I’ve read some very compelling books throughout my life. But if you asked me to pick one and give you a brief summary right now, I could more easily remember how I felt when reading it than I could recall the protagonist’s name.
I started working at a bookstore a few months ago, and I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with books as a result. I love reading, and I love being around books. I enjoy looking at them, picking them up and flipping through the pages. Bookstores are a happy place for me. Helping to foster that environment for other people as part of my job is pretty cool.
Working among the shelves, I’ve come across some novels that I read ages ago and experience a pleasurable burst of warmth in my chest at the familiarity of the covers. I found one young reader book, The City of Ember, a few weeks ago. It was a birthday gift when I was around 10-12 years old that I adored.
Whenever I share with a coworker that I’ve stumbled upon a fond book from an earlier phase of my life, they always ask some iteration of “What’s it about?” Always, I never have an answer. I don’t really remember the plot of The City of Ember. I don’t recall whether the protagonist was a young man or woman. I suppose it didn’t matter to me at the time. I enjoyed the book because it encouraged my imagination; the story plucked me out of reality.
So, what does that mean for my relationship with the books I read and really enjoy? If I can’t really remember the plot, does that mean it’s irrelevant to me? But then again, I still have preferences for the stories I read over others. Recently I’ve been favoring some element of dystopian literature with a strong focus on women’s lives (some good ones: The Power by Naomi Alderman and The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh).
After a brief crisis over the reliability of my own memory and doubts about whether I’ve ever properly retained information from anything I’ve ever read, I concluded that I care about how books make me feel. Yes, I’m a strongly emotional person. My sensitivity means my relationship to things – people, books, places, experiences – depends on my emotional response to them. I care more about what emotional range I experience when reading a book than what happens in the story. And now that I know, I’ll curate my book list more wisely.
[I was not paid to write about these works. Links are not affiliate.]