Extracts from Jeffrey Eugenides's "Middlesex" + Summer Reading 2012 Update

About a year ago I decided I'd start taking "extracts" or selected passages from books I read—passages or even sentences that I'd like to go back to for whatever reason. I came up with this idea of gathering choice lines and paragraphs for a few reasons: I had run into "taking extracts" as a means of self-education in a few 19th c. novels (Jane Austen, probably); a friend of mine had hipped me to the concept of keeping a "graveyard"—a word document with all the cuts and deletions from written submissions, in case I'd ever want to zombify something that didn't work in a past life but might in a new piece; and I thought keeping a garden of ideas on my desktop would be the textual equivalent of keeping a music notebook with all my ideas and acquired vocabulary. So, ever since winter break, I've had this document on my desktop called "The Garden," where I plant seeds and hope that something comes of it. 

The last book I've extracted from is Jeffrey Eugenides's 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex, a multi-generational story about the Stephanides family's emigration from Asia Minor to Detroit, MI and the forces that conspired to bring Calliope (later known as "Cal," for reasons you'll find out) Stephanides into this world and in her realize a genetic mutation passed down through the family. It all started with incest, and the story only gets more interesting from there.

Eugenides writes flowing prose and effortlessly lets off some turns of phrase I'd like to steal: 
“The accordion seemed nearly as big as she was and she played it dutifully, badly, and always with the suggestion of a carnival sadness”
There's a strong underdog story running through this novel. At least for me, I couldn't help cheering for the hopelessly foreign Stephanides family as they negotiated '60s racial tensions, American cultural norms, and the rest of things that make lives for immigrants so difficult. 

“On a Sunday in August, fist-fights had broken out between blacks and whites on Belle Isle. ‘Some nigger raped a white woman,’ one customer said. ‘Now all those niggers are going to pay. You wait and see.’ By Monday morning a race riot was under way. But when a group of men came in, boasting of having beaten a Negro to death, my grandfather refused to serve them.
            ‘Why don’t you go back to your own country?’ one of them shouted.
            ‘This is my country,’ Lefty said, and to prove it, he did a very American thing: he reached under the counter and produced a pistol.”
Bam! Eugenides can go from humorously schmaltzy to heart-breakingly ironic to pitch perfectly nostalgic very convincingly. It's very impressive, but, more importantly, always fun to read:
“Is there anyplace as comforting as an old, institutional, prewar bathroom? The kind of bathroom they used to build in America when the country was on the rise. The basement bathroom at Baker & Inglis was done up like a box at the opera. Edwardian lighting fixtures gleamed overhead. The sinks were deep white bowls set in blue slate. When you bent to wash your face you saw tiny cracks in the porcelain, as in a Ming vase. Gold chains held the drain-stoppers in place. Beneath the taps, dripping had worn the porcelain thin in green stripes.”
And there are some passages where the 40-some-year-old narrator Cal speaks some straight wisdom—kinds of things that I wouldn't mind reading in a personal essay or some similar context:
“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness,’ ‘joy,’ or ‘regret.’ Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, ‘the happiness that attends disaster.’ Or: ‘the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.’ I’d like to show how ‘intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members’ connects with ‘the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.’ I’d like to have a word for ‘the sadness inspired by failing restaurants’ as well as for ‘the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.’ I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. I can’t just sit back and watch from a distance anymore.” 
* * *
 A little while ago, I posted a tentative summer reading syllabus. As it stands, I'm a little bit behind schedule. I skipped Portrait of a Young Artist and Gravity's Rainbow, the former because I didn't have a copy of it when I went to Banff and the latter because Omeros took me a long time to read (it was an incredible epic poem, though—also highly recommended!). I'm starting Humboldt's Gift, the first 50 pages of which have been pretty entertaining. I've got to slip in George Lewis's book on the AACM at some point, but, otherwise, I'm looking forward to the second half of the summer. 

Also, I've got plenty more music to listen to. I've been buying CDs recklessly from Princeton Record Exchange, including a $4.99 copy of Vijay Iyer's Panoptic Modes which I found in the bargain jazz section, and I'll be trying to put aside some time each day to listen to music for its own sake. I figure that if I spend a couple hours reading a novel each day, I could spare some time to listen to music with the same level intensity that I give these books. It's fun, anyway!