Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, March 19, 2010 8:26 pm

From the vault

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:26 pm
Tags: ,

Just as certain songs and odors, long unexperienced, can bring memories flooding back when experienced once again, so can books:

At a bookstore, I had picked up a novel called The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque, the German author of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was published in 1928. The plot of The Black Obelisk, which came out in 1956, unfolds in Germany following World War I. It has historical veracity, sharply differentiated characters, Nazis, and, believe it or not, humor. I loved it for the first sixty pages—at which point I realized that I had loved it before, forty-odd years ago.

I was enjoying it so much the second time that I kept going to the end. My pleasure came in different ways: At the first reading I wondered what would happen; the second time around I was full of anticipation for what I knew was coming. I had the sensation that I was walking a familiar path, one strewn with long-undisturbed memories of my own life around the time of that first reading.

It was in 1964; I was seated at a café by a beach in Argentina, hearing Vaughn Monroe’s voice pour out of a scratchy loudspeaker, singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” A wild storm broke over the town of Miramar that night, where we were staying, my wife and I and our new daughter. I recalled hearing the waves crump like mortar shells on the beach.

Why, I asked myself, had I not retrieved these memories before? Why had I let them lie there, darkened by the decades that had fallen over them like soot? My mind, or the office within it responsible for organizing and filing memories, apparently decided to lock away those recollections for good. It took the late Herr Remarque to spring them. That these memories had nothing to do with the book itself suggests that anything buried deep in the brain, when dredged up, can have clinging to it things that have nothing to do with the object recovered.

The writer suggests that re-reading books we read long ago may be a way to help us protect our memories against the ravages of age. It’s true, although for a lot of older people, remembering things from 50 years ago is less of an issue than remembering what you had for breakfast this morning. Still, anything that exercises the brain is probably good.

Also, note to self: Read The Black Obelisk. Even though I haven’t read it before.

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