Memories survive on a wisp of fragrance

I am in love with Abigail Thomas.

​My friend Laurie gave me a copy of her book A Three Dog Life back in 2006 and it sat unread on my shelf for almost ten years. I was worried that the titular dogs died and I had to emotionally steel myself for that. Of course, when I finally picked it up I learned that the dogs were practically the only things that made it through that book alive. (Reminder that it is almost never the things that you worry about that break your heart. It’s the things you can’t even fathom to imagine.)

Abigail Thomas is 73 and has had a rather ordinary life so you wouldn’t think there was enough material for four memoirs but somehow she found it and each of the books are wonderful. I just got the fourth, Thinking About Memoir, from the library yesterday and I have been savoring every single word. It’s a tiny little thing, part of a series the AARP put out back in 2008. It’s meant as a guide for retired people to write their memoirs — at least that’s probably what the editors had in mind — but it’s truly gorgeous and more widely applicable than that. It’s a very gentle encouragement to mine your life for stories, interspersed with beautiful examples from the author’s life and with a number of exercises you can try when you need the help.

This is from the very first paragraph:

This book is about writing memoir…This book is also about being in the here-and-now, because memories survive on a wisp of fragrance, or a particular shade of blue, or a song that reminds you of a song, and you don’t want to miss anything. Keep your eyes and ears open, also your heart. This is about letting the mind open up and wander, about letting one thing lead to another. Follow the details. Detail is the antidote to boredom, and it tends to keep depression at bay.

And my favorite thing about this book? The print copy I got from the library was read the same way I’m reading it. Someone who had it before me took notes, marked it up, and savored all of it. More than once as I read a passage I wanted to remember, I would go to dog-ear the page and it went down smoothly along a crease that was already there. Some stranger had marked the very same page. It had been neatly straightened it out again before the book made its way back to me but I could tell that the dog-ear was there. Maybe this stranger loved the very same lines I did.

I like that a lot. You know I almost always prefer to read an ebook but this is one of those experiences you just can’t get digitally.

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Anyway, I love this book. It’s out of print now, unfortunately, and the only used copies I could find were $20+. That feels too expensive. I think I’m going to renew this library hold as many times as they’ll let me and if I continue to love it the way I do now, I will definitely suck it up and buy myself a copy.

PS This new style of reading, where I’m thinking about the CPB while I’m reading and making note of things I will either want to add to the book or tell you about on the blog — I really really dig it. I feel like it’s opening up a brand new type of reading and comprehension for me.