English-born, New York-based journalist Rebecca Mead read Middlemarch for the first time as a teenager. Since then, she has reread it approximately every five years--safe to say, it is an important book to her. As she entered mid-life, she decided to write a book about the book and her relationship to it. She researched George Eliot's life, reading her diaries and correspondence, visiting places she had lived, and studying what critics and biographers had to say about her life and work. The resulting book is a blend of biography, critical reading of Middlemarch, and memoir.
From the reviews I had read, I expected My Life in Middlemarch to be primarily memoir, but in fact Mead's own life intrudes only occasionally and never for long. I enjoyed learning more about Eliot's unconventional life and the events that, in Mead's view, shaped her fiction. Her analysis of Middlemarch was more affirming than challenging--I wasn't surprised by any particularly wise reading of the book, but I was prompted to think more about some of the ideas embedded in Eliot's work. And I do feel motivated to read some of her other works, which Mead also touches upon.
I read somewhere that Mead hoped her book would be interesting to people who haven't read Middlemarch. I find that somewhat unlikely, although perhaps if they had read other Eliot works, Mead might provide the motivation they need to tackle Middlemarch. Those who have read that tome will, I think, find My Life in Middlemarch a good read.
Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.