You might think, well, of course they tell a story. But, it's the life beyond the pages that is sometimes as important as the one between the pages; like the questions about the inspiration of the story, the path the book invites you to follow or the conversations that get sparked because of a well-told tale. If a used book comes your way, its provenance might set you on a journey of curiosity, which can be a great stress undressing tool.
If I asked my more life-traveled readers where they were when Kennedy was shot, they'd be able to answer. More recently, on 9/11, I vividly recall turning on the TV and seeing the image of the plane hitting the World Trade Centre, then trying to make sense of it by initially thinking it was a movie. Your memory can be branded by big stressful events. The amygdala, an almond-shaped set of neurons located in the brain's medial temporal lobe, is the keeper of memories, such as those that you "will never forget." It is linked to fear, anger and pleasure.
Speaking of pleasure, are there book titles and authors that immediately make a guest appearance on the stage of your memory when you recall the first time you met your partner, or landed your dream job? How about when you discovered you were pregnant, or when you made a personal breakthrough? Meaning is often attached to something you read. You may not even realize the significance until later. I urge you to look for it, as it can provide you with a serving of delight - another stress undressing tool.
In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett, the following excerpt portrays the power of the pages, watery as they may be:
"Whenever I have spotted my old Charlotte's Web (on my son's shelf, then my daughter's), I have recalled how it came to me. It's a personal record of one chapter of my life, just as other chapters have other books I associate with them. The pattern continues; my daughter returned from camp last summer with her copy of Motherless Brooklyn in a state approaching ruin. She told me she'd dropped it into a creek, but couldn't bear to leave it behind, even after she'd finished it. This book's body is inextricably linked to her experience of reading it. I hope that she continues to hold on to it, because as long as she does, its wavy, expanded pages will remind her of the hot day she read it with her feet in the water - and of the fourteen-year-old she was at the time. A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair [New York Antiquarian Book Fair] was a concentrated celebration of that fact."
I like books with a disheveled look - like people, they have a history, often one that is quite interesting. Sometimes, you'll be fortunate enough to know about the book's past, as shared by Allison. Other times, your imagination will have to make do - and that's not a bad thing at all.
One of my favourite books is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafon. Set in 1930s-1960s Spain, this is a story within a story. This book contains evocative imagery such as “the cemetery for forgotten books,” as well as mystery, romance and drama. I'd love to see it made into a movie. I used to think Tom Hanks would be perfect for the role, but now I'm leaning towards Robert Downey Jr. or Mark Ruffalo.
Conversations with my friends often include the following question: What are you reading?
Oh, the wonderful places you'll go, if only in imagination, when that question is answered!
Recently, writer and story editor, Carrie Gadsby, shared an interesting idea with me. As an added course to her dinner parties, she hosts a book exchange. Friends are encouraged to bring books they no longer want. Everyone goes home with something new to read. What a great way to share the joys of books and the stories contained inside and outside of those pages!
Your turn: What book hitchhikes on your memory of a special event, trip or activity? What stories do your books tell?
Buy the books:
- The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - in Canada & in the US
- The Shadow of the Wind - in Canada & in the US
- Charlotte's Web - in Canada
- Motherless Brooklyn - in Canada & in the US