Middlesex

I self-identify as being a big reader. This is pretty much a lie. I was a big reader. Now? Not so much. I just haven’t been able to find the time anymore.

One of the best things about getting stuck in jury selections for three days is that I suddenly found myself with all kinds of time to read. In December, I had started reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Two months later and I was maybe 100 pages in—indicating less than two hours of reading time in that period.

While I couldn’t read in court, all the waiting to report gave me a good 1–2 hours to read each day. All of a sudden I was almost done with my book. When I returned to my work schedule, I was pleased to find that I’m actually able to both read and enjoy just a single chapter each night. At the same time, I’ve found that I still have to be extremely aware of when the next chapter is. I was always the kid who would start reading at 7:00 only to finish the book at 2:00 in the morning. It appears that I’m still that kid and that I have to force myself to put the book down.

This all also speaks well of the book. I don’t mean for this to be a book review but I can say that I enjoyed reading Middlesex. Having the narrator be intersex provides an interesting new take on the coming-of-age novel. And tracking the family history as it weaves through Detroit’s history provides a couple of nice time capsules about America in the 20th century.

Mint Condition

Further expansion on my ramblings on fakeness and authenticity. This time I’m thinking about use, preservation, and the nature of old objects. While I admire and even covet finely-crafted objects, I very much believe in the concept that things should be used.

This puts me in an odd position regarding museums which are displaying objects like chairs or other furniture. So much of the purpose of design is the utility and ease of use of the object. It’s a shame to have them displayed on pedestals or behind glass where all we can appreciate is how they look. It’s always nice when a museum includes replicas you can handle and use and get a sense for all the aspects of the design.*

*This is an area where the new Oakland Museum excels.

As someone who is sensitive to craft, emphasizing use often keeps me from spending money. If I am not willing or able to use the object, I have a hard time justifying its purchase. It is very rare when I purchase a functional object with just its display purposes in mind.* What’s more typical is that I purchase a cool-looking old object with the mindset that, if I can’t get it working, at least it will make a nice display.

*My coin collection may be the only example here. And many of those coins, since they are out of circulation, are preserved as “history” rather than for their function. So perhaps it’s just the modern proof sets which really count as functional objects purchased solely for display purposes.

Keeble and Shuchat’s $5 bargain box has become my indulgence for these urges. The Kodak Retina IIa, Kodak Retina I, and Kodak Pony 135 C were all purchased with no real certainty that they worked, just that they appeared to work. If they didn’t work, they were all too interesting to pass up anyway. Which is how I developed my rules about old camera purchases. They have to take (or be convertable to) 135 or 120 film because if I can’t shoot it (even unreliably), it will feel like a waste to have it on display.

Similarly, as much as I like books and wince when I see them damaged, I can’t stand the idea of having a book so fragile or valuable that it cannot be read. The more creases I see in the spine, the better. I’d rather have a facsimile of the Kelmscott Chaucer than the real thing. And if I spent the $600 for such a book, you can bet I’d actually read it.

If the object is too expensive or fragile for me to feel comfortable using it, I shouldn’t own it. I’m not careless with what I own, I just don’t shy away from things like shooting my cameras in whatever weather presents itself. While I certainly understand the urge to protect old, fragile, or valuable objects, I just don’t see the point of having such an object if it isn’t to be used. This point of view is one which is frequently shared on Antiques Roadshow and is really the saving grace of a show which would otherwise risk getting bogged down in questions of “worth.”

Thoughts on translations

While this isn’t a parent blog, it’s impossible to think that that world won’t seep into posts here every once in a while. In this case, I’ve been surprised to find that my constant reading of children’s books over the past year has helped me really figure out exactly what my point of view is regarding translated texts. I’m also becoming even more picky regarding what makes a good translation.

Too often, translations just focus on translating the words and fail to capture the additional nuances of the text. This appears to be most apparent in children’s literature since the actual literal meaning of the words needs to be in balance with the rhyme, meter, and general tone of the overall book even more than it is with “grown-up” literature (“adult” literature being what’s sold in adult “bookstores”).

I’ve been consistently disappointed with the way that children’s classics are translated into Spanish. Buenas Noches Luna fails to capture the essense of Goodnight Moon and La Oruga Muy Hambrienta becomes a bear to read when compared to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My realization after being frustrated with the translations? I prefer less-literal (or less-sensical) translations which manage to keep everything else that’s wonderful about the text.

My son will grow up being exposed to the British-English Harry Potters first. (If he likes them I’ll have to find the Canadian version of the movies.) He’ll get the original translation of The Little Prince once he’s a bit older. He’ll learn why it’s fantastic that the hero of El Hobbit is named Bilbo Bolsón. And he’ll have his choice of all kinds of translations of the classics when he goes to college.