Posted by: Neil Hollands
Quick! What were the last five books that your group read?
Not even close, were you? I’ve been thinking about memories lately, as it seems more and more often, I have to rely on writing things down to save mine. I keep lists of what I’ve read and what I want to read. I use an account at GoodReads to review each book as I finish it. The fact that other people can read these reviews is only a side effect. I write them for me! Without them, I’ll remember a few characters or scenes at best, often only my vague impression of how much I liked the book. That’s not too useful when you can’t remember why you reached that impression in the first place!
As our school years recede into the mist, so does our ability to memorize. My wife and I have been drilling for the last few weeks, almost every night, as she tries to pack the many lines of Tracy Lord into her head for her upcoming run in The Philadelphia Story. She’s pretty good. If I had a part with this many lines, the production would have more dramatic pauses than dialogue. A recent thread on the FictionL mailing list asked what book people would choose to commit to memory if that was the only way the book could be preserved, a la Fahrenheit 451, from the censors. It’s a nice question to ponder, but I’m afraid any book I selected would get short shrift. It would be a challenge for me to get a sonnet, a soliloquy, or a long song lyric just right anymore.
But I like challenges. Using the brain in unusual ways makes it stronger, and it’s fun too. I’m going to commit something to memory, and I think your book group should consider it too. I’m going to start with something short: my favorite poem from one of my heroes, William Stafford. Whether you divvy up play parts, tackle a poem, a short story, or an essay, it will make for a fun and unusual evening. Pick something worth the effort, because you’ll experience it in more depth than your other reading.
Besides, if my threadbare junior high school Romeo and Juliet is any indication, you’ll recite it far too often over the years to come, so it better be good! Arise fair sun, and kill the envious moon…