Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book love

There are many types of love, they say. A girl can love her cat, for example, and also love her mother. But those loves are very different (hopefully). I can love chocolate, the ocean air, the scent of almonds, the color green, travel, and my old fourth grade teacher. All are different loves because they're for very different reasons.

And the same goes for books I think. (Or maybe I should say, the same goes for stories. Because books are supposedly in transition from being bound papers covered in ink to being bits and bytes. But that's for another rant on another blog.) I love the Harry Potter series, but not like I love The Little Prince. My childhood favorite, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom--I love it too, but for even different reasons. These differing affections are a result more of my response to the overall stories (in general, how they made me feel) than to a specific genre, subject matter, protagonist, or theme.

For example, I love Harry's story (I would say Harry Potter's story, but is there really any other Harry I could mean?) because I couldn't put it down. I couldn't put it down because I grew to care about what happened to its players and to hope for a satisfying end for them and because that grand good vs evil storyline with a healthy blend of grays between its blacks and whites and with wit and culture mixed in pulled me happily through seven books and left me with a wanting sigh at the end. The writing style hooked me and told a good (if formulaic) story to boot. So there are books I hold dear simply for their ability to keep me entertained.

There are also books that have touched my heart on a deeper level. The Little Prince is one of my best examples. It's not an uplifting story. It's very sad, but redeeming in a way and has the ability to quietly pat me on the back and say, "It's alright. We all go through deeply sad moments, but there is a kind of beauty in them and we come out stronger with a few scars." And so I've made a connection and therefore don't feel so alone in the world, and for that, my dear Little Prince will always have a piece of my heart. The Narnia series does the same for me. And The Secret Garden. Christy also. Peter Pan goes without saying (he lives in many categories of love and is the crown atop all the books I've owned and ever will own and really deserves a special category, perhaps something like a soulmate would have).

Then there are books I love out of respect. They really seem to say something--something I'd have said myself if I'd been skilled enough. They're often a product of some extreme period in history and make me frustrated as I read but nevertheless stick with me like a thorn, nagging me to take action in a vague way that always ends up requiring courage. Like Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Awakening. The Scarlet Letter. The Great Divorce. A Separate Peace.

There's a very powerful book love, probably the only one I'd fight to the death for, which has caused many a book to land on that special top shelf in the living room, never to be touched but by me. They are the books that are bound in nostalgia and deep connection. No one is allowed to dislike them in my presence and remain a true friend! None can critique them without sounding ridiculous to me. But then, no one really loves them like I do. (You see how dangerous and blinding nostalgia can be.) They are books like There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. And James and the Giant Peach (you should have heard my scathing review of the movie when it came out). And The Wind in the Willows. A Wrinkle in Time. Peter Pan (don't even say the title in front of me unless in a tone of reverence). Through the Looking-GlassWhen We Were Very Young. Hamlet.

There's also a less visceral category of books I've come to cherish just because they seem to do it all--tell a good story in an excellent style for the subject matter, keep me reading and interested, say something worth saying in the end, and stick with me long after I've closed the book. They win the award for best in show. Like HolesTreasure Island, and Jane Eyre.

I have more of a fondness than a love for some books. Usually it's because of the illustrations and the story working together to bring about a general feeling of niceness about the world. Pretty much anything by Oliver Jeffers lives in this category. Anything by Milne, even though (especially because) his niceness is mingled with melancholy. Beatrix Potter is like this as well.

There are many other levels of affection I could mention, like books I love because I just do: Alice in Wonderland. Or books I love because I like imagining I live in another time and place: Pride and Prejudice. Or ones that seem to need loving: The Sun Also Rises.

I could go on and on. But what I'm really trying to do is make a point, which should be sharp, so I'll get to it. Books are like people, loved on different levels for countless different reasons. This idea, though probably not original or profound, has changed the way I look at writing a story and reading one. As to writing one, it lends a freedom, a limitless possibility of expression--and freedom in writing is critical because if a girl sits on her couch tapping away at her laptop in hopes of writing a story to be liked by all for all time (this used to be the secret hope of a writer I know intimately), she will eventually be crushed under the pressure. But having freedom to write the story that's in her and write it honestly will result in that story being loved by someone somewhere for reasons the writer may not understand, just as her favorite stories are often mysteriously cherished in her heart. And in the end, a story would probably rather be deeply loved by one than marginally appreciated by all. As to reading, this revelation has given me a broader scope for what a book can be. The critic within me must accept the written word on an infinite number of levels and love it for its innumerable manifestations. After all, not every book (indeed, no other book) can be Peter Pan.