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 [http://cnrs.academia.edu/.... 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?