My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead may be the best book I read in 2016. I read it (twice!), just after the unsavory election season ended, deciding I'd forego the news for a while and lose myself in a really good book. The result was amazing. Not only did I love the book, but I found myself going about my business in a much better mood.
My Life in Middlemarch is an English major's dream, a hybrid work of nonfiction: one part memoir and four parts literary biography. Mead's subjects are the great Victorian writer George Eliot (born Mary Anne Evans) and her masterpiece, Middlemarch, which multiple critics have suggested may be "the greatest novel in the English language."
Middlemarch is Mead's favorite book for sure, one she re-reads every few years. She finds that the novel speaks to her in new and compelling ways every time, as she navigates her way through life's milestones: moving away from home for the first time, finding a life's work, beginning and ending relationships, acquiring a family.
I've been in love with Middlemarch myself for a long time, so it's hard for me to judge how Mead's book will strike someone who hasn't read it. Eliot's highly unconventional life is certainly fascinating in its own right. As a young woman in the 1840s, Eliot rejected the conservative church-faith of her beloved father and established herself as an independent, free-thinking writer (and to say this was scandalous is an understatement). She next fell in love with a married man who was unable to divorce his estranged wife and she lived with him openly for 24 years. A highly disapproving London society eventually softened its censure somewhat as Eliot became one of the most beloved novelists of her time, right up there with Dickens.
So, if you love English authors, especially the Victorian kind, and you enjoy literary biographies, My Life in Middlemarch may well appeal to you. For maximum enjoyment though, read Middlemarch first. Yes, it's a doorstop, but you'll be glad you picked it up -- and we have it in audio too!
~Ann, Adult Services