I'm equal parts excited and nervous today to unveil our first-ever Special Reading Event on Reading With Hippos. This month, I'll be hosting a Middlemarch in March Challenge, the goal of which is exactly what it sounds like: to read the great English novel Middlemarch by George Eliot in its entirety (all 800-1000 pages of it, depending on your chosen copy) without collapsing into paroxysms of fear and/or madness.
Can I admit that even as a lifelong voracious reader, some books are just intimidating? Maybe they're really long, and we're not sure our ever-shrinking modern attention span can handle them. Maybe they're really old, and we doubt our ability to wade through historical allusions that would have been as familiar as Obamacare or Kimye to readers back in the day, but to us are murky and require frequent side trips to the footnotes. And if you think spoken and written English hasn't been drastically whittled down and simplified over the years, try reading a page of Dickens and see how unbelievably long some of those sentences are. That guy definitely could not have worked within a one hundred forty-character limit.
But it's time to put on our big-girl panties and do this thing. Virginia Woolf famously referred to Middlemarch as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Some critics have called it the best novel ever to be written in English. I'll be turning 29 this summer; if I can't recklessly commit to reading sweeping British masterpieces when I'm young and stupid, when can I? (“Retirement,” replied a friend who's agreed to join the challenge, and he's probably right, but considering how amorphous my professional life is right now, I don't think I can wait around. What exactly would be the plan—someday retiring from writing a book website, so that I finally have time to read?)
Rules for the challenge are flexible by design. My goal is to finish the book by March 31st, as putting an ending date on projects can help keep me focused. But there is no reading schedule, no required number of pages per week, and absolutely no test at the end, I promise. Just give reading the book a try. See how it goes. I'll be posting every week or so to discuss my progress in the book and (most likely) complain about aspects I'm struggling with. I'll open comments on all the posts in the series so that you can join in with your reflections, deep thoughts, and if necessary, whining.
This challenge is open to everyone—you don't need a degree in English or a firm grasp of Victorian England or any special skills here at all, other than an open mind and a willingness to stretch yourself. And if anyone looks at you strangely when they hear what you're doing and asks why in the world you'd willingly attempt such an undertaking, smile at them kindly and tell them it's for the same reason that people run 26.2 miles as fast as they can without stopping, that others hike the entire Appalachian trail, walking for months on end without a shower. This is our literary Everest, and we're going to reach the summit or die trying. And I bet the view from the top is pretty darn good.
So consider this your invitation. Find a copy of the book (and if you want to save your wrists, there are several Kindle versions, each only 99 cents). Find a comfortable chair. Find your literary stamina. And let's do this thing together. Bring it, George Eliot! We ain't scared!
Additional Note: I'm planning to read Rebecca Mead's recently-published book My Life in Middlemarch as a companion piece. (Because nothing makes reading a giant doorstop of a book easier than adding another, three-hundred page book to it.) If you're crazy like me, you can pick up a library copy of Mead's book here. It's gotten great reviews and I think it will add a lot to the experience.
Second Additional Note: I find it helpful to have a bit of background on the author and the book before embarking on a project like this. If you're similarly inclined, the Wikipedia page for Middlemarch has a cursory glance at the highlights.
Additional, and Final, Note: I've opened the comments on this post. PLEASE let me know either here or on Facebook if you've decided to take up the Middlemarch in March Challenge. Solidarity, reader warriors!