Do you remember the books you read?
As some of you know from recent posts, I’ve been working on a tidying project around the house, inspired by the brilliant Marie Kondo and her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One of Marie’s recommended stages in the tidying process is the curating of one’s books. Given all the moving I’ve done in recent years, I knew my book collection was pretty well-culled, but as a faithful acolyte of Marie’s, I was curious to take a look at my collection using her criteria.
Overall, the books I’d chosen to keep made sense. But there were three titles—two by A.M. Homes and one by Mary Gaitskill—that I could not, for the life of me, remember reading. What’s really strange about this is that I’m certain I’ve been carrying these three books around with me for the last 20 or so years. I believe I bought them back in my early days in Boston and most likely they were on the recommendation of my cool, all-knowing and still dear friend, Michelle. Back in Boston, Michelle was one of the only people I knew who’d taken more women’s studies classes and had more bookshelves than me and to this day, has more moves under her belt (in other words, serious soul sister).
When I say I couldn’t remember reading these books, I’m not talking about major plot points or the full roster of characters, I’m talking about that shadowy presence a book leaves on you once you’ve read and absorbed it. That presence may tell you that you liked it or you didn’t or you were bored. Even if you can’t remember the specific details, there’s some remnant of a recollection rattling around in there. Yet with these three books (one of which was In a Country of Mothers, in case you haven’t already guessed), it was like a selective form of amnesia.
By my count, I’ve moved eight times since I purchased these books; each move an opportunity to let go, a moment when I stopped and asked, “Is it worth it to pack, unpack and pay someone to transport this?” Each time, I said yes to these particular titles – why?
As I held them in my hands and considered the outdated author photos and copyright dates, it struck me that these particular books and their writers were so very much of a particular time to me, which is how I can tell you with confidence that I bought them in Boston in the mid-1990s on the recommendation (or at least the influence of) Michelle. A.M. Homes and Mary Gaitskill were exactly what a couple of gals working at the women’s clinic, reading a lot of hip female authors were into at that time. It was the experiences they represented, more than anything within their covers, that had compelled me to keep them all this time.
So last week, I pulled all three books from the shelf and added them to the unrelenting “to-read” pile, arbitrarily deciding that In a Country of Mothers would go first. Did anything come back to me once I cracked it a second time? Not really. I’m guessing I didn’t completely “get it” on the first read. But now? Like all the best relationships, the story had matured and so had I. We were ready for each other. I’m so glad it was right there waiting for me.