An actress friend gave me the wonderful gift of the Collected Poems of Robert Service, telling me she had read this same hardcover on a long bus ride in the 1950s from the Lower 48 to Fairbanks, Alaska. That made my experience reading this volume all the more romantic, and also got me thinking.
For devoted readers, books can sometimes become associated with the place where they were read. Here are a few literary place memories shared by those of us at CareerAuthors:
Where I read a book colors my experience of that book forever.
Perhaps the melodramatic intersection of place and story happened when my family vacationed in Mallorca when I was around ten years old. I was reading Oliver Twist when I was struck with my first bout of turista. I was very sick, the most ill I’d ever been in my young life. Certainly, I was in no shape to read Dickens.
Miserable and delirious, I told my mother to call the priest to come and administer the last rites because “I’m going to die.”
She told me I’d be fine, and to my great surprise, I did get better.
But to this day I am wary of Dickens.
I read Sherlock Holmes at thirteen years old during my first trip to London, thanks to a British friend who introduced me to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Earl Grey, and Carnaby Street. I’ve been collecting books, teapots, and clothes ever since.
I read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman in an empty house in Massachusetts, waiting for the movers from California to show up with my stuff. By the time they arrived, I was hopelessly in love with all things New England, and feeling very much at home on the other coast.
At fifteen years old, I read Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum while fishing and camping on a remote Minnesota lake. In the North Woods, reading this twisted, dark novel of magical realism, a portrait of childhood and evil, the world appeared at once beautiful, bizarre and frightening.
Another memorable read a few years later was Don Quixote, entirely devoured with chorizo sandwiches in Madrid’s Retiro Park, an exquisite site created in 17th century Spain just a few years after Cervantes published his novel. While avoiding full-time employment, I read of Quixote’s quest to right wrongs.
1981. On the lawn outside the research lab where I was culturing cells for genetic analysis as part of my senior research. Stealing rare outdoor time, at lunchtime for one week running I was consumed by Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
This was Florida spring in Gainesville: picnic weather every day, with me nearing graduation and feeling trapped in the inertia that meant graduate school and more science, when all I really wanted was recess after sixteen years in the classroom.
And Hitchhiker’s Guide was recess. Every page full of irreverence and breaking tradition. Hitchhiker’s broke the rules and told me that I could too. That I could design my own adventure, get out of the lab, and schedule picnics every day.
The next week I canceled my application for graduate school and jumped feet-first into “the real world.”
I may be the odd duck here, but I have no consciousness of a particular book being inextricably entwined with where I read it.
I can think of books I read at a specific period in my life, and therefore figure out where I read them, such as the Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames books I read as a girl in south Texas (or Spokane, or the Philippines); gothic novels and Georgette Heyer Regencies I read as a teen tucked up in my bedroom in Enid, Oklahoma; and the classics I read in Bangkok when I was working at the embassy and studying for my GRE Literature subject test, but I can’t tie any one book to a particular place.
Perhaps that is because reading, for me, is an immersive experience, and I’m content being in the world of the book, whether that’s a Dick Francis racetrack, Amelia Peabody’s Egypt, or Charles Dickens’ London. It could also be because the aging process has made some memory cells harder to retrieve than others. Hmm . . . I like the first idea better, so I’m going with that.
In 1980, when I was a reporter-anchor in Atlanta, I was reading The Stand by Stephen King. I was so riveted that usual do-bee me called in sick when I wasn’t sick—just so I could stay home and read it. And so when I think of that book—and now 37 years later, I often do—I also still think of that house in Atlanta where for the only time in my life, seriously, I skipped out on my job (now it can be told) to read a book. It was completely worth it.
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