Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Asher-Perrin on The Reading Life

Emily Asher-Perrin reminisces about some of her favorite reading moments over at Excerpts:
I believe, more often than not, that where and when we read something has as much relevance as what we are reading. We associate certain tomes with different times in our lives, the same way we commonly do with music and types of food, scents and people. We can mark off chapters of our own stories based on the things we learned in the books we read, the friends or family members we read them with. For instance, when my aunt read James and the Giant Peach to me, I remember how the whole world got a little more magical -- and was equally devastated when she couldn't finish it before her visit ended, and my dad just couldn't mimic her voices for the characters. ...

Of course, what we read as children has a profound impact, but I think this relevance continues into adulthood. That novella you read when you caught the plague at work and couldn't move for two weeks. The collection of short stories you read with a good friend and the talks you had about it afterward. The book you read to escape a tragedy in your life. They connect you to your past in a powerful way, sometimes better than any pictorial or video evidence you have at hand.
Read the whole thing. It's easy to pigeonhole texts. Ivory-tower potentates like to see them as evidence of long-standing sexual repression or expressions of cultural imperialism or literary thief knots that untie themselves when tugged. Practical sorts view them as pointless time sinks, indulgent escapism of the worst sort. And myself, well, my preoccupation with honoring an author's intent can cause me to completely ignore the reader's subjective experience. That's a shame, because it's part of what makes reading worthwhile. I remember the electric excitement of plunging through The Passage one hot Oregon August. I remember the piercing beauty of Stardust keeping me up late into the night during a family vacation. I remember weeping at the ending of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane from my seat beside my father's sickbed. Literature feeds us the stuff of universal human experience, and we, in turn, incorporate our lives back into its pages. Books are freighted not only with characters' existences, but with our days and weeks and years as well.

(Picture: CC 2006 by


Unknown said...

Interesting. I have almost no memory of how or where I read most of the books I love best. I have a strong picture of my childhood bedroom, but it is not associated with any one book, only with reading in general. On the other hand, I read first and foremost as an escape from the real world, and I've always had a particularly vivid imagination; the whole point, for me, was to get away from my surroundings for a little while. I suppose it's not surprising that I'd not have a strong memory attached to particular acts of reading.

I do have strong place memories for stories I've listened to; Stonesplinter Valley in Azeroth will forever remind me of "The Dinner Game," and several places on my old commute sparked story memories every time I passed them. Clearly, it's not that I can't form such connections and associations...

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, I don't form associations with a good number of the books I read. Often, I find that its both circumstances and particular passages that gel.