When you read a particularly engrossing book, do the lines between its plot and your reality ever blur?
If you asked me about most of the books I read, I’d be hard-pressed to remember where I was when I read them, whether I was basking in the sun or curled up in a chair, or how I felt during the days or weeks of the book-encounter. However, through some whim of memory, a few books have nestled their way into my experience and recollections in a more concrete, mingled way.
On one road trip through the southern Californian deserts, I listened to the entirety of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man on audiobook. Over days, as we drove and listened, the story slowly became intertwined with the surroundings—with all the tans and duns, with the spindly Joshua trees and wrinkled hills. In particular, the narrative of the sharecropper Jim Trueblood became tangled up with the desert: although I knew full well that his part of the story is set in the American South, to this day, a part of my mind always expects to see his log cabin far off on the low desert horizon, shimmering under the heat.
I can think of dozens of other examples, too: I remember that when I was reading Isabel Allende’s Eva Luna, I wandered about in a haze, dreaming of and fussing about the characters’ fates; that I read Sarah Waters’s chilly Victorian Affinity while wedged in a plastic chair on a Chilean sun porch; that the quiet, frozen, ominous isolation of Hedeby Island in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo loomed over my bed every night as I fell asleep; and that the pages of my Alfred Hitchcock murder anthology have a musty smell that still evokes the homey motel where I first read it.
I’ve tried to figure out why it is that some books take up residence in my place-memories and some do not. My best approximation is that it happens more often if I’m traveling in a new place with a new book. However, since books may just as often seep into my everyday, routine locations, this guess is incomplete. Perhaps I ought to ascribe it to book-magic and leave it at that.
I’m curious: have you experienced this too? Do scenes and characters from the books you read colonize the corners of your geographical memory, and why do you think that is?