If we are cursed to forget much of what we read, there are still charms in the moments of reading a particular book…
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An intriguing look at forgetfulness and reading. Though in the end I think I can't really align myself with the assumed premise.
To Kill A Mockingbird bored me to death the first time I read it in high school. I don't remember reading it again until, ironically, I was required to teach it to my own high school students fairly early on in my teaching career.
The book had gotten better in the interim. I'd grown a bit in my ability to appreciate the stories themes. Though, I had some compassion for those students who really saw the book as "not something they'd choose to read.' But, my compassion and my increasing appreciation for the story led me to design lessons around the story that were more encouraging to more students. It eventually became a favorite book to teach and at least one of the favorite books among my students.
I read and taught the book so often that it is one of a select few books that is fairly well-remembered in detail. And, among the many famous quotes from the book, my personal favorite was one that is much less often quoted,
"When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning. She was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.” (p 129)
But, my difficulty with this author's premise is his concern about remembering books.
In some ways I don't think passing the remember the story quiz is how we derive value from having read a book.
Not all great stories find a way to anchor themselves in our minds as solidly as To Kill A Mockingbird and Candide and Cat's Cradle and others have done in my reading life. But, nevertheless, many have had long lasting impact on my world view as each added "something" to the depth and breadth of my understanding of the "universal truths." My moral compass has been crafted by ocassional and sometimes repeated encounters with various expressions of those universal truths.
Any teacher who has taught a literary piece repeatedly knows that it is mpossible to read the same book twice IF ONE'S EYES ARE OPEN TO SEEING WHAT STILL HAD NEVER BEEN NOTICED IN EARLIER READINGS.
Literary reading's impact depends upon both its immediate impact and its long perhaps cumulative impact.
When asking students to read a book that may "not be something they'd choose to read," we ask them to go where they've not found enjoyment before. When we succeed, they grow in their reading interest knowing that going where they had not been interested in going before can provide serendipitous rewards. When we don't succeed (and that may be for reasons more in tune with their readiness than our lesson design) seeds of disinterest in reading in areas beyond their existing reading interests may take root.
In thinking about my own evolution in reading habits, there is no doubt that being entertained was the first criteria. Early on that meant it had to be funny. A bit later, it had to have action, adventure, and okay, some sexual content. It didn't have to be explicit. James Bond's womanizing skills were sufficient. Drama, heartbreak, tragedy... well, that took a while. Eventually all of that became entertaining. It no longer needed to be funny or fun, but relevant to my interests. As my interests grew, they came to include stories that included the universal truths behind heartbreak and tragedy. Can I pin the events from specific books that mark my journey to a broader appreciation of literary reading? Sometimes, but not always.
I sometimes think of it as being similar to marinading food. When I'm enjoying the final outcome of a well-crafted recipe, "Wow! This is delicious! What seasoning did you use?" I might ask the chef. "I recognize garlic, but what's that unusual sort of sweet and salty taste?
"Chinese Five Spice!"
"Of course! I used to use that in a crazy Chinese Paella recipe I used to cook!"
Some books, probably many, are sort of like that Chinese Five Spice. I don't remember them, until some later experience reminds me that I did remember encountering them previously.
I remember when my music appreciation grew from "did it have a good beat and give me dancing feet?" to listening to the lyrics for "truth" to actually enjoying a musical piece by listening intently to only a single element as I'd play a song over while tuning into a single instrument. Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Ringo Starr, Max Weinberg; each with a different style and each with a distinct contribution to a piece of music.
Other times I'd listen paying particular attention to guitar styles; other times to the sax. And, somewhere along the way I came to realize that my musical appreciation had grown not only in depth but in breadth as well.
But truthfully, do I remember the individual songs so much? Sometimes, but not always.
It's true of films as well. The Graduate and 2001: A Space Odyssey were pivotal films for me. Each opened my eyes to the idea that there might be more to think about in some films and storytelling than i had thought about previously and eventually I found myself watching classic films with different eyes.
And yet, ask me if I remember "that part where [character x] looked around the corner and saw the [whatever he saw] and thought nothing of it?" and my mind is capable of going quite blank. At best, more often than not, I can remember bits and pieces or general ideas. Yet, i know The Graduate and 2001: A Space Odyssey both played important roles in the trajectory of my growing appreciation for the deep over the shallow and the thought-provoking over the short-term adrenalin rush.
i may not remember much about some of the music and movies that played significant, perhaps only subconcious roles in my journey. But in retrospect, I do recognize that there has been a cumulative impact of many forgotten experiences in my journey into the depths and breadth of the wonders of music and film ....
...and photography and dance and science and math and history and...yes, just about everything I've grown to appreciate at levels beyond my early experiences.
Of course, at my age, I am beginning to worry about events I just don't remember well or at least momentarily at all. I'm even a bit concerned that ocassionally I have extremely clear recollections of events that never happened. But, I'm not too concerned about having forgotten that I'd read a book or seen a movie sometime in the past and only remember having read the book or seen the movie before after having read several chapters or watched a third of a movie I'd experienced before.