Those are big words. Can you really have just one favorite book? Maybe not, but John Crowley’s Little, Big has been my favorite for the longest – since I was about sixteen, when an aunt gifted it to me with unnatural intuition as to what I’d enjoy.
I decided to read it again, with attention as to why I like so much. The book’s so well-worn, I figured this read, I’d sink in the final dagger and mark it up – underling and bracketing sentences and passages I especially like (and want to emulate).
There’s lots of words I don’t know in this book, despite multiple readings. That probably doesn’t speak well for my powers of perception or follow-through. I’m circling every word I don’t know; I’m on page 75 and up to 20 words: amanuensis, biomorphic, cafe royale, campagna, chesterfield, corpuscular, gymnosophists, inexorably ( I kinda knew this one), infundibular, intaglie, maquerau, mullioned, phthisically, plangency, plinths, prolegomena, rustication, sclerotic, stringcourses, tattersall. Feel free to weigh in on how many of those you know, smarty-pants.
On page 8, there’s a sentence 260 words long. It’s a list; to break it into smaller parts would have broken the momentum and its meaning.. The more I pay attention to the fiction I’m reading, the more I think that, perhaps, the rules of grammar are made to be broken; the only ones who follow them are the uninitiated. How else can all of these authors be getting away with it?
Little, Big is an example of magical realism. It won the World Fantasy Award in 1982, the year I was born. But it’s not the dragon-and-fairy kind of fantasy, with heroes and villains. It’s set in the real world, with occasional visits from another, smaller, bigger fantastical world: “I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until, at the center point, it is infinite.”
I found science to be like that, which is one thing I liked about it (my degree is in Biology). You could learn a list of all the mammals (the outer ring), then their anatomies (going in makes it more complex), and if you take it to the cellular level, that’s a huge amount of detail. Start talking atoms, sub-atomic particles, and energy, and you’ve hit the infinite.
Little, Big plays with these layers in a fantastical way. I like my facts spiced with fiction – heavier on the fiction side, really, like a carrot cake; we all know it’s mostly cake. But tell me it’s good for me; tell me a story.
“He knew he would have to believe in order to go where she had been; knew that, if he believed, he could go there even if it didn’t exist, if it was make-believe.” Isn’t that what reading is?
What books have remained your favorites for years (decades?), never loosing their charm from one read to the next? Tell me a story I’ll want to believe.