“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.” – Barbara Kingsolver
I took an English seminar in college where the focus was on the way memory was presented in certain works of literature. It’s a subject that has always fascinated me, the ways we edit and fix things to make them better (or worse); the way we occasionally reorder things to create connections that don’t really exist and justify our actions; the impact comparing our memories of an event to those of others who were there. In many ways, all of these recap posts are memory exercises. There are undoubtedly details I’m forgetting about the circumstances under which I read the books; there are many where I only remember that I did read the book but have little memory of the plots themselves.
Maybe I’ve just been extra reflective lately because I’ve been cleaning. Whenever I go through a cleaning spurt, I wind up getting very nostalgic. But there are a few things I haven’t done, or very rarely do. 1) I very rarely read through the diaries and journals I kept when I was younger. Some of this is due to an inability to read my handwriting. In an effort to keep my brother from reading my diary, I used a coded script. Only now, I can’t remember the right way to read it. 2) My younger self wrote those letters to your future self. I can’t bring myself to open them. I remember enough of what’s in them that, even though the Open After dates are long past, I kind of want to wait to actually open them until I actually accomplish a few of the goals I set.
The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
When I’m in the mood for something gothic but don’t want to read an entire novel, Poe (whose birthday was yesterday) is the place to go. The psychology of fear, torture, guilt; Poe does them all and one of the best is The Pit and the Pendulum. I remember reading quite a bit of Poe in high school English classes, usually because his works were short enough to cover in the fifty-minute class periods.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I have read The Poisonwood Bible at least three times and each time I read it, I enjoy it more than the last. Aside from telling a wonderful story of four missionary’s daughters in the African Congo during the middle of the twentieth century, Kingsolver’s ability to create and switch between the different narrative voices of the sisters. Each is distinctive and immediately recognizable. The way she is able to play with language is astounding, from Adah’s obsession with palindromes to Rachel’s hilarious substitutions. This is one of my perennial Desert Island books (and is one of the books on my shelf where I recognize the way it smells).
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes may be the more famous sleuth, but Poe and his C. Auguste Dupin came first. The Purloined Letter is probably my favorite of the Dupin stories. While the details of The Murders in the Rue Morgue with the outlandish orangutan twist are perhaps more memorable, it is The Purloined Letter that holds best to plausibility.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Who didn’t read The Scarlet Letter in high school? It was never one of my favorites but the themes it addresses are certainly ones I could go on about at length. However, when I think of the novel, I’m reminded of the high school class where our teacher told us not to bother trying to get away with just watching the film (with Demi Moore) version because of how far it strays from the source material. It was essentially the same observations made in the more recently inspired Easy A by that film’s protagonist (and if you haven’t seen Easy A, you should because it’s awesome).
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
I have a mixed relationship with Faulkner. Some of his work I absolutely love; while other works leave me exasperated or bewildered (as much as I was intrigued by As I Lay Dying, the part that will stay with me longest is “My mother is a fish”). Luckily, The Sound and the Fury is one of the ones I’m on quite good terms with. I’ve had friends who were advised to read The Sound and the Fury out of order. They were told to read Benjy’s section last because that would be when it would make the most sense. I don’t know that I would advise postponing reading that section so much as I would advise revisiting it after reading the rest of the novel. There’s something wonderful about reading that section first, thinking it complete babble, and then realizing just how much sense it does make. It was presented in that order for a reason and to jump around undermines that particular aspect of Faulkner’s message.