I spent last weekend in Jackson, Wyoming, for the annual Wyoming Arts Conference. There’s something terribly intimidating about attending a conference in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, which are visible from most parts of town. Right now, with the aspens all bright gold and the foothills and fields still their muddy Wyoming green-brown, the mountains don’t look real. They are, of course, quite real–perhaps more real still because they were forbidden while I was there, the National Parks closed because of the government shut-down.
I wasn’t sure what I expected in terms of what that would look like; I didn’t expect white-and-orange striped sawhorses with stapled-on laminated signs barring entrance to half a dozen small side roads. I wonder what percentage of people I passed were stymied vacationers, how many of them were supposed to be hiking in Yellowstone right then, but if that was the case, it’s not very apparent. Everything seemed to be business as usual, which includes a lot of people drifting here and there in search of a fresh coffee, which I did, too, between sessions. Downtown Jackson has a lot of good options for good coffee, and good food, and I took shameless advantage of that.
I didn’t take advantage of the chance to take pictures while I was driving in, though, and I’m kicking myself because the drive home was done under a shroud of squalling snow, all the way from Jackson to Casper, and the trees were a sad, smeary mustard color, and the Tetons had simply disappeared from view.
But having a hotel room to myself and a dislike for television and not much access to my usual evening inundation of sports meant the opportunity to actually do some more reading, which means, right now, Middlemarch.
It’s on the list of Books I Am Ashamed At Having Not Read Before As An English Major, and it’s so much a winter book, the kind for reading inside a blanket, and not simply because of the weather: if I’m wrapped in a blanket, or actually bundled up in bed, I’m not doing anything else. I don’t have my laptop or my phone near. I’m reading. A book like Middlemarch requires full attention, and not simply because there are a fair lot of characters with not-so-dissimilar-names whose relationships hinge on a word or gesture in that incredibly nineteenth century way. Rather, Middlemarch demands and commands that attention because I want to pay attention at the smallest point of the sentence.
George Eliot is funny. I mean, honestly:
She pinched Celia’s chin, being in the mood now to think her very winning and lovely–fit hereafter to be an eternal cherub, and if it were not doctrinally wrong to say so, hardly more in need of salvation than a squirrel.
I do, of course, have to reserve judgement on the whole–I’m not that deep into the book, and the fact that it requires all of my attention means that I don’t pick it up as often as I would like. But it’s good to have that reminder: I can’t skip on to the page’s end. I find myself doing that too often when I read, impatient and diving ahead for full paragraphs, only to remember–obviously–that I needed the middle of the page, and going back.
This book reminds me of some of the best parts of my graduate school experience, the dense and self-aware arc of the evolution of the novel. I loved those books. (I also hated them a little, but that’s part of graduate school.) And this one, because I’m reading it for fun, I can simply enjoy.
(Which is good because there’s still a lot of book left.)