I like to review books before I’m done them, not because I’m a lazy journalist, but because I’m not a journalist, I’m a person reading a book.
The thing is I forget about a book once I’m done it. The book doesn’t lose its impact on me – I think I am probably shaped in one way from every book I read, whether it’s that I learned a new word or I changed the way I live my life – I just lose the book. I put it away or I return it to the library or I lend it to a forgetful friend and I simply don’t think about it for a while (unless I am recommending it or talking about it at Book Club). I certainly don’t ever remember a book’s ending.
I would rather tell you about a book when I am fully immersed in it, when I am breathless about it. And this way I won’t tell you the ending. I will only tell you the middle, which is by far the worst part of any book, and therefore okay that I spoil it for you.
Well, here’s the middle of The Age of Innocence: Tension is rising! Maybe Newland and Ellen will get together! Where the heck is May, Newland’s bride-to-be anyway? Oh yeah, she’s in Florida! Newland just had a pillow fight!
(from Wikipedia – not my cover, but so cute! It looks like she stapled it together.)
Yes, I know: Edith Wharton sounds like a hoot. I say this somewhat sarcastically, somewhat with honest surprise. This is a woman writing in the 1920’s about the 1870s. I haven’t ever heard the word hoot next to Edith Wharton’s name, a name I hear often in articles I breeze by in The New Yorker and other literary sources (sure, I’ll give it to you, what am I talking about?). I thought Edith Wharton was a crotchety lady writing about crotchety people. But no – it’s all about escaping crotchetiness. And Ellen Olenska is awesome!
I am actually so excited to be reading this book right now. I like reading three books at once because I like to be braggy and also because I like to discover the merits of books by seeing how much I want to read one over another.
For example, right now I am also reading The Wealthy Barber Returns, and a light-hearted French novel called Les Yeux Jaunes des Crocodiles. I’ve read enough in French that French requires equivalent brain-using skill as English does to read, so this means that a novel should win out over an old novel I am forcing myself to read through a Pulitzer Challenge, and a non-fiction book about money. All the credit goes to David Chilton from London, Ontario who is hilarious and just feels like my best friend, and also to Edith Wharton, this awesome lady from the 20’s.
My favourite lines so far from The Age of Innocence:
1) I already mentioned the pillow fight, which takes place in a brief re-telling of a party where I couldn’t quite figure out if all these things actually happened in the literal sense. If yes, so fun:
“And finally, about midnight, he assisted in putting a goldfish in one’s visitor’s bed, dressed up a burglar in the bathroom of a nervous aunt, and saw in the small hours by joining in a pillow-fight that ranged from the nurseries to the basement.”
2) Ellen says this to Newland. Ellen is from Europe!:
“Is there nowhere in an American house where one may be by one’s self? You’re so shy, and yet you’re so public. I always feel as if I were in the convent again – or on the stage, before a dreadfully polite audience that never applauds.”
3) And a few things I think apply even today:
“He arrived late at the office, perceived that his doing so made no difference whatever to any one, and was filled with sudden exasperation at the elaborate futility of his life.”
“Winsett was not a journalist by choice. He was a pure man of letters, untimely born in a world that had no need of letters.”
So, if you are following along with me in the Pulitzer Challenge, or in my Governor General’s Award challenge which I have yet to begin according to my rules, then I would recommend choosing this book!
If you are doing the challenge, I would love for you to comment about it, or to tell me which book you are choosing instead of this one. I will continue to write blog posts as though everyone ever is doing this challenge I made up. So congratulations, guys!
PS: I am writing to you from a beautiful converted green house on Denman Island, British Columbia. More on THAT to come.