On the intimacy of reading (and even of opinions)

by look i have opinions

“We feel an intimate connection to a book we love, more personal even than the connection we feel to favorite movies or music, which we often encounter in actual or strongly implied groups—at a theater, a concert, as a member of a mass TV or radio audience. Books, by contrast, we read alone (even if we read them for a class or a book group, we read them alone, at our own pace, pausing where we will). Or rather, not alone, but in the ghostly company of others—the characters, and the author. A movie may be funnier or more exciting if viewed in a crowded theater, a song more euphoric if experienced on a dance floor, but a book is enhanced by this intimacy. And intimacy is in some sense inimical to sharing. My relationship with my wife is precious by virtue of its exclusivity. Similarly my relationship with a book or a story is precious because it feels unique, as if no one else might understand that work or that author in quite the same way. (A best seller, a prizewinner, enjoyed and admired by many is perhaps less likely to offer this quality, unless we find in it something we think that all those other readers missed.) Intimacy, by these lights, is the ultimate elitism. Never mind that it might be illusory—what is fiction, after all, if not illusory? And this is the thrill I found in each of these stories: the sense that they spoke to me alone. That’s what made me fall in love with them. And perhaps it’s what underlies my anxiety about judging: not that you might dispute my judgment, but that you might share it.”

—Peter Ho Davies in an essay (here) introducing his guest-edited issue (121, Fall 2013) of Ploughshares