A Moral Love Affair

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A New York Times blog about books, which I -- oddly enough--just discovered, asks the timely question can books be romantic? I agree with Gregory Cowel's idea that yes, books can be.

But it's probably not something you do with your valentine so much as a way to cheat on your valentine with out getting into trouble.

Books offer ways to have love affairs with people who exist only on the page and in your mind, people who can curl into the private intricacies of your thoughts, who become part of your thoughts, part of the private and quiet world created by your mind and heart and flights of fancy.

I don't mean flights of fancy like the ones that inspire fan fiction or the ones that inspire dreams about taking the place of the Bennett sisters or Catherine Earnshaw (I never did understand the love for either Darcy or Healthcliff, both of whom I find rather unattractive ideas) I mean the intimacy that comes from being privy to a well written character's thoughts and dreams, the knowledge of the inner workings and struggles, the ability to get lost in someone else's world and have him or her infringe on your world, your day dreams. Or, as Cowels puts it:

[I]n my experience the most intimate literary moments don’t necessarily come from love stories.
Instead, there’s that instant when you catch on to what a good writer is trying to accomplish and just … sort of … mind meld, the same way you do in a conversation with someone you like. There’s an element of seduction to it, and a sense of losing yourself a little, and I’d guess that’s the feeling every reader is looking for when he or she picks up a book.
The thought is one that is more eloquently worded by John Steinbbeck (to no fault of the New York Times book editors) when, in describing two of his chanracters in East of Eden, describes two types of readers. It is a quote that, in twelfth grade supported me through a 12 page paper in which I tried to define literature and my realtionship with literature:

“Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.”

To be a Tom is to have a love affair within books, to beleive that yes, books can be romantic. And, that romance is even more likely to be found in the snobby "good literature" books than it is to be found in the supermarket aisle ones with pink covers decorated with intwined semi-naked lovers.

Picture from the comic Frazz. Note that he buys her Run by Ann Patchett, which has a blue cover and the Washington Post Book World calls "a thoroughly intelligent book."

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

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Books pyramid image originally from the British website, Explore Writing.