Do you find that certain books bring back memories of where you were or what you were doing at the time that you were reading them? I have very specific memories about reading a book called My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. I even have specific music I tie to that book. I think of Kelis’ song Get Along With You. It wasn’t a new song at that time, but I’d just stumbled upon that CD and liked it a lot. For me, the lyrics matched the sense of loss and confusion Due’s main character experienced as her marriage, and life in general, began to crumble around her. I remember passing that book around between some friends, and how we all had a different take on what the protagonist did in her most defining moment.
Edgar Allan Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay bring back memories of my sister, Linda. Those were her favorites, and when I was little she’d read them to me. With those stories I still remember her in bell bottoms and sneakers. I’d sit on the edge of her bed and rifle through her makeup case while she read. I can still smell the face powder and the shiny squares of eyeshadow. She’d pop her gum between lines, smiling at me over the pages. She never fussed, but I’m sure she was watching to make sure I didn’t get my fingers into her makeup. I remember her patient smile and soft chuckle when I’d ask her questions about a story or poem.
The Scottish play brings back memories of the my very cold high school English classroom. I still get a little quiver along my back thinking about it. I remember the red parka I wore and how I could never get warm enough. I wondered about how cold it must have been in Scotland during the winter, and how soldiers and enemies of the king alike had managed out in the elements.
After a bad break up, I read Pamela Ball’s novel, Lava. I cast my ex in the role of the main character’s unreliable boyfriend, and enjoyed imagining his downfall. And though the story was nothing at all like anything that I went through (or anyone could go through, actually), it reminds me of that period of time, my letting go and moving on. I liked the mental image of watching that character, both beloved and predator, swimming away.
Often times, you can read a book a second time and have a totally different experience the second than you did the first. It’s not just the fact that you have hindsight– but writing effects you differently at any given time. Because you have changed. Because your experiences, which are the filter of the author’s world, shape your perception as a reader. I’d like to read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar again, just for that reason. I want to see what layers of meaning and subtlety I can glean now that I didn’t see the first time.
Books mark places and stages in life for me, phases I went through, tastes that have morphed and expanded. Do you feel the same? Is there a piece of writing somewhere that reminds you of your college sweetheart, a job that bored you silly, or friends that you aren’t around anymore?
©2010 Lori Titus