Oursin has this post about a clueless article about books about reading–bibliomemoirs and “reading guides,” they mostly seem to be, rather than lit crit proper, although the line is almost certainly fuzzy. It looks like the original article’s author is having trouble with the concept that reading is another human activity that humans will like in varying amounts and with varying accoutrements. That’s…kind of weird, honestly. Aren’t we clear that some people want T-shirts that say “I’d rather be riding horses” and some people would just rather be riding horses regardless of their shirts? Some people want to ride horses and also read about the theory of riding horses and also read about famous riders of the past, whereas some people…just want to ride their horses. Why should reading itself be any different, as human activities go?
The ideal present for me has been the same throughout my life, and that is: the book I didn’t know I wanted. (Zalena nailed one of these recently: I had not been keeping close enough track to realize that Hilary McKay had a book out that I had not read, until poof! there it was. Hurrah!) A very close second place is a book I did know I wanted. I understand that there are people who change over the course of their lives, who have a different ideal present at age 6 than at age 36, but I understand this in an intellectual, not an emotional sense, because that is not my experience of life. For me the Best Present is a constant.
But. When I was younger, Book-Related Crap was far higher on my list of Good Presents than it is now. I have a mug reading “So Many Books, So Little Time,” and that was a good present at the time, and today it would be…not a great present, frankly. It would be a present I was polite about and would find a use for but would not be excited about, and at the time it made me happy. And I think I have figured out why.
When I was younger, it was a lot more important that people not try to put me in the wrong box. And giving me Book Crap or Fantasy Crap or SF Crap or Science Crap was a token that they had recognized my chosen boxes. The mug that said, “So Many Books, So Little Time” acknowledged that my Thing was books. They were not putting me in the Adolescent Girls Like Pop Music Box or the My Friend At Work Has A Daughter Your Age Who Likes This Box.
Now? Well, now I’m pretty comfortable with who I am, and the default adult question when you first meet someone is, “What do you do?”, not, “What grade are you in?” So it used to be that the default I Just Met You question solicited approximately zero information that was really important to me, and now it solicits information that is greatly important to me. “I write science fiction and fantasy for all ages.” People know that about me within thirty seconds of meeting me in nearly any context. So I can focus my clothing on having a flattering cut and color, feeling soft, washing well, being durable, that sort of thing. Because “I like books” will come across in other ways. Not everybody has that. Some people want it. I don’t see why the original poster should object to them having it on their shirt or on a totebag.
And I really don’t see why we shouldn’t have community in books about books as well as out of books about books, and I think that’s what bibliomemoir is aiming at. Bibliomemoir is the book version of when you’re sitting around drinking tea with a friend and you say, “So when I was 18 and I read Joanna Russ,” and she says, “ME TOO.” It’s okay when your friend writes this down and publishes it. It’s okay when you haven’t met your friend yet. It’s okay if you never will. You can still live in the same community of books. You can still be aware that you do. Being aware of it doesn’t spoil it.