There is a brillant bit in Nick Hornby’s classic novel High Fidelity where our hero Rob has just broken up with his girlfriend Laura, and the first album he listens to at home after is Yellow Submarine by The Beatles. The reason? Because it’s the only album he owns that doesn’t remind him of anything. Not of his lost love, of any good or bad times, nada. Just a piece of music that he can listen to, enjoy on its own merits, wallow in the nostalgia, and package up for the next time, untainted by the vagaries of the human heart.
Now Rob is more than a music aficionado, he is something of a snob. Which is fine, if you’re passionate about something, it’s almost inevitable. And I have definitely become the same about books, that’s for certain. But the reason I haven’t gone full snob is for the same reason as Rob above. I’m terrified of having my favourite books remind me of anything other than my love for them. So I tend to keep my all-time favourites to myself, to wax lyrical about them but encourage others to seek them out themselves if they so wish (which doesn’t tend to happen very often as no-one is a more avid reader than me in my social group) and move the discussion on to other books. Be protective, secretive and precious about them, basically. To avoid an all-time great being tarnished by a bad memory.
High Fidelity is a good case in point, as it happens. I have currently lent that to somebody (who already loved the film so it wasn’t too much of a punt), and if I’m honest, there is a small part of me that regrets it. Because I’m running the risk that the book will always remind me of her, and if something bad happens between us, I won’t be able to read the book without thinking about her. And I would be genuinely upset if that happened. I think it will probably be OK, mostly because we have a shared appreciation for the novel which has actually enhanced the book for me a bit. Also I have a long history with the novel and it has infuenced my life in countless ways which are deeply entrenched and for which I will remain forever grateful. I don’t think the biggest emotional heartache could completely rid me of that feeling.
But you have to be so careful, with music or literature, anything creative that is special to you, really. It’s the great balancing act; spreading your love of something that changed your life, in the hope that it inspires others too, against the great worry that that action will fundamentally effect your appreciation of the work.