The History of Love

The times when I’ve come across a book I love — not just enjoy or recommend — but truly and deeply LOVE, I feel as though I’ve been significantly altered as a person. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the High Fidelity theory of “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like,” I do still feel an intense, instantaneous kinship with anyone who loves what I love. And there’s no realm in which this connection is as strong for me as with books — I can concede that someone who loves the same movies, music, or food as me could do so for their own valid reasons that are different from mine. But when someone wide-eye enthuses about one of those few books that I would use to define myself — I know I’ve found a kindred soul.

For some reason though, especially with these special few books, I’m not a big re-reader. Maybe I’m fiercely protective of that original experience, or maybe I’m afraid that it won’t happen again? Such was the case with one of my favorites, The History of Love, which I read when it came out in 2005. In the last year or so though, I’ve come across more folks, people I admire and respect deeply, who profess their love of this book. After that first zing of connection, I’d be suffused with longing and nostalgia for that reading experience. Then just last week, I read an interview with Mikel Jollett, the lead singer/songwriter for The Airborne Toxic Event, where he calls out The History of Love as one of his favorites (trivia: Nicole Krauss, the author, was at Stanford at the same time as him). One major thing that makes Airborne one of my favorite bands is Jollett’s lyrics. He has an unabashed and sincere love for poetry and an ability to pick the most affective way of expressing an emotion. It’s something that I greatly admire and connect with, and it is no surprise to me that he loves this book as well. It made me realize that, after almost eight years, it might finally be time to pick it up again.

So I’m about halfway through now, and savoring as much as I can. In my opinion, the most beautiful, inventive, and true passages in the book come from the book-within-the-book, also titled The History of Love. My favorite parts so far:

Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. Her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone’s hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted–wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.

Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist. There are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written, or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom, or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges, and absorbs the impact.

Then she kissed him. Her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

Feelings are not as old as time. Just as there was a first instant when someone rubbed two sticks together to make a spark, there was a first time joy was felt, and a first time for sadness. For a while, new feelings were being invented all the time. Desire was born early, as was regret. When stubbornness was felt for the first time, it started a chain reaction, creating the feeling of resentment on the one hand, and alientation and loneliness on the other. It might have been a certain counterclockwise movement of the hips that marked the birth of ecstasy; a bolt of lightning that caused the first feeling of awe. Or maybe it was the body of a girl named Alma. Contrary to logic, the feeling of surprise wasn’t born immediately. It only came after people had enough time to get used to things as they were. And when enough time had passed, and someone felt the first feeling of surprise, someone, somewhere else, felt the first pang of nostalgia.

I mean, I don’t know. Maybe most people find this incredibly pretentious. But I read this, and I feel down to my bones that this is one of the quickest ways for me to answer who I am: I love The History of Love. If you do too, I want to know you. What else is there to say?

(Photo courtesy of Andrea’s Bookclub — guess SJP is in my club!)