The Business of Memory: The Art of Remembering in an Age of Forgetting

Overview

In the current information age, "memory" is as likely to be an attribute of a computer as a human being. In Graywolf Forum Three: The Business of Memory, editor Charles Baxter invites twelve creative writers to contemplate the externalization of what was once so deeply personal. The resulting essays address a provocative range of topics: the explosion of interest in the memoir; the recovered-memory movement; America in the grip of an "amnesia plague;" the need for coherent stories of our past to help us organize ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (14) from $1.99   
  • Used (14) from $1.99   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 2
Showing 1 – 9 of 14 (2 pages)
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$1.99
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(3473)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

Good
Ships same day or next business day! UPS expedited shipping available (Priority Mail for AK/HI/APO/PO Boxes). Used sticker & some writing and/or highlighting. Used books may not ... include working access code or dust jacket Read more Show Less

Ships from: Columbia, MO

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(63)

Condition: Good
Reader wear. Some wear to the cover. Mark on page fore edge. A copy that has been used, but remains in clean condition. All pages are intact, and the cover is, this may or may not ... include dustcover. The spine may show signs of wear. Pages can include limited notes and highlighting, and the copy can include "From th Read more Show Less

Ships from: Pasco, WA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
$1.99
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(192)

Condition: Good
155597287X Item in good condition and ready to ship!

Ships from: aurora, IL

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
$1.99
Seller since 2006

Feedback rating:

(60961)

Condition: Very Good
Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to over one million happy customers. Your purchase benefits world literacy!

Ships from: Mishawaka, IN

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(1841)

Condition: Good
1999 Paperback Good Books have varying amounts of wear and highlighting. Usually ships within 24 hours in quality packaging. Satisfaction guaranteed. This item may not include ... any CDs, Infotracs, Access cards or other supplementary material. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Lincoln, NE

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(192)

Condition: Good
155597287X Item in good condition and ready to ship!

Ships from: aurora, IL

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
$3.00
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(8)

Condition: Good
1999 Paperback Good Connecting readers with great books since 1972. Used books may not include companion materials, some shelf wear, may contain highlighting/notes, and may not ... include cd-rom or access codes. Customer service is our top priority! Read more Show Less

Ships from: Madison, WI

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$4.00
Seller since 2005

Feedback rating:

(49525)

Condition: Very Good
Ships same day or next business day via UPS (Priority Mail for AK/HI/APO/PO Boxes)! Used sticker and some writing and/or highlighting. Used books may not include working access ... code or dust jacket. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Columbia, MO

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$7.99
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(1)

Condition: Good
1999 Paperback Good Connecting readers with great books since 1972. Used books may not include companion materials, some shelf wear, may contain highlighting/notes, and may not ... include cd-rom or access codes. Customer service is our top priority! Read more Show Less

Ships from: Louisville, KY

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 2
Showing 1 – 9 of 14 (2 pages)
Close
Sort by
Sending request ...

Overview

In the current information age, "memory" is as likely to be an attribute of a computer as a human being. In Graywolf Forum Three: The Business of Memory, editor Charles Baxter invites twelve creative writers to contemplate the externalization of what was once so deeply personal. The resulting essays address a provocative range of topics: the explosion of interest in the memoir; the recovered-memory movement; America in the grip of an "amnesia plague;" the need for coherent stories of our past to help us organize our present; and forgetfulness—political, cultural, and literary—and the shame and allure it holds. Throughout, these fascinating pieces illuminate the art of remembering in a time when memory has become a highly measurable commodity.

Charles Baxter is the author of several books, including Burning Down the House and Believers. He has been honored with an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Baxter lives in Ann Arbor and teaches at the University of Michigan.

Contributors:

Charles Baxter

Richard Bausch

Karen Brennan

Bernard Cooper

Lydia Davis

Steve Erickson

Alvin Greenberg

Patricia Hampl

Margot Livesey

James A. McPherson

Victoria Morrow

Michael Ryan

Sylvia Watanabe

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Frances Phillips
[The book reflects] on the intellectual character of our age....There is not a bad piece in this volume and [the writers'] sharing a body of references creates a web of connections across the varied perspectives.
Hungry Mind Review
Library Journal
Several of the writers featured in these volumes make reference to the problem of memoirs in contemporary culture: their proliferation, the troubled skepticism about their value and meaning, and the disdain for their perceived narcissism. In different ways, these books explore those issues and embody the best that memoir can be--intelligent and perceptive reflection that looks both inward and outward. Edited by Baxter, a novelist and critic, the third volume in the provocative "Graywolf Forum" series offers timely insights into the place of memory and memoir in contemporary society. In his introduction, Baxter identifies the unifying theme of the essays as a dual anxiety about the public and the private and what he calls "the effect of memory's peculiar privacy." These are self-conscious and beautifully written essays that deftly explore the act of memoir-making and the art of storytelling. Ranging from tales of trauma and loss to quotidian and even banal events, they probe the tension between memory and forgetting and the mysteries of how we do each. In I Could Tell You Stories, award-winning writer Hampl collects 11 essays, eight previously published (and one of which appears in Baxter's volume). Here the pivotal theme is the fusion of the reader and writer at the heart of the writer's "communion of the word." In polished narratives rich with evocative detail and astute observations on reading and writing about other authors--including Walt Whitman, St. Augustine, Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, and Czeslaw Milosz--Hampl achieves what she praises Whitman for, placing herself "between the personal and the impersonal." In so doing, she offers fresh perspectives on memory, writing, and literature. Both books are recommended for academic and public libraries.--Julia Burch, Cambridge, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Frances Phillips
[The book reflects] on the intellectual character of our age....There is not a bad piece in this volume and [the writers'] sharing a body of references creates a web of connections across the varied perspectives.
Hungry Mind Review
Kirkus Reviews
Creative writers who work with the human version of random access memory discuss the genre of the memoir and the fidelities and treacheries of recorded remembrances. Fiction writer Baxter (Shadow Play, 1993; Believers, 1997; etc.) gathers 12 other writers to explore the content, quality, and effects of published memory. Among the issues that fog our mirrors are a narcissistic subjectivity and an assault on privacy, as seen in the popularity of memoirs, talk shows, and the damage to people as private as J.D. Salinger or as public as Bill Clinton. Richard Bausch describes middle-aged wisdom as the ability "[to have] the sense of the nearness of time past." When using memory, we often do the "math" of comparing our current age to that of a parent at some mental milestone. The next few writers also concentrate on childhood memories, the decades-later effects of family traumas. James Alan McPherson takes up the memoir more philosophically, crediting Plato with defining Western interiority but Saint Augustine with the first truly introspective study. He discusses Kathryn Harrison's controversial memoir, The Kiss, in which she has a sexual affair with her father, a practicing minister. While it appears that the author strayed from Saint Augustine's "Royal Road" of moral introspection, McPherson explains that Harrison's debasement and self-induced vomiting were part of an extreme attempt to gain Christian salvation. She "wanted to do all her suffering on earth so that she would be spared purgatory." Also highly personal is the essay of Bernard Cooper, who writes of his dread of readers and critics when he came out as a homosexual in his third book . Less searing but also insightful are writerslike Lydia Davis, who warns that "a thing can be killed by its very preservation." For anyone involved in the art of introspection, this slim, articulate volume is unforgettable.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555972875
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Graywolf Forum Series , #3
  • Pages: 180
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter is the author of several books, including Burning Down the House and Believers. He has been honored with an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Baxter lives in Ann Arbor and teaches at the University of Michigan.

Biography

Although his body of work includes poetry and essays, award-winning writer Charles Baxter is best known for his fiction -- brilliantly crafted, non-linear stories that twist and turn in unexpected directions before reaching surprising yet nearly always satisfying conclusions. He specializes in portraits of solid Midwesterners, regular Joes and Janes whose ordinary lives are disrupted by accidents, chance encounters, and the arrival of strangers; and his books have garnered a fierce and loyal following among readers and critics alike.

Born in Minneapolis in 1947, Baxter was barely a toddler when his father died. His mother remarried a wealthy attorney who moved the family onto a sprawling estate in suburban Excelsior. From prep school, Baxter was expected to attend Williams, but instead he chose Macalester, a small, liberal arts college in St. Paul. Intending to pursue a career in teaching and writing, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the State University of New York at Buffalo, attracted by a faculty that included such literary luminaries of the day as John Barth and Donald Barthelme.

After grad school, Baxter moved to Michigan to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit. He spent more than a decade concentrating on writing poetry, but after a particularly discouraging dry spell, he decided to try his hand at fiction. He labored long and hard over three novels, none of which was accepted for publication. Then, just as he was about to give up altogether, he attempted one last trick. He whittled the three novels down to short stories, replacing epic themes, extraordinary characters, and ambitious story arcs with the small, quiet stuff of ordinary life. It was a good decision, In 1984, his first collection of short fiction, Harmony of the World, was published. Another anthology followed, then a debut novel. Published in 1987, First Light charmed readers with its unusual structure (the story unfolds backwards in time) and a cast of richly, draw, fully human characters.

Baxter continued to publish throughout the 1990s, alternating between short and full-length fiction, and with each book he garnered larger, more appreciative audiences and better reviews. His breakthrough occurred in 2000 with Feast of Love, a novel composed of many small stories that form a single, cohesive narrative. Described by The New York Times as "...rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing," Feast of Love was nominated for a National Book Award.

"Every time I've finished a book, it feels to me as if the washrag has been rung out," Baxter confessed in a 2003 interview. Yet he keeps on crafting absorbing stories infused with quiet (sometimes absurdist) wit and a compassionate understanding of the human condition. A longtime director of the creative writing program at the University of Michigan, he is known as a generous mentor, and several of his students have gone on to forge successful literary careers of their own.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Baxter shared some fascinating insights with us:

"My novels are sometimes criticized for being episodic, or structurally weird. And they are! I like them that way. It's fairly late in the day -- 2003 as I write -- in the history of the novel, and I think it's fair for writers to mess around with that form, and to stop thinking that they have to write books that move smoothly from the first act to the second act, and then to the climax and the denouement. I like digressions, asides, intrusions, advice, anything that gets in the way of a smooth narcotic flow. New novels should not look like old novels, except when they want to."

"My father died when I was eighteen months old, and I expect the unexpected to happen in life and in art, and my fiction is full, or loaded down, with unexpected fatalities of one kind or another. For me, that's realism."

"I had an unhappy childhood that I thought was happy, and I dove into books as inspiration and relief and comfort and security and information about what people did and how they thought. I can still get happy and sentimental just over the thought of libraries -- the image of a woman sitting quietly and reading is a terrifically sexy image for me."

"Like many writers, I'm private and quiet and observant and bookish. For a physical outlet, I lift weights at the gym two or three times a week, and I don't quit unless and until I've worked up a fairly good sweat. Many writers need an outlet like that to counter the sedentary nature of what they do. I don't have any wild delusions about the greatness of my work: I am happy to work humbly in this field where so many writers have created so many immortal manifestations of the mind and spirit. As Henry James said, you work in the dark; you do what you can; the rest is the madness of art."

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 13, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


So Long Ago


* * *


by Richard Bausch


Indulge me, a moment.

    I have often said glibly that the thing which separates the young from the old is the knowledge of what Time really is; not just how fast, but how illusive and arbitrary and mutable it is. When you are twenty, the idea of twenty years is only barely conceivable, and since that amount of time makes up one's whole life, it seems an enormous thing—a vast, roomy expanse, going on into indefiniteness. One arrives at forty with a sense of the error in this way of seeing, and maturity, um, can be said to have set in.

    And the truest element of this aspect of the way we experience time, of course, is the sense of the nearness of time past.

    I have a memory of being bathed by my father on my seventh birthday. Morning, rainy light at a window. The swish and wash of lukewarm water. My own body, soft-feeling and small under the solid strong hands, lathered with soap. I said, "Well, I guess I'm a big boy now."

    He said, "No, not quite."

    I remember feeling a bit surprised, perhaps even downcast, that he didn't simply agree with me, as most of the adults in our large family usually did. He ran the towel over me, ruffled my hair with it, drying me off. I went across the hall into my room, and dressed for the April day. Baseball season was starting.

    Let me go back there for a little while, to that bath, my seventh birthday. At the time, I wasn't old enough to understand thedifference between the humoring of children, which is a large part of any talk with them, and truth telling, which is what my father did. I loved his rough hands on me, and the smell of him—aftershave, and cigarettes, and sometimes the redolence of my mother's Chanel.

    He hated lies, and lying. He was a storyteller, and he must have learned early how to exaggerate and heighten things, to make the telling go better, to entertain and enthrall. He was so good at it. He could spin it out and do all the voices and set the scene and take you to the laughs, and there simply had to have been elements that he fabricated. And yet he hated lies. Any trouble you ever got into in our house always had to do with that: you learned very early that even if you had done something wrong, something for which you wanted some kind of an excuse, or explanation, it had better not involve telling a lie.

    I was often in some kind of mischief at school—my twin, Robert, and I had a talent for making other kids laugh, and for imitating our teachers' gestures and voice mannerisms. Well, we were the sons of a storyteller. Neither of us liked school very much; and the teachers, the nuns of Saint Bernadette's, knew it. They kept tabs on us. They were at some pains to discipline us. And whenever we got into a scrape at school, we lived in dread that our father would ask us, that evening, how things had gone at school. I remember sitting at the dinner table as he and my mother told stories, or commented happily on the various people—friends and family—who inhabited our lives then. Bobby and I would sit there in awful anticipation of the question: "How was school today?" You couldn't gloss over anything—you couldn't use a cover-all word like fine. You had to be specific, and you had to tell it all, the truth. You were compelled to do so by what you knew of the value he set upon the truth. And never mind philosophical truth, or the truth of experience, really; he wanted to know what happened in the day, what was said and done, and how it went—that kind of truth.

    I have no memory—not even a glimmer—of how and when we learned that this was what he expected from us, and that the surest way to earn his displeasure was by lying to him. I don't have much of a memory of him telling us this; I recall him talking about how it was a thing his father expected, but by then I was in my teens, and I understood it then as an echo of a kind, a source.

    All right.

    I remember being surprised that in my father's truthful opinion I was not a big boy yet. I remember that we had two boys our age living next door to us, and that this took place on Kenross Avenue in Montgomery County, Maryland. I know intellectually that the year was 1952, and that Truman was still president. I could not have said who Truman was then, and I recall that a few months later, in the summer, when the Republican Convention was on our little General Electric black-and-white television, I saw all those people in the arena, with Eisenhower standing there on the podium, and I guessed the number to be everyone in the world. "No," my father said, "It's not even a small fraction of the number." I didn't know the word fraction and yet I understood what he meant.

    Sometime around then I saw film of the war that had just ended, and I was told by my mother that another war was going on, in Korea. A summer evening—we were driving past an army post, and I had seen the anti-aircraft guns, the olive drab barrels aimed at the sky. I wondered aloud why we couldn't hear the guns.

    "It's on the other side of the world, honey. Thousands of miles away."

    In 1952, my mother was thirty-four years old. Now, I'm almost twenty years older than that, and this is the math I'm always doing—have been doing, like a kind of mental nerve-tic, since I was twenty-seven years old, and a father for the first time myself.


When my son Wes was fourteen months old, we moved to Iowa, where I attended the Writers' Workshop. I spent a lot of time with him that year, and as he grew slightly older I decided to conduct a sort of experiment: I'd see if I could manage to keep in his memory the times we had at Iowa—the swing set and sandbox outside the Hawkeye Court Apartments, the little amusement park by the river in Iowa City, with its Ferris wheel and its kiddie train. I'd ask him about it, almost daily: "Do you remember the swing set? The sandbox? Do you remember how I used to push you on the swings, and you didn't want to go in the house? Remember the summer nights when it would be getting dark, and we'd go to that park and ride in the kiddie train?" Yes, he remembered. He was three, and then four, and then five, and he remembered. He offered elements of that time, so he wasn't merely remembering my memory: yes, the swing set and the sandbox—but did I remember the red wagon that got stuck there, and then buried there by the other children? I did. Yes, the kiddie train, but remember the buffalo? Yes, there had been a small enclosure with Bison standing in it; the big Ferris wheel, yes, but did I remember riding it and being stopped at the very top?

    Oh, yes.

    I had begun to think I might be able to help my son carry that part of his life with him into his own adulthood—earliest memories that have chronological shape. It became important that he have it all to keep. And then one winter evening, as we were riding in the car on the way to a movie, I asked him about Iowa again, and he recalled nothing—it was all simply gone. I asked him about the swing set, the sandbox, the park, the train, the Ferris wheel, even the buffalo. To each one he said, "No." Innocently, simply, without the slightest trace of perplexity or anything of what I was feeling, which was sorrow. You could see him striving to get something of it back, but it was like a game, and there was nothing. No, he had no recollection of any of it. I don't think it had been more than a week or two since we had gone through this little litany of memory, and even so it had all disappeared from his mind, and my description of it was only a story, now.


* * *


When I was fifteen, my great-grandmother, Minnie Roddy, died. Minnie had for the most part raised my mother, because Minnie's daughter had had to go to work for the government when my mother was still a baby. They all lived with my aunt Daisy, Minnie's sister, in a big sprawling Victorian house with a wide porch that had blue-gray painted boards and white trim. When Minnie began to fail, my mother went over there, and we later learned, through the talk of the adults in the rooms of the two houses, that she was holding the old woman in her arms in the last moments. Minnie used to tell me stories, sitting in the breakfast nook, by the windows where younger children ran. Summer evenings, the cousins and aunts and uncles out on the lawn, throwing horseshoes. The bell-like clang of the metal on metal when someone hit one of the posts, or scored a ringer or a leaner. Fireflies rising in the shallow pools of shade in the spaces between the houses, in the cloud-shaped willow tree—you couldn't see its trunk for the drooping filamental mass of its branches—at the edge of the property. Minnie talking, telling me about coming from Ireland on a ship; about her husband—who had come to America after killing a man in a fight one afternoon in a pub in Dublin. Her voice would trail off, and the louder voices out the window would distract me. I'd nod and pretend to listen. I was always reading books, as Bobbie was, but it showed more on me, and I was the one, after all, who believed that I had a vocation. I was planning for the priesthood. Minnie Roddy would say, "You'll grow up and tell these stories. You'll grow up and be a writer."

    And she would go on talking, unscrolling her memory of earlier days, of my mother as a young girl; of Ireland, and a childhood spent, for the most part, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. I didn't hear most of it. I nodded and pretended to listen, while this woman—this tiny slip of a lady with her wire-framed glasses and her clear large blue eyes—tried to give me treasure, something to store up, for the arrival of a season I was not and am not ready for.

    When she died, it was decided that Bobby and I were old enough to attend the funeral. I felt a strange detached curiosity about the whole thing: I was actually going to see a dead person. I told one of the other boys in my class, speaking it out with a sort of quiet, fake-brave shrug. "I'm going to see a dead person today."

    "Who?"

    "My great-grandmother."

    "Jesus, no kidding?"

    I was, I suppose, even a little proud of the fact. Minnie had lived to great age, and her going seemed natural enough, and so far away from my own life and world that I could only think of it in a sort of abstract haze. I was still young enough and egocentric enough to be unable quite to imagine my own demise.


The day of the funeral was bright and chilly. I don't recall whether it was spring or fall. It wasn't summer, because I was in school. I think it was fall. We rode with our parents to the funeral home, and I was like a secret traveler in the backseat, planning my exploration of this curiosity, death, this unreal element of the life I was in so permanently. I was wildly curious; I understood, according to the tenets of the faith I had been raised in that Minnie Roddy would not be there, but only her body, the empty vessel she had vacated. She was in that blue elsewhere that I associated with the sky, and we could now pray to her.

    Blue is the important color, here.

    Standing over the box where she lay, looking like a bad likeness of herself, I saw the forking, colorless veins in her bony hands, the fingers of which were wound with a black rosary; and I saw the blue place at her earlobe, where blue did not belong. I marked it, and knew that I would never forget it.

    This sounds as though I were marking things with the flaccid, nervous sensitivity of one of those pretentious people who like to think of themselves as a romantic central figure in their own drama: the incipient artist, observing everything with the intention of later recording it. I do not mean it this way at all, and it was not like that at all. I was a child, still. I knew next to nothing about anything, especially about myself. And I don't know that I have learned much since then, either.

    I suppose I have to admit that it might just be impossible to have it both ways: to claim that I was not that hypersensitive romantic figure, the artist-as-a-young-man, and still report the impressions of a moment like that one, standing over the body of a woman who had lived a life so separate from mine, and nothing like mine, and whose reality could not have anticipated that she would be a figure in my speech, a character in a story I would tell, even as she told me about all the living she had seen and done, and I pretended to listen. In any case, I do not mean this the way it will sound. I mean to express the quality of a memory, in order to say something about this life we live, so much of which is fugitive, so much of which is lost in the living of it.

    The room we were in was banked with flowers, and there were chairs in rows, as though someone might give a lecture, or a homily. Minnie's coffin looked to have been where it was long enough for this prodigious wall of flowers to grow up on three sides of it. There was a dim light, a candle burning at one end. The light was brightest where she lay, with her eyes shut in a way that made you understand they would not open again. The skin looked oddly transparent, like the synthetic skin of a doll. And there was the blue place at the ear, the place, I knew, where the cosmetics of the mortician hadn't quite taken. I stood there and looked with a kind of detached, though respectful silence at this, aware of it not as death, quite, but death's signature. I was conscious of the difference. I spent my minute there, head bowed, and then walked back to my seat at the rear of the room, with the other young people, all in their early teens, like me. I saw my mother and my aunt Florence come from where I had just been, and my mother had a handkerchief that she held to her nose. She sobbed, once. Earlier, when we had arrived, Florence had come up to my mother and said, "You scared the bejesus out of me." I don't know—or I don't remember—what this was about; I think it had something to do with what had gone on last night, at the viewing. Perhaps my mother had gotten woozy, or swooned. It was the first time I had ever heard the word bejesus.

    Florence and my mother sat down, and a priest led us in the rosary. If he said anything about the woman who lay behind him in the long box, I don't recall it. We were in the room for a time, and then people began to file out. I remained in my seat, and I have no idea why. Others crossed in front of me, and maybe I was saying my own prayers—it seems to me now that I must have felt some pang of guilt for my oddly remote observation of everything, and was trying to say the words of a prayer, repeating them inwardly in an attempt to say them not out of automatic memory but actually to enter into the meaning of them:


Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.


The others were all filing quietly out of the long room, and I saw the mortician step to the side of the casket, where we had each stood only moments before. With a practical sureness, the nearly offhand familiarity of experience, he reached into the white satin that ringed Minnie Roddy's head, and pushed downward on it, a tucking motion, and Minnie slipped from her sleeping pose. Her head dropped down into that box like a stone.

    Something must have shown in my face; and the mortician's wife—let us call them the Hallorans, because I no longer recall the name—saw the change in my features. Later, as I was getting into the back of my father's car, Aunt Florence leaned in and said, "Honey, Mrs. Halloran wanted me to tell you that Mr. Halloran was only making it so Minnie could rest better."

    I nodded. I don't believe I said anything. It was almost as if I had stumbled upon someone in a privy act; I felt the same kind of embarrassment. But there was something else in it, too, a kind of species-thrill: this was the human end, a reality I was not expecting. I am trying to express this as exactly as I can, and it is finally inexpressible. I know that all my fascination was gone, and I sat there in the back of the car, looking out at the sunny streets of Washington, D.C., and felt numb, far down.

    That memory is as present to me as the moment, almost a decade earlier, when I said to my father that I was a big boy, and he told me the truth, that I was not a big boy. Not yet. And those memories are as near as the memory of asking, in the first line of this story, for your indulgence.

    Of course, this is not an original perception; yet one arrives at it in life—doesn't one?—with the sense of having had a revelation: one's personal past is a place, and everything that resides there does so in contemporaneous time. What then, of the collective past? The collective memory? That is where chronology really is. We come from the chaos of ourselves to the world, and we yearn to know what happened to all the others who came before us. So we impose Time on the flow of events, and call it history. For me, Memory is always story. True memory is nothing like the organized surface of a story, yet that is all we have to tell it, and know it, and experience it again: but if we are doomed to put our remembered life into stories, we are blessed by it, too.

    I never spoke to my mother and father, or even to my brothers and sisters, about what I had seen at the funeral home. I don't know why, now. I can't recall why. Perhaps it was too private, finally; and perhaps I did not want to have it in memory, didn't want to fix it there in the telling. But it has never left me. It is with all the others, large and small, important and meaningless, all waiting in the same timeless dark, to drift toward the surface when I write, or daydream, or sleep.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction
So Long Ago 3
A Book of Names 11
The Third Servant 20
Don't Look 33
Dream, Memory, Story, and the Recovery of Narrative 46
"El Camino Real" 62
The Dog of Memory 79
"Remember the Van Wagenens" 87
Marketing Memory 106
Other People's Secrets 116
Tell Me a Story 132
Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age 141
American Nomad 158
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)