Books As Our Identity
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to be my friend you have to like Jane Austen.
Tell me that you don't like one of her novels and I will judge you.
Ask me, as someone recently did, who Jane Austen is and I will pass out from shock, recover and judge you, and then I will pass out again.
As with many book mad people, the books I love have become part of my identity. Tell me you don't like Jane Austen and you are telling me you don't like part of who I am because I can trace Jane Austen and her novels back through my life from the first reading to the five millionth. The characters are almost like people I know, friends I wish I had. When you say Fanny Price is boring I wince in sympathy as if she can hear you and be hurt. Because she isn't boring, she is just misunderstood. Emma has her flaws, of course she does, but we love her in spite of them. We, like Mr. Knightley, see her potential.
When you say you don't like Jane Austen, or Angela Thirkell or Georgette Heyer or any of my other beloved authors, I can't help but wonder what we can possibly have in common. I may be slightly exaggerating here but there is an element of truth. When we meet people we automatically look for common ground. Do we come from the same part of the country? Do we both have kids? Do we work in the same field? You like to bake? Oh so do I. When we find that bit in common, that meeting point, we also find the potential for friendship.
I ideally like to find that meeting point with books. Now, obviously, I can't reject as a friend everyone who doesn't read Jane Austen. I would be a very lonely person if I did. I can't even reject everyone who does not like to read, as horrifying as that is. But when I do find someone who likes to read or when I discover a new book blog the first thing I do is find out what books they like, which are their favorites. And if Jane Austen is one of them, well then, we have that bit more in common. They are my kind of person. And if they do not like Jane Austen or another of my favorite authors it makes me wonder about other ways in which our thoughts would not mesh.
This sounds a bit as if I am not open to differences and as if I think everyone should think the same way I do. That isn't what I mean. I like a good book discussion as much as the next person. I am happy to debate whether that book I read yesterday is really worth reading. However, there are some books that are so much part of our identity, books we have read over and over and absorbed into our psyche to such an extent that they are part of us. Some of these are books from our childhood, It is impossible to imagine not loving Little Women or the Little House books. Some are more recent finds. I think Mollie Panter-Downes novel, One Fine Day, is an exceptional book. But whether they are long loved and often read favorites or something we fell in love with last week, they do something to us. They become part of who we are.
Because all dedicated readers are made up of the books they have read and loved. It is through those books that we have learned about different countries and different cultures and different times in history. We have learned about love and loss and how to deal with both. We read about the mistakes characters made in books and hopefully we don't repeat them. Books have educated us and comforted us and helped us to become who we are today. We are defensive of those books and those authors because we identify with them. They are us and we are them.
So tell me, do you like Jane Austen?