Books can take us to another place; they can take us back in time to gas-lit London, or railway stations in Victorian England, or even to the centres of the Earth. However, books do not always move us through someone else’s time and space – sometimes they can move us back through our own memories.
When I was flicking through 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, I stopped on the page displaying Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, I felt like I knew the book. When I read the description of the book, I was certain. I knew I had not only read the book, but exactly how I had come to read it, and in what circumstances. I had not thought of that book, or the night that I read it for a very long time – probably since I read it. But instantly, I remembered everything and exactly what happened in the book.
When I lived in Paris with my family, I had a wonderful friend called Claire. Even though we have not live on the same continent for eight or so years now, I would still call her one of my best friends. Claire and her brother and sister shared one huge bedroom, and Claire had what can only be described as a double-bed-sized-bunk-bed, except there was no bottom bunk. Under her bed was a long desk. Her sister and brother shared a similar sized bunk bed, except their bunk bed had a bottom bunk. Claire shared her bed with a life-sized toy of a gorilla, which she used as a pillow. I loved going over to her house for sleep overs, except for one fact – Claire was a very late riser, and I was a very early one.
When Claire came to visit me in Australia, she once slept in until 1 o’clock in the afternoon. On this particular day, this was fine with me, because it happened to be the release date of the last installment of Harry Potter, so I just gulped down as much of the book as I could before she woke up. However, when I used to sleep at her house, calling me an early riser would be an understatement. For some unknown reason, whenever I slept at Claire’s house, I would always wake up at a ridiculously early time, like five in the morning.
On this particular occasion, I woke at four, and I really could not get back to sleep. After trying in vain for a while, I got up, went to the lounge room, and tried to turn on the TV. It blasted on, outrageously loud, waking up Claire’s mum (or I should say ‘mom’. Claire is American). She stumbled out of bed, asked me why I was up, and when I told her I couldn’t sleep, she grabbed a few books from Claire’s bookcase and plonked them in front of me. One of them was Charlotte Sometimes.
Not only do I remember all this, but I remember the storyline pretty accurately. However, this is not going to stop me rereading it. I want to reread it not only so it will take me to boarding school at the turn of the century, but also so it will take me back to who I was when I last read it. It has been said that smell is the strongest sense linked with memory, but I think that reading can be equally as strong. I don’t remember reading all books this vividly, of course. I wonder what it was about Charlotte Sometimes that makes me remember it so much. I wonder what makes us remember some books more than others. Is it the book itself, or what is happening around us while we are reading it?