The Friendship of Books

“Lasting friendship is rare. It requires constant maintenance and is never a passive accomplishment. Not so with books. Despite our neglect and ingratitude, they remain constant, happy whenever we return.”
Patrick Kurp

You form your friendships where you find them. They can be anyone, anywhere, at anytime. There was an era when book collectors and readers had a close relationship with books and its characters. They viewed them as friends, companions, as real as any person and for some that era still lives on.

In Companionable Books, first introduced to me by Patrick Kurp on his blog, Anecdotal Evidence, George Gordon writes, “What most men and women are looking for all their lives is companionship…There is a companionable quality in some books that skips the centuries…”

The neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne, in Ian McEwan’s Saturday is as real to me as anyone I will ever hope to meet. I continue to think about his ideas, his medical expertise and his sense of humor. Perowne’s daughter is a poet and he is amused by her tutorials to try to get him up to speed about literature.

In turn, I was entertained by their delightful banter and the ironic exchanges they have about his disinterest in following her lead. And it is clear that Perowne isn’t much of a reader. So even though he is a deeply reflective man, I suppose one should not have been surprised, as I was a first, by the following passage:

Henry read the whole of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, two acknowledged masterpieces. At the cost of slowing his mental processes and many hours of his valuable time, he committed himself to the shifting intricacies of these sophisticated fairy stories. What did he grasp after all? That adultery is understandable but wrong, that nineteenth-century women had a hard time of it, that Moscow and the Russian countryside and provincial France were once just so.

No, Henry is a scientist devoted to his work and the promise he sees in neurophysiology. Still he is restless, at times silently dissatisfied with his life, and yearns for something more. If it is anything, the missing element is music.

There’s nothing in his own life that contains this inventiveness, this style of being free. The music speaks to unexpressed longing or frustration, a sense that he’s being denied himself an open road, the life of the heart celebrated in the songs. There has to be more to life than merely saving lives.

It’s hard to find a friend quite like Henry Perowne. But he became a close friend during the time I was reading the book. I greatly enjoyed his company and the chance to spend some time with him. And once in a while, I think back on our conversations and return to the ideas we discussed. It seems we had a good deal in common especially our tendency to spend part of each day ruminating about one thing or another and examining the contents of our mind down to the smallest synapse.