Inventing Memory

Sometimes a book catches my eye and a small whisper urges me to read it. That happened yesterday as I helped sort books for the annual Used Book Sale at our library. The author’s name, Erica Jong, caught my eye first and triggered memories of reading FEAR OF FLYING caught my eye first, sparking a memory of reading that ground-breaking volume a few years after it was first published in 1973. Set in much smaller type, the title, INVENTING MEMORY: A Novel of Mothers & Daughters, furthered my interest. Perhaps it will have some Truth about memory and memoir, I thought, setting it  aside to take home.

I’m not quite halfway through the volume, and have mixed feelings about it several aspects of the book. But even so, I’m enchanted with the abundance of dazzling descriptions, and I have found many truths about memory and memoir. I’ll share a few here and leave you to savor them and suck out whatever meaning they may have for you.
    “It’s queer enough just to write books—to separate yourself from the whole world so as to re-create the world in paper and ink,” I declare.
    “I don’t know why anyone would do it,” says Mrs. Coppley. “Do you?”
    “Because it gives you back your life, calms your soul, bestows the ecstasy of understanding. And you hope it does the same for your readers.”
... his memories break down into set pieces, and he seems to tell the same story again and again. ... It is as if he made it all up long ago, locked it in his brain, and never revised it. He needs to repeat it again and again simply to prove he is still alive.
    “Promise you will write my story,” he says.
    And I promise. But how can we ever write another’s story?What we write is always some version of our own story, using other characters to illustrate the parables of our lives. I make furious notes, to please him and because I hope I may someday know  what to do with them.
    The difference between writing a notebook and a novel: With a novel, you describe people; with a notebook, you assume that the reader—yourself?—already knows.
    ... the book is spilling out almost as if by dictation from a secret source. I have no idea if it’s any good or not. I only know that I can’t stop.
While I’m wouldn’t give the book more than three stars for general readers, I’m glad I listened to that faint whisper and brought it home. The stunning descriptions and gems of wisdom like these are worth digging for and adding to my ever-growing collection.

Write now: use one of the quotes above as a writing practice prompt and see what thoughts about writing flow from your inner resources.


Bhaswati said...

This post tells me how our lives connect in more ways than we see. We (me and hubby) too picked up a bounty of books at a library sale this past weekend. I am now reading "Little X", a black woman's memoir about growing up in the Nation of Islam.

Thanks for this lovely post!

Matilda Butler said...

Thanks for the reminder about this book. I am especially taken with the line you quote: "Because it gives you back your life..."

So many people are busy moving forward and don't take the time to understand their life. Writing definitely allows for the important introspection so that we can learn from the past and improve our future.