I was relieved to learn last week that I’m not the only one who has a hard time being analytical about my favorite books. Rohan Maitzen, who blogs at Open Letters Monthly, wrote about his difficulty teaching Pride and Prejudice in his English courses, Maitzen has a theory about why it’s hard to think critically about our favorite books:
Over the years I have found that those who know it [Pride and Prejudice] very well may be quite entrenched in their readings of it, for example, particularly about how they interpret or judge specific characters. Students who are strongly attached to particular adaptations may also be particularly prone to reading characters or scenes in particular ways. If they’ve always read the novel for pleasure before, they may not be accustomed to paying much attention to how it is written or structured, or to questioning its premises.
When I love a book, I love it entirely—especially if I read it when I was young and innocent of literary analysis and gender criticism. I wonder if part of the problem isn’t also that we might destroy our love of a book if we rip off the lid and poke around inside it to see how it works. For example, could I still love Jane Eyre if I think about how problematic Mr. Rochester is? (And he really is but, Reader, I love him, too!) If this fear is real, it might also explain why some readers don’t go back to revisit favorites. If we get analytical about our beloved books, if we figure out how they work and how they’re problematic, what happens to the pure joy of the original experience?
What I really worry about is, now that I have been trained to think about how books manipulate me, will I ever have that pure joy again? I’m delighted with books. I put new titles on my Goodreads favorites shelf every now and then, but I can’t help but feel that I love them a little less than my first loves.