Just like actual real life, as opposed to an idealized real life, my reading life does not always fall into planned order. Just like an irked and irksome child, it just won't listen.
By now, I had planned to write a diary about The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's third novel that has captured the imagination of many and has been on both the bestseller lists and best-of lists for 2012.
I have been reading it since November. I've still got more than 200 pages to go. It's not because I don't like the book; I find it fascinating. But it's not been a book I want to inhale. I want to let the various sections sink in after they've been encountered.
While ideas about those sections have been simmering in a big pot on the back burner of my imagination, the front burner has been occupied with Rebecca Mead's new book, My Life in Middlemarch.
The New Yorker writer chronicles her lifelong love affair with George Eliot's big, beautiful, devastating novel. Mead notes not only how different times in her life have affected her reading of the book, she also writes about parts of Eliot's life, craft and her times.
In one section, Mead writes that initial readers of Middlemarch did not expect what happened. They expected Dorothea Brooke to be the heroine and the point-of-view character throughout the novel. But that's not Middlemarch. We not only see marriage, for example, through Dorothea's newly disillusioned eyes, we also see its horror from the perspective of her husband, Casaubon. We are told that having Dorothea does not enrich his life but constricts it. And there are two other marriages as important to what Eliot wants to convey as that of Dorothea and Casaubon.
Middlemarch's contemporary readers did not expect that certain characters will end up with the ones they do -- they expected different outcomes. They also did not expect that the focus would leave Dorothea, yet that's what happens. Miss Brooke originally was a different story, and not part of Midddlemarch at all.
Why did Eliot make those decisions? What did she decide to emphasize what she did and not meet general expectations? I know I expected the same as those early readers did, and it was confounding.
I'm seeing the same with the reactions of some readers to The Goldfinch. Why does Theo, the main character, sometimes have the fortitude to do what he needs to save himself, and yet so often is abjectly hapless, lost in his pills and booze? There are several other events that lead to the questions of huh? How or why did that happen?
As I'm thinking through these ideas as they apply to what I've already read in The Goldfinch and wait to see how they will apply to the rest of the novel, I realized that is exactly what happened when I first read Middlemarch and other novels that I've returned to read again.
The plot is often just the roadmap. But the more important parts are what happen, what we see, as we go through that journey of reading.
Eliot touched on this idea in one of her essays, The Natural History of German Life. Mead quotes it in My Life in Middlemarch:
The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies. ... Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellowmen beyond the bounds of our personal lot.So I shall wait to see what Tartt had in mind in The Goldfinch and look forward to reading Middlemarch again to see what their creators had in mind. I owe it to them to extend my sympathy to see what experiences they amplified and what it tells us about the human condition and thus about myself.
Eliot is explicit in her aim. Again, Mead notes words from the Middlemarch author when, in writing to her publisher John Blackwood, she states:
My stories always grow out of my psychological conception of the dramatis personae. My artistic bent is directed not at all to the presentation of eminently irreproachable characters, but to the presentation of mixed human beings in such a way as to call forth tolerant judgment, pity, and sympathy.As Mead notes, when Eliot and her contemporaries used the word "sympathy", they're using it in the way we usually use "empathy" today, the ability to generate fellow feeling for our fellow beings. To be able to use this ability, to see the world from a perspective not my own, has led me to consider more fully my own perspective and to clarify it. It's the "only connect" from Forster yet again, the "no man is an island" from Donne.
It's not only a way in which I try to make better sense of the world, it's a way in which I try to make my own world a more habitable place. It's not an idealized life I lead, but it is one in which I am learning to delve into more fully and appreciate more deeply every day.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|2:00 PM||What's on Your E-Reader?||Caedy|
|2:00 PM||Bibliophile's Wish List||Caedy|
|4:00 PM||Political Books||Susan from 29|
|Sun||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||michelewln, Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|TUES||5:00 PM||Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left||bigjacbigjacbigjac|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||All Things Bookstore||Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||8:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||2:00 PM||e-books||Susan from 29|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|Thu (first each month)||11:00 AM||Monthly Bookpost||AdmiralNaismith|
|alternate Thursdays (on hiatus)||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|alternate Fridays||8:00 PM||Books Go Boom!||Brecht|
|Fri||10:00 PM||Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable||shortfinals|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||12:00 PM||You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews||pwoodford|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|