Thursday, July 24, 2014

Oh, the Places You'll Go!: Reading Memories

As you may or may not know, I've been doing a lot of traveling. I'm currently in London, where I plan to hit up a bunch of bookshops and spend all my money and go home completely broke. Before this, I was in Africa and Botswana with my extended family, and it's been a truly amazing experience. But of course, I've managed to squeeze in a couple reads here and there, and it got me thinking: I will always associate the books I read on this trip with this trip.

When I see The Kiss of Deception on my shelf, I'll think of reading it in that teeeeeny tiny plane as I flew over the Okavango Delta, crushed up next to my cousin, trying not to let him see me blink away tears because man did one scene get to me for some strange reason. When I see Between the Spark and the Burn on my shelf (which took place in a frigid winter town), I'll think of my two hour Air Botswana flight with no air conditioning and those strangely delicious beef noodles they served us and my other cousin falling asleep with his head on the dining tray thing.

When I see these books, I'll instantly get a whiff of that vacationy feel, and a slight, nostalgic ease will settle over me. It happens to me with every book. I remember who I was in that moment I read it, not just what happened to the characters inside. And being in London has made me nostalgic for all the Past Gillians who read books here. Like last summer, when I bingeread Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas while eating snacks in the cafe at Waterstones Bookstore. Like when I go to the Tower of London later this week and remember six-year-old Gillian who bought her first Horrible Histories book in the Tower giftshop, posed with her head on a scaffold, and fell in love with the terrible Tudors.

It's not just the books I've read while traveling, either. Do you ever see a book you read and loved as a child and get homesick for that time in your life? I do. I see my wall of Meg Cabot books and remember giggling over them with my friends as a fifteen-year-old, or I see my UK editions of the Harry Potters and remember exactly what I was doing as I read that story for the first time, and how it felt to discover new Wizarding World secrets. My beat-up, tape-patched Tamora Pierce trade paperbacks remind me of twelve-year-old me who stayed up for an ENTIRE NIGHT to finish the Alanna series (I HAD TO FIND OUT WHO SHE WOULD END UP WITH). My copy of The Realms of the Gods reminds me of thirteen-year-old Gillian who reread kiss scenes until she had them memorized and didn't know what fanfiction was but kind of started doing accidental Daine/Numair fanfiction without realizing it.
Seriously, I did this.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil, a creeptastic, cold, rainy, Pacific Northwest-set thriller, will remind me of vacation and beaches and summer sun. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will remind me of Ireland, family, dinner parties, and loud laughter in the next room. Georgia Nicolson will remind me of the teenage girl going to summer camp, trying to figure out her own brand of humor, starting to speak in British-isms, and figuring out who her real friends are.

Books do this better than anything else, because we bring so much more of ourselves into our reading experiences. We're active in creating and storing the story. The same book will be different to you at different points in your life, and I just think it's so neat the way that first time will leave a stamp on your brain. So every book is kind of like a little time capsule, or a recording of who were were at the moment you read it. At least, for me.

What about you? Do you have any strong reading memories or books you associate with the time and place that you read them?


  1. Oh, totally! Whenever I see or reread a book, I'm always transported back to the time or place when I first encountered it. Like Anna and the French Kiss, and how my best friend (who is NOT a reader) is the one who picked it up first in the bookstore. Or Golden, which I got for review and devoured in my small old bedroom in one day with tears streaming down my face. Such a visceral connection to a book just means I treasure it even more :)

  2. I remember my teacher in 5th grade mentioned a book that she was loving. I really liked my 5th grade teacher, since we both had the same first name, and she loved Star Trek, TNG. She also tried very hard to help me with my schoolwork.
    Anyways, jump to 6th grade, and I find the book she was talking about, which turned out to be Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. I loved the bleak and gritty story, and I read a lot of other books by the author.
    I also remember Momma and I reading The Eye and I when I was a young girl, and for some reason, I ended up loving that book!

  3. YES but it also makes me totally sad. Same thing when I see an old review (accidentally of course, because no) and I remember how it was like then. But also I think it's because I felt a lot differently about GR and whatnot then.

  4. Ohhh this was lovely. My memories are actually tied more strongly with music than books, because I'm often DOING things while listening to music. (Paloma Faith's "Upside Down" will ALWAYS be my early morning taxi ride to the Nottingham airport for my trip to Ireland, and Black-Eyed Peas' "I Got A Feeling" will always remind me of a disasterous day in Vienna.)

    When it comes to books, weirdly, I most remember choosing them. I remember plucking them from a shelf or sorting my library piles on the carpet of our playroom. I can remember what I felt when I read those books—which parts scared me, which parts thrilled me, which parts disgusted me—even if I don't remember ages or places. But one reading set I remember with VIVID clarity is The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I remember being with my dad in Sam's when he bought LOTR and my little mind whirring because surely that synopsis was an allegory, because it read like an allegory, and surely I would like it because Dad liked it. And begging my parents to let me read it, and having to read The Hobbit first so I would know what's going on and to give Dad time to read LOTR, and being so mad that Bilbo wasn't the main character in LOTR because I loved him. I remember binge-reading LOTR—all three books—in Ocala over our Christmas week there, sprawled out on their floral couch, because I wasn't allowed to watch the movie until I read the books. And that was the Christmas I got to see my uncle and cousin in YEARS, the first time since my uncle and aunt divorced, and how impressed they were that I, such a little thing, had read such a big book so quickly. And I remember reading LOTR again in college, on the shady bench next to the alligator pond by my dorm, and being completely swept away in the prose, and being sad that I had to stop because finals week was coming up.

    Whew. Yeah. LOTR, man. BOOKS.

  5. Yes to Tamora Pierce books! I discovered her books at the library just by chance and they ended up being a huge part of my early years as a reader. Now I just have to look at the covers and I'm transported to that library all those years ago, with its dim lighting and wonderful papery smell, and the feeling that I could pick up any book from the shelf and it might unlock other worlds. Cheesy but also magical! I still reread the Daine books when I'm feeling down, just for a pick-me-up. (also, YES to memorizing the kiss scenes from those books, haha)


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