Tag Archives: Memory

Way Too Scary

Enlightened sexism is feminist in its outward appearance (of course you can be or do anything you want) but sexist in its intent (hold on, girls, only up to a certain point, and not in any way that discomfits men). While enlightened sexism seems to support women’s equality, it is dedicated to the undoing of feminism. In fact, because this equality might lead to “sameness”–way too scary–girls and women need to be reminded that they are still fundamentally female, and so must be emphatically feminine.

Thus, enlightened sexism takes the gains of the women’s movement as a given, and then uses them as permission to resurrect retrograde images of girls and women as sex objects, still defined by their appearance and their biological destiny.

Susan J. Douglas

See, for example, commentary here, here, and here on the ridiculous tabloid stories about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s clothing choices. She’s a three years old, people. Also, for everyone whose memory and judgment has been clouded by the past decade’s onslaught of pinnnnkkkk, that’s how all little kids used to dress in the seventies and eighties. In other words, there are most likely pictures of you dressed just like Shiloh in your family photo albums.

Searches for Truths

Members of the OnFiction group have (if I may speak for all of us) been a bit dissatisfied with the idea that non-fiction is true and fiction is untrue. We prefer to see fiction in terms of its subject matter: exploration of how selves make their sometimes problematic ways through the social world.

Uncertainty about what really happened is an issue that rightly exercises historians and journalists. But the deeper issue, raised by [Frederic] Bartlett though not mentioned by [Daniel] Mendelsohn, is that when remembering or, indeed, when trying to make sense of anything for the first time, we are constantly engaged in an “effort after meaning” (Bartlett, p. 20). In his refusal to write an autobiography, Freud wasn’t worrying about truth and untruth, but about truth and lying.

Fiction, then, in which one searches for truths other than those of mere actuality, as if from the inside, may be the real expression of the human effort after meaning.

Keith Oatley

Memory Hole

It seems to me if you can’t remem­ber your child­hood, your life will feel arti­fi­cial. Your first encoun­ters with the real­ity of being in a human body, and all that that means, and the state of shock that comes from try­ing to exist in this world — those are moments that rarely repeat them­selves later. And maybe that’s why those early mem­o­ries are so frag­ile. Because chil­dren are also frag­ile.

Life has taught me that wher­ever there is a sense of “noth­ing hap­pen­ing,” or a blank space, a mem­ory hole, usu­ally some­thing is being hid­den. There is a kind of silence that is really closer to gag­ging on some­thing unspeak­able.

Ann Diamond

6 & 7: Anne of Green Gables & The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables

Hey! A children’s—and Canadian—classic I actually read as a child. Quel shock!

[Note: If you want to read Anne for pleasure, I don’t recommend this (the Norton) version. It’s great if you’re analyzing the text for an English class (there are lots of assorted extras—essays and such—included), but the footnotes were really weird and distracting. There were all these definitions of common words (e.g. “dinner-time” and “bewitched” !!!) and expressions. I couldn’t figure out who they were targeted at. Surely the target audience of the Norton version (university students) of a book written for 10-year-olds has the sophistication to figure out the gist of words/expressions they’re not familiar with from the context. The only thing I could think of that made sense was perhaps it was aimed at an ESL audience who wouldn’t be familiar with English idioms. But that didn’t really explain including the definitions of words that could be looked up in a dictionary.]

Re-reading a book is often as much about the memories of past readings it’s tied up with as the contents of the book itself. My first encounter with L.M. Montgomery was via a boxed set of the first three Anne books that I received as a 10th birthday gift. Because I actually owned them, I re-read those three books over and over, but my most distinct memory of reading them is the first time: in August heat on the upper bunk of our camper as we made our way home from Ontario where I’d spent the summer.

One odd thing I remember is that whenever I re-read AoGG, I always started with chapter 4. Re-reading the book now I’m not sure why I did that. Maybe I found them too slow-paced or perhaps too focused on the grown-ups (chapter 1 starts with Rachel Lynde!). Another uber-geeky memory: the public library didn’t have the other books in the Anne series so I ordered them through inter-library loan. Don’t ask me how I knew to do this. I must’ve asked about them and the librarian suggested it.

Because they were all library books, I never re-read any of the other Montgomery books until one summer in undergrad when I decided to work my way through her entire oeuvre (holy geek summer project, batman!). So the remainder of the Montgomery books I have date from that summer.

Another weird thing: though once I read the Emily books, I preferred her to Anne (because Emily was the real writer), I don’t have a distinct memory of reading Emily of New Moon for the first time, the way I do with Anne of Green Gables. Probably because I just read it in the usual places (you know: in bed when I was supposed to be asleep, under my desk when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork, on the way home from school when I was supposed to be paying attention to where I was walking…) I do know when it was, though, because I wrote it down in my journal. In the same entry I wrote that was going to be a writer when I grew up. I was 12.

Which leads me to…

The Selected Journals of LM Montgomery, Volume I: 1889 – 1910, edited by Mary Rubio & Elizabeth Waterston

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery

I was enthusiastic about reading this, the first volume of Montgomery’s journals. I like reading artists’ and writers’ journals/memoirs/biographies just in general, but having read most of Montgomery’s fiction, I was curious to see “behind the scenes” in her writing process and in particular, how her self-representation matched her fictional representation, particularly in the Emily books.

To be clear: Emily writes about writing: her process, her failures, her successes. So, I guess I went into this expecting a real-life version of Emily’s journal (not the same events/people, obviously, but the same style). What I got was cognitive dissonance, because Maud hardly writes about writing at all. Mostly she writes about her friends and relatives, school and work—the everyday stuff that anyone who’s kept a journal has written about. She doesn’t even mention AoGG until she announces that it is going to be published!

While it’s fun to guess at who she modeled various characters after and to recognize stories and anecdotes that she recycled into her fiction, the fact that she doesn’t write more about writing is perplexing. From the beginning, she intended for the journals to be published after her death (because she anticipated that she would by then be a famous writer), and clearly, as the Emily books demonstrate, she knew people are interested in a writer’s writing process. So why isn’t it there?

My theory is this: a few years before she wrote the Emily books, Maud apparently took all her old journals and transcribed them into new notebooks, ostensibly so all her journals would be in books of a uniform size. There is speculation, however, that she didn’t just copy her old journals word for word (as she claimed), but that in fact, she edited them at this time (she was famous by then and knew for sure that her journals would be published). Thus, my (completely unprovable!) theory is that when she did this she excised all the writing-about-writing parts and then used those in the Emily books. I think that she did this because then she could use those experiences as Emily’s without having to deal with Emily = Maud speculation. Of course, that happened anyway ;-).

Links:

4: Halfway House

Halfway House by Katharine Noel

Halfway House

I actually finished reading this in late October—you know, back when I was still looking forward to spending November focusing on NaNo. AYKB, between TC stuff and offline chaos, that did not happen, and this post kept getting shuffled to the bottom of my to-do list. And now it’s the end of the year, and it’s still there, the last thing needing to be scratched off before 2008 ends.

So… here we go. I guess it’s somehow fitting that it’s taken me so long to get around to writing this review, given how long it took me to read the book. Looking back, I see I knocked a couple books off quite quickly right after I turned in the final draft of my thesis, but this one took me weeks to get through. I’m not really sure why; it wasn’t that the book was a slog or difficult or anything like that. For whatever reason, I just seemed content to read a single chapter at a time. That kind of a reading approach doesn’t always work out, of course; with a lot of books you’d end up having to flip back to refresh your memory each time because you couldn’t remember what happened up to your bookmark. But Halfway House had the stickiness necessary to be a satisfying slow read; whenever I picked it up, I didn’t have any problem continuing on as if I had just put it down.

Halfway House is Katharine Noel’s debut novel. Essentially it is the story of what happens to an “ordinary” family (mother/father/daughter/son) after the daughter develops a mental illness (bipolar disorder). I say “ordinary,” because I didn’t find them that ordinary to begin with: Pieter, the father/husband, is a professional musician and Jordana, the mother/wife, is the daughter of his friend/mentor. They first meet when she is a child and he is dating someone else; she crushes on him and they end up together, so she’s like 15 years younger than him. The kids (Angie & Luke) are exceptional athletes (swimmers), especially Angie, and she is also a brilliant student. There’s an expectation that she, at least, will attend an Ivy League school. (And… if you think $35k for a year‘s tuition is reasonable, you’re not ordinary. That is all.)

So, it’s very much about how easily a seemingly perfect family unit can fall apart when one thing (albeit a big thing) changes. At first, they try to go along as before, but it eventually becomes clear that—even if the right combination of meds is found—Angie is not going to simply recover and resume her before-life where she left off. Pieter and Jordana’s marriage falters and they separate. Luke ends up going to school in the Midwest, where he meets an actual ordinary girl ;-). In reality, of course, the cracks were already there; Angie’s break just widened them.

There was a lot packed into this book; maybe not all of it needed to be there, but I didn’t mind it. The writing is great; the descriptions are vivid and the characters do seem authentic. It felt like a world that had been percolating in someone’s mind for a long time. (My first thought was “MFA thesis” and after doing my usual post-read investigation, I think that might be right.) Still… I think one of the reasons I didn’t feel an urge to read this book faster is that I never really found myself attaching to any of the characters. Everything seemed to be taking place at arm’s length; there was a distance between reader and characters, rather than the immediacy one tends to expect with fiction. It felt like we (author and readers) were analyzing the characters rather than engaging with them. But maybe this is just a reflection of New Englander reticence?

22: Man Walks into a Room

Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss

Man Walks into a Room

Sneaking in one last book for 2007. Appropriately, it is actually a remainder table find 🙂

Man Walks into a Room is Nicole Krauss’s first (or debut, as the literati like to say) novel. Krauss is married Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer is, aykb, a literary darling. I haven’t read any of his work (though I might have to now) because having read MWiaR, I have to wonder why he gets all the attention.

Loved this book.

One of the dust jacket blurbs says, “Man Walks into a Room is that rare thing: an evocative, finely written first novel that is a true work of fiction.” —A.M. Homes. (In that respect, it reminded me of Eden and her first novel, which she really needs to find a publisher for!)

Samson Greene is a 36-year-old literature professor with a wife and a life in New York city until the removal of a benign brain tumor causes him to lose the last 24 years of his memory. MWiaR is about his reaction to that loss, but it is also an exploration of mind and memory, loneliness and intimacy:

…then and there it occurred to him that maybe the emptiness he’d been living with all this time hadn’t really been emptiness at all, but loneliness gone unrecognized. How can a mind know how alone it is until brushes up against some other mind? A single mark had been made, another person’s memory imposed onto his mind, and now the magnitude of his own loss was impossible for Samson to ignore. (pp. 192-193)

Near the end of the book, there was a riff on WASPy nicknames like Pip and Chip and Kick. Would’ve been a throwaway bit, except one of the names was Apple. Had to check the dates to see if she was poking fun at Gwyneth Paltrow, but no, Gwyneth’s daughter wasn’t born until 2004. I guess she was just prescient 😉

Some links:

16: The Partly Cloudy Patriot

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

I :heart: Sarah Vowell in the same way I :heart: Tina Fey. Witty, snarky, incisive. What more do you need?

I read Take the Cannoli back in 2005, after I had started keeping track what I was reading, but before I started writing posts about each book (which, btw, was the best. idea. ever. I don’t care if everyone else thinks they’re dull as doornails). The Partly Cloudy Patriot I picked up at The Book Shop (shocking! ;-)). There was a book mark inside the front cover from a bookstore called The Book Mark (a book mark from The Book Mark!) with an address in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Oh, I do like to think that this book traveled all the way from Florida to Penticton. It just seems so apropos.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot was published in 2002 and is a collection of essays. The date is significant because it’s packed with pop culture references (as well as nerd humor and historical tourism). So while I adore Vowell’s sense of humor, I’m thinking those who can’t remember said references might not be similarly amused. Remember this post where I asked my students (millennials, formerly known as gen-Y) what their first media memory was? Some of them couldn’t even remember back to 2001/02!

Memory-challenged millennials aside, this is a fast, entertaining read. Which is not to say it doesn’t tackle serious issues. You know, like the 2000 US election. (Poor Al, done in by his nerdiness.) Showing her prescience, one essay is called “Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous.” Ha! There’s even one on Canada (“Cowboys vs. Mounties”). Unsurprisingly, she confesses that some of her favorite comedians (Kids in the Hall!) are Canadian. Of course they are. It’s the snark, I tell ya.

7: Grasshopper

Grasshopper by Barbara Vine

Grasshopper

I picked this up at Pulpfiction Books, a cool new/used bookstore at Main & Broadway.

Once upon a time, I was in a writing class where the instructor insisted that only murder was high stakes enough for mysteries & suspense novels. It was a silly thing to say and I recall scoffing when she said it. This memory resurfaced as I finished Grasshopper and contemplated what I would write about it. I was going to say that there’s no murder in Grasshopper, but technically there is. However, it’s just a mcguffin.

The reviews at Amazon are mixed. Some people hated this book. A lot said it wasn’t a “typical” Barbara Vine book. I’m not sure what they were expecting. None of the BV books I’ve read would be what I’d call typical mysteries. They’re more “regular” stories with suspenseful elements to them. Which is why I like them. I was tired of formulaic whodunnits. The people who seemed most disappointed seemed to expect a “shocking twist” ending. I guess it would be a let down if that’s what you expected.

BV’s books tend to be dark, psychological explorations, rather than thrillers. I think she’s interested in what motivates people to do the things they do. This one, I think, was less dark than others I’ve read, perhaps because it was clear from the outset that the ending would be a (mostly) happy one. The ending doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, though, which is good.

It definitely kept me turning the pages and, when I got to the last page, I experienced that little pang of sadness that you do when you’ve become attached to the characters in a book and you have to let them go. That kind of surprised me because none of the characters were particularly likable. But I suppose that was precisely it; their unpleasant qualities made them seem like real human beings and I got used to them being around.

So, to sum up: no murder(s) to speak of and no particularly likable characters. And yet, I quite enjoyed it.

Memory

In their first tutorials, I asked my students what the first news/media event they remembered was. It’s a 100-level class, so some of them are 18. This is some of what they came up with:

Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)*
Velvet Revolution (1989)*
San Francisco earthquake (1989)*
Gulf War (1990-1991)
Blue Jays win World Series (1992/1993)
Kurt Cobain commits suicide (1994)
Canucks lose in game 7 of Stanley Cup final / riot ensues (1994)
OJ Simpson car chase / trial (1994-1995)
Princess Diana dies (1997)
Y2K (1999)
September 11, 2001
Michael Jackson dangles baby over balcony (2002)
Tsunami (2004)

The students who listed the earliest events (marked with asterisks) all stated that they remembered them because they were there when the event happened (so it was a personal memory as well as being a media event). Mid-90s was what I expected. The more recent events… well, I’m pretty sure that they all can remember further back than 2 years ago. (Some of them even listed stuff that happened this year!) I figure those students just said the first thing that came to mind (rather than their first-ever memory). But… I suppose it is possible that 9/11 is the first big event that some of them remember.

Feel old yet? 😉

Day 19

32,316 / 50,000
(64.6%)

First word: Calle

Last word: lightening

Random sentence: My shrink explained it’s kind of like if when your computer crashes and you restore the memory, you lose everything you did after your last backup.