I go to the library at least once a week for I am addicted to reading. Unlike many people I do not spend time relaxing in the big chairs or perusing the latest magazines. I investigate the special display of new books and then trawl up and down aisles of shelves waiting for something to catch my eye. When my book bag is full, I leave.
As I mentioned in a post last year, In Praise of Little Books, I am much attracted to the slim volumes for I know these writers will usually get to point, tell their story and finish. I no longer have the time or patience to slog through 300, 400 or 500 pages of introspective musings or stream of consciousness descriptions – but that’s just me.
But when I went to the library last Saturday I even surprised myself at my book selection. Among the 8+ volumes I stuffed into my book bag was a book of romantic short stories by Maeve Binchy. As far as I can remember the last time I read a ‘romance novel’ was in the 1960’s before I was married.
Now it is time to admit to a personal prejudice that certainly borders on a character flaw. I have over the years turned up my nose at romantic novels, particularly the boy-meets-girl/they fall in love/ part/and love again story lines. My experience was more boy-meets-girl/love/fight/goodbye. I wanted to read about real life not a romantic fantasy.
This is coming from a person who has no problem reading cozy mysteries a la Agatha Christie, locked room puzzles by JD Carr or mysteries featuring commentaries by cats. In my defense I must add that I do draw the line at mysteries containing recipes for muffins, directions for knitting or police procedurals that reconstruct dead bodies. Even I have limits.
Anyway, my disdain for romance stories has been longstanding and I once heard an explanation. “People who read romance stories believe in love and people who read mysteries believe in justice.” I have pondered that observation over the years and must admit that it may be true, at least in my own case.
Justice seems to me to be a possibility in life whereas love has proven more elusive. The early boyfriends, the husband, the later lovers have all been found wanting. Some times I have attributed that to not making good choices which made me question my own judgment; sometimes I had to admit my own ambivalence towards commitment.
But eventually I recognized that it was my definition of love that needed scrutiny. It is easy to mistake the euphoria of infatuation and passion as indicative of real love, especially when young. The jealousy, drama and possessiveness that can be found in adult relationships might lead one to believe that the emotion being experienced is love.
But one day I realized that love wasn’t an emotion, it was a quality. The intellect can trigger the emotions, whether for good or ill, but love isn’t a result of thought nor of the emotions per se. It is a spiritual union that is far deeper than thinking can ever be.
I discovered that when I was considering why I find it so easy to love animals, especially cats and dogs, and small children. In both cases, there is no risk of humiliation, domination or rejection (unless there has been abuse). Animals and children don’t play mind games or project past negative experiences on the present.
It is their innocence and acceptance of me, without make-up and without pretense that arouses my capacity for love. With children and animals I am as natural as I am when I am alone. That allows me to love them without fear and in loving them I am free to love myself.
After all these years I think I am finally old enough to read romances without cynicism and to believe in the possibility of love as well as justice.