Book Chat May 2015

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The bulk of my reading time the past couple of months has been the classic Middlemarch. I try to read a lot of classics. Because — I figure, they’re classics for a reason. Books don’t survive for hundreds of years if there’s not something special about them. Middlemarch was described as ‘one of the few English books written for grown-up people’ by Virginia Woolf. Additionally, I loved The Mill on the Floss, also by Eliot.

So, what can I say in trying to sum up a 900 page book? There is, obviously, a lot going on. The book takes you into the lives of many of the residents of the village of Middlemarch. You meet young and old, and get involved in romances, politics, and a whole lot of daily life. There are occasional wise nuggets:

  • We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinnertime; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts — not to hurt others.
  • It was said of him, that Lydgate could do anything he liked, but he had certainly not yet liked to do anything remarkable.
  • We begin by knowing little and believing much, and we sometimes end by inverting the quantities.
  • The wit of a family is usually best received among strangers.
  • If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new.
  • The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

But there is a lot of daily life. A LOT. And much of it is told in sentences like this: “Since, thus, the prevision of his own unending bliss could not nullify the bitter savors of irritated jealousy and vindictiveness, it is the less surprising that the probability of a transient earthly bliss for other persons, when he himself should have entered into glory, had not a potently sweetening effect.” Yeah. I read it a couple of times too, and still am not quite sure it’s worth my effort to try yet another time to decipher it.

All in all, I would not list Middlemarch as among my favorite reads. I rank it similarly to Great Expectations — another classic which underwhelmed me. MM seems to me to have a lot in common with Pride and Prejudice — lots of talk about societal norms, marriages, relationships, etc. It just seemed that not enough happened to justify its huge length. It amazes me that Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss were written by the same author, as they had such different tones.

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life

Since I was reading Middlemarch, My Life in Middlemarch was a perfect complement. It is written by Rebecca Mead, who (unlike me) has always loved Middlemarch. She wrote this book as a consequence. It’s part Cliffs Notes analyzing the book, part biography of MM author George Eliot, and part (very small part) memoir of Mead.

It was interesting to read this book while reading Middlemarch; kind of like having a good friend to talk with about a book we’re both reading at the same time (it’s just a shame I wasn’t more enthralled with Middlemarch).

Notes I made:

  • George Eliot’s real name was Marian Evans; George Eliot was her pen name (inspired by George Lewes, with whom she lived for decades — yes, that’s another story; he was unable to get divorced from his unfortunate first marriage). “Eliot” is for “to ‘L’ (Lewes) ‘I’ ‘O’ (owe).
  • Eliot was interested in the issue of a woman’s desire for a substantial, rewarding, meaningful life: “How on earth might one contain one’s intolerable, overpowering, private yearnings? Where is a woman to put her energies? How is she to express her longings? What can she do to exercise her potential and affect the lives of others? What, in the end, is a young woman to do with herself?” Boy, can I relate to this. I remember, even as a child, becoming so interesting in something (even something as mundane as atolls), and wanting to … to .. do something about them!
  • Eliot was a precocious child: “Her schoolfellows loved her as much as they could venture to love one whom they felt to be so immeasurably superior to themselves.”
  • I was sad to read that Eliot became an agnostic as a young person. She still went to church with her father to please him, but she didn’t believe. As she grew up, she began hanging with a group of liberal progressive artist-types.
  • It was interesting to read about various people in Eliot’s life who were most likely models for various characters in Middlemarch.
  • The theme of Middlemarch, according to Mead: “This notion — that we each have our own center of gravity, but must come to discover that others weigh the world differently than we do — is one that is constantly repeated in the book. The necessity of growing out of such self-centeredness is the theme of Middlemarch.
  • Eliot writes in a letter, “I of course am still anxious, as I always am when any work is not safely finished.” I can relate — when I am writing a book, I just feel … antsy while I am. Finishing it is a huge relief.
  • Novelist Henry James was not the biggest fan of Middlemarch, calling it “a treasure-house of details” with “an indifferent whole.” I’d have to agree.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy of My Life in Middlemarch.

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pr

And now, for something a bit different: “Princess Grace Sticker and Activity Book” (thanks to BookLook for a review copy).

Little girls (generally) love princesses, and I’ll bet they all love stickers. This activity book includes both, and at an under-$4-price, is a great treat for your favorite girl 4-8. It includes 50 stickers, and 6 of these have specific spots designated for them in the book. The rest can be used in artwork, just for fun. There are also pictures to color, very simple counting pages, dot-to-dot, word searches, and more. The paper is high quality and shiny (although I’m thinking crayons would still color on it), and there are small bits of text, with a Christian theme: “Dear God, please help us find Poppy.”

**Check out what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books and Modern Mrs. Darcy.

 

7 thoughts on “Book Chat May 2015

  1. Hmmm. I’ve wanted to read Middlemarch but now I am not so sure. 🙂 Not this year, anyway – War and Peace was my big book of the year. I really enjoyed Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and wanted to read another of hers some time. My Life in Middlemarch sounds like a great companion to the book.

  2. I’ve had a copy of Middlemarch for years but haven’t gotten past the first page yet. Some day, I’m sure I will. I’m on Gene Stratton Porter for MY classic right now….
    The sticker book sounds fun.

  3. I think the sticker book would be a fun gift to give to a child. I’ll pass on the other two books.

  4. I am in the middle of reading Childhood’s End. I read they were making it into a limited run series on the SyFy channel and thought I’d better read it so I knew the *real* story. Interesting to me how much fiction writing styles have changed over the decades. As a writer, I’d never get away with half the stuff Arthur C. Clarke was allowed to do in his book.

    Interesting so far. I’m about 1/5 of the way in.

  5. The sticker book does look fun. I have a couple sticker books but no Christian ones. I’ve only read Eliot’s Silas Marner. I’ll have to tackle Middlemarch someday.

  6. I remember reading Middlemarch in college, and I have to confess, I loved it. If I remember correctly, it was heartbreaking on so many levels. I suspect her agnosticism had a great deal to do with it. Silas Marner is languishing on a shelf somewhere around here…

  7. I read Middlemarch and My Life in Middlemarch as my yearly Big Read in January and I do admit that absolutely loved the former. I was swept away by Dorothea’s storyline, mostly. My Life in Middlemarch was a neat complement, for sure. I thought the exploration of Eliot’s abandonment of her childhood faith illuminated her characters and explained a lot of her “nuggets.”

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