I’ve missed writing about books. I’ve had a stellar summer and fall, reading-wise, and it’s reignited something in me. I’m always an avid reader (which is why I married a bookstore guy—he keeps me awash in my drug of choice), but lately I’ve had this desperate love affair with the act of reading, as if, along with eating and breathing, it is one of the pillars of my very aliveness. It feels a little like having a crush.
The catch in all this, is that I can’t remember shit.
I’ve always been envious of people who can quote lines from their favorite authors or make clever literary asides. I am not one of those people. I am the kind of person who will claim passionately (and honestly) to have loved a book and then recall almost nothing about it except the pleasure of reading it.
The other day I tried to remind myself of the plot and character names of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I’ve read this book at least twice, probably three times. I’ve written papers in graduate school on it. I’ve discussed it in class, and I can’t remember the basic plot of the thing. An American girl named Isabel Archer goes to Europe—England and I think, Italy—and well, I suppose some bad things happen to her. She has a cousin who tries to protect her.
It’s not exactly a New York Review of Books caliber examination. And it’s not the only book I’ve been awed by but fail to remember.
Some reviews of my favorite books based solely on memory:
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore: there’s a girl named Agnes who pronounces her name An-yez, like the French, and there’s a really funny line about modern dance. At some point some raccoons burn up in a chimney.
A History of Love by Nicole Krauss: Jewish post-911 New York. There’s a key or a lock with a lot of significance. Reminded me a lot of her husband’s novel Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: A tiny boy named Owen Meany is growing up in a working class granite town in New Hampshire. I think there’s a boarding school in it. I think there’s a scene having something to do with Christmas decorations. His voice is small and strange but people love him anyway.
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros: Mexican-American girl from Texas moves to Chicago. Some of it takes place in Mexico. At one point I think she has sex with her boyfriend in a cheap hotel overlooking the plaza in Mexico City. Rebosos play an important role but I forget how.
The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury: Dry humor. Story of a Midwestern town. There is a water tower and a lot of people drive trucks. There’s a grocery store that closes, I think. And one of the main characters is a high school teacher. There is also a romance. I loved this book.
Look at Me by Jennifer Egan: There’s a model who gets in a car accident and it’s in the Midwest and somehow there’s a terrorist in it. I found it ambitious and prescient.