Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Way We Keep Books

While books bulge off my shelves and cascade on my night table with occasional dog-eared pages, for the most part, I don't own many of the books I love. Most are in circulation at a library or travelling through wandering hands at a used-book store.  I used to carry certain slim books of poetry through my life but, after so many brown-box moves, they have vanished.

I used to run into someone on the subway (a person who appears in my life in strange ways since a job I had just out of school.)  What are you reading? I asked once, because he always kept a book in his pocket, a paper fold leaking from the zipper. I'm not reading it, I just like to have it with me, he said. 

I thought I understood. But then I didn't. And then, I thought, he had always been somewhat odd.

I am an avid reader and, I hope, a thoughtful one. I do like to be with books, to have them in my bag, to stand among them in cozy shops or libraries, to know they are near. But books have always stayed with me in strange ways.  I could love a book, clutch it to my heart, oh, oh, oh, and, a week later, someone could ask me its plot.  I'll hmm and stammer.  Most of the time, I don't remember the main character's name.

Books have never been reference for me.  I can't quote a single line. I can't point to the shelf, pull it out, read a passage. Oh, I read that!  I'll say when someone mentions a title. But then I never seem to know the facts, the figures, the names, the place.  

It seems a book is mine and I am its, when it is in my hands.

Feelings, stirrings, moments, do linger after I leave the pages. They do keep.  A certain wishing of almost-twin birthdays on a plane, a girl peeling potatoes in the back room of a catering hall.  Sometimes I can connect these moments to specific books. But most of the time?  I can't tell you the writer or even the title.

For someone who often considers books her life's blood, I have wondered, am I the only one, who is only able to keep pieces of books in a dusty jar of memory?


  1. I'm like that too, unless I become author obsessed, and I want to buy every single one of their books. But even then, I have a hard time remembering the title and go with, "It's the one where this and this happens..." ;)

  2. Nope, you're not the only one - I tend to remember moments rather than titles/authors/characters.

  3. I have a pretty good "book memory," but I tend to re-read a lot. My mom reads just like you, and she's always thought it meant there was something wrong with her! Despite our many reassurances that she was normal, I think she'll like to hear that she's not the only one. :)

  4. I don't think it's as important to remember the author or title (or plot or characters) as it is to rest in knowing that at one point the story mattered in your life. Who's to say we can't just believe its residue lies dormant somewhere within us and that—even if we can't access our memories about it or pull specific details forth—it still served its purpose when we needed it to? Plus, in this age of hyper-links (ugh!) and sooooo much information, we each have our own RAM storage capacity, and it can reach its limit unless you clear other things away.

    At any rate, I still hold out hope that someday (far, far away...) we'll learn why we were drawn to certain stories and certain people and characters and their memories will be crystal clear for us to indulge in. Loved this post, and reading about the bookish Melissa. :)

  5. I'm almost the same. I grew up watching a lot of television and at the same time, reading a lot of books but all I seem to remember are television moments and only occasionally, book moments. although, if I truly love a book, some bits would stay with me.

    I can still remember a moment from a story that read - this woman takes off a jumpsuit/overall and the alien is surprised by it and thought she was peeling away her skin. I can never remember the name of the story or the author but somehow, that scene has stayed with me awhile.

    hope you're enjoying your day.

  6. My dusty jar of memory is full of titles, plots, characters, but alas! I cannot quote lines anymore. Dust, I guess.

  7. I feel this way about books AND movies! I've always felt guilty about it, too. Like, "Oh, I loved that book! It was about...well, let me think...hmm. I can't really remember. But I loved it!"

    Oh well. I like to think the books we love leave our brains but move on to our hearts, or something equally cheesy :)

  8. I agree with Morgan. I am like that with books and movies. No matter how much I love them I don't memorize lines, titles or even author names . .. or at least I can't quote them at a moment's notice.
    The best books live inside us and remind us to live well.

  9. I know that in periods in which I read voraciously, I retain less. Only when I tackle a book slowly and sip at it do I remember details.

  10. I have more immediate recall of movies from my teen years in terms of quotes, but when I think of characters and plot points from books that have moved me some how they live inside my brain in a hazy smoke that I can access. If I pick up the physical book again, it calls them forward. If someone asks me about the author, they peek out from the depths of grocery lists and ideas. I am a huge re-reader. It feels like I'm visiting friends or a place I once traveled.

  11. I used to work in a library, and was excellent at remembering authors, titles, and plots. As time goes on, though, I remember less, and they become more "mine" than from a book. Sometimes I think things I've read are things that have happened to me. Or they all run together, and I can't remember what I saw in a movie or what was vividly written in a book. I love it half the time, because my life feels so enriched, but the other half, I just wish I had my cataloging-memory back, and didn't feel crazy when I realized I never actually saw someone fall down the stairs at boarding school.

  12. I am so glad to hear you say this. While I am entirely "In" a book while I'm reading it, somehow so many of the details vanish from my memory after I'm done. I envy people who can quote lines from their favorite books, because I sure can't!