We here at The Toast are delighted and excited to formally announce our first* big communal book-reading exercise, which will be challenging and fun and gripping and life-affirming and a wonderful bonding experience for us all.
We are going to be reading TWO books together: George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Rebecca Mead’s not-yet-on-shelves My Life in Middlemarch, which is one of the best things I’ve ever read about the reading life, being a woman, maturity, and love. No big deal. It only brought me to tears on a transatlantic flight.
If you’re not familiar with Rebecca Mead’s work, The New Yorker very graciously acquiesed to our request to un-paywall the article which eventually gave birth to the book we will be enjoying together, and I encourage you to start there.
Virginia Woolf once called Middlemarch “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” and it’s easy to see why the characterization has stuck. It’s a great big book in which the most substantial of themes—love, marriage, ambition, hope, duty, limitation, resignation, and loss—are embedded in a narrative that is filled with drama, humor, and pathos, and is rich in sympathetic insight and wisdom. I first read the novel—and fell in love with it—when I was seventeen years old, and have gone back to it every five years or so since, my emotional response to it evolving with each revisiting. In My Life in Middlemarch I’ve explored George Eliot’s life story, and described how she came to write the novel; I’ve examined its characters and themes; and I’ve revisited sites and inspirations of George Eliot’s own life. But the book is also about my experience of growing up with Middlemarch: what I have learned from it, how it has changed me, and how it still speaks to me. My Life in Middlemarch is about how a great novel seems to read us, just as much as we read it.
You don’t need to have read Middlemarch in order to read my book—though I hope that my book will make readers who haven’t yet tried Middlemarch eager to get to know this greatest of novels for themselves. But I do think (this is an exaggeration, but barely) that you need to have read Middlemarch to be a fully realized human being. And what could be a better way to read, or re-read, Middlemarch than in the excellent, intelligent company of the readers of The Toast? I’m very eager to see what you make of it, and thrilled at the thought of new readers discovering the glory of George Eliot’s masterpiece for themselves.
I’m so excited I can barely handle it. Now, here’s how this is going to work.
We will be starting with Middlemarch, and giving ourselves until after Christmas to finish it. It’s a long-ass book, and it divides beautifully into manageable chunks, and it’s available for free online in a variety of formats, and also on Amazon and Indiebound if you want to pay money for it. We’ll do a discussion after we finish each chunk: the first discussion is to be held on December 2nd, and will cover up to the end of Chapter 12. As you’re reading, shoot me questions or ideas you’d like us to specifically discuss (nicole at the hyphen toast dot net), and Mead will weigh in as well.
After My Life in Middlemarch drops, we’ll have some giveaways, we’ll discuss, we’ll revel, and in the spring Rebecca Mead and I will be hosting an awesome event at The Strand so NYC-based Toasties and well-wishers can talk about it in person to our heart’s content.
If I seem excessively amped-up about this, it’s because of how much I loved this book. Reading it was like being transported back to the most perfect, immersive experience of reading one can remember, and I think it will be a privilege and a delight to read and think deeply about two wonderful, wonderful books.
Start your engines, and begin reading Middlemarch.
*Not a diss on our more niche-y Emily Books Book Club.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.