'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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February 7, 2014

Plans for the weekend


 
 
 
Nearly thirty years later, I found myself in a marble corridor of the New York Public Library, pressing a buzzer to get into the rare books collection. I moved to New York when I was twenty-one, just after graduating from college, where I had spent countless hours in libraries. As a student, I had installed myself for long days of study at an oak desk piled high with books of poetry,  novels,, and critical texts, my pages of handwritten notes illuminated by a window set with stained glass. The library had been a place for studying, but it had also been a place for everything else:  seeing friends, watching strangers, flirting and falling in love. Life happened in the library.
      I didn't go to libraries so much anymore. I'd become a journalist, so rather than immersing myself in books I tended to consult them fleetingly, then shelve them. I read much less for pleasure than I liked, and my grasp on literature -- the field in which I'd sought to distinguish myself at seventeen -- grew a little shakier every year, like a foreign language I didn't have sufficient opportunity to speak.

from My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead

A much-younger colleague looked at me a little pityingly yesterday when she asked if I had any special plans for this weekend, and I said I didn't.  Of course, I wanted to say 'You don't understand! I LOVE when that happens!'  Of course, I didn't.

Of course, I also didn't tell her that while I was eating lunch at my desk today I clicked over to the library's ebook collection (it's a little more hot-or-miss than impulse buying on Amazon, but not as expensive... ) and there this was.  I'm about 82nd in line for it at the library, and I think it was brand new on Overdrive and no one had seen it there yet.  Special plans for the weekend?  Of course. :)

      Middlemarch was one book I had never stopped reading, despite all the distractions of a busy working life. ... The novel opened up to me further every time I went back to it; and by my early forties it had come to have yet another resonance. In a far from singular crisis, I had recently become consumed by a sense of doors closing behind me, alternative lives unlived:  work I might have done, places I might have moved to, men I might have married, children I might have borne.  In this light, I book that seemed to be all about the hopes and desires of youth now seemed to offer a melancholy dissection of the resignations that attend middle age, the paths untrodden and the choices unmade.
      So why was I back in the library?  It was, I suppose, in a bid to become less melancholy, a little less resigned. ...I was growing restless, and I felt ready to turn my deep attention to something that mattered to me. ... I wanted to go back to being a reader.

{the painting, by Carl Vilhelm Holsoe, found here}

5 comments:

Lisa said...

It was an article that she wrote for The New Yorker about George Eliot that really motivated me to read her for the first time (though I haven't gotten to Middlemarch yet).

Frances said...

That painting is lovely. So evocative. And so how I would like to spend a large portion of my weekend. I am always busy. And "nothing" has such tremendous appeal.

I have a spotty relationship with George Eliot although I did tremendously her novella The Lifted Veil. Perhaps this book could lead me back to some re-reading with a fresh perspective?

lyn said...

Snap! I'm reading this as well. I'm loving it, having read Middlemarch last year again with Dovegreyreader. I'm enjoying the way she blends her own story with Eliot's & the discussion of the novel.

JoAnn said...

I want to read that, too! But I really should read Middlemarch first... It's included in my classics spin list, but I will probably read it soonish even if it is not selected.

Sounds like a perfectly wonderful weekend to me :)

JaneGS said...

I was so excited about this book when I first heard about it, but now I'm not sure I want to read someone else's life journey through the lens of Middlemarch. I love that book in a very personal way--nevertheless I liked your post on it.

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