Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rereading in England; rereading Eugenides

Others can say whatever they like about these survey results; I'm going to say this: it is fantastic that three of the top ten re-read books in the survey of readers in Britain are Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Let's hear it for Jane and the Brontës, authors of some of the greatest novels ever written. Admittedly, I re-read Jane regularly, but I hope to get to Wuthering Heights again sometime soon (which I have read at least twice), and someday I will re-read Jane Eyre as well.

Right now, though, I am re-reading Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, a book I was hugely impressed by when I first read it a few years ago. Here's what I wrote back then in an email recommending the book to friends:

"A book for Deadheads, hermaphrodites, runaways, people born in Detroit, people of Greek descent, San Franciscans, hitchhikers, lovers of silk, owners of Cadillacs, people who went to private schools, smugglers of bootleg liquor, sexologists, anyone who has ever declared bankruptcy, directors of horror movies, Ted Kennedy, future actresses, owners of topless bars, clarinetists, Stanford grads, Berliners, installation artists, career diplomats, anyone nervous about second dates, signalmen, people who were finally able to beat their Dads at ping pong, would-be kidnappers, obscure objects of desire, and everyone who has ever used a thermometer to try to influence the sex of a baby."

It's still all true, but it's not a great second read: the plot is not rich enough to drive the book on a second read (that is, JE's plotting does not stand up to Rowling's), and the proliferating details, so hugely entertaining on a first read, just seem like distractions on a second read. On a second read, in other words, JE's project of combining mainstream fiction with sophisticated post-modern fiction does not seem to come off as well as it did the first time around.

That said, I will finish it, since I have to mark a thesis on it that a student is handing in at the beginning of next month!


Unknown said...

I confess to being a compulsive Jane Eyre rereader. I've lost count. I reread Villette quite often, too--maybe even more!

I've not read Middlesex yet--it's been on my list for some time. I'll have to nudge it up. I've been and done some of the things on your list! I didn't grow up in Detroit, but maybe East Lansing is close enough. I do love books about Michigan.

SarahJane said...

A colleague of mine is reading Middlesex at the moment, and told me he is finding it hard to care. Although I'd intended to read it someday, I am reconsidering.
I never got through Wuthering Heights! A scandal! P&P I've done twice - delightful. Jane Eyre just once.

Andrew Shields said...

"Middlesex" is an EXCELLENT read the first time, but as your colleague so nicely put it, it's hard to care the second time. I suspect that "The Virgin Suicides" is a much better second-time read. Does that make it a better book?

SarahJane said...

Well that is a good question. Seriously. Probably yes.

michi said...

i have read "wuthering heights" about six times or so, and still love it. i've read most of austen's books at least twice, and even read her unfinished novels (though that was tough! i so wanted to know what would happen ... esp in "sanditon", the last novel, which i suspect would have been at least as great as "pride and prejudice" *s*).

another book i return to time and time again is christa wolf's "kassandra". oh, and bill bryson's "mother tongue", always entertaining and interesting, though of course not a novel.

loved "middlesex", though i have not re-read it.

i am actually re-reading a novel just now, my favourite john irving, "a prayer for owen meany", because somebody on a blog somewhere mentioned she was re-reading it, and because i had long meant to do so.

not that you wanted to know all this. :)


Andrew Shields said...

I read "Kassandra" several times because I wrote part of my Ph. D. on Christa Wolf. The book of hers that I would like to reread now is "Kein Ort, Nirgends" (interestingly, one that I did not discuss in my dissertation!).

michi said...

"kein ort, nirgends" did not quite do it for me, or not as much as kassandra. maybe i should reread that. i have it here somewhere.

what / who were the other parts of your phd thesis on?

Andrew Shields said...

It was on Doris Lessing, Christa Wolf, and Marguerite Duras. I called it "Observing Women" — that is, women who observe, but of course I liked the pun. My joke title was "Scoping Babes." :-)

michi said...


interesting title, though. the real one. :)