I read both of Sally Rooney's books this week. These are one-bite books, as in they don't take long to finish. Both received stellar reviews from critics (Normal People even snagged a spot on the Man Booker longlist). Also (just because I feel like y'all should know), Rooney was born in 1991.
I'm not going to summarize either of these books (I'm realizing that Goodreads does a better job at that than I do, yeah?), but I want to discuss one specific scene in Rooney's second book, Normal People. One of the main characters, Connell (equal parts hot and emotionally stunted), leaves a literary event disgusted by all the shameless self-promotion (the guests have fancy education backgrounds and love to talk at people about what they read). Connell ponders to what extent the literary scene exists to fuel folks' carefully curated identities as "book people." The idea that books exist as commodities to express class privilege has become a very dispiriting thought tangle for me (abstractly and personally). To what extent do our bookshelves exist to symbolize our identities as "intellectuals"? To what extent do I use my weird (and objectively bad) instagram as a symbol of a cultured / educated existence?
Rooney explains in an interview after publishing Normal People, "I'm very skeptical of the way in which books are marketed as commodities, almost like accessories which people can fill their homes with. Like beautiful items that you can fill your shelves with and therefore become a sort of 'book person. It makes me feel that books have no potential to speak truth to power. They have no potential as political texts because of the role they play in the culture economy that's already predetermined how people are going to read them. So even if the book is full of Marxist propaganda, it's still sealed off from any real political potential because of its position as a commodity in this market."
I want to believe that, even in 2019, there is space for the book as a political statement / for the book as a personal statement/ for the book as a sign that authentic love between humans is a real, honest, true possibility. I share what I read on social media to find community in literature. I read, in the first place, because I tend to get lonely. Turns out, books are incredibly low-maintenance companions. Anyhow, Rooney's books are especially great companions. Read both.