Books and Memories

31/10/2017 Discussions, Reading 18

Books and Memories

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?

18 Responses to “Books and Memories”

  1. Angela

    What a beautiful post! I think you’ve captured so well what so many of us love about reading. It’s not just the stories, it’s how they make you feel and how they remind you of certain times in your life. I specifically remember reading Anna Karenina on the student center couches when I was in college.

    • Laura

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and could relate 🙂
      I totally agree that reading is as much about the way a book makes you feel as the story itself 🙂

    • Laura

      I love so much that books can bring back memories like that! And books that break our heart a little I find are the best at that: I think that’s why I always have such a vivid memory of reading Watership Down.

  2. Michael Tyne

    Lovely post, Laura. I wonder how many of we writers/readers “didn’t have the greatest time in High School” and took refuge in our imaginations and those of others? It’s a (very) long time ago for me now, but the books I read then are still with me. In some cases, I still have the same copies… 🙂

    • Laura

      Yeah, I imagine it can be quite a common thing for writers/readers to use their imagination as a refuge when life is tough. I still have a lot of the same copies of some of my old favourites too, and even though they’re old and battered, I couldn’t think of replacing them! 🙂

  3. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    I was just thinking about this while writing my review recently for Interview with the Vampire. I read A LOT of books in middle and high school and don’t even remember what half of them were, let alone where I was when I read them. But I do have a whole bunch of memories of reading The Vampire Chronicles books in high school. Like I remember I was in this big chair at my grandparent’s house when I finished the 3rd one. And I was on vacation in a cabin in Canada with this horribly squeaky bed while reading Blackwood Farm. It is interesting how some books have such strong memory associations!

    • Laura

      I’m so glad to hear other people have such vivid memories of reading certain books too! I wondered if it was just me! It’s really interesting the random little things you remember, like the squeaky bed 🙂

  4. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I love this post because it’s so true. Books are truly magical in that they can both transport us to another world, but when reading them they can whisk us back to a specific memory of when we first read it. For me, Harry Potter will always remind me of going on holiday with my nan and being dragged to eat at the hotel restaurant and putting on a nice dress when all I wanted to do was read the second book. The entire series reminds me of staying up too late in bed with a lamp to read by. For me, there are some Sarra Manning books which transport me back to being a teenager and wanting a guitar and pink hair and then her adult romances transport me to my last year of university when I got my very first Kindle. There is a whole series by Meg Cabot which will always make me smile as it was how I became close with my best friend and I adore it. Book are totally magical and I love them.

    • Laura

      Haha, I can totally understand why you would rather have read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets than put on a nice dress and go to a restaurant. I was exactly like that too as a kid: in fact, my mum had to give up trying to speak to me at all when I was reading, because I never heard her! 🙂
      And I totally remember Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning too! I loved that book, and it may subconsciously be why I now dye my hairs bright colours. I can really vividly remember wanting pink hair too after reading that book 🙂
      Books really are so amazingly magical! 🙂

    • Laura

      I’m glad to see so many other people have experienced this phenomenon too! It’s yet another amazing thing about books 🙂

  5. Tiziana

    I loved reading this post! Sometimes I worry too much about my poor memory when it comes to remembering stories I’ve read in the past, but your post has reminded me that memories surrounding the place and time of a particular read will remain indelible. I’ll always cherish the childhood memory of me sitting on my bed and devouring a Famous Five book in one day, or lying on my stomach and browsing the children’s encyclopedia, amazed by the new knowledge. 🙂

    • Laura

      I remember reading the Famous Five books too! They were definitely childhood favourites, and I often took them on holiday 🙂
      I definitely find that too though, that sometimes the story itself doesn’t stick with me quite as much as the memory of reading it. But I always know the book had some effect on me if I can remember where I read it! 🙂

  6. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I can’t remember specific places that I read books when I was younger (at least not offhand), but I definitely remember the big red cabinet in my room that I kept them in. I can still picture it perfectly, and I even remember the smell!

  7. Jen

    I remenber the very first time I read The Historian and each time I’ve reread it I’m right back there in the place I was reading it. I’m rereading The Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers and I’m reminded of one time I read it around Christmas whilst waiting for the next film-was thinking this today and then seen this post ? There may be other books with memories but these are the ones I can recall right now.

    • Laura

      It’s so strange how these things stick in our memories, isn’t it? Lord of The Rings is definitely a big one for me too in terms of memories! I definitely want to reread some of my old favourites this year, as I haven’t done much rereading in a while, and I like the feeling of being taken back in time to when I first read them 🙂

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