Books in Books
As young adults–searching for truths that may be different from our parents’–we often identify strongly with words we find on a page, in a book, presented by characters to whom we feel some affinity, or simply by an author whose philosophy we find intriguing or alluring. A couple of books I’ve read lately have used this attachment in an interesting way.
Jessie Haas opens her YA book Chase with Phin startled alert from a book he had been engrossed in reading through the early hours of a morning. Books were his remaining connection to his mother, and to her dream of a better life for him. In an early reminiscense, his mother explained a passage from Emerson to him, with ‘a man’ in this case meaning a ‘person grown large, deep, subtle and strong in character.’ Much later, another Emerson quote connects him suddenly with people he has just met in an unknown place. It provides a common thread to their existence that they were otherwise not sure they would find. Once found, trust is almost immediate–or at least, the relationship can begin with trust until proven untrustworthy, instead of distrust until proven honorable.
Similarly, Mary Doria Russell’s latest novel, Doc, shows how the young Georgia dentist–alone in the wild frontier town of Dodge City–connects with Kate, a working prostitute who was raised an aristocratic Hungarian with a strong classical education. She could make an apt remark at the card table by quoting Homer or Virgil in the Latin or Greek. In a day when even lawmen and entrepreneurs moved mainly by the seat of their pants, and physicians as likely as not worked pure charlatan theater, Kate and Doc Holliday found refuge in each other’s educational common ground, even as that same bookish background separated them from so many of their comrades.