The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that forgetting is not solely about forgetting an object but about forgetting yourself in relation to the object, time, and place. For example, if you cannot remember where you put your keys, you also cannot remember yourself in the context of the last time you held your keys.
The inverse of this, namely calling upon a memory via an object, works similarly. On a coffee date with a friend, I casually mentioned that my books serve as a sort of photo album. When my eyes scan them memories crop up as to why I bought the book in conjunction with where I was in my life. They even remind me of who was in my life at the time.
Now, there are a lot of books about my home, so my friend took my claim as an exaggeration. Not at all, I assured her.
As a little test she picked fifteen books at random, without me looking, to see how much memory the books could prompt. Curious about the validity of my own claim, I took up the challenge:
1. Phenomenlogy of Spirit by Hegel. Canada, working on my MA, around 2000. My undergraduate work comprised only of philosophers in the analytic tradition, and I found myself in a terrible struggle to understand Hegel. The class on Hegel was quite small, we sat around a large horseshoe table with the professor at the front of the room. I hesitated to contribute to discussion, which proved to be taxing since there were only about a dozen of us in the class. I learned to treasure Tim Horton’s coffee.
2. What is Literature? by Sartre. Belgium, working on my dissertation, around 2003. I fell in love with existentialism and its connection to literature. This book was used for my dissertation.
3. I Married a Communist by Philip Roth. I’m not entirely sure where I bought this, but I recall why. I had read The Human Stain by Roth and was in awe of it. Anticipating another great read I picked this up because the title was provocative. But, I remember not enjoying it and thinking that The Human Stain was a far superior read.
4. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. I was in the mood to take a break from philosophy in graduate studies, and this book popped up on several reading lists. I enjoyed it and have recommended it to several friends.
5. The Best of Roald Dahl. San Diego, undergraduate years, about 1998. I purchased this after visiting an old high school friend at her university. She lit up when talking about Dahl and highly recommended his short stories.
The first in the collection I read was “The Way Up To Heaven.” I recall thinking that I’d just read a bit before bed, but once I started I couldn’t put it down. Dahl’s twisted sense of irony is marvelous and should probably come with a warning label: “Not for bed time,” or “For wanna-be insomniacs.” I now have him as required reading for my Intro to Philosophy class.
6. Gone by Mo Hayder. This is a recent read. Pasadena, some time this year. I was in the mood for a mystery and I thought I was going on the recommendation of a friend, but she had actually suggested Gone Girl. It was a fortunate mistake because I later picked up Gone Girl and felt so-so about it; whereas, Gone captured my attention and was a more satisfying read. I purchased it while on an evening stroll in Old Town Pasadena.
7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. I read this while in the final throws of my Ph.D. This book is in my top ten favorites. It poses an incredible contrast from the existentialists’ work in so far as it brings about a neat ending. Justice exists! All is right in the world. I ended up mentioning this contrast in the concluding chapter of my dissertation.
8. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The first time I heard of this book was in Belgium when a friend/classmate of mine (fellow bookworm and now super philosopher) mentioned that he hated it. We were walking briskly in the cold and he railed against all the fluff about the genius of this work. Approximately three years later, another friend mentioned that she was reading it. She couldn’t put it down. I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. It started off a little slow for me, but then I came to like it. However, his second book Freedom, I think, is much better.
9. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Guelph, Ontario. About 2001. I had read The Mill on The Floss and I wanted to delve into another book by Eliot. While visiting a friend in Guelph, he introduced me to a delightful little book store called The Book Shelf, and that is where I spotted this gem. The Book Shelf was part store, cafe, restaurant, and indie movie theatre, and the town’s claim to fame is that it was the first place in North America to begin a recycling program.
What initially drew me to Eliot was the fact that she used a pen name for publication. What would it be like to be a talented author and believe that gender would hinder the possibility of being read?
10. Anthem by Ayn Rand. Orange County, high school freshman year english. This book made such an impression on me that I’m still toying with Rand’s ideas.
11. All Men Are Mortal by de Beauvoir. Belgium, about 2003, summertime. I read this while on break from my studies at one of my favorite spots to work in Leuven, The Metropole. I spent so much time there that my friends would sometimes go to The Metropole to find me instead of ringing me at my flat. Once I finished the novel, I decided to completely alter the direction of my work to existentialism.
12. Albert Camus Lyrical and Critical Essays. I remember seeing this in a book store while I was home visiting during a holiday. I thought I’d read everything by Camus and I was shocked that something had escaped my attention. Orange County, about 2005.
13. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I don’t know. This shouldn’t be on my shelf. I bought it because I had (well, still do) an obsession with Jane Austen. I know for certain that this book didn’t resonate with me. On one long flight this was listed as a movie and I watched only a bit. Apparently, I couldn’t bear that version either. Lesson: not all Jane Austen fans are alike.
14. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. When I picked this off the shelf, a store clerk assured me it would be a good read. I bought this around the time it became big in the states. My guess is, Orange County, Borders Book Store, about 2009. My girlfriend told me her father-in-law read it on a flight and apparently there was an extraordinary amount of turbulence, but he was so engrossed in the book he didn’t even notice the shaking. She said, “That’s the power of Stieg Larsson.”
15. La Cantatrice Chauvre by Ionesco. My good friend in graduate school, Vlad, is fluent in four languages and proficient in another two. Encouraging me to enhance my French, Vlad selected this for me to read. Belgium, about 2004.