Nostalgia Lane: Memories of Books

funny pictures-Ai forgetz..    Waz ai goin up or down?

I was just wondering the other day how much do we retain of the books we really super deliciously love.

My memory’s gotten completely terrible as I get older. I was trying to come up for an idea for a Nostalgia Lane post, whereby I usually talk about a specific book or author or situation from way back that enabled my love of books and reading to flourish. I’ve done several of these since opening this place, but I knew it would probably be a topic that was exhausted sooner rather than later. I was a late reading bloomer, at least on the level where I voraciously consume books weekly, as often as possible. I  knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain Nostalgia Lane posts indefinitely because I’d eventually use up everything in my past that applied.

Then I got to thinking how we all, us reading nerds, remember that we love a book. We remember that glow and feeling of wondrous delight when we enjoy a book. But do we really remember in crystal-clear form why a book ranks high enough to be a favorite?

I’m betting some of you do, but there I go again with that terrible memory! What I do remember though, in patches, are memories of scenes in books that would come to me as my imagination fleshed out for my mind what I was reading. I can remember “seeing” several scenes from the Little House on the Prairie books, for example. How their homes looked, the settings of the many places they lived – that little cabin in the woods, and the plains at winter time with its harsh, unforgiving snow. Mind you, I was really little then, so I cherish the ability to remember anything of this nature from books I’d read back in the day. Another scene that has never, ever left my mind is when all the children come out of their homes and play with balls in exact time, like some practiced show, in Madelaine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and how one child screws up and everyone stops and goes back into their homes that all look exactly the same. I imagine, now, that this was an especially chilling moment for me in the book, and at the oddest times I find myself remembering it for no particular reason. It made a huge impression on me if I still retain it to this day, don’t you think?

This is one of the biggest reasons I began reviewing – to help myself, to enable me to be able to retain something about what I read. It’s turned out I still don’t retain a whole lot after a while. Quiz me at any random point and I’m not likely to remember character names, traits, etc. But these random little memories of mine, especially with books I’ve loved, now I do so love those. If I think about a book I’ve read, I can usually dredge up some memory of a book scene.

So in retrospect, when I look back and say that this or that was a book I loved, I’m pretty much relying on the memories that tell me so, that feeling that I do and would therefore recommend it to someone else. Is that enough? Honestly, I’d rather recall everything about a book in crystal-clear form, but I’ll take the memories for what they are – reminders that I’ve always loved books and always will.

What about you? What keeps that feeling of love for a book going strong for you? Do you tend to retain a lot of details about the books you’ve read?

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12 comments

  1. Memory is a weird thing, isn’t it? You ask some great questions. Only instead of answers, all I have is more questions. Why can I tell you minute details about something irrelevant when I can’t remember anything important about a book I really did love? Do I read too many books? Are the memories of one book supplanted by the memories of the next book? Perhaps it is enough to know that a particular book was well worth the time spent reading it.

  2. Excellent discussion topic! Like you, I don’t remember all the details of the books that I read. Some scenes from my favorites are memorable. I think that the mark of a good book is when a story stays with me days after I finish reading it. One of the reasons why I started reviewing was because I wanted to keep track of what I thought of the book right after I finished it (looks like we had similar reasons). That way, I can always just look back on my review whenever I forget the details about a certain book.

  3. I’ve been reading compulsively since I was about 11 y/o and of course can’t remember all the books that I’ve read, (I’m now ond the shady side of 40′s.)

    I’ve always been a re-reader and I think this is why I do remember clearly scenes from my keeper books. If I love a book, I’ll go back and re-read my favorite parts untill I almost know them by heart. Since favorets ebb and flow with time, some of my earlier faves have stopped being permanent companions, replaced by more recent loves, (call me book slut!) I may not remember the name of the characters or the title of the book, but I mostly do remember the author and the scenes. Give me a little time and I can even put my hands on the book itself, though I have ‘em scatered over two continents. Thank heaven mom’s got a big house. ;-D

  4. This is one of the biggest reasons I began reviewing – to help myself, to enable me to be able to retain something about what I read.

    That’s me to a tee. Before reviewing, I started making LISTS of what I read, just so I could keep track, but reviewing definitely keeps my memory fresh. :)

  5. I’m with bungluna — a re-reader. Mainly because I’ll remember loving a book SOOOOO much, but I can’t recall what happened at the end exactly or what someone’s name was. Then it drives me crazy till I reread it.

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  7. I know exactly what you mean and I do think reviews help in some ways to jog the memory, but there’s definitely older books where I remember very little or only certain passages.

    Like the fancy name cards all the girls have in one of the later books of the Little House on the Prairie series. Or the battle scenes with scary rats from Redwall. Or the pink cup Benny had in the Boxcar Children books.

    I really wish I could just magically re-read all of those books, but sometimes I think the memories or feelings might be better than the actual act of reading something again.

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  9. I’ve always been a non-re-reader, I can usually remember most of the plots in the books I’ve read and it’s only takes a few pages for the full thing to come flooding back to me. That said I’ve definitely noticed that changing recently, whether it be age or the fact that I’ve been reading a lot more lately, I seem to find my book memory fading. Which is great cos there’s definitely a few books I would love to enjoy again without knowing all the twists and turns before they happen!

  10. Definitely an interesting series of questions. My memory works oddly, I can recite the entire plot of a book I read ten years ago but I’ll forget the name of a main character I read about a week ago. I can tell you everything else in the book, but not a single name.
    I must confess that I am a huge re-reader. I’ll get a craving to go back to a book and I’ll be digging through my library (still in boxes because I haven’t built book shelves for the new place) for ages until I find it.
    However, there are some books I love to re-read and some books I love but will never read again. Generally, when I re-read I skip around the book to the parts I love. The bits of dialogue or back story or funny moment that makes me feel good. Kind of like watching an action movie for a second time, once you know the plot you can just skip the exposition and go right to the explosions. In Ilona Andrews’ books I always flip to the parts with Kate and Curran. In Kelley Armstrong’s books I love Jeremy. In Jim Butcher’s books I love the parts so ridiculous they still make me laugh.Books like a Madness of Angels I loved for their intensity but I doubt I would re-read. I re-read as a way to keep in touch with old friends, a bit of nostalgia for something that made me happy.

    • KYLE J: “…My memory works oddly, I can recite the entire plot of a book I read ten years ago but I’ll forget the name of a main character I read about a week ago. I can tell you everything else in the book, but not a single name…..”

      That is soooo me; I just suck at names! : –

      I mainly remember how a book made me feel: hopeful and believing in humanity and it’s capacity for love. Did it make me cry…touch me deeply? Were the characters and their ability to change their outlook on life real? Did they make me believe in their capacity to feel that they deserve that love and in their willingness to embrace it and hang on for the thrill ride? : )

      I can pick up a favorite from over 20 years ago….and those feelings invoked by the author? Are still fresh and I feel like I’m greeting an old and dear friend.

  11. I used to re-read all the time but I seldom do now. Too bad too because if it’s at all suspenseful I’m usually tearing through the book to find out what happens and I pick up nuances on the second run.

    Normally I’m pretty good about plots, stories and characters (especially if you’re not actually quizzing me here ;) but I have re-read some classics decades later and while I still love Rhett Butler, I wanted to push Scarlett O’Hara into a rosebush and I can’t believe I thought Melanie was a wussy do-gooder. Don’t even start me on Wuthering Heights.

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