Monday, June 11, 2007

Books and Memory

Books have been part of my life for as long as I can remember and of course age changes the remembering. When I was 30 I could remember what I had for lunch at my Grandmothers when I was 7, at 40 pre teen years were gone and of the teenage years only the catastrophic remained, Elizabeth Mason, pimples, The Graduate, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Mason (and it wasn't the girl anymore only the memory that it mattered!).. Now yesterdays lunch is a problem! My father wasn't a great talker but he was a great reader and I tried hard to read his Great Books but Plato and Euclid and Kant were couched in this old fashioned difficult language and it wasn't until I met the philosophers through Bertrand Russels' History of Western Philosophy that I realised I needed an interpreter who understood the big ideas and could couch them in laymans terms. Like Henry Miller, a bit of philosophy, a lot of sex, a bit of philosophy etc. much more palatable.
At first I could remember everything, title, author, publisher, colour of the jacket and even cheap thrillers I only had to read the first page to know I had read it before. Now I'm almost finished before I realise it is familiar!
However there are advantages. I am visiting my old books and I know I have read them and remember how they affected me but not why. So the words are new but the ideas aren't and in 40 years I've changed so I view the ideas differently. I'm excited. My dear mother in her late Altzeimer years would visit with a book and every hour or so would pick it up and read the same page. Imagine that. What you could do is find the most provoking, life changing page in your reading history and put it aside to enjoy again and again.
What am I reading? 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter', Bruce Chatwins 'In Patagonia', E.E. Schumachers 'Small is Beautiful', 'Catch 22' and poetry by Gerald Manley Hopkins and our own James K Baxter.
Five shelves to go, by the time I'm finished the memory will be diminished further and I'll be able to start again. What a saving!

1 comment:

L.M.Noonan said...

The very same thing is happening to me, however not every book withstands the test of time because I've changed -the inner me, the real me, not the crumbling facade; and since that first date they sometimes loose their power over me. Yes they did change me or at least nudge me along a different fork in the road, but since walking that track, machete in hand, I've toughened up, got the odd scar, broken a bone or two. So if I read them again it's through different perhaps rheumy eyes.