The title of this post is from John Donne (you can read the rest of the passage here) and it came to me this morning when I was thinking about recent discussions on the subject of our response to books. For example, Lindsay wrote the other day that one never reads the same book twice, that is, one's perspective is individual but changes according to mood, experience, sensitivity, thus a familiar book may elicit a reaction or appreciation quite different from that of earlier readings.
I would agree with him, of course, and I'd go on to suggest that how a book 'resonates' can in some instances almost be pre-determined. That's a very broad statement, but if you liken books to music, the importance of interpretation becomes clear. A piece of music may not 'work' if transcribed for an instrument other than that for which it was written (the converse is true, too, of course) and even a change of key to accommodate a different voice may produce an effect - and a response in the audience - quite other than originally intended.
Where books are concerned, we the readers are the interpreters, and as Lindsay says, "you and I never read the same book": we read it differently because we are different people and this explains our varying reactions. Our recent book group reading of They came like swallows, for instance, seemed to display this. Generally speaking, the men found it lacking in subtlety and unduly sentimental, the women found it delicate, touching and perfectly judged. I would suggest that is because it's a piece which - using the musical analogy - cannot be transposed or transcribed : the sensibility of the reader - the pitch and tone of the 'instrument', if you like - has to be right for it. You would not take a late Beethoven piano sonata, say, and score it for a full orchestra, and nor can Maxwell be 'heard correctly' by someone reading him without the sensitive and intuitive touch of a John Lill playing that Beethoven. Thus the book appealed more to the female emotional range than to the male.
I hope all that makes sense and is worth thinking about, but to continue the theme, can anyone recommend novels about music or with a musical setting? Going back to today's title there's Vikram Seth's An Equal Music which I want to re-read soon, and Conrad Williams's The Concert Pianist which Dovegreyreader tells me I'd like. Any more?