Monday, August 09, 2010

Its own satisfaction

Around four, I offered to tour Cornelia through my record collection. Part of me didn't want to play her any music, instead I wanted her to see how merely possessing all those albums was its own satisfaction, to know that they were there. The collector's joy. There'd been a time when I knew every recording of every piece, the sign of a specialist who understands very little. But now to gaze upon the sleeves, to not play them. To be in awe. I wanted her to use silence to appreciate that, in comparison, the experience of listening was a lot more personal and complicated: how it depended on the day's mood, the temperature of the air, what clothes you were wearing and how they felt, what you'd eaten for lunch, and then of course the equipment and the tones it produced and at what volume, and every associated emotion and memory brought by the listener. Never mind the music. The experience of music was so different for each individual, it wasn't even worth discussing. As soon as I pressed PLAY, we may as well have existed in separate dimensions.

You Lost Me There is the debut novel by Rosecrans Baldwin, cofounder of The Morning News.

It starts off light — with a light touch, light-hearted. And while it maintains a casual tone, you end up exploring some relatively meaningful emotional and philosophical questions.

The narrator is an Alzheimer's researcher, so he has a scientific idea of how memory works, but this gets put through the wringer as he works through his own memories on an emotional level, particularly as many of those memories are in stark contrast to those of his late wife, killed in a car crash, who left behind some index cards documenting a very different take on events they had shared.

I think about that kind of thing a lot, like how some very vivid memories of mine must figure as insignificant blips in the minds of some of the characters who've passed through my life. Or like how my mother has composite memories, of that one time, that as I understand as a patchwork of what I remember as a number of discrete events.

Not that my opinion much matters on these points, but the title and the cover do nothing for me. What made me take notice was the author's name (I love the Tournament of Books!), and then it was the plot summary that hooked me. But I would not have picked up this book on the basis of its packaging. Nothing about it holds any appeal for me — the colour, the font, the antlers. Halfway through the book I was still wondering what's with the antlers (actually, for the first half, I didn't even identify them as antlers, I was seeing more along the lines of tree-branch hands), and even while antlers do ultimately figure in the story, and even as part of a climactic scene, I don't think they play a vital enough role to be the visual motif to carry the book. But, hey, what do I know, I'm no book jacket designer. The title I simply don't connect with, even after having read the book; it's actually kind of clever, if I think about it, in an appropriately casual way, but I'm not sure I should have to think about it.

But, really, thank you very much, Penguin Canada, for sending me a review copy, because it turned out to be a very charming and thoughtful book, an enjoyable reading experience, and I doubt I would've got around to this book otherwise, and all in all I'm rather glad that I did.

There's something easy about this book — easygoing? Like when you dread going to a dinner party, but then you go and there's someone you never met before who just puts you totally at ease, you really hit it off, someone who is charming and interesting, and spirals a little bit out of control as the party goes deep into the night, but you've kind of bonded by this point and you're totally sympathetic, so you see each other through till morning, and you probably won't ever see each other again and that's OK, and you're really glad you went.

That's what this book felt like. Forgive my rambling, but it's a couple weeks now since I finished reading it, and my memory of it shaky as far as the objective facts of it go. But the feeling of it is still there.

I heartily recommend this book. (Certainly I liked it much better than that other book, by a big-name author, about a scientist, his identity issues and relationship foibles; and it's funnier by far.) You Lost Me There is perfect for a late summer's day while you sit in your garden chair and drink too much wine. Just enjoy it.

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