“I have sometimes wished for a bookstore organized not by genre but by feeling,” Ben Marcus writes in the introduction to the New American Stories anthology. “You could shop by mood, by emotional complexity, by the amount of energy and attention that might be required. There’d be a special section for the kind of literature that holds your face to the fire.”
The Marcus-ammased anthology (seriously, read it if you haven’t already) cultivates a wide span of human emotions beyond the elementary happy-sad kintergarten prescriptions. Grief, self-consciousness, frustration with the limits of language, the ‘non-feeling’ of moments between the moments we cognate and remember – they’re all there duking it out from story to story.
From Joy Williams to George Saunders, the anthology does a good job of capturing these more slippery emotions that are not easily described. Despite the ease with which Marcus convieves a book store that caters directly to them, the reality of creating such a store seems far more complicated.
Think about genere: They tell us what we’re in for on a surface level of plot and theme, but they do little to inform us about what we’ll feel. I know, I know, a book can evoke different feeling from one reader to another – but if a book could outline several emotions you may feel how would someone even go about making this system of categorization? Would it enourage more emotive reading – or censor our interpretation of books by guiding us towards a single feeling? For the sake of a hypothetical – and an exercise in feeling things – here’s a few categories you might find useful, should you ever take up the challenge of creating such a bookstore.
When a book instills a strong desire to travel, explore, frolick, and expend wonderful adventerous energy.
Who doesn’t want to find the travel bug between the pages? The books in this category may overlap with grief, imminent mortality, or just about any other niche of reads – but these books specifically cater to an adventurist spirit. Here you may find The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag, Life of Pi by Yann Martel and oodles others.
/nä-?stal-j?, n?/ noun.
1. When a book brings back a wave of memories from a prior stage of life, usually accompanied by reflection, lament, or wishful thinking to return to the past.
2. The desire to time travel to a book’s era.
We all like a little throw back now and then. Whether a surface reminder of childhood, or a full blown interpolation into the thick of a foreign decade, this category is meant to pluck you straight from your present existence and send you barreling into the past. Among others, your Emotional Bookstore may offer Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, The Ladies’ Delight by Emile Zola (also available in Wanderlust), the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park, or American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
The kernel of hyper awareness to our finite days that a book can often cause. Less intense variations of the feeling may make you reflect on our limited abilities – physical, cognitive, emotional, etc.
Maybe not the most explicitly desired emotion, but always powerful – and tormenting – when you feel it. Here between the ominous dark shelves find the entire oeuvre of Camus, Kafka, and Neitzsche, as well as Kundera’s Immortality, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Beckett’s How It Is and a handful of subtle (or not so subtle) existential provocateurs.
A more sophisticated way of saying optimistic, it is the feeling that occurs when a book’s positivity leaves you content and with a good feeling regarding you, your life, your relationships and even the future.
There’s nothing better than walking away from an awesome read feeling inspired and plain old giddy. Whether a book motivates you to be a better person, to explore, to write, or to read more – there’s a slice of optimism well deserved. Here you can find Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (surprise, not all sci-fi is dystopic!), and An Optimist’s Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson.
1. The overwhelming feeling of loss when a beloved character dies
2. A similar feeling of loss when the pages run out and you must move onto a new book.
Although the second definition is, unfortunately, unavoidable, the first definition of grief can be engaged – and accompanied by a box of Kleenex – by several books from the grief aisle. Depending on your store-owner’s sensitivities, you may find anything from The Giving Tree and Harry Potter to Hamlet.
The emotional status of a skeptic, made so by a burgeoning of let downs, ineffective encounters with authority, and/or moments of mistrust between one character and another. The feeling is marked by a negative outlook, a sense of disillusionment, and a general pessimism regarding the state of mankind.
Sometimes a little bitterness serves us well. Question, watch, understand: these are the imperatives this category presses on us. Be wary of other wary eyes peaking around this aisle’s corner, and don’t turn your back to the shelves for too long. In this section, and between furtive glaces at other customers, you can nab a copy of Disgrace by J.M Cotzee, Nausea by Sartre, Blindness by Jose Saramago, and plenty of dystopian thrillers.
The pleasure of the text! This emotion arises from the bubbling delight that comes from reading chapter after chapter and engaging with the text, peaking ultimately to a somatosensory bliss (a.k.a. loving a book).
Find in every aisle everywhere!
What categories would you include?
Feature image courtesy of Forbes.