I’ve found myself fascinated with memory. Whether it’s my own personal memories or stories others share based on what is remembered. Our lives, our histories (collective and personal), are the sum of our memories. I think that the topic of memory itself calls into question what is real and what is perceived reality and this has long been a popular theme in literature, as it is something we all relate to on some level. Recently, I read two books that render memory as a topic directly and thoughtfully. Even though one of these literary works is fiction and one is non-fiction, they both tell wonderful, thought-provoking stories.
Moonwalking with Einstein (non-fiction – 2012) by Joshua Foer shares the author’s adventures in the world of competitive memory. Foer is a science journalist and this is the most interesting example of participatory journalism I have ever read. Upon hearing about the national and international memory competitions he begins his research by talking to some of the top competitors in the world to gain insight; they eventually become his teachers. As it turns out, anyone can improve their memory with a great deal of discipline and practice, but Foer takes it to the extreme by improving so much he becomes one of the top competitors and experts on the subject in the US. I found myself pondering my own memory potential and even tried some of the techniques the author mentions and learns from his friends and mentors. Additionally, the book is fast-paced and beautifully written, which makes it ideal for a leisurely read on a light-hearted subject.
Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (fiction – 2013) immediately grabbed my attention and brought me back to the introspective childhood of a young boy from England. This short, poetic adult novel showcases Gaiman’s impeccable storytelling abilities and reminds readers that our childhoods shape who we become, but it’s often muddled memories that we rely on to recount those formative years. As the main character unlocks the memories of his childhood we learn that he was a bookish, intelligent, and gentle boy at the age of 7, but the entire world was outside of his control. Gaiman spins a rich tale of a magical, though dark, transformation from the simplicity to sorrow of childhood and through the boy’s eyes it all feels very real. A quick, captivating, read for anyone who enjoys fantastical stories.