The tricky aspect about loving your hometown is that it’s difficult to explain why. You are more than willing to defend your homeplace when someone else takes a hit against it, but you are also its harshest critic—or, at least, that is the case for me.
I experience the existential horror of sci-fi literature in a strange, almost counterintuitive way. While it seems that I’m immune to Lovecraft’s insidious neuroticism, I experience unbound dread and awareness of my own minuteness when I read the sprawling space operas of Isaac Asimov. I always read the former casually tearing through an increasingly decrepit anthology of stories my mother bought me for my birthday one year, but I shudder at the thought of ever touching anything written by H.G. Wells. For me, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is a romantic romp through Antarctica’s ancient past, but narratives of intergalactic empires and cyborgs grim reminders that time is running out and everything returns to dust. In my relatively uncreative mind, I used to implicitly assume that these two sides of fiction were never bound to intersect; that changed when I was sifting through shitposts one day and came across, alas, a serious post from Instagram user @theclockspider!
Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is often cited as the original LBD. This offends me, personally, since Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was published a full century before that movie came out. Indeed, fans of Russian literature—or, let’s face it, of Keira Knightley—will recall the iconic black dress Anna wore to the ball where she first danced with Vronsky, breaking Kitty’s heart. But what makes Anna’s dress, and Tolstoy’s novel for that matter, so memorable that we still care about it nearly 150 years later?
In a cultural era of movie remakes and Taylor’s Versions, an author choosing to retell their bestselling novel is still a relatively rare occurrence. However, the releases of Life and Death in 2015 and Midnight Sun in 2020 saw not one, but two instances of Stephenie Meyer revisiting her 2005 novel Twilight on its tenth and fifteenth anniversaries. Life and Death provides a genderbent take on the original, with protagonist Bella Swan being revamped as Beau Swan, and nearly all the other characters similarly altered. Midnight Sun, meanwhile, reverts to the original versions of the characters, but tells the same story from Edward’s perspective.
We all live through the eyes of others; usually infinite sets of anonymous eyes, sometimes a multitude of known ones, or a limited beloved set. Regardless of their numbers or kind, they do not only spy on us, but also shape our character. We are inevitably and viscerally aware of their gaze, and from early childhood, learn to know ourselves as we are seen by others.
In a system where productivity is everything, it’s hard not to treat the books you read as just another item to check off your never-ending “To-Do” list. For a long time, I’ve noticed this tendency in myself and in others to read books for the sake of being able to say we’ve read them. This is especially true of literary classics, the names of which are known to anyone who has existed in this world long enough to come across a “Top 100 Books” scratch-off poster in the home of some bibliophile or other. As a lover of classics, I can personally attest that To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre are all fabulous books, worthy of their places in our high school curriculum. Still, something about the way we treat classic novels really rubs me the wrong way. It’s as though we place these books on a pedestal so high that we dare not reach out our arms to really grab ‘em.