My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
(Crown / Blackstone Audiobooks, 2014)
Format: audio download via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Kate Reading)
From Goodreads: "Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot s "Middlemarch," regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage, and family, Mead read and reread "Middlemarch."
In this wise and revealing work of biography, reportage, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, "My Life in Middlemarch" takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece: the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of the author herself, "My Life in Middlemarch" is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us."
I first heard about this book via The Toast (which is a place you should never visit unless you like laughing and thinking and getting sucked into the goodness), and participated in a Middlemarch book club there over the past few months. It wasn't my first read of Middlemarch, and as is so often the case with classics I'm revisiting, I chose an audio format - especially since I found one read by the marvelous Kate Reading, who has never steered me wrong. If you're looking at 32 hours of someone telling you about life in a small English town and humanity and emotions and intelligence and insight and love and loss and dreams and the agonizing failure of those dreams to come true, largely through faults of your own that you'd rather not contemplate the existence of, and Kate Reading is one of the options for hearing those superbly-crafted words (y'all should seriously read Middlemarch, it's amazing), pick her.
So when I saw that Kate Reading was narrating Rebecca Mead's book, I jumped in with a request to get it from Audiobook Jukebox. And they sent it to me, and I listened to 9 1/2 hours of Kate Reading bringing me back to Eliot's world, via Mead's smart, incisive prose, and was happy. Reading brings a fullness to the Eliot quotes, and is lively and engaged as she narrates Mead's observations and anecdotes.
I am a book person. This is apparent to every single person who knows me, even a little bit. And much of why books are essential to me is that reading is a way of reflecting on my own life, my thoughts and opinions and dreams. Take any of the fifty books I've read (or listened to) in 2014 so far, and I will tell you something about it that particularly resonated with me - changed the way I thought, or rang an emotional chord, or helped me articulate a formerly inchoate idea.
Mead takes us through those resonances as she reads Middlemarch, and studies Eliot, and re-reads Middlemarch, and tours through the world Eliot inhabited, and re-reads Middlemarch again. Her journeys through Eliot's landscapes and biography of Eliot's life were absorbing and edifying, but what resonated most with me was Mead's tracing of the impact of the text on her through various life phases. What matters when you read Eliot as a schoolgirl is different than what matters when you read her in college, or once you've gone and settled down with a spouse and kids. At least, for me that's true, and for Mead it is, as well. Dorothea's passion, in particular, looked very different to me when I was a younger woman. (Me to Younger Me: "It's not actually all Casaubon's fault, you know. Or even his and Brooke's. Just FYI.")
I love revisiting a book as full of varied, engaging ideas as Middlemarch to see what new things it holds for me, and Mead shows why that revisiting is not only fun, but is also good for the soul. Her life in Middlemarch is a journey I look forward to taking again.