Monday, July 20, 2015

Why read Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth

One can usually tell if a book is a favorite by having multiple copies of it.
The top one has foxed, but it's a beloved copy.
I read The House of Mirth twice using that old edition.
Sometimes, I just wish that I were filthy rich. Wait, who am I kidding? So let me rephrase: All the time, I just wish that I were filthy rich. In life, all you really need is 100 million dollars.

Which is exactly one of the reasons why I love Edith Wharton's novel, The House of Mirth. It's a novel that lets me peek into the world of New York City's old rich at the turn of the century. And the picture it shows isn't pretty. It's a ruthless place to be, in fact. NYC's upper crust society is so exclusive. If there's one word to describe them, it'll have to be anal. Damn tight, these folks are.

There are plenty of reasons to read The House of Mirth. Lily Bart, the main character of the novel, is such a polarizing figure that it's impossible not to have a strong feeling about her. Wharton's novel is basically about Lily Bart and her attempts to penetrate the old rich by marrying someone with money. Calling her an ambitious bitch would be an understatement.

But the novel ended so tragically that it broke my heart when I closed the last page. Lily Bart is all to blame for her fate. Yes, she found herself in a pit of vipers, but there were several instances when she could've had it good. There were lots of "almost" proposals from different men, but somehow, she manages to f--- it up! Oh, Lily Bart! I love you, even though the stars didn't really align for you.

I love The House of Mirth to bits. I love it so much that I even moderated a discussion of the novel for the book club. Needless to say, the discussion made it evident that there were two camps: the pro-Lily and the anti-Lily camps. It was tough staying neutral, being the facilitator. Even though in my mind, I had my hands around the necks of those self-righteous anti-Lily people.

Speaking of book clubs and the wealthy, last weekend afternoon saw the book club at a rather fancy tea place in the metro. We discussed Kevin Kwan's best-selling novel, Crazy Rich Asians. As the novel had crazy rich Singaporeans as characters, Joko, the moderator, opted to hold it at TWG, which is originally a franchise from Singapore.
The obligatory group photo after the discussion
I'm at the far left in the light green shirt.
I specifically asked the person to take the photo from this angle.
At this angle, one always appears thinner.
I'm not big on iced tea, as I always feel a bit bloated after drinking it.
But I was transfixed watching this lady make this fancy shmancy iced tea.
Iced tea at home: instant powder + water. Stir and then add ice.
When we feel a bit more extravagant, we add those cute little umbrellas.
The high tea set, or as would call it—the afternoon tower of carbs
Joko ordered several of these. (Thank you! Mwah!)
Scones, good. Scones + clotted cream + jam, better!
Other tea sets had macarons, which my seatmate and I kept on stealing.
Anyway, back to Kevin Kwan's novel. I did find Crazy Rich Asians entertaining. I didn't think too much of it, as it was just about crazy rich Singaporeans guarding their crazy ass money by keeping their crazy rich families very exclusive. So yes, there's interbreeding. And Kwan certainly knows all the big name fashion designers as there's never a page where a luxury brand isn't mentioned.

I got a bit railed up when somebody mentioned Edith Wharton and Kevin Kwan in the same sentence. Apples and oranges, people! Both novels had rich characters, but the similarities end there. You read The House of Mirth because you want to delve into the characters' minds. You read Crazy Rich Asians for the fluff and the mouth-watering descriptions of Singaporean food.

I would recommend both books though. So you see, I'm not a snob. One you take to the beach, and the other you read before going to bed. Crazy Rich Asians is funny as hell. It's gossipy, biting, and hysterical. I have to hand it to Kevin Kwan; he certainly knows what he's writing about—from the schools, clubs, hawker centers, and fashion boutiques, to Chinese traditions and class systems.
Just your nerdy Asian, playing with the fisheye lens
I recommend Crazy Rich Asians, but with a caveat.
After reading it, you'll realize that you're dirt poor.
And there's a sequel—China Rich Girlfriend. What's with the title?
Do R and I look rich? Well, maybe just crazy.
This was actually taken at a children's party, held just before the discussion.
I remember having 4 glasses of red during the party.
So I might've been a little tipsy during the discussion.
This past week, I discovered the joy of coloring books. I never realized how therapeutic and stress-relieving they are. I believe they're all the rage these days, well at least here in Manila. My only concern is that they're another thing to keep me from reading. But that's a happy problem. I love my happy problems. They make my boring life seem very exciting.
My current coloring book collection, bought from bookstores
For some strange reason, I find myself having 4, even though I just started last week.
R is an enabler. Every time I ask him, "Should I get this?" He always says, "YES!"
So I blame R. But he's très generous. The Art Therapy book came from him.
The first sheet that I finished, yesterday afternoon
Not too happy with what went on with the feet though.
Who has ever seen gray socks? Should've left those areas uncolored.
This came from the Japanese Prints book.
My second, which I did immediately after the Japanese print
I was looking for a P, but alas, there was none. Had to settle for S.
This came from the Typography Colouring Book.
By the way, I was multitasking—watching "Jane the Virgin" while coloring.
Never, ever underestimate the amount of time you plan to spend finishing a plate.
I actually paid attention to the timings. Goodness, 2 hours per plate!
Right now, I use colored pencils, but I'm thinking of getting markers too.
All those sharpening is driving me crazy.
R is so talented. He's a graphic artist by profession.
So all these are, like, peanuts to him.
He helped me out by rendering flesh tones to the skin areas.
By the way, I lost those blue glasses during the discussion.


Monique said...

I'm not a tea drinker (I'm more of a coffee person) but I love TWG because of the food and of course, the macarons. <3 Is Crazy Rich Asians non-fiction?

Peter S. said...

Hello, Monique! It's a novel, and it's a very funny one. I liked it!

Lynai said...

House of Mirth, noted. Also, Crazy Rich Asians, but semi-noted only hihi. :)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Lynai! Woot! I hope you enjoy The House of Mirth as much as I did.