When the Stars Align • Connections Between Books

A little while ago I made a post talking about some of the books I hoped to get to during the summer months. A few weeks I think has passed since then, and I have noticed something funny in that list. It’s not something I had consciously thought of, making the list, but there are connections between the books I had added on the list. What sort of connections? you might ask. It’s not that the books are in the same genre, written by the same author, published in the same year, nothing that obvious; otherwise it wouldn’t have taken me such a long time to realize it was there at all. Instead there are red threads bounding the books, parallels, a network of ideas and voices.

To go from the abstract to the concrete, let’s take the Tove Jansson biography (Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Tuula Karjalainen) to start. The book that connects to her on the summer TBR list is Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Now, the fact that Lewis Carroll was one of the influences for Jansson’s work was something I just recently found out, although I can definitely understand it having heard about it. The nonsense approach of Carroll I think would appeal to the creator of Moomins were the finesse of many other children’s stories is completely lacking, one of the charms I think of the stories and their characters. The connection is stronger however in that Tove Jansson actually illustrated two of Carroll’s books; one of them is Alice in Wonderland, which I knew about, but the other is none other than The Hunting of the Snark. I had never actually heard of this particular Carroll book before reading The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddharta Mukherjee so I don’t feel it’s one of his more known works, rather Alice and some of the poetry seems to be what people usually think of when they hear the name Lewis Carroll. But there you go – a completely unintentional connection in the same list.

I don’t normally do TBRs so the example above is unusual in that respect. But the feeling of reading a book that connects to another book you’ve just read, or even speaking of a topic you’ve just learned about, is such an all-stars-align moment and I find it is one of my favorite moments as a reader. It feels like I’m spinning my own spider web, further and further, connecting dots, and it’s somehow an enriching experience. Sometimes it’s not as unintentional or surprising as that, I have come to actively follow such paths or listen to the whispers of hidden trails more recently. Recently I read a book called Not that it matters by Alan Alexander Milne; it’s a collection of articles or as he himself puts it – essays – published between 1910 and 1912. In one of the essays he writes about a book he goes to lengths to recommend to everyone he can, it just happens to be The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. He talks of this book fondly, and with much praise. Again, this is one of the books on my summer TBR list – and while there’s an obvious connection between E. H. Shepard and A. A. Milne I had no idea there was a connection between A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame when I put the book on the summer list. E. H. Shepard who is well known for his Winnie the Pooh illustrations also did the illustrations for one of the most beloved editions of The Wind in the Willows. The edition of The Wind in the Willows illustrated by E. H. Shepard apparently came out in 1931 for the first time.

In other words, the essay in which Milne praises the book was published long before the Shepard edition came out. So, what can be concluded from this? Obviously it’s all guesswork here, but in my mind there seems to be a possibility that Milne talked fondly of The Wind in the Willows to his companion of the Pooh stories, Shepard, whom he would’ve worked with closely only a few years before 1931. Maybe Shepard already knew of the book, maybe his interest was peaked through Milne. Either way, there’s a connection there whether it was as clear and causal as my guess or not. One could probably find out about such information through a search on the internet, but isn’t this way more fun? To see sudden connected dots and guess the rest, fill in the blanks with theories.

It’s the little things that makes life fun after all, and when the stars align – whether they do of their own accord or by my intervention – I am just so happy to be a reader.

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