It’s nice to be back in Seattle, and I’m home for the rest of the year. The first best thing was to fire up my espresso machine Saturday morning, after drinking hotel drip all week. Cartersville, GA, where I was working, is over-church’d and under-Starbuck’d.

The next best thing was to be able to lounge in bed and read, and, finally, after a nearly 4-month siege, I finished George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Our online book group discussed the book in August, and that’s when I started reading it. It’s a wonderful book, perhaps the best I’ve read in 2 - 3 years, but it’s just under 700 pages long, and I read slowly. Eliot has a marvelous ability to both discern and convey nuance in relationships and psychological states. Here she’s describing a fellow who had assumed that his work as a physician would lead him to renown as a medical researcher, just as he perceives that financial fetters would keep him far closer to the ground:

and it seemed to him as if he were beholding in a magic panorama a future where he himself was sliding into that pleasure-less yielding to the small solicitations of circumstance, which is a commoner history of perdition than any single momentous bargain…We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement.

Here’s another, coincidentally (because I’m just randomly checking the numerous dog-ears with which I’ve defaced the book) referring to the same character:

Among our valued friends is there not some one or other who is a little too self-confident and disdainful; whose distinguished mind is a little spotted with commonness; who is a little pinched here and protuberant there with native prejudices; or whose better energies are liable to lapse down the wrong channel under the influence of transient solicitations?…Our vanities differ as our noses do: all conceit is not the same conceit, but varies in correspondence with the minutiae of mental make in which one of us differs from another…How could there be any commonness in a man so well-bred, so ambitious of social distinction, so generous and unusual in his views of social duty? As easily as there may be stupidity in a man of genius if you take him unawares on the wrong subject…

Just one more, drolly describing the discovery of an inconvenient will codicil:

Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing? If it happens to have been cut in stone, though it lie face downmost for ages on a forsaken may end by letting us into the secret of usurpations and other scandals gossiped about long empires ago, this world apparently being a huge whispering-gallery…As the stone which has been kicked by generations of clowns may come by curious little links of effect under the eyes of a scholar, through whose labors it may at last fix the date of invasions and unlock religions, so a bit of ink and paper which has long been an innocent wrapping or stop-gap may at last be laid open under the one pair of eyes which have knowledge enough to turn it into the opening of a catastrophe.

It’s not for everyone, perhaps, this luxuriant density of prose, but, like attending a Shakespeare play, your ear attunes to it if you let it work, and rewards you with its richness.

Mrs. Perils was so enamored of Middlemarch that she greedily acquired every scrap that Eliot wrote, and there was a melancholy couple of days when she’d finished them. There they are, on my nightstand.

The last best thing was to get down to the gym after 7 days in which I’d done exactly 15 sit-ups and 15 push-ups, and congratulated myself for walking from the terminal to D-concourse at ATL instead of taking the tram. The crowd I work with in Cartersville likes to head straight to dinner from work, obliterating the time when I usually get my exercise in. And, our hotel there is on a busy highway in the middle of nowhere, offering no opportunity for walking or running. A younger me would have frenziedly manufactured the opportunity for exercise; the contemporary me, embroiled in a surprising struggle to maintain my grip on my physical self, let another finger slip. Looking for better things this week.


  1. beatriz:

    Huh - Really? Those are the highlights of getting home?

  2. Phil:

    Well, I didn’t say anything here, I admit. But I did put that video on Youtube! I cut that part where you were on your cell phone, though.

  3. I just figured you left the really good stuff out, the stuff we’d have to use our imaginations to conjure. But, if there’s a youtube video, I’ll have to find the link somewhere. Should I search on Middlemarch lovers?

    Great passages, btw.

  4. If the BBC production of ‘Cranford’ is available to you, Phil, check it out. Brilliant.

  5. Let’s all make a YouTube video. You star, Phil, and we’ll all follow.

  6. Carroll:

    Merry Christmas, Phil! May you and yours have an abundance of love and all things that make you happy at this festive time of year!