Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 02, 2015

The Right Sort of Book People

It's almost 18 years since I went to college, which as a side note means that soon MrsDarwin and I will have known each other half our lives. Not a bad thing, that.

We met at a Freshman dance and ended up talking till two in the morning. I don't recall exactly how it came up, but the moment when I realized we were going to be friends was when she said, "We could go over to the student center and talk for a while."

I replied, "Of shoes and ships and sealing wax?"

And she responded "Of cabbages and kings."

I'd come up to college with the conviction that probably the best indicator of whether someone was a worthwhile friend was whether they liked the same books. If someone liked Tolkien and Lewis, we were clearly going to get along. If they expressed a distaste for science fiction and fantasy (about which I felt strongly enough at the time that I was convinced it was an indicator of seriousness whether you knew to talk about SF rather than SciFi) they probably weren't worth knowing.

I'm not entirely sure how I got to thinking this way. My parents' set of friends mostly went back to their college days and they all shared an interest in Tolkien and Lewis, and in science fiction and fantasy more generally, but my parents themselves were not as exclusive as I, in my youthful enthusiasm, was.

The reason this is particularly strange for me to look back on is that in the ensuing eighteen years I've not only ceased to see shared interest in genre fiction as the primary indicator of intellectual commonality, but I've almost entirely stopped reading science fiction and fantasy. Looking back over the books I read this year, I read 26, of which 4 were science fiction or fantasy. Two of those were by my sister, and the other two were re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring and reading Andy Weir's near-future SF novel The Martian.

I think a part of this is that it wasn't till I got out and had a wider experience of the world that I began to realize what I had got out of favorite books was not necessarily what others got out of them. There are a lot of people who love Tolkien's books who get very different things out of them than I do, and love them for very different reasons. And just because I found beauty and truth in Tolkien's novels does not mean that people who aren't particularly interested in Tolkien have no interest in beauty and truth. Of course, this was deeply faulty logic, but one often barely thinks about these things consciously. Instead, one has a sense of what accounts for "like me" in some basic way.

Friendships tend to be sparked by some sort of commonality: intellectual interests, work, parenthood, religion, politics, living next door to each other. It's probably best to have friendships rooted in all these different areas, and to one extent or another I suppose I do. Even among friends who are also book people, as I've become less dogmatic in my reading tastes, I now number among my friends people who simply don't like Tolkien or Lewis. It does work.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

"I now number among my friends people who simply don't like Tolkien or Lewis. It does work."

That made me laugh out loud.

I was never quite so exclusive, but I was definitely just as dogmatic. I too have read much less science fiction and fantasy in recent years. And I used to abhor nonfiction, which now makes up a considerable chunk of my literary diet. I sometimes wonder if I could go back and time and meet my younger self what she would think of me.

Joseph Moore said...

Interesting. The woman who eventually became my wife had to convince me that Tolkien was really all that - I read him in high school, and thought it was OK, but didn't get the fanaticism with which others reacted to him. But, in the course of wooing my future wife, I read almost all of the LotR out loud while she and a couple roommates knitted - we were supposed to take turns, but since I don't knit, it made more sense for me to just read.

So, like you, a shared love of LotR figures into my 35 year and running relationship with my wife, but she, Beatrice-like, saved me, after a fashion.

Melanie - I had the opposite experience, in that I only read non-fiction until about 7th grade, then got into SF - and felt a little guilty about it. Shouldn't I be reading something serious? Took a while to learn that fiction is serious, in some way more serious and true than non-fiction.

As to friends: I have so few, it's hard to generalize. Books figure into it, but mostly the Great Books - and it's hard for me to separate the books from the college experience where I met most of the people I think of as friends.

Jenny said...

This is funny because I had almost the same prejudice going into college except it ran in the opposite direction. I had a relative growing up whose mental acuity never impressed me who read nothing but Star Trek novels. These novels were mindless and stupid and I thought they represented the entire genre. I figured whoever liked science fiction must be stupid too so I never read it and looked askance at anyone who did.

Skywalker said...

When my husband and I went out on our first date, it was to the symphony, and we heard Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries". He started singing Bugs Bunny's "kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit..." aside to me, and it cracked me up. It's very good when you can laugh at the same things.

Enbrethiliel said...
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Caroline said...

Interesting. I love how y'all met; that's a great story! My high school to college experience was almost the opposite. My hometown in south GA was profoundly unbookish; I learned early on that admitting you like to read, or even using "big words," was social suicide. It wasn't until college that I had that delightful experience of meeting people who liked the same things.