We arrived early today for our relaxation class at the Wellness center, and when we walked into the communal kitchen I was instantly transported to an English teashop. A friend of ours, an Englishwoman who has lived here in California for years, was sipping coffee and chatting with an elderly gentleman who looked like something out of Jane Austen. The scene reminded me profoundly of something I have felt for most of my life: I was born in the wrong century and probably the wrong hemisphere.
Where my heart really says I belong is England in the time of Dickens. I should have been born and raised in the English countryside, maybe in Hardy’s Wessex country, or somewhere along the route of Mr. Pickwick’s famous wanderings. Wuthering Heights might have been a suitable habitat for my taste. Or maybe George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I can’t help feeling that those places, those times, with their particular culture, customs, and values, are more my soulmates than these modern American times.
I don’t know whether our English friend or the elderly gentleman with the lilting accent have even opened a Victorian novel since their youth. But they certainly took me back to the world that I love to escape to more than any other literary landscape. I can’t alter my date or place of birth, but I can grab a good book and fantasize once in a while.
I’m finding, more and more often, that the books I’m reading lead me to other books, by the power of suggestion. For example, I read Cast a Giant Shadow by Ted Berkman, the biography of Mickey Marcus. Mickey’s favorite book was The Green Hat (Michael Arlen), which by coincidence was already on my future reading list because I had come across it while browsing at the library. So I knew I had to read it, and I have to agree with Mickey that it is indeed a literary gem.
If you need suggestions for late 19th century or early 20th century fiction, read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. The book is very autobiographical, and the young protagonist and other characters spend a fair amount of time mentioning the books they read. They were quite prolific. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell’s persona works in English book “sellers”, and he expresses a great many opinions about the particular books, both good and bad, that customers ask for. Some of the “good” ones I’ve added to my future reading list. OK, a few of the “bad” ones, too.
Right now I’m reading The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos (a pretty amazing book). One of his main characters read Romola, by George Eliot. She’s one of my favorite authors, so Romola has moved way up on my reading list.
If anyone has any other examples of books leading to other books by the power of suggestion, I would love to hear about them. Thanks!