As another birthday passed me by last week, I sifted through the memories surfaced by my friends and family. My mom calls me every year on my birthday and repeats the same story: “Twenty-one years ago today, I was sitting at the pool wondering if I’d be going to the hospital…”
The cycle of another year makes me reflect back on my past: my sixteenth birthday spent sweating in a humid North Carolinian summer camp, my tenth birthday spent jumping into the icy water of Lake Roaming Wood in Pennsylvania, and my twentieth birthday spent looking out at the Manhattan skyline from a Hoboken skyscraper. I love examining memory, the way we recall individual and collective events. Therefore, I thought I would share some books that deal with memory in unique and interesting ways:
- The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
In The Sound of Things Falling, Vasquez captures the lives of Bogotans and gringos during the Pablo Escobar years in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Colombia’s transition into a modern age after his assassination in the 1990s. Vasquez explores memory and nostalgia in its complete form and in a pre-form, “the nostalgia for things that weren’t yet lost” as he describes it. Piecing together a narrative that won’t conform to linear structure, Vasquez keeps readers fascinated on every page.
- The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
The Reason I Jump is a brilliantly touching book written by a then-thirteen-year-old Japanese boy with autism. In it, he answers important questions about people with autism that are never broached, like: why don’t you make eye contact, do you not like being touched, and what are your flashback memories like? In Higashida’s answer to the last question, he writes, “the trouble with scattered memories is that sometimes they replay themselves in my head as if they had only just taken place – and when this happens, the emotions I felt originally all come rushing back to me, like a sudden storm.” A book filled with beautiful illustrations and an intention to connect us all, I highly recommend you read The Reason I Jump.
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
O’Brien’s famous book about the Vietnam War is often debated over whether it can be considered nonfiction or fiction. Much of the book examines the ideas of truth and memory, and what makes something real. O’Brien discusses the difference between “story-truth” and “happening-truth,” as he calls it, and asserts that fictional stories can tell the emotions of memories better than the actual memory itself. Without a doubt, The Things They Carried deserves a couple reads.
Birthdays, especially milestone birthdays like a twenty-first, are times for reflection and nostalgia. Where did I come from? How much have I grown? I love to look back at books like The Sound of Things Falling, The Reason I Jump, and The Things They Carried during this time because they remind me that memory fascinates us all. Each person approaches it in a different way. Whether it’s nearing your big day or still several months out, I recommend reading these phenomenal books.
-Colleen Risavy, Intern