I can’t be the only one who gets defensive when someone asks, “What is your book about?”
Maybe I’m just really private (which I am), but when I develop an intense attachment to a novel, I guard that novel like a dog guarding a raw t-bone steak.
Books are undoubtedly my BFFs––I am a loyal BFF.
I think it is for this reason that I feel uncomfortable trying to explain to someone “what my book is about” even though this seems like a ridiculously easy task.
I’m on the train. It’s roughly 2 o’clock on a weekday; the train is not full, but it’s not empty either. I have a seat to myself.
Randomly, the man in the seat in front of me turns around. He doesn’t seem crazy, or homeless, or drunk, so I relax.
He looks at me, and then asks me if I know which stop is up next. Easy enough question with an easy enough answer.
But it doesn’t end there. The man spots the book in my hand, the one that is still suspended in front of my face.
I see his eyes moving across the cover. He might as well be checking out my cleavage, I feel such a level of discomfort. Finally, he speaks, with a nod of his head: “I read this book in high school. It’s good.”
“Yep. One of my favs,” I say with a hesitant smile.
If this man is earnest about his love for the book, then perhaps I might be willing to chat. But it’s just as possible that he’s merely trying to strike up a conversation. If that is the case, it’s a conversation I don’t want to have.
“I can’t remember much of it, though. Doesn’t the main character go blind?” he asks.
I furrow my brow, thinking. “Blind? No.” A pause. “Are you thinking of Jane Eyre?”
“Jane Eyre?” The words sound foreign to his mouth; he looks confused. “No…No, I think you’re wrong. I specifically remember the author was something-Brontë.”
Trying to restrain my facial expressions from doing anything, well, rude, I slowly and carefully say: “Well… Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Brontë, the sister of Emily Brontë who wrote this.” I punctuated my final word by shaking Wuthering Heights vaguely in my hand.
The stranger was frowning; it was the frown of intense concentration. Finally a light bulb came on. “Maybe you’re right, girl.”
Girl? I cringe.
“You must be some kind of book expert or something.” He was laughing now.
“You like… study books for a living?” More laughter.
Actually, yes I do, asshole.
Thankfully, the train is coming to a halt at the next station. The man looks away from me, checks out the name of the station written on the platform, and then gathers his belongings and leaves the train without so much as a ‘goodbye.’
Perhaps this scenario merely serves to demonstrate that I’m rude, that you should never talk to strangers, or that I consider myself superior because I know about the Brontë sisters. (These are as much questions as they are statements.)
For me, the problem is this: no respect!
I’m more than happy to explain to someone what Wuthering Heights is about if they seem interested in reading it.
I once had an old lady at the grocery store tap me on the shoulder because she noticed when I opened my purse that I was reading Stephen King’s IT. She told me that she saw the movie version and had been terrified of clowns ever since. To get over her fear, she was considering reading the book. She wanted my opinion.
I left the grocery store that day feeling elated. I wanted to make friends with that little old lady so we could talk about IT once she finished reading it (which she promised she would).
So here we have two similar experiences in which a stranger acknowledges my book and tries to converse with me about it. The reactions are entirely different.
I wonder if I’m the only one who gets defensive? Does this make me a “Book Snob”?
Am I wrong to protect my book like an aggressive, snarling dog? Or should I consider situations as opportunities to share the undying love between Healthcliff and Cathy, which is, without a doubt, absolutely important.