28 Sep 2011

Baring my soul

People share books they love. They want to spread to friends and family the goodness that they felt when reading the book or the ideas they found in the pages. In sharing a loved book, a reader is trying to share the same excitement, pleasure, chills and thrills of reading that they themselves experienced. Why else share? Sharing a love of books and of one particular book is a good thing. But it is also a tricky maneuver, for both sides. The giver of the book is not exactly ripping open her soul for a free look, but when she hands over the book with the comment that it is one of her favorites, such an admission is very close to the baring of the soul. We are what we love to read, and when we admit to loving a book, we admit that they book represents some aspect of ourselves truly, whether it is that we are suckers for romance or pining for adventure or secretly fascinated by crime.

On the other side of the offered book is the taker. If she is at all a sensitive being, she knows that the soul of the offering friend has been laid wide-open and that she, the taker, had better not spit on her friend’s soul...

Nina Sankovich Tolstoy and the Purple Chair
When I was a fresh faced and eager 18-year-old living away from home in student digs, I had a saying on my wall that read like this:

I do not show you who I am, because if I show you who I am and you do not like me, then that's all that I have.
I don't remember now why I found that so profound. I don't know who I was afraid of revealing myself to either - surely not everybody?

I do think, though, that this is what Nina Sankovich is saying in this quote from her recent book, above - that some things define us in special ways, and if they are taken away or otherwise scorned then it makes us feel that we have been slighted as people. We are what we read. There are books on my shelves that have helped define me as a person in some way or another, and they say something about who I am and what I feel and what I believe. If I recommend one of these books to you, then I will be baring my soul just a little bit. What if you don't like it? What if you don't like me?

Because if I show you who I am and you do not like me then that's all that I have.

Normally I am not afraid of sharing books with friends. My friends know that I read voraciously, and they often come to me asking for recommendations. I am also not afraid of sharing books on my blog. If you don't like a book that I recommend then probably another reader will. There are a few books, though, that I recommend only rarely, and Nina's words in the quotation above explain why.

Recently I've been involved in a project putting together lists of folksongs. Like books, this is a subject dear to my heart, and even more so than books, in the lines of many of those songs are captured memories of my life, my childhood, my family. These words contain people, places and events that are unlocked when I listen to them sung, and even when I listen to the music that accompanies them.

When one of my colleagues would say that they didn't like a song I had suggested then I found myself feeling personally affronted. How dare they not like that song? My Dad used to sing me The Northern Lights! That song there is my Grandmother's song - don't you dare say Danny Boy's no good! That one was the song that The Celtic City Sons always played - you can't take out Ride On! No, you can't remove The Volga Boat Song - I sang that one in Primary School. It was Mr Montgomery's class, and he was my favourite teacher!! Don't you know that he had long hippy hair and drove a red 550 Spyder and we called him Sir? You can't remove that song!

Oh, what I pain I was being.

For me, being aware of these feelings was the main part of dealing with the problem solved. Once I realised what was happening I was able to remove myself a little from the decision making process and allow myself - and the rest of the team - to move on to other more important things. I'll suggest songs, they can accept or reject them as they like.

Within reason. There are some songs that are just not negotiable. Those songs are good!! Nothing that you say to the contrary will make me change my mind!!

You hear me?

Here's Paul Robeson singing The Volga Boat Song. He's good. It's good.

No, you can't not like this song. If you do, you'll kindly keep your inappropriate thoughts to yourself.

You had better not spit on my soul.


  1. No spitting here ~ but then I adore folk song. Blessings, my friend.

  2. I hear ya. Those offerings can be like putting a piece of meat into a meat grinder. If you don't let go, you could find yourself getting hurt.

    Folksongs, books, and art truly helps contain our memories in less unwieldy bundles. Repin's Barge Haulers on the Volga (which you've pictured) holds many emotions and memories for me. I remember twice taking people to share the paintings I love and had the same experience you and Nina speak of.

  3. Great song! I've got a new book list posted today. Two book posts in two days!

    I loved Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, but didn't get to quite finish it--darned library books!

  4. Thank you for this post. I love that first quote and the quote you had on your wall. I have felt a lot of pain in the past from just "putting it out there" ... my passions, the books I embrace, etc ... and not finding the reception I hoped or expected from the people I loved. I'm now more self a ware and a lot more reserved in sharing face to face, at least those deeply personal books, dreams, etc.

  5. Your passion for folk songs and the memories that reside there is fantastic! How fun it would be to spend a day with you listening to songs and your stories about them. I think your emotional response is appropriate if people were spitting on your soul *knowingly*. I think the culprit is not in any inappropriate emotional response, rather in the mistaking that anyone knew you were baring your soul in those songs in the first place.


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