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.