A passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories. For Rebecca Mead, that book was George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which she first read as a young woman in an English coastal town, and reread regularly throughout her life. In My Life In Middlemarch, the New Yorker writer revisits her own past and Eliot’s work in a new way, by leading us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch blends biography, reporting, and memoir, taking the themes of Eliot’s masterpiece—the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure—and bringing them into our world. Mead comes to LIVE from the NYPL to explore the enduring power of Middlemarch, and how the books we read help us read our own lives.
"Rebecca Mead has written a singular and inventive tale about her favorite book, and how it has changed — and changed her — over many years of reading and re-reading. Anyone who has ever loved the characters in a novel as dearly as we love our own families will recognize the passion, the devotion, the intimacy and the joy of returning again and again to a revered classic. Both a memoir and a biography, both an homage and a homecoming, My Life in Middlemarch is a perfectly composed offering of literary love and self-observation. I adored it, and it will forever live on my bookshelf next to my own precious paperbacks of George Eliot.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
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"If all fairy tales begin ‘Once upon a time,’ then all graduation speeches begin ‘When I was sitting where you are now.’ We may not always say it, at least not in those exact words, but it’s what graduation speakers are thinking. We look out at the sea of you and think, Isn’t there some mistake? I should still be sitting there. I was that young fifteen minutes ago, I was that beautiful and lost."
The school year is just beginning, but Ann’s commencement words are a wonderful articulation about the passing of time.
Join LIVE from the NYPL in hosting her and Elizabeth Gilbert on December 10.
The best advice I can come up with is this: Keep your living expenses LOW. The smaller you live (materially-speaking), the bigger you can live (creatively-speaking). This way the stakes aren’t so high…you aren’t demanding of your passion that it keeps you living a rich life. Then you can stretch and grow with the most possible freedom. This was my strategy in my 20’s, and it’s the reason I worked really hard to avoid all debts, and to keep my lifestyle really manageable. If I’d been saddled with a big life, I don’t think I ever could have found my way forward to the freedom I have now.
There’s a wonderfulness in stubbornness, about simply refusing to let even the facts sometimes interfere with your insistence of your worldview of a place of goodness and decency and hope and that it’s worth it—it’s worth it to take risks, and to try to make things even if people mock them and it’s worth it to choose a partner and stick with them even if it makes no sense to anybody else and it’s worth it to use the talcum powder and just hold your ground.
…she was an archaeologist of the foodways of greater Pennsylvania and coastal Delaware. That’s all she had access to, but my God, what she found! She found fishermen on the Eastern Shore who taught her how to cook eels, and she went deep into the Amish country and found people who taught her how to pickle pigs’ feet. If she’d had a range that was more than 100 miles, I can’t imagine what she would have done with it.