America is Reading


About two years ago I vowed to expand my summer reading list to books that were written after the turn of the century….and by that I meant post-1900, not 2000.  Each summer I would immerse (or re-immerse) myself in Jane Austin, James Cooper, George Elliott, Henry James, Edith Wharton….you get the picture.  One course of action I took in this endeavor was to join my neighborhood book discussion group, which over the last two years has brought me to Unbroken by Hillebrand, Cutting for Stone by Verghese, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Hadden, and All the Light We Cannot See by Doerr….all great reads. However, it was when I most recently  finished The Girl on the Train by Hawkins that I suffered a relapse, retreating to those familiar bookshelves in my public library , and ten minutes later sprinting for my car to get home quick  and start Middlemarch.

Around 1870, George Elliot began to write her novel of 800 + pages, which deals with the provincial  town of Middlemarch in England around1832.  I had read elsewhere that James Joyce refers to Elliott’s Middlemarch as the most intelligent novel ever written in English, and after The Girl on the Train, which appears to have been written with a crayon, I was desperate for an intelligent novel.  I decided to do a slow and deliberate read, as the last time I tackled Middlemarch I was an undergraduate studying English Literature at the University of London, and there were MANY distractions…… leaving all assigned reading to be a quick read. But with far less distractions in my sixties,  I worked out that if I read 25 pages a day, I would have it done by the end of June.

Reading 25 pages of the most intelligent novel ever written takes about 40 minutes. This is because Mary Anne Evans (her pen name was George Elliott)   wrote like this:

I am sorry to add that she (Dorothea/her main character) was sobbing bitterly, with such abandonment to this relief of an oppressed heart as a woman habitually controlled by pride on her own account and thoughtfulness for others will sometimes allow herself when she feels securely alone. Yet Dorothea had no distinctly shapen grievance that she could state even to herself, and in the midst of her confused thought and passion, the mental act that was struggling forth into clearness was a self-accusing cry that her feeling of desolation was the fault of her own spiritual poverty.

That is two sentences, each one being about 50 words. So, yeah, of course 25 pages of this takes 40 minutes to read…and I am loving each and every minute of it.  You may be calling me a hopeless nerd right now, but read on.

A friend with whom I shared my plan for June reading informed me that the average American spends 40 minutes a day reading Facebook feeds.  So I take this to mean that I am not such a nerd, as I have these 40 minutes of reading each day in common with Facebook readers, for as I sit down each  summer’s afternoon around five to see what  the folks in Middlemarch are up to, my fellow Americans are catching up on their own Middlemarches in their Facebook feeds.

At the end of the day at least I can say  – America is reading.


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