Friday, February 26, 2010

march 1010

Both books should inspire plenty of discussion this month!

According to one reviewer "Middlesex' by Jeffrey Eugenides' is 'a dazzling triumph from 'the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides. It is the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek American family and flowers in the body of Calliope Stephanides.

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

So begins Jeffrey Eugenides' second novel,
Middlesex, the story of Calliope Stephanides, who discovers at the age of fourteen that she is really a he. Cal traces the story of his transformation and the genetic condition that caused it back to his paternal grandparents, who happen also to be brother and sister, and the Greek village of Bithynios in Asia Minor.

In 1922, Desdemona Stephanides and her brother, Lefty, whose parents were killed in the recent war with the Turks, are living alone in their nearly abandoned village. Pulled together by isolation, sympathy, and, perhaps, fate, Lefty and Desdemona become husband and wife, and a recessive genetic condition begins its journey toward eventual expression in their grandchild Calliope.

Middlesex is a story about what it means to occupy the complex and unnamed middle ground between male and female, Greek and American, past and present. For Cal, caught between these identities, the journey to adulthood is particularly fraught. Jeffrey Eugenides' epic portrayal of Cal's struggle is classical in its structure and scope and contemporary in its content; a tender and honest examination of a battle that is increasingly relevant to us all.

According to one reviewer, the original Consolation of Philosophy (in the singular), written by Boethius in 524 A.D., offers solace to the author by a series of arguments in which Philosophy, personified by a woman, argues the paradoxical point that misfortune is better than good fortune in that the former teaches us a good lesson while the latter perpetually deceives us as to the transitory and illusory nature of all earthly happiness. Let me note in passing that it was in this book that the idea that love makes the world go round got its first forceful formulation.

Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy (in the plural) is more than a worthy successor to the "original." And it doesn't read like a typical philosophical text either. Rather, it reads the way we expect wisdom to read, with charm and whimsy and surprisingly illuminating insights that also tend to turn our thinking about things around (if not upside down). De Botton, the author of On Love: A Novel (1993), The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel (1994), Kiss & Tell: A Novel(1995), and How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), has repeatedly shown his readers how great thinkers can teach us wonderful lessons about ourselves. His novels read more like essays and extended meditations than stories, while his essays intertwine profound thinking with familiar moments in everyday life, thus making the former easily accessible to even the non-philosophically inclined reader.

The book is available in the cheap Penguins for $9.95.

Happy reading!