Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Books have always taken a good share of my time. Admittedly, more in the past, when full weeks were spent jumping from one title to another in a breathtaking swirling of names, characters and plots that nowadays I regret a bit, than in the present.

Over the last weeks, I had the chance of falling back in the habit, that someones could rightly label as addiction, and I had the luck and pleasure of engaging in books almost all falling in the second and perhaps even third degree. Thinking about it, I suppose, that doesn't really mean anything if one doesn't know the four degree of books, right? Then I shall go on and expose my personal (or maybe relatively personal, as I do not exclude that someone else has elaborated the same theory in a parallel and independent way, as it often happens with the great things of human life like the telephone and the infinitesimal calculus) theory.

All the books, but especially narrative books, are divided depending the signs that they leave upon someone's soul, a bit like fire and related burns.

First degree books are the bad ones. Even admitting one manages to finish them, and the real reader usually forces himself to, they will leave nothing behind, but a bad taste and the feeling of wasting time. Second hand book stands are full of such books, abandoned soon after having been picked up, or right after their cellophane envelope. The first degrees books have the peculiarity of being as numerous as the locust and yet impossible to name, as the mind usually forgets their title, and often their authors' name as well, as fast as humanely possible, and sometimes even faster, to the point that it is not unheard of the case of the reader who, so forgetful of the experience, ended up buying the same book twice, providing it is presented with a totally different cover, only to realize after the first pages the terrible mistake.

Second degree books are the pleasant ones. They are like the beer in a sunny day, as they are refreshing and yet of no particular importance if not for the time they spend in your hand, and often they have to be finished quickly, before the coolness evaporates. Moreover, like they beer, they disappear quickly and are often forgotten, and yet they leave something behind, even if it is in the back of our mind rather than around our waists. For instance, the lines suddenly popping up in the middle of a discussion, when something incisive is needed to describe something, even if the precise source of the quote often escapes us, are probably coming from a second degree books which are, most likely, the majority of the books we will read during our life.

Third degree books are the ones that leave permanent scars. They are life fire, and yet the fascinating phenomenon with them is that, unlike the fire, people who have been too close to a third degree book tend to repeat the experience. No, they do crave to repeat the experience actually, often re-reading the same book and anything else written by its author, hoping, all too often ending up frustrated, to find the same sensation under a different name. Third degree books are the ones where you are never sure whether the book passed his belief to you, or rather if you liked the book because it shares your own beliefs. Third degree books are like a whole meal, not only it contributes to your muscles, nourishes your neurons and produces the energy everything works with, but also add to the skeleton that keeps everything up, and one should never forget the old saying, which is often more true with books than with real food, that one is what he eats.

Finally, there are the fourth degree books. Rare. Precious. Almost all of them come from that mystical and mythical age everyone passes through between the disclosure of Santa's secret and the discovery of your own mortality, simply because before the earlier everything works its own inner peculiar magic and after the latter nothing does ever again, except the occasional miracle. Fourth degree books are the ones that end leaving you an immense sense of loss, and yet never really end, as you carry them along with you all the time. Fourth degree books are the ones that, not only makes you want to read forever, but makes you want to write yourself and, at the very least, makes you think in a written way for a while, making see yourself and your actions as if being narrated by a third person. To say that they make you better would be a sheer banality, as they actually make you, period. Some books of this category teach you more than a professor, they tell you more about life, at least the life that should be, more than many friends. I've even heard some teach you more than your parents do.


leticia said...

I'm curious now, give me an example of each :)

(that's pretty much how I see things as well, although I've never gotten down to the point of elaborating the thought. Good thinking and good writing.)

Guido Costantini said...


The ones of the first degree aren't worth to be mentioned and shall not be.

Of the second, there are so many, but most of the ones in the column on the left fall within the category, even if some are pretty borderline and one doesn't make it.

The third degree. Tricky and somewhat personal, I must say. The Treasure Island, for instance. The Iliad. Some of Verne's tales. Lord Jim by Conrad...

As for the fourth... the Lord of the Rings, the Neverending Story (so many times I wish Ende would had written a book with all the story left untold there... or that I could write them myself), more than a few of Borges' tales...

leticia said...

Apart from Treasure Island, i like your little list. Right now I'd add The God Delusion to my 4th-degree list, definitely, and White Teeth and all Nick Hornby to somewhere between 2nd and 3rd degrees. But that's just me.

Have a nice time abroad, caro :)

Marilyn said...

This is great info to know.