Am I a Philistine?

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Marc Joan

Aug 26, 2014
A few days ago, I was trying to think of books that I'd read as an adult that had had a profound / memorable effect on me (so books read before the age of say, 18, don't count). I'm thinking about books you could happily return to, & where the quality of the story was such that your brain retained it, so that if somebody asked you what the book was about, you could tell them, accurately and in significant detail. I could think of very few -- really, really very few -- books that qualified. Mostly, the books I've recently read just leave a vague impression: "oh yeah, the one about the man who brings up his friend's son who turns out to be some kind of genius and then they find the Ten Commandments, in the original stone, in a church in Italy... or something ... I think ... it was okay ... I think ..." Anybody else find this? Maybe I just stink as a reader.
Hmmm. I can't think of any, not a one, at least not as an adult. And only three that stayed with me since I was a kid.

I can think of films though which made an impact. The Year Of Living Dangerously is prob the 'winner'.

Maybe the books we read as kids leave more of an impact because we associate them with certain times of our development. A memory from childhood can me more powerful, memorable, profound, than a memory from last week. The formative years and all that. Most of us remember our childhoods, the sounds, smells, but our twenties, thritees can be a lot foggier. Also, as we get older we get overloaded. Maybe? I don't know.
Hmm, I don't know about remembering all the finer details of the plot and character, these always fade over time for me. But I remember the feeling (awe), I've had when I've finished some. So much so that I often try to force said book upon others so they might experience the same mind-blowing profoundness and I did.

In this instance, mine would be:

Liveship Traders Trilogy - Robin Hobb
Embasseytown - China Mielville
The Secret History - Donna Tart
Oracle Night - Paul Auster
The Girl With Seven Names - Hyeonseo Lee
The Bartimaeus Trilogy - Jonathon Stroud
This makes you a Philistine?

I remember how books make me feel. I'm not real great at remembering a sequence of events or plot points. I have a hard time caring. I'm sure that doesn't reflect well on me. However, I'm not bad at finding plot holes ands such when something is in front of me, it's only once they're out of my sight. Still, maybe there's some redemption for me in being able to follow a train of thought while the train is still moving.

But this isn't since I turned 18. I've always been like this. I'm convinced there's something wrong with my memory.
So it's not just me being culturally oafish then. I often think I spend my adult life looking for stories that will transport me in the same way that a few great books did when I was a kid, but I guess that's not going to happen. Maybe our ability to live printed lives is lost with age. Darn.

BTW, this train of thought was triggered by something I caught on Radio 4 yesterday while driving -- some show where a guest comes on to talk about their favourite book. Can't remember the guest or the book (you see?), but I do remember being amazed by the depth in which it was discussed. Like a verbal PhD thesis. So I just wondered if I was lacking in some way, but I suppose the simpler explanation is that the radio show guest prepared for the show for weeks.
I wonder about it a lot more than I should. I can still be transported but its more rare. I haven't ever remembered plot points thought ... I've probably read Stranger in a Strange Land at least 15 times and I couldn't put the events in the book into sequence no matter how hard I tried. I also used to read Gone With the Wind once a year ... and that's a historical novel ... don't think I could put things in order.

I'm always impressed when people can say: this happened and this happened with books.

BUT ... before it started to seem like a reflection on my storytelling ability, I liked this forgetting. It meant I could read a book over and over again and enjoy it almost as much as I did the first time I read it. When I read a book I've read before part of the enjoyment is remembering what I'd forgotten. Of course, the other part is seeing what was there in a different way.
There are books where even a single line or an image has resonated or haunted me such that the book has become part of my mindscape. Or I would never even have thought of trying to find out if I could write one. Life's short, and now I don't want to read for anything less.

Maybe you just haven't read the book that resonates strongly enough @Marc Joan .
There are books where even a single line or an image has resonated or haunted me such that the book has become part of my mindscape. Or I would never even have thought of trying to find out if I could write one. Life's short, and now I don't want to read for anything less.
@Marc Joan .

Beautifully expressed. Sums it up for me. I suspect that books from our youth perhaps resonate more because we are more open-minded to new ideas and points of view and that as we age, and become more jaded, we experience a decline in that magical ability to be transported by mere words on a page in the way that we were in our formative years. Currently making a real effort to read more and it is actually a much harder task than it should be.

Also, we have far more distractions now. Even as I write this, I should be working on something so it is a prime example. Perhaps I am being a little pretentious here but I am beginning to suspect that reading is actually an art form in itself. And one that requires both discipline and perseverance.

I am perhaps the biggest Palestinian on here with my various and numerous chips on both shoulders meaning I naturally gravitate to dismissing anything that the wider cultural zeitgeist tells me has value but perhaps I need to pay more heed to what others tell me is worthy of reading, if only to convince myself that I know better :)
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