Reading Changes Lives

This morning I woke to a wonderful blog post by Jane Davis. In her post she uses George Eliot‘s Middlemarch as a lens through which to examine what she terms the anti-literariness of our culture. But Jane is not simply blogging about reading. She took action several years ago and set up an amazing organisation, The Reader, dedicated to the importance of reading, which is currently leading a reading revolution in the UK through its Get Into Reading groups.

Here’s an excerpt from Jane’s blog today

“I’ve been reading Middlemarch  since 1982 – crikey, that’s thirty years – and for a lot of that time I’ve been talking other people into reading it too. It seems to me that the classic negative reactions to this book (and to other great works of literature) that I experience over and over again, especially from relatively educated people, are an indicator of the strong underlying anti-literariness in our culture. Anti-literary? Are you sure? Yes, I am sure.”

You can read the rest of her stimulating post here

I was prompted to take down my battered copy of Middlemarch from the bookshelf – you can see its creased and tattered cover above, complete with its £2.99 bargain sticker. Inside there is written

1995! It’s been that long? And yet the characters stay with me, Dorothea, Casaubon, Dr. Lydgate, Fred Vincy, the Bulstrodes,  …  And they stay with me, I’m sure, because I read it in a group. Many years ago a man named Jack Ryan started a reading group in my hometown, Carrick-on-Suir. We met upstairs in The Heritage Centre on Tuesday evenings, tackling everything from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Dickens, to Turgenev, Hardy, Joyce. We read slowly and discussed at length. This group was, and still is, an oasis of thinking and teasing out of issues, of close reading, of paying attention to words and ideas and possibilities. And it was offered for free.  It was Jack’s service to the community. Jack no longer leads the group and I no longer attend but it still meets each Tuesday evening. This winter they are reading Dickens’ Great Expectations.

But, and this is important, it led me on to something else. Something I’m sure I wouldn’t have ventured into without the possibilities opened up by the patient reading of books such as Middlemarch. In February 1996, the year following Middlemarch though I have never before now connected them, I signed up for an Open University degree in English Literature where I read Dickens, Austen and so on. This led on to a Masters in Education and many unexpected paths and opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined as I sat with others, in a small room reached by a narrow winding staircase, trying to understand the world of 19th century England and through that, myself and the world.

Regular readers will know that my blog is based on my belief that Writing Changes Lives – but I also know that Reading Changes Lives. They’ve both changed mine.

How have they changed yours?

2 responses

  1. I read Middlemarch around 1995, think it was during my second year in college. I recently painted my huge bookshelves and retrieved lots of books from the attic – amongst them Middlemarch (almost as battered as yours as it was secondhand), all my Irish women’s history books from my MA, lots of books for the kids to read now such as my Laura Ingalls books, Hardy Boys, Malory Towers etc – so many memories unfolding as I unpacked each box and put them onto the shelves, almost like old friends.
    Just to mention to you, at Write on Track ( we are organising a virtual book blog tour for a client, from our sister site
    if you should hear of anyone who might be interested in promoting their new book in this way, do tell them to get in touch.

    1. Hi Lorna, that sounds like a special bookshelf – I’m in favour of huge bookshelves and, of course, the memories … I just read this quote from an interview with Maurice Sendak, ‘A book is really like a lover. It arranges itself in your life in a way that is beautiful.’ So true. Your virtual book tour sounds most interesting and I will pass on the information. Good luck with it.

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