Pink Fire Pointer Old Friends

Old Friends

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you.  And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead.  And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
-- Alan Bennett, "The History Boys"

I love this quote from The History Boys by Alan Bennett. It takes my breath away. In fact, I think it is one of the best descriptions of the power of literature. When we connect with what a writer is saying in a book, we have our most powerful reading experiences. If you are passionate about books, this has probably happened to you. Finding a special book to read or reread because it speaks to you is comforting. My bookshelves are filled with old friends.

Many people feel this way about their favorite books. Maybe the feeling comes from knowing the books so well that we can quote from them. We remember a passage that made our heart sing with its lyricism or brought tears to our eyes with its poignancy. Maybe these are the kinds of books that make us feel good when we are a little down and need to be taken to a cozy place. They are the equivalent of a cup of tea by the fireplace on a rainy day. With certain books come moments of truth, wisdom and illumination. The reality of the book reflects our own reality. And we recognize a kindred spirit.

When the four women from Elizabeth Von Arnim's The Enchanted April come together in Italy, find happiness and forge unexpected friendships, many of us have felt that same sense of hope and liberation that comes from a new environment. When Margaret Schlegel of Howards End falls in love with the lovely old house in the country that belongs to Ruth Wilcox, we understand that it represents so much more than just a house. For Ruth it was a connection to the past and to the land; she knows that Margaret is its spiritual heir. We share Margaret's reverence for this house because we have all known houses that have that special something -- a life and a character of their own. When Charles Ryder succumbs to the charms of his best friend's family in Brideshead Revisited, we experienced the same thing when young.  When Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse describes Minta Doyle's "glow"and how it affects the other characters, we know exactly what she means. Some people just light up a room. When Colette writes about the relationship between a mother and daughter in Break of Day, her reflections on this powerful bond illuminate many of our own experiences. And when we read the final line of The Great Gatsby, we are filled with awe.

One of the books I have returned to many time is Mrs. Dalloway.  I am in love with the beauty of the writing and the realness of the heroine Clarissa Dalloway. The best novels take us out of our lives and put us into someone else's. When Clarissa walks out of her London house on a June morning to buy the flowers for her party, I am in her head and feel her joy. And that joy is just one part of the larger tapestry of thoughts and feelings she experiences all day long. As readers we are on this journey with her. And the last line of the book is one of the best closing lines of any novel.

  Do you have books that have spoken to you over the years and feel like old friends?

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