24 July, 2008

When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Steampunk/Magic Realist

I keep a file of my favorite quotations from books that I may forget I ever read. Sometimes I forget to update this file, but just the other day I found a quotation so perfect, I couldn't wait to rewrite it. It was in an essay by Daniel Samuels entitled "Marginal Notes" which is his stripped-to-the-soul honest ode to J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.

Here's the line:

Reading requires a loner’s temperament, a high tolerance for silence, and an unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.

Isn't that great? He goes on to explain his theory about people who become bibliophiles as children. It's not particularly complimentary, but the honesty is chilling and poetic. For one thing, reading is touted as the absolute form of escapism. It's something you can do for free if you live near a library, and you can do it completely alone. Yet, Samuels also makes the point that you're never really alone, and this is what makes reading so incredibly addictive for people who enjoy the idea of perfect social situations without all the complications of conversing with real people. It's very easy to want to be Harry Potter's best friend when you don't have to love him during his shitty moods. Another great point made in "Marginal Notes" is the connection between reading and acceptance. People who for one reason or another never quite fit in, often become voracious readers, and then look for some semblance of normalcy in copying their favorite characters. By "people" I'm talking about myself too, if you didn't pick up on my little word choice sleight of hand.

The truth is that there's a vast underground of bookish people. We're not as obvious as you might at first imagine, but you can tell us by our constantly carried reading material or the fact that we're the first to ask you what you're reading. We crave that connection that's solidified by quiet conversation about our favorite books over strong tea (or coffee, or superjuice. I won't judge.) We're also the ones who are excited by a pile of untouched reading material, and we paw through stacks at libraries, bookstores, and yard-sales looking for that story that will let us get our fix, until our favorite author releases once again. For those uninitiated it can be hard to understand.

Within the clan there are factions, of course. Nonfiction and Fiction are often battling for supremacy in an unending war like that which has long been fought between herpetologists and ornithologists. There's no way to win, but those who are dedicated continue to fight. Then there are the people who only read realistic fiction, scorning sci-fi and fantasy readers. Sci-fi readers are generally very dedicated, but even within that genre we have those who will only read hard science fiction. Many people will leave comic books and graphic novels out of the entire literary canon altogether (a big mistake in my opinion), while children's books don't often receive the praise or the readership they deserve outside of the youth community. Even I have preferences and predilections. I don't usually read books in large series because of time constraints, and I dislike stories where children are hurt (Roald Dahl was certainly pushing it, but Esio Trot has long had a soft-spot in my heart).

Bibliophiles unite.

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