Books Talking To Books

3afef1e893f675f1dd6af0348c666c70A librarian friend of mine has this theory that books talk to each other and that whatever book you pick up next it will have some link with the one that you’ve just finished.  I think she formed this one year when she found herself reading several books, one after the other, in which people performed various unmentionable acts with sheep.  I can’t be sure about that.  I have to say that despite her enthusiasm I wasn’t exactly drawn to the subject matter.  Anyway, I found myself thinking about that earlier this week when the Dickens course moved on to Oliver Twist.  One of the critical passages we were asked to read detailed Queen Victoria’s response to the novel and the entry she made in her journal about a discussion of the book she had with Lord Melbourne.  Her Majesty had been much moved by the plight of the people in the workhouse and wished to know what could be done about it.  It was Lord Melbourne who, in this instance, ‘was not amused’.  He wanted nothing to do with the book and Victoria quotes him as saying:

I don’t like those things; I wish to avoid them; I don’t like them in reality, and therefore I don’t wish them represented.

In other words, if I don’t have to look at them I don’t have to acknowledge that they exist and thus cannot possibly be expected to do anything about them.

Coincidentally (or was it really books talking to books again) on Monday I lead a group discussion of Karen Joy Fowler’s wonderful novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.  This followed what was a third read for me and details of the first two and my response to the book can be found here.  One of the things that I appreciate about Fowler’s work is that she recognises that the question of whether or not animals should be involved in developing life-saving drugs is only easily answered if you or a member of your family is not in need of the resulting medication.  Nobody’s arguing these issues are easy, her main character, Rosie, says.  But in an interview the author offers a more nuanced position that is also explored in the book.

What I can say is that I think we should not be doing things that are invisible to us.  I think that people would not stand for the factory farms if they saw them.  We’re removed from this.  And now there’s a great effort to make it illegal to go into these farms and show people what happens…If we can’t bear to look at it then we should not be doing it.

What the eye doesn’t see the heart needn’t grieve over.

Nearly two hundred years apart the sentiments are the same.  Look the other way and we can pretend nothing wrong, nothing evil, is happening. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

19 thoughts on “Books Talking To Books

  1. I like the idea of books talking to books. It certainly seems to be the case that one book leads on to another. Your comparison of those sentiments reminds me of the oft quoted ‘All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.’

  2. I do find the occasional serendipity of similar themes in my reading – whether deliberate on my part, or a conspiracy on the part of the books, I’m not sure…

  3. It’s probably confirmation bias (like when your father in law has a kind of car and then your neighbour does and then that car is EVERYWHERE) but I’ve definitely had it too. I once read FOUR time-slip books in a row, completely by accident.

  4. Books do indeed talk to each other! I worry for your friend though and what her talking books resulted in! I enjoyed your own version. It is so true, out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes. I agree with you, if more people could see what was going on they might feel differently about things.

    1. An interesting idea and I love that idea of one book leading to another = of course the books speak to each other! I have just finished the Karen Jay Fowler and I also enjoyed it a great deal (enjoyed is probably the wrong word as it is such a sad book). L liked too Rose’s insistence that none of these issues are easy.

      1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Ian. It is sad, not the least because so much of the communication between Rosie and Fern was so joyous and yet we don’t seem to have found a way to build on that link in a manner that is respectful for both parties.

  5. Having just come over here after reading about how much I don’t know about what goes on in prisons (Tales from the Reading Room), I also think that book blogs talk to book blogs in ways we don’t plan. Sometimes ideas start to make the rounds and end up bigger and more interesting than they started from any one individual’s articulation of them. I’m now mulling over ideas about transparency, which is a word much in use at my college–everything is supposed to be transparent. It takes a lot of work to make it that way, though, and the people who call for it aren’t always interested later.

    1. And what is transparent to one is to always transparent to another, Jeanne. I have come across far too many people who mean you must be transparent but don’t ask the same of me.

  6. I’m astounded to hear there are so many books involving unmentionable acts with sheep. And then there is someone who has read more than one of them. I think one would have been more than enough for me! So far in my own reading I haven’t noticed a pattern in theme or subject maybe because I have a very butterfly kind of brain…

  7. I have not found this to be true exactly, that books talk to each other, but I have very much found that when I learn a new thing, I immediately encounter it in twelve other places (not just books). Which! I learned a few years ago has a name, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

  8. I loved the Karen Joy Fowler, too. Reviewers keep going on about the surprise of Fern’s identity in the novel but what I loved was the narrative voice. The opening scene in the cafeteria was just brilliant. Her style reminds me a little of Miriam Toews.

  9. It’s happened to me. I spent one summer reading nothing but books about addicts. Not on purpose, mind you, it just turned out that way. Then, years later, for months it seemed that everything I picked up had a pirate in it.

    Oddly, it didn’t happen the summer I read a book about the Baader-Meinhof case.

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