Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Middlemarch, and a distinct lack of presence.

“When I want to be busy with book, I am often playing truant among my thoughts.”
~ Dorothea, in George Eliot's Middlemarch.

Appropriate, that, from a book in which I was barely present for the majority of it. It has to be said, reading it was an utter disaster. Did I hate it, was I bored? No. I read it wrong.

I think, sometimes, a book can simply be read badly. Sometimes, the writer fails to engage you, sometimes the characters fail to interest you, sometimes the plots fail to grab you, but sometimes, sometimes, you fail the book. Everything is there waiting for you, and you just mess it up. And that is what I did with George Eliot's Middlemarch.

I don't like hating someone's favourite book, but on the occasions that I do, I will write about it. It is my reading journal after all. But this post? I nearly didn't write it. I finished Middlemarch a few days ago, and I was prepared to gloss over it. But no. I will tell you honestly what went wrong, or rather how I went wrong.

I can't read slowly, for a start. I like to lose myself in a book. I like to live it. For me, that does not involve putting it down much! Reading it as I intended: reading it as published, at the rate of one book a month, was too slow. Between reading the first part in early January, then picking it up with the intention of finishing it at my own pace, I have read over thirty other books. I simply could not remember what happened, and as I wasn't terribly fond of it to begin with, and given that I very rarely re-read, I was unwilling to start it again. I should have. It was like beginning a book two hundred pages in and going on from there.

I have began a book disliking it, then grown to love it. The best example right now is Les Misérables. I read the first chapter and did not care for it in the slightest. But, somehow, it got better. I have loved reading it, and I can't wait for spring where I intend to just read. No plans of attack, just sit down and read it at my own pace, take it in, and love it. Reading a chunkster slowly doesn't work for me. Even with Tom Jones, which I, on the whole loved, I had the feeling of, "Oh, you again" when I picked it up. This is perhaps my failing as a reader: my lack of patience.

So I picked up Middlemarch and was at a loss, but I kept going. My eyes saw every word, but my mind didn't. I found myself thinking of other books, or mundane, day to day things like what time I was going to make the tea? Are there shirts to iron? What time are we going out? And I would look at the page number and see I'd gone through ten pages.

And this is not the fault of George Eliot: this one, I have to say, was on my head. And it's a shame. I may re-read it in the future, perhaps, and I am eager not to make the same mistakes with The Mill on the Floss, which I am planning on reading within the next month.

So, sometimes, not often, but sometimes, it's not the book that fails me: sometimes I fail the book.

11 comments:

  1. I often feel that way, though I usually say that I wasn't ready for that text at that time. There have been books that I adore which I hated at first, or which required 2 (or more) attempts to get through. Sometimes my mind just isn't present in the story and what the author is trying to say. I find this really frustrating at times, though setting things aside until I feel ready to concentrate on a particular book has occasionally made all the difference for me.

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  2. "My eyes saw every word, but my mind didn't." That is a very good description. Happens to me sometimes too, and I just hate it. Sometimes I have the attention span of a gnat; usually when I've just been too busy and my mind doesn't want to slow down. I should know better than to try and read when I'm in that state.

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  3. I feel you. If I set a book down for too long, I have no interest in picking it back up, even if I did like it. This is why I usually try and plow through chunksters.

    And I think The Mill on the Floss is WAY better than Middlemarch, so I hope you like it more. :)

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  4. I loved this post! This has definitely happened to me in the past, and I'm sure it will happen in the future too. I've gotten better at abandoning books that I can tell are objectively good but just not right for me at the moment; I tell myself I can always revisit them later. But it's still difficult, and sometimes I press on, much to my disadvantage.

    Also, I'm awful at spreading books out too! Every time I try to join a read-a-long, I either end up reading ahead and finishing way early or losing interest and not finishing at all. This year I'm doing Terri's read-a-long of Clarissa; we'll see if it'll break the pattern. :)

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  5. I love that: sometimes I fail the book. I am just realizing (stupidly probably!) that the book never changes; it's just my perspective as I enter it.

    Middlemarch might be one that's better for you in a decade -- or never. One can hardly call you a bad reader, so I say it's George Eliot's fault. :)

    I'm currently reading it and loving it, but there have definitely been books that just didn't click for me. Sometimes I ended up liking them later, sometimes not.

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  6. "My eyes saw every word, but my mind didn't."

    I do this too, much too often, even with books I enjoy. It's part of what makes me think I'm a "bad" reader: I see myself as failing books more often than I'd like. I suppose we just have to keep pressing on as readers, always trying to grow so that we learn how not to fail.

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  7. I've been there. There are books that I know, rationally, are good, but I tackled them at the wrong time and couldn't bring myself to care about them. It happened with the first few chapters of Crime and Punishment- I could see how I would normally lose myself in it, how it'd affect me, but it wasn't until I put it down and decided 'okay, I'll wait a few days and start it over' that I truly felt for it. It also happened with Madame Bovary and King Lear. I have to reread them, because I didn't give them an honest chance to flow.
    I hope you enjoy The Mill on the Floss more :) And maybe someday you'll give Middlemarch again and it'll be the right time for the two of you.

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  8. I'm on the same page with you here. I'm a very impatient reader, and I always read fast. I didn't love Middlemarch either, and I think it also may have been because I read through it too quickly. I couldn't help it though. Sometimes a book encourages me to to read it a bit more slowly because I find it so beautiful and engaging and worth thinking through. Middlemarch didn't do that for me.

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  9. Middlemarch requires a very intense, attentive kind of concentration, like Eliot novels in general. It needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully. Eliot's prose does not lend itself to a quick reading pace. I suggest reading it aloud. That's what I did.

    Best,
    Danny

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  10. Danny - good advice. I want to start Mill on the Floss soon, so I shall try that, thank you :)

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  11. If you haven't already, do read Daniel Deronda. I'm currently reading it, and find it to be her most interesting novel by far (although, I haven't read Felix Holt or Romola or Adam Bede).

    Mill on the Floss is a much less demanding read than Middlemarch--simply because its scope is much smaller. It only has one central character (which is, btw, very much modeled after Eliot herself when she was a child.)

    Best,
    Danny

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