Sense vs. Sensibility? I’m a Sense girl, all the way.
I am not exactly a fan of passion in my personal life. I mistrust anything that carries me beyond reason or makes me feel out of control. For me, there’s a whiff of the fanatic (the demon-possessed) in fan, and of suffering (the Passion of Christ) in passion. That’s probably why I’ve seldom been really drunk, and never been tempted to try drugs.
I didn’t enjoy falling in love that much. The soaring highs and steep drops. Roller-coasters make me motion sick; falling in love felt kind of queasy, too. I like being in love just fine, though. Some lovers seem to thrive on drama, fights, sobbing, reckless acts, think the best sex is make-up sex. Not me. I like quiet contentment. (In case you’re worried, or you’re my husband, I’m not implying my sex life is dull. There are occasions when being carried beyond reason works just fine for me.)
This is a paradoxical thing for a romance-reader to say, but I’m often not a fan of passionate books, either. I found my way to romance through Austen and Heyer. Many of the romances I enjoy most are traditional Regencies and contemporary comedies. It’s not that I’m unmoved, or wish to be, by my reading. But I find that angsty, dramatic books about larger-than-life people carried away by passion, books which grip and enthrall many other readers, are usually not for me. When I want a more highly emotional reading experience, I turn to a realistic contemporary, like a Harlequin SuperRomance, where the emotions come from regular people’s everyday problems.
I’m not a passionate reader, exactly, either. I love reading. It’s a big part of my professional vocation and of my leisure time. But I’m trained to read analytically, and I do so by temperament too. I don’t think I’ve been uncritically lost in a book since childhood. I had my readerly Romantic fall from Innocence to Experience long ago. Unlike Wordsworth, I don’t mourn “the hour / Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.” I’m content to give up intense immersion in exchange for the pleasures of critical thinking.
Waiting to pick up my daughter from school today, I meditated on this post as I finished Sheila Simonson’s trad Regency Lady Elizabeth’s Comet. And I came upon this in the hero’s declaration to the heroine:
“I prefer a mature and elevating attachment to the idiocies of calf love. Far more dignified, don’t you think?” He kissed my hair. Thence another interlude–elevated, of course.
This passage is characteristic of the restraint and humour I enjoyed in the book. This is a couple in love, and in lust (though that’s offstage, in the dash), but they aren’t so overpowered by passion that they can’t make jokes. You can see why I enjoyed this book so much. And I enjoyed it more because I was thinking about how the passage worked and why it appealed to me so much right then. For me, that was a perfect reading moment.
But not for every reader. This is an account of my development as a certain kind of reader, and I don’t expect or require everyone to be like me. I don’t judge readers who are passionate about passionate books–as long as they don’t judge me.
At least, I thought I didn’t, until this week (some of you who move in the same circles of Romancelandia as I do may guess what prompted this post, but that’s not the important part, and I don’t want to rake it up again).
Look, I’m judgmental. You know the Meyers-Briggs personality types? INTJ is me. I find judging fun. I have to admit I can get pretty passionate about it. I judge Sarah Palin to be a wrong-headed idiot, for instance. And I judge anyone who thought she was a good choice for VP to be an idiot. And I enjoy ranting about stuff like that. Um, yeah. The passion I’m most likely to experience? Anger. Oh dear. I’m a fighter, not a lover?
When I’m reading for pleasure, I judge books to be good or bad or indifferent. I like to believe I’m rational, not passionate, about these judgments, and that I’m fine with other readers judging books differently. But sometimes I feel my judgments of taste as Kantian categorical imperatives; I “will that [they] should become a universal law.” How could any right-thinking person disagree with me, after all? Many readers fall into that trap when they feel passionately about a book, and my tendency to do so now and then means that I am more swayed by passion than I’d like to admit.
But taste in books isn’t a moral issue and thus can’t be a Kantian imperative. I believe fiction can have moral (and other) effects on its readers, but those effects are incalculable, unpredictable, vary from reader to reader. A book which profoundly influences me may leave others cold (I’m guessing there’s a dwindling number of Middlemarch lovers out there). I fall into judging other readers when they are most passionate. Because I don’t feel (OK, OK, I don’t want to believe I feel) unreasoning love for books, I judge others who do. (By unreasoning here I don’t mean stupid, I mean that’s its a largely emotional attachment that they can’t or don’t give reasons for).
I last fell in love at 21, more than half my lifetime ago. I last had a completely immersive, unthinking, uncritical reading experience . . . I dunno, but well before that. I realized this week, thanks to some thoughtful conversations with various people, that because of my history, I might just tend, mostly unconsciously and because of my personal history and temperament, to think of readers who are passionate fans of passionate books as being somewhat juvenile.
And you know what? Sometimes they act in ways that confirm my prejudice. Their acts, I feel free to judge. But their tastes? I shouldn’t. I may not understand some people’s tastes, but they’re no less valid than mine. De gustibus non est disputandum (in Latin and everything! must be true).
Now, dear readers, I’d like you to help me challenge my prejudice against reading with passion. Recommend some passion-filled books and/or books about which you are passionate. There are only two rules:
1. You have to be able to be reasonable about your passion. Are you going to go off on me if I don’t share your love? No sale.
2. No books that are so surrounded by passionate buzz and controversy and backlash and back-backlash that I won’t be able to read them with an open mind. You know the books I mean. There are so many of them these days, sadly.