Have reunited with Siri Hustvedt, and it feels so good. I’m running out of her novels to read [I have one left on my shelves], and I’m branching out to her nonfiction. Here’s a passage, from “Being A Man,” from her book of essays A Plea of Eros:
As a reader of books, I’m convinced that words have an altogether magical power to generate, not only more words but fleeting images, emotions, and memories. Certain novels and poems have had a power to unearth raw and unknown parts of myself, have been like mirrors I never knew existed.
I agree. And, mm-hmm, most especially when it comes to good books. I have no idea how to even begin defining what good is — I don’t know how to offer a general definition [which, then again, I think would be lame], but I’m almost always certain of what is good for me. And goodness, for me, is almost always a visceral thing. I can, under duress, articulate why the crafting is good, why the elements of literature fall in the most perfect way [like when I had to pretend I was smart enough to talk about du Maurier’s short stories, even if they scared the bejeebies out of me].
But most days, with good books, a Post-it with Yes scrawled all over it would be enough for me. Most days, I’d much rather daydream about how my heart hammered inside my chest at a pivotal scene, declare that it was the right book to read at the right time, feel in my bones that a book was written for me, or just launch into an as earnest-as-I-could-manage blathering love letter to the text [and the author].
It’s the books that rob me of speech that I love best. It’s the books that translate this critical ineloquence to things much more important in life — loving, my own fictions, battle-cries — that I turn to over and over, that fill me with so much wonder and gratitude that, at the very least, I get to read books.
But there’s a need to give tribute to such books. And that’s where the trouble starts. Yes, as a reading journal, this blog is a depository of all things squeal-worthy in my reading adventures. But sometimes it’s just so goddamned hard to talk about these books. It’s constantly empowering and humbling at the same time, to have read a book that has touched you greatly, and facing the fact that, well, there is no way you can talk about it oh-so-calmly. I can be earnest, I can write love letters, I can say Yes over and over again, but a part of me demands that I write a fitting tribute. Hell.
Last night, I finished rereading the first romance novel I ever read: The Duchess by Jude Deveraux. I am, as usual, having difficulty trying to articulate why it’s good to me, why it has remained so good after all this years. The homecoming aspect is a part of it, yes, but I want to elaborate. I want to tell you all how the heart-thudding is so different when you’re 21 as opposed to reading it for the first time on the sly at 9. I want to tell you all that this is still one of the best exultations of love that I have ever read, regardless of its flaws. I want to tell you all that I was absolutely certain I would be feeling this way even as I began the book — hell, even when I picked up the book from the bookstore.
Like one of the books on my Currently Reading stack, On Love by Alain de Botton. I began this book on the tenth floor of a Medical Arts Tower, me sitting beside a four-year-old adorable stranger who later introduced herself — “I’m Lexine. I can do cartwheels.” Odd place, but today was an odd day. Anyhoo. So. The novel began — its first chapter, “Romantic Fatalism” — thus:
The longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life. All too often forced to share our bed with those who cannot fathom our soul, can we not be forgiven if we believe ourselves fated to stumble one day upon the man or woman of our dreams? Can we not be excused a certain superstitious faith in a creature who will prove the solution to our relentless yearnings? And though our prayers may never be answered, though there may be no end to the dismal cycle of mutual incomprehension, if the heavens should come to take pity on us, then can we really be expected to attribute the encounter with this prince or princess to mere coincidence? Or can we not for once escape rational censure and read it as nothing other than an inevitable part of our romantic destiny?
I’m seeing it as a merging of a thesis on love and romance [if I were feeling catty, I’d put on my glasses and intone, Romantic Idealism and the Amorous Object] and an actual relationship. Of the ideas of love and romance applied to, or used as an elaboration, of this actuality of love and romance between two people. Or vice versa. It’s a love story, but it’s also a philosophical text. Whatever it is, I am swooning.
I just began this novel — I’m at p.26 as of this post — but I am absolutely sure that I’ll really like it. That I’ll be charmed beyond sense, that I’ll invest in these characters, and write all over the margins. That I’ll keep on swooning. And that, when the time comes, I will be struck dumb, right in front of this laptop, trying to think of all the other ways to say, “Good God, this book was AwesomeSauce.”
Why, yes, I’m back to square one. Aherm. Good night from my part of the world, kids. I’m off to bed with de Botton.