You’re turning the pages and a very strange and very nice thing dawns on you. This book gets you. Obviously the author, who might have died centuries back, never knew you at all. But they write as if they did It’s as if you’d confessed your secrets to them and then they’d gone of and written this work around what you told them. Transformed of course into a story about people with different names, or into a essay that doesn’t cite your case explicitly. But might as well do, because it’s so completely on target. We never quite feel we are understood well enough. Even by the people who we genuinely like and who are emotionally attached to us. A permafrost of loneliness often persists just below the surface. Even when things are broadly speaking going well enough. All this, the book that understands you, appears to know and to be able to correct. The book in question might be one that speaks to millions, like the Harry Potter series. Or it could be an almost unique discovery of your own. Perhaps Schiller’s ‘Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind’ Written at the very end of the eighteenth century With it’s haunting efforts to fuse a noble idealism with political realism It could be a self-help book about sex but alights on just the things that are troubling you Or you might feel that ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin’ Written by Théophile Gautier in the middle of the 19th century And which tells the story of a man and a woman who are both in love with a central character. the operasinger Madeline de Maupin Was written by historical miracle exactly for you A book knows you by pinpointing And taking very seriously, a major but often ignored problem that happens to be looming in your existence. For instance, when Harry Potter is with the Dursleys the feeling of being an alien in a familiar environment For long stretches of time Harry has to live around people who have no idea of his real nature They never acknowledge his actual strengths He’s regarded as a contemptible freak for things that elsewhere would make him popular and important. The book is hugely alive to the feeling of not being appreciated. With many books we’re pleased because we encounter sympathy for things that deserve generous treatment but normally don’t get it. The darker aspects of one’s character are getting a tender hearing. You’ve been heard, you’ve heard others And the book says – I know So often despite all the people around us We’re lonely and ashamed We’re haunted by the worry that no reasonable person could feel anything but derision or contempt for our problems. We feel that to share them with our friends would lead to bewildered rejection. A book that understands you is like an ideal parent or friend, who makes it acceptable to suffer in the way we do. Our weirdest sorrows or enjoyments are recast as valid parts of human experience which can be met with sympathy and kindness. It is, even though the relationship is with paper and ink only, a kind of love. And perhaps one of the deepest kinds of love we’ll ever know.