Monday, January 1, 2018

From January 1 to Middlemarch

As promised, I’m kicking off this year with something that will get me back into two good habits: nightly reading, and semi-regular blogging: Over the course of the first few months of this year, I’ll be reading — and inviting others to read along with me — George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

The inspiration: Every year, I set myself a reading goal. Last year, I hit upon the bright idea of reading 25 books: Two books a month,[1] plus one Big Read that I’d slowly make my way through over the course of the year. Last year, the Big Read was Don Quixote. How do you get through a 1000-page novel? The same way that you write a 1000-page novel: one chapter at a time. So every night, I read one of the book’s eight- to twelve-page chapters, and by the middle of the year, I was done. Don Quixote, by the way, is totally worth the effort, and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I got so much out of this that I decided to try it again, but rather than picking a book at random, I asked friends what they’d recommend for a project like this. There was plenty of Dickens, several recommendations for Kristin Lavransdatter, and one joker even suggested Proust. But in the end, Middlemarch was the clear winner. It was also the most polarizing: while numerous people lauded it to the skies, a small but respectable handful told me that they just couldn’t stand it. And while those negative votes at first pushed me away, in the end they were the reason that I decided that this was a book I needed to read for myself.

So, here’s the plan: starting this week, anyone who wants to reads a chapter a night, six chapters a week. We meet on Mondays to talk about what we’ve read. No spoilers if you’ve read it already!

Finally: if you’re someone who knows something about English lit and wants to talk in the comments here about the context of the novel or its author, have at it in the comments to this post! And watch this space for other random medium-form musings in the year to come.

 [1] Obviously, this doesn't include books I'm just skimming or dipping into for work. If you're curious, the other book I'm reading right now is N.K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky; after that, I'll be rotating in some nonfiction with Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Post-Facts, and Fake News.


Sarah C said...

So my hesitation with Middlemarch (why I wavered on whether to participate and why it wasn't my top recommendation) is that even though I recall reading it during my post-PhD exam period (you know, that time in life when the last thing you want to do is read any more scholarly books and your mind needs a significant rest but your brain is so accustomed to non-stop reading that you don't know what else to do)...I don't recall one single thing about it. Like, zip. I recall other books I read at the time (all the Austen, other Eliots, esp. Adam Bede, which I think I might at this point think is better than Middlemarch)...and films I watched (binge-watching foreign films seemed the right thing to do at the time, given that it combines movies with reading subtitles, and my non-stop-reading-brain felt compelled), but this has left only the sensation that I liked it.

That said, tonight I read the first chapter as instructed, and I'm just hoping that it's not actually about getting the characters married off. I've just had it up to here with the who-marries-whom variety of classic lit. So, here's hoping I remember why I liked it!

Julie said...

I will try to join this challenge. One of my goals for the year is to read more outside of work and when I do classics hardly ever endup on my list. So I will give it a shot :)

Laura said...

This is really just a fly-by comment, as I'm not participating in the readalong and, though I've been following your blog for several years I can't recall that I've ever commented before, but I wanted to point you in the direction of She's an English Lit professor in Canada, a blogger I've been following about as long as I have you, and something of an expert in Middlemarch - there's even a link on her main page to a separate blog dedicated to Middlemarch for book clubs that might be helpful. She seems quite lovely too and might be interested in joining in the discussion.

Historiann said...

Hey--great to see you back to blogging, and this sounds like a lot of fun! I will put this link out on Twitter to try to round up some of the old gang. I'm thinking Flavia, and yes Rohan Maitzen would be game, as well as Susan A. & etc.

Maybe in next Monday's post you could say a little more about Middlemarch and why you chose it for your long read this year: was it an attraction to the author, the characters, the plot? Etc.


What Now? said...

Laura, here's the Middlemarch for Book Clubs website you were talking about:

Looks helpful!

Bruce Venarde said...

My first experience of MM was reading over a long weekend when I was a book behind in a Victorian Novel course and, ugh, this was the one. I maintained the impression it was really good, but it took me ages to get back to it. On second reading -- I don't remember how long that took or when it was- I concluded it was Da Bomb. I put it with the Odyssey and Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina and Tale of Genji. I want to join this project and in four hours I will be three chapters behind!

PhysioProffe said...

I just read the first three chapters! It's very entertaining so far! The dudes are douches! Celia & Dodo are very funny, although Dodo seems totally full of shit.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I am inwardly cringing because I suspect that I have MUCH more Dorothea in me than Celia. Not the religion part. But the rest.

Although I've got nothing against puppies.

PhysioProffe said...

I think of you as more like Celia than Dodo!

nightgigjo said...

I don't know if I can make a chapter a night, but I'll try!

Good Enough Woman said...

Was just thinking of digging into MM...

Unknown said...

I'm a little bit behind in the schedule, but was wondering if anyone else was intrigued by the preface and the references to St. Teresa of Avila. As an early modern Spanish historian, I sure was!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Liz, that one did intrigue me. It also brings up some interesting questions about why the reference would occur to the author -- in other words, why pick a Catholic reference?

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