Sunday, June 18, 2006

The great love. Forster.

I have gone on at great length about my greatest literary obsession, that longtime love, The Master and Margarita. But there is another novel that I have loved even longer, that I have carried with me everywhere, whole passages committed to memory, permanently etched on my heart. It came into my life when I was very young, not like an explosion that rips you apart (and builds you up again), but like falling in love with someone gently, someone who changes you completely, and whom you will love for the rest of your life. It is a tender kind of love.

I first read A Room With a View when I was in middle school. It was heartbreakingly beautiful and romantic and I fell in love with George Emerson and the city of Florence and the bucolic English countryside. I had never been to Italy; Forster's description of Florence and the countryside surrounding it evinced a profound desire to visit. Some time later, I went to Italy with my parents, and on our first morning there, in a small university town nestled in the countryside, I woke up very early, just after sunrise, and sat on the balcony overlooking a valley sprinkled with red-tiled roofs and vast fields, reading A Room With a View as the sun came up and the mists dispersed, and thinking about how beautiful everything was, how alive I felt in the cool air and changing light of early morning. Now when I read it again, as I slide into the words my mind slips back in time and I am on that balcony once more, in the cool dawn light reading, looking out at the view, feeling alive in that way you do every once in a while when you encounter something new and incredible.

In all the years since I have brought A Room With a View along on every trip I've taken (along with a mix of other old favorites and new, unread books). I have read it on airplanes and in hotel rooms and on green hillsides or in the shadow of ancient monuments all over the world. Beyond the beauty of the two very different landscapes (Italy and England), Forster's delicately nuanced words, at its heart it is about falling in love with the one person who sees you clearly, who shows you the truths about yourself that you have never seen before, whose love sets you free. Who is your room with a view.

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