Songs and music can evoke powerful memories for people, but can books evoke memories in the same way?
MUSIC AND MEMORIES…
Science confirms that hearing a particular song or tune can mentally transport a person to their past: the people, the smells, the sounds and the emotions they experienced then. I do not dispute this, frequently music has evoked powerful, long-buried memories for me.
Have others also experienced books doing the same?
Some of the earliest memories I have are only recalled when I think of books.
A certain book will trigger memories of where I was, who I was with and how I felt when I read it long ago. I can recall smells, touches and sounds and then remember other circumstances that were present in my life at that time.
A book can cause me to relive the thoughts and emotions I had, even at very early ages.
This is not true for every book I have ever read – some hold little significance but for those that do – the returning memories are some of the strongest I hold.
In this post, I will consider a collection of books that evoke strong memories and transport me to the person I was when I originally turned the pages.
What was it about these particular books that trigger such memories?
THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When I recall first reading, ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett I am taken to my early childhood. This classic children’s novel was a firm favourite and perhaps it was my captivation in the story that makes it more memorable.
I can remember my mum reading this to me at a tender age. I recall being cocooned on the sofa in the lounge; my mother next to me and the feeling of love and comfort that came with that. My Dad was away at the time on business and the emotions of missing him that I felt as that young girl, perhaps slightly confused by this disruption to the normal family routine, are evoked.
SUPERFUDGE and FOREVER by Judy Blume
As a child, I was a big fan of Judy Blume and her writing for children and teenagers. Many of Judy Blume’s books bring back powerful memories.
The first book I read by Judy Blume was, ‘SuperFudge’. Reading it at around 7 years of age, ‘SuperFudge’ was a favourite book for a long time.
I can recall the child I was then, the friends I had and detailed memories of the school I attended. For reasons I cannot account for, when I think about this fun read, memories are also evoked of the school bus I travelled on daily. The smells, the sounds of the other kids and the feel of the seats are relived.
‘Forever’ is one of Judy Blume’s books written for older teenagers, featuring more detailed sex scenes.
I read this at an age when I was slightly too young to understand the coming of age, sexual awakening themes that run through it. Perhaps this was one of the earliest times in my life in which peer pressure played a part. At a tender age, my friends and I were aware that reading ‘Forever’ was frowned upon and we felt like we were evolving into adults.
Reading this book in my bedroom at home is a strong memory. I can recall the confusion and apprehension I felt grasping the characters, scenes and themes of this story.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood
Studying for an English Literature qualification at the age of 18 years; one of the texts we read in depth was this dystopian novel.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood was not the only novel we evaluated during this course, but much stronger memories return when I think of this than of the other texts.
I attribute this to the teacher we had, her teaching style and her reaction to the book.
I did not enjoy studying this book and cannot find any pleasure in reading it now. I am sure this is due largely, not to it being a bad book (it is not), but to the memories that stem from it in my case. Our teacher loved this book and tried, perhaps too hard, to generate the same passion in myself and my classmates.
Thinking of, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ I can recall details of the classroom we sat in which otherwise were lost to the depths of my mind and I see the faces of classmates long forgotten. The bewildered amusement at the enthusiasm of our teacher that, as a student group we all shared, returns to me and I smile at those details in this present day.
I will never fully appreciate the place this novel holds in being a classic of its time but perhaps for the memories: the people and the life it transports me back to that is a small price to pay.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
An Austen favourite and a book I have read more times than I can recall. It is the time I read it though as a teenager for which the memories are strongest.
I can remember reading, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ while on holiday in Portugal with my family at around 16 years of age.
As I recall reading, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I am taken back to those hot, sun-filled days, relaxing around a pool or on the terrace of the apartment we were staying in.
Memories that come back are detailed – the feel of the sun on my skin; I can picture the swimming pool we would spend most days relaxing around; the smell of the sun-cream and the fun hours spent in and out of the water, laughing and care-free.
Is it due to my situation and age that this occasion of reading, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, rather than other times, triggers stronger emotive memories?
As a teenager, I was at a time of my life when I was still establishing who I was; what I wanted from life and carving out an independent space in the world. I was swept away by Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, at this adolescent age – would I ever find my own Mr Darcy in real life? (….. still waiting on that one!).
Which character did I most resemble – perhaps the bookish Mary or the sensible Jane…. some of the playfulness of Lydia? Subconsciously evaluating all this while relishing the romance and the prose of the novel is feasibly what made this occasion of reading it so memorable.
HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford
The final book in this post is this debut, best-selling novel by Jamie Ford, ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’.
I had not heard of this book before and saw a copy of it a couple of years ago in a second-hand book-store.
Unsure what to expect, I found the story moving and beautifully written. The novel covered a part of history; of Japanese families in New York during World War II, that I knew little about and found fascinating.
The memories that come back to me when I think of this book are of a time in my life that was not wholly happy. I remember reading it in my current home and it then being a source of escape from some of the more difficult aspects of my life. The emotions I was feeling then in my personal life were mixed and I can evoke a strong sense of them again now when I think of this book.
Vividly recalling the difficulties I was experiencing at this time in my life is not a bad thing.
Our lives are shaped by our past, both good and bad. I do feel that we learn from the bad times and it is important to remember them to appreciate the good. Without this book by Jamie Ford helping to evoke those memories they might be lost to me and I am grateful to hold them in their rightful place when necessary.
There are many books that will trigger powerful memories of my life and here are just a few examples.
Why one book evokes memories more than others is uncertain.
The books here were either loved classics, fun, coming of age or emotional and romantic. They were books that shaped who I became or had greater meaning.
Whatever the reason, I am grateful that these books help me remember my past – both the good and the bad.
Can you reflect on books you have read over the years – do they evoke deeper memories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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