as going to lunch, my wife and another couple the other day. Mentioned I was reading The Eyre Affair. The woman in the front seat hardly turned. “By Jasper Fforde”? I blinked. “Wow! How would you know that?” She told me she’d started it a couple of weeks ago. Me, I’m midway through and really enjoying it. I started to babble about how funny it was (militant astronomer groups?) and she sniffed (you couldn’t hear it, but all the evidence was there for a down-her-nose dismissal). “Oh, I dropped it after the first chapter. It wasn’t very good.”
I started to say why I liked it but she simply dismissed me like one would a servant. Humiliating.
There are writers I love. Wells is way up there, along with Pratchett. Fraser. Dumas. Sabatini. God, so many. But I’ve never been sniffed like that. Just flat out rejected. I was actually stunned by how cold she was about this.
The Eyre Affair takes place in a world several version removed, where Germany sorta won World War Two (nothing came from it) yet the Russians and English have been fighting in the Crimea for over a hundred years. And literature is far more important. There are productions of Richard III (Dick the shit, as he is called) that come across as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s actually a very funny idea. And rival denominations of literalists fight over their favorite authors, literally engaging in punch-outs and even fire-bombings.
And that’s the thing that got my head whirling. I’ve seen D&D role players get in fights (even in my games) with silly punches thrown. I’ve seen model railroaders get so mad with each other they couldn’t see straight (been in one of those, too). Pool players are quick to brawl. Card players shoot each other on occasion.
And religion? Good heavens (or whatever is suitable for you) – you should all be ashamed before your various Gods. Genocide? Terrorism? Knifings? Where are all these rules you are supposed to honor? How can you look at yourself and not see the hypocrisy in your actions?
But readers? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of book lovers breaking into a reading room brawl over book differences. And this is even though readers engage in seeming-meditation, reading and rereading their favorite books, worshipping their writers, and pouring over books, breaking down sentences, scrabbling for hidden meanings. Just like religion. Without all that violence.
So, perhaps of all the pastimes and amusements and devotions out there, perhaps reading really is the sanest. It brings comfort. It brings clarity. It brings wisdom. And it brings truth. You can find someone who shares your view and talk away the hours over musketeers, Martians or Moby Dick. And even if someone casts down your thoughts, grinding them into the dust, you will never resort to bombings, shootings, lynchings, or stabbings.
You might, as in my case, think of them as a bit of a prig.
I mean, really.