unfold during dinner parties and hunting weekends at a great country house (there's even a fun foreshadowing of Downton Abbey when a movie crew filming a costume drama enters into the plot).  Well born and bred himself but now earning his living as a moderately successful actor, the narrator is both a part of and apart from the upper class world of the novel in a way that's quite reminiscent of Nick Carraway in Gatsby. He provides wry, sometimes even judgmental, commentary on the actions and motives of the other characters while at the same time acknowledging his own weakness in occasionally subscribing to the snobbish nuances of the aristocratic class. Despite his sometimes sarcastic tone, he brings a certain sympathy to all of the characters that, ultimately, made the novel for me. By the time I reached the end, I felt truly invested in characters who, at the outset, seemed like they might be nothing more than amusing caricatures.

Muriel Spark's Symposium also deals with the world of British dinner parties. Guests from all walks of life  gather around the table of an artistic upper class couple renowned for their elegant dinners. After some innocuous small talk at the start of the meal, things take a darker turn when the action flashes back to reveal the past histories of some of the characters, including a young bride who has a track record of being in close proximity to an alarming number of mysterious deaths and an American student whose service at the dinner table is really a front for funneling information about wealthy dinner guests to a gang of violent robbers. All are treated with a satirical tone, but of a much more sinister variety than what was found in Snobs. While that novel had me caring more about the characters as the story progressed, Spark's characters actually become more repellent as more information about them is revealed. It was a very creepy take on a typical comedy of manners.


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