Friday, 3 May 2013

Books lost in the mind

Do you ever read a book so slowly, over so many breaks, that you sort of lose any sense of what you thought about it?

No?  Really?

Well, I do.  (And maybe you did say 'yes' too.)  This is a side effect of reading so many books at once - some will, inevitably, be lost along the way - and picked up later - and finally finished, some months after they were started.  Dozens of books will have been read in between, and even a short narrative will have had hundreds of other characters tangled into it.

It's a fascinating idea, actually - the narrative, which should ideally go from page to brain in a more or less straightforward matter of read-interpret-remember, actually encompasses many other characters and stories along the way (and is clever enough to separate them) - and that's not even thinking about the millions of other stimuli along the way.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I enjoyed The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, very kindly given to me by Nichola (an internet book friend, whom I have met a couple of times, but who seems to have disappeared - Nichola, are you out there?), but I didn't read it in ideal circumstances.

Which is to say that I didn't simply lose the book in my mind... I literally lost it.  For about 18 months, it disappeared - and turned up when I moved house, as things tend to.  I was about two thirds of the way through when it disappeared, so... I just finished it, without going back to the beginning.

The Saturdays is a children's book about a family of siblings who form a club, to pool their pocket money and do something exciting together with the proceeds each week, taking it in turns to decide.  It's good fun, very charming, and with all the over-the-top events and mixture of morals and cynicism which characterise the best children's books.  It's probably better read as a child, or to a child, but I certainly enjoyed it a lot.  I think I finished it off during one of my headachey periods, and it's the perfect sort of light book for that.


But I'm not equipped to write a proper review, so this is instead mostly a pondering on how the reading (and losing) process affects the way we take in a book.  And how each novel comes with the illusory promise of a narrative we can ingest - but that no reader is ever the ideal reader in that sense; stories and characters must weave their way around all the other narratives (real and fictional) in our lives, and cope with all the broken moments of reading, and distractions and forgetting.  And, out the other side, we usually still think of the book as a whole, entire and separate from our haphazard methods of reading.

All a ramble, and not put together with any forethought (I have broken up my blogging as well as my reading; I have been answering people on Facebook and writing a murder mystery party) but perhaps something interesting to think about and to discuss...?

23 comments:

  1. This always happens to me if I don't review a book promptly or at least write notes for a review promptly. It's one reason having a blog has been so great -- when I want to look back and see what I thought about a book I now can barely remember, there is my blog to help out!

    Also, aw, The Saturdays. I love that book. There are more in the series, my favorite being The Four-Story Mistake; but Spiderweb for Two is delightful in its puzzle-solving sort of way. I did read them as a child though, and you're right, it helps to have done. I have all this rosy nostalgia when I read them now.

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    1. The pile of unreviewed books by my bed is getting quite daunting now, I have to say!

      I'll keep an eye out for any of the others in this series... it seems to have a lot of fans here.

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  2. I loved that book when I was about 9 and so envied the girl who went for the perm and got her nails done! If only I'd had more cooperative brothers and sisters!

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    1. Ha! Yes, well, that did come across as rather unrealistic, didn't it? Whose siblings ever agree with them that much?

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  3. Hello Simon. Yes I do sometimes lose my way with a book. As I have so many interests and am usually in the midst of half a dozen books at any time, I can find myself ignoring some and starting new ones according to my mood. With some books one can start back on them after the passage of time, but with others (particularly if it's not interesting enough) there's nothing for it but to abandon it or start all over again!
    One book that is taking me ages to finish is The Pickwick Papers. I love Dickens and it's a wonderful book, but for some reason I can't seem to finish it. I haven't given up though.

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    1. Oh, it took me a whole year to read Great Expectations, even though I loved it! It didn't help that the copy weighed a tonne, and I couldn't carry it around with me...

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  4. I loved these books as a child and pleased to say that I reread them a few years ago (see this post) and have read them again since.

    http://randomjottings.typepad.com/random_jottings_of_an_ope/2007/06/the-melendys.html

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    1. I had no idea that they were so popular! Everyone seems to have loved them :)

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  5. That happens to me a lot, especially with an episodic book like The Saturdays. I read all of the Melendy books so many times when I was a child, though, that I will never forget them. I would still love to have petits-four with Mrs. Olyphant.

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    1. It certainly didn't help that it was episodic, you're right Elizabeth! Petits-four with anyone sounds like a fab idea right now...

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  6. The Saturdays, apart from its charm as a children's story, is also evocative of a lost, old New York world - the world, in fact, that I grew up in, during the 1950s. So it has an extra dimension for me, and I wonder if that came across to you at all, coming from a very different time and place as you do?

    As for the picking up a book and forgetting all about it, I have that exact same problem this very day! I'm just back from my trip to Toronto, and have to think up something to write in the notebook of your postal book, which I *know* I loved...but have already forgotten! Well, comes from growing up as long ago as the 1950s, I suppose!

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    1. It didn't come across to me, Diana - or at least not as New York, because I've never been there and can't really compare. It did feel like a lost world, in general, but perhaps one which never really existed in quite the idealistic way the book suggests?

      I hope you remember what you liked about The Skin Chairs!!

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  7. This series is one of my all-time favourites too.

    Read as a child (Oh, how I envied Mark in Then There Were Five!) and many times since.

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  8. But how about losing the narrative of our real lives because we diverted into the narrative of a book instead? How many life decisions have been made under the influence of what we were reading at the time?! Realistically, I'm not sure if this is a matter of comedy or tragedy or even truth, but an intriguing idea!

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    1. A much nicer alternative, Vanessa! I think definitely a comedy, rather than a tragedy... that frail line between fiction and life just makes everything more interesting.

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  9. "Do you ever read a book so slowly, over so many breaks, that you sort of lose any sense of what you thought about it?"

    All the time. I wish I could stop it from happening. I wish I was one of those people who read only book at a time

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    1. But how dull that must be! I think my attention span is too shoddy to cope with that... I do love having lots of books on the go, to suit different moods.

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  10. That's one of my all time favorite books.. You I recommend this book to every reader and I also suggest every online bookstore to have this book in their collection.. :)

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  11. Oh, The Saturdays! Love, love, love that book. I discovered it as an adult, and promptly read it out loud to my kids who were, I dunno, maybe 8 & 10 or thereabouts. They loved it too, as did my 80-something mother. I immediately tracked down the other 3 books and now have the complete "Melendy Quartet", which provides dependable comfort reading when needed. And you *must* read Gone-Away Lake, another Enright I completely adore.

    Back to your original comment/query, the answer is a most definite "yes". I do try to work logically from book to book, but realistically I usually have several on the go. One in the car, one beside the bed, one to read over tea breaks and mealtimes. (Horrid habit, I know, but we all do it; all four of us sitting in perfect silence but for the turning of pages, clinking of silverware and the occasional "Pass the salt, please"...I am *such* a bad role model. Not much sparkling conversation at *our* family table, I fear.)

    Oi - where was I? Yes, time passes, the books all blur, and cohesive thought becomes impossible. The only answer is a re-read, or the kind of dipping into which might as well be a full-out re-read, as one looks for the part with that particular incident which you think you might want to discuss because it's the bit that stuck most, when you first read it weeks (months!) ago...

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    1. I love the idea of you all sitting around reading during meals! Surely better than sitting around the TV - although at home we sat around a table and had the rule that no books were allowed... I think that was chiefly so that the books weren't damaged, but still...

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  12. OMG, I loved that book as a kid! I also had The Four Story Mistake. And as children do, I read both books multiple times. I leaned what a petit four and a cupola were. And there are two more in the series! Who knew?

    I think all mutli-readers will lose their way from time to time. It is inevitable. If I can't remember enough of the story I will either (a) start the book over again or (b) give up. I do like reading certain books over a long period of time, however. I read Middlemarch over the course of about four months and now I am very slowly reading The Fortune of the Rougons by Zola. But a year and a half...?

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