27 Comments
Feb 9, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

Love today's newsletter. I'm fascinated by this subject and that's a brilliant quote from Oliver. It took me a long time to understand the nature of subjectivity.

Remember being fanatical about a certain band as a teen and not understand why other people didn't 'get' the things you loved? Or thinking other people were 'wrong' about whatever they liked? Ha!

I think of cultural input like our own personal compost heap. After a while, it's hard to tell what the constituents were – but each compost heap is 100% unique.

P.S. The last In Writing Creative Hour was my first – and it worked surprisingly well! Unfortunately for me, I haven't been able to write creatively since then, so I'm looking forward to another session.

Expand full comment

I like the image of the compost heap. It's all there, continuing to evolve and interact with everything else in the pile.

Expand full comment
author

Love the compost heap! Thanks Cian.

Expand full comment

Brilliant! I thought it was just me who tends to remember the 'feeling' of a book, its atmosphere and its characters' personalities rather than what they actually did or what happened in the book! Relieved to hear you do that too!

Expand full comment
Feb 9, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

Loved this! I often worry about what’s happening in my brain (everything/nothing) and can only remember the plots of a few books, so I was relieved to hear that I don’t necessarily need to recall everything instantly or even at all. I do feel like there are a lot of ideas and memories milling around in there banging into one another. Sometimes when I do crossword puzzles I hear words come out of my mouth that I didn’t know existed, but they are obviously in there somewhere.

Expand full comment
author

Yes so true! Our memories are so layered and mysterious.

Expand full comment
Feb 9, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

I think about this a lot, specifically with regard to the books I have schlepped from rental flat to rental flat, from home to home - and there's a lot of them now. When I was thinking about this the other day, I realised that I can barely remember the plots in so many of these treasured novels, yet I have kept them near me for years, and in some cases decades. Doea that mean I have to reread them all? Or maybe it doesn't matter, and it's the feeling I get from having them on my bookshelves that matters. Maybe I'll reread some of them. Or do it via my kids somehow, when they're old enough.

Thanks for a thought-provoking column.

Expand full comment
Feb 10, 2023·edited Feb 10, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

Really thought provoking. Nice comment, Mark. I go through phases when I want to declutter and get rid of books that have been sitting on my shelves for so long. Books that I devoured and then placed there but have never reopened. But I don't get rid of them because, like you say, there's something comforting knowing they *are* there, waiting to be picked up again, loved and leafed through.

Expand full comment
author

I'm the same – quite sentimental about books, but very rarely reread them. They are beautiful things to have around anyway though, so I think they justify being kept, to an extent. That said, I have so many piles of books in my flat that I sometimes think I'm going to die by paper avalanche.

Expand full comment
Feb 9, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

I really love that quote too especially as someone who remembers very little of the non fiction that they read! With fiction some stories have stuck with me and some I just remember the feeling they gave me, and some I have forgotten completely, or I feel like I have.

Funnily, when I read the words Anastasia Krupknik I remembered the scene where she finally climbs the rope in PE and then says her poem at the top and just like her English teacher suggested she does get the urge to fling her arms wide at a certain point and falls. I can’t remember much else about them, (i think she had a little brother called Sam?) but that’s really clear. I probably identified with not being able to climb ropes and not wanting to fling my arms wide when reading a poem 🤣

Expand full comment
author

I remember that scene too! I also have vivid memories of one of the books where she goes to join a model agency, or do a modelling course, or something, and another (from when she was younger) when she is so annoyed that her parents want to move house that she says she'll only go if they find a new house with a turret for her bedroom. And they do! I've apparently retained that storyline for thirty years.

Expand full comment

Love this. Especially the 'quilt of who they are'. (Though my own propensity to forget what I've read is also a source of anxiety in itself sometimes. What if I regurgitate something I've forgotten - whole - truly believing it's my own???!)

PS. MAFS forever!

Expand full comment
author

Oh god yes, I know that fear! Thanks for the MAFS solidarity. :D

Expand full comment
Feb 10, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

Wait until you are 77, Hattie: I’m doing well if I can remember the last book I read! I like your Oliver-inspired observation that what we read informs “the quilt of who [we] are and how [we] think”. When I was small I devoured anything by Louisa M Alcott (I lived in the USA then), and my favourite, after Little Women, was Under the Lilacs. I remembered the title, but nothing about the story: I assumed it was something like Good Wives (prolly an echo of the line from a Judy Collins song about “the lilacs and the man”)--but when I got hold of a copy of UtL a few years back, I discovered it was about a boy who ran away to the circus! I recalled nothing at all about it, and reading it brought back no memory of it either; in fact I didn’t like it much. But I refuse to believe that that means it was a total loss to have read it so many times as a child -- which may just be me being stubborn. The books I do remember are those I go back to again and again -- Middlemarch, Possession, Persuasion, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre -- the last is in fact a book I dislike, but I still go back to it, because it has new depths for me to discover, as do the others in that list and more. I re-read Willa Cathers’ Death Comes for the Archbishop earlier this year, and I suspect it isn’t the last time, should I live so long.... :-). A lot of the richness for me comes from being reminded of other books while reading something quite different, which nevertheless awakens these echoes, and that is very rewarding.

Expand full comment
author

This is a wonderful description, thanks Susan. I was also a huge Little Women fan, and I'm fairly sure I read the others in that series – Little Men? Jo's Boys? – but couldn't tell you anything about their plots. I'm impressed that you reread Jane Eyre despite not liking it much. That suggests a kind of studying of the text which I think is probably very worthwhile, particularly if you're writing.

Expand full comment
Feb 13, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

I certainly read Jane Eyre as a text (rather than, say, a story), but not perhaps in the way you mean. I could write an essay about Me and Miss Eyre, and perhaps should, but I won’t begin it here, fear not! But on one occasion, I was mining it for epigraphs for a historical novel I was struggling to write; another time, I went to it after discovering, late in life, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (guided through it [WSS] by someone who, crucially, was not a reader but a painter); most recently I wanted to remind myself of why I so dislike the ‘romantic’ -- that worked! About Little Women -- I re-read it a few years ago, and was astonished to realise that it is riddled with references (epigraphs, but much much more) to The Pilgrim’s Progress! Who knew? The historian in me just loves that -- the flowing down the generations of these shared texts. Though I suspect that I am of the last generation who were given Pilgrim’s P to read at school. This sudden attrition of a shared (intergenerational) reading experience is a sad thing, don’t you think?, even as I am relieved at the (relative) decline of the white male canon....

Expand full comment
Feb 10, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

Hey Hattie and all.

"What about the novels I read as a teenager? Many of them are entirely lost to me"

This resonates so much, I've been thinking on this too after flicking back through my Goodreads list and knowing that I'd read a book but simply having no recollection of it. At all. But that quote from Oliver is a balm, as well your notion of everyone having a unique combination of books, like shuffling a deck of cards and knowing that no-one -- ever -- put the cards in that order and no one ever will. I've never thought of book-reading like that, but now I do, so thanks :)

Somewhat related: how do you feel about re-reading books? There are books I want to go back to and reread, especially the ones I *do* remember and that had an impact on me, be it due to their style or their story, but then -- arghh -- I'm always conflicted because (and to quote something Sam Harris often says) "there are a functionally infinite number of books still to read". I love the excitement and tension of that pause in between books when I make a decision on what to read next, but I don't know if I'm missing out on something by not rereading any books.

Expand full comment
author

The deck of cards is a great analogy! I have reread books but I do it less and less now, perhaps because I feel the pressure of all the new books coming out, and all the classics I've never read, and everything unread on my bookshelves (which, to be honest, is probably more than 50% of what I have).

Expand full comment
Feb 9, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

I loved this post Hattie. I buy books and realise I've read them before. Or listen to them on audio, get three chapters in and think "This is familiar".

Expand full comment

Ha, same! Took me about 25 pages of “Visit From the Goon Squad” to realize I’ve been here before.

Expand full comment

Auntie Lyn! 💕

Expand full comment

Thank you so much for sharing this, Hattie. Your posts are always packed with such great insight and advice.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks so much Silvia.

Expand full comment
Feb 9, 2023Liked by Hattie Crisell

Anastasia Forever

Expand full comment
author

Forever!!

Expand full comment

Totally relate to forgetting what I’ve read, especially when it comes to collections of shorr fiction. I read Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” about four months ago (loved it) and can’t recall more than a few plot points from the nine stories.

Expand full comment
author

It went in somehow, anyway! Not a waste of time!

Expand full comment