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Reader and book lover P. Carey has offered an idea for an open forum this week. The topic of books that evoke memories of a particular time and place should spark an interesting discussion!  Work obligations prevent P. Carey from being able to respond to comments this morning, but I’ll be glad to take any questions and forward them by kosmail. Carey's diary begins below the orange cruller.

Annie Murphy Paul wrote an interesting article in the New York Times entitled “Your Brain on Fiction,” wherein she briefly discusses interesting scientific investigations into the reading of fiction from the standpoint of neuroscience.  (Veronique Boulenger’s work [ at the Dynamique du Langage—one example of which is mentioned in Paul’s article—is well worth reading at its source.)  

We know that music increases serotonin levels and causes the release of endorphins: a combination that affects mood, distracts from pain, and even stimulates sexual desires.  Reading stimulates not simply the classical language areas of our brains, but multiple centers related to our senses of smell, taste, feeling, even movement: a combination that (I argue) weaves a complex tapestry of remembered time and place.

I find it interesting that music stimulates emotion in me, more so than anything else. I can describe in some detail the emotive response I have to a scratchy recording of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “Banish Misfortune” played on a hammer dulcimer.  And where I can sometimes remember when and where I first heard a particularly memorable piece, I typically have a distinct emotional response to music.  

Books, at least for me, are different: the written word has affected me at a particular time and in a particular place. Many books, reflected upon, bring up a wellspring of not just feelings but specific situations I may have found myself in at the time of reading. I can pinpoint exactly where I was when I read the word “fuck” in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; the time and place of first starting Hammarskjold’s Markings despite the fact that I have reread it on my birthday for over three decades; I can describe the coldness and very sounds around me when I first picked up The Pearl and lost myself in it all the way to its final line. Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon pulls me back to a time when I was more innocent, more easily awed, and a penniless traveler in a foreign land.

Percy’s The Second Coming (a book that stirs both strong feelings and sensory memories in me) takes me to a small religious college in Kentucky physically and psychologically between Knoxville and Cincinnati: the ginkgo tree outside my window recently dropped each of its aurulent, fan-shaped leaves and that one moment where autumn turns to winter is physically sensed and recorded rather than intellectually understood and processed. Lines of familiarity stretch infinitely between Will Barrett’s thoughts about his father’s shotgun and Quentin Compson’s musings about his father’s pocket watch and Macbeth’s lament following Seyton’s news of Lady Macbeth’s death. My room is cold because I refuse to shut the window, finding solace in a rough blanket, steaming tea, and these very words written on the page before me. The air smells of snow. I miss my home in Louisiana. And night is beginning to fall.

Is there, for you, a book that evokes a time and place, a particularly sharp memory?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 05:00:05 AM PST

  •  This thought-provoking diary is making me (9+ / 0-)

    remember things:

    The hot Little Rock summer when I was about 14, reading Catcher in the Rye for the first time.  To my naive eyes it seemed fresh and stimulating.  (I was the kind of teenager who read Arthur Compton-Rickett's History of English Literature for amusement.)

    The godawful Elsie Dinsmore books would--if I ever saw one again and picked it up--evoke the dark, tiny, narrow library in my home town in Texas.  On blistering hot Texas afternoons my 59-year-old grandmother, the town librarian, would preside at the desk in the back of the room. Eleven years old at the time, I'd be working my way through the stacks. That dark little one-room library was cooled by a window fan and smelt of old leather bindings and dust.  I loved it.

    Many, many years later I sat on the screened porch of my house, the same house I'm living in now, on a summer afternoon reading Maupin's Tales of the City. As the afternoon wore on I knew I should be getting off that wicker loveseat to prepare dinner but I couldn't resist reading "just one more" delightful short story.  To me,  Tales was the literary equivalent of a box of chocolates--I just wanted to go on consuming!

    Jagjit Singh's Great Ideas and Theories of Modern Cosmology  evokes a memory of me, a fascinated 18-year-old who was abysmal at math, reading that book with a dictionary on one hand and an algebra textbook on the other.  I loved the words he used:  primeval, primordial, with respect to gases and star formation.  

    Thanks, P. Carey, for bringing back all these memories!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 05:43:09 AM PST

  •  Always fun to read these diaries! (8+ / 0-)

    I had the weird music experience yesterday we all have: I heard, on the radio, a song that is never played on the radio and which I haven't listened to (or thought about) since high school in 1978 or 79, but which I listened to as part of an album over and over when I was 15 or so.

    Despite 30-some-odd intervening years, I recognized it immediately and could sing all of it. More oddly, though, it transported my mind, emotions and senses to my old living room, my dad's hi-fi equipment, and my 15-year-old self. Usually "oldies" send us back to a more generic nostalgic space, but this was unsettlingly specific and redolent of not-yet-grown-up emotional baggage I have long since cleared out of my psychic attic.

    So many books trigger so many memories! Many of them are mundane books and mundane memories: the advertising jingle of the day or popular song on the radio wrapped up in the character and plot of a novel with no other tie than my own experience reading them.

    •  You tease. What song and album was it then? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, badscience

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:12:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  :-D (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "Excuse Me" from Peter Gabriel's first solo album (Peter Gabriel with the car cover). Still have the vinyl, but no turntable. I went and played the entire album in YouTube (in order of course - because your memory cues up the next song and back in those days, albums were generally built as a narrative anyway, even if not a "concept album.")

        Unlike a lot of other music, I haven't listened to this album since high school and beyond "Solisbury Hill" it gets no radio play (and never did) so the memory was firmly housed in the old house!

        •  A fine album, underappreciated, as you say (0+ / 0-)

          I'm very fond of Gabriel's Genesis, and with his first solo album he broadened his sonic palette, and set out to show what else he could do.

          Moribund the Burgermeister grabs your ears, and then he takes you on a tumbling journey. Solsbury Hill, his impressionist account of leaving Genesis, is the stand out, but it's all interesting. The only other song you sometimes hear is Here Comes the Flood, which Gabriel clearly likes, as he's revisited it since then.

          I prefer his third album (melting face), which is so adventurous and full of great songs - but everything he did through So is pretty top-notch.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 01:00:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's all good stuff. I loved "The Lamb (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Lies Down on Broadway" but it was just a teesny bit self-serious, and also liked and bought Gabriel's second solo. Then something happened and I started going to LA punk clubs and listening to more hardcore and oddly poppy new wave stuff, and stopped listening to Peter Gabriel, although I enjoyed his videos and what I heard on the radio. I think his first album aged really quite well, and wow - "Humdrum" is amazing. More than I remember it being. I did hear "Modern Love" on the radio a little back in the 70's but never now.

    •  Smell is the most direct route to memory of all (4+ / 0-)

      the senses, the least moderated by secondary processes.

      A woman wearing the same scent as someone you used to love, just walking by, can tumble you back into emotions of long ago. And smell and taste are the closest of the senses, so Proust's madeleine inspired reverie makes sense too.

      Hearing, still, is closer to the heart than vision. Many of us have themes that we associate with certain relationships, or anthems from a school or time in our life. Back in boarding school in England, I would play Stiff Little Fingers (a very energetic Irish punk band) before any exam, to pump me up before I walked on the playing field, so to speak. And our rugby team would listen to the Damned's Smash It Up, which is a sort of punk equivalent to We Will Rock You.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 08:49:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hi, badscience, nice to see you! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    P Carey, badscience, Aunt Pat, Brecht, Limelite

    Oh, yes, I absolutely know what you mean when it comes to music evoking memories.  What I love, and what immediately transports me back to the mid-1950s, is the classic rock of those days:  "Yakkety Yak" by the Coasters is my favorite of those.

    Take out the papers and the trash
    Or you don't get no spendin' cash
    Just tell your hoodlum friends outside
    You ain't got time to go for a ride!

    The endless recitation of chores in this song so completely described my own life that I felt at last someone, somewhere, knew what I was going through.

    I suffered terribly from unrequited love so the Ponytails'  "Born Too Late" said it all too:

    Born too late
    For you to notice me
    To you
    I'm just a kid
    That you won't date--
    Why was I born too late?

    Music and books, don't they make life better!  :)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:34:26 AM PST

  •  places and words (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    P Carey, badscience, Aunt Pat, Brecht, Limelite

    tommyknockers will always remind me of reading in the back of a high school class.

    smillas sense of snow was charter busses through ireland.

    "it" was read in an a-frame tent at camp, by flashlight.

    cat's cradle was the concrete porch in front of the rental house i lived in furing junior high.

    gunslinger was the house in dallas we lived in before the divorce.

    i read douglas coupland's life after god over and over during a fraternity pledge initiation, since i was in art classes and had nothing to study during mandatory "study hall". it was the tiny version with deckle edges on the paper. a nice book.

    If only Michael Phelps hadn't smoked that pot...imagine what he could have accomplished with motivation and good lung capacity.

    by papa monzano on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:37:17 AM PST

    •  MZD (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      P Carey, badscience, Aunt Pat, Brecht, Limelite

      House of Leaves...i read that alone in a small apartment working opposite shifts from my wife at the time. lots of time in a silent place with a terrifying book. i thought i was going mad.

      Only in Amsterdam, finished in front of the Bulldog on Leidseplein. Sat and wept at the chilly little metal table, had a cigarette and finished my coffee.

      If only Michael Phelps hadn't smoked that pot...imagine what he could have accomplished with motivation and good lung capacity.

      by papa monzano on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 06:41:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You did get about, Papa! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Pat, papa monzano, Brecht, Limelite

        Were you in the military, perhaps, or you just saved hard and spent your vacations overseas?  The scene you describe in Amsterdam, sitting at a chilly little metal table, brought back memories for me too, sitting at sidewalk cafes in Europe.

        "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

        by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:04:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  vacation (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Diana in NoVa, Aunt Pat, Limelite

          i just spent a lot of money on travel in a short time.

          the most humorous thing about it to me were the friends here who moaned and wailed about how much they wished they were going overseas on a vacation, etc...

          i finally just started telling people i wasn't closing europe off like elvis in a theater, and if they wanted to see the world they should save up some cash and get a damn passport.

          If only Michael Phelps hadn't smoked that pot...imagine what he could have accomplished with motivation and good lung capacity.

          by papa monzano on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:41:48 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Love these memories, papa monzano! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat

      You've had quite a few travels!

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:03:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't have specific memories of time and place (6+ / 0-)

    for certain books, but I do remember my emotional reactions to stories.    Catcher in the Rye  and  A  Tree Grows in Brooklyn stand  out in particular, though I could name dozens.  

    Reading Anne  of Green Gables for the first time at age 37 as I sat at the bedside of my dying mother is a memory I have returned to for 20 years. I think the book was an oasis of humor and lightheartedness in the midst of a difficult situation. It was also a book my mother would have loved.  I felt like I was reading it for her, too.

    •  Thank you for sharing that memory, lr85211 (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, Brecht, Limelite

      Like you, I came late to the Anne of Green Gables books (I was in my 50s), and like you, I was delighted by them.  

      Reading to your dying mother:  yes, I did that too.  I read the poems that my father loved to her and my nephew read Shakespeare to her.  I was reading Macaulay's Horatius at the Bridge and got terribly choked up.

      Some memories are sad, but inspiring.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 07:06:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fourteen and Lady Chatterly's Lover (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa, Brecht, Limelite

    I came upon the book accidently and was shocked to realize that such things were even published. My hormones were exploding at that age, although I was a friendless nerd. So it was fantasy material for awhile. Now of course, the content seems terribly dated, even ridiculous...

  •  "CHildbirth Without Fear" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa, Brecht, Limelite

    My mother was a nurse and had several medical books stashed away, but I found them. This book was written in the 1940s by a doctor for young women nervous about pregnancy and the birthing process.

    I was about 11. The title was a misnomer, as the book only confirmed and added to any horror I might've imagined.

    It seemed, in order for the mother to survive this excruciating experience, she had to be spread-eagled, tied in place and knocked unconscious while the all-knowing Doctor extracted the baby and the nurses cleaned up the mess.

    And the photos were shocking.

    That is when I decided: I would NEVER let that happen to me. And I never did....

  •  Music or Books (4+ / 0-)

    Music, especially "pop" music, revives memories of times and places, for me because music styles change so much over time. But there comes a time when the next style to become popular doesn't click with some listeners and the time/memory continuum is broken. In my experience this was more complete than I expected as I never did get back into the music loop, and it's importance decreased for me.

    I've read that this is common, that at various points in people's lives they disconnect from the current pop music and begin listening to "oldies".  

    I think a lot of space has been given to the idea that these folks are trying to re-live happier days, etc. But I think a lot of it is really simply not liking the current trend in pop music, but still liking music and then listening to "oldies" as something tried and true to their tastes.

    Books, on the other hand, have rarely if ever had that affect on me, Topics may be topical, but "oldies" don't hold a lot of interest for me, generally. Times have changed, circumstances are different, more is found out all the time, etc. Older non-fiction books have little value for me,

    Quantity makes a difference with books (less so with music). I read so many that it's rare that one book has a major effect on me. Certain things have been eye-opening, but not earth-changing.

    Fiction is somewhat like music. I have favorite authors, like most people, but I find I like a certain style and subject matter (meaning author) and can go back and re-read them. The trends in fiction may change, but there are, for me, reliable authors. The smart ones don't make a certain technology key to the plot because they know it will be outdated quickly.

    A Southerner in Yankeeland

    •  Music seems to reach the heart faster than books (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Limelite, Diana in NoVa, SoCaliana

      I think when we're young (through our teens, or perhaps our twenties) rock tends to wrap itself in our heartstrings, so the music from our youth sets us off in a way that later discoveries seldom can.

      "Hope I die before I get old" - and some parts of us do at least fall asleep, long before we die.

      Which makes it all the more impressive when a book holds such craft and power that it can flood us with feeling. Even when a book upsets me viscerally, I respect the craft that made me actually care.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 01:11:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I find that the plight of Rob Fleming is one (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, Diana in NoVa

      that resonates with me (so there is a book tie-in) - his snobbishness about music, his insider's expertise, his misfit music snob friends, his desire to re-organize and re-organize and re-organize his music collection using different taxonomies, his harsh judgements about people based upon their knowledge of, and taste in, music, and then his panic when he finds himself out of the loop. Then the next panic when he finds himself out of the loop, alienated by the new, but doesn't fight it, and will actually make a mix tape with Stevie Wonder on it.

      There is all kind of music I scorned in my youth that I actually kind of like now (hear that, Bee Gees and the Carpenters?), and stuff I liked a lot but don't have much time for now (sorry, Queen, you were my life when I was 14 but I moved on).

      However, I do like to listen to alt stations and at least hear a mix of things popular now and in the last 10 years or so when I might not have been listening too closely (hear that, Hot Chip?)

      And Young Marble Giants NEVER gets old.

  •  The Adventurers by Harold Robbins (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa, Brecht

    on my front porch in Baltimore, Maryland about 1966.

    Shop Liberally this holiday season at Kos Katalog

    by JamieG from Md on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 03:33:20 PM PST

  •  There are so many, but this is the biggest: (0+ / 0-)

    Lord of the Rings:  I was 8 going on 9, and my family had rented a house at Sea Drift in Stinson Beach for the spring vacation.  I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring, and didn't come up for air until days later, as I closed The Return of the King.  Not sure if I went outside, although I'm sure I did.  It was a beautiful spot, right on the beach.  I remember that the living room was sunken, with a wraparound couch.  There were large glass-paneled windows looking out toward the ocean, which obscured by dunes, with a sandy path through sawgrass to the beach.

    I had read The Hobbit before that, so I was set up well for the trilogy.  For the next ten years, every year, I read LOTR every years.  Now, it's every five years or so.  I can't speak to why, in that specific week, I was so mesmerized (I know generally, but can't recall my exact state of mind).  But I do know that it is the small moments in the trilogy, the moments of travel and interval, that speak most strongly to me.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 05:16:36 AM PST

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