Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Read To Build Memories; Write To Evoke Them

 The books we read build layers of memories, like sedimentary rocks, offering us new vantages from which to view the world and share our unique perspectives via our own grains of truth. Choose your literary foundations carefully.


          According to Samuel Johnson, "The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new." In other words, authors have the power to evoke déjà vu and to rejuvenate memories. I have never been in combat or survived horrific traumas, yet I feel empathy for such survivors partly because of the vivid words of authors (and screenwriters) who have brought me, safely, into battle zones as a fly on the wall. I have never lived a life of crime and drug abuse, except for when I lived in worlds that rose around me as I turned the pages of a novel set in that world. I did not lose my parents as a child, but I can now almost feel the pain of an orphan after reading a number of books narrated by endearing kids who are braving life on their own. The list of emotional memories I have compiled in my mind owes almost as much to books as it does to life experiences. (Movies do the same for me.) By making the unfamiliar familiar and pulling me into scenes, these authors evoke empathy, not just sympathy, via carefully chosen, multi-sensory details and characters who seem to have walked out, in 3-D clarity, from the author's private mental world. 

          Ask yourself what new "things" are now familiar because of your reading about them. Which books made them familiar? Then reread, or at least review, those books to see HOW they added experiences to your memories--experiences you never actually had, except through the lens of another writer's prose. 

          Also ask yourself what familiar "things" or experiences, as presented via an author's perspective, enlighten your own memories of things familiar. Was it your own first love, a powerful school memory, a trip to another state or country?  Again, reread or review the books that made you nod and say, "Oh I can relate to this--but I'd almost forgotten how it felt!" Do it before you forget those books and those feelings. Do it to add layers to your memory banks and enrich your writing.

     Coming-of-age books are a perfect example of how authors make "familiar things new." I love reading them because they reawaken my own memories and often make me forgive myself for my foibles of the past, for my immaturity as a teenager, and for my failure to apply those lessons today. In fact, they sometimes help me to see myself in a broader way that benefits me as a parent. Pick up one of your old favorite coming-of-age books and read it today for a very eye-opening experience. I have reread, for example, The Catcher in the Rye at various stages of life, and each rereading offers me a broader view of young adulthood and how I've become who I am today. I always advocate rereading those books you deemed "life-changing" in your late teens or early 20's as a method of self-examination. It also does wonders for your own writing. 

          Introspection elicited by the words of others will help you create words that elicit the same in your readers. Take the time to read, reread, and ponder in between typing. Your words, and your readers, will thank you. 

          I need to go read now.