Memories stir powerful emotions and are triggered by many things: a comment; a photo; a thought; a smell; and most importantly for me, a book. As the summer holidays meander along amidst the idyllic pastime of lounging by the pool with a good book, I am reminded of the most powerful reading memories in my life.
There was the Christmas holiday when I was twelve. I had recently discovered Gone with the Wind on the shelves of the school library and I was heavily invested in my Old South period. For the six weeks of school holidays I swanned about in dresses with the fullest skirts I could find, transported back to Georgia in the 1860’s, totally infatuated with cotton plantations, a town called Atlanta and a feisty and enigmatic belle called Scarlett. I have re-read Gone with the Wind many times over the years, and every time I hold that magnificent tome in my hands, a part of me is transported back to that summer as I remember myself in a white dress with straw hat, seated prettily in my backyard imagining a life at Tara with all my beaux.
As I grew older I continued to devour my beloved books. At the age of eighteen, I began my lifelong love affair with the writings of Jane Austen. I had already read Pride and Prejudice by this stage, but now had to study Emma for my HSC. My magnificent teacher taught me to appreciate the wit and rich irony of Austen’s prose, and I can no longer read Emma without being transported back to the English classroom of Year 12 with its graffitied desks, wooden floorboards and green chalkboard. We would passionately debate Emma’s character, and whether she was spoilt or sheltered; whether she was manipulative or caring. We all agreed that Mrs Elton was ridiculous and thought Jane Fairfax was quite welcome to Frank Churchill, thank you very much.
Books have been my friends, my succour, indeed my existence through both good times and bad. The memories induced by my books are generally pleasant ones, however, there are some reading memories which evoke reminders of more challenging times in my life.
Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was still in my thirties, and a mother of two young girls. Anyone who has been there will know that it was the most challenging and terrifying time of my life. I was too numb, and too ill to want to read much. And for me, a reader, this was a terrible loss. I mourned my inability to read yet I could not find any reading material which tempted me much beyond a couple of pages.
So when I heard a radio story about secret reading pleasures, I was intrigued. Listener after listener (mainly women) rang in and named the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich as their “guilty reading pleasure”. Full of curiosity and chemotherapy drugs and feeling like crap, I tied a scarf around my bald head and went to the local library where I borrowed the first three books in the series.
I have never been a literary snob. I believe all reading is good reading, as long as the reader enjoys the experience. So I will read literature one week and am quite happy to read chick lit or a thriller the next. I soon discovered that the Stephanie Plum books are not literature. Far from it. But I think Janet Evanovich saved my sanity during the biggest crisis of my life. After the first three books I returned to the library to get the rest of the series, and I just kept reading. And whilst I was immersed in the adventures of the world’s worst bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, I didn’t think of cancer once. When I read about the men in her life, the handsome Joe Morelli and the smouldering Ranger, I forgot that I had ugly new scars on my body and no hair. And when I read about the fabulous Lulu, squeezed into her lycra leopard prints and hiding pork chops in her purse, I laughed out loud for the first time in months. Whenever I see a Janet Evanovich book these days, I am transported back to that time and still feel grateful for the life force she gifted me through her writing.
Books are more than mere stories. They are volumes which make us reflect, which evoke our feelings and develop our senses. Our favourite reading experiences should always stay with us as all good memories do, ready to be re-visited and re-lived during the nostalgic times in our lives. This summer, I’ll be revisiting mine with the latest Stephanie Plum book and a yet another dalliance with my dear friend Emma.
Karen Powers is a Teacher Librarian and mother of two teenagers who spends her spare time writing about books and reading. You can read her blog here.