Monday, May 20, 2013


abandon perfectionism...

... all ye who enter here.  That was what I came away with, after my weekend reading. And contemporary reading at that, what a change for me these days.  Two nearly-current books read back to back, almost at random (although is anything ever really random), while Ryan has been at home, sick.  Thus I've been puttering around making cups of tea and bringing him glasses of watered-down ginger ale.  And thus I've been seeking gentle distraction.  I planted onion sets and seed potatoes out in the garden, then curled up with books. 

Firstly, I picked this memoir up secondhand last week, and read it over the weekend in two sittings.  The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell (HarperCollins 2010):

Charming and funny with non-ironic life lessons amidst some glam of city life, the financial crash, and "stylish agrarian subsistence" (p.38) on an old farm they fell in love with.  Augusten Burroughs lite (i.e. less traumatic, less fraught, which, while I love Augusten Burroughs's writing, is sometimes a real plus).  Loved this story of two successful professionals who sought the good life, then found it, had it all, I mean they had a lot, and then got even more, and then almost lost everything, including each other.  Loved how both of them struggle against the demon of perfectionism, even while knowing that the show must go on, and concluding if so, then why shouldn't it go on beautifully.  Great Martha Stewart factoids are peppered throughout, since one of the main characters worked for her during most of the time period this memoir covers.  Loved the book, and now I see - a little late for the party, as usual - that the memoir is also a television series and of course they have a website and gorgeous farm products and a store and a new cookbook and blogs and twitter and facebook and their llama has a facebook account too and the guys even won The Amazing Race and and and and... Well.  It all sounds exhausting and they might agree with me, but it still appears that they are having the times of their lives, and actually living the dream, not just dreaming the dream.  Which is the point of the book (remember the book?).  Loved the book, I'll say it again.

Secondly, a novel also bought secondhand, a few months ago, and read yesterday afternoon from cover to cover, straight through, while Ryan slept - Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (Riverhead 2009):

He writes so well about middle-aged People In Trouble and I admire him so much for it.  Quick synopsis - unsatisfied woman and her music-geek boyfriend (who is totally obsessed with short but brilliant career of supposedly reclusive once-famous musician) unravel their tired relationship, while the life and motivations of the musician himself come into clearer and clearer focus.  Classic Hornby, hearkening back to his first novel High Fidelity - hapless cultural obsessives wondering about their dubious choices and not-always-honorable motivations.  I don't normally have a whole lot of patience to spare for wishy-washy fictional protagonists in contemporary fiction, which is why I don't read a lot of it, and you know, now that I think about it, I'm not sure that there even are any in this novel.  I guess I just really like the characters Hornby creates, consistently, in novel after novel.  They are so far from perfect, perfectionism isn't even on their radar as the possibility of a blip.  Even characters who make terrible choices and exhibit difficult and unlikable behavior somehow become endearing, under his pen (or keyboard, or whatever).  Perhaps because they all doubt themselves so much, about so many things.  And they still usually contain kernels of decency.  Life is messy and fraught (again that word, but really, isn't life just fraught?), but good in spite of that.  His people care, even when they act badly, which is almost all the time.  But they mean well, usually, and they say so.

For example, the female main character in Juliet, Naked writes at one point, after parsing a comment on a blog, written in response to a post of hers (how meta, here I am writing a post about a post and a comment in a novel, while wondering if anyone will comment on my post, ugh, Strunk and White must be cringing somewhere) (p.72):

"She wondered why someone would bother to write that; but then, 'Why bother' was never a question you could ask about more or less anything on the Internet, otherwise the whole bunch of them shriveled to a cotton-candy nothing.  Why had she bothered?  Why does anybody?  She was for bothering, on the whole;  in which case thank you... for your contribution, and thank you, everybody else, on every other website."   

So, from both books:  yes, bother, do what you do and do it well, but perfectionism is for the birds.

A quick aside - weirdly, these books - chosen from a giant windrow of to-be-read stuff - both contain important secondary characters named Farmer John.  I mean, what are the chances? 

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