Friday, January 26, 2007

What I Hate About Books

What I hate about good books is that they end. It's like saying goodbye to a good friend - someone with whom you have shared something improtant, and you never know if you will see them again. We are guests in these people's lives - we are witnesses to their triumphs and failures, their most private moments. A good book leaves you with the feeling that these people are your friends (or your enemies) - you identify with them, so not only do you sympantize with them, but they, inevitably, sympathize with you. You've offered each other comfort. But then you get to the last page, and suddenly you are saying goodbye. Though you anticipate it, count down to it in some cases, it always comes as a shock - suddenly you turn the page and realize you've reached the end. A really good book will make you turn back, avoiding the last sentence, the point at which you must inevitably close the book, and put them back on the shelf.

Sometimes, it's not goodbye forever. How many times have I attended Gatsby's parties and sat with Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, Tom and Jordan at the Plaza when there wasn't any ice? How many times have I hitchhiked with Sal Paradise, and watched Dean receed into the horizon on our way to the opera? How many times have I sat with Hannah and Almsay in the Italian villa? How many times have their pain and suffering helped me through my own? How many times have they comforted me? So, sometimes you do get to meet again.

But inevitably, something changes. WE change, but they are static, stuck perpetually within the same set of circumstances. Along the way, we change perspectives - so the way that we feel about the characters, and how they react to their circumstances changes as well. But does there always come a point when you outgrow them? When they become childhood friends, with whom your common experiences are no longer relevant? The type of friends with whom you say hello in passing but move on quickly - sentimental but essentially unmoved. So maybe part of the sadness in the ending is that recognition - that there will come a day when you won't feel the same about the people that have allowed you into their lives. It's not the sadness of never seeing them again, but the sadness of realizing that your relationship will change, and that things will never be the same.

The Heart of the Matter

Today I finished The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. I had loved The End of the Affair and I was worried for at least the first third of the book that The End of the Affair might have been his only gem, like my Fitzgerald Situation. The Great Gatsby is possibly - probably the best book I have ever read. But I have not enjoyed Tender is the Night or The Beautiful and the Damned. But once Loise left, and Scobie began his affair with Helen, the book was much better. I was sad to close the book. Scobie's struggle with God was a nice addition to the narrative. It was strictly a Catholic perspective, though, so difficult for me to empathize with to some extent, having never been Catholic. Are there any books that discuss the struggle with fundamentalism/protestantism and the "shadows of god" that they leave? I'm sure there is... I'll have to find out. Even though I didn't like Loise, I wish that someone would have figured out what that snake Wilson was up to - I wish that she wouldn't have held hands with him and said they might get married. But oh well, these were only minor irritations. It was a very good book, though it cannot compare with the beauty that was The End of the Affair. If I were Graham Greene's wife, I would wonder. Why did he always write about affairs? Oh - and my theory that in novels dealing with affairs, someone always dies continuse to hold true, though this time it was the male who died, not the female.