What good is reading without memory? Come to think of it, what good is anything without memory? A vertical slice of experience that can't be accessed on the horizontal—is it actually worth anything? Did it even happen? If you can't remember the tree falling in the forest, did it make a sound?

I worry about this because my own powers of recall are failing fast. It alarms me to think of all that I have read and how little of it has stayed with me. My current nightstand companion—an eminent author who shall remain nameless because I can't remember his name—has been with me for months. I crawl into bed and stare at the finely wrought sentences that I know I read last night, and they mean nothing. I retreat a few pages, or a few chapters, pick up the thread, re-advance to the same point, perhaps squeeze a sentence or two ahead—although how can I be sure?—and then I'm asleep. It's trench warfare, and I doubt I will be in Berlin by Christmas.

Then there are the books that shine in my memory, milestones along the horizontal course of my life. I remember not just the books themselves but the chair I sat in, the shoes I wore, the woman I loved, what song was on the charts at the time. None of which makes them good books, exactly, although all of them are—it just means that they are mine. They really happened.

Hugh Laurie stars in House , on Fox.

What's on Hugh Laurie's bookshelf? Read more.


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