It’s two months now since I decided to stop buying new books until my To Be Read collection got down to a manageable level. So far I’ve succumbed just the once. I even managed to walk into a book shop last weekend and out again without giving way, despite the many enticing offers on the table. I did pick up three books from the sales table in the local library and was on my way to the counter when the inner voice told me that actually none of them were that interesting. Back they went.
So the bookshelves are slowly getting slimmed down. What’s putting on weight is the list I keep of books to read in the future because of course, I might have stopped buying for a while, but authors haven’t given up writing and publishers haven’t sent their presses for a holiday just so I can catch up. It would help for sure if I didn’t read book reviews in the weekend newspaper arts sections or the newsfeeds from book blogs I follow or the publishers’ e-newsletters to which I subscribe. But then I’d feel I was really missing out wouldn’t I?
Off the scores of books I’ve added to my wish list in the last couple of weeks, the one I’m looking forward to most is The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot by Rebecca Mead.
Mead, a writer for the New Yorker, has read Middlemarch multiple times at different points in her life, each reading casting new light on the book that Virginia Woolf considered ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’. Reading it as an eighteen year old, Mead saw mostly the romance theme, empathising with the heroine Dorothea Brookes, and despising her husband Casaubon. Reading the novel later as an adult, she felt a greater sense of kinship and empathy for this “sad, proud, desiccated man'”. The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot mixes close readings of the text with Mead’s responses from her different readings with biographical insight about Eliot herself drawn from letters, diaries and notebooks.
Middlemarch is one of my three favourite novels of all time. It wasn’t always that way – in fact the first time I read it was as part of an undergraduate course and I just couldn’t wait to get to the end. Luckily a friend persuaded me a few years later to give it another go. The light bulb went on and has never gone off since that time. Just like Mead, the more times I read it, the more nuances and interpretations I discovered and the more clearly I saw how Eliot’s humanist and scientific ideologies were woven into the novel. If ever I was stuck on a desert island and had only one novel available, this would be the one.
I’m not sure how long I can hold out before adding Mead’s book to my shelves.