Books and Place

After writing about “Run” last week, I thought about how some books will always be associated with the place where I read them – because the book is wrinkled by raindrops or bent from being stuffed in a bag, or because of memory’s emotional glue.

In a walk through our mental library it’s interesting to see which books have formed attachments to event or place: “It was the best of times…” takes me back to the Williwaw Lakes above Anchorage on an early September night, during one of the last family backpacking trips. Our older son read aloud the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities,” because he’d forgot his own book, school started after the weekend, and the younger son was supposed to have already read it.

I remember Tom Clancy in a dentist chair the day the Novocain wouldn’t take effect, and the “Brothers Karamazov” in San Miguel de Allende – torn in half to share with a friend while traveling in Mexico. On Kauai when they used to burn the sugar cane fields, I read “The Thorn Trees” and was sure my smoky setting evoked the book’s. When we return to the same rented condo on Kauai, our younger son finds their tattered copy of “Hawaii,” and picks up where he left off – book and place well integrated.

For reasons I can’t recall, I read a paperback copy of “The Razor’s Edge” (one of those old clunky ones with the yellow edges), when in early labor with our first son and remember saying that if I did it again, I’d think about a book beforehand. And I was holding a Jane Austen in my hands, but not paying much attention to it, when sitting by my mother’s bed as she breathed her last.

Now I am so, so close to finishing a reread of “Middlemarch” – this time reading it mostly before sleep, earliest to bed, cozied up to three hot water bottles and Frances. Often I deserted the heroine Dorothea for a shorter, more contemporary, more portable book while she waited patiently on the nightstand. In the same way “Anna Karenina” held that position for months until I eventually finished (the ends of these books always so good).

These days, only as eBooks would such giant books travel. And I do wonder if we will form attachment so easily to our electronic books or is there something homogenizing, flattening about the lighted page and lack of cover. Whether reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” or “Moby Dick,” the physical books look all the same – no classic paintings on classic Penguins to cherish.

But – I did read last winter’s “Games” books – of “Thrones” and of “Hunger” on my Kindle app – and always will I associate them with Lady Baby’s first months – reading for hours with her tiny warm body nestled close.

The best of times.

Frances lap sitting

3 thoughts on “Books and Place

  1. The physical books really do leave their own memories, just as do the places we read them, the people we’re with, and the words we use to describe them afterwards. I still remember you talking about that “best of times” last winter, and could feel the pleasure of the experience.
    I also remember when you split a huge Trollope book in half for travel, and then doing the same thing myself – carrying Glencora and the Prime Minister around with me for many a trip.

  2. I love the thought of cuddling up to a Frances or better yet, a baby.
    I cannot recall any book and place match, but maybe when my books are back in their categories on the new bookshelves here, I will have memories of where I was when I read them. I doubt if an electronic form of my favorites would work….

  3. I remember reading Michener’s HAWAII in the back seat of the car as my mother and grandmother drove me to Atlanta to begin my first year of college. And the very first issue of MS. magazine while in early labor with my first child . . . it seemed kinda ironic.

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