Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our body's literary needs

I now realize that it is a diary that I have been looking for all over the house ...
Susan Hill, Howards End is on the Landing

Susan Hill devotes a couple of consecutive essays in her book to her search through her house for a book she wanted to read that day. She had no idea what that book might be until she came across some diaries, specifically The Journal of  Sir Walter Scott. That, she decided, is what she had been looking for all day without realizing it. "I have found my book," she announces with satisfaction.

Earlier in the day I had been reading Masha Hamilton's wonderful novel The Camel Bookmobile (I will probably have more to say about this later) when I came across, much as Hill did that particular diary, the line where Hamilton's character Fiona Sweeney reflects on the knack so many readers have for finding just the right book at the right time: "Fi was convinced that instinct could determine a body's literary needs, just as physical cravings pointed to dietary shortfalls."

Many of us have probably experienced the same sort of thing, in libraries or bookstores if not in our own homes. We search and search for the right book, and then suddenly, there it is. I have the same kind of experience when I am looking through my DVD collection for just the right movie to watch. Am I in the mood for a drama or a comedy? Am I wide enough awake for a foreign film, where one must read as well as watch and listen? Eventually, like Scott's journal, one movie will jump out at me and I will know that this is the one. It almost always turns out to the best possible choice.

Not every book is the perfect book for every occasion. I wonder about people who read only romances or only mysteries or only self-help books. To me it sounds like having the same thing every day for lunch. How do they meet their "body's literary needs"?  Of course, there really is no such thing. Yet like Fiona Sweeney and Susan Hill, I would like to believe there is.

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