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Posts Tagged ‘Middlemarch’

book stack late august sunflowers middlemarch
As you know if you follow me on Goodreads (or read my periodic book roundups), I spent a large part of this summer reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for my occasional book club. Though I was put off by its size, I figured it would be easier to tackle with friends, so I checked it out from the library and gave it a shot.

Spoiler alert: I did not love it. But I kept reading, for several reasons.

First of all, accountability is a powerful thing. I’d never read Middlemarch and I wanted to be able to say I’d given it a good effort. I didn’t finish before book club – but I made it to page 650 (out of 800 in the edition I had), so I was satisfied with my effort. (Two other members who attended the meeting didn’t finish either.) I also liked (some of) the characters, especially practical Mary Garth, and I enjoyed Eliot’s pointed, witty narrative asides.

I know several people (including my pen pal Jaclyn) who love this book. And I figured that it’s probably a classic for a reason: I expected I would be glad I’d read it. So I decided to finish it, even after the deadline (my book club meeting) had passed.

As I was finishing up Middlemarch, I faced another bookish dilemma. I review several books each month for Shelf Awareness, and I get to choose which books I review. It means I don’t usually have to finish a book I’m not enjoying – which is my general policy these days. (As Anne says, life’s too short.)

I sent the following email to my editor:

I’m reading the new Isabel Allende novel (The Japanese Lover) and Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. Allende is a widely respected novelist, and I’m sure this book will be hailed as a great effort and as Literature. (I remember enjoying The House of the Spirits.) But I’m not loving it. In fact, I’m liking Andrew’s book a lot better – it’s a clever South African mystery and I really like the narrator.

I know you generally tell us to review what we like – but sometimes I worry about skipping over a Big Book or “literary fiction” in favor of a mystery or something less “highbrow.” My question is: should I make a real effort to review the “big” books even if I don’t really like them, or keep reading/reviewing according to instinct and whim? Is it a problem if the Shelf “skips” some of these books? (Am I even making any sense?)

My editor (God bless her) replied succinctly, “We are better off reviewing really good books, rather than trying to shoehorn a book into a review because of the author’s stature.” (She also suggested passing the Allende on to another reviewer who might like it better.)

I happily put down the Allende after reading her email, and relished that South African mystery. But it reminded me how powerful the “shoulds” are.

We think we “ought” to finish a book because it’s a classic, or because it’s “cheating” not to finish, or because it’s the new Big Book by a popular author. The perceived judgment we might receive if we don’t finish is strong enough to keep a lot of us reading books we don’t enjoy. And sometimes (this is the kicker) it is worth it to persevere.

I’m glad I finished Middlemarch, because it’s a classic I’d been meaning to read for a long time, and I did enjoy it. But I’m also glad I put down The Japanese Lover, because it just wasn’t my thing. Both are equally valid responses to two variations of the same dilemma.

I bet I’m not the only one who struggles with this question. Do you abandon books you’re not enjoying – all the time, sometimes, never? If you’re a sometimes-finisher, like me, how do you decide?

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september books hydrangeas

The Knockoff, Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza
When Glossy magazine editor-in-chief Imogen Tate returns after a six-month leave, she’s horrified to find that her former assistant Eve has taken over and is planning to turn the magazine into an app. A whip-smart, wickedly funny satire of the fashion publishing world and our cultural obsession with digital media. I loved it, and I was rooting for Imogen all the way. Recommended by both Anne and Ann.

Named of the Dragon, Susanna Kearsley
Literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw gladly accepts her favorite client’s invitation to spend Christmas in Wales. Once she arrives, Lyn has a series of strange dreams about a woman imploring her to take care of a young boy being pursued by dragons. An atmospheric novel that weaves together themes of love, grief and Arthurian legend. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Death Wears a Mask, Ashley Weaver
London socialite Amory Ames and her husband Milo attend a masked ball. They’re on the lookout for a jewel thief, but no one expects murder. Amory assists the police in their investigation, while confronting rumors about Milo and a French film star. Witty prose, a well-plotted mystery and a sensitive portrait of a difficult marriage. (I also loved Weaver’s debut, Murder at the Brightwell.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

Kissing in America, Margo Rabb
Since her dad died, Eva Roth has found solace in romance novels, much to the disgust of her feminist mother. When her crush finally notices her, Eva dares to hope for her own romance – but then he moves to California. Eva and her best friend take off on a cross-country road trip filled with wacky experiences and surprising epiphanies about love and grief. This is not a typical YA love story – it’s so much better. Complex, funny and poignant. Recommended by Rebecca on All the Books.

How to Write a Novel, Melanie Sumner
Aristotle Thibodeau, age 12.5, plans to write the Great American Novel (in 30 days!) and thereby solve her family’s financial problems. Her novel is autobiographical, but the characters (single mom, zany little brother, handsome handyman) just won’t behave as Aris  wants them to. Entertaining (though too cutesy at times); full of wry quips (and footnotes) on the writing life. Found at Island Books in Newport, RI.

A Demon Summer, G.M. Malliet
Father Max Tudor is called to a nearby abbey to investigate a suspected poisoning via fruitcake. Soon after he arrives, another abbey guest is found dead in the cloister. This was one of those mystery solutions where two-thirds of the relevant information comes out at the very end, which I always find unsatisfying. (Besides, I like Max’s village and wish he’d get back to solving mysteries there.)

Middlemarch, George Eliot
I read this for my occasional book club‘s August meeting. (Obviously, I did not finish it in time.) I found it quite tedious at times, but witty and full of truth at other times. A mixed bag, but a classic I’m glad I finally read.

Since You’ve Been Gone, Morgan Matson
Emily’s best friend Sloane disappears – with no explanation – right before the summer they’ve been planning. She leaves Emily a list of 13 unusual tasks. With the help of a few new friends, Emily completes the list and discovers a new side of herself. I love Matson’s YA novels (complete with plenty of playlists) and this one was no exception.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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