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I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What happens outside the book?

I try not to worry too much about this question believing - right or wrong - that a book is a world to itself. So what's there is what there is (if that makes sense). Oh, I might know something about the subject, about the history, about the era, but I'm not one of those readers who wants, if I'm reading a book set in Russia in the 1930s, to know everything about that particular time and place before I read the book.

The text is the message for me. What happens between us - between me and the book and the writer - is as individual as what happens to each of us when we try oysters for the first time. Maybe I'll like them, maybe I'll spit them out, maybe I'll find out I'm deathly allergic to shellfish and... You get the picture.

And I worry that if I do too much research I'm going to ruin the book. If I know too much I might find minor discrepancies, inconsistencies, errors that would ruin that world for me. And that's the last thing I want. I want to enjoy the book for itself, for the world it creates for me. I want to immerse myself in that particular world, not worrying about what really happened.

So I have to admit that I read Geraldine Brooks' March with some trepidation. It's the story of Mr. March, the father who is missing for most of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, a book almost every girl read at some point or another. Being the avid reader I am - and was - I probably read it more than most, simply because there was a copy in the house and when I was between new books, I would go back to something, anything, I had read before.

So I know this world. I know these characters. The idea of reading March scared me. I didn't want to change how I saw Marmee and Jo and Beth and Meg and Amy. But book club is book club and I have to read it. And although it did change the way I saw Marmee (though I suspect when I read Little Women again I'll have put it out of my mind), it was an amazing book.

It's brutal in its honesty about the life March lived once he left for the Civil War, the violence, the pain, the terrible difficulties in fighting against your own. This book, for me, gave me an insight into the Civil War that I hadn't had before by telling me one man's story of it. I'm assuming, because I don't know enough not to, that her details of the war are accurate. And they're frightening.

But more than those details, it is the emotional intensity of his journey that draws you in, that forces you to follow him to places he doesn't want to go. March learns lessons he doesn't want to learn, fights fights he doesn't want to fight, does things he could never have imagined himself doing in his life before the war. I suspect that's true for everyone who was involved in this war, in any war, combatant or no.

Definitely worth reading but try and pick a weekend when you can read it right throgh. You aren't going to want to put it down.


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