Jun 13, 2010

The Sunday Salon – Revelations


A few weeks ago, when I was reading The Library at Night, I was struck by a passage in which Alberto Manguel argued that books can either feel like a homecoming or a journey into a foreign land, and that this is a reflection of how we position ourselves in the world. As this idea ties in with many things I’ve been thinking about, I decided to give it its own post instead of discussing it in my review of the book. Here’s what Manguel had to say:
What is this homecoming? It can be argued that we perceive the world in one of two ways—as a foreign land or as home—and that our libraries reflect both these opposing views. As we wander among our books, picking at random a volume from the shelves and leafing through it, the pages either astound us by their difference from our own experience or comfort us with their similitude. The greed of Agamemnon or the meekness of Kim’s lama are to me utterly foreign; Alice’s bewilderment or Sinbad’s curiosity reflect again and again my own emotions. Every reader is either a pausing wanderer or a traveller returned.
I found this an interesting distinction, and furthermore, I agree with Manguel that both experiences are equally valuable. I’ve had conversations with other readers in which they told me that they always expect books to tell them new things; to reveal something they didn’t know before. When this doesn’t happen, they’re disappointed, and they tend to blame the book for being beneath them in terms of complexity, richness or wisdom. Also, I know that some readers shy away from children’s literature for this very reason: they think these books will likely be about encountering things for the first time that won’t be new to an adult reader, and that therefore they will be of no interest to them. Of course, a gifted writer will present familiar experiences as if they were new, but that’s another process altogether.

I disagree with the notion that we’re all done growing up by a certain age, and that therefore adults can’t relate to coming-of-age stories – but that’s probably a subject for another time. What I want to discuss now is whether we can reasonably demand that a book tell us new things so that we can consider that reading it was a worthwhile experience. On the opposite camp (of which there are also many defenders), should we look for ourselves and for experiences we recognise in everything we read? As with so many things, balance seems to be the key.

Part of the appeal of literature comes from the fact that human beings need community. Books are not actual company, of course, but they can satisfy our need for intellectual and emotional community, sometimes at a deeper level than conversations with other people. As I was saying last week, eventually everything will come up in books, whereas in a conversation there could be many reasons why we’d hesitate to approach certain topics. I suppose that those of us who lack confidence, such as myself, feel this need even more acutely, but I suspect that even the most self-assured people need to see reflections of what they recognise as their truth in other things – and works of art fit the bill perfectly. It’s very easy to feel crazy otherwise, or at the very least overwhelmingly lonely. This is part of what art does: it gives us back our truth and it reassures us that someone else sees the world the way we do. And that’s a very valuable thing.

On the other hand, books also have the benefit of reflecting truths other than our own, and of making sure we don’t remain blind to them. And that’s, of course, every bit as valuable as having our own worldview confirmed. Sometimes I worry about developing too rigid a notion of the shape a particular experience is supposed to have, especially when it comes to experiences that matter to me. We all know what love feels like, or depression, or finding your identity, or surviving trauma, or making a new friend, but it’s good to be reminded that not everyone will experience these things the same way. I really appreciate that books have the ability to do that, and I’ve come to be thankful for that little jolt I feel when I read something and think, “Hm, this isn’t how it went for me.” It always saddens me to see people dismiss experiences that don’t follow a particular pattern that they have decided is the only one that is valid – which is something I’ve seen both in literature and in life. I won’t say I never do it myself, of course, but it’s a tendency I try to fight.

But to make matters more complicated, there are also books that reflect alternative truths that clash with our own to such an extent that our reading experience can become extremely uncomfortable. An obvious example are, for me, “if you’re gay you’re evil” books; or books where female sexuality is presented as menacing – see my recent experience with The Franchise Affair for an example. As I said when reviewing Tey’s book, sometimes that discomfort can be useful, and sometimes it tells a whole other story that runs parallel to the one the author intended to tell. But at the end of the day, we can only be expected to spend so much time in environments, real or fictional, that are extremely hostile to who we are as people. I want to acknowledge that sexist or homophobic people are not monsters, and that they believe they’re acting fairly even when they do things I personally find atrocious. But how many books that tell me this do I need to read before they become more distressing than enlightening?

This is a question I’m leaving open, as I’m certainly not advocating refusing to ever read discomforting books. But I think there’s a line somewhere between “a journey into a foreign land” and “a trip to hell”; a line we can’t really demand readers to cross under the penalty of being labelled limited and close-minded if they refuse. Exposure to different ideas and perspectives is infinitely valuable, but sparing ourselves situations where we know our experiences will be demeaned certainly has its uses too.

Do you find that you have a tendency to privilege either homecomings or journeys into foreign lands in your reading? Do you agree with Manguel’s distinction to begin with? How do you feel about the use of either of these experiences?

The Sunday Salon.com

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mhgrafix/4025210023/


  1. Wonderful post as always, Ana!

    I once had a classmate in a writing workshop tell me that she loves to find "a companion on the page," someone whose experiences she can relate to and who helps her feel less alone (which echoes that line from Shadowlands: we read to know we're not alone). I love that, and I do like to read books that affirm my beliefs or my experiences.

    But I also love reading books that challenge me and make me see things in a new way, or that expose me to experiences I've never had and am unlikely to have.

    As far as books that advocate a point of view utterly different from my own, it depends. If, say, the point of view is different because the author is operating within a different time or culture, I tend to be more forgiving and willing to overlook views I find distasteful (like classist assumptions in some Victorian literature). And I might read the occasional modern book that argues against my beliefs, just to understand the opposing view, but I tend to not spend much time on that kind of book, especially if I get the sense that the author is in attack mode and not really listening thoughtfully to people who disagree.

  2. I'm sure my reading has both homecomings and journeys into foreign lands. Off the top of my head I would say that I probably prefer homecomings. I do know quite clearly that I do not expect books to teach me anything new nor do I go out of my way to read books that are uncomfortable to somehow challenge myself. Unless I am reading something specifically for self-improvement or for work/school then I am reading for pleasure, and I don't find anything pleasurable about filling my reading with books that feel like work.

    Some people are just wired that way. They get the kind of thrill out of a challenge or a new discovery that I get out of finding characters that I can relate to and speak to me. And I am truly happy for them. In the end I think it is important to read and whatever gets a person reading is good by my book. Unfortunately I've met a few people in my life who are intolerant of readers like me, to the point of being condescending in their viewpoint. Most are not like that, however, so I try not to let them be the bad apples.

  3. Books can "either feel like a homecoming or a journey into a foreign land" -- this echos a lot of what Mitali Perkins said at BEA: she said books can be windows or mirrors (and sometimes both). No matter how it's worded, it's a concept that love.

    I think it explains well why some books don't click with me, it's either not a mirror or it's a window into a world in which I've already left or have no interest in. Or maybe the book fails because it's neither window nor mirror (can a book be neither? I'll have to think about that)

    I am usually willing to journey into uncomfortable places, I am less willing to travel into the shallow places. But as I wrote elsewhere today, It's important to keep trying: Tastes change, you change, not every book of genre X is the same ... (as usual, you have me rambling :D )

    Oh, and we'd better not be done growing up -- I intend to be growing up until I take my last breath.

  4. Interesting discussion, Ana. I'm afraid I'm too braindead this morning to really have much to add myself, but I enjoyed reading your thought processes.

  5. Oh, I absolutely do agree with his distinction! And I absolutely love this post, Ana!!! Love it.

    I think I probably venture into foreign lands more often than I have homecomings. And I think maybe that's why I find those homecoming books so comforting. But I'm *not* saying that they aren't every bit as meaningful, or that I don't learn and grow from them. Take TM, for example. Liga was a character I could relate to ever so much. I truly had the feeling that Margo Lanagan had written the book "just for me." It was a homecoming book for me, yet it was a heartfelt, meaningful, though not "easy," experience.

    But like you said, I absolutely love learning about the other ways that people deal with, think about, survive, or rejoice in all manner of experiences. As you said, "that little jolt" you get when you realize just how differently someone else experiences the very same events. I find that absolutely fascinating, and I think it not only helps us learn about others but it also helps us find our own place in this huge world. (And yes, I couldn't agree with you more, while fully admitting that none of us are *completely* immune, about being saddened when I see people dismiss the validity of other people's experiences and feelings simply because they differ with their own. Luckily, I think most of us are born with a great of empathy though.)

    And finally, I again agree with you completely--it's a good thing to venture into those very uncomfortable, painful realms at times...to help us gain some sort of perspective on people and ideas that are so truly contradictory to our own. But that doesn't mean we have to wallow there. Honestly, if I had to spend *too* much time feeling my beliefs under attack or cringing at ideas that I feel repugnant, I'd likely give up reading. :/

    Thank you yet again, Ana, for a lovely, thoughtful, insightful post!

  6. I think that I prize both homecomings and journeys into foreign lands in my reading. However, regardless of how similar or different a book's scenario is from my own, I often find myself longing for at least one character that I can relate to out of my own experience, and more often than not, I can find one. A character whose thoughts and feelings echo my own in a way that I understand, even in the way that they react, on the page, to another character who might be much different from me help me to appreciate a story more. I'm definitely a reader that likes to have my thoughts, my feelings, my experience affirmed in a book, and I also often appreciate books that confirm the universality of some thoughts and feelings regardless of how different circumstances, cultures, even time periods may be.

    I like to journey into foreign lands in my reading, too. I like to understand what makes a person unlike me in a situation unlike mine tick. I guess now, as I'm writing, that maybe I don't totally agree with the foreign lands/home distinction. I, of course, realize when I'm picking up a book that I expect to be more of "foreign land" book, but it's rare that I can't find something, however small, that I can relate to my own feelings and experience. I think that whether a good book is similar to or different from our own experiences, there is nearly always some connecting feeling, sentiment, or theme that can be considered more or less universal that knocks down the imaginary boundaries that we try to put up between ourselves and the people we consider to be least like ourselves. A good book should be able to open new doors for us without making us feel so totally alienated that we're afraid to go through them.

    Um, did I answer the question?
    *scratches head* I often worry that I lack the capacity to respond in an intelligent way to your superthoughtful Salon posts, especially since I'm usually trying to do it on a Sunday morning and talking myself in circles! ;-)

  7. I think I'm one of those people who tends to strike out for foreign lands more often than not in my reading, BUT that being said, I love feeling like a book has somehow tapped into my secret self and reflects who I am. I think there are books that can be a little bit of both - they teach us something new about ourselves, but they are still personal. Those are probably my favourite books to read! I think it's great to be challenged by books, but I think it's also wonderful to be comforted by them as well. It all depends on my mood, since I know I'm a reader whose whims frequently flit about.

  8. I agree one never stops growing up! And that's in part I suppose why I love, love, love getting my assumptions knocked about and turned around by reading. I love being forced to re-evaluate the world!

  9. I'm really not sure how to answer your question at this moment. Like you, I tend to like both the "foreign journey" and the "homecoming" aspect of books and I would like to say that I try to balance them. I'm not sure if I tend to read one or the other more, actually. I would have to think about that and come back to this post.

    For now I just want to say that I loved your post. You made some very true observations. And I liked your distinction between "a foreign journey" and a "trip to hell", very true.

  10. You raise many questions here. I like good books, sometimes this means a homecoming, sometimes a journey. I probably read more homecoming books but I do travel quite a bit.

    I read lots of YA stuff, largely for work, but I'll probably read some even when I retire. However, as I age, continute to grow, I find that there are not nearly as many OA (old adult) books out there. It would be nice if someone came up with a genre for us. Coming of Age is fine, but how about dealing with Age itself on a more regular basis.

    Lastly, this disturbing notion you have of "alternate truths." I don't know what to do with that. I think it's best, as far as books go, to find that those engaged in monstrous behavior are still human like the rest of us. That certainly makes for the best reading experience. But I cannot accept the notion of "alternate truths" as though each alternate has it's own underlying value. Not in a world that includes cultures that would send me to the gallows for loving my husband. Not is a world that would execute a woman for the crime of being raped. These cultures exist today. I belive they are monstrous. Those who commit these acts are monsters.

    Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't read about them. We probably should. But we should do so with a very critical eye. As thinking people, we must make judgements, we must engage in debate. I guess we really must take those trips into lands we find uncomfortable.

  11. CB James, I'm sorry to hear you find my worldview so "disturbing" (can there be a more belittling word? I mean, does that not equal telling someone "you're sick and twisted"?) especially as at the end of the day I don't think we disagree as much as you seem to think. If you're been reading my blog for any amount of time, surely you'll know my position on rape or GLBTQ rights. However, though I find those ACTIONS monstrous, I will maintain that the people who do them are not necessarily monsters. And I called them "truths" not because I believe that they're as acceptable as a culture of tolerance and humanism (I thought this was obvious enough to go without saying), but because those people *believe* they are right. I want to work out WHY instead of just dismissing them as monsters, as I find that much more useful (though probably more challenging too). I guess that's my definition of using my critical faculties.

  12. Teresa: I think you make an excellent point when you said that the author being in attack mode or not makes a world of difference. I deal well with difference, but not so well with hostility.

    Carl: Though my own reading is a bit of a mixed bag, I know that condescension you speak of very well, and I'm not a fan of it either :\ In the end, there are so make different reasons for reading, and all are valid in their own way. I wish more people would remember that.

    Beth: Windows and mirrors is another great metaphor! And I do wonder if a book can be neither. Or, alternatively, both. I see your point about shallow places, but again what makes it difficult is that that's hard to define. But I'm much more likely to resent a book for not dealing with any given experience thoroughly than for dealing with an experience in a way I don't recognise.

    Amanda, thank you for the kind words!

    Debi: I think books that reflect an experience we recognise in a new way are infinitely meaningful - which is why I just don't get dismissing a book because we think whatever it deals with is "obvious" (which I know you don't do, of course). And yep, I'm not a fan of wallowing either. As much as I'm curious about the world, I also want to spare myself misery.

    Megan: I think you made some excellent points! Especially about how having someone you identify with to "guide" you into another world can enhance your appreciation of a story. As for the distinction, possibly no book is either 100% a homecoming or 100% a trip into a foreign country. There's always be familiar and new aspects in both.

    Steph: Yes, mood plays a huge role on whether I prefer a homecoming or a foreign journey. And I think both you and Megan are right that there are books that can be a little bit of both.

    Jill: I love that too :)

    Iris: Thank you so much! I look forward to hearing whatever you conclude after you think about it more.

  13. What an incredible post! (again!) I love this sentence "This is part of what art does: it gives us back our truth and it reassures us that someone else sees the world the way we do." I love that about reading, but I also love learning about others. I love both the homecoming and the journeys into foreign territory. I especially love those journeys that each us about other peoples and why they act and think the way they do.

  14. Wonderful post - you've articulated some real wisdom here. I like this way of thinking about books; but the more I consider the dichotomy, the more I find myself thinking about how often the homecoming and the foreign land happen in the same book. You are wandering about a foreign land and suddenly a word, an emotional moment, a twist in a relationship, makes you realize that you are actually at home - you RECOGNIZE this, and it could be your own self.

  15. I absolutely agree about the not growing up at the same rates thing. I remember so well when I was a freshman in high school reading the short story Eleven by Sandra Cisneros (http://khsaplit.pbworks.com/f/Eleven+Essay+Prompt.doc). I don't think I appreciated it nearly so much then as I do now, but I keep coming back to the comment about when you are eleven, you are also ten, nine, eight, seven, etc., inside, too. I LOVE that.

  16. What a great post, Ana -- I always feel enriched when I come to your blog. I think I enjoy books that do a bit of both -- reflecting my own experience and taking me someplace new. An obvious example might be a coming of age story, or a story about a woman who, like me, is a mother, set in a foreign culture. I am at once encountering both the new and the familiar.

    I like what you said about a gifted writer presenting familiar experiences as if they were new. I sometimes tell my students that one of the hallmarks of wonderful writing is showing the reader something familiar in a way that make him say, "Huh! I never thought of it quite that way before!"

  17. I love the idea of homecomings and journeys through the act of reading. I think I tend to focus more on the journey when I speak of books as I do love learning new things and having my thoughts challenged, but I think the homecoming is just as important. Honestly I'm not sure that these things are necessarily exclusive of each other--how many times do we journey elsewhere and still experience some type of homecoming as well? I think that learning the new helps us reaffirm or shift perspectives bringing us sometimes to a slightly different home.

    I also like the idea of discovering truths that aren't our own and I think I've probably been victim at one point or another of dismissing a character because I simply can't relate to how they responded to a particular emotion or experience because it isn't how I reacted. If only we could all be more aware!

  18. I tend to be always looking for homecomings in my reading, but I'm surprised and delighted by new things. The classical way of thinking about fiction, of course, was as a "mirror to reality."

    Also, I think when we dismiss those who do evil as "monsters," we're trying to distance ourselves, to say that we're not like that and could never do those kinds of things, when a lot of good fiction is designed to make us understand how evil can happen, bit by bit, sometimes by people who don't see how the little things are going to add up.

  19. Ah, this is very interesting. Because of my very sheltered upbringing, I've tried to be a book traveler over the last few years, read a wide variety of things, to understand more about others, to be more open and experience more. But lately I've been longing for home, for comfort books, for the books that really speak closely to me, even if to no one else. Middlemarch, Jane Eyre and Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen are the coming of age books (I don't know if others would categorize them that way but that's how they worked for me) that I most identify with and hold on to because they speak to my experience as a shy, sensitive, idealistic girl growing into a woman. My biggest loss has been moving from our family farm at age 10, so now in my 30s I see more and more how much I still long for that lost sense of stability, love, connectedness, roots, family, community and just home. Things that remind me of it (I'm really coming to love lesser known authors from the 1920s-40s, thanks in part to your 1930s challenge! Partly because it's my grandparents era perhaps) are very deeply treasured.

  20. Great post, Ana! I love the concept of homecoming and journeys/ windows and mirrors. I tend to gravitate more toward homecomings, but still enjoy journeys and 'stretching' ... even in midlife, I am not done growing!

  21. What an excellent post. Thank you for sharing it. I especially love your line "books can satisfy our need for intellectual and emotional community at a deeper level than converstaion with people." For me books can also satisfy a need for spiritual community. If a book doesn't have any component of homecoming it is hard to relate to. At some level I need to be able to make connections. On the other hand, I need to go to a far off land in some component of the book in order for it to stretch my thinking. Balance is the key. a good book stretches my point of view without being radically offensive. My way of thinking needs to be changed in baby steps rather than giant steps.

  22. I prefer books that illustrate a truth I have never been to articulate, one that I've felt inside but either never found necessary to acknowledge or was not able to express adequately. It's one of my greatest pleasures with reading. The revelation of what is obvious (to me) upon reflection.

  23. I don't think we should ever truly grow up ... certainly to the point where we can't enjoy a children's book!! I like to read to read for both reasons ... to "come home" and to venture to "foreign lands." Both fulfill different needs in me. Lovely post.

  24. I do agree that both experiences are equally valuable and feel fortunate that I have had both in my reading, often within the same book.

    I personalize just about every book I read, whether consciously or unconsciously looking for relatable aspects and to gain a new insight and learn something new. With some books, I know I may get more of one than another. As you said, I think there needs to be a balance. At least for me.

    I also agree with you that while reading books outside of our comfort areas can be beneficial, there are times when it is better not to--for our own sanity--as in the examples you described.

  25. I agree that balance is the key; but am I more often a "pausing wanderer" or a "traveller returned"? Perhaps I am more inclined to choose the familiar and linger -- pause -- there, but I have, in this reading year, been doing more "travelling" than I've done in recent reading years. I've heard people say they've been bitten by a "travel bug" and grow restless when they still too long in one place; I think I am experiencing the same kind of wanderlust in my reading this year and I find myself choosing an ever greater number of books that take me elsewhere (whether that's in kidlit, non-fiction, novels, poems, or stories). Manguel's distinctions make sense to me and it's interesting to read about how other readers feel about his ideas.

  26. Very excellent and interesting post, Ana! I love thinking about personal libraries that way. I'm definitely more of a traveler with my books--I enjoy being transported away from my everyday reality. In fact, if a book reminds me too much of incidents in my own life, I tend not to like it too much. There are probably some exceptions, but none I can think of at the moment.

  27. Interesting post. I think "homecoming" books can sometimes be a little too comforting so I don't think I seek them out. But I also don't like "foreign journey" books that are so different from what I know - I'm thinking of fantasy, the type of books where there are warlords and villagers etc. where I can't relate to anyone.

    Also "foreign journey" are horror-like books like those of Chuck Palahniuk which I find interesting although I can't relate to the characters either (but then I can't relate to their actions, their surroundings I usually can relate to).

  28. This is such an interesting discussion, a perspective I’ve never thought of before. For some reason, I’ve always been on the ‘discovery of the foreign lands’ side of the reading but now that I think about it, I had plenty of ‘homecoming’ moments as I was reading a book… After all it’s not always the going away but also coming back that concludes the journeys and reading is a journey that never ends!

  29. I feel we've been talking about this a lot around the blog land recently, which is great as it's something we all need to keep reminding ourselves to be aware of (in my opinion, blah, blah caveat, caveat).

    I think I'm a homecoming gal myself, but that I'm quite easily able to read a variety of books and see my experiences reflected in them because of my political opinions. That's something I guess once upon a time liberals never thought they'd be able to say, but when I reach out for a book eight times out of ten I'm going to find a liberal viewpoint there. So no matter how far from my own experience I might go (geography, sexual orientaton) it's likely that I'll reach out and find that the book I want to read reflects something in the neighbourhood of my sensibilities. Maybe it's just my perceptual rosy tinted lens here, but I think if readers are more conservative they have to do a lot more filtering of books than I do (and while I'm sure that signals the end of the world for some I'm quite happy saying I think it's great - well I would wouldn't I?).

    Even when we read books about the 'monsters' of the world I tend to think that these books are being written from a filtered liberal view point, rather than an authentic monster view point now. So there's the opportunity to sympathise with the perpetrators of awful things, as real people and also the knowledge that the book does in some way intend to condemn their actions, even as it searches for understanding of the people behind the actions.

    There are less and less books being written by people who agree with the actions, although they're still out there. That crazy trend of books that might as well be titled 'you're emasculating our men feminists' showed me that. At least that's what I like to think, but like I say it could easily be my inbuilt filtering process that keeps me from seeing those books everywhere. And I guess this argument only applies to current publishing trends, but we still ahve unchaged classics around.

  30. I like both the homecoming and the journey, but I think I prefer the journey a tad more. I like to think that when I open up a book I am going to go somewhere totally new and unexperienced, and that I will learn something new and enlightening. I also sometimes like to feel that there are people out there dealing with some of the same things I am going through, or have gone through, and I always read different reactions with a sense of looking at a situation with a fresh perspective. I don't really feel comfortable with some author's attempts to villainize things that are unusual to them, or things they don't agree with. I think I would much rather read a book that explores a foreign experience or concept with wonder and respect. That way, I don't feel pressured when I have a differing opinion than the author. I really liked this topic and think it's not something I've given much thought lately. I always appreciate the way you peel back the layers of what it really means to be a reader!

  31. What a thoughtful and thought-provking post! I enjoy both homecomings and journeys in my reading. I admit to being someone who likes to find something new is what I read but I also think that a well-written book of any kind can fill that even if it is a reread. I have read Mrs. Dalloway several times for instance and always find something new there.

    I like to be disturbed out of my thinking ruts but I think there is a difference between disturbing as in thought-provoking and making me look at something in a new way or question why I think a certain way and disturbing as in cruel or hateful or prejudicial. The second kind of disturbing I try to avoid as much as possible.

  32. Wonderful post Ana! I think, in my own case, books sometimes mean like a homecoming and sometimes feel like travelling in a foreign land. And there are times, when, eventhough the book feels like a travel through foreign land, there are elements in it which touch me deeply and which I am able to identify with - it seems then that such a book has achieved a perfect blend of both.

  33. You may have cleared up a conundrum for me: why I don't read much contemporary Australian fiction.

    As a child I was socially isolated, with only adults, mean older half-siblings, and animals for company. (I know! Awww.) So, I turned to books for companionship. I read books about "out there", because that's where I wanted to be, and wanted to go.

    When I was old enough I did go, and have never looked back. So, that probably explains why I don't like reading about familiar things, because it feels like being "back there".

    Hmm. You've given me something to think about, as always. X

  34. BTW, I just picked up The Library At Night from my library today on my lunch hour. I really hope I have the chance to read it. As always you are really making me think and that is why I LOVE your blog!

  35. Great questions. Books that I enjoy for me are both homecomings and a window into a foreign place. Although, this foreign place sometimes feel like a wonderful variation of home.

  36. Amy: I love that about reading too :) My world would be so much smaller if not for books.

    Mumsy: I think you (and the other comments who made that point) are absolutely right that the two things can happen in the same book. I wish I'd thought of that!

    Aarti: I love that idea too! And some of the favourite children's books work exactly because they make me remember what it felt like to be eight or nine or ten.

    Stephanie: You are always much too kind to me! And I love that you tell your students that :) It's a great way to explain what good writing can do.

    Trish: Yes, you're absolutely right that they aren't exclusive. I love that the processes are so mingled, actually - it's part of what makes reading so rewarding.

    Jeanne: I absolutely agree about the idea of "monsters". You put it better than I could!

    Carolyn: I think my absolute favourites are homecoming books too. But I also think it's possible for a journey book to become a homecoming - what was once foreign becomes a part of us, perhaps because of the very experience of encountering it in a book.

    JoAnn: We never are!

    Rhonda: I think that even in the most exotic journeys we do need that elements of connection that makes the unfamiliar a little more familiar. Small steps to tend to work better than huge leaps.

    Trisha: I know exactly what you mean and I LOVE that too :)

    Jenners: I don't want to ever "grow up" in that sense either :) And thank you!

    Wendy: Yes - and the balance is often within the same book. I also know just what you mean about staying away from certain things for the sake of your sanity.

  37. Agree with you completely. Balance is the key. While I connect with a book when I recognise myself in it, the experience of being surprised with something new takes reading to a higher level. There are some books I love for the one thing, and others for the other. But the best books, I think, are the ones that are a combination of both. For example, the book I'm reading at the moment. Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City. Resonates with me for personal reasons/familiarity with culture/reminder of family, etc. But also, as my grandparents were quite silent about their past during the war, and as my grandfather especially never tells us stories of his life in China, I learned so much about life in China/Hong Kong during the post-WW2 era. Talk about hitting two birds with one stone. :)

    On another note, I'm truly excited to read LIbrary at Night. It's been sitting on my shelves for over a year now, and was reserving it for the perfect time. Your post has whetted my appetite. :)

  38. Agree with you completely. Balance is the key. While I connect with a book when I recognise myself in it, the experience of being surprised with something new takes reading to a higher level. There are some books I love for the one thing, and others for the other. But the best books, I think, are the ones that are a combination of both. For example, the book I'm reading at the moment. Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City. Resonates with me for personal reasons/familiarity with culture/reminder of family, etc. But also, as my grandparents were quite silent about their past during the war, and as my grandfather especially never tells us stories of his life in China, I learned so much about life in China/Hong Kong during the post-WW2 era. Talk about hitting two birds with one stone. :)

    On another note, I'm truly excited to read LIbrary at Night. It's been sitting on my shelves for over a year now, and was reserving it for the perfect time. Your post has whetted my appetite. :)

  39. There is a third way. When a writer doesn't necessarily confirm or challenge one's *own* experience, but illuminates the past behavior of others. Rather than a "Hm, this isn't how it went for me" moment, I've had the kind where it was, "Oh THAT's what she must have been thinking, when she did that thing that made no sense to me."

    I am about 2/3 through the Library at Night, and I am loving his writing while finding myself puzzled at some of the conclusions he draws from the evidence he presents. Great combination, actually.


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