I spent about ten weeks with Middlemarch. For ten weeks I carried Middlemarch around- to pick Annie up from school, to piano lessons, tucking it into my bag, tossing it in the van. For ten weeks I ended my days with Middlemarch, sometimes only a page or two. There were times I wondered why I was plodding through. I became distracted often- one of the reasons it took me so long to finish. (I'm not the only one: Washington Post Serious Reading Takes a Hit)
On the way to the grocery store on Saturday I pulled into a parking lot to read the last few pages in silence. Today I am still living in Middlemarch.
So I'm thinking about why I read fiction, why we need fiction, why everyone should read fiction. Why commit to this kind of lengthy book about something that isn't "true"? Why, in an age of information, do we need stories more than ever.
Middlemarch is for anyone ever who has wanted to live a meaningful life. Any woman who has questioned what to do with her energies or passions or intellect. Anyone who has yearned or loved or been accused or misunderstood or gossiped about, anyone who has committed some small good or some secret sin, anyone who has been deceived, anyone whose has judged based on all of the facts but not all of the information. It is a book for anyone who has felt the blessings and curses of life in a small town. Any one who has married or wished to marry or regretted marrying. Anyone self-righteous or naive or deceptive or phony or quietly good.
We read for the people whose stories have not been told, who died with secrets, big and small. For those who lived unrecognized, unheard, without vindication. We read because we do not know who is good after all, or what success is really. And because sometimes religion is a light and sometimes it is a mask, and sometimes we are right and sometimes we are tragically wrong. We read because we are short-sighted and small-minded and quick to judge and even our noblest intentions can be misguided. We read because we are restless and loveless and despairing and deceived and accused; and deceiving and accusing. We read because we want to be noble and brave and sometimes our smallest acts of mercy may save someone.
We read because things are not as they appear.
This is why I read fiction (and why I think you should too).
"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."