I am finding that as I get older there are things about my life that are not as easy to remember as they used to be. There are huge chunks of my life that are now a long lost mystery to me. There are blank holes in my memory that no amount of thinking and trying to remember can be filled. This was made apparent to me recently when I discovered an old library copy of The Indian in The Cupboard at a book exchange in the community centre that I work at once a week. When I picked it up memories of the book’s story came rushing back to me. I remembered vividly the characters and the plot, the way I had pictured the characters in my head, and they way the movie did not do the book justice. I remembered vaguely reading the book for school and I remembered clearly enjoying the book immensely.
It disturbed me a little bit that I needed that tangible book in my hand to remember something from my childhood. That I couldn’t just recall the books that had inspired me, that had shaped me and helped to foster and grow into the book reader and lover that I am today.
For me books are now memories and souvenirs of different stages of my life. It probably helps that I use goodreads as a kind of book journal, where I can keep track of when I start a book and when I finish it. I can look at a book and if need be I can look up the dates I was reading it and remember where I was and what I was doing at the time. I have books that I was reading when I was traveling and more than any other kind of reminder I can look at them and remember what city I was in and what I was doing at the time. Looking at Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman I remember a cold and snowy German winter just before Christmas. I remember for the first time I was able to really picture London in my head and understand how the locations that were being described all fit together as I had only just been in London for the first time a few weeks earlier.
Without the book in my hands I can remember reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I can remember who gave me the book and where we were when he handed it to me. I can remember the pub I was reading it in, and how out of place I felt reading a book in a Greenwich pub and sipping a cider, when everybody else was watching the cricket. I was at the end of a long stint of constant travel, and I was happy to be in the same city for at least a few months.
I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was missing so much of my own childhood by forgetting The Indian in the Cupboard. That something so natural as the passing of time and creation of new memories left parts of my experiences unknown to even myself.
Weeks went by, and I would see The Indian in the Cupboard on my bookshelf, and I would wonder if all of my childhood was lost to me. Part of my concern was the separation of not just time between myself and memories, but also the space. Was living so far away from the people that shared similar experiences to me more damaging than liberating?
So I reached out to the few people that I went to primary school with that I am still in somewhat contact with on Facebook. These are the kind of friends that we like each others photos and life events, but I will not see them when I go to Sydney each year.
So I messaged them on Facebook and asked if they remembered reading The Indian in the Cupboard, if they remembered much else, like how old we were and maybe even what else was going on in our lives at the time. Their memories seemed just as lost as my own. They remembered reading the book, and that we would have been somewhere between the age of 7 and 11 but that was about it.
So I called my mum. She remembered even less than I did. “I was not aware of the books that you read in school,” she admitted. But she did remember this one, and was at least able to confirm that I had read it in primary school.
What I have discovered through this process of trying to remember is that even if I am unable to remember so many of the books I have read over the years without help, after long periods of thinking and talking to people I am able to piece together some fragments of the books that were given to me and have shaped who I am today.
I have my mum to thank for filling my bookshelf with books that had strong female characters; Little Women, Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. I also have her to thank for recognising that at the age of 12 I was ready for The Hobbit and made sure my sister and I could get our hands on Harry Potter. I have my dad to thank for filling the house with Issac Asmov and other science fiction writers of the 70’s and 80s, and allowing to me to spend whole weekends reading his Asterix comic books which instilled in me a love of wordplay.
I have a close family friend to thank for making sure I had a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird when she had found out that I was 25 and had never read it, even if I would not get around to reading it until I was 30. I have my school librarian to thank for making sure I had stacks of books to read when I was sick and stuck at home when I was 15. I have her to thank for introducing me to Steven King.
And while I only remember one book from my High School English Classes, I have my high school creative writing teacher for teaching me that books are not just about stories, but also ideas that can shape and change.
I have discovered that even if I am unable to remember many books that I have read they are still part of me and have shaped me and my reading habits in some form or other.