Novels as place-holders in memory

There’s plenty of research to show the importance of smell in recalling memories, and books can have a similar effect. The books that have affected you the most deeply often stick in your mind, and thinking back to these books (or better yet, re-reading them), it is often possible to remember other details from that time.


Reading a book about a place, in that place, is also a way to ‘anchor’ the experience, allowing you to go back into that memory.

I can remember everything from when I read A Thousand Splendid Suns for the first time; the way I felt, the way my room looked, how warm it was, what I ate.

There are others, too. They tend to be books I loved, and ones which are especially sad or emotive. The final book of the Wheel of Time series is another.

But the ones I love to reread just to capture this feeling are the ones I read growing up, where I can picture everything. When I painted my bedroom, a few of these anchors came together. I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor (waiting for a new bed to arrive), the smell of paint in everything, the same CD I couldn’t stop listening to spinning on repeat in a pink stereo, and Xenocide. It was the third book in a series I adored; the first time I had really read anything which spanned politics and philosophy and science in such breadth. Every time I see the book, let alone read it, I am right back in that room, with those ten songs and those bright turquoise walls.

Being able to take a short-cut back to certain periods of life brings me a lot of happiness. And while it’s not something you can necessarily engineer, I hope I read many more books that have this power to take me back.

What books have you read that let you time travel through your memory?