The lovely Eva from A Striped Armchair recently posted about what she’s termed “heart books,” or books that have touched your soul.
It made me think about books that have spoken to me in ways that are rare and lasting. It is scary to reveal some of them. They reveal so much about us as humans.
I read “A Happy Man” about a year and a half ago. I loved it immediately. It was one of those books that I read as slowly as I could, savoring the scenes. This from a reader better known for flying through novels at breakneck speed.
Afterwards, I wondered why it spoke to me as it did. After all, it’s about a financially secure married European white guy, This, who likes to play jazz. And he’s happy. He just goes along in his happy little life, not bothering that there are definitely some problems around him. As I said in my review, this would likely infuriate me if I were an actual person who had to deal with This everyday (although I like to think the last eighteen months have seen me become a bit kinder and gentler).
Readers of my blog may have noticed that I tend to read, and enjoy a lot of female authors, a lot of writers of color. I sometimes/often have a difficult time identifying with white male protagonists and authors. So why did this particular book strike such a cord with me?
I believe it was in large part due to some difficulties I was having at the time. I was in an emotional whole that I was really struggling to climb out of. The idea that someone could simply be happy seemed like a revelation.
After I could look back on it more objectively, I realized that yes, this book is about a relatively privileged guy. But really, this is how privilege could work. I can’t remember where I was reading it, although I want to say it was in the comments on a post over at Shakesville, about different kinds of privilege. There are privileges that come at the expense of others, and privileges that don’t. White privilege is at the expense of people of color. There is nothing inherently positive about being white – it is a privilege because there are institutional power structures that enforce the idea that white is better. This would be a privilege that comes at the expense of another group.
It is also a privilege to be free from violence. However, one person being privileged in that they have not experienced personal violence does not come at another person’s expense. We should all strive towards the privilege of being free from violence.
(Please don’t be all nitpicky with this general framework. This is a blog post, not a master’s thesis.)
It struck me that This’s life is what I hope that all people one day achieve – a life in which we have families (or not) of our choosing, in which we pursue a career we enjoy, in which we can maintain long term relationships with friends, in which we love and support those around us.
Of course, that was how the book spoke to me at that particular time in my life. Who knows – reading it at a different point might cause me to have a completely different reaction. I’m thinking of a post by Stephanie at So Many Books that explores the ideas of different interpretations of a book. One is not necessarily wrong or right, but perhaps exists on a continuum of “truth” – “truth” being whether or not the interpretation is supported by the text. I can imagine vastly different interpretations of this little novella, each having support in the pages.
Thank you, Eva, for the prompting, and the opportunity to think a bit more about this “heart book.”