In which Middlemarch amazes me

Middlemarch by George Eliot

3 words: lyrical, character-focused, absorbing

Middlemarch. I still can’t believe how much I love this book. And as the weeks go by, I continue to ponder it and feel enriched by having read it.

Part of me wishes I’d read it earlier in life, because one of the things I hear over and over is that readers who return to this book find themselves observing the characters differently as their own circumstances and life experiences change. I love that this book is bountiful enough to offer that kind of reading. I’ll have to begin my re-reading experience closer to midlife… and I’m OK with that. But it would’ve been more rewarding to have had a younger person’s take on it.

Here are the aspects I loved most…

The characters

While Dorothea Brooke could be considered the main character, the other characters — so beautifully drawn, so complex and vivid, so imperfectly human — are vitally important to every aspect of the story.

Eliot lovingly crafted not only a rich and nuanced story, but also a cast of individuals who are realistic enough that I feel like I could carry on a conversation with them. I feel like we go way back.

And the characters and the situations they face are real and painful and joyful and strange and uncomfortable and comforting and loving and harsh.

There are young people doing foolish things, and older people, too. And young couples figuring out the world and older couples who are happy. And others who are not. And the small details of their interactions make them abundantly real. I feel like this book could be read as profiles of four married couples. I didn’t expect the wisdom that emerges from the way the people of this book relate to one another. But it’s the greatest gift this book gave me.

The narrator

Another surprise: the narrative voice was fascinating. An omniscient narrator comments on the actions and secret motivations of the characters, and the warm wisdom of that voice was comforting and delightful and unexpected. It seemed a very modern way of telling the story.

The language

Classics can kinda scare me, because dense prose can be tiresome. But this book wasn’t scary and wasn’t hard to read. It wasn’t dense or burdensome. While Eliot is fond of the Very Long Sentence (some of them went on for a full paragraph), she knows how to string together words in a very pleasing way. I found that I needed to slow down my reading a bit and just enjoy the words. The reading wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t fast. It felt like a comfortable stroll through a beautiful garden — not hurried, and so much to claim one’s attention and to delight.

Now I want more

I found myself wanting to talk with readers who are set just like me, and ask them to give me another classic that’s this wise and warm and absorbing and delightful.

Give this book a whirl if you like… a big, absorbing story; classics; reading about a village; nuanced character portraits so detailed you’d recognize the characters if you met them; fiction that inspires the reader to examine her own life


So, my fellow readers… what classic novel is your favorite, and why should it be my next big read?

What I’ve Been Reading: February 2019

February was a wonderful reading month — with plenty of snowstorms and polar vortex action and gusting winds to make it extra cozy.

My reading this month was a mix of book club assignments, recommendations from other readers, an Audie Award nominee, and the long overdue reading of a classic. We have a fine blend of nonfiction and various fiction genres to tempt any appetite…

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

3 words: lively, heroic, crisp

Give this book a whirl if you like… space; tales of heroic daring; the behind-the-scenes story; the full team (including wives and families) that made Apollo 8 possible, getting to know the people behind the myth

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

3 words: profound, measured, philosophical

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of survivors, the power of the mind, Holocaust narratives, encouragement through difficult times

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

3 words: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Give this book a whirl if you like…  a mix of suspense, family drama, and grim humor; a highly responsible character trapped in terrible circumstances by the acts of a loved one; tension between integrity and family loyalty

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

3 words: creative, poignant, whimsical

Give this book a whirl if you like… inventive style, quirky bite-sized anecdotes, delight in daily life, clever writing

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

3 words: irreverent, conversational, humorous

Give this book a whirl if you like…TV stars being real people, humorous memoirs, stories of couples, celebrity memoirs

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

3 words: gripping, disturbing, journalistic

Give this book a whirl if you like… true stories of audacious deception, How’d she get away with it?, true stories that seem too strange to be real, reading about white collar crime, Silicon Valley start-ups, being infuriated

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

3 words: lyrical, multi-generational, quirky

Give this book a whirl if you like… quirky historical fiction, a big cast of eccentric but believable characters, bowling, independent women, family sagas, a wee touch of magic, a big story to fall into

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

3 words: warm, charming, offbeat

Give this book a whirl if you like… the revelation of family secrets; smart romantic comedies; unusual but believable characters; unintended consequences

And that was my February.

What were your favorite reads of the past month?

Books I Can’t Wait to Read: Early 2019

Anyone else haunt their library holds list?

I revisit mine like a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalog (they don’t print those anymore, do they?) to eye all the lovely things she craves.

Though, admittedly, by the time I was in 3rd grade, all I craved were books.

Here are the highlights on my library holds list at the moment…

What books are you aching to read this spring?

2018: Year in Review

2018… you’ve been completely exhilarating. And completely exhausting.

While my 2018 reading stats are none too impressive, I accomplished all of my 18 for 2018 goals.

And I’m feeling good about that, especially since we accomplished so many other big things that weren’t on the list.

We did some big vacation-y things with our sisters in the first half of the year.

Then there was some mildly unpleasant medical stuff (not part of the plan), which resolved itself well — but still, not fun.

And then we threw ourselves into the search for a home.

And preparing two houses for sale.

And the selling of two houses.

And the setting up of a household together.

And ten zillion little things, like replacing the food processor after both of ours broke at the same time. (For real.)

When I look at the to-do lists we conquered, I’m stunned that we’re still standing. It’s exhausting just to contemplate.

What I learned re-learned: one step at a time. Just focus on the next small act. It’s all we can handle, and it eventually gets the job done. So simple, so comforting, so true.

And now… here we are, and we have a harmonious household and a house we’d choose again & again & again. It’s a good place to sit and contemplate all we’ve managed to accomplish in the past six months. (Though it’s best not to contemplate it too much, cuz we both end up with stunned looks on our faces merely recalling all the work that went into it.)

And now we’ve decorated our new house for the holidays, and it’s so lovely I can hardly stand it. This place is some serious cozy. And we get to live in here. It’s good, my friends.

I wish you all a very happy New Year!

Shelfies: Children’s Literature

Today we conclude our tour of the Unruly Library with the little bookcase from my childhood nursery.

My mom must’ve known she had a little reader on the way, because she made sure there was a bookcase by my bed from the very beginning. (And she read aloud to me in the womb, which we both have always believed contributed enormously to how I turned out.)

Because it feels right, my children’s books—the ones that have survived year after year of librarian-like weeding cycles—are shelved in my childhood bookcase.

Here’s a list of the authors who dominate my childhood bookshelves, listed in the order in which I read them…

  • Beverly Cleary
  • Lois Lowry
  • Louise Fitzhugh
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Gordon Korman
  • Paula Danziger
  • Jean Webster

And then we have a handful of mass market paperbacks from my high school years, when I read everything by Richard Bach and Catherine Marshall.

But my favorite book on the shelf is the most re-read book of my entire life: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I finally bought a hardcover, because my paperback literally fell apart.

This bookcase just makes me happy.

What are the most-loved books of your childhood?