Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reading and Memory

Katherine Langrish has an interesting post on how rereading certain books transports her back into her own past:

“The Tale of Mr Tod”. . . . I’m about six years old, sitting on a hard-wearing blue hall carpet, leaning against a polished cedarwood chest which my father brought back from Burma before I was born. Sunlight slants across the hall. My two dolls, the one with curly fair hair, the one with long brown hair, and my panda bear are lined up on the floor beside me. I am teaching school, and reading aloud to them this most exciting story, full of natural violence and terror.
I've had that experience too. Rereading Little House in the Big Woods triggers memories of the school library at Holy Trinity School in Virginia. I'm a new student, and this is the first school library I can remember ever having seen. The room seems enormous. The faint autumn sunlight slants down through tall windows. I feel shy and almost paralyzed -- so many books! Am I really allowed to choose one? Can I actually take it home with me? I can still see the shelf with the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. What riches! There are so many of them.

Interestingly, I sometimes find myself transported back to the age I was when I first read a book. That certainly happens with the Little House books unless I consciously rear my adult head in order to admire the transparency of the author's style.

What's even odder is the way that the certain actions will bring back the memory of certain books which I happened to be reading while performing similar actions in the past. For instance, I was reading through The Science Fiction Hall of Fame last year when I was also taking a clothing construction class. While sewing in the class room one day, I was idly thinking about a particularly tedious short story in that volume which I had just read. So now, every time I set in a sleeve, that particular story pops back into my head. Last week, as I was sewing down some bias tape around the armholes of the summer dresses I was making for my granddaughters, I could not shut out the memory of Jerry's Charge Account, a book I read in junior high. Why that particular book? I have no idea.

1 comment:

Enbrethiliel said...


I find this is most true of Fantasy books I read in my youth.

Madeline L'Engle can transport me back to my family's sprawling lanai on a lazy summer day. Ursula LeGuin puts me right back in our bright kitchen on a rainy grey day. Susan Cooper makes everything look a lot like Christmas. =)