A very familiar book
In a real sense this is a failed book review. Let me explain. There is a book in my library, a book that until recently I had never noticed that I had. This is not surprising. My library is extensive and haphazard. I do not accurately know what is in it. Indeed it is quite possible that I cannot accurately know what is in it. The tomes therein have been acquired in diverse ways, most of which I no longer recall. Worse. I suspect that there are books that I never acquired but which none-the-less have managed to be present.
Some of these books should not be read by small children. Some should not be read at all. There is even one that I suspect has never been read by anyone at all, not even by its author.
Still, I have read most of them. Many are old friends, reread time and again for the comfort of their reading. Some people never reread books. I have never quite understood why. Do they only eat one steak in their lives, drink one glass of wine, watch one sunset? No, no, and no. We all of us repeat the experiences and sensations we enjoy.
For those of my readers who never reread books, let me explain what it is like. First of all, unless you are one of those rare individuals with photographic memories, in time you will have forgotten passages and even whole chapters. Rereading a book is an exercise in rediscovery, not just of the book, but of your experience of reading the book. You will have your favorite passages, the little moments where words and thoughts particularly resonate with you. As you read along there is a tingling anticipation as the moment of the treasured passage nears. There are moments of rediscovery when you read a passage that you had forgotten and you say to yourself, how wonderful, how fine. And through it all there is a warm glow of familiarity, a sense of “I know this. It is embedded in my memories. It is part of me.”
That is what it was like to read that book. Mind you, I was certain that I had never read that book. I hope that my certainty is not misplaced. The thought that I could have read this book in the past, that it could so inspire my sense of familiarity, and yet not be found in my memories is simply too terrible to be borne.
And yet … I remember nothing of the book, neither the plan of the book, nor the particularly delicacy of the language, nor the settings, nor even the author. Nothing. I remember nothing.
And I want to know. The author was a genius. He (I cannot believe that a woman would want to write such a book) must have concentrated within it the very essence of the reading experience while eliminating the dross, those irritating particulars that corrupt the reading experience. I do not know how he did it, and I very much want to know.
I want to disassemble that book, to discover the techniques he used, above all to discover why this most memorable of reading experiences cannot be remembered. Perhaps, just perhaps, he has discovered a terrible truth, that the joy of reading is essentially mindless, and that he has delivered unto us the very essence of mindless satiation.
I need to know what he has done and how he has done it. Perhaps my need is an expression of the desire of the technician to capture the ultimate in technique. Perhaps it just the desire to recapture an experience that haunts my memories. I do not know; perhaps I will never know. I do not care. I need to know.
Alas, I remember nothing of consequence. I do not remember the cover, the title, or the author. Even if I were to construct a great catalog of my books – a project that has never come to completion for lo these many decades – and I might not recognize it when I came to it. Memory is such a jade. Here was the most intense experience of my life and yet I might well not recognize its source when I have it in hand.
I fear that I can do no better than to rely on chance. My library is not a static thing. From time to time I pillage it, seizing volumes by chance, and exploring them like a traveller from times of old traversing seas unknown to man. Some day, quite by chance, I will come across it again. And when I do there is one thing of which I am certain.
… it will be familiar.
This page was last updated April 1, 2010.