I’m sorry to be redundant and mention books about which I have just written, but I wanted to remark on a phenomenon.
So, last week, discovering that I was out of things to read, I visited a secondhand book shop with ten minutes to spare and grabbed, basically at random:
- The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
- The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis (which I had never heard of but which was attached to Lucky Jim)
- Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (an outre pick for me. I had heard of it, but until I bought it I had no idea I wanted to read it)
First I read The Heart of the Matter, then The Rachel Papers. In The Rachel Papers, young Charles Highland mentions the books in his childhood room, among them, The Heart of the Matter, which he later quotes. That’s not particularly interesting. Graham Greene is hardly obscure. But then, Highland’s Oxford tutor Bellamy says, apropos of basically nothing “…I believe a distant encestor [sic] of mine wrote a utopia novel. Looking Beckwards [sic] it was called…”
Throughout my life as a reader I have noticed this thing happening over and over; a book I read after finishing a seemingly unrelated book turns out to be linked to the previous book in some way, however small or irrelevant. I know I’m not totally alone, because if you Google “reading coincidences” (I know, I know, pathetic Googling), the top three results sort of address what I’m talking about.
The cynical among you will point out that, given the extreme narrowness of canonical Western literature in general, and the extreme narrowness of my mind and reading habits in particular, it’s no wonder that everything starts to refer and self-refer in an endless, inbred loop. You have a point. But, all the same, doesn’t it sometimes happen to you? Every book you read in a short period of time mentions one of the other books you just read, or a movie you saw last week, or even, like, a dream someone told you against your will? Doesn’t it? And isn’t it weird?
What is it called? Is there, perhaps, a pertinent volume of Remembrance of Things Past to which I should address myself? And don’t mention the madeleine. This is not a moment for the goddamned madeleine.