Can one be in love with a book?
Like, have an ongoing relationship with it in which you spend time with it, learn new things from it, appreciate and value it, grow from it?
And I’m not talking about being in love with a book like some of those women are in love with, like, bridges or the Eiffel Tower. (You know you watched that show too, don’t lie.)
I feel as bibliophiles, we are touched by books, especially those handful of favorites. Our understanding of them, ourselves, and others evolves each time we read them — and we read them many, many times over.
I think I had my first romance of this type with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I mean, I had many favorite childhood books such as A Wrinkle in Time, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and (like every other young, eager-to-be-grown-up white girl?) ALL the Judy Blume books, but this one was different. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I really understood Shakespeare. Or maybe it was spritish Puck. I don’t know but for some reason, I just loved it.
But my longest and most in-depth book relationship is probably with On the Road. There is something about the way Jack Kerouac turned a phrase that perfectly captures my own desire for freedom and getting lost and finding my own way in the midst of an anxious and overactive mind.
I can’t imagine how many times I’ve read it and will read it again.
I’ve never met another person whose heart melts for The Grapes of Wrath as mine does. Damn, I love those Joads.
Jane Eyre and The Color Purple and The Awakening and Native Son…I have ongoing relationships with these stories and each time I revisit them, I pick up something new. I see a glimmer of some layer that I had previously missed.
Perhaps it’s some small detail or the way a previously ordinary passage stands out to me when I read it again years later.
But books certainly don’t have to be canonical “classics” to steal your heart. And just because one pulls at my heartstrings doesn’t mean it automatically will for you.
In my adulthood, I sat down with Life is So Good by George Dawson and fell head over heels. I am full of gratitude every time I read it.
This is what I love about reading. I can get lost in almost any book with a rise and fall, a couple of complicated characters, and a setting I can envision.
But with really good books, I mean books that I fall in love with, I don’t only want an escape. I want it to have meaning in my real life.
I want to be there with it, with all it offers. I will stick with it through good and bad. I will visit and revisit it. I will read specific passages over and over and ruminate on them from different perspectives.
I keep it for years…on my writing table for inspiration, next to the bed to annotate the margins when the feeling strikes, or even on the highest shelf of my wall of books because I know I will never part with it.
That’s the power of a really great fucking book.
I give and it gives back.
Over and over again.
I think this is the type of relationship that Genevieve Hudson has with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.
And likewise, it’s the relationship I have with Hudson’s A Little in Love with Everyone.
Simply put: I adore this book.
It is a slim, adorable volume of only 142 pages which includes a kick-ass bibliography but by goddess, it packs a punch. It has all the facets I look for in a lasting book relationship and then some; I’ve already read it three times.
And yes, it keeps on giving.
The book is genre-defying in that it is part history lesson, part memoir, part biography, part book review, part manifesta, and all homage to Bechdel. How Hudson included such variety in this one little book is a testament to her writing skills and is just, well, interesting as hell.
Her examination of Bechdel and Fun Home is imbued with a curiosity and understanding that is enlightening and refreshing. While I have read Fun Home and really enjoyed it, it’s been a little while and sometime I’d like to read it again and then re-read A Little in Love with Everyone; just to see Fun Home through Hudson’s eyes.
As a memoirist, Bechdel’s job is to tell the truth about herself, and her father’s suicide and sexuality are intrinsically bound up in her own story. To read Fun Home is to see Bechdel wrestle with the question of truth — how well her father hid his, and what it means for her to tell her own (pp. 17–18).
As I mentioned above, Hudson is just a good writer. Her instincts are magical. She gives you glimpses into her life growing up questioning and exploring her sexuality and then eventually, her coming out as a lesbian.
While using Fun Home and Bechdel’s life as a backdrop, Hudson examines not only her own life experiences but also topics such as embodiment, gender, truth, visibility, self-acceptance, and more. Her vulnerability spoke to me and I appreciated her risk-taking throughout the book.
I wanted to make out with S by accident. I wanted us to end up kissing without anyone having to consciously make the decision to kiss or be held accountable for it. I wanted the kissing to just start happening (p. 3).
Clearly, any book that waxes poetic on the power of reading and storysharing to change lives automatically scores points with me. But Hudson does this really well, just sort of dropping bell hooks and Dorothy Allison and Maggie Nelson throughout.
She also points to bookish details in Bechdel’s cartoons, such as specific book covers being drawn in panels where Bechdel is having sex or hearing life-changing news. The influence of amazing literature by women on Bechdel and on Hudson and their writing is gratifying and exhilarating.
In the corner of one panel, Bechdel has drawn the book Sappho Was a Right-On Woman , filling in the small queer details that had begun to infuse her life (p. 21).
Of course, the reader will understand her admiration of of Fun Home and Bechdel more generally, but Hudson also explains her appreciation for reading lists provided by other authors. What I love is that in doing so, Hudson herself leaves us with her own illuminating reading list (the titles of which I quickly added to my own TBR list).
As bibliophiles (and the author clearly is), we get the importance of reading but Hudson teeters on the edge of full-fledged librarianhood when she discusses the importance of telling, sharing, and archiving our own stories. BIPOC, queer people, disabled people, women, and people of other underrepresented populations must tell their own stories.
And having heroes in whom you can see yourself is imperative.
There was no one to talk to about what I was going through. The only thing that seemed to know anything was books. In books, everything seemed to have happened to everybody already. There was peace in that, a kind of solidarity. Literature holds power (p. 125).
I love this about Hudson’s book. Clearly in Bechdel’s work, Hudson found stories in which she could see herself, in which she received validation and clarification, and in which she witnessed hope and celebration.
Are we, as queers, necessarily educators? Are we called to tell our truth by virtue of our identities? Are our bodies radical, our identities political, our work archive-able? Are we heroes just by existing?
I think the answer is yes (p. 105).
Hudson has paid it forward with A Little in Love with Everyone and she will undoubtedly inspire and comfort others as Bechdel did for her.
Title: A Little in Love with Everyone
Author: Genevieve Hudson
Publisher: Fiction Advocate
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
My Rating: Essential
Originally published at http://www.karlajstrand.com on May 29, 2018.