Sometimes it seems to me that books are like sponges, soaking up my experiences, not just of the story inside, but of my own life when I’m reading them. All it takes is for me to crack that book open again and the memories come flooding back, and I remember where I was when I first read it, and what I felt.
It doesn’t happen for every single book: only the ones that are truly memorable, or that changed me in some way. A lot of my childhood favorites, for example, are infused with memories, perhaps because I read many of them on camping holidays with my family, where I made a lot of memories anyway.
For example, I distinctly remember reading Watership Down squashed in the back of a car with my brother and sister (how I long for the days when reading in the car didn’t make me sick!) on the way down to Cornwall. I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix sat on a picnic blanket outside the caravan in the Trossachs in Scotland, whilst being viciously attacked by midges and horse flies, and Black Beauty by torchlight in a tent in the middle of Yorkshire.
At home, I would read in the bedroom that I shared with my little sister, often balancing precariously on a bright red space hopper (I was an odd child!). I remember reading multiple Jacqueline Wilson books, borrowed from the library, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events sitting on that space hopper (before I left it in front of the living room fire and melted it…).
My high school days, meanwhile are encapsulated in the pages of The Lord of the Rings, and the beginning of my love for the fantasy genre. I didn’t have the greatest time at high school, and so I learned the true wonder of being able to escape into the world of books, and especially fantasy books where the worlds were so unlike my own.
Later, during university, I went through a spell of not reading, and it was another fantasy series that re-sparked my love of reading: I spent an entire summer devouring the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and still to this day they remind me of lazy summer days sat out in the garden, on an emotional rollercoaster thanks to George R.R. Martin’s murderous ways. Similarly, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel in summer, sitting on a deck chair in the middle of a field in the Lake District, and so that book always takes me back there.
Books I read in school or at college or university always take me back to the classroom as well, and I’ll recall people I haven’t seen in years who were sat next to me, or who made a particularly interesting comment about the text. Of Mice and Men, for example, will always be associated with high school and my favorite English teacher, whilst Frankenstein always whisks me back to the college library where I read it during my study period.
Personally, I’ve always found something quite comforting in the ability of books to take on memories: it makes reading an old favorite a little like slipping on a comfy pair of slippers or looking back at photos of days gone by. I mean, all I have to do is open up a Harry Potter book and I can be taken back to simpler times when I was a child first discovering a love of reading! Even books I read during darker periods of my life are like that because I remember the comfort they gave me at the time and that familiar feeling of happiness returns.
I love how in the reading of it, a book becomes so much more than just a story or an object: it becomes a time capsule or record of your life somehow and is something you can return to over and over again to recapture that feeling or those memories. Whilst at the age of 24 I’m at a time of my life when I’m mostly looking forwards – at my career, my relationship etc. – I think there’s something truly beautiful about being able to recover those bits of my past, where they intertwine with some of my most beloved stories and characters.
So do you find that books take on memories for you too? Which books take you back to a certain time or hold a specific memory for you?