I wrote my college essay about books, obviously. I don’t know where it is now, hopefully on a floppy disc or yellowing in a folder somewhere, but I remember that it was about the intersection of my memories with what I was reading at any given moment. I tend to remember vacations by the book that accompanied me to the beach, or momentous life events by the book in which I looked for comfort or joy while they unfolded around me.
Books and travel are inextricably linked in my memories. The sights and sounds and tastes of a particular place get trapped in the pages of whatever I was reading at the time, such that spotting its spine on my shelf or cracking the covers is enough to bring on some crazy strong nostalgia waves. Sometimes I read with a sense of geographic purpose–City of Djinns in Delhi, for example, or Turn Right at Machu Picchu in Cusco–, but usually it’s not that obvious.
I bought Alice Munro’s Runaway in a bookstore in Trivandrum, India, because I was a handful of pages away from finishing something else, and being bookless always sparks in me some serious anxiety. I found a bar/book swap in Madrid once, and I picked the high-brow Yiddish Policeman’s Union and the low-brow 4 Blondes to enjoy through the rest of Spain. The Hefner biography Mr. Playboy will always be tied to the cruise ship on which I read it, somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and Jamaica.
By now, you know by now how much I like maps, right?
So I made a map. I did as much as I could from memory, which was about 85% of it, and then I used the book list I’ve been keeping for 13 years to do the rest. It’s not “complete” in any technical sense, but it was a fun exercise. I remembered that I read Outliers in an ashram in Kerala, of all places. I remembered that I brought only chick lit to Israel so that I wouldn’t feel bad about leaving it there. I remembered crying over Never Let Me Go on a plane from Berlin to London when I realized what was going to happen. You might think that diving into a book might pull me out of whatever I’m actually experiencing, but somehow it only serves to make it all the richer.
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