Reading whens and wheres

People relate things together in interesting ways. Probably one of the most common examples of this is music. So often, if you hear a song, you are instantly transported, in your mind, to a special or significant time when you heard that song. It’s a quirk of memory and sensation, I suppose. This is true for me of music and also true for me in other things. Reading book, for instance.

As I was going through my reading list, updating the tags for the books that I have read, I found myself , upon seeing a title, have some powerful memories of exactly where I was when I was reading the book. Sometimes, I could even remember the weather, the warmth or coolness of the air on my skin. I thought some examples might be interesting.


To begin with, how about the very first book on my reading list, From Earth To Heaven, which I can recall reading while at my Grandparent’s house in Spring Valley, New York while visiting them on vacation. I can remember going to sleep at night in the spare bedroom, laying in the pullout bed and read two or three of the essays in that book before drifting off to sleep.

Then there was book #6, David Berlinski’s A Tour of the Calculus, which I remember reading most of while sitting out on the small balcony I had in the my first Studio City apartment, on Arch Drive. Shortly after that was book #9, Robert Heinlein’s Double Star, which was the first book on my list that I read in one day. I recall not wanting to put this book down, so that when I went out for a walk, I took the book with me and could be seen wandering west down Ventura Blvd, paying little attention to where I was going.

I recall with great pleasure, sitting in the Papasan Chair, reading for the first time book #30, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Or book #39, right around Thanksgiving 1996 at Dan and Megan’s (danmeg ) house, reading The Martian Chronicles on a quiet afternoon.

I recall losing myself in 3 of Carl Sagan’s books, (#41-43) at the V.A. Hospital in West L.A., while someone I knew was in a losing battle with the last stages of HIV. I sat in the waiting room all day for several days, burying myself in The Demon-Haunted World; and the stunning, Pulitzer-prize winning The Dragons of Eden; and Broca’s Brain.

I remember, on a visit to Dan and Megan, seeing the preview for the movie “Contact”, and being so impressed by it, that I ran out to a local used bookstore, grabbed a beat up paperback copy of Carl Sagan’s Contact (book #56) and then, in the lazy afternoon while everyone else napped, tearing through about one hundred pages, while laying on the floor. I was mildly disappointed when everyone finally woke up from their naps because I had to tear myself away from the book and be social again.

I can still recall the great trepidation I felt when sitting out on the balcony of the Arch View apartment, and cracking open book #60, Gregory Benford’s Foundation’s Fear, the first book of the “second” Foundation Trilogy. I remember reading those first few pages, sweating, not because the sun was beating down on me but because I was unsure if the book would live up to the rest of the series–something I had always wished Asimov would have been able to continue.

Then there was the time that I was pretty sick with the flu–one of the few times in my life where I stayed in bed for a couple of days, something I can stand to do. I had, just before getting sick, read David Hartwell’s Age of Wonder (book #61), which had opened my eyes to science fiction in ways that almost nothing before had. And so, I passed the days in bed by reading some truly amazing books for the first time. They included Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (#62) and The Demolished Man (#64), Algis Budrys Rogue Moon (#63) and Robert Silverberg’s amazing Dying Inside (#65).

That Christmas, I received two books as gifts, Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake (#77) and Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace (#78), and while everyone around was gathering and enjoying the holiday cheer, I hid myself out by the fireplace and read both those books without taking a breath.

Although I’ve read Isaac Asimov’s autobiographies more than a dozen times, perhaps my fondest memory was literally days after moving into a new, larger apartment in Studio City. The apartment had a wraparound balcony that I adored. I had just finished I. Asimov (#88), and decided to start right away on #89 In Memory Yet Green. So I grabbed the book, drove over to Swenson’s on an unusually warm spring day, ordered a chocolate shake, and as the shake was delivered, I cracked open the book and started reading. I read for perhaps an hour in that ice cream parlor, slowly savoring both the chocolate shake and the book.

I can still clearly remember being on jury duty at the Hollywood courthouse and finishing up Clifford Simak’s City (#121) while waiting in the car for the doors to open. I was bitterly disappointed with the book, and that saddened me because I absolutely loved his book Way Station (#34). However, I quickly got over my disappointment. While waiting the jury pool room to be called for some panel, I started in on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (#122) which passed the time pleasantly.

In late 1999, I was part of a campus recruiting program at work, and had to travel to North Carolina and Michigan to interview potential candidates. There was a lot of travel and a lot of time to kill. To make matters worse, I was sick again. I wanted something light to read and during that time, I recall reading several books in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series (#133-142). On the way home from Michigan, I spent the entire flight reading Philip K. Dick’s psychedelic novel A Scanner Darkly.

I can recall reading P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves (#161) on a spring sick day in Studio City. I remember racing through Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games (#169) and Cardinal of the Kremlin (#170) while on vacation, sitting on a beach, soaking in the sun in Santa Cruz, California. (And in fact, those books were such candy, such page turners, that I can remember sneaking into the hotel room bathroom in the middle of the night to read them so that I didn’t wake anyone up.)

I remember finally getting through Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (#174) while once again on Jury Duty. I didn’t really like the book, but I finally made it through, after several attempts. I recall reading Isaac Asimov’s The Human Body while sitting with my Grandpa in the hospital after his heart attack.

I recall walking into the Borders in Sherman Oaks to buy Andy Rooney’s My War (#183) and racing through that book. I can remember sitting on the blue and white striped Ikea couch fascinated by Gregory Benford’s Timescape (#188). I remember reading parts of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountain’s of Paradise (#191) while up in the snowy mountains of Big Bear, and I remember with absolute peace and fondness reading David McCullough’s fabulous biography, John Adams (#199) while overlooking the Penobscot Bay in Castine, Maine.

I can recall the late nights at the Disney World Dolphin resort, when everyone at the conference was out partying, and I was in bed, unable to shut off the light because I was fascinated by Tom Kelly’s Moon Lander (#204). Or sitting by the pool in Priceville, Hawaii at the Hanalei Bay Resort, spending the entire day reading Eisenhower: Soldier, President.

I remember, in early 2002 coming out to Washington, D.C. to look for places to live, and after a long day, sitting in bed in the hotel room, reading Connie Willis’ Passage (#222) and getting freaked out by it–something that rarely occurs to me when reading a book.

The list goes on and on, but as I move closer to the present, the memories are not yet as poignant, still too close to be as powerful as some of these others. In a way, just as I have an “autobiography” playlist that reminds me of times in my life, my reading list works in the same way. I can look at it fondly and instantly be back in those happy time.s