Books & Memories: How a book is not just about the story but where it’s read

I started thinking about the title of this blog recently when I was looking through my bookshelf and pulling books out and I realised something: as I held the book in my hand, not only was I reading the title of the book and the author but I was also framing an image or sense of a place.

Let me give you a few examples: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. I remember an old woman and the salt and wind of the Cornish coast. But as I open the book I also remember turning those pages deep in the Indian Himalayas and the sharp chill of the misty mornings there.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Redolent of the Yorkshire moors on wind-chilled, bleak days, dashed love and tragedy, this is also a story of me as a precocious young reader, feeling my way and pushing out of the limits of children’s books. I lay on my childhood bed, the window framing a towering church spire as I recited passages out loud, trying to grasp what this novel really meant.

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell. London, Scotland, train journeys and a young woman trying to pull through the fog of a coma following a traffic accident, this book is also me lying on a sofa reading in Brighton. I pulled the curtain shut against the squawking gulls and blinding summer sunshine as I drank tea and sobbed for what felt like hours, reading in one sitting one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.

A book can do this to us and for us in a way that I don’t think anything else can, as the story and our surroundings merge to create a unique literary adventure that embraces story and memory.

I challenge you to go to your bookshelf and think about the beautiful serendipity of this unique pairing of pages and place and let me know in the comments what you think of when you look at a book. It can be as simple as this: The Book Thief – War torn Germany – On my sofa during lockdown.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this blog post, compliment it a reflection on the healing power of story; why we should all consider reading historical fiction & why reading aloud to older kids is not just special, but vital.

Rebecca Stonehill

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