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A Fine And Private Place: On Keeping Books to Yourself

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Peter Damien

Staff Writer

Peter Damien has been reading since time out of mind, writing for a very long time, and been hopelessly lost to a disgraceful addiction to tea for a few years now. He writes short stories, comics, a lot of articles, and novels at an achingly slow pace. When not staring at words, he spends a lot of time in the woods, as befits a man of his hairstyle. He lives with a billion books, a tolerant wife, too many animals, and also two small boys. When it comes to writing, the small boys are, frankly, no help whatsoever. You can find Peter on Twitter, if that's the kind of thing you're into. Twitter: @peterdamien

Last week, I went to see Crimson Peak, the new film by Guillermo del Toro. I had been frothing at the mouth about it since it was first announced, and it just got worse as photos and trailers appeared and phrases like “gothic romance” and “ghosts” and “haunted house” flipped all available switches in my brain. I approach Guillermo del Toro’s films with a level of reverential fanaticism that is possibly on rivaled by my similar feelings for the films of Hayao Miyazaki. What I’m saying is, I was jazzed.

Seriously. Go see this film.

Seriously. Go see this film.

And it was totally worth it. By the end of the film, I was giddy and hyperactive, the way all good art makes me. It instantly became my favorite del Toro film (and that says something, because it takes a lot to knock The Devil’s Backbone off that podium), and I wanted to just sit there and watch it again and again.

But instead, I did what I always do in these situations, which is leave very quickly. And why is that? Because the people around me were beginning to discuss the film as they got up and headed out as well. On the whole they’d all liked it, but they weren’t all as rapturous as me, and some had problems with parts of the film…and I couldn’t bear to hear it. So I fled the theater basically. Trying not to listen the whole way out.

It continued after the film too. People online wondering “should I see Crimson Peak?” and I would comment to say, emphatically, “YES!” but…I would rapidly scroll past any other comments first, to avoid reading them. I wanted everyone to see it, and nobody to talk to me about it.

I know it sounds nuts, and possibly it is. That’s okay. It’s very common with me, and has been since I was a kid. It goes well beyond movies, too. There have often times been books I’ve loved and been super excited about, which I’ve talked about and discussed all over the place, just fine. But occasionally, a book I love hits me just right, matches up with whatever internal frequency I have, that I simply won’t mention it. It’s even noticeable in my online life, because I’ll talk about really enjoying a book and then, abruptly, never mention it again. 

They’re too close to my heart, I suppose, these books and films. They’re perfectly caught me, and I can’t bear anyone’s opinion — even positive — but my own. Eventually, perhaps.

Remove thy beek from out my heart, book.

Remove thy beak from out my heart, book.

The first book that did this to me was Bridge to Terabithia, when I was ten or so. There’s a death in it, and I was wholly and completely unprepared for it, and it gutted me completely. I’d never had a book do that to me before. It was decades before I mentioned it.

More recently, it’s been books like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, the Shiver trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater, Marbles by Ellen Forney, to name a few of them. Why do these affect me so? The truth is, I have no idea. It’s not like art has a one-to-one relation to who you are and what you’re doing right then. I suppose it’s like I said: there’s just some internal frequency that it matches, and it leaves you humming.

I’ve talked before about American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and how I sort of crawled into that book for a year. It resonated, and I went away with it, then came back and didn’t talk much about it. Someone telling me that a scene sucked was telling me that a chunk of my life had sucked. Irrational, but there you go.

If any of this sounds like a problem, let me assure you that it isn’t. I adore when art hits me so perfectly that I get hyperactive and it begins rewiring the inside of my head. And I even love when I enjoy the piece so much that I can’t really share it with the world. There’s so many books I do talk about and share with the world, I like having my own little treasure trove, my books and my opinions, which I hoard like I’m Smaug or something.

I hope you all have little private collections like this, too. It makes things more interesting; always a good thing.