Literary Memory and Mathematics

Ever get to the library or used book store and stand there, trying to decide if the reason why the Sam Reaves book you hold in your hand (say, Get What’s Coming) is attracting you because you have read other books featuring Cooper McLeish and you liked them… or is it because you wrote a short story with the same name and so you are karmically attracted… or perhaps the reason it’s attracting you now is because it attracted you before, you read it, and you liked it.

So you stand there and read the flap.  They never tell you on the flap what you would remember about a book.  So then you think, what was I doing in 1995 and this came out?  (No good, because I didn’t start reading Reaves until this millennium.)  You buy the book and three chapters in you think, Oh, yeah!   

But this never happens to my friend Deb.  Since 2003, she’s been keeping a list of all the books she’s read.  She’s up to 1,968.  (Or at least it was as of yesterday at 8:52 pm.  It’s been 24 hours, so it may be 1,969 by now.)  She carries the list with her and will consult it if the necessity strikes.  Deb is therefore an excellent companion if you are having that “tip of the tongue” experience with an author’s name, such as trying to identify the writer who writes the funny mysteries about the sports agent with the psycho best friend or the other one who writes the funny mysteries about the burglar.  (Harlen Coben and Lawrence Block respectively.)    

The list is computer-generated (I’m guessing in Excel) and printed in eight-point type, which renders it meaningless to me unless I am wearing my reading glasses and the light is really good.  But I love the concept, applaud her ingenuity, and appreciate her love for the written word.

So, getting back to Sam Reaves and Get What’s Coming… no problem to read it again.  While the plot may be familiar, I never remember all the twists and turns, and re-reading gives me a chance to appreciate the writing and pick up the nuances I might have missed the first time around.  

Do you have books that are just as good – or even better – the second time around?

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One response to “Literary Memory and Mathematics

  1. I’m glad to know others have that “oh, nuts” experience when they remember (from the forgotten first time they read the book) who the villain is about 3 chapters in. A current exception for me is Donna’s Leon Guido Brunetti series. I just went to Venice for the first time and am enjoying her references to Venice places and people, albeit for the second time.

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