Familiar Strangers

It’s an old phenomenon, oft-observed by proud bookworms: that flash of recognition upon encountering an author one met in another context, that simulated sense of familiarity, that one-sided feeling of intimacy. I’ve simultaneously “got that feelin’ ” and “it’s such a feeling that I can’t hide”.

When I see an author that I’ve previously read mentioned in a book that I’m currently reading, I feel  the thrill of recognizing a celebrity walking down the street — the beam of sunlight hitting the celebrity, the light bulb going off in my head . I also sense the rush of dark pleasure, that anticipation of voyeurism, the thought, “And now, I will see you as others see you. I will see what you have kept from me in your own writings.” (Diana Athill, in your many autobiographies, so many that I thought I knew you through all the phrases of your life,  how could you not have mentioned that you were a terrific party girl, frequenting many a-drug-fueled shindigs all the while being the shy and genteel editor at Andre Deutsch? I never would’ve known but for the good luck that Jeremy Lewis ratted you out in his Kindred Spirits.)

From my old-as-earth ruminations, may I propose a corollary to the six degrees of separation rule? If, as the conjecture goes, everyone knows everybody else by association, then it must be the case that everyone one reads will eventually be mentioned by somebody else that one reads at some not-very-far-off point, right?

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