Reading Books and Remembering Places

Let us start with a Beatles’ song.  Let me dedicate it to books.

There are places I remember all my life

Though some have changed Some forever, not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments

Of lovers and friends I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I loved them all

And with all these friends and lovers

There is no one compares with you

And these mem’ries lose their meaning

When I think of love as something new

And I know I’ll never lose affection

For people and things that went before

I know I’ll often stop and think about them

In my life I loved you more

Books tend to evoke memories of place for me.  I usually read on my couch or in my bed (and now in my university’s library), but sometimes I read in less-than-ideal (or more-ideal) places, and whenever I remember the book, I remember that place.

Here are some of my memories:

Lonesome Dove (1985) will always remind me of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, because I read it poolside.  That was an ideal circumstance.  I sipped limonadas, soaked in the sun (through sunscreen, because I have fair, freckled skin!), and found myself lost in the world of the old west.  Just thinking about it makes me want to order another drink and dip my toes in the pool.

lonesome dove cover

Middlemarch (1874) will always remind me of two places.  The children’s climbing cage thingamajigger at Boondocks, a center with bowling, race cars, laser tag, and arcade games.  I took my girls there to play one morning, and I got to sit and read while they sweated and climbed.  It will also remind me of the Browning Center on the campus of the university where I used to work as an adjunct instructor of English.  My daughter had a ballet recital take place there, so while I waited for her dress rehearsal to finish, I sat in the lobby on the most narrow and uncomfortable black leather couch in the world and read.

middlemarch cover

I read Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (1314), number 76 on the BBC book list, in the arts and music building of the campus where I did my undergraduate work.  I always think of that dark, yet towering commons area with hard stone seats and maze-like displays of art when I contemplate Dante.  (Yes, I sit around contemplating those deep ideas all the time.)  Reading the Inferno was obviously a class assignment, but I honestly got lost in its poetry and enjoyed each minute of my classical education.  And it wasn’t necessarily because I understood, but more because I felt as if I were getting smarter and perhaps more enlightened.  I was young and dumb then.

the inferno coverI will always think of riding bus number 472 into Salt Lake City when I remember Goodbye, I Love You (1986).  The reason is mostly explained in this post, which I consider to be one of my best.  Unfortunately, I also reread this book in December 2011, while in bed suffering from a violent stomach flu.  Now I’ll never forget that miserable few days.

The Harry Potter series will always remind me of the tiny apartment my husband and I rented downtown when we first graduated from college.  We spent the summer refusing to turn on our air conditioning (to save money because my husband is a CPA) and reading the books in our underwear.  (!)

Pride and Prejudice (1813) reminds me of the room I had as a teenager, with lacy pink and green bedding, a Garbage band poster and The Fugitive movie poster on the wall, and an extremely distasteful shelf full of ugly stuffed animals.  I read it in one week, part of my mom’s requirement for summer reading and the book club I had with her and my sisters.

I read E. M. Delafield’s The Way Things Are (1927) on a flight from Boston to my home after visiting my sister and her husband one August.  I left my husband and daughter (I only had one at the time) behind and had fun in Boston eating, riding the ducklings, visiting historical sites, eating dim sum, eating cannolis, eating Italian food, walking, and eating.  Did I mention eating?  On the flight home, I read the entire book.  So although it is set in London, I always have the picture of an airplane cabin in my head.  (Life of Pi also reminds me of travel.  I read it in an airport.)

the way things are delafield

What books and places do you remember? 

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32 thoughts on “Reading Books and Remembering Places

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  1. I usually associate books with people, not places, but now that I think about it, I do have memories of places attached to certain books. Anything by the Brontes will always remind me of Oxford and the Bodleian library, as will Johnson’s Dictionary and The Canterbury Tales. Pamela will always remind me of my British lit survey class, and Hard Times will always remind me of my British novel class.

    1. I hadn’t thought about people. I’m not sure if I do that. Do you mean people who gave you the book? Or does the book remind you of a certain person because of similarity to characters?

      1. It’s more people that I’ve discussed or read the book with. So Pride & Prejudice reminds me of my best friend Caitlin because it’s her favorite book and she helped me get past the boring parts. Gone With the Wind reminds me of Amanda because she saw me reading it in class, made a comment, and we’ve been friends ever since. Those are a couple examples. 🙂

  2. I associate Gone With the Wind with the back seat of my parents’ car. I read it every summer during our endless camping vacations across the United States. It probably kept me from killing my brothers. 🙂

  3. I have been re-reading Joseph Conrad’s rembrances of his past and he remarks lovingly about how important books were to him. I pity those who read kindle and won’t have those terrific associations you list here.

  4. I read Ray Bradbury all year my last year of teaching. Strictly enforced silent reading time, and shared his best sentences with the students. Had to buy a few extra copies for the kiddos!

  5. First of all, I love that song by The Beatles ! 🙂 For me the place that vividly comes to my mind right now is the Japanese style bridge in my college where I read ‘1984’. The serenity of the place really set the mood. Also for a strange reason I remember the food I ate when I read books. For HP it was always Tea and Butter Biscuit 🙂

    Lovely post 🙂

  6. This is such a lovely idea, and I loved reading what each book evoked for you! When I look at my books on my bookshelves or reread a book, I love that feeling of returning to a specific moment in time; it’s almost like a photo album.

  7. Excellent and evocative post. (It inspired me to begin a similar post on my own blog.) I will say that I, like you, tend to associate place and music with special books. And, my sense and location memories for “Lonesome Dove” are particularly vivid. That was a favorite and intense time in my life.

    Thanks for reminding me how lovely and encompassing the act of reading can be!

  8. I also loved “Sense and Sensibility”, along with your “Pride and Prejudice.” I liked “Lonesome Dove.” I liked T.H. White’s version of Camelot in “The Once and Future King.” I like for fun, the Janet Evanovich mystery, bounty hunter adventure books. I am up to #18! You are so good at your reviews it makes me want to be a more involved reader!

  9. Emily, this is a terrific, thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing a pieces of your life through books, times and places. It evoked memories of some of my favorite reading spots such as a balcony overlooking a beach with a nice late afternoon breeze. I used to read a lot of Ludlum, Clancy, Forsyth and Follett. “Pillars of the Earth” and “Red Storm Rising” come back to me. I even had my Stephen KIng period – “The Stand” or “The Dead Zone.” These were paperbacks that could get wet from the sea and salt and were long enough to last a vacation. Many thanks, BTG

  10. I read the entire Harry Potter series while riding the light rail to my first job, a public accounting firm in downtown Denver. I would even read as I walked to my building/office. I remember standing by the elevator finishing a chapter and reading just one more chapter because I couldn’t put the book down. I remember dreading getting on the elevator and going to work because all I wanted to do was continue reading. 🙂 When I think of Harry Potter, I also see the green marble counters of the lobby area around the building elevator.

    1. What a great memory! I always wanted to extend my reading (instead of working) when I commuted, too. I love the image of the green marble countertops. So, since you like children’s books, have you read all of the Little House on the Prairie books? I just listened to the rest of them on CD while driving to school (since I enjoyed rereading the first few with Olivia) and just loved them, again.

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