Booking down memory lane

Capt_Cardor left this comment, and I’m moving it up front in case anyone missed it:

I was an outside boy, raised on the streets of Brooklyn, albeit a kinder, gentler Brooklyn than today. I didn’t actually come to serious reading of books until I was in the seventh grade, when I had to commute to school by the NY transit system. I love to read even though I read painfully slow. I have tried a number of speed reading programs, from Evelyn Wood on, but to no avail. Getting through Grad School was traumatic since I read soooo slowwww.

As a teenager I read adventure books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard and Sir Walter Scott. I now read History, Science, Science Fiction, Mysteries and international fiction. I read magazines (no list) and newspapers every day.I guess my reading was to distance myself from a neighborhood that was deteriorating rapidly and a troubled home life.
I am always trying to get organized, although my house doesn’t look like it, and I decided early on to keep a list of the books that I had read. It is now over two thousand books long. Although it is just a list, it has become something more. To glance at the different parts of the list is to go back in time. I read this book in New Jersey visiting my sister. This book helped me through the night when my beautiful daughter was born. Here is one that kept me going during a twenty seven hour flight from New Delhi, India. So in some ways the list has become a trail that follows the ups and downs of a life and career that has at the least been very interesting. The books are markers of what I have done and keep me from forgetting both my mistakes and my victories.

Thanks for asking me to comment. No sarcasm, just reverie.

Well, how about it? Do you readers of 7A4K1F also keep track of your books?  Do you associate certain books with certain times in your life? Certain places?

I associate “Under the Tuscan Sun” with Emily Rose because I read it while I was in labor with her (and, I’ll add, that’s how I found out that if you leave an intelligent-sounding book on the nightstand, hospital staff treat you as if you know more than a second-grader. At least, back in Angeltown, that’s what it took.)  There are some books that, if I recall them, I’ll get a vivid memory of a specific subway stop, even though obviously I read the book in places other than Broadway Junction or Monroe Street.

Maybe that’s also why I get a sense of wrongness when a publisher changes the book jacket of a book I’ve read. It’s part of the entity I recognize, and although it’s not the most important part, it’s still my only visual link to the internal pictures created by the words.

What say you guys?  Tell us about your bookish past and how it’s linked to your heart’s past.


  1. Diana

    I’ve read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy many, many times. I own that fancy red leatherette gold foiled version Houghton Mifflin published about 10 years ago. And it was about that time that I was starting law school. I was miserable–I was being challenged emotional, intellectually, and spiritually, more than I had ever been before. It was my first time in the midwest, having grown up on the West Coast, and I felt like I didn’t belong. It was one of the lowest times of my life. So I escaped into this book. It was a wonderful escape–the book was long, the characters were lovable. I think I’ll always associate the book–the physical bound copy as well as the content within–with that time, but in a good way. For however brief a moment, it took me out of my misery, and brought me joy. I’m forever grateful for that.

    1. philangelus

      You should talk to my Patient Husband. I think he’s read LotR about 30 times. 🙂

  2. Jim Kane

    I nearly lost all of my books nearly 10 years ago when a fire destroyed the church building where I served. I recall losing about 60 books to smoke and water damage but the rest were treated in a unique way and for several years after that, when I would open one for the first time, I would recall the fire all over again. Out of the 60 I lost, I think that I replaced only a few and one, did I recall replacing and it was a paperback instead of the hardback… A Hunger For Healing by Keith Miller

    1. philangelus

      Oh, wow. Smell is such a powerful link to our pasts. (As I realized a while back, when raspberry tea made me morning sick!) What a harrowing thing for the books to bring back.

  3. stutterrockstar

    One of the books that I read recently that just pulled at my heart and seemed to remind me of my past is “The Glass Castle”. It is a heartbreaking and poignant story of children who grew up in a very abusive and neglectful environment, and somehow, against all odds, not only survived it, but seemed to have emerged even stronger.

    Some of the pages I read over and over again, almost unaware that I was really doing that. I think I got lost many time in those pages, as I looked back at my life and marvel at where I ‘ve been and where I am now.

    Stories like that leave an imprint on my heart.

    1. Lane in PA

      When I read “The Glass Castle”, I felt like I was reading a documentary about my family. The author’s survival is a true inspiration for me.

      I am happy that you survived, too!

      Reading a book like that takes some courage.

  4. AnotherFaceintheCrowd

    I don’t keep a record of the books I’ve read — they must be in the quadruple digits now as when I’m not bumming on the internet I read one a day. Only libraries enable this reading rate, so my home bookshelf is pretty sparse.

    Also, interesting that you should mention that link between what you were reading and what was going on then. The only books I associate with place are bad books (well, at least books I couldn’t get into). Books that engage me lock the rest of the world right out. Which is interesting because I almost always forget author, title and plot the moment I finish the book — unless I pick it up again. Even years later, I find that opening a book I’ve read once either brings it all back or creates an unnerving sense of familiarity.

    words, words, words…

  5. Lane in PA

    I have not read LOTR — does seeing the movie 20 times count? It is my belief that my hubby sleeps with his red leatherbound copy under his pillow. : D

    Two genres of literature got me through childhood with abusive parents. I love animals, especially the wild ones, so I read books by Jack London, and James Oliver Curwood, as well as all the Black Stallion stories, and my favorite was “Carbonel, King of the Cats” series. (Jane, you would love that book!)

    But it was science fiction that had a greater role in saving my sanity. Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury…I was reading sci fi way ahead of my years. In those stories I could travel through space to another planet, or through time to anywhere but where I was then. I daydreamed about being on a space ship and looking out the porthole and watching the Earth grow smaller and smaller. Bye bye!

    I have no idea how many books I have read, but they’re all in the basement, I should go count them. I still have the paperback “I, Robot” my father bought me at the pharmacy, printed in 1961. It was one of the few nice things he did for me.

    1. Ken Rolph

      The world is divided into two sorts of people. Those who read LOTR multiple times and those who are unable to complete reading it once.

      It was that way until the movie came along to muddy the waters. In 35 years together Jan never read LOTR until the movie came out. Then she understood what kind of experience it was for me. But I don’t think watching the movie is the same as reading the book. I suspect the ability to read that book is a true divider of humans into separate categories.

      I do know one person who has neither read the book nor seen the movie.

      1. philangelus

        I’ve read the book twice. Once because I was dating my Patient Boyfriend and wanted to love what he loved, and once more four months later when it was required for grad school.

        Do I count as a multiple reader? I may never read it again.

        1. cricketB

          I’m a twice person, too. Once in grade 8 because my parents gave me a copy. Once for a required “arts” course. Lots of great stuff, but some long slogs as well. Must remember not to recommend Hobbit to son, although he admits my latest choice for him (My Side of the Mountain) was acceptable. (He started it after school today. “Hey, it has a map in the front! Maybe I should read the next page.” Yep, Son of Geek. He’s now 10 pages from the end. Given how bad his school year is likely to be (difficult class, young teacher, regular teacher returns from maternity in Feb to mess up routines), I suspect he’ll do a lot of reading this year.

      2. Lane in PA

        I’ve read “Atlas Shrugged” twice, so Ken…what does that make me? A Libertarian? LOL!

        I would like to meet the one person you know who has neither read the book nor seen the movie (LOTR). It would be refreshing in a way. Virginal.

        To say that the world is divided into two camps concerning those who have read LOTR many times and those who have never read it is just simply horse puckey. How old are you?

        1. philangelus

          There are two kinds of people, Lane. The kind of people who divide people into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. 🙂

          1. Lane in PA

            Oh, you truly are the master of Great Replies.

            I think I love you. 😉

          2. philangelus

            I love you too, Lane. 🙂

        2. Ken Rolph

          I;’m turning 60 at the end of the year, thank you for asking. So my observation is based on a lifetime of observation. LOTR is the only book which has this effect on people so far as I’ve seen. However, I think the arrival of the films is going to create a new class of people who read the book once after seeing the movie version.

          I had not encountered this American idea of actually studying the book in formal settings. This would create a group of people who had read the book once, but would not count as finishing it because they wanted to.

          Studying LOTR strikes me as perfectly horrible. The best part about that whole strain of literature in the sixties is that it belonged just to the people who read it. Any time lately that there is a poll of favourite books in Britain, Australia or New Zealand, LOTR comes out on top. The publication of the results is followed by media articles from professors of English wondering why. They don’t get it. This is fine by me.

          If you want to read the one non-reader/viewer, next time you are in Sydney drop round and I’ll take you to meet him. He teaches law at Sydney University. The discussion would lead into how much you can share your passionate interests with your children.

          When the movies came out a lot of people said to me the supposed they should probably go and see it. I always told them not to bother. In a way the arrival of the movies closed off a section of my life. That would take too long to explain.

          When you have read a book multiple times it can recall multiple experiences. It becomes a thread which ties your life together.

          1. Philangelus

            {Studying LOTR strikes me as perfectly horrible. The best part about that whole strain of literature in the sixties is that it belonged just to the people who read it. }

            If you really want to know about ‘perfectly horrible,’ I’m told that Wikihow has a section on how to be punk. Tell me that isn’t sad.

            And Ken, my seven year old can tell me things based on a lifetime of observation too. 😀 It’s just not quite as good a sample size as sixty years. 😀

            English professors, in my non-vast experience, tend to think of Great Literature as something that’s above most of us and needs to be Absorbed in Silent Libraries, whereas the stuff you like to read on the subway or in an airplane is in another category (“Cheap Crap”) and when those two categories cross over, the old school literature teachers become a little perplexed. The newer ones, of course, know that what is Absorbed in Silent Libraries today was once very popular and has to be enjoyable in order to survive.

            But some professors and literati take the idea that Literature must Better us and be Conscience-Raising, and therefore it’s something you take like foul-tasting vitamin supplements. I don’t agree.

            By the way, Ken, please check out this for a laugh:


          2. Patient Husband

            Ken wrote: [When you have read a book multiple times it can recall multiple experiences. It becomes a thread which ties your life together.]

            This is how I feel about LotR. I’ve read it many times in many different situations, all the way back to family vacations in fifth grade. Listening to Rob Inglis read the book on CD used to make my hour-plus commute more tolerable. The last time I read the book it was with Kiddo #1, and it was really fun to see him getting excited about some of the same parts that I enjoy.

          3. Lane in PA

            Ken, you wrote: However, I think the arrival of the films is going to create a new class of people who read the book once after seeing the movie version.

            Um, the films came out years ago. This is not a future event.

            And I am 57, nipping at your heels. I’ve never read LOTR, although I’ve sold a lot of my illustrations of the book, but I will not criticize anyone who has read it once or more. If they find something in the story that makes them a better person, and a better person they would be to get through all those pages, then who am I to judge?

          4. cricketB

            We did LOTR in an evening course, one book a week. That’s horrible. (Especially combined with an engineering degree.) We also did The Fionavar Tapestry — which I haven’t reread, but thoroughly enjoyed. I just don’t re-read much. I found the LOTR movies more enjoyable than the books, mostly because of the pacing and I didn’t feel the need to pay as close attention to everything, thereby missing the more important things.

          5. cricketB

            Thinking more. The first read was grade 8 (or 7), a loner, standing by the school wall during recess in the winter. I don’t remember what other books I read like that. The “cool” girls asked me what I was reading, looked at it, and moved on after giving me the “you are uncool” look. (I didn’t want to be in their group, but I wished you could be both brainy and cool. Happy Days lied.)

      3. AnotherFaceintheCrowd

        And what about people who have read it once, loved it and never need to read it again? 🙂

        Have never needed to see the film either.

        To be perfectly fair, I feel the same way about most of C.S. Lewis’s work, with the notable exception of ‘Till We Have Faces’ which is a book I *must* own. And sadly, is unlikely to ever be made a movie.

        1. Ken Rolph

          “Um, the films came out years ago. This is not a future event.”

          Think of it as an ongoing event. The arrival of the films (in the past) began to create a new category of people and continues to do so (into the future). We don’t have a tense that suits that.

  6. Jason Black

    Oh, totally. “The 21 Balloons” and “The Cay” are straight-up fifth grade memory lane for me. “Phantom Tollbooth” puts me back into the house we lived in then. Feynman’s biographies and “A Brief History of Time” dump me right back into my bedroom from my high school years, as do *averts eyes* Piers Anthony novels.

    And I’ll always remember Years of Rice and Salt as the book I had with me when our son was fighting for survival in the neonatal ICU. I was too sleep deprived to have a sense for whether the nurses noticed, though…

    1. philangelus

      Garfield puts me in mind of fifth grade, actually. Me sitting with it open in my desk and reading it with Patrick McAvey reading over my shoulder, both of us laughing silently — the kind of laugh where your shoulders are shaking and tears are streaming down your face but you daren’t make a sound? — at “Garfield, Garfield, Garfield…you ate my fern.”

      Piers Anthony was junior high school for me. CJ Cherryh and Tanith Lee are the NY Subway systems during high school, as are the Barry Hughart novels.

  7. southernsugar

    Every time I look at my Harry Potter books, I think of my little brother. His birthday always fell within a month of the release date for each book, so I would buy the hardback, read it, then give it to him on his birthday so he would have the nice copy. In fact, I didn’t have any copies of my own until two Christmases ago, when Southern Honey (my husband) gave me books 1-5 in paperback. So now I guess I think of him, too!

    “Message in a Bottle” takes me back to eighth grade, when I read it and it helped me get over my first real boyfriend. I remember reading it every day in the library after school and crying my eyes out. Yet, when I finished, I felt completely liberated and knew I was going to be fine. At fourteen, I had discovered the way to triumph over heartbreak: read a good book.

  8. capt_cardor

    I guess Science Fiction is my first love. The first real “Big” book I ever read was Robert Heinlein’s “Rocket Ship Galileo”. I left the Earth then and never really looked back. Books can do that to you.

    Sadly, I am one of those who tried twice to read LOTR. Each time I made it past the half way point of “The Fellowship…” and said, “Soooooooo?” Although I love Fantasy, I go towards the low form, such as Fritz Leiber’s “Gray Mouser” stories or the hilarious “Incomplete Enchanter” of DeCamp and Pratt. I sadly admit that I love Robert Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian? Well, not that sad…

  9. Victor S E Moubarak

    The Canterbury Tales – Chaucer
    The Winter’s Tale – Shakespeare
    La Peste – Camus
    Portray of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

    Ah … the memories … the memories … come flooding back.

  10. Diinzumo

    I can’t keep track of the notable books I’ve read. As a kid, I read everything, from novels to decorating encyclopedias to instruction manuals for stereo equipment. I read horse books, fantasy books, kid books. Black Stallion series, Marguerite Henry horse books illustrated by Wesley Dennis, etc. There was a book I lost in the 4th grade that I wasn’t able to find again and finish until 2002. High school saw me through a lot of Robert E. Howard and Piers Anthony. Some books became a ritual: I’d buy a roll of Pep-O-Mint LifeSavers and read the Star Wars movie novel.

    I tried and tried, and to this day, I cannot get through a Tolkien novel. I’m sorry.

    When I moved to Japan, books got very expensive, so my fellow foreigners would set up a book exchange. A friend would send me boxes of used books by sea mail, and I’d pass them along. Again, there were all kinds: trashy romances, best-sellers, a really AWFUL book called “Vampire Vice” where all the readers wrote amusing comments in the margins. My long train commutes provided lots of time to read.

    These days, I don’t read much anymore. The last book I picked up was “The 19th Wife.” I’ve skimmed through and haven’t finished it.

  11. Scott

    Snoopy always reminds me of when I was sick and stayed with my grandmother. A book of Peanuts comics strips was the only kids book she had.

    In grammar school I read Alfred Hitchcock and the three investigators. It was the only books I checked out of the library.

    In high school, fantasy took over and I was reading Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. I still l remember getting the first book when vacationing in Long Beach Island

    1. philangelus

      I didn’t know you read Xanth back then! We were probably lugging around Piers Anthony books at the same time and never even knew it!

      My Patient Husband read T3I, as did Kiddo#1.

      Your story about Peanuts reminded me of when my mom went out of town and I stayed with my grandmother for a week one summer. I’d work during the day, then at night return to her house. And there I was, stretched out on the pull-out bed in the living room, on those thin blankets and that thin mattress, listening to the ticking clock on the cedar chest, in the only light on in the apartment, totally absorbed by William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.

  12. CookieJar

    I wish I had kept track of all the books I’ve read. What a great idea.
    The book “Crossing Antartica” brings back good memories. It’s a diary of an international expedition across Antartica. I read it during a very difficult and sad time of my life. Their struggle against the elements made my struggles seem doable. It helped me keep things in perspective…at least I wasn’t fighting frostbite or whiteouts. The diary style kept me going day by day. Every day those men survived, was another day I also made it. I disciplined myself to read only one diary entry a night. I couldn’t wait to get to bed and read what happened to them on the next diary entry.
    …that was a darn good book!

  13. Ken Rolph

    As I write this I have my feet on a little footstool. It is a wooden rectangle covered in red and grey fabric. It’s starting to come apart at the seams. It was made by my grandfather.

    Late December 1957 I’m sitting on it at Nana’s place, reading my new copy of Secret Seven Mystery. It’s my eighth birthday present. The room around me is full of people but the sound of their conversation is just a backroom buzz. I finish the book. Nana is shocked. She wanted to buy me something for a present that would last. I manage to get out the idea that I would read it again.

    Earlier this year I did read them again. I also managed to pick up the later books from the series that I stopped buying because I got “too old”. Heraclitus was right when he said that you can never step into the same book twice. You’ve flowed on and become something different.

  14. Heidi Hess Saxton

    My mother named me after the book she was reading when she was carrying me. I was always grateful it wasn’t “Bride of Frankenstein.”

    1. philangelus

      Oh dear heaven, what if she’d been reading Beowulf? or listening to Die Gotterdammerung? I’m afraid the name “Waltraute Hess Saxton” doesn’t really have that special ring to it.

  15. Diana

    I once mentioned Tolkien to one of my English teachers in college (yes, I was an English major), and she sneered. “Tolkien is NOT literature.” But then, I had to read Nabokov’s Lolita for class, and a slew of other books I thought were trash then and think are trash now.
    I guess defining “literature” might be as difficult and subjective as defining “art”. I’ll defend Tolkien over Nabokov anyday. 🙂

    1. cricketB

      I fell in love with Anne of Green Gables in grade 6. Mom had the first three. I spent my allowance on the next 3. In grade 8 I was on one of my first trips downtown with a friend — no adults! — and found the last one, Rilla of Ingleside. I read it in free reading time. The teacher looked at the large print and said, “This is too easy for you,” meaning, “You shouldn’t be reading this.” I asked her what I should read. “The Northern Magus — The Biography of Pierre Trudeau”. Next week I brought in Lorna Doone, 1869, on onion skin paper. She put it down even faster than Rilla, but said nothing! I got Northern Magus for Christmas, and managed the first half — at least enough to take it in to class a few times.

  16. Lane in PA

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned “Dune”. (scratches head)

    1. philangelus

      Dune: springtime, age 11, sitting on the bench during recess at my junior high school, otherwise known as PS 666, hell on earth. :-b

      1. cricketB

        Dune: High school. Second volume, also high school. Disappointed. Third volume, the next year and one of the rare books I didn’t finish. Later volumes attempted from Husband’s stash after marriage.

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