The Reading Memory

A friend of mine mentioned that he is re-reading books that he read many years ago. He was a teenager at the time he first read them and he claimed that there were a lot of differences between the books and his memory of the books. It made me think.

A few years ago (Good Grief, 5 maybe 6 or 7 years) I made a list of my favorite books. It was a list of 100 books that I’d read and liked. I even believe I made it in order from 1 to 100 with the best books nr. 1, etc. Of course it was a list in motion, always changing and I never got around to posting it online which means that I’ve actually lost the damned thing in the abyss that is changing computers and who knows what. So all I have is my memory of making the list and struggling with it.

Now “all” these years later I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t attempt this again. I should make a list of my 100 favorite books. How hard can it be?

So I started thinking. My most treasured genre is horror but my favorite author is Haruki Murakami and his HARDBOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD has been my favorite book for a long time although it has its competitors. I’ve read it a couple of times but my copy is worn and falling apart so I haven’t read it as often as I would have liked. NORWEGIAN WOOD however I’ve read cover to cover more often than I’d like to admit.

But all the other books that would immediately land on my list? How well do I actually remember these books? Would I still like THE CATCHER IN THE RYE if I read it now? Or VENISS UNDERGROUND? Or THE SILENT CRY? SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE?  Or THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES?

What do I remember from these books? Am I still able to put them on my list and be sure that they are in their right place?

And those thoughts bring a more depressing idea in my head, should I read them again? Make sure… ?

That would take a while. I don’t have the time to read like I used to. A certain 4 year old seems to have a magical way of averting my attention. So I need to choose my reading material wisely these days. I can’t afford to waste reading time.

There are books on my list I’ve read many times although I’m not a fan of re-reading things. I’ve read The Dark Tower series at least twice and I’ve listened to the audiobooks many times. I’ve read THE HELLBOUND HEART many times, albeit not cover to cover but a scene here and there. And I’ve read THE INDEPENDENT PEOPLE by Halldór Laxness a few times.

Then there are books I know i liked but can’t for the life of me remember much about. Amongst those are CABAL by Clive Barker, CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN by Jeff Vandermeer and THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by A.M. Homes. It occurs to me that these are the books I should be re-reading. The books I loved but somehow forgot… it’s strange to realise that these things have fallen between the cracks in my brain.

Maybe it wouldn’t take much of a catch-up to remember them. Maybe I didn’t read them well in the first place – and how can I then be sure that I actually did like them? Maybe it’s some kind of a selective dementia. Maybe they actually were forgettable and I just fabricated the rest?

Usually though books that I’ve already read come second to the books I haven’t actually read yet. I am at this moment reading MAYHEM by Sarah Pinborough and THE NAMELESS by Ramsey Campbell. I am also still reading the J.J Abrams/Dough Hurst book THE STORY OF ‘S’ but that takes a lot of concentration so it’s taking its time (I’m fairly sure that the story in the margins will stick with me but that the story printed in ‘normal’ letters will be a bit forgettable).

It’s strange how we remember things and what we do remember.
But does it matter? Isn’t enough for me to remember that when I read the book I liked it. Like I remember the books from my childhood. I remember one about a castle in Ireland (I believe). I read it as kid and I can’t remember much of the story only that I was utterly fascinated with it (and I can’t remember what it’s called or who wrote it!). Does it matter that I’ve forgotten the story, isn’t it enough to know that I liked it?

Please tell me it is because I’m not sure I’ll be able to get through Ulysses by James Joyce a second time.

One Comment Add yours

  1. I know exactly how you feel…(only with me, when I think back to certain books I convinced myself I once loved, I cannot remember them completely now); I know my memory is failing, so there must really be a selective memory-recall-process that takes place;

    (like the way squirrels have parts of their brains & memories available to remember where they store food/nuts for winter & are able to retrieve those foodstores during the course of it by recalling those memories, then once spring comes they can flush those memories from their brains completely & start fresh again…

    Perhaps the squirrels would make a better read than I at this point in my life, LoL…


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