I have suffered from a ‘syndrome’ for years that I’ve appropriately named the ‘literary love’ syndrome. It’s what I’ve named the emotional instability I experience after reading certain books, watching certain TV shows or movies, or listening to a beautiful piece of music. When it comes to books, I know that a book has managed to win my heart when by the middle of it, I have been stricken with this aching, painful, love sick feeling. By the end, I hold onto the book, never wanting to let go. That feeling of wanting to keel over and cry over the beauty of that specific artistic piece is something that has become such a milestone in the way I pick my favorites from the hundreds of other books I read on a yearly basis (because yes, at one point in my life, there were hundreds of books read in a year. Not so much anymore, unfortunately). If the book makes me cry, laugh and genuinely feel more alive, then its done the trick. It’s a deep melancholy, almost like Ennui, but in a positive sense… It’s a metaphysical angst caused by experiencing beautiful things, by seeing, reading or hearing something that makes my heart sore and ache at the same time. It’s what I imagine love must feel like. The last book that gave me such a feeling was Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford. I read it over this past summer, and for a few days following, I was vulnerable and fragile, ready to cry at the drop of a hat. It has left a mark on my soul, and my life cannot possibly go back to being the way it was before I flipped over to the first page. The first book I experienced this feeling with was The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (I was nine, and I was sure that the protagonist had been written with me in mind). I remember every book that has left such a mark on me, every word and phrase that has taken me captive. This is what it means to love life. How is it possible to live in any other way?
In high school, it was books like The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos and The Angels Game Ruiz Zafon (which partially inspired one of the themes in Shattered Illusions, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy that unearthed this sense of pleasure, passion and pain in me. They unearthed the writer that was hiding somewhere in my spirit, the writer I wanted to become, but didn’t know how to become. Reading these books not only introduced me to the desire to live a passionate life outside of myself, but they taught me how to internalize my passion for everything it was worth, and make it my own. After reading The Book Thief, I suddenly found the courage to write with fury, lust and desire. It was something I had never done before, something I was ashamed to try for fear of not being good enough. In the weeks following my six week sit through of War and Peace, I skated on a cloud, feeling as though nothing in life could ever weigh me down. These books taught me everything about who I wanted to, and how to become that person. If that isn’t love, then what is?
I had a harder time stumbling upon such books as an adult. For a time, I thought that perhaps it was because the literary love had to die with old (‘old’) age. I believed that I would have to mature and stop looking at the world the rose colored glasses with which I read these books. The books weren’t handed to me as they were when I was seventeen, and I began to make really awful reading decisions. But then I discovered books by Roberto Bolano, Mark Danielewski and Pascal Mercier, and once again, my heart felt the flame of love. And, when all else failed, I went back and reread my favorites. There’s nothing wrong with rekindling an old flame once in a while, at least, not where books are concerned.
Can something that feels this good have such a painful quality at the same time, I wonder. I’ve experienced this ‘syndrome’ with so many things besides for reading: writing, music, and art, to name a few. The act of creating, understanding and absorbing is, for me, the act of love, or, at least, part of it. There’s a sense of peace in this syndrome. I want to feel like this forever, yet, I wish, sometimes, that it would disappear for good. Do I want to feel content yet furious and anxious at all times? Is that what love is? That feeling of safety and absolute insecurity at the same time. Is this what other people equate with love and meaning? Safety in insecurity, like walking on a sheet of ice over a river, feeling completely at ease, all the while knowing that at any moment the ice could break open up and swallow you into the cold darkness. That’s what writing feels like. It feels so safe, yet there is no safety in it. There is no safety in being a writer and yet I never feel more secure than when I am doing it. The whole world could be falling to pieces, but as long as I have my ability to write, whether the writing is fantastic or absolutely dreadful, then I’ll feel safe. As long as I have these things to call my own, I will never feel alone. That is what love means to me.
That is what it means to be alive.